By Rodrigo Altaf
One of the most important bands for the prog metal scene, Fates Warning has had an extensive career since the mid 80’s, and recently released an all-encompassing live album. “Live Over Europe” was reviewed by Lotsofmuzik’s collaborator Rodrigo Altaf here. In an exclusive interview to Lotsofmuzik, their singer Ray Alder reflects on the state of the band right now, the gap between studio albums and how his voice has changed over time, amongst other interesting topics. Find the interview below:
Lotsofmuzik – First of all, tell us all about the new live album, “Live Over Europe” – it’s your first live album since 1998’s “Still Life” – not counting “Awaken the Guardian Live”, which was a different beast, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah, “Live Over Europe” is totally different. And it’s cool, man! It was fun, something we wanted to do which we hadn’t done one in over 20 years and it was kind of an idea, you know, we were still out promoting the new album “Theories of Flight” and we figured while we’re out maybe we can go ahead and record the shows and have some fun with it. We got to play some of our favorite places and make some new friends around the world. It was cool. It was a really great experience but very tough because it’s so long – the set was two hours long. We played five nights in a row and it was really, really rough. But in the end it was great. I think it sounds great. I think that Jens Bogren did a wonderful job mixing. The album has a really live feel to it.
Lotsofmuzik: I saw that tour here in Toronto, but before that my first Fates Warning experience was in 2011 when you played with Mike Portnoy in Sao Paulo – what kind of memories do you have of that show?
Ray Alder: Yeah, that was a while ago. I can totally remember that – it was a tour we did with Queensryche, and that night was when the arguing between them reached a peak. Yeah, we were just talking about that last night. So funny you mentioned it today! I remember everything that happened with Queensryche for sure – I’ll never forget that. And then playing with Mike was great, but challenging – we had just one night to rehearse and everything got messed up with his flights. He ended up getting in really late and we ended up going to rehearsal at like 11:00 at night or something and we were there until three or four in the morning. That’s what I remember. It was really tough, you know, and I was so used to playing with Bobby [Jarzombek, drums] all those years and then Mike comes in and everything’s completely different. So it was, it was a little strange, you know, because Mike kind of does his own thing. So that was weird, but it was a pleasant experience. I got to see São Paulo first time. So it was cool.
Lotsofmuzik: Coming back to “Live Over Europe”, why did you include tracks recorded in different cities and not just one show?
Ray Alder: It was Jim’s idea actually. It was an interesting idea because, you know, most bands just go do a live album somewhere, you know, maybe it’s a festival or maybe it’s one venue, their hometown or something, you know. But we figured it would just be cool if we could record in different cities and keep it live. We could pull different parts in different songs instead of having to overdub something. So in certain songs, instead of overdubs what you hear is actually a live part that was just pulled from another show in case I fucked up. I’m probably the one that messes up the most [laughs]. So it happens, but it was really cool to have different audiences represented in the album.
Lotsofmuzik: Was it demanding to listen to hours and hours and similar versions of the same song in order to choose what to use and what not to use?
Ray Alder: Jim [Matheos, guitarist] did all of that. I felt so bad for him, man. It’s all of those shows, hours and hours of material, and you’re going from one song to another pulling parts here and there. I’m sure it was a horrible experience for him, you know, and it took him weeks, weeks and weeks to do. But, you know, I guess it was a labor of love.
Lotsofmuzik: And the end result sounds incredibly cohesive and organic, even if you’re mixing parts of songs here and there. Aside from you saying a different name of the cities you’re playing at in each track, it sounds very much a consistent effort, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah, that is a great thing because of our sound guy, Rene – wonderful guy, man, he’s just absolutely amazing. And when we play live, we, we stick to the script, you know, we don’t really change things up that much, we try to stay as close to the original album as possible. And we played to a click, so every song is exactly in time. Every song is pretty much exactly the same. Maybe someone plays a little better than on another night or you know, or something like that. But, you know, it’s, it’s pretty much all the same thing. What you see is what you get!
Lotsofmuzik: Are there any particular songs you or other band members find challenging to play live? For me, Monument would be quite challenging for example.
Ray Alder: Monument, yeah! And it’s funny, again, I had this conversation last night with a friend of mine and we were talking about the drums in that song, that Mark Zonder messed up the drums once, and I think Bobby’s messed up the drums at one point. And before that, Mike Portnoy I think messed up the drums in São Paulo too!! [laughs]. There’s a certain part in the song, we call it the reggae part, and for some reason drummers get thrown off there. The funniest thing, man, you know, happened in LA. Mark was playing with us in the Parallels tour and during that part it turned into, we call it the kick drum solo because he just kept hitting the kick drum, “boom, boom, boom”. And everyone was trying to catch their place, everyone’s looking at each other going “one, two, three…NO, NO.NO!!!” [laughs]. I was on the side of the stage just going, “Holy shit…oh my God, I’m glad I’m not up there!!!” [laughs]. But I mean, it happens sometimes, and nobody’s perfect. I think if you’re a normal band playing at 4/4, then maybe you’re not going to mess up as much, but I think with our music, if you lose concentration for a second, you could end up in another world, you know, you have to pay attention. You have to. No getting around it. But other than that, yeah, I mean difficult songs…the nuances on “The Light and Shade of Things” are really difficult for me. There’s a lot of high parts and there’s really no part to breathe, you know, it’s singing the whole time and it’s hard to catch a breath but it’s still fun. It’s a challenge and I enjoy it.
Lotsofmuzik: You seem much happier now with your vocal output than you were in the mid-90’s, right? It kinda feels like the way you sing the old songs now is the way they were supposed to sound in the first place!
Ray Alder: Exactly, yeah. I mean, that was the thing back then, you know, as I got older, my voice started changing and I had a lot of problems with it and I was going to doctors and they were like, “oh, you need to quit smoking and quit drinking, and stop eating spicy foods” and all this. And I was like, “well, why don’t I just shoot myself now then”? [laughs] Yeah, what else is there? You know, no kidding. But, you know, my voice was changing. I was a kid when I first started – early twenties, or nineteen. And then I found my voice. I like my voice much better now the way it is, you know, like I don’t like the high screams. Yeah, I can’t do them anymore, but it’s,fine with me. I don’t miss them at all.
Lotsofmuzik: and there are certain songs like “Nothing Left to Say” where you changed the arrangement to fit the way you sing now, and they sound so cool. It’s like the songs got a more “current” and modern sound as opposed to sounding dated, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah. And even “Silent Cries”, you know on the live album. I like this version better than the original. Yeah. When we listened to it, we were all like, “Holy shit, this is actually really cool! We should have done it like this the first time!” The original was just too “whoaaaaaa!!” [screams in the original song arrangement]
Lotsofmuzik: Wait a minute, you still got it!!!
Ray Alder: Yeah, I’ll throw a scream or two in every now and then…[laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: And there’s great blend of old material with the more recent output in the new live album – what kind of process do you guys have in place to choose a set list?
Ray Alder: A lot of emails back and forth…but mainly we wanted to do songs that we hadn’t already included on the original live album. So we had to all move the set around and change songs, add songs here and there so that we were not redoing the same live album, you know, so that was it. And we’ve had a few albums since then, so we were able to choose from them. But to put 12 albums worth of music in one live album was kind of a pain in the ass to pick which ones we wanted to do. But in the end it worked out. We would switch the set slightly in different cities. Some cities we do more and some less, and in Athens we did everything that was like two hours – it almost killed me, man! [laughs] Two, two and a half hours or something, I think.
Lotsofmuzik: I think you have a lengthy following in Athens ways. Is that in particular?
Ray Alder: I don’t know! Probably because Jim’s Greek, but I really don’t know. It wasn’t always that way – when we first started going there it was just kinda normal, like every other country, but over the years it just became a thing. It’s amazing. Every European tour now we always end up playing there last, because it seems that from the fan’s reaction, every other show in Europe pales in comparison.
Lotsofmuzik: There was a lengthy period between “FWX” and “Darkness in a Different Light” where you didn’t release studio albums. What generated such a lengthy hiatus?
Ray Alder: I don’t know! It’s funny when we think about it. At some point everyone was doing their own thing – I was doing Redemption and Jim was doing solo albums and other things and time just got away from us. Everyone was involved with different projects, Joey [Vera, bassist] was doing things and finally, at one point we were on tour, and Jim and I were talking and said “let’s all sit down, concentrate and write another album”. And that’s what happened. And originally the first Arch/Matheos album was supposed to be a Fates Warning album, and it just, I don’t know what it was about it, I just couldn’t grasp it. It’s the weirdest thing – I worked on a bunch of songs and in the end Jim was like, “you know, it just seems like you’re just not into this”. And I was like, “It’s not that I’m not into this, it’s just that I’m not feeling it as much”. So he did the Arch/Matheos thing and then we did “Darkness in a Different Light” and we got back on track. It’s nice to come out and actually play new material after all these years.
Lotsofmuzik: and I think that since “Darkness in a Different Light” there’s a new focus in the band, right? “Theories of Flight” came out with a smaller gap between two albums. What changed for you guys to have more of a drive to carry on?
Ray Alder: I think it comes down to going out again on tour but playing new material. This brought a lot of new life into the band – it was so much fun to play something new! Something we hadn’t played live before, but I think that feeling just carried over. “Let’s just do another album, you know, continue down this road!”. And it was great. I was, I loved “Theories of Flight”, to me it’s one of my favorite albums we’ve ever done and I’m glad that we did it, you know, hopefully we can keep it up. Hopefully we can do another one. I can’t tell you that right now! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: You’re at a point in your career where you can reflect on the past with some distance whilst still having a number of years ahead – would you have done anything different through the years?
Ray Alder: I think I would rather not have taken such a long break in between and kept going. I think unfortunately maybe we lost a few fans along the way. But then also coming out with the new stuff, I think we’ve gained a few, so it kinda evens it out. With any band, losing momentum is not a good thing – people forget about you easily. Especially nowadays, there’s so much coming out, there’s so many different bands and if anything I would rather we had just kept putting albums out at least every two or three years, instead of nine. But other than that, I like all the music we’ve ever done. We’re very happy with the guys in the band – Bobby’s great, Joey’s fun and we have a great time together.
Lotsofmuzik: When you guys started to create your early albums and forming the blend of what today is known as prog metal, was it a conscientious decision to blend the likes of Iron Maiden and Rush, or did it come naturally?
Ray Alder: No, that was always Jim. He always wrote the music, so I just kinda went with it. Of course, he would give us something and ask “what do you think of this?” and we’d offer our opinion, liked it or not, but it was always Jim’s ideas and what he wanted to do. I didn’t even know what the hell prog metal was when I first joined the band! [laughs] I had never heard the two words together, but it was cool, it’s different. That’s why I liked it so much and that’s why I’m still in the band after all these years!
Lotsofmuzik: Do you follow much of what prog metal has become today? Bands like Haken, Leprous, Between the Buried and Me etc?
Ray Alder: I know then, but I don’t really listen to that stuff – actually I don’t really listen to prog very much at all, to be honest with you. “Between the buried and Me”, that band is nuts, man! I saw them a couple of times with Slagel. I was hanging out with Brian Slagel [founder of Metal Blade records] at one point and we saw them. But man, holy crap, they’re just absolutely technical wizards, man! I thought what Fates Warning was doing was complicated, but it’s nowhere near what those guys are doing! But they’re cool guys, and super talented. Haken I don’t know very much about them. I know there’s a big buzz about them – they’re from England, right? I find myself listening to different stuff. My new thing now is Volbeat, I don’t know why, but I like Volbeat a lot!
I saw them at the Download Festival here in Madrid and they’re fucking awesome, man! One of my favorite bands to see live. The singer is amazing – his voice sounds exactly like it does on the album. It was really, really cool. So I like that band a lot. Other than that, you know, I put on Pink Floyd or things like that at home, and just relax.
Lotsofmuzik: What was it like working with Terry Brown on “Parallels” and “A Pleasant Shade of Grey” – Rush worked with him until “Signals”, and then decided to move on. He seems still hurt by that decision!
Ray Alder: It wasn’t like Rush didn’t like him anymore, It’s just that they needed something different. They’d been with him for so long…we had a conversation with Terry, we had late night talks forever and ever and he’s a wonderful guy. We had such a great time with him, and we’ll never forget that. I mean I was starstruck when I met him, like “Oh, shit, it’s Terry Brown hanging out with me, and he’s telling me, I’m doing it wrong!” [laughs]. I worked with him into the wee hours of the morning and it was great working with him, it really was. I remember him telling us he had all these stories and we would sit and listen for hours talking to the guy. But it was great. He would come to rehearsal when we were writing Parallels he would come to the rehearsal room and you know, and give us ideas like, “what about this”, “what if you changed that”? Like he actually produced, you know, it was really, really cool. And obviously it’s our biggest selling album ever, “Parallels”. So it was a lot of fun. I’ll never forget it, and that’s a cherished memory.
Lotsofmuzik: What is the situation with Frank Aresti – is there a chance of him coming back to the band as a touring member? He has a steady day job, right?
Ray Alder: Yeah. Who knows? You never know. You know, sometimes if we’re playing San Francisco or something he’ll come out and do a song or maybe one day he will come with us. Maybe he’ll play on another album if we have one. I don’t know. If someone’s out of the band doesn’t mean they’re gone forever.
Lotsofmuzik: Michael Abdow does such an amazing job live – would you guys consider having him, Frank Aresti and Jim Matheos as a writing team in upcoming albums?
Ray Alder: I would like to. Mike’s a great writer, man. He writes some really cool stuff. If he were ever to write some stuff for Fates Warning, I’d be happy with that too.
Lotsofmuzik: You moved to Spain not too long ago – has this affected the band’s routine in any way? You all live in different cities, right? Do you have a system to make this work?
Ray Alder: Everyone has a little recording studio in their house. Whatever we need to do is easier than the old days of sending cassettes back and forth. So now we just email mp3s or wav files to each other and that’s much simpler. If I have to go to the States it’s kind of a pain in the ass, I have to get there a day or two before to acclimate etc. But it’s the same with the guys when they come to Europe, you have to get here the day before at least and relax, get your shit together. But everything’s fine. I mean with touring and everything it’s the same system. For me it’s just a pain in the ass to travel alone to South America or somewhere else, because it takes forever. But it’s all cool. Everything’s the same. Nothing has changed.
Lotsofmuzik – Would you consider writing another concept album like A Pleasant Shade of Grey? And how about a tour playing it in its entirety?
Ray Alder: We talked about a tour playing A Pleasant Shade of Grey in full before. We would want to do it with Mark Zonder, but he’s just not into touring. Maybe he’ll do a show or something here and there but he’s just not into the whole touring thing. If we were to play that album in full, the only way it would really do justice to the album is to have Mark there. We brought it up with Bobby and he wasn’t very excited about the idea. And we kind of understand the idea of keeping it pure – Mark’s style is very distinctive, particularly on that album. But we enjoy doing the songs live, and it would be great to do the whole thing live again. And as far as recording something new like that, I’m not against it. Who knows, we’ll see what Jim comes up with next time!
Lotsofmuzik: What’s the next step for the band, a new album/tour cycle soon?
Ray Alder: At the moment we really don’t know – there may be more shows announced soon, but we can’t discuss that just yet – maybe in a few weeks! [laughs]
Lotsofmuzik: Ok, man, great chatting as always!
Ray Alder: Cheers, man! Bye!