An Interview With Ray Alder Of Fates Warning – Live From Madrid
Fates Warning has long been a favorite among serious metalheads. These pioneers of the progressive/power metal genre (later turned straight progressive) have forever marched to the beat of their own drummer (usually in a fascinating time signature). The more intellectual (fine, nerdy) metalheads have spent countless hours arguing the progression of their music, arguing the merits of their different vocalists and lauding alternate stages of their career. In fact, we here at Last Rites think they are so important, we recently gave them the Royal Treatment that only legends deserve, a Devil’s Dozen.
With members involved in countless projects, it’s been difficult for the band to get together and write and record a new album. In lieu of that, they’ve delivered for the hardcore fans two live LPs from recent tours. The latest, Live Over Europe, due out June 29, 2018 via Inside Out, is a staggering double-disc (or triple-LP) containing nearly every track the diehard fan would want to hear. You can head straight over to Inside Out Music and pre-order whatever format you want. We suggest the triple LPbecause we know if you’re a Fates Warning fan you have a pretty sick audio setup going on.
Ahead of the release date, Manny-O-War calmed his nerves and sat down to make a long distance phone call to stellar vocalist Ray Alder to chat about the tour, craft beer, their recording process and what might be on the horizon for a band that never says die.
Where are you living now?
I’m living in Madrid.
You lucky duck!
I miss the States though. I’d love maybe a nice philly cheesesteak sandwich or something.
That’s a fortuitous segue as, being from Connecticut, I’ve wanted to ask you guys this for a while but, there’s no real, physical connection between Fates Warning and the Nutmeg State anymore, right?
Wow. I guess not. No one lives there anymore except John Arch who works with Jim Matheos but, you know, yeah. The band was originally all living there so you can kind of consider it a home-base or roots but yeah, no one is there anymore. Bobby is all the way down in San Antonio; I’m in Madrid. We’re spread out.
I actually wanted to ask you about Bobby Jarzombek because he’s involved in so many projects I was curious how much time you guys actually get with him when you’re recording.
Yeah, man. This last time was really different. We’ve never done it this way but he recorded his drums down in San Antonio. Before we’ve done stuff like, you know, I can record at home or at Jim’s or Joey can do his parts at home but for drums we always, always, always use a studio. Always. But, this time we decided that since he wanted to do them at home, we would try it out. He recorded them at home and then the producer, Jens Bogren, put everything together.
I’m not sure it’s something we ever want to try again because it took a really, really long time. Like a lot longer than our usual methods. It really took a lot longer than it should have. Like, a lot longer. It put a real strain on all of us. It wasn’t Bobby’s fault; we all agreed to it beforehand but it just really wasn’t the right decision. I’m not sure we’d make that choice again.
Well, it sounds great. I’ve been really critical of a few records that used that method because it was a noticeably lazy production result. That’s not how Theories of Flight sounds at all. It sounds great.
I think one thing that helped with the frustration was that ended up having a lot of time. I mean, he probably got frustrated after a while sending us files and hearing responses where we’re worrying about the “3rd beat on the 4th bar I hear more of a mid-tom range” kind of thing. That’s gotta be frustrating.
Did you guys choose to do some live albums just because of availability and finally being together?
I’m not sure how much the public knows about what’s happening yet, so I’ll just say there are some other projects going on because members of the band, so, in the meantime, there was going to be a break from Fates Warning for everybody. We hadn’t done a live album in over twenty years so, in the interim, we’d do something for our fans where we could hold them over for a bit before we get back to the office, so to speak. Basically just something to fill in the time. I mean, in the last twenty years we accumulated all this material we had yet to record live, so the time seemed right.
And you guys decided to do two live albums!
Yeah. These tours almost killed me too. Some of the longest sets we’ve ever done. The longest set we decided to do was in Greece, over in Athens. During the tour we’d switch it up, play one set one night and one set the other night but, in Greece, we played both sets. It was over two hours and forty minutes. I mean, it was awful in that I just had nothing left in the tank after that show. Plus, we were doing five shows in a row with one day off to recover. That’s a lot, man. Two hours a night, and I’m an old man. It was fun though, a real challenge. And we had a really lucky break on this tour in that nobody got sick. I mean usually one person gets sick, and then the whole bus gets sick, but then you’re basically just fucked. But, this tour, I think only one person — maybe Mike [Abdow], our guitarist started to get sick but fortunately no one caught it. I mean, I get sick almost every tour. But not this one.
What were the shows like where you knew that a live video was going to be shot for actual editing and release? Was that just cut footage or were you told in advance?
When we did the video for “The Light and Shade of Things,” that was in Aufscheunberg, Germany. It’s a nice venue, not really that big, but it holds about a thousand people. We actually sold out a few nights in a row, maybe three or four.
Does that happen for you guys in America anymore?
Nah. That really only happens in Europe. It seems like European fans have embraced the band way more. I mean, speaking as an American, it’s very easy for an American fan to move onto the next thing or just forget about it. We just have so many different options. But Europeans, they just stick to what they like, thirty years or more. I mean, look at Manowar. They still do festivals and do really well and their fanbase just continues to stick behind them. Very loyal fans. Not saying anything bad about Americans, I just think there are more options.
Preaching to the choir here. I’ve lived in NYC for a bunch of years and I go to fewer shows because of the abundance, and I just get so lazy about taking the subway a few stops, while Europeans are driving across borders for shows.
Oh, man, I was the same way. I lived in LA for about twenty years, and I’d be like “where’s the show tonight? Orange County? I’m not driving an hour. That’s ridiculous.” And that’s even for a free show, on the guest list, and a band I want to see. I mean, your priorities are different over here. Things just seem easier. You could have a nice movie and dinner two blocks away.
What are you guys doing with live shows now? I mean, what’s the approach because you really don’t get a lot of time together.
We try to stay true to what the song is. As a music fan, I can’t stand when bands get up there and do medleys. I fucking hate it. It’s just one of my things. When singers will change up the melody in the middle of the song because they’ve done it 500 times or so, but, for the fans, they want to hear the original version. I mean, we might cut a small keyboard part here or there just because, but normally, it’s true.
On this last tour, we would actually soundcheck with a few songs we weren’t going to play that night because we just hadn’t played that song in a few days and wanted to go over it. I mean, as a band, as a unit, we don’t rehearse. We could easily not play for a month or so, and then we just fly to the same place, have a long soundcheck, and that’s it. We’re all professionals, so we practice at home, and we’re ready to go because we all value the idea that time is short and we don’t have much of it once we’re together.
Personally, living here, in Madrid, I have a rehearsal space in the center of the city, and I can just work on singing a few times a week, and that keeps me in shape. Back in LA, I would never, ever do that. That’s probably why, back in the day, I would throw my voice out all the time. I would just never practice.
Do you live in Madrid full time?
Yeah. Got married and moved here. I mean, it’s been culture shock.
Is it insanely hot right now?
You know, it’s not. I was just talking to my wife about that today. Went out to lunch, and I’m like “want to sit outside?”, and it’s too cold to sit outside. Like, first week of June in Madrid, and we’re cold. Because it gets hot as balls out here, like Arizona hot. And I can’t stand the heat. But, compared to LA, we actually get seasons out here, and it’s beautiful. But the winters are fucking brutal. It’s like a Connecticut winter without the snow, but with plenty of wind. It will regularly get five below zero. That’s just fucking cold.
But on the other hand you can pick up really good wine at affordable prices.
Oh man, it’s great. You can get a great bottle of wine for fifteen bucks. I mean, a great bottle. Like you drop fifteen bucks on wine and people look at you like, “What? You gonna take that in your Maserati?” It’s really amazing. My wife and I actually have a wine collection now. She is really into beer, which I like, but I’m more of a wine guy. It’s crazy, Spain is like number 5 in the world for craft beer right now.
Really? All we seem to get over here is Estrella or San Miguel.
Shit. Those — Estrella, Mao, those are just our Miller, Bud, and Coors. There are actual craft beers. Like a whole scene. There are beer festivals over here. We went to one last weekend, and we’re going to one this weekend. We have a huge fridge outside, just full of craft beers. I’m like, nervous about it, telling my wife we have to drink that beer because you can’t just collect it. It goes bad; it’s not like wine. We gotta drink it.
Like, this next festival has over 125 different kinds of beer, so we’ll be taking a train to this one.
Okay, I have one last thing for you before you go drink all the beer in your fridge. What’s going on lyrically with you now? I mean, earlier with Matheos, it was more conceptual, and now you’re writing much more personal lyrics.
Well, yeah, Jim [Matheos] always wrote the lyrics before. I never wrote them. It was a given that they would be written for me; before Jim, they would be written by Arch. At first, it was really intimidating when Jim would ask if I wanted to contribute something. I mean, Fates Warning fans aren’t your average fans, so it was intimidating. I’d say they’re maybe smarter than your average fans. They are usually adults who appreciate music on a deeper level. I’m not trying to insult anyone, but I think our fans are unique in that. So writing lyrics for fans was kind of intimidating, like “What are they going to think?”
And then on Darkness in a Different Light and Theories of Flight, it was like, “You’re gonna write the lyrics for this album.” I haven’t really heard any complaints, which has been cool, but it’s still pretty intimidating. Particularly on Theories, it was like I knew what was happening in my life. I was about to get married and move to Spain and really leave behind my friends and family, and of course, I’ll see them again, but just being there won’t be an option anymore. So pretty much most of the lyrics stemmed from that: life changes, moving on, trying to grow up and stuff.
Well, it’s not only deep on a personal level, but it’s also a hell of a singable album. Great record to drive to.
You know, it’s funny because my wife is a fan of the band, so we’ll be driving somewhere and she’s like “Do you mind if I put this on?” I’m like, “Yeah, go for it.”
So you guys end up having your own version of that Carpool Karaoke thing?
Ha. No, I wouldn’t fall for that. I always tell her that unless she’s paying me, she can’t hear me sing.