ProgPower Interview: Ashes of Ares' Matt Barlow and Freddie Vidales, Off The Cuff
During their set at ProgPower USA XIV on Friday, September 6th, vocalist Matt Barlow and guitarist/vocalist Freddie Vidales of Ashes of Ares made it clear why they were chosen for the festival over a year ago. Between songs, Barlow noted that being selected for the ProgPower lineup at such an early stage was such a reassuring moment to them. In an interview before the show, he had informed me that festival organizer Glenn Harveston tapped them based on only faith and a phone call, relying on his faithful gut instinct that they would deliver, despite the fact that the band had only four songs written at the time.
As confirmed by the crowd a year later, Glenn’s gut proved to be right once again. Another true believer, official Ashes of Ares sponsor and ProgPower devotee Stephanie Rosenblatt described to me the feeling of supporting a band whose album wasn’t even out yet. She noted that “being a sponsor is such an amazing experience,” and one that had paid off with the fiercely lit-up figures of Barlow and Vidales dominating the front of the stage, with the front pit area all to herself as a privilege of the sponsorship.
Prior to the show, the two guys were sitting comfortably in a backstage area with me, trading jokes and telling me about the recording of their debut. Their extremely laid-back demeanor belied years of concert experience and musical skill. Through bouts of hysterical laughter, they dished on topics such as Wacken, surprising themselves, writing and recording their debut, and crowd dynamics. I quickly saw why Glenn wasn’t worried, why sponsors were eager to assist them, and why my internal compass guided me toward the Nuclear Blast booth to pick up their album upon entering the venue that day.
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): You guys are releasing the album to the ProgPower attendees first. Was that a decision you made, or was it the record label?
Matt Barlow: Both, I think. We both had the same kind of idea. We were shooting for that and we knew we were doing ProgPower. Unfortunately, with the way the world is today, I don’t know why we can’t release on the same day worldwide -- It is what it is. It just so happens that the label is very active with ProgPower, they wanted to come here and have it available. I’m glad that they have it.
I’m going to go get my copies shortly. We don’t have them yet, so we’d like to see them. It’s certainly something that just worked out. We had this gig booked before we were even with Nuclear Blast. It’s just one of those cool things -- as soon as Glenn saw that we had a band together and were putting out teaser stuff, he called up and said, “I want you to come play.” That was really super cool.
Freddie Vidales: We didn’t even have a whole set list yet! We had four songs that were halfway done, but were like, “Yeah… Okay!”
Matt: But we knew that we had it in us to do it and even if we weren’t signed at the time, we would have come here with original songs and some covers. We knew that we were doing it. We explained that to Glenn, Glenn was completely happy just having us, and we’re excited to be here.
Frank: You guys would have loved to have seen the video reveal last year. I was in the room when they revealed you guys and the crowd just loved it!
Matt: Ah, that’s awesome.
Frank: You guys have a unique perspective on festivals. You’ve played a bunch of different festivals before -- obviously, as Iced Earth. What is your favorite part of playing festivals, in general?
Matt: Obviously, the crowd. Usually, the crowd is a bit bigger and you get that fervor going. As long as you can connect with the crowd, then they throw it back at you and it’s just one of those things that’s really kind of cool. Also, you’re touching other people that maybe weren’t into you and they’re seeing what you can do live and really relating to that. We played the Rock Hard festival in Germany, and people were hearing our songs for the first time. Because we were giving it out to them, they were giving it back to us, it was just that cool thing.
I don’t know if it’s exactly just that festival atmosphere, where everybody’s thinking “Hey, it’s a festival, so we really can get into it,” but it’s just a neat thing. This is certainly a unique experience for the US, I think. ProgPower itself is very cool and we had a great time playing here when we played here with Iced Earth. Glenn is obviously a pro and everything about this is really pro. People that are that into the music, where they want to come here and are flying from everywhere in the US, Canada, and even Central America, just to come here… It’s a statement. It’s a testament to how cool it is.
Frank: What has become your favorite festival, overall, over the years?
Freddie: For me, I’ve got to say Wacken. It’s one of those festivals that you always want to play once you get to play it. It’s unreal, a sea of people. A lot of them are great, but if I had to pick one, it would be Wacken for me.
Matt: It’s a unique experience. In the world, it’s big and monstrous. It’s really what the Dynamo used to be. Back in the day, back in my day…
Frank: I’ve only read stories about it. (laughs)
Freddie: (laughs loudly)
Matt: Exactly. (laughs, talking like an exaggerated senior citizen) “You were still suckin’ on your mother’s titty when that was back in my day!”
(Everyone laughs hysterically.)
Freddie: You had to translate it from the original Aramaic!
Matt: Yeeeessss, I’m the only one with gray in my beard here.
Frank: (dying laughing) You were the one on the Shroud of Turin, right?
Matt: That’s correct. Absolutely. (laughs)
Freddie: (gives Matt a look)
Matt: (To Freddie) What are you talking about, you LOOK like the Shroud of Turin! (To Frank) It is like I said, Dynamo set the standard back in the day and now Wacken does. As far as big and over-the-top craziness, for metal crowds, goes. There are other festivals that are multi-musical, but Wacken…
Freddie: I’d like to get us on Lilith Fair someday…
Matt: Yes. (laughs, sees me looking at my sheet for the next question) Moving on!
(Matt and Freddie laugh)
Frank: I have a lot of questions! Sometimes I forget questions, where I’ll freeze up in an interview or forget to ask one of the really cool questions that I spent time thinking about! So I’ve had to write them all down as a practice.
Matt: Heh, just call us later. “Hey, by the way guys…”
Frank: Yeah, (imitates his voice) “Heyyy, by the way guys…” Anyway, so what’s the single weirdest experience that has happened to you at a festival in your time? If it’s at Wacken, that’s a bonus.
Matt: One of the weirdest experiences we had was here when we were loading out all of our stuff.
Freddie: YES! The nightclub.
Matt: We headlined, and then they emptied out the venue here. Everybody was waiting in line to get into the nightclub. We’re trying to load our stuff into the bus out in front, and so we’ve got a whole different crowd of people -- not a metal crowd -- outside. We’re back to the basics here, moving our own shit, so it was interesting just trying to get out of here. It was neat. We brought stuff out and people were taking a break and sitting on our stuff. (laughs)
Freddie: We’re trying to be polite, and not get our asses kicked. “Oh, hey, man, it’s cool if you sit there, but just be careful of that…”
Matt: “Hey, thanks for watching that for me, man!” (laughs)
Frank: Yeah, it’s only a $4,000 guitar!
Freddie: No big deal.
Frank: Since we’re at ProgPower, what are some of your favorite progressive and power metal records?
Freddie: I honestly don’t know what power metal is. I’ve heard this label, but I’m a death metal guy, so… When people say ‘power metal,’ I’m like “what does that mean?” You can mention a bunch of bands, but…
Frank: I have a theory. I think it has to do with magical powers. Bands that talk about characters with magical powers.
Matt: That could be it.
Freddie: I don’t know what power metal is. There’s so many categories that I just gave up categorizing metal bands a long time ago.
Matt: There are a lot of categories for metal, and it’s a way for people to break it down and get into what they like specifically.
Freddie: Are we power metal? You’ve heard our stuff. Are we? I don’t know what we are.
Frank: I’ve heard the stream. I bought the album just now. The stream was a low-quality audio file. It’s something like 192 MP3.
Matt: Sure, it is. It’s meant to be, and people don’t get it, and they’re like (uses an exaggerated grandmother voice) “the drums sound like a typewriter!” Well, you know, you buy the CD, you put it in your stereo, you crank it up to the volume that metal is supposed to be listened to, and all those sounds come out. It was recorded dynamically. I know a lot of people don’t understand the term. It’s not a wall. It gets sweeter when you start turning up the volume. That’s the way we recorded it, that’s the way it was mixed and mastered, at higher volumes, because it’s a fucking metal record!
Matt: Anyway, people that get it get it. There are always going to be critics. Back to your other thing…
Freddie: Symphony X, I like them. Are they considered [power metal]? I don’t know what they’re considered. I just like them. Symphony X for me. My vote!
Matt: Yeah, Symphony X is really good. I’ve always been a big John Arch fan, and what he does. I’ve liked the Arch-Matheos project that came out recently, so that’s my stuff. Matheos’ other band, which is escaping me for some reason… the one that John Arch used to be in and is no longer the lead singer for…
Frank: Fates Warning!
Matt: Fates Warning! Thank you. Jeeezus… I was losing my mind. To me, they were the first prog band. John Arch doing that crazy shit that he does with his voice... (impersonates John Arch, singing.)
Freddie: (laughs at Matt’s impression) How’s that again?
Matt: I can’t do it, but it’s one of those things where I just go, “Wow, that’s really cool! That’s really awesome.” That’s my favorite as far as prog metal goes.
Frank: You were talking about dynamic a little earlier and I noticed that you did the album with Morrisound Studios. How was the choice made?
Matt: I asked the guys, I said that I would like to record with Jim for at least the vocal parts. Then we were looking at it and Jim said he could work within our budget, and that’s the direction that we went in. We went and recorded the drums at Morrisound, and recording in a room like that is awesome with the stuff that they’ve got. I’ve always recorded with Jim except for one record and, from a vocalist’s standpoint, it’s always really cool for me.
Freddie: It is really cool for him, as a vocalist.
(Frank and Matt both laugh)
Freddie: I worked with Jim on the last Iced Earth record. I had a great time working with Jim. It was awesome. Jim’s got a great sense of humor. I learned a lot just by watching him and taking his advice. I walked out of that going, “Man, I’d like to work with this guy again.” Then, when the time came up and Matt mentioned Jim, I’m like “Let’s do it! Definitely.”
Matt: They’ve done a lot of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra stuff. Jim’s been affiliated with them in regards to engineering. A lot of Iced Earth records were recorded there.
Freddie: He’s done symphonies there, too.
Matt: Yeah, it’s a nice size room. They have two rooms there. The big room is the best one to do the drums in. It just sounds amazing.
Frank: I bet -- I’m an audio engineer, myself, so I nerd out about that stuff. Since it’s kind of metal credo to pay homage to the bands who came before you in your own music, what are some of the most blatant hero-worship moments on record, for you guys, that you just love to play, unapologetically?
Freddie: Oh, you can flat-out hear on our album, like “Okay, the Slayer riff is next…” It’s all influenced by somebody else. Slayer, you’re going to hear slapping your face a whole bunch of times. The last song on the album, the beginning was inspired by Symphony X with the off-timing stuff. King Diamond, Amon Amarth, there are a couple of Behemoth parts in there. [Iron] Maiden. When I was writing them, I got the inspiration for certain songs by thinking “I’d like to do something like that.”
Frank: This is all just Ashes of Ares that you’re talking about, not Iced Earth?
Freddie: No, not Iced Earth. I didn’t write anything in Iced Earth.
Frank: Oh, shit! Right, sorry…
Freddie: Not that many people did. (laughs)
Matt: (laughs) One guy did!
Freddie: One guy did!
Matt: Regarding approaching the vocals, I don’t know. I just go into it feeling what I feel. A lot of times, people say I sound like I’m doing it one way or another way and it reminds them of someone. I don’t know if I’m doing it consciously or subconsciously. The basis for “Move The Chains” ends up sounding a lot like Metallica riffage. I didn’t intentionally do that, but it just felt right to me when I was doing it. I gave it to Freddie and he actually turned it into a real song.
Freddie: I added some Megadeth in there, too.
Frank: Good choice!
Matt: (laughs) Yeah, it kind of just evolves that way. I don’t think there’s anybody that can say “I’m sure that Steve Harris probably just goes, Yep, this is my Thin Lizzy riff… A lot of my Thin Lizzy riffs!” (laughs) Every band that you idolize, you can go back and find some band that THEY idolized and so on…
Freddie: Except for Tony Iommi!
Frank: Of course.
Matt: Diamond Head was inspired. Metallica was inspired. It goes on and on.
Freddie: I wouldn’t look at it as we’re paying tribute to them, it’s just that it’s in me. It’s part of me. I guess, in a way, it is paying tribute because I got influenced by all of these great bands and so the way I write is based on listening to them all my life. I’m not trying to do it. It’s just what I do.
Frank: Excellent! In the spirit of moving forward, with new projects and new things, in what ways have you raised the bar for yourself -- surprised yourself?
Freddie: With Barlow, the bar was low. So…
Matt: That’s right.
Frank: I should’ve seen that coming. (laughs)
Matt: Yes, we’ve set the Barlow.
Freddie: Basically, any band wants to have their next album better than their first. But the approach we’re going to take, I think, is not to force it. We’re still just going to write what we like, and if we think it’s good enough to go on a record, we’ll go from there. I think that’s probably the best approach to take so that the music is more genuine.
Matt: Yeah. This is the first time that I’ve had the ability to write so much, lyrically and melodically, as far as the vocal melodies are concerned. It was a really cool for me, almost like a kid with a new toy. I was able to do that and explore different areas and keep in mind what people have said about certain things in the past, like the way I delivered a song live in “Alive In Athens” or whatever. I do tend to deliver songs differently live from what I was asked to do in the studio by the guy that wrote the song.
When you’re doing a live show, you’ve got to keep in mind breath control and all this other stuff for the entire show, so I approach the songs differently. Sometimes it ends up sounding a little bit heavier. I kind of approached that in a lot of these songs -- “How do I want to do these songs,” not “how does somebody else want me to sing their song.” I ‘explored the space’, so to speak.
Freddie: (laughs quickly)
Frank: So you’re a space explorer?
Matt: That’s right, correct.
Freddie: Major Tom over here! (laughs)
Frank: (laughs) Nice! How was the acoustic show for Fallen Blue, how did that go over?
Matt: It didn’t go over because we didn’t do it. We were not able to do that, but we are going to play there this year.
Matt: Electrically, yes.
Frank: The way it was intended.
Matt: Correct, yes. It will be a cooler thing for everyone. For one thing, this show is getting bigger and bigger. John has put this thing together that’s hopefully growing and hopefully it will grow into a nice festival situation as well. We’ll see how it goes.
Frank: Good to hear! So, do you have any future tour plans lined up right now?
Freddie: In about three weeks.
Matt: Yeah, Powerwolf. At the end of September. [Author’s note: Click here for the remaining tour dates.]
Freddie: It will be about 9 or 10 shows in Europe with Powerwolf, Battle Beast, and Majesty. It’s going to be fun. Powerwolf’s got the #1 record in Germany, so I imagine the crowds are going to be great and salivating. It’s really a chance for us. We’re a new band, so we’ll open for bands. That’s how it goes.
Matt: Powerwolf is #1 and people will think that we’re #2.
Frank: You shouldn’t tell them any different! Right? (laughs)
Freddie: Right! (laughs)
Matt: It will be cool for us. We’re going to be THE opening band, so hopefully we’ll be able to get people there to see us and we’re not playing to three people. (laughs) Our main thing is to get out there and push the record, hopefully be able to meet people, sell some t-shirts, and stuff like that. Kind of test the waters and see what people think about us over there. We’ve gotten some pretty nice reviews by people in Europe and here. It’s pretty cool, so we’ll see how it goes!
Frank: Thanks, you guys.
For a recent video tour update from the band, click here.
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