Metal Invader (Issue 0025) – Interview with Mark Zonder (11/1998)
This is a re-translation from Greek so there might be some mistakes. The general meaning though should be the same I make comments ONLY were stated so, the rest are the writers. While an excellent “a pleasant shade of grey” continues to spread it’s pleasant shades of grey, the dreamy, lyric and emotional (hope I translated that right) Fates Warning return with a great live album. The first in their long and valuable existence called “Still Life”, embracing in an excellent way the fading past with the vivid present, while staring at a promising future. The gifted drummer Mark Zonder has the difficult part of the intermediate, by default of the talented guitarist, composer, lyricist and leader of Fates, Jim Matheos. In a try to show inner thoughts, he says words of great honesty and spontaneity letting once more the voice of fate sound like a sweet warning.(Sorry about some mistakes that I might made, but this was really complex -Dreamer)
“Still Life” is the first official live album in the long history of Fates Warning, But what are the reasons for this delay?
Mark:We just thought that it was time for this to happen, because of the changes that happened during our recent album, “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey”. Namely the use of just one guitar(Jim Matheos) and the replacement of the other by keyboards resulted in a different approach of the song structures, and therefore in a different style. On the other hand it was the right moment to give our fans a double live album that contains not only the whole “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey” concept, but also songs from Fate’s previous works.I think the decision to release, even after eight studio albums, a live album was absolutely correct.
Mark, until now I haven’t heard “Still Life”. Could you tell us some details, starting from where it was recorded.
Mark: The recordings where done during the European tour for “APSOG” in countries like Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy It contains the best moments of ten shows. What we did was to put on the record two hours representing the best moments of these shows. What I need to say is that “Still Life” is a “real” live album, with no overdubs.
I believe you, but let’s stick a bit with “APSOG”. It has been over a year since its release, what did you gain from it?
Mark:Definitely a lot of knowledge, concerning the changes I refereed to at the beginning, while through the constant touring we came closer to our loyal fans. The result was the printing of those pictures in the same titled video, while the crowning of it was our first live album. About “APSOG” it is undoubtedly the best and most complete work of Fates Warning. Through it we found what were really seeking for, what we could really offer as Fates Warning, something that lacked our previous work “Inside Out”.
Should I assume that you imply your former associates, Frank Aresti(Ex-Guitars) and Joe Dibiase(Ex-Bass)?
Mark:Look, I imply that things work different than they used to, since “APSOG” is the creation of three people, Jim Matheos(Guitars), myself and Ray Alder’s. Everything now works through this core. Concerning “Inside Out” and the cooperation of Dibiase/Aresti, there was no clarity from them, there were serious disagreements(mostly with Frank Aresti from what I’ve heard lately. Joe Dibiase left for family reasons-Dreamer), their influences didn’t fit in with Jim’s plans for the band, he had taken a different road for Fates, the situation couldn’t go on for long and ended with them leaving the band.(for the true fans of Fates the places of Aresti/Dibiase can not be replaced, but let’s not stick to this…). Summing up “Inside Out” which wasn’t one of our better albums, the conditions weren’t the best then, the production didn’t satisfy us and it’s structure didn’t have the honesty nor the depth it deserved. Besides some good songs like “Island In The Stream” and “Monument” it isn’t even by us considered as a good album(the writer and I believe a lot more have a different opinion!).
Before you mentioned that Fates work through the core of Jim, you and Ray. Why didn’t you mention Joey Vera(Bass Guitars) and Ed Roth(keys)? Aren’t they regular members?
Mark:No, Joey Vera is a session musician, but besides a great musician he is also a very good friend, so its up to him if he will continue to help Fates Warning(which he still does-Dreamer). He did a great job, though he has other things to take care of, you know he is a professional who never keeps a permanent position anywhere( except Armored Saint of course- Dreamer). About Ed Roth, he just took part in the first leg of the tour and the “APSOG” video. Jason Keazer finished up the tour and contributed in “Still Life”.
Let’s Come to your recent successful appearance at Dynamo. What were your impressions?
Mark:Yeah, an ultimate experience which scared us a little,he,he…(with clear satisfaction in his voice)
Sorry to interrupt you, did Fates learn to face the fear?
Mark:Right, I meant that we played Dynamo the day we arrived, having just a few hours to rest, while the show was waiting for us in the afternoon! But the great welcome from the fans was enough to overcome any second thoughts. It was a unique moment, which we won’t forget easily. The fans contributed very energetically to the show.
Should I assume that the same happened during the “APSOG” tour?
Mark:Sure, although at the beginning the fans didn’t know the flow of the songs well and as a result of that didn’t know were to applause!He He! In time the fans the fans began to participate and all went great.
Let’s come to the music of “APSOG”. I heard some few industrial elements in part I and some clear Pink Floyd influences in part VI and also a bit of Marillion in parts IX and XII showing Jim’s love for both those bands.
Mark:I don’t disagree, since Jim declares he is a big fan of them. Still this doesn’t show that the influence comes from there. Influences usually come from the environment, different situations and our mood.
From “Awaken The Guardian” to “No Exit” there was clearly a lot of lyricism with a bit of atmospheric introversion and technical playing which became even more obvious from “Perfect Symmetry” and thereon. How does the chemistry of Fates work to create those elements?
Mark:You probably just described Jim’s character. Seriously now, besides the chemistry it’s the way the creator faces the music. The way that I see it, music is just a piece you take in a primitive state, slowly-depending on how hard you work on it-you give it shape, texture and color. It’s like learning a foreign language, at first it is unknown to you then while your speaking it you learn how to use it, you learn more words. For Fates there is no particular thought process behind this, all this years we learned to work without any particular thought or effort.
Mark, as a drummer, you are behind the odd time signatures. Were do your influences come from? Maybe from Neal Peart?
Mark:Exactly. Neal Peart and Rush are one of my basic influences, but also Journey are one of my favorite groups, especially the period of their first three albums were they sound very progressive. I also love Funk, Jazz and Latin a lot from were I borrow some influence for Fates (“Monument” is a great example).
You mentioned Rush before. It’s worthy to say that you participated in the incredible tribute album “Working Man”, were you did a great cover of “Closer To The Heart”.
Mark:Thank you. I believe it was a great experience covering a very beautiful song of Rush, which is one of our favorites. A lot believe that as a song it is very different from what Fates represent and I don’t disagree, but since other artist had covered more complex songs of Rush(like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science”) we were happy with “Closer To The Heart”.
Lets not forget your participation in the double tribute album to Judas Priest with the incredible cover of “Saints In Hell”…
Mark:Yeah, Judas Priest were and are one of the heavy metal groups that we always like. Our purpose was to stay close to the original and I think we made it.
So deep down inside Fates Warning are still a heavy metal group, do you agree?
Mark:I wouldn’t say so… Really, I don’t know. I don’t like labels, there are so much different elements in Fates Warning that we don’t care were we belong. Above all we are interested is the music to have lots of interesting elements and us to feel good with the result.
So we get to Chroma Key,what did you get from your cooperation with a musician like Kevin Moore?
Mark:It was definitely an unique experience. Kevin is, besides a great musician, a great person and it was an honor to participate in this project. It also gave me the chance to work with different rhythms and techniques than I do with Fates. The truth is that many expected something close to Dream Theater, something that’s not the case.
I heard that you are working on new material by Jim Matheos, which is going to be the follow up to the beautiful “First Impressions”?
Mark:Yes it’s true. My attention is with that at the moment.
Could you give me some information about it?
Mark:Look it’s real early to tell, the only thing I can say is that it sounds like a more evolved version of “First Impressions”, it’s gonna be acoustic, rhythmic, with a progressive touch to it and there’s going to be violin and cello accompanying the music.
Sounds very interesting. It seems that there’s a lot of talent in Fates and Joe Vera is another example of that. The whole video of “APSOG” was based on his photography and director capabilities. Did you ever think of using this photographic and directing abilities of his, combining the projection of images from the concept of “APSOG” in the background with the performance and sound of Fates Warning(After I explained him again in simpler words he answered:)?
Mark:Yes, Joe really loves photography and he tried directing and from what you saw for his first time he did a great job.He is not a professional though, he just likes trying different stuff. Now he is into recording(Engine album-Dreamer) and he seems to be more stuck with it, besides of course his musical interests, most of his time he spends in my studio. Now concerning the combination of images with our live show sure is a great idea and very Pink Floydish I must admit! But our financial status wouldn’t allow it, you need extra procedures and facilities we don’t have, besides the “APSOG” Tour is over, about the future we’ll see…
Mark, lets come to another mater. A few months ago there was a Japanese version of “APSOG”, which actually was a mCD entitled “APSOG Part II”. Those who heard it were suprised because of the unusual for Fates content, and particular because of the almost industrial club mix of Part II which provoked some comments(and the
displeasure of some).
Mark:Yes we chose that deliberately and it was a lot of fun! Basically it was the idea of a technician Steve Tushar. It was a challenge to present a different version of Part II giving it an electro-industrial touch. Nothing serious anyway, it just happened.
Let’s get to Ray Alder. His stunning performance and passion, which evolves with time, is known to all Fates fans. We have information saying that Ray is going to participate in the new personal album of James Murphy.
Mark:Yeah just like you said, Ray evolves all the time. About your information that he is going to sing in the new James Murphy album, it is probably inaccurate. We talk all the time with Ray, he would have told me something like that, so your information is wrong. Of course Ray was offered to sing but he didn’t like the idea much so he
refused it. Really were did you find out about that, did you talk to Ray?
No… I’m under the impression that I tired you…
Mark:No, the truth is you were very well informed. Besides I think we covered almost everything.
OK, one last question why did you choose the title “Still Life”? Were you inspired by the song “Life In Still Water”?
Mark:It is definitely connected to that , too. In reality it was a choice between a lot of titles, it could also be a combination of life and static acts which is connected with the live image of Fates or a picture. The observer knows that the element pictured is in reality alive in motion, but in his eyes everything is static.(amazing explanation!)
Great, as an epilogue of this very interesting conversation give a message to your fans and to those that will hear “Still Life”.
Mark:We really thank them for all this years of support, patience and trust. I hope we’ll be seeing you in your country, we will never forget those two shows in Thessaloniki and Athens(What about the next two?-Dreamer). Well do everything to visit you on our next tour, despite the difficulties, we’ll try(they did and they weren’t on tour! Thanks-Dreamer). We hope you enjoy “Still Life” until we meet again.