ARCH/MATHEOS (John Arch & Jim Matheos) Interview
It was twenty five years ago that the Connecticut-based Progressive Metalers Fates Warning released their classic opus “Awaken The Guardian” – the last album featuring singer-extraordinaire John Arch. Subsequently, the band further expanded their musical horizons with Ray Alder while John withdrew himself from the music business in order to focus on what guitarist Jim Matheos described in this interview as his ‘civilian’ life. Well, it was fate (no pun intended) that brought these two guys together back in 2003 for the release of the amazing EP “A Twist Of Fate” and fate again caused them to work again these last few months on a new project called Arch/Matheos, the seeds of which produced a six track album entitled “Sympathetic Resonance”. After being granted access to two of the album’s tracks I immediately arranged an interview with Jim and John and only a few days later I found myself talking to them over the phone on many interesting issues relating to the album’s release and their plans for the immediate future.
By Yiannis Stefanis.
• Guys, first of all let me tell you what a great pleasure it is to be doing this interview with you. Just the idea of the forthcoming Arch/Matheos release fills me with excitement! It is really about time you worked together again! The John Arch EP “A Twist Of Fate” came out in 2003 and that is a good eight years ago! What took you guys so long?
John: Well, it’s a twofold answer: Jim has a full time job writing and recording music, having a pretty busy schedule, while me, after the release of “A Twist Of Fate”, I pretty much dropped back and settled back to life as I knew it before. What took us so long? Well, with “Sympathetic Resonance” we were given the opportunity to work again together; a few mitigating factors were involved and ultimately it was an opportunity to make some music again and so we both took advantage of that.
• Fair enough, however, do you know what you did to us back in 2003? You released two really beautiful songs, and just as we started to expect more from you, you disappeared! After that release, fans of yours began assuming that this band would stay together releasing more songs, hopefully a full-length, but then you left us here hanging. That was quite cruel!
John: I apologise for that. Now, this was a good opportunity to finally make a full length album. I came out of the blue and also took me by surprise, but it was actually a good thing. It was not something I expected as nothing was really planned but now here we are, talking about the release of a full length album!
• So what is it about 2011 that created the right set of opportunities for you guys to work together on new music, something that was not possible in 2009 or 2010?
Jim: It’s a combination of factors really. Everything lined up the right way finally! I had some time and some music which I thought that John might enjoy and for whatever reason John decided that the time was right and that he was comfortable enough to delve into things – everything just lined up up right this time round.
• The name of this project is Arch/Matheos – different to the name John Arch under which the “A Twist Of Fate” was released. Does that in itself signify a change in the way the music on offer was approached this time round?
Jim: Well, we always create music the same way; it’s always been the same with us from the very first record through to this record – the difference on “A Twist Of Fate” is that we only had two songs and one of those John had already written (note: Jim refers to the amazing “Cheyenne”) and my job was mainly to come and help him arrange these ideas of his and orchestrate it a little bit. The other song “Relentless” was more of the standard way we work, a type of collaboration, but I wanted that album to be more of John’s musical statement; I felt that I was just there to help him get something out and wasn’t as much a collaboration as we usually do it – certainly not as much as we did on this record. This record was really a fifty-fifty share of all the work.
• Plus we have all those Fates Warning members who go involved in the overall process. Last time the band played in the Netherlands, I did an interview with Frank (note: Aresti/guitars) during which a few questions were asked with regards this collaboration. What I found to be very interesting was the fact that he could not reveal much about it. It made me feel as it is really you and John that get to call all the shots. He did mention, however, that I will be pleasantly surprised and indeed I am, having listened to both “Midnight Serenade” and “Stained Glass Sky” – the two tracks we currently have access to. They are both so different and that is exactly what I was both hoping and expecting from you. They certainly create the impression that “Sympathetic Resonance” will be quite a diverse album – is that indeed the case?
Jim: I think it is, yeah! And I think that…(laughs)…Frank was kind of being mysterious unintentionally as he was also pretty much in the dark until the time came for him to do his solos; I didn’t really play any of the material to him until he came into the studio to actually record his stuff. That was February when you saw him and I still hadn’t prepared anything by that stage. John and I kept this pretty close to ourselves all the way through for various reasons, mostly because we were not even sure whether we would opt for a full-length record until the whole process came quite close to the end. The other reason would be that we were not even sure who was going to be on it for a while; we just kept things to ourselves for a while.
• Having access to only two songs at the moment, I cannot really say what the whole release will be like, still I feel the need to make the following statement though I cannot really believe myself using these words – I am actually happy that you chose not to record another “Awaken The Guardian” type of album! There, I said it!
Jim: That was never even an option, to tell you the truth! I think that both of us would not be interested in going backwards; it all about going forward! If I came to John and said “I want to do “Awaken The Guardian Pt II”” or if he came to me with something like that, I think that neither of us would really be interested! We are both interested in moving forward and doing new creative things and keeping ourselves interested in something. It wouldn’t be interesting for me nor John actually to repeat something from the past!
John: How do you make “Awaken The Guardian” all over again? How do you plan something like that? It was what it was for the time, you know, and I don’t know how you can re-do something like that!
• I understand your point, however what I found quite surprising is how good your voice still sounds after all those years. If I compare your vocals on the new recordings and those in “Awaken The Guardian” it really sounds as if you recorded the latter last year! Trust me when I say that I am not the only person who thinks like that!
John: Oh, wow, I’ll tell you what – it didn’t feel like that when I first started singing (laughs). From “A Twist Of Fate” to “Sympathetic Resonance”, when we first started working on it, I have to be honest with you; it wasn’t the same like starting to ride a bike again – no it’s not! The voice tends to go, especially when you’ve not been training for long time and it took me quite a while to get it back. I was quite scared actually when I realised that I had no vibrato and my pitch was little bit wavery. This was a process of me building up my voice as we were writing and as we were making the demos. It’s not something that came totally naturally; there was a lot of hard work involved but I am happy with the end result. I always say that things could be better however I do think that I found my voice again and so I am lucky in that sense, I guess that my voice did come back!
• We are also very lucky as we will be soon enjoying one hell of an album by the sounds of it. Gents, let’s talk a little bit about the these two songs that are currently available, starting with “Midnight Serenade”. Quite a beautiful track indeed! I love how the ‘meaty’ heavy riffs combine with John’s voice; it sounds to be as if the main focus is his voice on this one really. Is that what you had in mind?
Jim: No, I think all of the songs we did we wanted them to be quite uniform and concise, with everybody doing their own thing and adding to the song! If you see the vocal as being the main focus of the song that is fine too. I think that this is probably because we prepared more of a traditional arrangement on this one, a verse-chorus-verse-chorus approach and we did give it a very hooky chorus indeed! That was not our intention but we are happy that it evolved like that!
John: That was again one of the songs that were really constructed by Jim and which is a little bit less technical and one that actually came about quicker than the rest as it was quite open. It was really open; we did not have to ‘dissect’ this one as we do with some of our most complicated compositions so I immediately started hearing melodies even before I had any lyrics prepared. I believe that this song was both lyrically and melodically put together fairly quickly compared to other songs.
• Especially if we are to compare it with “Stained Glass Sky”, where it takes a good three minutes of intricate instrumental performances prior to your voice becoming part of the picture, John. The first three minutes are sheer musical madness with amazing drumming parts and some immense guitar work, close to the approach followed by modern-day Fates Warning. “Stained Glass Sky” is absolutely sensational and I simply cannot stop listening to it!
John: I agree too! I am not really part of that whole piece but I love that as I believe that it is so fitting to the whole song.
Jim: Thank you so much!
• Jim, this question is more for you. “Stained Glass Sky” is close to what you are currently doing with Fates Warning with main difference being that the lead guitars are a little bit more prominent than usual and also more expressive. Can we attribute this to Frank’s involvement in the project?
Jim: It is really Frank’s contribution on lead guitar, something that even surprised me, how far he’s come in his playing over the last few years! He pretty much blew me away when he came into the studio with some of the stuff that he came up with. On “Stained Glass Sky” he’s got two leads which are pretty spectacular and there’s a lot more on the rest of the record!
• I enjoyed that immensely as the last few Fates Warning albums’ guitar work has less to do with solos and more with the basic melody and those heavy riffs which steer each composition. That was one of the pleasant surprises for me. The other one was, and that is really a credit to all of you guys, your ability to create a thirteen and a half minute song which, though constantly changing its rhythmical structure, always remains focused and easy to approach! That is sheer musical class! Any other word I would choose to describe it will insult it rather than give it justice.
John: A huge compliment really and I feel the same way. This song has a beginning, middle and end and it is indeed cohesive!
Jim: Yes, thank you! I think that that’s a great compliment for me because it’s hard to write a long song and the focus for me of writing a long song is to make it like that; to make it sound cohesive and for things to not necessarily go in a tangent that doesn’t make sense! I am not fond of making long songs just for making long songs! If a part doesn’t fit and stand out or making things concise and easy listening then I am not interested in doing it – I don’t want to stick a five minute crazy instrumental section that is simply going to stick out like a shore thumb and will only make a few guitar players happy.
• According to the information that I have been provided with, most of the songs in “Sympathetic Resonance” are going to be fairly long in their duration, is that correct?
Jim: they are, yeah! Three of the songs are over ten minutes long and the rest are, you know, eight, six, five…something like that; they are pretty long! But again, that comes down to each song. They should be the length of what we have to say in each song – no shorter and no longer. We don’t come into it saying “let’s do a record that has a lot of really long songs”, you know? We have this much to say and that is how long the song is going to be other than the other way around, saying “the song will be this long so let’s fill the space with it”.
John: I shouldn’t make a comparison with “Awaken The Guardian” but a lot of the songs were a musical journey on that one and this is also how I feel about this new one. These songs are of a different musical nature but this is still a musical journey and it takes you on a nice trip and then turns you back to where we started. It is quite cohesive as you said and all of the songs included make sense both lyrically and musically.
• You mentioned the words ‘musical journey’ which I truly appreciate from a fan point of view. This is what has been offered to us all those years – this ought to be not just a musical record, not simply entertainment but a real musical journey – one that I am sure that many like minded people will be most happy to undertake. For people like you, who have a natural tendency to record long songs, getting to decide when a musical idea is finally complete must be a total nightmare. How do you know when it is the right time to stop working on a given idea and move to the next level which is the recording process?
Jim: Making that decision is not really the hard part for me. When I am writing songs everything I do feels and is quite natural, to know where a song is to go and where it is that it should end. That is not the hard part that I have to worry about; the recording process is the part that I have the hardest time taking myself away! I tend to keep on doing things over and over until I feel that the music sounds better and better, which is not necessarily always the case. Writing, once you get into a song, well, they tend to write themselves. They all have a natural direction that they follow as to where they should go and where they should end and also at what point it becomes too much so that’s not typically a problem that I have.
John: There is a song on the album which is called “Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)” and for whose lyrical content I did have more things to say and that in itself gave the opportunity for an additional song, which is called “Incense And Myrrh” to be created and really wrap up the whole album by finishing the lyrical theme that made a full circle in my opinion. Lyrically it made sense but also musically it made sense and we both realised that the album was finished when everything made sense both musically and lyrically!
• So are the songs closely connected, not necessarily in a concept theme?
Jim: They are actually connected both musically and lyrically. Lyrically they are connected so that they flow very naturally, key to key and the chord changes between the songs, there’s been a lot of though put into that. John can talk to you about the lyrics and themes.
John: Lyrically they are all connected with the exception of “Stained Glass Sky” which you have listened to. From the onset I thought that it will blow people away with its complex arrangements and heavy guitars, but it also has this eastern feel to it and there is a lot of change with regards its direction in terms of lyrical content but that is only the case on this one. “Stained Glass Sky” is what it is because the music inspired me towards that direction, but as far as the album is concerned, it is heightened by a reoccuring theme which says it all in its title “Sympathetic Resonance”.
• What would you say was the main source of inspiration for this album? Being a fan of different styles of music, I hear a large amount of diverse influences that are not necessarily Rock orientated, so I am truly interested in your response. Are you currently listening to any specific kinds of music that would potentially influence the songs in “Sympathetic Resonance”?
John: For me, I have been out of this whole ‘element’, out of that environment, for such a long time that I don’t really hear a lot of music. Some of the bands that I do follow I tend to listen to a lot and as far as inspiration is concerned, I believe that it was a good thing that I have been away from the music scene as I was not really influenced by many things. Lyrically and melodically this album took me into a direction where I find myself looking inwards and not outwards for some of the inspiration as well as hearing Jim. I don’t know where Jim gets his inspiration from but I would imagine that it is inwards also. The compositions that he creates…actually it’s a pinball effect, as they tend to inspire me and I get the feel an emotion from where I feel that he is getting it too and this is a feeling that I tend to grab onto and then use the creating process in order to embellish it.
• So guys, “Sympathetic Resonance” is scheduled for September and it will be released by Metal Blade. What are your plans with regards promoting the album? Is there going to be tour in support of the album?
Jim: I think that a full-scale tour is probably out of the question because John has other commitments and a normal civilian life outside of music, but, you know, for the first time in many years we are actually talking about going out at least doing a couple of dates, maybe a couple in Europe and maybe a couple in the States! We are just in the planning stages right now, but a couple of options are on the table and we are looking at that!
• Jim, I am kind of used to going to the Netherlands just to see Fates Warning, as you have not graced us with your presence here in the UK. For me this has taken the form of almost an annual pilgrimage and I know that the moment something is booked over there, I need to go straight away and get my flights to come and see you.
Jim: (laughs) Well, this time we were over there for two or three weeks, or something like that.
• The line up which recorded “Sympathetic Resonance” is, with the exception of the singer, the same line up that we know as Fates Warning. When this band will eventually get together, how do you ensure that the outcome of the collaboration will have a more individual approach to it and not sound like another variation of Fates Warning? How do you manage to disconnect that part of your musical personality when you operate under the Arch/Matheos ‘umbrella’?
Jim: Well, I guess that there are just two different situations, the one in a live environment and the one in a studio environment. Live we have yet to play so what you ask is a good question and I am not really sure that I know how I will approach that but I think that pretty much the music will dictate it. It’s different music and if we go out with this line up that we recorded the album then I think that it will all come pretty naturally. I don’t think that there are too many worries about having to switch gears and say “Ok, we are playing with Arch/Matheos instead of Fates Warning” – it’s the music that will dictate what happens on stage and how we will feel about it. It’s not really, I don’t think, a big concern.
• Guys, what can I say; I am really looking forward to this album coming out as something inside tells me that it has a strong case of becoming a very important release for this year and I am sure that many people will share my sentiments. If these two compositions that we currently have access to are at all indicative then we are in for a massive treat! It’s been an absolute pleasure talking to both of you as I believe that there are two types of people being involved in music: the real artists and the entertainers, and you guys are definitely artists!
Jim: That you very much – that is a great compliment. I appreciate that!
• I really hope that everything works for you, I hope that we will get to hear more Arch/Matheos music in the future and hope to see you play live soon!
John: Thank you very much.
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