Jim Matheos and Joe Dibiase formed Fates Warning nearly fifteen years ago in Connecticut. Have you ever known of any metal band who's ever come out of Connecticut? Not me. This band is best described as playing "expansive progressive rock." The bio says this album is mellower with darker moods. I agree.
Q&A with Ray Alder
Ray Alder: Hello, Sheila please.
Sheila Rene': Yes, speaking. How's your day so far? Are you calling from Los Angeles?
RA: Yes, madame. Nothing to be proud of.
SR: Hey, you could live anywhere and do what you do.
RA: I'm following my girlfriend around. She's working on her acting career. Otherwise, I'd probably be in Scottsdale, AZ, where I came from.
SR: You guys have pretty much gone back to the way you worked on Inside Out, sending tapes back and forth.
RA: Yeah, pretty much. It was a difficult process and took longer than we expected; but, in the long run it ends up being really, really good for the band. We all worked on it individually.
SR: At home where you can be comfortable and relaxed.
RA: We all have our own studio set up. Jim will write a song, send it to Mark do lay down drums. I'll get in and write a melody and send it back to Jim for the lyrics...after about a year.
SR: I went in to search for Fates Warning sites.
RA: On the Internet?
SR: Yeah, are you an Internet guy?
RA: Not very much. I don't have a computer.
SR: They came up with 10 of 350,077 references to Fate Warning. Obviously I couldn't get into all of them; however, the first one is "The One." Axe's Page not only brings you FW stuff but other favorites of his like Alice In Chains. He can plug you in to Howard Stern, George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay sites including a fart section. A scream. A must see!
RA: Wow. I'll have to check it out.
SR: Axe spent 15 days and nine music stores trying to get his hands on this new album. He gives it a 10 on a scale of 1-10, by the way.
RA: Yep, I think it's quite a problem this distribution thing. That's great, a ten is great.
SR: Everyone who's found it and listened have all given it the highest of marks.
RA: Sheila, the biggest problem we're having right now is with RED Distribution. They're supposed to be a division of Sony, I don't know. We've had battles with the record company about this whole thing. We were actually on Billboard's "Heat Seeker" with an entry at #37 which is the first time we've ever been in Billboard Magazine in our nine years. The week this album came out we sold so many units that it was a big surprise to everyone. What the RED folks had distributed was a mediocre amount of records. They were gone and sold out. No records were available for shipment until two weeks later.
SR: It seems to be happening to a lot of bands.
RA: I have friends all over the country always calling me to say that they can't find the record. They didn't even know it was out. It's such a pain in the ass. Here's the band working themselves crazy to make a record like this. We think it's the best record we've ever done just because of the fact that it's truly Fates Warning. It's not something we wrote to try and get radio air play or on MTV. If anything this album is anti-radio and MTV because we've had no success there. It came down and we decided to just do an album for ourselves. That's what we did. We're so happy with and it can't be nobody can find the fuckin' thing.
SR: I know you're telling it like it is here.
RA: Even my girlfriend who's in New York right now. She's auditioning for a role in a soap opera.
SR: Which one? That's another of my vices that got started on radio in the '50s. I'm hooked to CBS Daytime.
RA: I believe it's "All My Children." I guess it's going pretty well for her since they've called her back for more auditions.
SR: It's the acting farm for all forms of entertainers
RA: She is really happy and has been working at it in Los Angeles for two years and there's sooo much competition here. She went to Tower Records in Manhattan and she found all of our albums in the computer except for the new one.
SR: You've put all your energy into this one song, one album format. I know Dweezil Zappa is working on a project like this using a variety of talented guitarists.
RA: I see. That sounds like a lot of fun. I don't know of any other examples.
SR: Is your album one song and one theme?
RA: Pretty much, yeah. It tells the story of a guy who's lying back in bed late at night and it's raining outside. He just has all of these random thoughts going through his head about the past, the present, the future and we've all experienced that. The same applies musically on this album.
SR: I like the idea of breaking it up into smaller chunks so you can have a reference point for back tracking or forwarding.
RA: It's interesting that you're mentioning that. It really is just one song. The reason that it's in 12 parts is for the sake of our listeners. We had made it in demo form before and I listened to it in my car. The whole time I had to sit and fast forward to try to get to a part I wanted to re-listen to the CD. I came up with suggestion to put some edit points in there. Now everyone thinks that it's 12 sections. It runs seamlessly.
SR: I went into sections and made notes if it had some interesting sample like on Track 5 and Track 6 with baby crying/vocals.
RA: We call that the Marillion Section.
SR: (duet guffaws) Marillion, I see.
RA: Jim and Mark are big, big fans of that band.
SR: The band I most thought of on track one was Dream Theatre. And you do have keyboardist Kevin Moore guesting.
RA: That's funny. It's the second time we've worked with him.
SR: Is Kevin playing piano as well?
RA: Yeah. The funny thing is that Jim, our guitar player, actually wrote all the keyboard and piano parts. Kevin just came and laid down what was on the tape. A lot of people think Moore wrote the parts, but it's not true.
SR: Jim writes everything. Jim can do everything.
RA: He's the brain. He doesn't even need us. No, he needs me to sing.
SR: He won't discuss his lyrics with anyone. Now since you're singing, you have to have a pretty clear picture here.
RA: I pretty much do. Another funny thing is when I write a melody I write without lyrics and send it to Jim for the lyrics. He words it to the way it's mixed into the music. Once I get it the tape back, the mood having already been set, I have to try and fit the lyrics in correctly and understand what he's talking about. I'm going for the proper feeling being conveyed to the listener.
SR: You're the guy. You've got to put the song over. (In the bio, Matheos says "He only regrets trying to encapsulate in a few sentences what took a year to write and takes an hour to get across." ) The alarm clock going off on Track 12 had me looking around the room.
RA: (laughter) That's just a little joke we put in there.
SR: I listen for those odd samples.
RA: We're really a fun band. We're not as serious as everyone thinks we are.
SR: I'm congratulating all the musicians who haven't cut their hair.
RA: (good guffaw) That's Joey Vera who played with Armored Saint with the short hair.
SR: I didn't recognize him.
RA: He's one great bass player. It was a stroke of luck that he had time to work with us. He has worked with us every day in the rehearsal studio...just Vera, Mark, Kevin and myself. He's very dedicated.
SR: I love Armored Saint. I always have.
RA: I'm hearing that there's a possibility of them releasing some old stuff. People in Europe, especially, are dying to hear it.
SR: Europe is so far ahead of the American audience.
RA: Oh, man you have no idea. They're all lovers of music.
SR: They don't seem to be in a camp like over here, always putting down some talented bands and musicians that fall out of their category. Cutting off their nose to spite their face, as they say. They're more adventurous and open-minded over there.
RA: In Europe everybody loves music and supports it as best they can. They're not likely to follow all the trends as Americans do. They're still supporting music from the '80s and before.
SR: You'll get off on the last thing on Axe's Page. It's the word "trends" with a red X through it. Have you had any professional voice training?
RA: No. I'm learning on my own. I had to learn how to sing so I wouldn't embarrass myself.
SR: You wouldn't exactly call this a theme album, but did you leave some space to possibly pick up the story in a later project.
RA: Nooooo, not really. I don't think we'll revisit that subject.
SR: This is your third time working with the famous Rush producer, Terry Brown.
RA: He produced Parallels. When we first started talking about this record the first thing that popped into Jim's and my mind was Brown. He's incredible and he has the talent and the ear for this type of music. He had a lot to do with the sound on this record. The first time we worked with him it was very intimidating. This time it was like old friends visiting. It was the smoothest recording session we've ever done.
SR: I've read where Jim thought you had made a mistake by recording Parallels and Inside Out.
RA: (blows out some air) That was.. I don't know. Parallels had a lot of singles. That was a lot of fun. We all worked together in Toronto for five months writing and recording that album. It ended up being the biggest selling record we've ever had. It was very well put together. We worked every day. I still think it's one of our best.
SR: And...Inside Out?
RA: We were a bit confused. We had some label problems and situations that I can't really get into. The band disbanded after Parallels, because we were so frustrated with all the bullshit and politics that you have to put up with in this industry. When we met up for Inside Out, it was a weird point in our career where we weren't gung-ho about the whole thing like we were on Parallels. I think it hurt the record, the vibe hurt the record. Hopefully, we got all that energy back.
SR: You came on board for 1988's No Exit album that everyone now calls the "breakthough" album.
RA: It was the first record and the first-ever Fate Warning tour. It was a turning point. We picked up a lot of fans on that record.
SR: I'm excited about the fact that you can come out and play the one-song symphony with no interruptions.
RA: We're going to break the show in while we're in Europe. Hopefully, our fans won't get tooo bored with it. We're going to play it straight through. It's taking a chance, but we think it'll work out.
SR: You've got fans all over the place as noted in your long list of websites world-wide. If you go out with a headliner you'll of course alter that schedule. Perhaps playing from the previous seven records.
RA: Yeah, we'll chop it up a bit.
SR: Maybe throw in "Leave The Past Behind" and "Eye To Eye."
RA: I'd love to open for another band. I really would because of the simple fact that we'd be playing for new people. We're headlining on this tour.
SR: Any bands in mind that you'd want to tour with?
RA: A long time ago we wanted to tour with Queensryche just because we're so compatible. We actually got in contact with some of their people only to find out that they don't want to go out with any band that sounds similar to what they play.
SR: The Dream Theatre tour worked nicely.
RA: That was two years ago. It was an amazing tour for us. It was so much fun.
SR: They're back in the studio and maybe they'll put something out in time so that you can tour with them again.
RA: It's a possibility.
SR: Are you contemplating shooting some footage on this tour for a long-form video?
RA: Yes, as a matter of fact, we are. How did you find out about that?
SR: I read the rumor on one of your websites.
RA: While we're in Europe for three weeks we'll have a film crew with us. They are filming and recording every show, filming on the bus, backstage and sight-seeing trips. At the end it'll be a movie with a soundtrack with old and new material.
SR: Is Japan a stronghold for you?
RA: Actually, a lot of people think that it is; but, we're really not that popular in Japan. I'd love to tour over there. We don't sell many records there. Maybe import-wise we might. It's okay, but it's not the numbers people think it is.
SR: Have you hired a keyboardist for the tour yet?
RA: Yeah, we're going to use Ed Roth.
SR: You worked with him before.
RA: No, we haven't. He's a really good player and a super nice guy. We've been rehearsing with him for a couple of weeks now. If everything works out, he'll probably do the U.S. tour as well. We asked Kevin if he wanted to go out and he wasn't into it.
SR: Touring is a very tough life.
RA: The tour has been pushed back to July 25 and eight week forward from there. I think we're starting in L.A. and move south and up to the east coast and back across the "Bible belt."
SR: I think you're last show was at the Austin Music Hall (3000 capacity) with Dream Theatre.
RA: I love that place.
SR: Which song did you do on the Magna Carta Rush Tribute album?
RA: We did "Closer To The Heart."
SR: Would you know if the Cherry Lane album is still available?
RA: It might be through import. I'm just not sure.
SR: You're just counting the days 'til kickoff.
RA: Definitely. I've been waiting for it for two and a half years now. That's the best part for me, touring.
SR: What do you like about working at the Carriage House.
RA: It's in Connecticut in a neighborhood-type setting. It used to be a plantation with a big farmhouse. The studio is downstairs while the upstairs is an old country-style home with a big kitchen. You live and work there in this great atmosphere. No distractions. The owner made us Thanksgiving dinner. I think when we start the next one, we'll go back to the Carriage House. We did Inside Out in Los Angeles and that was a crappy time and not a lot of fun.
SR: Who's singing harmony with you?
RA: No one, it's all me. I do all the vocals. On background voices Terry, Mark and Bill Metoyer, who worked with us on Inside Out, talked a little bit
SR: Were you a fan of Fates Warning back in the '80s.
RA: You bet I was. I was a big fan and they're one of my favorite bands. John, their old singer, was one of my favorite voices at the time. He was a great, great singer with some crazy melody lines.
SR: For any newcomer to this band, what should they listen to?
RA: I'd say start on the new one and then backtrack. They'll be able to backtrack from there. If you listen to Night On Brocken and The Spectre Within, you'll hear your basic heavy metal. We've progressed so much farther beyond what that was.
SR: In retrospect, is there anything you'd change about A Pleasant Shade of Gray?
RA: There's nothing I'd change about it. The producer and studio were great along plus we all did a really good job on the album. I'm very proud to work with Mark and Jim. I'm very lucky to have found these guys in life and to be able to be partners with. No, there's really nothing I'd change about this record.
SR: I read in some review somewhere that Fates Warning is a band with honest melodies over intricate musical arrangements.
RA: I've heard that before. That's great.
SR: Those 12 words cover it, don't you think?
RA: We've been one of the most ambitious progressive-style bands for quite a while now. We've been called a lot of things, such as the Kings of Progressive Metal. It's a pretty funny moniker, but if the shoe fits....
SR: Would there ever be a time that Jim would come up with some lyrics that you wouldn't sing.
RA: Possibly. There have been some lyrics that we've worked out. We're a very democratic band. Just because it's written down doesn't mean it can't be changed.
SR: Anything you have to say to the fans about this tour and this album?
RA: I just hope everyone will enjoy the show. It's going to be quite a feat to pull off. Thank you all for sticking around and being our fans for so long. We've been talking about adding some multimedia stuff, but I don't think so.
SR: Thanks for your time. I've enjoyed talking with you very much.
RA: Thank you, you're very welcome.