The Eleventh Hour Radio Show interview with John Arch and Jim Matheos (07/17/2011)
By: Bryn Schurman
Audio URL: http://tindeck.com/listen/ucfe
Bryn Schurman: Hey, this is Bryn Schurman from the “Eleventh Hour,” and I got two very special guests on the phone with me, Jim Matheos and John Arch.
Jim Matheos: Hey, Bryn.
John Arch: Hey, Bryn.
Bryn: How you guys doing?
Jim: Good, thanks.
John: Good, thanks.
Jim: A little early out here, but that’s all right.
Bryn: I’m talking to you guys about your upcoming album, “Sympathetic Resonance.” Would you consider this a follow-up to “A Twist of Fate”? I know it’s not released as a John Arch solo album, but it is as Arch/Matheos.
Jim: I guess naturally it is kind of a follow-up, but we’re trying to look at this as a different band this time around, as a real band, even though we don’t have a proper band name. So it’s a follow-up in the sense that John and I are the principles in it, but I would more call it a debut album from Arch/Matheos.
Bryn: Is this a studio project solely, or do you think it might be touring as well?
Jim: I think primarily it’s going to be a studio project. John has other committments outside of making music, so it’s hard to do any kind of extended touring. Ideally, we’d like to at keast get out at some point and do a few dates, but I don’t think there’s any kind of extended touring anywhere in the future.
Bryn: You eventually reunited with John back in 2003. You asked him to sing on an OSI record?
Bryn: And that started the “A Twist of Fate” sessions, I believe?
Jim: That’s correct.
John: Yeah, exactly. It seemed that the OSI music, listening to it, was kind of a different nature, and it was like a natural progression, where we had talked after OSI, and I still had the bug to do something, and that’s how “A Twist of Fate” came about, back in 2003.
Jim had a busy schedule at that point, and we got the two long songs, 30 minutes of music, and we were toying with the idea back then about continuing and making it a full album. So, having “Sympathetic Resonance,” the question that you asked previously, it wasn’t designed to be the…
Bryn: Part two or continuation?
John: Or extension, right. But I suppose if you listen to “A Twist of Fate” and “Sympathetic Resonance,” you could make that assumption, because the lyrics are pretty much tied in the same type of lyrical content, and the heavy progressiveness. So yeah, they are separate, but it feels good to be able to have created this, a full length album.
Bryn: Was the songwriting process similar to the first time around?
Jim: Yeah, it’s pretty much always the same with us. We have a really comfortable way of working.
Ninety percent of the time, it’ll start with musical ideas that I have. I get those in pretty good shape, or at least what I think is good shape, before I even present them to John. Fully demo them out, except for vocals and lyrics of, course.
Then I give them to John, and he works his process on them, and very often he’ll have ideas for some changes that’ll help him vocally, that’ll help him get better melody lines, and he’ll put those in the songs. It’s really just a question of back and forth with me and him.
But it’s always been the same process. And it’s a very long process. It can take us anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months till we’re both happy and ready to call a song complete.
John: After hearing what Jim has come up with, I kind of feed off of his creativity. Start humming melody lines and then lyrical content seems to come after that. Yeah, basically the same type of process that we’ve always worked together.
Jim: Done since 1984, really.
John: Yeah, it seems to work.
There’s very few instances, that I’ve come up with a few ideas, maybe like with “Cheyenne,” and built on that, and Jim helped me put that together. Very few, like I said 99% of the time, it’s the music, Jim’s compositions come first, and then we build upon that.
Bryn: Now, the recording process. Are you in the same room at the same time, or are you doing it from different studios?
Jim: Yeah, most of it’s just the technology nowadays, it’s the way it ends up going. Everyone does their own thing at their own studio.
It was just John and I and Bobby doing the drums. Guitars were all done by myself at my studio, and then John would come up and stay with me for a couple days at a time and we’d work on vocals, so it was John and I together when we were doing the vocals.
Bass was done by Joey, by himself out of his place. Actually, now that I think of it, Frank came up to my studio and did his solos, too.
So, a lot of it was done separately, some of it was done together. But it’s just the nature of the way stuff is done now.
John: Yeah, very comfortable for me to be able to go up to Jim’s, just him and I working together, not a lot of pressure.
We both work the same way, and I think we both have the same guidelines, where we don’t let anything go until we’re both happy with it. So we’re not under time constraints, per se, as far as this has to be done today.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a big part of it. In the old days, when you were in a studio, you’re always aware of that clock ticking in the background, so maybe you had to let things go by that you weren’t 100 percent happy with.
Of course, the downside of that now is that we have unlimited time, and when you get two people together like John and I, we can use that unlimited time to just keep nailing stuff over and over again, until we’re both happy with it, which can sometimes be never.
John: Yeah, right.
Bryn: Now, was this an eight-year process, or was there gaps in between this?
Jim: You mean, like from “A Twist of Fate” to this record?
Jim: No, it was a long process; it wasn’t that long. I think we first started talking about doing something together, and passing ideas back and forth maybe about two years ago now.
No, we hadn’t done anything since “A Twist of Fate”. We did that record, and we both went our separate ways. I think we both knew at some point we’d get back together and do something, but this just really happened spontaneously a few years ago when I gave John a song to listen to, to see if he had any ideas or what he thought of it, and it blossomed from there.
Bryn: John, I was reading in the liner notes of “A Twist of Fate,” you mentioned about the process of getting your voice back to where it was. Seemed very arduous. Were you able to keep it up between albums?
John: No. [laughs] Because there lies the problem. From 2003, “A Twist of Fate” happened, and for me, working, I have a different life, and not being a full-time musician, it’s easy to fall back into your normal ten hour days and domestic life where there’s just so much to do.
So, not honing your craft and not singing, especially this time, it was hard enough for “A Twist of Fate,” but that came back a little bit easier, but this time it was more difficult.
A lot of time had gone by without singing. I found that at the beginning, your pitch is off, had absolutely no vibrato. Whatever muscles control the vibrato, they were gone.
So it was kind of a nerve-racking experience, and you never take anything for granted. I was wondering, “Hey, is your voice was going to come back?” and to what level is it going come back.
But putting the anxiety and apprehension aside, one song at a time, we went at it, and the building process started to happen, and my voice started to come back. Towards the end of the album, it started getting a little bit stronger.
I can’t say that I’m totally happy with where I was. I probably could have been a little bit stronger, but overall, I’m happy with what we put down, and I”m happy with the melody line.
I’ll add one other thing to that. On the past album, and this album is really no exception, I get carried away. I get in the studio, and I get a little rambunctious, and start wanting to hit every high note.
I put these expectations on myself, but this might have worked out better for me, because overall, the whole vibe of the album, I do hit some high notes, and it’s hard to sing, but overall, I think I use more of a range, and I think it’s just complimentary to the songs themselves in the long run, if you catch my drift.
So, it was a long process, and it’s something for me, in order to sing at that level, it’s something you really have to rehearse every day, every other day, whatever, by having a stringent practice time for that.
So, it wasn’t easy this time, but I’m happy with the results.
Bryn: Yeah, the two tracks I’ve heard sound great.
John: Thank you very much.
Bryn: You have three epics, or at least longer songs. I’ve heard “Stained Glass Sky” of that. The other two, can you tell me a little about them?
Jim: Yeah, I guess that would be “Neurotically Wired” and “Any Given Day.” I don’t know if I’d describe them as epic, but they are certainly long. For some reason, when John and I get together and write, it tends to lend itself to long songs. I think out of six songs, three or four of them are over 10 minutes.
It’s something that I enjoy, too. When I get writing, it always seems more interesting for some reason to do a long song. I don’t know, ever since we first started writing together, it just happens naturally that way.
John: “Midnight Serenade” was refreshing, having a shorter song, and kind of catchy; catchy choruses.
Jim’s compositions, I have to say, the great thing about that, yeah they’re long, they’re theatrical, but to me they make sense, because there is a beginning, there’s a middle, and there’s an end, and they come full circle.
And to me, lyrically, they make a lot of sense. There’s times, where, “Yeah, I didn’t finish what I had to say.” [laughing]
Jim: We need to add more parts.
John: Yeah, so we kind of expand a little bit. But I think they’re dynamic, and they make sense musically as compositions, and lyrically too, they come full circle. They make a lot of sense. That’s all I can say.
Jim: I think that’s true. There’s not really a lot of wild tangents. even for long songs, 14, 15 minute songs.
We’re real close to it, so it’s hard to be objective, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of needless parts. There’s no four minute solos, things like that.
John: No, there’s no showboating.
Jim: It all needs to be there. If a certain part wasn’t there, I don’t think the song would make as much sense. Again, that’s us being totally subjective about it, but hopefully it makes the same sense to everyone else.
Bryn: Have there been cases where, say, you have an extra couple of pages of lyrics that you need to get in there, it ends up adding verses, or whatnot, to it?
John: I think there was one or two songs where we were thinking of cutting a section out or something. But, yes, not maybe a whole page of lyrics, I know the lyrics are long.
In order for it to make sense what I’m trying to say, have it come full circle, and be complete, yeah, there were some things that I really felt strongly about, that I needed to have in there, lyrically, for it to make sense. So, yes, we would either add the part, leave the remaining part in there and work it in.
It’s hard to tell. When you’re in the process it’s hard to be objective. It’s a long process, but then when you sit back, and you listen to the finished song, that’s either when it all comes together and makes sense, or maybe you know that you went the wrong way with it. But at no point on this album with any of the songs do I feel that way. I feel that everything that’s in there, is in there for a reason.
Conceptually, the whole album does tie together, as in “A Twist of Fate,” with the exception of one song. So, what I wanted to say and convey to the listeners is in there, and makes complete sense to me. I hope everyone gets the same interpretation.
Jim: Musically too, I’ll say that it’s always flexible. When I write the music first, I kind of just envision “this is a verse, this is a chorus.”
But it’s always flexible, as to if he hears a part, to say what he wants to say, it needs to be twice as long, or half as long, so that’s always flexible. When I give him the music, it’s just a rough outline of what’s supposed to go where.
Very often, sometimes he’ll hear a part that I have designated as a verse, he’ll hear that as an instrumental section, and the part I have designated as an instrumental section, he’ll be singing over it, which I would never have envisioned, but it’s always a pleasant surprise for me when that happens.
John: Yeah, good point.
Bryn: That’s awesome. You guys were known as some of the pioneers of progressive metal back with Fates Warning. What was the music scene like when you were starting as misfits?
Jim: Hard to remember back that far.
John: Was that the beginning of the glam era?
Jim: A little earlier than that. I think we were all pretty much at that point influenced by a lot the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. Accept, Scorpions, Maiden, big influences back then. Those were all fairly established bands even at that point, but as far as the local scene, or even the scene in the States at that point, there was really nothing going on.
Bryn: Any progressive influences you had back then as well?
Jim: I think the progressive influences, especially for me and John, came up earlier than that, like when we were kids. At least just for myself, I was always divided. I had this real heavy side, that I liked to listen to Sabbath and UFO, but there’s also the progressive side. I loved bands like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Rush, Uriah Heap, and I think we both had those same influences, and you put it together, and this is what came out.
John: Yeah, it was amazing, we had a lot of very similar influences.
Bryn: Now, the first album, “Night on Brocken,” I’ve seen a couple of different covers for it, I kind of have to ask what the story was with some of those. There’s the one with the moon, the black sky with the moon, then there’s this kind of cartoon thing with a surly wizard, and I think some cougars?
John: [laughs] Take it away, Jim.
Jim: That was a disaster three times over, really. The first one is the watercolor one, that I think you just referenced, with the wizard?
Bryn: Is it conjoined twins? I don’t know what’s going on.
Jim: I don’t have it in front of me. I’ve luckily kind of blacked it out of my mind at this point.
John: That’s funny.
Jim: We were new to this whole thing back then. We were young and stupid. We just hired someone that said he was an artist. I think he tried to depict some of the lyrics in the song “Night on Brocken.” When we got it, we were all aghast. But it was too late to do anything.
John: We were working with absolutely no budget whatsoever.
Jim: Yeah. A few years later, Metal Blade wanted to re-release it, and I think the second one was the burning witch cover? I’m not sure if that was the moon or the burning witch one — I think it was the burning witch one, which really wasn’t much better — and then I think they finally settled on the moon cover. We just re-released a few years ago, we did a re-release of Brocken Inspector, and I wanted to use the original cover cause I think it’s so classic now, the original bad cover.
John: There is like a cult following, especially “Night on Brocken.” It’s of German origin, and the people just love it. They like that kind of thing. It’s raw.
Jim: We actually had a ceremony, back when we did “Spectre Within” we were here in L.A., recording the “Spectre Within” record and we took the original artwork for “Night on Brocken” and we burned it.
John: We had a burning party.
Jim: That was fun. I have pictures of it and we’re all burning it and then stamping on it.
Bryn: Wow. That’s awesome. I got the remaster that came out a bit ago. It has the moon superimposed on the watercolor thing there, so it’s a little bit of both.
Jim: Really? Is that what they did? I don’t remember that. OK, that’s cool. Because I know I did want to have that on the original cover. Maybe that’s what they did and I don’t remember.
Bryn: Yeah, and the disc is the moon itself.
Jim: See, now we’re so far removed from it that it’s OK to put it in there and it’s not embarrassing anymore; now it’s just a kind of a goof, but for the first 10 years it was pretty embarrassing.
Bryn: Was it stenciled onto an Econoline van somewhere? Airbrushed, I mean.
Now what’s next for you guys?
Jim: Well, we’re locked in here doing press for the next couple of days. Immediately. After that, I think John goes back to his normal, domestic life for a little while, and we’re toying with the idea of maybe doing some shows next year. Nothing is written in stone yet, but we’re looking at it.
John: We’re making baby steps; we’re doing good, you know? I know it’s known that obviously I haven’t toured since “Guardian,” and it’s something that I’ve been out of my element for so many years that it’s been nerve-wracking to me. It’s like stepping into the unknown again, but we’re talking about that now.
Jim has a very busy schedule coming up. This guy doesn’t sit still; he’s got the OSI going on; he’s got some dates coming up soon, and he’s planning on another Fates Warning record in the near future, so he’s very busy, so whatever the time allows itself and the opportunity that comes about will dictate what happens with this.
So far everything’s been good. The response has been overwhelming, really. I don’t think either one of us has ever taken anything for granted or expected that everything is going to come out golden. I’m never like that, so we’re pleasantly surprised that peoples’ response has been really good. I’m very surprised and very happy.
Bryn: One more thing from back in the early days. I read somewhere that after John left that there was talk of changing the name from Fates Warning.
Jim: I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t remember that, actually.
Bryn: It might be just a Wikipedia citation needed kind of thing.
John: One of those vile rumors.
Bryn: Well, I’m sure it was like if you had a name change to go with that, or something like that. I don’t know.
Jim: No, I don’t think they ever really discussed that.
Bryn: Coming back to the “Pirates of the Underground” today you may have a different sort of pirate, whether they’re not really, trying to bootleg your CDs necessarily as much as, like, “Oh, I like this song. I want to put it on YouTube.”
Bryn: What’s your thought on that nowadays?
John: Well, I think it’s a shame. I think that this was a lot of work, it’s an awful lot of work. It’s something that both of us and all of us, actually, that were involved with this, put a lot of time and effort into it. I know it’s only an hours worth of music, but it’s incredible how much time that we put into this and how much effort, and it’s kind of a shame. The fans are kind or undermining themselves by doing that.
It’s never been about the money for me. Jim does this for a living. This is his life; it’s his living. But having said that, I still think it’s a good thing to support; if it’s something that you like and you want to hear more of it, it’s something you should support. And not by downloading and bootlegging illegally.
Jim: I agree 100 percent. I think with this kind of project, fortunately, the people that are going to buy this–the old school fans that have been waiting for John and I to do something all of this time–are going to be the ones who go out and buy it. I think we’re lucky in that sense.
There’s always going to be a certain element that are going to get it for free, and that’s just the nature of the beast nowadays; there’s nothing you can do about it. It doesn’t make me happy, but I don’t stay up at night worrying about it, because there’s nothing I can do about it. Like I said: nature of the beast, unfortunately.
John: To add to that, we’re at Metal Blade Records right now, and having taken a tour of this place, it’s amazing. There’s a lot of full time people working here. They’re trying to trying to push the album; they have a product here and they need to survive as well, and in this marketplace it’s really difficult, so if you want to see these independent labels disappear off the face of the Earth and not have this music available to you that you love, that’s just what you’re going to get with the illegal downloading. I just think you’re doing the industry a disservice.
Bryn: The new album, out September 13th, “Sympathetic Resonance,” is this a CD or is a vinyl going to be release as well? Do you know?
John: Well, definitely a CD, obviously. We’re talking about vinyl, I just talked to someone this morning. It might be a Europe only thing, but the problem we’re having right now is trying to figure the side splits, because the songs are so long. It’s probably going to work. It’ll be a real limited issue, I think, but vinyl seems to be coming around again, and I think this is something that lends itself to it really well, so I would venture to say there’ll be some vinyl at some point on this one.
Bryn: Excellent. All right, is there anything else you guys would like to talk about for the listeners?
Jim: No, for me personally, I’d just say thanks and hope everyone enjoys the record.
Bryn: Awesome. Thanks a lot, guys.
Jim: Thank you, man.
John: Thank you very much.
Jim: Take care.
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