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Fates Warning - The complexity of simplicity - October 2000


To put down many words about this band almost borders on waste of space, because together with DREAM THEATER FATES WARNING are among the spear-point of Progressive Metal. With their current album "Disconnected" Jim Matheos, Ray Alder & co. impressively prove their reputation as a band that enhances its sound with differentinfluences without alienating them from themselves. Ray Alder gave us his thoughts about it all over the Atlantic.

"Disconnected" is a good bit heavier again than "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray". Was it a conscious move to go into that direction again?

Well, Jim, who did all the music, just started writing. We never discussed, which direction we would go, be it more progressive or heavier. It was never some pre-planned development, I guess it was just what Jim was like at that time. And every time we heard a song, they were getting heavier and heavier than the last one (laughs). Maybe he just wanted to have a departure, something straighter than "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray".

You can also detect some more modern, almost industrial elements. As you mentioned, it was not pre-planned, but could it indicate some opening of the FATES WARNING-sound towards those styles?

I think when we did "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray", we experimented a bit with keyboards and suddenly we had four keyboards, drum-loops, sequences and sound-effects. To me it makes much sense, because it also gives more colour to the music. When we did "Disconnected", it was just a natural progression for us to move on. Again it adds so much mood, I think, gives so much to the song.
I think that it is good, when you add something like that into your music, something that still enhances it. But of course you have to get it in smoothly and not dive in head-first and suddenly become Madonna or something. (laughs)

The keyboard-playing of Kevin Moore (ex-DREAM THEATER, now CHROMA KEY) also has a big impact on the general sound of "Disconnected". Is it just his style of playing the keyboards or did he also have a say in the arrangements?

Just as with "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray", when we also had Kevin to do the keyboards, everything already was written for him. Jim had written 85 to 90 per cent before Kevin came in. But he definitely has a very own style of playing, which also, of course, has an effect on the overall sound as well, he's Kevin Moore, for God's sake, he's a great keyboard-player!

The title-song is divided into two parts, one at the beginning, more or less like an intro, and the second bringing up the rear, taking up the melody of the first, also using vocal-samples, creating a very interesting atmosphere. Was there a reason for dividing the track into two parts?

Originally, when "Disconnected" was written, it was just one song, but when we came to the studio, it seemed to make sense to add it in the beginning. It was only meant as the beginning of the first song, but then we realised that it would be interesting to split it the way we have. It was quite spontaneous.

As you said, Jim has written most of the music, do your musical ideas not fit FATES WARNING?

Everybody has musical ideas, but I'm no musician, I cannot play any instrument (Hey, your vocal-chords are instrument enough! You do 100% more music than I am able to! - Alex). So anything I say would have to be done by others. Of course we are working together on different things, but most of the music is Jim's. But it's fine with all of us, it's his style.

Now to something that you might say a little bit more about, the lyrics. What do they deal with?

About different stuff. Human emotions, feelings that we've had, some deal with loss, others with the fact that you shouldn't despair and all of that.

The cover is also very interesting. Is it some kind of metaphor for today's growing problems with social contacts, with people getting estranged by modern technologies?

Exactly, it's the new world in one photo (laughs). I had to try to explain the cover to a couple of people, but, exactly, we are living in the electronic age with internet, e-mails, fax-machines and all that technology. It's great and solves a lot of problems, but still it's responsible for totally different problems again that had not been there before.

Now there was a "krckxklshshshshkrcks" and then silence... A few minutes later, Ray called again, complaining about his telephone...
So what is your personal opinion about the internet?

Well, I'm not a big fan of e-mail. I cannot really explain it, but I much more enjoy a phone-call. I always call it trendy and fashionable, but the internet is a wonderful thing, because you can search and download any kind of information you are looking for. You just go online and you can search for everything everywhere. It's a great tool.

...but also bears the problems with stuff like Napster and other uncontrollable spreading of soundfiles and all of that...

Yes, I agree. The internet still is a relatively new ground and I think that many rules still have yet to be played out. Eventually I hope that there will be ways of getting a hold on the growing piracy with Napster and related sites, because if you don't pay for it, then you're basically taking the money out of the artist's pocket. But I think that eventually some rules will have to be laid down, but at this point it's all frightening.

What's your favourite album of FATES WARNING?

Probably "Parallels". We had been all together for five months writing and recording that one. I think that it just played out and overall made a lot of sense, a great record with the fact that we all worked together. I like the songs, I like the mood, so that's most probably my favourite.

What do you think, when you see bands with considerably less talent than FATES WARNING, but selling so many more CDs than you, have success and all of that?

No, we all have opinions about what we like and what we don't like, that's just what the masses are into at that point, that's fine with me. People such as ourselves, we write and play music that we do and we have a very, very small niche in the market now. The fans that listen to our music are doing it, because they appreciate the music and also want to be challenged a bit, contrary to the music he hears in the radio when he's at work.
I shouldn't say that we are a bigger group than we are, but I'm happy that people respect the music and that.

The American music-scene had been quite, hm, hostile towards Metal for a long time. So how's your position in the USA?

I think that we're about as big in the USA as we are in Europe, maybe a bit bigger now. Americans are really trendy and weird. They follow a lot of things and leave a lot of things behind very quickly. The biz here latches on to something very quick and right now it's the Rap/Rock-thing. But as far as Hard Rock, those bands are getting larger again, bands like SLIPKNOT, SEVENDUST (Hard Rock? Geez, those Americans really have a different definition of Rock and Metal... - Alex) So who knows, maybe the times have changed again, so our style might get a bit larger again, too.

I can imagine that your spare-time is fairly limited. What are you doing besides music?

Different things. Travel a bit, meet friends and family, a lot of time is consumed by playing computer-games (laughs) and that.

So if somebody offered you, say, one million dollars, would you quite making music for that?

Hm, probably not. I don't think so, but the chances of somebody coming up with an offer like that are pretty small anyway (laughs). Music is my life, I've been doing it for fifteen years, it's all I know. I mean, it's not a job, it's something that you live with, something that is part of you, it would be something like selling your soul.

So what does music in general mean to you? How do you hear music, do you analyse songs or do you just enjoy it?

I'm not really someone, who sits down and analyses songs, I like what I like, I don't try to break down anything.

And as a big DREAM THEATER-fan, one question that I am really interested in is, what you think about "Scenes From A Memory"?

Truthfully, I haven't heard it.

Aaaah yes.

I listen to different things. I do listen to some progressive music, but I'm more a simpleton, listening to Hard Rock, I'm not really into Progressive Rock and Metal. I love playing it, because it's challenging, but not too much listening to it.

Then how does it go with ENGINE? Are there any concrete plans for the nearer future?

Yes, we are planning a second record, but as for now we're still discussing what we want to do. What kind of sound we're going to use and that, so we're not yet decided. We just know that it will be something that we'll like (laughs).

You had been playing at Wacken with ENGINE...

And the Dynamo.

...so what were your impressions of this festival?

It was cool, it was fun, it was very different, a lot of music that I normally would never listen to. The atmosphere was great, everybody being very relaxed and enjoying themselves, I'm not sure, if that were possible here in the States.

Do you still have any contact with your former colleagues of SYRUS?

No, I haven't spoken with them in many years.

And we've already reached the end, which can only mean one question: What is your favourite question about FATES WARNING that you haven't been asked yet, but would finally like to answer?

Oh, never had that one... (long pause) I don't know. I cannot answer that one. No, maybe if we're happy with what we're doing. The answer would most definitely be "Yes!" (laughs)

Discography:

1984: Night On Bröcken (CD)
1985: The Spectre Within (CD)
1986: Awaken The Guardian (CD)
1988: No Exit (CD)
1989: No Symmetry (CD)
1991: Parallels (CD)
1994: Inside Out (CD)
1995: Chasing Time (Best-Of-CD)
1997: A Pleasant Shade Of Gray (CD)
1998: Still Life (Live-CD)
2000: Disconnected (CD, Massacre)

Alexander Melzer



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