To many, Connecticut's Fates Warning is the first progressive metal act. Started in 1983, the band has gone through a dizzying array of member changes including replacing original lead singer John Arch with San Antonio native Ray Alder in 1985. Through it all, however, Fates Warning remained true to its roots, producing album after album of quality progressive metal, culminating in 1991's Parallels.
After that, the band's fortunes went decidedly downhill and resulted in a three year hiatus. Various incarnations of Fates Warning kept touring and recording throughout the 90's and beyond, but the band's recent effort, Darkness in a Different Light, was finally released after seemingly endless delays. Speaking from Houston and in anticipation of Thursday's show at Trees, singer Ray Alder talked with DC9 about how he came to join Fates Warning and how he and his band mates have persevered through many difficult transitions.
You joined Fates Warning about five years into the band's existence?
Yes, around 1987.
How did that process work? Did you already know the other members? You get a phone call out of the blue?
When John Arch left the group, they put out feelers with promoters and other people they had worked with. They were asking if these people knew of any singers and one of the guys was from San Antonio and had managed one of the bands that I was in. They threw out my name and I did an audition tape for them. That's how it worked out.
Were you already a big fan?
Yes, I definitely was. They were one of my favorites.
After the tape, did you have to meet with the guys and audition live?
Yes, I had to fly to Connecticut and meet them there.
Were you nervous?
Yes, definitely. It was a crazy deal. It was my first time out of Texas. I had just turned 20 years old. It was a little strange, but we worked through it.
We you worried that fans of the original singer would not accept you?
No, all I knew was that I was the singer of Fates Warning. That's all I was thinking about. I wasn't worried about it at all.
What about the new album that is different from your other releases?
It's our first album in such a long, long time. We had to decide which direction we wanted to go, had to pick up where we left off. We came back and talked about it, about doing songs that were catchier. We wanted more hooks than you might probably hear on a progressive metal album. We wanted to do something that would stick in people's ears and that's what we've done. We wanted a heavier, but very melodic sort of thing.
What do you think about the term progressive metal?
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It's a label we've been given. I'll take it. It doesn't piss me off, but I don't think about us as a metal band. We are a heavy rock band, although the term heavy metal seems dated to me. I don't want to dismiss any body or any genre. I don't know if there is a correct term for us.
Many people say Fates Warning were the first progressive metal band.
That's what I keep hearing. There were some others playing progressive music, like ELP. It's been out there. There was Rush. We were definitely not the beginning of the genre.Your 1991 release Parallels is the effort that has always garnered the most attention. What is it about that album that makes it so special?
I don't know. It was the 90's and that was the album with all the hooks. It was a very melodic album, something totally different from what we had done before. It was still progressive, but it was pulling away from [1989's] Perfect Symmetry. It was something completely different for us. It was also the time of MTV. The media gave that album a big push. However, it was soon after that everything changed. Hair metal came out and we were just kind of lost. We stuck to our guns.
Shortly after, the band decided to take a hiatus. Why?
We did Parallels and that was our most successful album. It was also our most successful tour. Basically every placed we played was sold out. Somehow, everything got pulled out from under us by the record company. There was no tour support. We didn't even tour Europe. It was the most successful album we ever had and we didn't even go to Europe. With that, there was a lot of frustration. We just threw our hands up and said, "Fuck it." It was very disappointing that there were not people behind us that we expected would be. We all just did our own thing for a while. We didn't even speak to each other for a couple of years.
How did you get things reconciled?
We just started talking. There was a tour that came up that we just decided to join. We started writing again. It was in our DNA at that point. If we weren't making music, who knows what we would be doing? This is our passion. It's in our blood. We love making music and we love doing it with each other. Our minds were in sync that way. It was just a matter of time before we got back together.
The band has seen quite a few people come and go. Does that have a negative effect on the band?
Not in the songwriting because [guitarist] Jim [Matheos] writes all the songs. There is the dynamic of friends saying goodbye to friends. You make new friends, but it's not the easier thing to do saying goodbye. But people want to move on and do other things. You don't want to be with someone who is not happy. Some people don't want the road life any more. They wanted a normal life with a wife and a dog and things like that. That is fine. People get tired of being on the road, but we have to continue doing what we do. We've found our people. Right now, our lineup is as strong as it's been. It is friends, people like brothers.
Do you have a wife and kids?
I do not. I am the only single guy in the entire band. I am still searching. Right now, I fill that void with being on the road and making music.
Why was the new album's release date delayed several times?
We had to put all our solo projects aside and just work on nothing but this album. We just wrote for a year and a half.
For the set lists for this tour, do you go all the way back to the Fates Warning's first album or do you just include songs from your time in the band?
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We pretty much go from [1988's] No Exit until now. It is a different era before that. Once I joined the band, there were some people who stopped listening to Fates Warning. They liked the old stuff. It was a whole new era when I joined, so that's what we play.