FATES WARNING (Frank Aresti) INTERVIEW
When back in 1996 guitarist Frank Aresti decided to leave the US Progressive outfit Fates Warning, I believed that I would never get the chance to have a face-to-face talk with this very skillful musician with regards to his contribution to this band’s illustrious career. The moment we realised that Frank was back in the fold and that Fates Warning were doing a show in Holland, my wife and I set off on the journey to the cosy little town of Weert where I was granted an interview with the man himself. During what I consider to be a very enjoyable encounter, I posed a few questions with regards Fates Warning’s current status and future plans as a band, Frank’s involvement in the Arch/Matheos project and we discussed the current state of the music industry.
By Yiannis John) Stefanis.
• Hi Frank, nice to meet you and thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I would like to start by asking you what is the current status of Fates Warning, as I am slightly confused. Are you active as a band, are you not active as a band?
Frank: (laughs) Oh…we are…we are active! Right now Jim (Matheos/guitars) has a couple of projects that he’s working on, Bobby (Jarzombek/drums) has a few things going, Joey (Vera/bass) has some things going on too, so in terms of making a new album, we are talking about doing one maybe next year in 2012 – maybe, no promises, but that’s what we’re talking about! So we’re active – it’s just that there are so many other things that are going on. Life kind of gets in the way sometimes, you know?
• I know that many people share my enthusiasm over the fact that you have returned to the band! Much as I appreciate what Fates Warning did as a one guitar band, the fact that you are back speaks volumes, even concerning the way the live performances are conducted.
Frank: Thank you very much – I appreciate that!
• What was it that made you decide to become part of the picture again?
Frank: What happened was that Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater drummer) was putting together the Queensryche/Dream Theater tour and he’s always wanted Fates Warning to tour with them again, as we toured with them during the release of “Awake” (1994) and I guess that it was a big enough of a profile tour so Fates Warning started thinking “well, what should we do about this, how should we go out with this”? “Should we bring a keyboard player”? You know, a couple of times Fates Warning had a keyboard player and a guitar player and other times they had a keyboard player who could also play the guitar, so they were trying to figure out what they were doing and I guess that they decided to just call me up and see what I was up to, you know? Like I said, it was a high enough of a profile tour and it was long enough; it was seven weeks and it made sense at the time. It was a great idea, so that’s exactly what happened and we had a blast!
• And how does it feel now?
Frank: It’s a lot of fun – it’s a lot of fun now. You know, back when we were doing such things constantly… it gets tiring and you hear the stories of a lot of bands, you know, that need to take breaks and things like that and essentially that’s what I did – I took a break from everything and did not do anything musically for a very long time, except, you know, little things on my own just to keep going. Now it’s a lot different as we are older and a lot more experienced and when we get together now it’s far and few between – we always make the most out of it. We are having a lot of fun.
• I have to admit that, following your departure from the band, I never thought I would ever get the chance to meet you and always thought to myself “If I was ever to meet with Frank, the first think I would like to ask him would be his thoughts of the direction that Fates Warning took following his departure”. The reason behind this is that you left at the time when things were starting to become really progressive. Now that you are here, please share your thoughts with us!
Frank: You know what? It’s funny, because when I was still in the band they were talking about doing that and I didn’t like it – I didn’t want to do it. Now, when I listen to “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey” (1997) and “Disconnected” (2000), I really like that stuff – I like it a lot! It is kind of ironic that, at the time, I didn’t want to do it but now when I hear it I am like “wait a minute – I think that’s cool sh*t”, you know? Really, really cool – I love “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey” now, the lyrics and everything – takes me back to a certain time, you know?
• I also need to confess something here. Following the release of that album, Fates Warning came to Athens to do a show during which they performed “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey” in its entirety and then added a few extra songs. Now, before I went to the venue (note: Rodon Club) I remember thinking “why perform the whole album – I want to listen to all those classics”, you know what I mean? Half way through the show, things turned – I was so into the material of “A Pleasant Shade Of Grey” that I did not want the whole experience to end. Today I still feel that it is a phenomenal album that you ought to enjoy in its entirety.
Frank: Yes, I agree.
• Frank, we have recently celebrated twenty years since the release of the “Parallels” (1991) album which is indeed a very important release for the band’s career and one of my personal favourites of all times. Is today’s show part of these celebrations?
Frank: No. We did that last year. We did eight shows, four of which I think were in Europe and four in the US. We went out with Mark Zonrder (notes: ex drummer) and Joe DiBiasi (ex bass player) and that was a lot of fun. We played the whole album from front to back but we are not doing that now. Now it’s more like a regular show.
• I am not going to even dare ask which songs you will be performing tonight as I want to keep my levels of excitement throughout the night and not risk any major disappointments!
Frank: Well, even if I wanted to tell you, I don’t think that I remember them – I need a set list every night (laughs).
• Frank, there are many people around the world who would love to see Fates Warning live. Even though I cannot claim to know the levels of popularity that you enjoy in England, I am sure that there would be quite a few people showing up to one of your shows there. Why is it that you have established this policy of only playing in places like Holland and Germany when it comes to central/north Europe? Why not do a more extensive tour that will cover more countries?
Frank: Right, that’s mainly my fault because I actually have a full time job at home. I do artists relations for D’Addario strings and in order for me to do dates with Fates Warning I need to confine it to a week or ten days at a time because then I have to get back to work, right? And because of the limited time that we have we really have to pick and choose what we do and the offers that we get are usually from Germany and Holland. We played in London a few years ago with…was it this line up? I think Bobby was there – I cannot remember, but we played London maybe three years ago? I believe it was the Underworld?
• If you did that was probably one of the worst advertised shows in the history as this is the first time that I hear of this and believe me – when it comes to Fates Warning I am always willing to come to a show! You are killing me here!
Frank: Were you in London three years ago?
• Oh yes I was! I cannot believe that I missed a Fates Warning show in London!
Frank: I remember this because I was standing outside drinking beer and signing autographs and it was raining outside, we were backstage after the show cooling down and I was having a beer and someone came back and said “listen, it’s raining outside and there are fans waiting for you – do you mind if you go and sign a few things”? I remember going outside holding my beer and the London cops almost arrested me, because I was standing on the street with a beer in my hands! They were giving me a hard time asking things like “do you do that in the United States” and I would answer back like “well, it depends on what State you are in” (laughs). In some states you can do this, you know? So, you know, we always do little short runs because of that reason.
• Frank, you mentioned that Jim is currently involved in a couple of projects, one of which as far as I am aware is a project called Arch/Matheos. I was checking out that band’s line up and what I soon realised is that what we have here is pretty much modern day Fates Warning with John Arch as a singer!
Frank: Yes, it is basically this line up here with a different singer!
• Ok, so what is happening here?
Frank: What is happening? Nothing really! Like I said, Jim was working in a couple of projects and he had done a John Arch album a few years ago (note: “A Twist Of Fate” EP 2003) which also featured Mike Portnoy on drums and I guess that the record company wanted another one so Jim scheduled it out but because of the fact that we have been doing…we’re such a good band with this line up that Jim figured “you know, why call anybody else – why not get these guys to do it”? We have the duet Jarzombek and Vera who are great players and so why the hell not? With OSI, Jim gets a different drummer to play with (note: Gavin Harrison) and he also has Kevin Moore (note: keyboards, ex-Dream Theater) but one the last one he also has Joey Vera – all the family together, you know what I mean?
• It’s amazing really as both my wife and I love “Awake The Guardian” (1986) which is…I am not even going to dare try to explain that album in words, but what should we expect now… for Fates Warning of today to perform the more progressive-orientated material whereas the Arch/Matheos to do more classic sounding music?
Frank: No, you know what? I think that you will be surprised! I have heard a little bit of it and…it’s good – it’s heavy! It sounds probably like… (note: long pause)…I don’t know how to put it…it sounds like Fates Warning with John Arch singing – I don’t know! I don’t know how to describe it as I am too close to it.
• Frank, how do you manage to separate yourself from these two different musical projects? As a guitar player you have a very characteristic style and sound, so how do you manage to contribute stuff to both musical entities that will sound like you but which, at the same time, will not sound the same? I have never been a musician so I really don’t know how one approaches such things.
Frank: It’s not that different, you know? I mean, first of all and to answer your question, if you are an artist you are doing what actors do which is to adapt to different roles – you have to do what each song calls for. In this case…it’s different but I am also playing differently nowadays, you know? It’s not that difficult for me to switch gears, you know what I mean? I play in a Thrash band at home, I play in a cover band at home and in every band I play differently just because of the style of music and the way it is. My technique changes depending on what I am playing. It’s hard to describe this, except to say that I am like an actor and I do what the script calls for.
• After all these years performing with the same people and having recorded the music that you have, now that you’re back in the fold are you more free to express yourself in ways that perhaps in the period prior to 1992 you wouldn’t necessarily be?
Frank: Hmm…you know what, yeah, but the reason is unexpected because back then, you know, we had a lot of pressure from the record companies and management with everyone always looking for a single but nowadays we don’t have those pressures anymore! Nowadays we’re doing it because we love to do it first and foremost and when you approach something with a passion like that you do feel a lot freer as opposed to you doing something and then you question whether it is what is being expected of you. Such a thing never came from within the band though, it always came from outside the band and I believe that the band overall felt that pressure.
• Fates Warning and Queensryche are two of my favourite bands and anyone that observes both your careers will find many similarities there. At around the same era that “Parallels”, this great album with all those massive selling videos came out, Queensryche release “Empire” which is an equally successful album with also many videos that helped promote it. Now, the releases that both bands came up with after the release of these mega-sellers came across like a form of reaction towards that recently acquired success – a very bold move to make when you are at the height of your career and many things are at stake.
Frank: Well, you know, what also happened in that time period was that music changed! Culture in general changed. In the early 90s to mid-90s you had the backlash of what was going on in the 80s – all the excesses of the 80s, and when I say excesses I mean everything from hairspray to overplaying, faster arpeggios, big racks of gear for guitar players…al of the sudden in the 90s you have Nirvana with inexpensive guitars and inexpensive amps, just plugging in and going about it – no dress, no technique. It was a complete backlash and when that happened the record companies sort of lost interest in bands like us and Queensryche and that’s when we became freer to do different things.
• In retrospect, do you believe that this change helped the scene in the sense that those bands which were simply following a trend disappeared, whereas…
Frank: Yeah, it kind of washed away…it was kind of like a storm that came and washed away the stuff that doesn’t make it, you know, and so what you have left standing are those bands that have integrity and talent. Pantera survived the whole thing too; I know that they were different than us but we all grew up so to speak around the same time. We and Pantera had the same management company for a little while and we came up around the same time. So bands like them and us and Queensryche and even Dream Theater, we survived that, you know?
• So what do you think is the secret behind Fates Warning’s success over the years? You obviously have some truly devoted fans out there who are willing to travel many miles to come to one of your shows – is that what kept the band going over the years? There are also a few other good bands that deserved to be here amongst us but which did not survive this mid-90s ‘music crisis’ which you did – why was that?
Frank: Hmm, I don’t know if there is a secret to it – it’s just something that you do, it is part of you, you know? Like I said, when I left Fates Warning I stopped doing music professionally for a little while but I couldn’t stop doing music, period – I had to still do it! It is something that is part of you and which you are compelled to do and it is also a habit – good or bad I don’t know (laughs). I believe that that’s it and it is very simple like that; there’s no secret or magic to it – you either keep doing it or you don’t. We are lucky that we keep doing it and that there are people who want to hear it, we are lucky for that, you know?
• Are you guys still contractually bound to Metal Blade records or have you moved on from that?
Frank: You know what, I don’t really know! I don’t take care of the business side of things so I don’t even know. I don’t know what is going on with all that stuff – Jim handles all the business stuff, so…
• The reason why I am asking is because I am trying to figure out what the band’s outlook is for the future. If you have a clear cut contract with a label you may feel obliged to do certain things at certain period of time, otherwise as free agents you will get to call all the shots.
Frank: I don’t even know but I do know that we have a plan. As I said Jim has a couple of projects that he will work on this year and then next year we will see what happens.
• I know that I have already asked you about that but it’s killing me that you do not have more info to provide with regards the Arch/Matheos project. Are you sure that there is nothing that I can squeeze out of you?
Frank: Sorry, I don’t know. They are still recording it – that I know, so maybe the release will be sometime this summer?
• You are killing me (I laugh).
Frank: Sorry, I really don’t know! (laughs).
• Obviously I wish you the best of luck with whatever it is that you are going to do and I assume that any other question that I might want to ask with regards future plans has gone out of the window but this ‘veil of mystery’ that surrounds both projects at the moment is a nice one to have as it keeps us on our toes.
Frank: (laughs) That’s not my intention; I don’t want to say anything because at this point it’s still up in the air and you don’t know what direction it is bound to follow; we know that this whole thing will go somewhere but I don’t want to say anything and then have things going in a different and make it sound like I was lying or anything.
• Of all the things that you’ve done with Fates Warning and as a solo or recording artist throughout your career, which would you say are your proudest moments- the ones that you cherish the most?
Frank: Hmm… (note: long pause)…I don’t know, I never thought of things that way…I mean I think that…I definitely have my favourite albums and “Parallels” is definitely one of them, so maybe that’s it. I don’t know if proudest moment is the right expression here but I am proud of us now that we are still doing it and that we still have people coming and paying money to see us – I am proud of that, you know? I am very grateful for that, so right now maybe that it my proudest moment; that we’ve been doing this for so long and people still care enough to want to be a part of it.
• What about the way the whole music industry is changing? We moved from the point where record labels dictated and had a power over everything to the point where if you don’t embrace new technology and if you don’t try to stay relevant with what’s happening in that field you are kind of left behind. Do you feel that as a band you kind of mastered that new approach?
Frank: I don’t think that anybody has. I don’t think that record companies have mastered that approach at all. I think that right now it’s kind of like the Wild West, kind of like it was when juke box first started popping up in New York. It’s all about singles, it’s all about distribution and I think that right now it’s moving too quickly for anybody to get a hold of or either understand it. So far I don’t think that anyone has grasped it – maybe there’s someone coming up that I don’t know about that’s going to come in and change everything but so far I haven’t seen it! I think that everyone is just struggling to keep up.
• Frank, what would be the one piece of advice you would give to any young musician starting a career nowadays?
Frank: Persistence, that’s it! Any musician that you will ask will tell you whenever you ask that question will say the same thing – just keep at it and do not give up! If it’s important to you, don’t give up!
• Frank, with that very important message we will conclude this interview. Thank you for the opportunity of talking to us and good luck with your future plans!
Frank: It was a pleasure – thank you!