John Arch and Jim Matheos are now known as the people who set Fates Warning on its path to becoming one of the most iconic progressive metal bands in history, and be crowned alongside Queensrÿche and Dream Theater as the “Big Three” of progressive metal.
Arch left left the band and the music scene in 1987, after the band had made arguably best known album, “Awaken the Guardian”, while Matheos continued lifting Fates to new heights, also bringing us OSI in 2002.
The duo shortly collaborated on Arch’s 2003 EP “A Twist of Fate”, which found them working together for the first time since 1986’s “Awaken the Guardian”. They came back in 2011 as the project Arch/Matheos alongside three more Fates members with a fully-grown studio album titled “Sympathetic Resonance”. The album was praised by critics and audiences alike for being a very relevant and powerful piece. Despite the success of “Sympathetic Resonance”, Arch/Matheos had around it an air of being an one-off project, rather than an ongoing affair. Today, we’re being proven the opposite.
“Winter Ethereal” is everything that you would come to expect from Arch/Matheos and more. In light of its release, your’s truly was lucky enough to have a quick chat about “Winter Ethereal”, the future of metal and more. This is what he had to say:
It’s been quite a while since you did “Sympathetic Resonance” and when you did it, a lot of people thought that it would be a one-off project. What made you come back and do more for Arch/Matheos?
“You know, for me it comes down to really whether or not John is available and interested in doing things. I’m pretty busy with Fates and doing other projects and John is more of a part-time musician. He has a regular life and job outside of music, but I love working with him, so whenever he’s available and feels inspired to do something I try to clear my schedule. So we’ve worked together a bit in 2016 I think doing “Awaken the Guardian” reunion and some live recordings and things like that.
“I think that he got a little more interested in getting back into music for a while and his voice was in shape after having worked so hard to get together for those shows and I think he was just anxious to do something at that point so again, once I knew he was available and interested I kinda cleared my schedule for the next year and a half or so and we started working.”
What can you tell us about the album title “Winter Ethereal” and the themes behind it?
“Well, themes are always a bit more gonna be John’s department, I’m more in charge of the music aspect of it, but I can say that that title was originally an idea we had for the song called “Tethered”. I had suggested that as a song title for that song and at the same time we were trying to find titles for the album which was taking us a long time actually and John immediately latched onto that as a good album title and we went back and forth for a good couple of weeks, we went over about a hundred different titles before we finally settled on that one.
“I think for John it’s kind of encapsulated the whole feel of the record, it’s got a kind of wintery vibe to it as far as not just the weather but as far as just feeling lonely and isolation and there’s a lot of that going on too, like I said you’d have to talk to him to get more specific about it but that’s the general idea.”
What can you tell us about the guest talent that you had on board that collaborated with you on “Winter Ethereal”?
“That came about basically because we felt that on the last record “Sympathetic Resonance” we’d use the Fates Warning lineup, and that was because Fates wasn’t that active at that time and this was back in 2011 and some of the music had started out as fates warning material and those guys were already familiar with the music so we felt for a number of reasons it was a good idea to use them, but this time around, being that Fates is a lot more active now and the music was written specifically for this record we felt it wasn’t a good idea to use that lineup.
“At the same time, I didn’t want to create a new “band” because it’s not really a band as far as someone that’s gonna do a record and go on tour, then do another record so it felt maybe instead of giving it that kind of vibe it would be cool to have a bunch of different players come in and put their own stamp on the music. With that being decided, I put together a master list of all the different musicians I’d like to work with kind of narrowed it down from there.”
When it comes to writing music, how important it is to you that the music correlates to the lyrics. Do you cooperate with John when writing, or does he simply write the lyrics himself?
“Well, there’s cooperation on both sides but we both pretty much do it alone, if that makes any sense. The way it works is typically I’ll write a song here at home musically, but it’ll be a complete song – it’ll have peaks and valleys and it’ll tell a story, at least to me, musically. But it’s a full demo; it can be a ten-minute demo with drums and guitar solos and base – just the full song without the vocals. And then I’ll give that to John and hopefully it inspires him and he’ll try to craft a lyric that matches the music.
“Sometimes we’ll have to come back and I have to write a new section because of his lyrical ideas or sometimes I’ll come up with a new music part and that’ll spark interest in him to write a new lyric around it. So it’s a bit back and forth but we tend to write the majority of everything alone in our separate little studios.”
How does “Winter Ethereal” feel to you when compared to your previous albums, both with Fates Warning and Arch/Matheos?
“Yeah, those questions are always the hardest for me to answer because I need to be a step away from it for a while. I’ve been working on this record for two years and I’ve only really just in the last couple of months had a chance to not listen to it. So you know, I’m proud of it, it’s a good record. I think it’s strong material from both John and I. Other than that, I’ll have to look at it in a couple of years and look back at it and see what I think of it, but right now, I’m very happy with it.”
What was the recording process like?
“Well, again, that’s pretty much the same way we’ve done it for a long time now – I record all my guitars here at home, we do some demos, and then once we’re confident that the songs are complete we have the drummers do their parts – those were all done separately in different studios, same with the bass players. Then I will retrack all the guitars here at home and then typically John would come up here to my studio and we’ll work together, you know, sometimes three, four days a week, working on his vocals.
“Like I said, he has a regular day job so he’ll get away when he can and he’ll come up here and work for a couple of days on his vocals and go home and come up another week, so it’s, you know, a lengthy process – it probably took us about six months to record all the vocals.”
Was there any new gear that you used while recording “Winter Ethereal”?
“I pretty much used the same setup that I used for the last Fates record, “Theories of Flight”, and that’s running every tune through my Kemper, and various guitars, probably a collection of five or six different guitars, mostly PRS that I would use, depending on the song.”
How does making music for Arch/Matheos compare to making music for Fates? Does it feel more personal?
“It’s definitely not any more personal, music to me no matter who I work with is always really personal whether I’m doing a guitar solo for somebody, or I’m writing for Fates, or I’m writing for Arch/Matheos or OSI, it’s something that I have to be connected to or I just can’t work, so it’s always very personal to me. As far as the difference, there are some slight differences, and I think once I get into the mode of working with John vs working with Ray I start to fall in perhaps a little bit of the “more is more” category rather than the “less is more” category that I tend to fall back on in Fates, and that’s just is John bringing that out in me, he likes to sing over complicated parts and so that’s kind of what I gravitate towards when I’m writing.
“After being away from it for a while it usually comes back to me fairly easy. We have that kind of working relationship where we bounce ideas off each other and like I said, he likes to hear complicated ideas; it for some reason seems to inspire the crazy melody lines he comes up with so that tends to be where I go”
Both Fates and Arch/Matheos still manage to sound very relevant in the current music scene, so is there a secret sauce that you apply to making that music that makes you stay relevant?
“There really isn’t you know, there’s no magic secret anything that we do, it’s just a passion – I write music that I think I would like or that inspires me. Like I said before, I can’t really write something that’s not personal or doesn’t inspire me – I can’t write something that doesn’t excite me, it’s too much work and time to put into something that you’re not passionate about. So that’s all I do, I try to write music that I like and that can inspire either John or Ray to write lyrics and melody lines around it.”
How familiar are you with today’s rock and metal scene, and do you have a band that stands out to you in particular?
“I would say I’m very unaware of what’s going on in the current metal scene; I mean there might be a few bands that I’m aware of, but I think most of it I tend not to listen to, it’s just not what I like to listen to in my spare time perhaps because I play that kind of music and that’s what I do for a living and it’s not something that I want to do in my spare time.”
There were these big movements like NWOBHM and then you guys along the other two bands of the Big Three, and then came power metal etc. Nowadays, metal feels a lot less defined and people are still praising the old bands and there are very few new ones that stand out like that. Do you think that metal is something that’s slowly coming to an end?
“Well, I don’t think it’s coming to an end, I think that everything you described is kind of the end result of there being – the music business dying, and also the fact that people can record so cheaply at home now and make the records available so I think there’s more bands, there’s certainly more bands out there than there ever was, but the downside of that is that so many of them sound alike, there’s not a lot of people doing new and original things, and you know, that partly a result too again that this has been around for so long – there’s only so many notes in the scale and so many chord progressions you can come up with before it starts to sound repetitive.
“So yeah, it’s natural that there’s not gonna be that much new music out there in the metal field that sounds new and original because so much of it is, and has been done before.”
Would you have any advice to starting musicians that would like to make it in the music world?
“(Chuckles) Don’t do it!”
“Well I think again, what we were just discussing, it’s really hard for a musician to make a living these days doing it. I mean, if you want to do it for spare time and hobby kind of thing, sure, have at it, but if you expect to get rich and be able to make a living of it, it’s a pretty long shot – it was a long shot when we started back in the ’80s and it’s even much more so now. I don’t understand how anybody, any band will be able to break through and be able to make a living doing it, just given the current climate in the music business the way it is right now.”
What was it like for you guys in the beginning?
“Well, back then people bought records for one, so that helped, and there was a lot less competition. There was certainly competition, but it wasn’t like everybody could record a record in their bedroom and put it out. Not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but there was just less people out there doing it.
“And even then, back in the ’80s, that was still very hard to break out of the pack and get a record deal, go on tour, those were still really hard things to do. Like I said, now, thirty years down the line it’s much, much harder. I don’t understand how anybody can expect to make a living doing this.”