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Ray Alder joined Fates Warning as its new vocalist for the 1988 album 'No Exit' and has been with the band ever since. In 1999, Alder unveiled a side project known as Engine, a collaboration with Agent Steel guitarist Bernie Versailles. Now, with Fates' guitarist / principal Jim Matheos off recording with Dream Theater's drummer Mike Portnoy and ex-keyboard player Kevin Moore, Alder and Versailles (together with Fates Warning / Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera and drummer Pete Parada) have returned with a new album entitled 'Superholic'. Metal Update caught up with Ray to discuss the new Engine release and to talk a bit about Fates Warning as well.

METAL UPDATE: When did the new Engine album come out?

RAY ALDER: The 21st of May.

MU: Did you see the article that ran in Billboard magazine about the band?

RA: Yes, actually I did. I'm really psyched about that.

MU: Do you think that 'Superholic' has a shot at commercial appeal / attention beyond what your music usually gets?

RA: Yeah, I think it probably does. I think it is just a matter of it falling into the right hands at this point.

MU: What are the right hands?

RA: Well, we don't know that at this point. I haven't had that kind of success yet really, so. . .

MU: Why do you think this has a potential for greater commercial appeal than say Fates Warning or even the prior Engine release?

RA: I think it is easier to swallow, easier to listen to. I think it's obviously heavier than the last album we did, heavier than Fates Warning. I do think there are a couple of commercially viable songs on there. I think the choruses are a little catchier than what we would naturally do with Fates Warning. So maybe there is a shot for some of it to be on the radio somewhere. . . I don't know.


MU: How would you describe the music on this album to someone who has not heard it yet?

RA: I'd just call it heavy - with a nice groove and melody behind it. A mixture of all kinds of rock, I think. Everyone is saying it is "nu-metal" or "nu- school" but it is hard to put a label on it. It is just heavy rock.

MU: But using the phrase "heavy rock" isn't all that helpful 'cause that could be Soundgarden, Slipknot or Iron Maiden.

RA: Well, you're right, but I don't want to say it is nu-metal. I don't want to say it is nu-school shit.

MU: Is it definitely not nu-metal?

RA: I couldn't really say that it was.

MU: This isn't your attempt at jumping on the nu-metal bandwagon then?

RA: God no!

MU: I'm just getting into Engine now. In the past I had stayed away from Engine because it had been described to me as Ray Alder's and Joey Vera's "hard rock" side project. To me that just sounded lame and kinda like a sell-out. But then I heard 'Superholic' and I love it. I'm having a hard time taking it out of the stereo.

RA: It's weird. You give it a label, and immediately. . . I wouldn't say it would be stigmatized, per se, but as far as Fates Warning fans are concerned, as far as Armored Saint fans are concerned, it's that whole selling out thing. They just think I'm trying to jump on the bandwagon. Obviously, every band out there is influenced by what they hear. That's just how it goes. There's no in or out. That's just how it happens. So there's no such thing as an original band anymore. So I play what influences me. I listen to a lot of music - a lot of hard, heavy music - and I like a lot of the new stuff that I hear. I really do. It's just when I was growing up, I liked Armored Saint and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. But as time went on, music changed with the times. It got heavier, it got darker, it got lower. To me, I like that. I think that what I'm getting now from a lot of people - a lot of Fates Warning fans and a lot of other people - that it seems like it's a bad thing to like new music. And as a musician - I'm not gonna call myself an "artist" 'cause I'm not like Tori Amos or anything - you have to appreciate change. You've gotta change, man.

MU: What was the original concept for Engine?

RA: The original concept was to do something heavier than I was doing in Fates Warning. Obviously, for Bernie [Versailles, guitarist for Engine and Agent Steel], Agent Steel is sort of a power metal band. And we like a lot of the same kind of music. We just wanted to do something that was heavier and darker than what I did and he wanted to do something that was groovier than he was doing. We were agreed that we wanted to do something that had a great groove behind the songs and that we wanted it to be heavy. I was a fan of Soulfly and Deftones. I liked that and was influenced by both of those bands. We didn't go out and say "let's be a Deftones clone" or anything like that, but whether you wanted to call it nu-school or what, we wanted to do something more modern.

MU: So it was really you and Bernie in the beginning?

RA: The band is everybody and everybody has their input, but the songwriting is me and Bernie. We write everything together and then we bring in Pete and Joey and they add their salt and pepper to the soup, so to speak.

MU: I think what makes Engine unique is that you've never heard a guy singing in the style that you sing over these kind of riffs before.

RA: Exactly. And that was one of the main points when we started the Engine project. Everything that's heavy out there nowadays has some guy screaming his brains out on it. Although I guess I'm kinda doing that a bit myself on the new record. (laughs)

MU: But you're not some whiny, baggy-pants wanna-be teenage rap kid from the suburbs crying about how daddy beat him up.

RA: We sing about some serious shit too, but it is different. We wanted something that was really heavy with somewhat decent vocals in it - somebody actually singing over some really heavy guitar chords and a great groove behind it. I think we pulled it off with the first record. I think with the second record, we attempt to be a bit heavier. That was the first goal with this one: to be heavier. I think with the first record I was such a slave to melody - I really am, I love to sing. Because of that, I think the record was not as heavy as it could have been.

MU: What other bands out there now besides Engine have that combination of good vocalist and heavy groove?

RA: Well I don't know. (laughs) It's like you said before, every band out there that's heavy and has a groove has a guy screaming with almost death metal vocals over it. I thought we could do something a little different.

MU: Why did you name the band Engine?

RA: It seemed strong, it seemed like a machine that moves you. When we were coming up with names, I thought of Engine, and just for a goof I looked it up in the dictionary. The meaning was just so perfect, "a machine that transfers energy into movement." I thought that was perfect. And also I'm just a huge fan of muscle cars and stuff like that. (laughs)

MU: Looking at the packaging of this new release, with the speedometer on the CD itself and all that, I'm not sure that anyone would take away the right understanding of this band from just seeing the name and looking at the CD packaging and album title. It doesn't look like a heavy metal record! There's no fantasy painting or anything like that!

RA: (laughs) I'm getting that from everybody too. I really am. But I wanted to go with what I knew, what I love. I thought this raging fucking machine on the front explained what I felt at the time a Superholic was.


MU: What is a Superholic?

RA: It is just something that popped into my head at the time I was writing the song. "I'm a seething engine now, I'm a Superholic." At the time, my head was not in a good place. I was very angry. And to me, a superholic is someone who is addicted to excitement, to anger, to rage. Always. A person you probably wouldn't want to be with at a bar.

MU: Let's talk about some of the other lyrical themes. One of the commonalities between Fates Warning and Engine is that same somber tone. Do you agree?

RA: That dark cloud that hangs over things. I do actually agree. I do. I think that it depends on the music. To me the music in Engine is really aggressive and it is kind of dark, so it seems the lyrics just kind of comes out of me in that way. Like the song "1 a.m.", which is just this weird thing we recorded in the studio, but when we started recording it totally changed and became something totally different than what I thought it was going to be in the studio. Lyric-wise, I do see a similarity, I do. But I just want to clear things up: normally, I am the happiest guy around. But everybody just has to have some sort of vehicle, some sort of outlet for what they are thinking from other times. So to answer your question, yes, there is some similarity. (laughs)

MU: What does Joey Vera bring to the table in the studio and as a musician? He doesn't play a lot of notes, but somehow his bass playing really seems to bring a new dimension to this music.

RA: I agree. One of the things we talked about was that I think if you are going to write a really good groove, the music cannot be too busy. Bernie and I actually put down some basic bass lines for ourselves. When Joey came in and played, nothing really changed because it already fit so well within the song. But Joey comes in and we all match up in rehearsal, and he tells us this part won't fit here or this part should go there, and he actually does pre-production work that way, in rehearsal, before we get to the studio. When we start recording, he knows what Bernie and I want, or what we all want. We know what not to do. So I think it is a good blend that Joey's a part of it. He almost wasn't. We were going to get another bass player at one point. I actually asked his opinion of another bass player. He said, "What about me? You don't want me to play on it?" I told him I didn't think he'd want to. I didn't think he'd like the music. He said, "Fuck yeah! I love it!" We were actually just going to have him engineer the record. So I'm glad that he's with us. It wouldn't be the same with any other person in the band.

MU: Let's talk about The Cure cover,"Fascination Street". When I was in high school, there were the metal kids and the goth kids and the two camps did not mix. Were you a Cure fan at the same time you were listening to Armored Saint and Judas Priest?

RA: I was never into the goth thing either. I never really got into bands like Erasure or whatever. But for some reason, a long time ago that 'Disintegration' record fell into my lap. Still to this day, however, it is one of my top records of all-time somehow.

MU: The commonality once again is the same somber tone. Even though "Fascination Street" is somber, it is upbeat - let's party in the face of chaos and death.

RA: That's one of the more toned up songs on the record. But that is one of the darkest fucking records I've ever heard in my life. It is the most somber. That record makes everything gray when you listen to it. In a good way. Sort of a melancholy sort of depression. In a good way! (laughs) But to me, "Fascination Street" seemed somewhat heavy already. It had a great attitude to it. It was sort of a party song, it was sort of upbeat. One day, I was driving I my car, and I wasn't listening to the song but I had the idea. I called up Bernie and asked him what he thought. We started working on it the next day and it started kicking. Originally there was no idea to do this as cover, but it sounded so cool we decided to put it on the record.

MU: I could see an alternate world where that song got picked up by radio out of nowhere and you suddenly get attention through a cover. Maybe less than a 10% chance of something like that actually happening, but I could envision it.

RA: (laughs) I could see it as a possibility. I'd love to see it as a reality, but I could definitely see it as a possibility. I think when we recorded the record and listened back, it came out as a great song. There really isn't a chorus in the whole song. I think the way The Cure wrote it - a lot of people hear that song and don't even know it is The Cure. I would love for Metal Blade to really push that song 'cause that probably has the best chance.

MU: Of the originals on there, what are your favorites.

RA: "The Perfect Star" and "Superholic" are probably my favorites.

MU: What kind of touring plans do you have?

RA: We did some southern California shows. We were hoping to get an opening slot on a major tour, but that is proving more difficult than we had expected. We knew what we were getting into though.


MU: What type of band would you like to open up for? Something new?

RA: I would rather be on a younger audience type of tour. P.O.D., Sevendust, something like that. The whole point of this record is that I want to play for a bunch of different people. I don't know whether Fates Warning fans are going to like this record.

MU: Don't give them short shrift though - many Fates Warning fans are probably fairly open - minded about music.

RA: I agree, because I know I listen to all kinds of shit. Maybe I'm reading way too much into it, I don't know. It is all so new to me. I've only been with Fates Warning. I've been with Fates Warning my whole life. We only played three shows for the last Engine record and that was it. So I really don't know how it would go.

MU: Fates Warning fans are perceived as geeky D&D playing prog-rock nerds. Is that the Fates Warning fan base?

RA: No, our fans are broad. They like all kinds of music, but I don't think they really like the really heavy stuff. I don't know, I guess, 'cause I guess I haven't talked to them about it yet, and perhaps I'm just reading too much into something I just don't know about yet.

MU: Sometimes bands fall into this space where they aren't heavy enough for the underground metalheads and aren't mainstream enough for the radio.

RA: I think so. I don't really know what the hell is going on, and this is brand new to me. The fact that the record is being perceived this way is exciting.

MU: What's going on with Fates Warning?

RA: Jim [Matheos] is working on a record right now with a lot of big names from the prog world. He is going to be busy with that for a while. That's why we're trying to do what we can do now. Metal Blade wants a new Fates Warning album in 2003. That means we have to start writing it in early 2003.

MU: Do you forsee any stylistic changes coming on the horizon?

RA: I don't know. Jim starts writing stuff, and then from there we start deciding what things should sound like and whether or not we should go another route. So it is really hard to say right now. Obviously, it is going to sound different like it always does. To me every record sounds different, although 'APSOG' and 'Disconnected' sounded pretty close I guess.

MU: Are you still proud of 'No Exit'?

RA: Of course! (laughs) That was a great record. That's was the heaviest thing. . .

MU: I read an interview with Jim where he was essentially saying he hates those old records. . .

RA: Yeah. His whole style changed back then too. From 'No Exit' to 'Perfect Symmetry' to 'Parallels'. Some fans were thinking, "What the fuck was that?" As far as fans were concerned, everybody was freaking out. We got a bunch of letters after we came out with 'Perfect Symmetry' after 'No Exit', and a lot of people were calling the album 'Perfectshitmetry'. (laughs)

MU: That's a great record. The drumming alone. . .

RA: Yeah, when Mark came in it opened up so much. As far as new directions for the next album, I couldn't really say yet.

MU: Do you like those old John Arch records?

RA: I love them! I was living in San Antonio when I first joined Fates Warning. They had this radio DJ there, named Joe Anthony. "The Godfather of Rock n Roll" is what they called him. And he played everything. He played Triumph. He played Rush and he played Fates Warning. He played everything. He made the band Legs Diamond big in San Antonio if you can believe that. They would play to a sold out, outdoor arena of 3,000. It was unbelievable how big he could make bands. He had so much influence. Anyway, he used to play Fates Warning and he would play "The Apparition" and I just thought that was the new shit. I just thought that was unlike anything I'd ever heard in my whole life. The vocals were amazing, it was heavy, it had melody and harmony. And I fell in love with Jonathan's voice, I absolutely did. And I still remember the night that he played "Guardian", the new track from 'Awaken the Guardian'. I still remember sitting with my friends in front of my house listening to the radio and he said, "This is the new track from Fates Warning, it's called 'Guardian'". And he played it and I was blown away. I don't think that any song has ever hit me harder at any point in my life as that song did that night. Ever since then I was a huge Fates Warning fan. They were my favorite band. So when I got the opportunity, I thought it was bullshit, that I would never get the job. To my surprise, here I am. Twelve, fifteen years later.

MU: Wouldn't you like to be playing more of those songs on tour?

RA: I do. It's a lot out of my. . . I really don't like to sing that high anymore. Also, my voice is not what it used to be, I'm not a little kid anymore. I don't know if you've noticed it or not, but I've changed my whole singing style and don't like to sing that high anymore. But I do like singing those songs, because they are so heavy. The crowd would go apeshit whenever we did any of those old songs. I know everybody wants to see the old stuff, everybody does.


review of Engine 'Superholic'

"Losing Ground" from 'Superholic'






Interview: Eric German [ ]
MU Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
MU Webmaster: WAR [ ]

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