Today's release of Darkness In A Different Light marks not only Fates Warning's first CD in nine years. It's also the first time the group's San Antonio duo of vocalist Ray Alder and drummer Bobby Jarzombek have recorded an album together.
Jarzombek, who joined the three-decade progressive metal band in 2007 but had strictly been playing live, has always called San Antonio home. Alder fondly calls the Alamo City home as well, but he does so from afar.
Alder, who replaced original vocalist John Arch on the band's 1988 album No Exit as a very high-vocal pitched 21-year-old, moved to that metal hotbed known as Los Angeles two decades ago. The new record 25 years later signifies a coming-together for the group's San Antonio connection in the studio and a coming-together-again playing for the masses on a tour that starts Saturday in the Netherlands and makes its way here to Backstage Live on Wed. Dec. 4 (details at bottom; Mike Abdow will be filling in for guitarist Frank Aresti).
His voice mellower these days as a 46-year-old, Alder is a bit more reflective when it comes to his career and home(s). In 2011, he was the odd man out when the rest of his Fates Warning mates -- Jarzombek, Aresti, guitarist Jim Matheos and bassist Joey Vera -- reunited with Arch for the Arch/Matheos album Sympathetic Resonance.
On Darkness In A Different Light, Fates Warning shows its depth on tracks that range from guitar-driven heavy opener One Thousand Fires, to the soothing Alder-in-the-spotlight Lighthouse, to the 14-minute epic closer And Yet It Moves. Jarzombek released an in-studio clip of him jamming on track No. 5 I Am, track No. 7 Into The Black and a pair of the aforementioned tunes (watch here).
Alder revealed his feelings about the Arch/Matheos undertaking and spoke about what the new CD and upcoming San Antonio gig mean to him -- while offering some insight into his other projects Engine and Redemption -- when I phoned him in Los Angeles this past weekend:
Q: Congrats on the first Fates Warning record in nine years, and of course we're looking forward to having you guys here in a couple of months. How does it feel to be back in the fold?
A: I don't know. So far, it feels pretty good. Publicly, it hasn't come out yet. Have to wait and see what they say about it. I've been patrolling the Internet, reading reviews, see what people think of it. So far, it's great. We're waiting to hit the road.
Q: Was there any trepidation with the approach in the studio, either on yours or the band's part, as far as wondering what it was going to sound like given that it had been so long since the previous record?
A: I mean, we worked on it so much before. We talked about it for so long. It's funny because we never really toured America very much the last 10 years. Every now and then, we'd do some shows. But in Europe, we tour all the time. And the whole time we're there, we'd talk about what we wanted to do with this album, what we wanted it to sound like. By the time we started writing, it just all came together. The funny thing is this album was the most prepared I've ever been in my life.
Q: Regarding a couple of tracks: "Lighthouse" is so serene and heavily reliant on your voice since all the instrumentation together is absent for most of the song. Was that the most challenging song on the album?
A: Funny thing, Jay, while we were in the studio, that was a work in progress. I'd given some stuff to Jim before, but by the time we got into the studio, that was the one song I had not really worked on. The evening before we recorded it, I said to Jim, "You know what? I want to do 'Lighthouse' tomorrow. And he said, "But you don't have any lyrics. Or a melody for it." I went, "I sent you something a long time ago," and he said, "Yeah, but you never . . . " So anyway, the night before, I said, "I'm going to record it tomorrow." So I stayed up till about 5 o'clock in the morning in the studio writing lyrics and the melody, then we recorded it. That was one of those songs that just kind of happened, which was great. As we were recording it, we were just looking at each other (laughs), like, "OK. This is pretty cool." It's one of my favorite songs on the album. To use the word 'serendipitous;' we kind of stumbled across it.
Q: What inspired "O Chloroform"?
A: That's actually even more . . . something a few years ago before the Arch/Matheos album came out. Lyrics for a song I was working on with Jim for the new Fates Warning album. It was never used. When Jim wrote that song, he sent it to me, and I was working on it. Then he called me: "What about this?" . . . "Lyrics for O Chloroform." And Jim actually wrote the melody for it. We stuck it together, and it made sense. There you have it.
Q: At what point in time did you scale back completely from the high vocal range that you were known for when you first joined the band on No Exit (watch "Silent Cries"), and how difficult was it to realize that a change in style was necessary?
A: I think it was A Pleasant Shade of Gray when I really came into my own and rearranged what I wanted to do with my voice. In the beginning, the whole thing with the high voice, that's what was going on, to me, in the '80s. I was also a young guy, I was in San Antonio and wanted to sing high, and as I got older, I realized I wanted to sing, not scream. And it was probably A Pleasant Shade of Gray when it came to me. And unfortunately, my voice changed. I grew up. Or whatever you want to call it.
Q: You and Bobby provide the San Antonio connection in the band, even though he still lives here and you don't. How significant will playing here Dec. 4 be to you?
A: Oh, it's such a big deal for me. It's my hometown, it'll always be my hometown. But the fact that Bobby's in the band and from San Antonio, we talk about it all the time: "We're two Texans brothers!" It's a huge deal for me, it really is. My family's going to be there, probably aunts and cousins.
One of the reasons I ask that is because I met a guy at Sunken Gardens about a year and a half ago -- it was either at the Bush or Deftones concert -- who said he was your brother.
Yeah, my big brother Rob. He plays in a local band out there.
Q: How long have you been in L.A., what's the change been like for you, how often do you come back to San Antonio?
A: I try and come back every Christmas at least, but I'm so busy with everything else. L.A. -- I've been here almost 20 years, I guess. But San Antonio's always my home. This is where I live, and I'm so used to this place now. Whenever I talk to my mom, she still calls me mi hijo, for God's sakes. "Ay, mi hijo, when are you going to come back and move back?" . . . "Mom, you know, it's my thing, I live out here." It's funny, I talk to her every week. But again, I live here now, so who knows? I've actually been sort of looking at places in San Antonio to maybe move back.
Q: Frank is not going to be on this tour. What's keeping him away, and what should we know about Mike?
A: Frank, it was funny, we were doing the album and everything else, and he started a new job. And he's also recently married and moving to California. We tried: "What about this?" But there's no anger whatsoever, and we wish him well. He will be with us the next few tours, we do know that. But Mike's a great guy. We tried out other guitar players and auditioned a few other guys. Mike just seemed to be the guy that would fit. Really nice guy, quiet, but a great guitar player. For some reason, he was the best fit. So far, he's doing great.
Q: What were you doing musically when the rest of the guys were doing the Arch/Matheos project, and did that create any awkwardness within the band?
A: Well, it's funny because I talked about it before -- the Arch/Matheos thing had a few songs that were supposed to be the new Fates Warning album. The music Jim was giving me, I worked on it, and whatever I gave to Jim, it just didn't seem to gel with him. Both of us agreed it wasn't something I was completely happy with. Then he asked me, "What if I did something else with it?" And I said, "That's up to you. Of course, that's fine, if it's not working out with me." Then he brought up the John thing, and I was like, "Well . . . OK. (Chuckles). Whatever you want to do." I was taken aback. I definitely was taken aback a bit. I never took it personally. But I was just like, "OK." But then, you know, at the end, Jim needs to make a living as much as the rest of us. It was fine. It was an amazing album, and I was actually curious to hear John's voice as well after all those years. Once I finished with this album, I sat down and listened to that album and, Holy crap! It's amazing -- and John's voice!
It's great to hear how accepting you are of that because obviously a lot of bands wouldn't go back to that situation of reuniting with their original singer, then get back to their present singer. Just look at Van Halen. You don't see Sammy being accepting of going back to David Lee Roth.
I guess that speaks a lot to where your mindset was at.
Yeah, again, it was a conversation Jim and I had. He was like, "Hey, I just want to make sure you're OK with this. Is everything going to be fine?" I'm like, "Absolutely." The next album, we were all together. And we were wondering, how were people going to speculate? "Oh, the band broke up (or) John's back in the band." So we knew what was going to come of it, but again, it was a project Jim threw together. I didn't feel it in my heart, and I worked on it for a long time.
Q: Did you ever hear from any members of Judas Priest regarding your "Saints In Hell" cover?
A: No, never heard anything. It's funny because Rob (Halford) was working in the studio. Mark Zonder, different drummer, in North Hollywood, and Rob was there. This was years and years ago. Such a long time ago. But Rob walked out and was telling me about Engine; funniest thing with my solo project, and Rob walks out: "Aw, good solo. Fine stuff. F----- brilliant!" And I was like, "Yeaaaahhh!" I'm walking around the corner going, "F----- Rob Halford just gave me a compliment to one of my songs!" That was like, my shining moment.
Q: I have a couple of questions from my social media readers for you: Paul from San Antonio asks: Where do you like to eat when you're home?
A: Taco Cabana, man! Late night! Or Bill Miller's BBQ. Where else can you get a piece of white bread with your barbecue? It's genius. But Taco Cabana's the best. Carne guisada. Mushy. I get that every time I'm there.
Q: Matt from San Antonio wants to know what's up with your side band, Redemption, and if you guys are working on any new material?
A: Nic (van Dyk) is actually writing right now for a new album. It's funny because Fates Warning is with Inside Out (Records), and Redemption just signed to Metal Blade, which is kind of a flip-flop.
Good deal, Ray, thanks so much for taking the time. I know you're getting ready for a European tour, and like I said, we're looking forward to the hometown show Dec. 4. Look forward to meeting you and thanking you in person. Best of luck with everything.
I appreciate it. Thanks very much. Me and my brother will say hi, I'm sure!
- WHO: Fates Warning with Baad Newz, Wicked Angel
- WHEN: Wed. Dec. 4
- WHERE: Backstage Live (1305 E. Houston St.)
- TICKETS: Buy here; VIP details here.
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