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Interview with Ray Alder, Fates Warning vocalist PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 07 April 2010
By Heather Leah HuddlestonRay Alder - Photo by Mike Maher

Just days after the Parallels Special Edition release party in Los Angeles, I got a chance to do a phone interview with Ray Alder, vocalist for Fates Warning. A dream come true for me… I’ve been listening to Fates Warning since 1988 when I first saw the video for “Silent Cries;”I was 12! “Silent Cries” was the best song I had ever heard. I fell in love with Ray Alder and his voice and the depth of the lyrics. From that moment on, I had a new favorite band, and there they remain to this day.

My heart raced as the phone rang; after he answered, tears threatened to gush as I got the mushy, personal stuff out of the way, and then we got down to talking about the business of Fates Warning. The conversation was both jovial and deep, revealing the many layers of the man with one of the sweetest voices (and personalities) in progressive metal.

USA Progressive Music: First things first, how was the Parallels re-release party in LA on March 19 [2010]?

Ray Alder: It was great, better than we expected actually. The place wasn’t sold out or anything, but the crowd was really, really great. We did the whole album, back to back, and the fans appreciated that. If anything, me and the guys in the band had a blast; seeing everybody again and finally playing the songs on stage—I think there’s only one that we’ve never played live, “The Road Goes on Forever.” We haven’t played these songs for years and years and years, and it was great to play them all.

USAProgMusic: Who played the release party?

Ray: It was the line-up we had for Parallels in 1992—Mark Zonder, Joe DiBiase, Frank Aresti, Jim [Matheos] and myself.

USAProgMusic: That’s awesome! How was it playing with everybody again?

Ray:  It was really great! And to hear Joe play his bass again was amazing. He hasn’t picked it up in 12 years! You know, he’s been busy working and being a family man; so we had to bring him out again, and he did a fantastic job. Man, he really pulled it off! It was really special. We laughed a lot, too; he’s a funny guy.

USAProgMusic:  That’s so great! So, why re-release Parallels?

Ray: They [Metal Blade] started re-releasing all the albums from the first album, Night on Brocken in 2002, and about every two years there’s a re-release now. The next one will be Inside Out and they’ll just keep moving down the line.

USAProgMusic: Re-releases definitely sound better, especially when you’re listening to the album with a headset.

Ray: Yeah, they’re re-mastered and little tricks are done to the albums. I listened to Parallels on my stereo and it sounds much clearer. Plus all the extras that come with it are cool—the DVD, the backstage shots, and all that. There’s an interview that’s an hour long; it’s a cool sort of “rockumentary” [Ray adds a little husky flair to dramatize the word]. I actually watched the whole thing and I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting.” [laughs]

USAProgMusic: Is it strange to watch something about yourself like that?

Ray: It is, especially because there was a question as to what actually happened after Parallels was originally released…because the band just kind of broke up, which was a weird thing because it was our most successful record ever. You know, we had this great tour, the entire thing was sold out, and we had videos, and then…nothing. We kind of just went away. We were all trying to figure out what exactly happened, and in the interviews we’re talking about it, and we’re all still like, “I don’t know what the f**k happened.” It was so weird. So I was looking for clarity in the thing and got none. [laughs]

USAProgMusic: What’s your favorite Fates song, the most meaningful one to you?

Ray: The most meaningful? Hmmm…I don’t know; right now, I guess I’d have to say “The Road Goes on Forever.” It’s always been one of my favorite songs and it’s one that I knew we’d never play live; so to actually be playing it live now is really special to me. It’s a weird, quiet, moody song at the end of the album, and to finally play it live, it’s like, “Yes! And it sounds good, too.” [laughs]

USAProgMusic: How does it feel for you to have spent the majority of your life singing?

Ray: It feels great. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Of course, I’ve held different jobs throughout the years but this is my passion. I started singing as a kid, not knowing what the hell was going on. I played in three local bands, and then I auditioned for Fates and I got the gig. And I was 18! So I was just kind of thrown into this world. It’s amazing the opportunities that have been handed to me through the years just by being in this band—you know, being able to see the world and meeting four of the greatest guys in the world, and the friendships that have come from this have been amazing. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

USAProgMusic: That’s so sweet! Do you listen to music since you’re always kind of doing it?

Ray: I do, but you know I don’t listen to prog rock at all and people always kind of freak out about that. I listen to all kinds of music. I was a heavy metal kid for a long time and then I started growing up and …I don’t really know what I listen to now. What’s in my car? I only listen to music when I’m in my car; when I’m home, I’m the person who turns the TV on and never watches it…it’s just on.

USAProgMusic: What about any favorite bands or people who’ve influenced you?

Ray: I don’t have any favorite bands now, but when I was growing up my biggest influences were Steve Perry and Rob Halford. I was a huge Journey fan; I thought his hair was cool.

USAProgMusic:Your hair was like his for a while.

Ray:Yeah, when I was in the 9th grade, I had long hair. Everybody told me, “You look like that guy in Journey.” I tried to sound like him, too. [laughs]

USAProgMusic: You have an amazing voice…

Ray: Well, thank you.

USAProgMusic: …and speaking of voice and range…you had that really high range before and you don’t go so high anymore…

Ray: It’s not what it used to be.  You know, I used my voice wrong and I smoke too much probably. But I took lessons for a year, and my instructor said you’re singing wrong; you’re using your throat, but you’ll be fine. Well, 20 years later…. Oh yeah, guess not. But, in retrospect I feel silly singing that high stuff anyway—it’s a blessing and a curse really. I would feel really dumb doing [Ray holds out a high-pitched note] all the time. You know?

USAProgMusic: Yeah. Well, it seems like you’ve truly found your voice in the fact that it’s evolved over time.

Ray: Yeah, I like how you put that. I like the range that I have now. I have my high-mids and I just don’t do the screaming anymore. I know it disappoints a lot of people but sorry.

USAProgMusic: What is your whole process as a singer? How do you get in singer mode?

Ray: It used to involve a lot of pacing back and forth. For the Parallels show though, no one was really nervous. It’s strange in a way. We’re just more excited to be going out on stage and playing together. I’ve never been a big “warming up” guy. I just kind of go out there and see what happens. Once I’m out there, sometimes I’ll think, “Oh shit, maybe I should have warmed up.” After two songs I’ll be okay. [laughs] But when you’re on stage, you’re really putting yourself out there to mess up, and hopefully you don’t.

USAProgMusic: Musicians are definitely vulnerable. It’s good to be spontaneous, too [laughs]. So, how has the industry changed since you started?

Ray: Well, when we first started, there was a lot more money, just because that’s the way it worked back then. You’d get a record budget and then you’d go record an album. The amount you got was based on your status. Now, with the media being what it is, people can get anything they want for free. In the old days, we’d go to the studio with a two-inch reel; we’d have a producer, engineer…it was money. Parallels probably cost $200K to make—we lived in Canada for more than six months, and with the hotels, two different studios, it all added up. And now, everybody has ProTools, and you can just do whatever you want at home. We send things back and forth through our computers, and then finally we’ll get together and record things at Jim’s home studio. Record companies know this and there’s no reason to give a band a huge amount of money because it doesn’t cost anything to make a record now. And all that money has to be recouped anyway; so it’s better for a band to not have a huge six-figure budget that they just have to earn back.

USAProgMusic: The themes on Parallels and really throughout Fates’ music—you know seeing things through other people’s eyes and from different perspectives and the inability for other people to do so regardless of how they feel about each other—where does that come from and why is it so important?

Ray: Jim writes most of the lyrics and he wrote all the lyrics on Parallels. I don’t know, I think writing, for a lot of people, is a way of figuring things out, a form of therapy; and of course if there’s some traumatic moment in your life, you’ll want to write about it, and hopefully make it cheery and intelligent enough that people can say, “Hey, I can get that.”

I think, from Jim’s perspective, the songs on Parallels really addressed the fans, in a way, and how they felt like we owed them something, and to a certain point, a band does; but if you change your style of music everybody gets pissed, but then they don’t want you to sound the same because then you get boring. You can’t please everybody. But don’t look at me for answers, because I’m just a musician; you know, I play music. [laughs]

USAProgMusic: I can certainly appreciate that. So, do you see each album as a unique project, a unique experience?

Ray: Absolutely, you’re coming from somewhere else. For us, it’s like, “OK, we’ve done this now let’s try something different.” And it’s funny because it’s not like you’re really trying to do something different; it just comes out that way. Something happens throughout those couple of years between albums and this is what it sounds like now. Every album is a different progression, and some people like that and some don’t. We’re just trying to make the best music we can, and hopefully, hopefully somebody will like it.

USAProgMusic: Can we talk a little bit about Redemption? [Ray: Sure] What does being in each band mean to you? How does being in Fates differ from being in Redemption?

Ray: Fates is obviously my band; they always will be—it’s like being married and having an affair—I will never ever leave my band but I just wanted something different in the interim. There was a lot of downtime in Fates, and I just had to do something to be creative. I was withering away. So I produced the first Redemption album and I wasn’t really happy with the singing of the other guy, so I offered my services on vocals. I just thought we were going to do a couple of albums—I never thought we’d go on tour—and it just snowballed into something more than I had imagined. It’s fun, the guys are cool, and Nick [van Dyk] is one of my best friends. But Fates is my wife and I’ll never ever leave her. Even though I may dip my foot somewhere else, I’ll always come home. [laughs]

USAProgMusic: How is Nick [van Dyk] doing?

Ray: He’s actually really great. He’s in remission after being diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, and as far as anyone’s concerned, he’s beaten it. It’s definitely an amazing thing.

USAProgMusic: Once he recovers, are you going to tour for Snowfall on Judgment Day?

Ray: There’s talk of it.

USAProgMusic: How is the songwriting process different for each band?

Ray: With Fates, I get music and that’s it, and I’ll write a melody over this, write a melody over that. The creative process is very involved. I can do whatever you want, but in the end, everybody has to agree. But with Redemption, Nick pretty much writes everything, even the melodies, and I just come in and we change what needs to be changed. With Redemption, the songwriting is a lot easier, but playing live is a lot more challenging because I’m trying to remember somebody else’s melodies and lyrics. It’s a different process. Fates live is pretty easy because I’ve been doing that shit forever. I like them both. It’s really a challenge writing for Fates, but in the end, hopefully we come up with something good that people like. Hopefully.

USAProgMusic: Being as you’ve spent most of your life in the music industry, is there any advice you can give to aspiring musicians?

Ray: Don’t be a rock star, and most importantly, don’t burn bridges. If you want a long career, the last thing you want to do is burn bridges. I’ve tried my best not to upset anyone, and I’m sure I have in my 20-odd years in the business, but I try not to. Just accept what life has given you, man, appreciate it. Don’t shit on people, basically, because you will definitely get shit on later. And it’s the same with life as well, just be a good person and good things will come to you.

USAProgMusic: Those are profound words to live by, indeed.

Ray: And follow your passion, you know? Just do it. I love what I do, and I want to do as much as I can while I still can. And playing is the greatest thing in the world. To be on stage playing your music for people and have them show up to hear what you’ve done, it’s an honor. It’s something I would never take back.

USAProgMusic: Well, Ray Alder, thank you so much! This has been great and very special!

Ray: It has been for me, too. Thank you for having me.

Over the next few months, Fates Warning will do limited Parallels shows , and then they’ll be wrapping up work on their new album. It’s great to hear that Fates Warning isn’t stopping any time soon; so for now, look for more music that will hopefully go on, like the road, forever.

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