Symphony X: An album saved from the darkness

Michael Romeo - Symphony X“It used to be better” is something you hear with every new generation. Nobody can deny the music industry is changing; it has already changed, and some will say it hasn’t always been for the best. Faced with a trend of quick listening over which the single format reigns supreme, we can legitimately wonder what will become of the album format. Not the album as a collection of songs, mind you – the album as a carefully thought-out piece, as an indivisible whole. The kind that takes you on a small trip, or indeed a big journey you’ll remember years after, every time you listen to it. Does this type of album still have a future? Will so-called “classics” still exist in the years to come? Do they even exist nowadays?

That’s the kind of questions Symphony X tried to answer when they wrote their new album, Underworld. We in metal are lucky: our artists are still very much attached to that generous format, which allows them to develop their creativity. But what guitarist Michael Romeo really wanted was to consciously craft that format, taking inspiration in great albums that have gone down in history.

That’s in part what we talk about in the following interview, as well as the origin and the conception of this album, inspired by themes straight out of Dante’s Inferno or the myth of Orpheus, and peppered with references to the number three.

SymphonyX 2015

« If you did want to sit for an hour, kick back, crank it up and listen, I think it’s really cohesive and it really makes sense. »

Radio Metal: You have your own studio called The Dungeon where you’ve been making your albums since a very long time. But the studio has been newly equipped with the latest in technology. Have you felt the need for new equipment specifically for this new album?

Michael Romeo (guitar): No, I mean, just over time, I always try to get a new piece of gear or some new software, and it’s always been like that for years. You kind of start small, then you move up and maybe get a couple of nice preamps, some better software and things like that. It’s always an ongoing thing, there’s always something new coming out, you know. You’re just trying to keep up with the technology. But no, there was nothing that we really got specifically for this record. Like I said, it’s just an ongoing thing. Any musician’s always trying to keep up with some of the latest stuff. And it’s good; you always want the albums to sound the best that they can. The more tools you have, the better is the end result. You see something new that catches your ear, it’s like: “Yeah, I gotta get that!” [Chuckles]

And do you think the sound of your new album became significantly better compared to previous albums thanks to that?

Some of the really early records… I mean, the last few definitely sound a lot better than the old ones. Back at that time we only had so much gear, I only had so much equipment to work with and there’s always the learning experience too. As you get older you just get more experienced, you know what you’re doing a little more. A big part of the last few records also was just not the recording… The raw tracks all sound great but a lot of it was also the mixing. For the mixing of the last few records we turned to Jens Bogren. He takes a track that sounds great right out of the gate and he really puts it all together. It’s a lot of those things, starting with the gear here in the studio, getting the good tracks and the good performances, handing it over to Jens for the mix and he really brings it all together and really polishes it.

Since you have a studio and obviously do care about equipment, don’t you think it can sometimes be a bit tricky when you’re making music to think a bit too much about equipment and technology?

Yeah, of course, but like I said, it’s not like we’re buying things specifically for this record. I mean, it’s just some software I always try to update to something kind of new. And then I learn how to use it a little bit before the music comes into play. That can be a pain in the ass when you’re doing something, you’re like: “Oh, I wish I had this thing!” And you go out and get it, and you realize that you need a week’s learning curve on the thing. It’s slowing everything down. All those years during the recording process or whenever we were working, I don’t think we’re really going crazy looking for gear because it does interfere. But at the same time, the cooler stuff you have, I mean, you can be a little more creative, it does help. But yeah, like you said, it has its ups and downs. But usually, you find something cool, you get an understanding of the thing and you move on to the music, and if you need it, then you use it, at least you know how to use it. At the end of the day, it all helps. It helps being creative too. A lot of the software stuff, the samples, orchestral samples and things like that, the better they are, the more inspired you are when you’re writing. So it does help at the end of the day.

You déclared about Underworld that “this new one is about the songs”. Does that mean it hasn’t always been “about the songs” with Symphony X?

I mean, it really has, it always has. With every record it’s about the songs, you know. But this one, it was just more of a conscious thing. In the past, I mean, we were always trying to write songs, always trying to do something different… With this one we just wanted to really try to make each song to the point and make the flow of the record fit. Each song kind of has a purpose of where it sits on the record. It goes into the next song either surprisingly or just as a smooth thing. A lot of thought went into that stuff. But yeah, of course, everybody tries to write good songs. But I think with this one maybe we were just conscious about every song being the right song at the right place. I think that’s probably a better statement, having the right song in the right place, and giving a lot of attention to each song. In every album you have your favorite ones, all of us. This one’s a little weird, man, because it’s a little unusual that, I think, we like all the songs pretty equally! I mean, some of us do; obviously, of course, there are favorites. But for me, that’s tough because I can look at a song like “To Hell And Back”, it’s a little longer and kind of typical of us, and I think that for that kind of song it’s really good! It’s solid! Or I can look at a song like “Without You”, which is totally different, in a ballady kind of way, very melodic, totally different than the other songs, and that song in that context is really solid! Same with maybe, say, “Kiss Of Fire” which is really heavy, it could have been on Iconoclast, really aggressive and dark, but for that particular song, it’s the right thing. So the songs really don’t all sound the same and they all have a certain thing that we brought to each one of them. It just makes that flow even cooler because there’s enough difference between everything that they all can stand on their own, I think.

But what pushed you to be more conscious of that and to have that kind of focus?

It’s just over time, you know. I think with every record we do try to do something a little different. The last album was definitely a little heavier and a lot of that has to do with coming up with that initial theme; Inconoclast had this man versus machine kind of theme, so naturally the music was a little more aggressive, the band was a little more aggressive, maybe some of the keyboards were a little more abrasive. It just was what it was. So with this record, it was like: “Okay, we don’t wanna repeat ourselves and keep doing the same thing.” So it’s a little different, and like I said, it was just about the songs and the flow, and the album being a whole piece, not really in a concept or with strung-together songs but just a complete listening experience. One of the reason that came up – and it came up really early on – was because I had seen some documentary and just been talking to different guys in different bands about how the industry’s going, a lot of the negativity and the one documentary I had seen. It was a guy saying… Maybe it was leaning more towards the pop world where they just got one song that’s gonna be the hit and the rest of the album is filler, and people are like: “Why the hell am I gonna buy a record when I just want one song?” And the guy said It’s a shame, because of that there’ll never be a whole big classic album like there used to be, like The Dark Side Of The moon or Moving Pictures by Rush, all those classic records. And it was a little bit of a motivation, like: “Man, let’s really try to stay true to the record, to the whole album thing.” I mean, I think most metal bands do that, we all try to write records but I think this one was even just a little bit more of a conscious effort to do that.

Symphony X 2015

« I think that using that flowery kind of [with an emphatic voice] “in death I misseth my loveth and I will…”, you know, that kind of shit, it doesn’t seem real. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing there. It’s just an empty stare. »

How do you actually put together an album to make it a full listening experience? Do actually have that in mind before going into the composition process, thinking that you need this and that kind of songs and that they have to be ordered in that particular way?

Yes, absolutely! It was kind of sketched out from day one. We kind of had the idea of the theme of the lyrics in the album, you know, we had talked about using some of the Dante, some Inferno and some of Orpheus In The Underworld as the theme of the thing, that kind of going to hell and back for someone that you care about, wondering what would you do in that position. So it was cool because you could have the dark and heavier stuff going into the more Dante imagery, the hellish landscapes and things like that, and at the same time you could have some of the more emotional melodic kind of songs that reflected this guy, Orpheus, when his wife dies and he’s gonna go to Hades to save her and that kind of thing. So there was that dark and light thing, and we thought we could have a pretty diverse sound to each song and just kind of sketched it out, basically. There was a lot of things that went into it: it was coming up with that theme, it was really concentrating on how the flow was gonna be and the strength of the songs and also thinking of the fans, trying to incorporate stuff that maybe we hadn’t done in a while. So there is maybe some musical sections that might sound like they could have been on our third record Divine Wings, maybe there’s a song that sounds like it could have been on Iconoclast or the V record or The Odyssey… I mean, there are little pieces here and there, so we where conscious of that too, trying to get a little bit of everything but keeping the balance and keeping it cool. But yeah, we gave our attention to a lot of things but to be honest it was almost like a no brainer. It kind of just did it itself. It was definitely unusual! Everything felt like it was where it was supposed to be, even though in mind we knew where it was gonna be. But of course, yes, sometimes it’s like: “Maybe, if we move this…” There’s a couple, sure, you can maybe swap around but I still think overall it’s kind of what we set out to do.

What did that approach to songwriting imply for the performance of each musician and for Russell Allen as a singer? Did you have to push yourselves a bit more or maybe try to open a bit more your playing and singing?

Maybe a little bit. But I think the cool thing about all of us is that once we kind of figure out what we’re gonna do – and we try to do this early on -, then it’s like, okay, with the guitar stuff I kind of know what I need to do, and Russ would know what he needs to do, etc. Everybody kind of knows what’s the right approach. Of course, you’re trying different things, you’re experimenting a little maybe with some keyboard sounds, trying to find the right thing… Of course, if Russell has an idea, it’ll be like: “Oh, you know, let me try to maybe do this one a little heavier.” But he knows, he was like: “Ah, nah, you know what? Let me sing this part.” So there was always a little bit of that but it wasn’t like anything crazy where it’s like: “Well, what the hell are we doing here?” [Laughs] But very early on, I remember talking about the songs, making them more to the point, really fine tuning everything… I do remember even saying: “I think a lot of this album’s gonna be about the performance and how we play it, not just what we play.” So I think all of us kind of knew, even early on, we had to approach it to what feels natural for the song. Everybody just came together, we were all on the same page. And I think everybody just played great. The band was tight, there was a lot of energy, there was a lot of magic too. There was a lot of cool things happening, maybe because, like I said, with the songs we were really focusing on the writing and letting the performance really come through.

You said that you wanted to “defend the reputation of the album, and really wanted to make Underworld an album worth listening to as a whole album”. Do you think an album like that still has its place in the modern music industry?

I guess we’ll find out! [Laughs] But I listen to records and most of my friends listen to records. So yeah, only time will tell. We’ll see. But if even not so, there’s a lot of different songs that maybe people will like, so… But I mean, our intension was, yeah, to try to make this a listening experience. You know, just sit down and… Music fans in general, the guys that I know, even if they’re not musicians, even if they’re just music fans or audiophile guys, you know, they got the turntables and their vinyl, they sit and listen to a whole record and they just take it in. I think this album would work both ways, for those kind of people and for the guys that maybe just want to listen to a song or two. It’s fine. I personally listen to records. Sure I listen to a song here and there but for the majority of the stuff that I listen to and I grew up with, man, it was always about great albums. Sabbath: Heaven And Hell, great album! Rush: Moving Pictures, fucking great record! Yeah, there are great songs on those records, but those records are… you know… records, to me! But like I said man, obviously everyone can have different favorite songs and play just these one or two songs. I still think the songs are strong enough on their own. But if you did want to sit for an hour, kick back, crank it up and listen, I think it’s really cohesive and it really makes sense.

Do you think that people tend to simply not take the time to really listen to music today?

[With an exasperated tone] Yeah, I do! [Laughs] It’s the way it is. I mean, life is freaking hectic as hell and everybody’s got a lot of shit going on, always. So, going back to that point, it’s like, hey, if they do have the time to listen to the thing, then that’s great and I hope that they enjoy it, and I think they will. But at the same time, life is life man; you can’t do anything about it. All that we did was trying to do what we felt that we wanted to do.

You mentioned a couple of albums like Heaven And Hell and Moving Pictures. Have you especially been inspired by specific albums while making Underworld?

Maybe at the beginning. It’s in the back of our minds, thinking about all those great records and what made them great. But I think the real inspiration is talking about what we’re gonna do, kind of getting excited, getting the juices flowing, coming up with that theme and sitting down fresh with some new riffs, trying to build and create this thing… I mean, I think that’s where a lot of it comes from. We had talked early on about the songs, the flow of the record, having the theme, and that’s enough to really get you excited, start working on this stuff and being creative.

Dante have been the starting point for the themes running through the album. Why and how did you get interested in that in the first place and how did that influence the album, both lyrically and musically?

Like I said, with every album we try to find some kind of a little theme or something to kind of have a goal to work towards, to kind of build that framework with the music and the lyrics, kind of: “Really, what do we wanna say?” I always loved the Dante. That whole dark and light, the good versus evil, the classic thing, I think that’s always a great starting point, especially for the music we do. I mean, we can get in that direction where some of it is maybe more epic and cinematic; you’re visualizing these things. And also with the Orpheus In The Underworld myth, like I said, it was like two kind of cool things and you could kind of go in between that darker and lighter thing, or the more aggressive heavy stuff and the more melodic emotional kind of stuff, and it just seems to make sense. As far as getting inspired, that’s really cool to be able to have the heavy songs be really dark and the more melodic songs really be a little more emotional because you have those two things going.

Symphony X - Underworld

« I don’t want to make the music so complicated that you’re not really enjoying it as much as you are trying to analyze it. »

Does literature always have a big influence on you and the way you make music?

A little bit. You know, just getting started with the record and looking into some of that stuff… I mean, I think with the music we do, those kinds of themes just lend themselves. It can even be like a big movie or it could be a book or it could just be an idea. I mean, with this one, even if there wasn’t the Dante or the Orpheus thing, just that idea: what would you do? Go to hell and back for someone that you care about, to save someone, that kind of thing. So, yeah, the Orpheus and the Dante, that’s for a lot of the visual stuff but at the core of it, that’s kind of the thing, you know, with the lyrics and the music. They do kind of go there, they do touch on that kind of topic. It’s not telling a story, it’s not copying some kind of logical thing from a book or something; it’s just more the idea. Just like Iconoclast was like man versus machine, and the lyrics kind of touched on that and the music, like I said, was more aggressive and it matched; you might be thinking of the Matrix or Terminator, or whatever, but it’s not about that but the idea is a similar idea. So I think it’s always the idea that’s the most important thing.

Apparently, at first, you actually had a concept for the album but you pulled it back…

Yeah, we did talk about that at one point. At one point we were talking about connecting all the songs, I think even early on, with like short segues, orchestral interludes or some kind of piece of music that would kind of link every song, so it would be very much like the V record where it was it was a concept and one big piece of music. And then, it was like: “Nah!” Because the lyrics weren’t really telling… Like something like “The Odyssey” where it makes sense that all those little pieces of music are connected – basically “The Odyssey” is one song but it’s a lot of little songs connected. But on this one the songs aren’t really telling some big story, they’re strong on their own and the flow still feels good. So it was like: “We don’t really need to do that!” “It could have been cool…” “Yeah, maybe but let’s just try something different…” You see, sometimes you do kind of try something but maybe that’s just not the right thing.

You actually declared that “because it’s not a concept album it made it more personal and less pretentious.” Do you have a problem being pretentious?

Do I have a problem being pretentious? [Laughs] Of course! [Laughs] No, no. I mean, you know what I’m saying. More in the fact that you’re copying lines from literature, like [with an emphatic voice]: “And therefore I sayeth unto thou!” You know, that ain’t real. With most of our stuff it’s like what would someone would really say now. Like on “Without You”, the guy’s sad, he’s missing his girl and he’s going to hell back to get her. I think that using that flowery kind of [with an emphatic voice] “in death I misseth my loveth and I will…”, you know, that kind of shit, it doesn’t seem real. Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing there. It’s just an empty stare. The real words and the real meaning are a little more important, I think.

You said that in Dante you see the number three cropping up all the time and that you played with this number in the songs. You mentioned how the song “Nevermore” is three syllables and the melody is a three note phrase…

Yeah, there’s a lot of thing here and there, and they’re subtle. It’s not like we went bananas, it’s not like we went overboard trying to make that a fact. That was kind of an after-thing. It was like: “You know, man, it would be cool if we did this. Let’s put twenty-seven words, nine times three, into the amount of words in the chorus.” The song “Without You”, the time signature’s in three and then in chorus’ in six. Just things like that. It’s not all over the place. It’s for us, man. It was just another thing to get inspired, to have a little fun. You know, you gotta have fun, man! So that’s really what that is. The fans that really do like to get in there and look for these kinds of things, it’s for them too. It’s for us, having fun and trying to do a little extra, have a little something there that maybe mean something only to us but if some other people stubble on it or is looking for it, they’ll enjoy that as well. I think that a lot of the fans will also hear just the little nods to some other of our older records. Certain musical sections are definitely something that could have been on this record or that record. There’s just a lot of different little things that were along the way and that we kind of put in there, again, mostly for us but for the fans as well; I think they will appreciate some of those things.

Actually that’s the ninth Symphony X album, so that make three times three…

I wasn’t gonna tell you that one, but yeah! [Laughs] But I mean, there’s definitely subtle things but like I said it’s not it’s littered with it. It was more about the music and the songs. And if there was a time we could throw in that three, six, nine… Yeah, we kind of thought it was cool. But it’s subtle. And if you didn’t know it was there, it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. But if you ‘re looking for stuff, yeah, there are a couple of little cool things here and there. But it’s not overboard.

You also mentioned there were three references to three of your old songs from your third record, which one are they?

Didn’t you find one? From the song “Nevermore”! In the very first line of the song, you’ve got “sea of lies”. There are others in there…

Okay, which ones? [Laughs]

Alright, I’ll tell you! [Laughs] You’ve got “The Divine Wings Of Tragedy”, and I think it’s a little twisted around, with “on tragic wings I take flight”. And then, the other one, you’ve got “eyes of stone”, which is a Medusa reference, from the song “The Eyes Of Medusa”. Yeah, you know, we didn’t put them in there reduced to the actual song titles, except of course “Sea Of Lies”. But yeah, man, it’s just little tricky stuff. If someone picks on it, that’s cool and if not, the songs are still cool songs.

Okay, so for these it’s mainly in the lyrics…

Oh, no, yeah, for that particular thing it’s the lyrics. But then there is this other stuff where there are musical sections in three, patterns of three… The “Overture”, the very beginning, the big hits on these chords, back and forth, one chord has a major third and the other one is a minor third. Little things like that. Unless you’re really looking, you won’t even notice, but as I said, the songs are still cool, so… If you’re looking for that, it’s fun. If not, it’s all cool.

Have you been interested in mathematics and the so called magic in number?

Not like crazy but a friend of mine did turn me out to this thing. It was a documentary or something about that. And no, normally I’m not into that kind of wacky stuff. But he did show me this thing and it was… Oh, what the hell was it about? It was just so many things about nature and the numbers, they were even talking about the pyramids, it was just all this crazy secret geometry… I have to admit it, it was pretty interesting. But yeah, I’m not like all about it or some kind of math guy [laughs].

Symphony X 2015

 » if we pull the orchestra in or any of these kinds of choral parts, I mean, it’s still about the band. We don’t wanna bury the band in all that stuff. We’re a metal band dude! »

You’re kind of diminishing the importance of this “number three” thing in the album. Is it important for you to not intellectualize too much your music?

To some… I mean, everybody’s different. [Thinking] That’s a good question… I mean, you don’t want to make the music so complicated that you’re not really enjoying it as much as you are trying to analyze it. There’s some stuff, sure, we analyze as musicians, of course, but if I’m listening to something and I just wanna listen to it, I’m just listening to it. There’s maybe some stuff, sure, maybe we’ll go analyze… If I’m listening to Stravinsky, yeah, I might pull out the score and analyze something, but then sometimes I’ll just listen to it just to listen to it, and really just listen to it. Everybody’s different and has different reasons for listening to things but I think all of us, man, just like to kick back and put some music on, and maybe not overthink anything, just enjoy it.

The cover artwork is made up of eight symbols. What is their meaning?

Yeah, I think the ninth one’s maybe is underneath the mask but there are nine symbols. That was Warren Flanagan… I mean, we’ve used Warren for the last couple of records; he’s just a great guy, really creative, he works on big Hollywood films… When we were talking about the artwork, like the last few records, man, we had a five minute conversation where I kind of told him what the record was about, what we’re trying to do, saying: “Yeah, it’s like this Dante, Orpheus, going to hell and back for someone you love kind of thing…” And he did talk about going back to the masks, since it is that dark and light thing; there is that contrast and then the contrast with the colors – the black on the white, or silver. That was really all the conversation we had. And then he went, he did his thing and obviously he did some research of Inferno. He had these kinds of wacky symbols, nine symbols for the nine circles of Hell. So he was kind of in that theme too. I mean, I don’t even think I’d mentioned anything like that to him. He just did it. So everything just fell into place, man. In his mind, each symbol, somehow, has some meaning [chuckles]. That’s what artists do; you let the guy be an artist, man. You let him be creative. I mean, they all mean something but how did he come up with them, what are those little things? Maybe in the real world they don’t mean anything but… It’s an interesting question [laughs].

The album begins with a big orchestral overture and the album features some great orchestral and choral arrangements. But despite that the guitar riffs are always very much forward in the mix. Is it important for you to never lose the central role of the guitar?

Yeah, you gotta keep… I mean, there are certain times when maybe the orchestra can ask to live on its own, like in those kinds of interludes or intros and things. I think it’s cool when it’s really incorporated in the band and the band still has a presence, be it the guitars or the drums. Equals. Total equals. Not like the guitar is way in the back or the drums are lower, it just has to feel right. If it’s just gonna bury the guitar, then why even putting it in? Everything has to have a purpose. I think [on “Overture”] the blend is perfect, you can hear all those guitars, drums and all that stuff, and you can hear the orchestra too just like one instrument. It’s one instrument. For us, if we pull the orchestra in or any of these kinds of choral parts, I mean, it’s still about the band. We don’t wanna bury the band in all that stuff. We’re a metal band dude! And we also love all that stuff. I love the big classical epic stuff, the John Williams’, the film scores… That’s great. That’s very inspiring stuff and getting some of that in the music, it’s great, but it’s not a classical album, it’s a fucking metal album [laughs]!

In 2013 drummer Jason Rullo suffered from heart failure. Have you been afraid, first for his health but also for his involvement in Symphony X and his ability to play drum to the level required after that?

I don’t think it’s more on anyone mind’s than his! It was a scary time when all that happened, like anyone would imagine. But he’s been taking care of his health, you know. His doctors are making sure he’s doing the right things. When we recorded the album, he said he was feeling good. I talked to him not to long ago, because we’re gonna start rehearsing now, and he said he’s been playing, he’s been keeping his energy up… It’s good for him, I guess, to play drums. I mean, he’s keeping his heart strong, he’s keeping endurance up. Being on the road, yeah, that’s a different animal. It’s a lot of brutal flights. We’re gonna see. Probably in a month, we’ll start rehearsing but I feel pretty positive: he sounds good and healthy. I think if it really became an issue, he would tell us. I think he would just say like: “Man, something’s going on.” But the recording and everything was cool. Like I said man, I just talked to him and he sounds excited, he said he’s been playing and keeping his strength up. I think everything will work out right. But like I said, the touring is a tough thing, so… As time goes on we’ll see how it is but, of course, we’re hoping for the best.

You’ve been taking your time in between albums lately, generally four or five years. Is this the time that you actually need to make your albums without being pressurized?

There are a couple of factors to that. We won’t start writing until after the tours, after all the touring cycle is finished. So, like, when Iconoclast came out, the next two years were the touring cycle. And trying to write there… I mean, if we’re home for a break for a while, sure, I’ll try to come up with some stuff but you’re not totally focused, we haven’t talked about ideas, you’re just kind of writing riffs, maybe some of those we’ll use but most of the time not. So after that two year thing, we totally concentrate on the record and we talk about what we’re gonna do. This was the same thing: I think we started talking about everything right at the beginning of 2014, January of February, maybe. I remember writing right around that time, coming up with some basic ideas. And the songs were done by, I don’t know, June or July, probably July. So that’s not a lot of time to write! It’s not a little bit of time either. I mean, it still took six or eight months, maybe. Then we did a little bit of rehearsing and then we recorded in September. And the mix, I think, was February or March, right around that time. All those things factored into the equation. Even if the album was mixed by march, we needed to get the artwork together, the label needs time to do their setup on their end, which is another three months or so… So yeah, the time kind of goes by but it doesn’t take four years to write a record, it takes like one but then there are a lot of other things involved. That’s not really a lot of time, I don’t think. It’s just that span in between albums that does seem like a lot of time. But, I mean, we care about the songs and the music. We want to put that energy and time into it. Could we do an album every year? Maybe. I doubt it and I don’t know how good it could be. You gonna have to cut corners at some point. And we’ve been doing this nine albums, and you’re trying not to repeat yourself, you’re looking for new things, you’re trying to do some different stuff with the music… A lot of that comes into the equation as well. Looking for new stuff, getting creative and inspired again, trying not to repeat or pull stuff out like: “Oh, we didn’t use this, it’s not that good but let’s use it now!” “No, no man, let’s start fresh and have a fresh, clean slate!”

Symphony X 2015

« A lot of bands are really trying to do more touring now and that’s becoming saturated a little bit too. »

You helped your bass player Mike Lepond on his solo album. What did you think about it, actually?

It’s solid man! And [Mike] Pinnella did one as well, Russ has been doing some other things… Everybody’s doing some other stuff. It’s good man, it’s a healthy thing. People have different ideas about what they want to do. They want to express themselves. I remember Lepond saying for a while that he wanted to do an old school metal kind of thing. I know that’s the stuff that he really likes. I remember he was working on it over the course of a year or two, maybe. Then came time to record it and I told him, yeah, whatever he needed. He came down and I did some of the tracking for him, I did some solos for him… It was a lot of fun!

I actually had him on the phone last year and he told me how there have been a few Symphony X albums where it’s really had to hear the bass… [Laughs]

I’m sure every drummer thinks the drums are too low or the bass players think the bass’ too low [chuckles]. And that’s why we hand the mix over to a mix guy, you know. He’s a seasoned guy who knows where everything has its place in the mix. I don’t know if I agree with that… I mean, maybe there are some of our records where maybe a guitar solo’s lower or maybe the bass is not as defined on this one or maybe the instrument wasn’t as good of an instrument… There are always things! There’s always something that you wish: “Oh, man, I wish we did this!” That’s just life!

Do you think it’s better to use a mix guy? Do you have a complete confidence in him?

Yeah, of course, Jens Bogren knows what the band is about. Like I said, we worked with him for the last few records. I mean, we talked about me mixing the thing and I think I could do it but then you start to overanalyze because it is your music and you’ve kind of been tied to it for so long that it might affect your decision making. And obviously Jens would have done a better job anyway. I mean, that’s what he does!

Do you think you’ll do one day another solo album?

Yeah, I’m actually kind of thinking about it now. I’m thinking seriously about doing it because there is some stuff I have and some other kind of things I might wanna try. Again, it’s always a matter of time. Everything takes time. During the last couple of years I’ve been kind of having stuff here and there that might be right for this solo record. The business is definitely tough now too, man. The industry’s really getting tough for bands to make money. Things are changing. So it’s always good to try to do other things. I’ve been trying to get some work in films, TV and video games. I have some guys out in L.A. kinda helping me out and getting me some side work doing that, and that’s fun too. I love that kind of stuff as well. So it’s just about keeping busy.

Does a band like Symphony X have a harder time in the music industry compared to before?

Yeah, it’s a little different now. I know a lot of guys in lot of different bands and between CD sale and… I mean a lot of people are just, obviously, illegally downloading stuff, stealing stuff or just listening to it for free. Well, we’re not talking about a lot of money but we’re talking about a little bit that would help the band through the tough times. So a lot of bands are really trying to do more touring now and that’s becoming saturated a little bit too. So across the board things are getting just a little tougher. So it isn’t a bad thing to have some other things going on. Symphony X, obviously, is first priority. It’s just the way the industry’s become. It’s become a little more difficult than it used to be.

I actually heard that for Symphony X, the reception was better in Europe than in America. Is that true?

Like today? Yeah, I mean, everything’s getting better across the board but we really started just in Japan, only, with the first couple of records. And then, in Europe and South America we started doing well there. America was like way later; I don’t think it was until, like… Oh god, when was the first time we toured US? Oh, Christ, I can’t remember but it was at least five albums in or something. So yeah, it was a late start for us here. The stuff we were doing back then, it wasn’t… Not that it’s super popular now here either but back then, it wasn’t great. But now we do okay here, we do good. Europe is really strong. South America, very strong too. You know, just over time things change. You just try to do as much as you can.

Do have some touring plans already for Europe?

Yeah, we’re putting the European tour together, somewhere around February and March. We have a tour here in September and October. We’re going out with some friends of ours in the band Overkill and we’re doing a run here in the states, then kind of hang out for the holidays here and then right after that new year, we’ll have that tour scheduled for Europe. Yeah, it’s looking like it’s gonna be late January, February, March, maybe, somewhere in there.

Interview conducted by phone 12th, june 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Danny Sanchez.

Official Symphony X website: www.symphonyx.com.

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