Michael Romeo of Symphony X

July 9th, 2007
by Greg Shackles

 

Interview by Shaq

Transcription by Claudia


 

So how does it feel to back in the swing of things after a long hiatus and to be playing new material live again?< ?xml:namespace prefix = o />

 

Oh yeah.  It’s definitely good to be back man.  I mean, you know, we were still working on all this stuff and, you know, in the studio pretty much every day with this new record.

But yeah, to get back out live and, you know, playing some of the new songs and it definitely feels good.  It’s been you know….whew, like 3 years or 2 years or whatever you know.

 

 

Yeah, yeah.  It was a long time.  I was at the sold out show in New York City a few weeks back so, and it was a great show.

 

It was like, you know…we figured we’d try to, you know, do a local show and kind of, you know, try out the new tunes and kinda get back up to speed on some of the old stuff and you, just kinda get the rust off a little, knock some of the rust off.  I think we came through unscathed.  (Laughs)

 

 

(Laughs)  That’s good.  Is there any reason why….I noticed the set list was, I thought, a little short?  Is that just because it was a warm up show?

 

I think we played for 90 something minutes, I thought.

 

 

It was probably about that but….

 

Yeah. I mean cause, yeah we just…that’s usually…it’s usually around the set time.  A little more, a little less, you know, so…and that was the show that we were gonna go out with in South America but now that we have the new album out, we’ll be adding some newer songs from the new record and maybe swap out some of the old ones and that kind of thing.

 

 

Cool.  And pretty soon you’ll be opening for Dream Theater over in Europe too, which seems like a perfect pair for how you guys sound.  Was it their request to get you on board?

 

Yeah.  I mean we hooked up with those guys with the Gigantour in 2005, and we did that, the Megadeth/Dream Theater Gigantour.  Actually, Mike Portnoy is the guy who pretty much made that happen, you know.  He put in a good word for us with the Gigantour people and we had known the Drover brothers from Megadeth, and I mean you know we’re pulling for us too.  So, yeah.  We got on that thing and became friendly with all those guys and I guess when the Dream Theater guys had this tour of Europe happening, they called us to see if we wanted to do it and I was like “Oh shit yeah”!

 

 

(Laughs)  Sounds good.  So Paradise Lost actually came out earlier this week now and it’s a very heavy album.  How do you feel you guys have progressed over the years sonically?

 

I mean…..I think that this album definitely sounds better you know.  I mean we didn’t just spend a lot of time with the writing you know.  We spent a lot of time with the recording and trying new things and, you know, trying to make it sound exactly what we wanted to and a lot of it too was Jens Bogren, the guy who mixed the record over in Sweden.  You know, I mean he’s mixed some heavier kind of bands and we thought that, you know, this kind of material, he was the guy for that, so it’s a combination of a lot of things.  I guess before all that when we first started talking about what we were gonna do for this record, that’s usually what we’ll do before we, you know, just start writing songs, you know. We try to get some kind of direction and, you know, some kind of guidelines to kind of move us along.  And on this record it was like, you know, right off the bat it was like “let’s do something a little more aggressive.  A little more guitar riff oriented.  A little more metal.  You know, and trying to really focus on the songs, each song being, you know, strong on its own.  So, you know, going in with that on our minds, the material’s definitely more aggressive, more heavy and just the whole recording process and the mixing and everything it just…..it all came together.

 

 

Cool. And at least, and this is just how I hear it, I could be totally off, but it sounds like you pulled in some different influences on this album too.  For example some of the stuff in The Serpents Kiss reminds me a little of, like a Tool kind of sound. Were they an influence or what other kind of bands did you pull in this time around if any?

 

Umm…I mean there’s definitely things that you hear over the years and, you know, even when we were talking about this record being more riff based and more, you know, guitar driven songs, I mean, you know, I pulled out some of my Sabbath stuff and, you know, you talk about riffs.  I mean those guys were pretty much the riff masters, so yeah.  And then you take a little bit from here and there and maybe Serpents Kiss, a little Rush, a little bit of a Tool thing, but I don’t think it’s that different than what we normally do.  I mean it’s a little different but it’s not like, you know, when I hear the record, again, it’s just us and yeah man, trying to incorporate a couple of different things.  But there’s still the progressive element and I mean we were always a metal band.

 

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

So, some of these things coming together.  Like I said, we definitely experimented a little bit with different sounds and different arrangement approaches and dynamics and we were conscious of a lot of things, just to make each song sound strong on its own.

 

 

Right.  And since this album was kind of in the works off and on for so many years, did it change much between when you first started working on it and now that it’s actually out?

 

Umm…..yeah.  There was a point where we pretty much started talking about the record and I was noodling around with some riffs, some basic ideas sometime in 2004.  And we had said, you know, “Yeah, lets go a little more guitar driven, a little more riff driven.”  But it wasn’t until like after the Gigantour thing and we said, “you know, we’ve gotta dedicate 100% into this new record” because a lot of the ideas were really different and it wasn’t really cohesive and, you know, it was just very haphazard in the way the writing was going.  It was on and off and kind of losing focus a little.  So once we got back and we started really put things together and we said…we were looking for some ideas or inspiration just for like lyrical content and maybe even the music when Milton’s Paradise Lost came up. You know, that really kind of became the glue, you know, that brought everything together and it’s like there was a riff that didn’t seem to fit, we were able to modify it or, you know, maybe add some of the orchestral or the choirs or something to kind of bring it over to where the other songs were, you know?  So yeah, there definitely were some changes and once the Milton thing came along as kind of a guideline inspiration, all the music, you know, you had a focus and you had a goal and you kinda had some direction.  So it definitely helped out.

 

 

So the Paradise Lost story was more of a guideline rather than making it a concept album about it?

 

Yeah.  Exactly yeah.  We didn’t wanna have this, you know, we didn’t wanna have a concept record and we didn’t want the lyrics to be, you know, like cheesy and you know “and then the apple and Satan said…”…  (Laughs).

 

 

(Laughs)

 

and you know, that kind of garbage.  It was like, you know, the ideals of Paradise Lost we thought were cool in just dealing with betrayal.  I mean you can really relate it to anything.  You know, betrayal and revenge and lust and power and greed and, you know, all these things.  So we just said let’s just use those ideas and within the lyrics from time to time there is some pretty direct references to Milton and the whole heaven and hell thing but, you know, we try to keep it kind of vague and just use it as a kind of underlying theme in the background.  And the same with the music too you know.  It definitely has a cohesiveness to it you know.  It kind of all fits the lyrics and it fits the whole theme, but it’s not a concept record.

 

 

Cool.  And I gotta ask how you got the beefy guitar tone that you have on this album.  Are you using the same equipment that you did in the past?  The amps and microphones?

 

You know, definitely again, a lot of experimenting and a lot of trying to layer different amps.  One thing that was really different about this record as far as recording the guitar is, that I got this one unit for like re-amping the guitars where I can just kinda play with any sound and it records the actual pick up unprocessed through the amp. And then later you can run it through, you can run it back through a different amp or you can try different things, you know.  So you can have your performance there but it’s just the dry guitar signal right out of the pick up.

 

 

That’s cool.

 

So, you know, I mean I was able to go back and try different combinations of amps and, you know, kinda get it close to where I wanted.  But you know, I think a big part was Jens.  You know, Jens Bogren again, during the mixing, cause he was doing some of the re-amping and, you know, we’ve both got some of the same amps set up.  I would send him a file.  It was like here’s Line 6 with the Engl, you know, and this kind of blend.  He would go and he would tweak it on his end.  So there was a lot of back and forth going on and definitely, you know, just a lot of different combinations and just trying to find the right thing for the right song.  Some songs there’s a lot of just < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Marshall.  You know, just a straight up Marshall head.  And there’s some where there’s the Line 6 and the Engl head, you know, different blends and stuff so…., it’s hard to nail down exactly what’s what because along the way there were so many different, you know, different things happening and I lost track.

 

 

(Laughs)

 

When we heard the final song it was like ‘yeah dude.  That’s it.  Whatever you got going, that’s the shit”.

 

 

Cool.  You’re playing with Caparison now too right?

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

 

And did you use that on the entire album?

 

Yeah.  Most of the heavy guitar stuff and all the solo stuff is pretty much the Caparisons and I mean there’s a couple of like, you know, backing guitar parts that are maybe a Strat through a Marshall or some kind of different tone thing going on and some acoustics here and there, but overall the Caparison is pretty much the main thing.

 

 

Cool.  So back to some stuff about the album.  The subtitle to the last track “Revelation” is, if I’m not mistaken, Divine Wings of Tragedy, written in Latin.  Is that a direct connection to the song?

 

Yeah, I mean we kinda thought since some of the subject material is similar to the Divine theme with some of the, you know, the angels and the demons and the heaven and hell kinda theme, man we just said, you know, lets have a little fun.  Let’s put a little, a couple lyric lines here and there that kinda go back to that.  And there’s a couple of musical sections that are, how can I say….that are based on some of the stuff in Divine.  I mean the most obvious is like the end of that song.  It has the intro lick from the Divine song.  So we just thought it’d be kind of a cool thing, you know.  Not that it really ties in anywhere, but eh, you know, some of the theme, some of the subject matter.  It’s kinda similar so, you know, it’s just about having fun and trying to do cool stuff and I mean, you know, you know the fans are gonna kinda, you know, recognize those kinda things and appreciate it.  So, you know, that’s pretty much what we were just going for.

 

 

Yeah.  Are there any plans of playing that live on any of the upcoming tours?

 

Which song?  The last one?

 

 

Divine Wings.

 

Umm….nah.  I don’t think.  You know, I think we’re kinda gonna stick with The Odyssey in the set somewhere.

 

 

Yeah?

 

Yeah.  I mean who knows?  It’s like now we have all these new songs too and the South American tour and that show over in New York.  We tried out three of the new songs and I mean they went over really well so we’re gonna try and get some more new ones in there and then obviously we’re gonna have to lose some of the older

 

stuff.  So yeah, as time goes on it becomes more of a difficult task to narrow it down what songs.  I mean everybody in the band kinda has their favourite song they like to play and, you know, there’s fan favourites, so you’re trying to juggle all these things and…

 

 

Yeah. And especially a long song like that, it’s probably hard to fit in.

 

Yeah exactly.  I mean when you have, you know, a couple of songs that are 15 plus, 20, whatever, it’s like, you know, play like two of them.  Two songs!  Thank you! Goodnight!

 

 

(Laughs)  Just as an aside, I happen to know that Glenn, from ProgPower USA, has pro shot and edited footage of your performance from ProgPower IV and also one of the previous ones that he happened to say that he would have donated it to you guys for free to use for a DVD but didn’t know if you knew of that or anything.  So I was just wondering…

 

I think I heard something about that after the fact too.

 

 

Oh yeah?

 

I mean, with the bonus stuff, I mean all along we knew….I mean we didn’t even want any bonus stuff.  Honestly.  I mean we bought the packaging and the artwork.  We were really confident in the music.  We thought it could stand on its own.  But there’s a lot of times, you know, with certain territories in the world, maybe need a bonus track for their market, different stores and it starts to become a political game at that point.  And we said hey man, we have a bunch of footage that we’ve taken throughout the last ten plus years that, you know, we have our own private little stock of stuff and we just thought it would be cool, you know, just to throw that stuff out there.  We were under the assumption that it was just gonna be free, not paying anything extra, not trying to make it be something that it wasn’t.

 

 

Right.

 

And I guess somewhere along the lines too, there was some advertisement over in Germany or something or another that said there was going to be a “making of the album” or there was gonna be extra songs, you know?  It was all this stuff. People were jumping the gun and it’s like “Whoa, whoa man”. You know?  All we ever wanted to do was concentrate on the record and yeah, I mean, we’ll rummage through some of the live stuff and the things that we thought were cool.  We’ll just throw it out there for the fans for free.  So things got a little dicey there.

 

 

Right.  Yeah.  I just didn’t know if you knew about that footage or if you had any plans to use that for maybe a future DVD release or anything.

 

I mean, I think what we may do with this album is throw out some of the bootleg stuff that we took with the handheld camera.  It’s like yeah, that’s cool, and that’s all it is.  And if we are going to do a real DVD, it’s like, you know, we’re gonna do it this year or early next year when we have our own show and now we can have some production on stage and, you know, really have something with some quality to it.  Plus we have all the new material and so I mean going back to some old thing somewhere, it’s like meh….

 

 

(Laughs)

 

You know, it’s like we’re kinda into moving ahead and moving forward.

 

 

That’s cool.  Personally, a lot of moments in your music, a recent example being the chorus to the song Paradise Lost actually give me chills.  I was wondering if you get anything like this when listening to your own music or when you write it.

 

Yep. Yup.  And that’s one of ‘em man.

 

 

Yeah?

 

Yeah, yeah.  That’s one of em.  I mean, when I first had that riff it was pretty close to what’s there.  You know, it had the string line and the heavy acoustic guitar.  And without any singing, just like the rough demo version, it was like “wow!  This really sounds…I’m getting a little feeling with this one”.  And then when Russ started trying some vocal things and we started thinking up the vocals and, you know, have that very lush thing happening, it was like “oh yeah”.

 

 

(Laughs)

 

Yeah.  It’s one of those moments where it’s like “ooh that’s good”.

 

 

Yeah.  I’m glad to hear that happens on your end.

 

There’s still times, you know, we’ll put on some older record or even with this one, there’s some moments that it like….you know, moments that I remember like by just tracking and doing the engineering and doing the recording and remembering a different take and it was like “Yeah. That was the take.  You fucking nailed that.  Yeah, that’s good”.  There’s definitely moments all over the place.

 

 

That’s awesome.  And it’s no real secret today that albums get leaked onto the internet well before their release, which obviously happened with your album this year.  I was kind of wondering what your opinions are on this whole problem with internet downloading and albums leaking?

 

Yeah.  I mean there’s nothing you can do and I mean we knew it was gonna happen anyway.  I mean I just don’t think it would happen that fast.  I think we sent the stuff and then like twelve hours later it was friggin out there.  It’s like Jesus Christ!  What the fuck happened?

 

 

(Laughs)

 

They didn’t waste any time. So…I mean, you know it’s coming and I think we all knew it was gonna happen and it’s just the nature of the beast and there’s really nothing you can do you know?  There’s really nothing you can do except that you kind of hope that, it’s like, Ok, well it’s out there and a lot of the fans probably have it already and, you know, you just hope that they do the right thing and eventually buy the record when it comes out you know?

 

 

Yeah.

 

I’d like to think that most people do.

 

 

Oh I’m sure most people do, especially after hearing it.

 

Yeah.  And I mean it is a bummer because they’re hearing the record.  You know, you’re not getting the lyrics and you’re not getting the artwork and we spent a lot of time putting the packaging together with the foldout artwork and, you know, so it’s like more about the whole package to us.  It’s like, yeah, the music is ultimately the most important thing, but it’s like we try to go the extra thing and you know, these things cost a little extra money, so we’re taking a little heat and, you know, fighting to do the right thing.  So when the thing is out there, leaked, it’s like in a half assed way.  It’s like “Aww that sucks”.

 

 

Yeah.  And the packaging actually, I was very impressed with it.  It’s some of the coolest packaging I’ve ever seen from you guys or any band really.

 

You know another thing. It’s like we definitely thought about it and we knew we had waited so long for a record and it was like, you know, hey man…maybe some of us will take a little bit of a beating or, you know, financially it might cost us a little more in the end or whatever.  But it’s like hey man, you know, it’s been so long and we felt real strong about the music.  It was like let’s just go for broke and have this thing look like something’s going on.

 

 

Right.  Do you have any material written for a new solo album or plans for one?

 

Umm….not totally written but with this record there was so many….since there was such an on and off writing thing and all these ideas just accumulated and by the time the tunes started coming together, there was like a folder.  We had this folder where we keep all our ideas on computer with all the little audio pieces of songs and it was like 283 riffs man!  Fucking insane.  And we only used maybe, I don’t know, twenty of them for the record.  We picked out the best stuff.  I was actually going through listening to some of the stuff we didn’t use.  I mean not full songs or anything but there’s a couple good riffs, a couple good musical sections, you know, little bits and pieces.  Yeah.  I mean I was always thinking about doing a solo record and it’s always been the issue of time and we’re real busy all the time with this band.  But now that this things done we got a lot of touring coming up.  I’ll take a second look at some of these ideas and I’ll bring my…..you know, have my guitar on the bus and a little laptop and maybe work towards a little bit each day to try and get a solo thing cooking.

 

 

Very cool.  Do you have anything in store for the next installment of the fan club CD?

 

Umm….nothing right now, but yeah I’m sure that’s something that we can, you know, we can get some ideas and some things together and find some cool stuff, you know, for the fan club.  There always is little things floating around from years and years ago and, you know, maybe different versions of a song or different demo versions or, you know, things like that.  So yeah, usually with something like that where it’s just like kind of a fun thing to do and no one’s expecting a massive production or something crazy, we can usually get something happening pretty quick.

 

 

I was also wondering how Lepond is doing these days and does what he went through and all that come into play when you’re planning your tours or anything like that?

 

Well in the past, there’s been times where we would like have to pull out of a show or we’d have to cancel a festival or something.  You know it was definitely rough.  I mean he was in bad shape and then I think it was 2006, he was really looking bad and he was feeling terrible and he just decided….he’s like, you know there is this surgery I can get that, you know, it’s a pretty major deal, the surgery he had, but it would make it so that….all the symptoms and all, everything with this disease would really be easy to maintain.  I guess it’s not 100% curable.  I mean I’m not an expert on it but from what he’s always told us it’s like, you know, the surgery would really help out.  And ever since then he’s been fine.  He’s been really….there’s some color in his skin, he looks better and I can tell he feels better.  So yeah, the surgery definitely helped and yeah, he’s ready to go, no problems.

 

 

That’s great to hear.

 

Yeah.  It’s all good man, all good.

 

 

I know you said that you don’t have much time for a solo album or anything and I was just wondering as a quick question if there are any side projects or guest appearances or anything that you haven’t announced yet that you might have coming up?

 

Umm…nothing really man.  I mean so much time went into this record man.  I gotta say it was like every friggin day.

 

 

(Laughs)

 

Everyday you know?  From the time we got up, until whenever e totally conked out you know.  We were pretty much full on, you know, just between the writing and we’d do all the recording here in my studio.  So it’s like, you know, if I’m not recording guitars one day, you know, I’m working with Pinnella or spending some time with Russ and we’re trying out stuff.  I mean it’s a full on thing man.  Full time you know.  So it’s hard to try and try to carve out a little time for anything else.

 

 

Yeah, yeah I’m sure!

 

Oh yeah.  It’s tough.  I mean, you know, just stupid things like….since it is our own studio, when something goes wrong, I mean it’s our responsibility.  You know, the hard drive goes and Russ is behind the computer and he’s back there with his screwdriver and he’s taking care of that.  Then we had a flood and all the cables got toasted and, you know, you gotta replace and run all new cables.  Just shit like that so it’s just overwhelming.

 

 

Those are all the questions I have so is there anything else you wanna add?

 

Just that we hope all the fans and anyone else who got the album, you know, we really hope that they like it.  Like I said, we’re going out on a tour this summer in the States and the Dream Theater thing in Europe.  So yeah, we’re just kinda looking forward to getting back out there and seeing everybody and doing our thing.

 

 

Yeah.  I’ll be at the show at Jaxx in Virginia next month, so I’m looking forward to seeing you guys again.

 

Alright.  Cool man.

 

 

Alright.  And it was an absolute honor talking to you.  You guys are as good as it gets in my book.

 

Oh man.  I appreciate it man.  I definitely, definitely appreciate it man because it is so much work, you know, and always hearing positive things about the record, you kinda feel like you accomplished something, you know?  So I really do appreciate it.

 

 

Anytime.

 

Alright.  So we’ll see ya at Jaxx?

 

 

Yeah. Absolutley.

 

Alright dude.

 

 

Alright.  Take it easy.

 

Good talking to ya.

 

 

You too.

 


 

I would like to thank Eric Corbin at Inside Out Music America for arranging the interview.

 

 

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