Fates Warning Guitarist Discusses Creating Arch/Matheos Debut and Future Live Appearances
John Arch and Jim Matheos have a history that dates back to the early eighties. Matheos’ guitar play and Arch’s vocals define the initial period of Fates Warning. While Arch stepped away from microphone duties for Fates—Ray Alder stepped in, his relationship with Matheos did not end. Along with long-standing Fates Warning bassist, Joey Vera and ex-Dream Theater drum legend Mike Portnoy; the two rejoined for John Arch’s solo project and released “A Twist of Fate” in 2003.
Fast forward eight years later and these renowned power/prog players once again step into the studio. “Sympathetic Resonance,” (read the review ) the first recording under the Arch/Matheos banner reveals chemistry cultivated through a relationship of nearly thirty years. The Fates Warning fans who have waited seven years for a new record will rejoice in “Sympathetic Resonance.” Matheos’ first three songs were originally written as Fates tunes, and the other positions are manned by Fates Warning, so in many ways this is a Fates Warning record, it just bears a different name and the group’s past singer.
With overtly positive feedback from press and fans alike, “Sympathetic Resonance” will surely go down as progressive metal necessity. Guitarist Jim Matheos spoke to Metal Underground on the phone about forming the group, recording the album and future live appearances.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): “Sympathetic Resonance” has been available to the public, legally that is, for a couple of weeks. How do you feel about the finished product? Did it come out exactly as you expected?
Jim Matheos: Two different answers to that question. We don’t really have too many expectations going into it as far as what it’s going to sound like. We just work on it from day one and keep doing things that we like. Hopefully, someone else out there likes it when it’s done. We’re happy with it. I couldn’t say it sounds exactly like we envisioned from the beginning because we didn’t really have a vision for it. Yeah, we are extremely happy with it!
Cowan: Have you paid attention to the fan and journalistic response? If so, how has it been received?
Matheos: Just a little bit. Metal Blade keeps us up to date. They send me a lot of reviews and stuff like that. Other than that, not really too much. Everything I’ve seen so far has been positive, which is great!
Cowan: You originally approached Ray Alder to provide vocals, but he couldn’t commit the time. Was he too busy with Redemption?
Matheos: It’s a little more complicated than that. I’m hesitant to talk about it. I want Ray to address that because it’s his deal. I think it’s a little more complicated than he was busy with Redemption.
Cowan: Because you originally wanted to use Alder, did bringing in John Arch change your vision in any way?
Matheos: It didn’t really. The whole thing started off as the first couple of songs were going to be for the next Fates Warning album, so it wasn’t really another project with Ray. It was another Fates Warning record. It became obvious that he wasn’t going to be able to do it. I thought the next best thing, since the music was leaning towards Fates Warning’s direction, would be to have John do it. He was the original singer. I always like to work with him when I have a chance. This time around, he seemed to be interested. He kind of comes in and out of the music business every couple of years. He seemed to have an itch to do something, so I played him some of the music. He was pretty inspired by it. Having said that, the first three songs, maybe thirty minutes of it, was already written before John even got involved. From there, it was just a question of continuing on with that feel that had been started already, so I don’t think it really changed the direction too much when he came in. Obviously, with him singing he had suggestions for changes as far as extending patterns, shortening patterns, maybe changing something here and there that would help him elaborate on his lyrics better or do something melodic that he wanted to do. Pretty much, we stayed the course from where I started it.
Cowan: Speaking of Alder, have you heard his new Redemption album “This Mortal Coil?”
Matheos: I have.
Cowan: What did you think about it?
Matheos: You know, that’s not really a fair question for me because I don’t really like that kind of music.
Cowan: “Neurotically Wired,” “Midnight Serenade,” “Stained Glass Sky” and parts of the other songs started as songs for the next Fates Warning album. Previously, you worked with John Arch on his solo album. Why didn’t you just keep the John Arch name? Why did you make it Arch/Matheos?
Matheos: The “Twist of Fate” record that you’re referring to was more or less a solo record for John because he came to me with the first song, which is “Cheyenne,” which he had basically written all by his self. It was an all acoustic song. It was a twelve-minute acoustic song. He wanted me to help him out, arrange and orchestrate it, to make it heavier, so it would be appropriate for a full metal band to play. Having done that, we then collaborated on a song. I was much more there to help him facilitate what he wanted for that record; whereas, this one is more of a collaboration between John and I, kind of like what we used to do in the early days of Fates. There is a difference there, although it’s the same, two players. There is a difference in the way it was structured and the basic hierarchy of the whole thing.
Cowan: You also play in OSI. Did you bring any of the experimental elements from OSI to this album?
Matheos: Not so much. I knew from the beginning, even when this was slated to be a Fates record that I wanted to have it a bit more stripped down, and take some of the keyboards and electronic elements out of it and have a straight forward, heavy record, although some of that still seeps into it. I usually have a large folder of some of my ideas on my computer that I go back to, and some of those can be used for OSI or Fates, they are kind of interchangeable. On this record, I wrote strictly with those parameters in mind.
Cowan: Do you write a riff, record it, put it on your computer and then go back and try to match it up.
Matheos: (Laughs) Yeah, there is a lot of that going on. It works a lot of different ways. Sometimes, I’ll just write a song from start to finish without having to do that. Sometimes, I’ll have a riff that I like that I know I’ll want to use at some point, and like you said, I’ll record it, make some notes in there about what tempo and what key it is, and I’ll put it in a folder. Maybe later on, if I’m stuck for a part, if I need a bridge or something, I can scroll through there and see if anything piques my interest.
Cowan: You and John are critical of each other during the writing and recording process, but you have mutual respect and you enjoy this criticism because it brings out the best in both of you. That being said, do you ever have heated arguments that come close to physical confrontations or swearing at each other?
Matheos: No, no, no. First of all, I think we are much more hard on our self than we are on each other. Having worked together for so long, we both know the appropriate way to bring up a problem area. I know how to deal with it for John and he knows how to deal with it for me. It’s very delicately done, and since there is that long term history with us and mutual respect, we listen to each other. It has never gotten to the point of heated words between him and me. There are differences, and we work them out and talk about them, but it’s a lot smoother than it is in some of my other situations (laughs). I can tell you that.
Cowan: Did you write the lyrics to this album, too?
Matheos: No, that’s all John. Ninety-nine percent of the music is mine, and 99.9% of the lyrics are his.
Cowan: That being said, are the lyrics a continuation of “Twist of Fate?”
Matheos: I don’t think in the direct subject matter it is. I think it is in the sense that “Twist of Fate” was the first time that John ever dealt with writing personal lyrics. The first Fates records were more of a fantasy, imagination types of thing. With “Twist of Fate,” he started dealing with personal subjects. This record, it was even more so. I don’t think they are about the same thing, but in the sense that he is trying to get a few things off of his chest, and express a few emotions and experiences he’s been through the last couple of years. It’s a real personal record for him.
Cowan: Three of the tracks on “Sympathetic Resonance” clock in at over ten minutes. Did you set out to make epic-length songs or did this just happen?
Matheos: It was pretty organic. It always happens that way. The song dictates itself. Sometimes, songs start out with me thinking they are going to be short, but then I go off on a tangent that I enjoy, and then it turns out to be a long song. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. Sometimes, I start off with an idea that I feel will carry me through for ten minutes, and then it sums itself up in five minutes, which is the case with “Midnight Serenade.” It’s really a question of where the song wants to go. I know that sounds kind of spiritual.
Cowan: It’s the flow.
Matheos: Yeah, but I don’t want to sound spiritual or anything else; it’s just the song lends itself to where it wants to go. I’ve learned over the years to listen to that, rather than force my own ideas onto it.
Cowan: Did you have to trim some of the fat, which would have made these tracks even longer?
Matheos: No, if anything they get extended. I’ll write a song, maybe it will be eleven or twelve minutes, and by the time John gets his hands on it—he’s the lyricist, he often squeezes word in there, we often have to extend a few sections or even put a couple of chords in there to help him out to get everything out that he wants to say. If anything, some of these parts got extended. Not too much was trimmed at all.
Cowan: Do you have any touring plans? Might we see you double up with OSI or Fates Warning?
Matheos: Unfortunately, no. There is a lot of interest out there. It really comes down to John’s schedule. It’s up to him if he wants to do some things. Looking at it right now, we’re scheduled to do one festival next year. We’re looking at the possibility of doing more. Certainly, there is no extended touring for this. It’s just not going to happen because of his schedule. He’s got a regular day job and a family to support. Also, he’s not totally taken with performing live. He hasn’t been on a stage for twenty-five years or something like that, so it’s pretty daunting.
Cowan: But you do have a festival date, though.
Matheos: We’re doing one show in Germany next year. That’s one hundred percent confirmed. We’re looking at doing a couple more over there, maybe a couple here next year, but no intentions of doing extended tours. That’s unfortunate because I would love to, but it’s just not in our cards. Our festival appearance is at Keep it True Festival on April 28th of next year.
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