Blistering.com interview with John Arch and Jim Matheos (July 2011)
By: David E. Gehlke
Original article: http://www.blistering.com/fastpage/fpengine.php/templateid/23212/menuid/3/tempidx/5/link/1
“Arch-era Fates Warning.” The name alone says enough to those who worshipped at the altar of albums such as 1984’s Spectre Within and of course, 1986’s brilliant Awaken the Guardian. This was “thinking-man’s metal” before anyone in metal had a real a brain; the combination of wildly arranged songs that somehow made sense, and with a singer whose voice was unique, daring, and convincing. John Arch is the man’s name, who left the metal game all too soon after Guardian. So revered was Arch at the time that an upcoming progressive metal outfit named Dream Theater asked him to audition, only for the singer to turn down DT’s offer. We all know how Dream Theater fared and Fates would soldier on with Ray Alder, achieving even greater success, but those Arch-era albums…they simply are magical.
Going under the banner of Arch/Matheos, the legendary singer has teamed with Fates mastermind Jim Matheos for Sympathetic Resonance, which is due this September via Metal Blade. Based off the two songs Blistering has heard (“Midnight Serande” and “Stained Glass Sky”), Sympathetic promises to be every good as advertised, with Arch rolling out his masterful vocals like it was 1986 (except with more restrain) and Matheos culling from his vast repertoire of heavy, but perky progressive metal riffs. With the all-star lineup of drummer Bobby Jazarmbek (Halford, Riot), bassist Joey Vera (Armored Saint) and Fates lead guitarist Frank Aresti behind them, interest in any all things Fates-related is at an all-time high.
The fast-talking Metheos and beyond-humble Arch phone Blistering to talk about Sympathetic Resonance, the future of Fates Warning, the past of Fates Warning, and much more. Here’s what went down…
Blistering.com: So some of the material for Sympathetic Resonance was intended for the next Fates Warning release, but did you eventually come to realization that John’s voice could fit?
Jim Matheos: Not really. A lot of it was intended for the next Fates record, but Ray couldn’t commit to it at this time, so I gave John a call. I’m always interested to see what he’s up to. I played him a few of the songs and he listened, so I guess they struck a chord. But they weren’t written with him in mind.
John Arch: I guess my first thoughts were that it’s been a while and I remember what Jim’s writing style was, so I was impressed that there’s so much going on. It took me a while to wrap my mind around what was happening, but once I did, it grew, things just started to fall again. I was inspired by his writing. Not to say that it came easy, but it made me want to get involved.
Blistering.com: Jim, you’ve been doing stuff with OSI and Fates has been active, but hasn’t put out a studio album since 2004, so how fresh is the material?
Matheos: A lot of its new. “Neurotically Wired” and “On the Fence” are about two years old. Luckily, we decided we were going to do a full-length record, so the rest of it was written in that time.
Blistering.com: Being that this isn’t a Fates album, was there any process in choosing who would appear on the album? You have some heavy hitters playing on it.
Matheos: It was natural selection; I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I didn’t have a wish-list when putting it together, for these guys have been working with Fates for a number of years. I couldn’t have asked for better players, and Bobby had already played on a lot of these songs since they were written for Fates. I didn’t it would be fair to tell him that after months working on these songs that we were going to change the name of the band and have someone else drum.
Blistering.com: That was my next question. Was there any inclination to call the band Fates Warning?
Matheos: We talked about it and there was some interest from the record from a marketing standpoint. But in the end, Fates is still active with Ray and we plan on doing a record next year, so even if we marketed this record as a one-off Fates Warning record with John Arch, it would cause a lot of confusion. It wasn’t worth the effort in the long run, so we wanted to keep Fates Warning separate. Me and Ray are our own entity, and Arch/Matheos is another band that has its own life.
Blistering.com: John, you did an EP a few years ago with Jim and Mike Portnoy [A Twist of Fate in 2003], so how has your voice held up over the years?
Arch: Between A Twist of Fate and this album, I hadn’t sang at all [laughs]. I’m not sure how it held up; it probably would have held up better if I had done some singing. With this CD, it took quite a bit of work. One at a time, to get my vibrato back and paying attention to my voice again…it took a lot of work. Getting older and not singing every day, then having to sing at that intensity it was hard. In the end, I fought through it and things turned out really well.
Blistering.com: Based on the two songs I heard and the EP, I think it’s safe to say your voice is still in pretty good shape.
Arch: I don’t take anything for granted or just assume that as soon as I step in front of a microphone, things are going to happen. There was a time at the onset of this, my vocals sounded decent but I caught a bad cold and I took a nosedive for a while. Then I started building them up again and getting them into shape. I guess I’m lucky to be able sing like this at this stage. My vocals are a little different than Awaken the Guardian or A Twist of Fate because I use more of a vocal range. I’m not shooting for the stratosphere non-stop. I think it complements the songs better because I’m not singing high constantly.
Blistering.com: Have you kept tabs on the progressive metal scene since you’ve been away?
Arch: I’ve gone to a lot of shows for Queensryche and Dream Theater, and of course, I’ve followed Fates. Those guys are my fans and bands that I enjoy. There’s just so much going on and so much diversity. I’ve been following along, but I’m not as well-versed as other people.
Blistering.com: I’ve only heard “Midnight Serenade” and “Stained Glass Sky” at this point, but for the rest of the record, what are some of the highlights?
Matheos: The two songs you’ve heard are a pretty good representative of the whole record. Not that anything sounds less than that, but it’s a good indication of how the record sounds. It’s along the heavier/progressive side of things that I’ve done recently.
Arch: I’ll add that a lot of the songs have an ongoing theme lyrically, with the exception of “Stained Glass Sky.” In my opinion, the songs are very different from each other, but still in the same vein. They’re still intense, very theatrical and they’re connected by a theme from beginning to end. I think the album is very dynamic. The closer, “Incense and Myrrh” brings it all together, it summarizes everything. I’m curious to see how people will interpret these songs, to see how obvious I’ve been or not.
Blistering.com: Any time you have songs over ten minutes, people are going to assume that the music is technical. Is there still a desire to play technical and/or over-the-top stuff?
Matheos: I’m not into doing it for the sake of doing it. For me, it always has to serve a purpose. I hope that comes across in the songs. Just to come up with weird-sounding, hard-to-play riffs isn’t enough for me. It has to catch my ear; it’s not about technical exercises. As I’ve matured as a songwriter, I hope I have matured in that. I want to be technical and progressive, but be interesting. I don’t want to create stuff that makes other musicians that go, “Wow, how did they do that?”
Blistering.com: I read something a while back about how you, Jim, felt some distance from the Arch-era material, that you didn’t feel a spark when you played it. Is that still the case?
Matheos: I have a hard time connecting with anyone that it’s in my distant past [laughs]. Like the Parallels stuff. I see how people can look at objectively and enjoy it, but I see all the faults and the things I could have done better. It’s hard for me to be objective and see the good it in. I can see it from a fans point of view, because I’m also a fan of a lot of bands where I love their early stuff, but they probably scoff at it. I don’t mean that as a slight, and I think some people take than as an insult sometimes. I can’t listen to Spectre Within and people say that’s an insult to me, but it’s not. It’s not meant that way; it’s meant on a personal level. I look at it and see all of these glaring flaws [laughs].
Blistering.com: John, do you share the same sentiments?
Arch: There’s certain things I cringe [over]. It’s hard for me to listen to. I just have to put myself in that point in time, and the time in which we were doing those things, we were doing what were doing. We were enjoying it. I remember the feeling of recording Spectre and Guardian and singing the songs and feeling very passionate. But it’s an evolutionary process. You try to look back and appreciate things are for what they were at that time. I think Guardian has stood the test of time. It’s very unique in every aspect. Vocally, there’s a lot of squeaky irritating notes that were totally unnecessary [laughs]. It’s a good feeling now to be able to create some new music. Let’s face it: during the writing process, you listen to songs a million times and your ears get used to them, so you’re ready to put something new out.
Blistering.com: John, you’re still very revered as a vocalist in the metal scene and the Fates albums you did are considered classics. For someone who has such a small body of work, how does that make you feel?
Arch: I’m proud of some of the things I’ve done, but I’ve always felt in the back of my mind that I could have given more. To all the accolades I’ve received from the fans who are die-hard, and they’re the most dedicated fans…I guess it really made an impact on their life when the albums came out. But I’m hard on myself and I don’t like to wallow in patting myself on the back. I feel good that now I’m able to do more with A Twist of Fate and the album coming up. I feel like I owe the fans more. It’s a good feeling that I have something left to give.
Blistering.com: Jim, how did you think the band’s career would have fared how John stayed in the band after Awaken the Guardian? Would have there been a Parallels or Inside Out?
Matheos: That’s impossible to say. I think for No Exit, a lot of the music was written for John, but it would have sounded different, obviously because John would have been singing on it. After that, things changed for us drastically, especially when we got Mark [Zonder, drums] in the band. A lot of people are saying Sympathetic Resonance is the natural follow-up to Awaken the Guardianand I can safely say no to that [laughs]. Twenty-five years of life and influence between these two records…so who knows what anything would have sounded like after Awaken the Guardian.
Blistering.com: The same can applied to you, John. Do you wonder how things would have turned out had you stayed with Fates or even accepted the vocal slot with Dream Theater?
Arch: I have a bad habit of second-guessing myself and I can do it until the cows come home. It’s just how I am. I don’t know if the touring and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle would have been for me. On the other hand, I enjoy the creative process. No matter who was in what band, there is a natural course as an artist, and we couldn’t put out Awaken the Guardian over and over – things would change and people grow as artists and evolve…it’s hard to answer what would have been. I could have continued with other musicians, but the bottom-line is that I made a decision and I have to live with it. But here is a great opportunity for me; I have the best of both worlds. I have been successful in my own life and am able [to] do music again, and do an album I’m proud of.
Blistering.com: Any talk of live dates?
Matheos: There’s some talk, but nothing confirmed. John has a regular life outside of music, so any touring…there won’t be touring. It would be one-offs at this point. I’m doing all I can to get John back out there and do a couple of shows.
Arch: And I’ve been more open to it than I have before. I’m not doing this because for any other reason to have studio work, which is difficult and has its own challenges. My performances onstage…I have a reputation that everyone knows that I have certain phobias. I don’t know why or how it happens. Being out of it for so long, it’s going to take some work. I have some work ahead. I have to rehearse; I just can’t let this go. I need to have rehearsals and stick with it.
Blistering.com: I think it’s safe to say you have quite a few people behind you, John.
Arch: They always have been. They’re the most loyal fans.