Interviewed by Erich Heintzelman
Friday, October 30, 2020
One of the premier progressive metal bands has returned with their thirteenth album, LONG DAY GOOD NIGHT. I had a chance to speak with drummer Bobby Jarzombek about the new album, the challenges the music industry faces during the pandemic, and his favorite Fates Warning albums and songs to play. Bobby has been a professional metal drummer since the mid 80’s, recording his first album with Juggernaut in 1986 on Metal Blade Records. He has played with Riot, Halford, Sebastian Bach, Fates Warning and many other bands and is widely considered one of metal’s finest drummers.
Hi Bobby! Thank you for taking the time do discuss the new album and Fates Warning with me today. 2020 has been a difficult year for many people for lots of reasons like the pandemic and social unrest. How does it feel to be able to give Fates Warning fans a new album in such a difficult year?
Bobby Jarzombek: I think it’s a good time for a release. I know that some bands have kind of held off having a release date. I guess maybe they were not sure if they were going to have a tour at the time or whatever reason. But I think it’s actually a good time because people are sitting at home. And if you are going to be at home then there is more time to listen if you are not going out to shows and that sort of thing. I think it is a good time for a CD to come out, and I am actually surprised that more bands are not releasing at this time.
As people and musicians, we are always changing and growing. I know that you have been playing with the band since 2007. What changes or approaches have you made on this album that are different from the previous two Fates Warning albums you played on?
Bobby Jarzombek: I would not say so much that anything I am doing is different. I am always a little bit curious to hear when Jim says, “Hey, I’m working on writing some new material and I am going to start sending you some songs” and that sort of thing. So, I am always a little bit curious about what direction it is heading in. Is it going to be a lot of difficult stuff, a lot of time signatures, or if it is going to be a little more straight forward? As I started getting the songs I just dived right into it and started working things out. I think it is a good mix on this record of progressive material and stuff that is a little more straight forward and a little easier to listen to. Great melodies by Ray. As it turned out, this record has a good mix of everything that a Fates Warning fan would expect from the band. As far as drumming, I didn’t approach anything I guess that different, just tried to be musical as I’m listening to this stuff that Jim sent me.
For many drummers in metal today the emphasis seems to be on speed and complexity, which you are quite capable of executing. Fates Warning’s music is diverse and not always heavy. As a drummer, is there an appeal to being presented with these types of diverse musical options?
Bobby Jarzombek: You know, I like being able to work on material that does encompass a wider area of musicality all the way across the board. To me, if I am playing in a band that is doing more power metal or something, and I am getting a lot of songs, guys are sending me songs that go [voicing drum beat], “chigga dat a, chigga dat a, chigga dat a, chigga dat a” then the next song goes [same beat but slower], then the next song goes [same beat and even slower] that gets boring. It really does. I like the fact that there is going to be stuff that is space and really atmospheric, and then there is going to be stuff that’s busy and intricate. It just shows that a band is a little bit more musical and a band can write and do things within the whole spectrum of music instead of being in just one genre or one style. The members of Fates Warning have a lot of influences. I mean, Jim’s influences go all the way from Opeth all the way to the other side Pink Floyd and stuff that’s really sort of sparse and spaceship with sounds. I like that. It just shows more of a musical approach. When I was younger, maybe I wanted to play fast all the time. I was anxious and that sort of thing. When you get a little bit older, you get to the point where you just want to play music and you want to be creative. You don’t want to have to play busy all the time. If the music calls for it, then that’s cool, but when it doesn’t you don’t have to do that.
I agree with you completely. Earlier we talked about the pandemic and the challenges with live music and touring now. How has that impacted you professionally?
Bobby Jarzombek: Well, it sucks because in the way I personally make a living is by playing on records and playing live. Being that I was able to work on this Fates Warning Record and get it done in May, my drum tracks. When this thing started in March, this whole pandemic thing, I was able to finish the Fates Warning record working on it until late May. Then things started opening up again in June and then they closed down again here in Texas. I really expected live shows to come back at some point sooner than this, and they still have not on a wider scale. I play locally around town and do that sort of thing, so that sort of opened up a little bit, but as far as major shows who knows when that is going to open up. It’s crazy, because our profession as musicians, it seems like its one of the very few professions where we are not able to go out and make a living doing what we do. There are sporting events happening, movie theaters and all that stuff, albeit with limited attendance and people have to sit a little bit further away from each other. Concerts are the one area, the only area I can think of that are still being affected by this and still hurting from this. On a little bit of the flipside, I have been getting more sessions for recording stuff that has come my way in the last six months, but it hasn’t made up for concert tours being cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled. It’s hurt finances for all of us that are in the music industry.
Back On Metal Blade Records
It has been tough, and I am hoping things will straighten out soon. Considering things from a business perspective, Fates Warning is back with Metal Blade Records on LONG DAY GOOD NIGHT, after a 16-year absence. How important is a record label to a band today, versus say 35 years ago?
Bobby Jarzombek: Hmm, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it that way. I think that maybe it is because of the fact that bands are able to release a CD without a label. You can put a CD out in front of yourself or whatever, and that’s been going on for years obviously. I think having a record label is really important, especially a label like Metal Blade, where Brian Slagel was a long-time fan. When he started his label, one of the very first bands that he started with was Fates Warning, but I don’t know how long this was into the label being established. The guys in Fates, Jim and Ray and all of the guys, are friends of his, Joey Vera, they have been friends for years with Brian. I think being back on Metal Blade is great for the band because it feels more like home because of the long-standing relationship with Brian and of course Tracy is there and has been for so many years. It’s Tracy Vera [President of Metal Blade Records] I am speaking of, Joey’s wife. She’s in charge of things these days. It’s important to be back home for the guys with a label that they have had this long history with. The very first band that I ever recorded with was Juggernaut and we put two records out in 1986 and ’87, and those were on Metal Blade. It’s pretty cool, and Brian is great. We don’t get to see him a whole lot, but there have been a few instances in the last few years. I know when we were in Vegas he took us out to dinner before the show and he came out to, maybe it was Hartford for one of the gigs and saw us out there. It’s been pretty damn cool! We saw him in Dallas, I think it was Dallas the other time we saw him. It’s been cool when he comes out and we get to say hello.
The New Album
There are many great songs on the new album and eventually touring will be back to normal. Are there any songs in particular that you are looking forward to playing on tour or that lend themselves well to a live audience?
Bobby Jarzombek: I think “Scars” is probably a good one, the first release from the record that we had. I could see us coming out and opening up with “Destination Onward.” That’s a great opener. “The Longest Shadow of The Day”, that would scare me to death if Jim wants to play that song because it’s so difficult! [laughs]. I mean there’s some really cool tunes so I am not sure what this set list would be. It’s always one of those weird things. The way Jim puts together set lists before we go on tour, it’s a pretty cool way to do it. He likes to pick at least one song from every record. Sometimes he’ll skip over a record. When you are a band that has thirteen albums out, and with the length of some of these songs, the set list can be anywhere between fourteen and eighteen, or nineteen songs. It’s a long set list. Sometimes if you are going to do two or three songs from one record, like Parallels, which we always do, then you have to skip over a record. With the new record out, we would like to feature three or four of the new songs in the set. We’ll have to see how that all turns out. I like the idea of trying to play a song from every record. When you are playing with a band that has a thirty-five year history, you like to give certain fans that came up at certain point and really loved the record, you don’t want to skip those fans, like a band like Rush. You have fans that love a certain time in their life when they were really into the band you want to satisfy those fans by playing a song or two that they grew up with and loved at the time.
You were an established and acclaimed drummer prior to playing with Fates Warning of course. Were you a fan of the band’s music prior to joining?
Bobby Jarzombek: Yeah, you know growing up in San Antonio, Texas we had a radio station here way back in the day in the late 70’s and early 80’s throughout that whole time when hard rock and progressive rock really came to being. This radio station was able to play and it was called KMAK [am station] and KISS [fm station] and was able to play basically anything they wanted to play. It wasn’t programmed radio. The DJs just picked, you know the way radio used to be when we grew up. The DJ would just pick out what he wanted to play and took requests. Fates Warning, those early records, particularly Awaken The Guardian and The Spectre Within, those records with John Arch were popular records. I heard those on the radio all the time. Ray joined the band then for the No Exit record and Ray is from San Antonio, Texas also and grew up here. Shortly, when he joined the band he moved. So, I knew of the band, definitely back then and followed the band throughout their career. Of course, when so many records come out and music changes you lose track a little bit of it, of certain bands and you might miss an album here and there. I’ve always followed the band and knew what was going on with the band throughout their career. I was fortunate that they gave me the call back in 2007. Basically, Jim just asked me if I wanted to play one show with them, a festival in Italy. He called me and said, “Hey, I see you are going to be playing this festival with Sebastian [Bach] at this time. Would you want to play with us too? We are on that same bill.” So, I said, “Well I am not going to be playing with Sebastian because I broke my wrist.” I missed the whole Sebastian tour because of that, but I was able to get healed in enough time to do that one show with Fates Warning. I flew out there to Italy and we rehearsed one day the forty- or fifty-minute set, and I played the next day with them at the Evolution Festival in Italy in ’07. That’s how that really started for me joining the band and playing with the band. After the show was over, after we played that day Jim said, “Hey if we book a tour do you want to do the tour?” [laughs]. I was like, “Ok I’ll do a tour!” It was weird, it’s what one gig of me playing with them and not doing the Sebastian tour because my wrist was broken. Since I wasn’t able to do the tour, I was available though to do that one show, it turned into thirteen years later.
I know I am sort of putting you on the spot here, but it would be great to hear a bit of insider perspective as you have had an opportunity to play a wide range of Fates material. Excluding the albums, you have been on, is there a past Fates Warning album or album(s) that you would consider favorites?
Bobby Jarzombek: I like the Pleasant Shade Of Gray record a lot. I think there is some really great stuff on that. There is some amazing drumming by Mark Zonder on that record. To me, he really was inventive with a lot of the drum parts he came up with. I thought the band was really experimental on that record in all different kinds of ways as far as whether the music was busy or whether it was sparse. I think that record is an amazing record. I like playing those songs. It’s a little difficult at times. The band was, it was kind of like their Hemispheres, the Rush Hemispheres period of the band, where it just seems like the band was writing really difficult music. But, great stuff, so I like playing that. Parallels stuff is always really cool to play because it’s a little more radio sounding, but people love hearing those songs. Whether it’s “Point of View” or “Life In Still Water”, those songs are sing along songs, so I love playing those tunes, playing them live. “Eleventh Hour” is another one. I like different songs for different reasons when they are in the set. Some I like because they are busy and cool drumming, and some I like because everybody can bob their head to them.
I thought it was interesting how everything adds up to thirteen for this album. The running time, the studio album…
Bobby Jarzombek: What do you mean? What do you mean thirteen? What else?
Well, it’s the thirteenth album and the running time adds up to thirteen, I think it is 72:22, so all those numbers add up to thirteen. It’s very interesting!
Bobby Jarzombek: Really! I did not even think about that [laughs].
Speaking of that, did anything unusual or strange things happen during the writing or recording of the album that would intrigue the superstitious fan?
Bobby Jarzombek: Ugh.. no, not so much. I can’t think of anything.
Have you got any other projects that fans of yours can look forward to in the near future?
Not at the time. I have a Sebastian Bach tour coming up in spring that’s already been rescheduled twice. I’ve done a few sessions as I mentioned and when those come out, I guess everybody will hear them, that I have been able to do during this time. Just some recordings here and there. Nothing major, just hoping that it’s gonna be cool when this record drops [Nov. 6, 2020 release date]. I hope everybody buys it and really digs into it, because it is a long record, but it is a great record.
Bobby, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I am big fan of the band and I love the album. I know the fans are going to enjoy it as well. I hope that you guys can get out there and tour it and support it and get back to your livelihood. I was fortunate to see you guys with Queensrÿche in Orlando back in March of 2019 and it was a phenomenal show.
Bobby Jarzombek: Was that the first show? [of the tour]
Yes, the first show.
Bobby Jarzombek: Wow! Do I remember that? I remember standing outside talking with Todd. I don’t remember the show, but that was a great tour man. The one thing is I think it was a really cool tour for them too. I mean, it was sold out in a lot of the cities that we went to. At that point I know that they were really like saying, “Man we need to do this again.” The guys treated us so well. Eddie would cook food for us, I mean it was so crazy, Eddie Jackson. We would be on stage and they would have our bus code. While we were on stage, Eddie would get on our bus and put a casserole or some sort of thing that he cooked up or something that day. We would come off stage and we would have food on the bus, and he did that a lot during the tour. It was a really cool tour because it was two bands that totally respect each other, and Casey is a good friend of mine also, Casey Grillo [touring drummer for Queensryche]. Yeah man, hopefully we’ll do something like that again.
One of the things that surprised me was the amount of new and young fans in the crowd really enjoying the songs.
Bobby Jarzombek: Yep, it was really cool. You could see the fathers out there with their sons and that sort of thing. I think when you have a package of two bands like that, that are similar, it just brings in more people. Maybe they wouldn’t necessarily buy the tickets just for Fates Warning or just for Queensrÿche. When you put both bands together it makes that package so much more of a reason for people to come out and be there for it.
Thanks again Bobby. Good luck and it was a pleasure to speak with you today.
Bobby Jarzombek: Thanks so much. It was my pleasure.