Original link – http://deadrhetoric.com/features/fates-warning-taking-flight/
By Matt Coe
Fates Warning – Taking Flight
Adapt or die. A motto many older bands of the genre struggle with – especially as the music consumption model streamlines into digital platforms where proper compensation becomes the hot button topic at hand. As one of the premiere acts in progressive metal, Fates Warning stride along from their 1980’s beginnings to a current incarnation of veterans well equipped to deliver all the goods in the studio and on the stage – and accept that branding and marketing in today’s scene means you are only as good as your last record or latest concert.
Lucky for newcomers or long-timers, the latest studio record Theories of Flight gives listeners an adventurous product that takes us on atmospheric, bluesy, and majestic plains. Guitarist Jim Matheos handles the songwriting and axe duties brilliantly – Ray Alder reaching into his voice expertise and channeling a lot of inner emotional depth especially in lower and mid-range capacities. Add in the rhythm section finesse from bassist Joey Vera and drummer Bobby Jarzombek and you can understand why this will be a record slotting near the top of the FW discography, which hasn’t happened in decades to these ears.
Ringing up drummer Bobby Jarzombek on the phone, we covered his thoughts on the approach taken in Fates Warning for the new record, how he feels about the state of drumming today – as well as a lot of talk about his personal drumming history from Juggernaut to Riot, Halford to Sebastian Bach… and a little Spastic Ink too.
Dead Rhetoric: Theories of Flight is the 12th Fates Warning studio album, and second that you’ve recorded with the band. Where do you see your role as far as a drummer within this band- given the previous discography and standards set by Steve Zimmerman and Mark Zonder – and how do you feel the overall recording sessions went this time around?
Bobby Jarzombek: The thing is, I started with the band in 2007. We did a lot of European touring from that time until we recorded Darkness in a Different Light. Right before that though I did the Arch/Matheos record, so it was a good thing because I was able to really get a feel for the band for a few years. We would go to Europe twice a year for like 5 years, and so I was really able to get a good grasp of the material, the fanbase, and that whole thing. When we started working on the material and Jim said he wanted to work on this record, I didn’t really think about it so much. I didn’t have to analyze anything, worrying about playing the right thing, if I was playing too busy- I just did what I felt.
I’m taking things as they come to me, whether it’s the whole song or a little part of a song. With the stuff that Jim sends me, he gives me a rough drum program and I listen to that, take my experiences and my style of playing and work with whatever is presented in front of me.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you encouraged to expand upon certain ideas that Jim gives you musically – and how thorough of a guide/demo track do you get before you prepare your parts and go through recording?
Jarzombek: It’s weird. The way Jim programs stuff when he sends the stuff to me, it’s pretty wide. It’ll be maybe sort of a double bass pattern, which he adds as he has that in his program, because stylistically he knows I’m a different player so he leans a little more that way- it’ll have a double kick and snare, and sometimes he’ll throw in toms here and there, crashes or whatever. The parts aren’t formulated and they aren’t looped- sometimes when a guitar player sends me something, as a drummer, it will be looped over and over, and that gets really confining to a drummer. The guitar players are used to hearing these loops and they get attached to those things. That’s the worst thing you can do, especially if you are in a progressive band. Maybe in basic rock it’s okay, but for a band like this to work with a loop makes no sense at all. Jim does give me that freedom to be open. I can say what needs to be the focus, whether it’s a certain kick pattern or toms, the melodic part and how they run- it gives me that open area and it’s so much better working that way.
Dead Rhetoric: The last album you recorded your drums parts up at Carriage House Studios in Stamford, CT- did you do this as well for this album?
Jarzombek: No, I actually recorded the drum parts for Theories of Flight at my own studio here at home in San Antonio, Texas. That was cool as well that I didn’t have to fly out there, I was able to take my time and do the record on my own.
Dead Rhetoric: There appears to be this inner confidence brimming throughout the record – especially within the two epic songs “The Light and Shade of Things” and “The Ghosts of Home”. Any particular moments that stand out to your ears as exhilarating or surprising?
Jarzombek: That’s cool that you mention that, the confidence. I didn’t really think about that. I think there is that. Those are epic songs, it builds, it goes through the highs and lows musically, emotionally. We’ve all been doing this for a lot of years- Ray did an amazing job on these songs, conveying the message. I know both of those songs have different meanings- “The Ghosts of Home” has a personal meaning for Jim, and “The Light and Shade of Things” Ray wrote the lyrics to that, that has a personal thing to him. I like those type of songs- when we play live and go back into the catalog to do a song like “Still Remains”, that’s a song that has that where you feel the song as it goes through those highs and lows and it gets heavy and light, bombastic. There’s a reward when you play a song like that where it has a musical achievement or accomplishment and also a message at the same time.
Dead Rhetoric: I know you’ve played with some great musicians in your career, but how does it feel to play with another seasoned veteran on bass like Joey Vera in this band?
Jarzombek: Joey is amazing. He’s such a great player. He’s got great feel, great choice of notes, and a very cool dude. Plays really tight, plays in the pocket- yeah, I love Joey’s playing.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe the work ethic and songwriting philosophy that Jim Matheos employs on a musical basis – and what are your thoughts on the lyrical direction these songs took?
Jarzombek: Well, Jim is definitely focused when he gets into something. When he starts a project he goes hours and hours at it per day working on it. He has that focus, very few people have that focus. My brother has that focus, Jim also does. As far as the lyrical process I’m not really involved in that too much, so I can’t speak much about it other than the songs that I know. There is that beginning of things, starting something and finishing it all the way through musically. And that’s why all the Fates Warning albums are so great and different, Jim is there from day one until the last day to make sure that everything is as great as it can be.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been with Fates Warning since 2007 – do you think the extended break between studio albums from 2004’s X to 2013’s Darkness in a Different Light could have hurt the live market for the band, as many followers could have moved on to other bands and you have to regenerate listener interest?
Jarzombek: I don’t know if it hurt anything as far as the band itself- the music industry is changing. Whether you are out there playing every year, every month, every day or whatever- it’s always changing. One thing it did do was it kind of gave Jim more focus of where he wanted to go with the band in terms of writing. We spoke about it briefly before this record- mentioning when he was starting to write, like ‘what are you going to do?’ He said he didn’t know- he was just going to start writing. I think sometimes having that break can be kind of a good thing because it probably helped in the fact that we were able to come back three years later with another record versus waiting that long break. Personally for me it sometimes helps too, not having to sit behind a drum kit. If I’m sitting behind a drum kit every day when I’m home, which I don’t do anymore, I will do stuff around the house because it gives me a better appreciation and a better focus when I do sit down. It doesn’t seem like a job that I have to do.
Dead Rhetoric: Given your long history in the hard rock/ heavy metal business, what would you say are some of the standout moments either on record or stage that you really feel a special fondness for – where you were able to push things to another level?
Jarzombek: Me personally? Wow… well obviously being in the Halford band, that was a big moment. The fact that the Live Insurrection album with Halford was a key moment for me, a culmination of the Judas Priest classics that we were playing on that tour, and the Rock In Rio festival was the last date of that Resurrection tour- so it’s on a DVD documented. We were opening for Iron Maiden and it was only a 50-minute set, but it’s a quick but cool synopsis for what the band was about at that point. Thundersteel, the first Riot album I did was great also because it was my first major release. That was a high point. Spastic Ink, recording with my brother and having those records out there and all the time that we put into those records together. There are different points that I look back on, whether it’s an album or a live performance, those are all kind of cool things.
Dead Rhetoric: You probably get inundated with requests for tips and technical advice based on your skills as a drummer. Where do you see the state of drumming today in comparison to possibly your younger years – and how do you think people can stand out to gain their own style?
Jarzombek: Wow. That’s a hard question. I would say at times that heavy metal, when it focuses too much on speed or too much on those areas I think it just kind of sucks. It doesn’t move forward in terms of dynamics or syncopation or whatever. Something that is done just for the sake of speed, I don’t see the point in it. Lately there are a lot more people that are doing ghost notes in their playing, just speaking drumming-wise on a technical level. There are a lot of guys that are re-discovering ghost notes, which anybody who grew up in my era learning the Steve Gatz stuff, or any of those guys, a little more of a funk in their playing, or jazz in their playing – there’s a lot more ghost notes now on snares, hi-hat lifts. That stuff went away for a few years when speed was sort of the dominant aspect of heavy metal. Now it’s starting to come back and it is kind of cool to hear that again.
Those sort of things give the drumming a sort of wider sound, you know? It’s not so one-dimensional. A lot of times speed involves kicks and a snare drum. If there are more dynamics you have different dynamics with the ghost notes, you have a hi-hat, you can have it splash, you can have it tight, quick lift, and open lift. You can add linear patterns when nothing is hitting at the same time, where it’s creating a 16 note pulse, or syncopated pulse. There are a lot of cool things you can do with drumming that I do see that some guys are bringing back. Sometimes I don’t like to talk so much as a drumming geek because I’ve been playing for so many years, it feels a little weird for me. I do think it’s something that people need to hear- it’s cool to hear that things are coming back around to aspects that I grew up on, more dynamics in drumming.
Dead Rhetoric: How does Fates Warning handle the changing business model of touring being so much more important to maintain a career versus the days when album sales were the biggest revenue generator?
Jarzombek: You have to go out there and tour, sell merch. And then there’s the thing of whether or not we want to do a VIP package, that sort of thing. Those things all help, I know some people don’t completely understand that, but those are necessary things that a lot of people have done. You have to in a way to pay the bills, all this when it’s done tastefully is really cool. The last tour we did a VIP pack where we had a pair of drumsticks, some guitar picks, an 8 x 10 signed by the band, and the price was really inexpensive for that. We thought about the things that fans would really want to have. People that just want to support the band, they know that they want to see us on tour and come out with another record. Those are things that have changed from back in the early days.
Dead Rhetoric: Has your approach to life changed now that you are in your 50’s versus say your 20’s and 30’s? Do you find you need to take better care of yourself to perform at your best given the physicality of drumming?
Jarzombek: Well, I don’t really have to do anything different personally. I have always had a strong work ethic, and when I’m home I do a lot more work around the yard, the garden I have going. That keeps me healthy and keeps me rather than sitting around on a computer all day I’m outside being physically active. As far as the drumming, it hasn’t hurt my drumming that I don’t end up playing every day. Playing every day was cool when I was younger and practicing every day. I don’t feel the need or want to do that every day anymore because I’m focusing on other things. I know what it was like to want to do that every day when I was 20 years old, that’s all I wanted more than anything. As you get a little older, things shift. That’s kind of where I am at now.
Dead Rhetoric: You met your wife in 1985 while she was working at a record store – and you’ve been together for over 30 years. How important has it been to have a supportive family in your corner given your hectic schedule on the road with all the recording/touring you do?
Jarzombek: It’s definitely helped. Of course it’s not easy at times because of being on the road. It helps to stay grounded, it’s kind of weird- I was on a recent tour with Sebastian Bach for six weeks, we are out there and then the next day I’m out doing stuff around the house. It’s having that focus of knowing what you are going to do and what’s important to you, I think that’s the cool thing.
Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be a part of one of the pinnacle records in the power metal scene with Riot’s Thundersteel – any special highlights surrounding that time period?
Jarzombek: Yeah. It was weird because that record was my first major record. I had done records with Juggernaut before that, but that was great because I’m not on all the tracks- I’m on five of the nine tracks. I got the call to fly to New York and it was my first time ever on an airplane. We did a live showcase at Brooklyn L’Amours club, and it was weird because we were waiting for a response from the record label, the people that were involved. So we did the four songs that were already onThundersteel and we did the classic Riot stuff. Nothing was happening, so we waited a few days and we didn’t know why we were waiting around, it seemed kind of stupid. The producer said he wanted to go back in the studio and finish this record, so we wrote the five other songs- “Flight of the Warrior”, “Johnny’s Back”, and a couple of others. We recorded those in a few days- “Thundersteel” had already been written. We recorded those songs in one day, I went home and waited for something to happen. I flew home and a few months later we were signed to Sony.
When that came out, we felt like Sony didn’t have our back because we toured on that record. We didn’t have a lot of people at the shows, they didn’t know about the new record, more about the older stuff. It’s weird, you don’t realize sometimes that when a record like that comes out- it’s on Sony so it’s out all over the world, you start to play out in Europe and Japan and everyone has the record, then you realize the impact of it.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you enjoy your time in the 1990’s with Riot as well- as there were some great records there too, especially Sons of Society…
Jarzombek: That’s one of those things where I was out of the band for a little while, I came back and did Inishmore, and then Sons of Society – I think at that point had I not got the opportunity to join the Halford band, which happened right after that record, had I not done that I think Riot would have continued on that same path. I love Sons of Society, it’s a great record and I think it’s better than Inishmore. Getting back together we didn’t have it quite together for that record, but by the time Sons of Society got together, that was the better record.
Dead Rhetoric: What does the touring schedule look like for Fates Warning in support of this record – as I imagine you already have a busy schedule yourself planned out over the next year?
Jarzombek: We are working on some things, nothing that I can mention right now. But we are working on some tours for Europe and the USA. One thing that we were able to do on Darkness in a Different Light is we were able to go to Europe, pretty nice tour on that record and the USA as well. We did a second cycle on both those territories and play a couple of different songs in the set list. Hopefully we can get this record out there and keep releasing tracks and keep the buzz going where we can tour a couple of times. I would love to do another Spastic Ink record, but you get so busy doing other things. Maybe one day we will put it together again, we’ll just have to wait and see.