Don't let the wordy name fool you. With a lineup that includes current
and former members of Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Cynic, you'd
think the debut album from Office Of Strategic Influence would be an
orgy of "technical ecstasy." Granted, all the chops are present and
accounted for, but OSI avoids blatant musical masturbation and
concentrates upon relatively simple, tight song structures that blend
heavy guitar riffs with smooth vocals and ample electronic effects and
sampling - more 'Dark Side Of The Moon' than 'Images And Words'. Metal
fans will appreciate grittier tracks like "OSI" and "Head", but the
album is saturated with moodier, atmospheric material that will appeal
to a broader audience, such as "When You're
Ready" and the almost radio-ready "Standby (Looks Like Rain)". The
album is a tribute to the fresh, diverse and eclectic creative tastes of
vocalist/electronics "commander" Kevin Moore (Chroma Key), percussionist
Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and legendary bassist Sean Malone (Gordian
Knot). The group is rounded out by Fates Warning's guitar wizard
Jim Matheos, who gave Metal Update the lowdown on the making of OSI.
METAL UPDATE: How did this whole project start?
JIM MATHEOS: I guess it really started as kind of like an idea for a
side project for myself in between Fates albums. I started writing for the
next Fates record, had a couple songs, some ideas, and found that Mark and
Ray were kinda busy doing their own thing and they were gonna be for another
four months. Rather than sittin' around, I decided I'd do a side
project. Mike and I had been talkin' about working together for a long
time, so he seemed like the natural first choice. I called him, he was
a bit leery because he'd been doing so many side projects and different
things, but he wanted to do this because we'd been talking about it
again for a long time. So, that's how it started. Then over the course of
the next few months, I kept writing. We'd talk now and then about what kind
of direction it was going to take and who we were gonna involve in the
project. Pretty much towards the end of it, when almost all the
material was done, we brought in Kevin. We decided we wanted to have Kevin
commit to it, and that's when the material really took a different direction.
It kind of became a more. . . into what we do now. I don't know what you call
MU: So, would you say Kevin was more responsible for the sampling and
JM: Initially he was, and probably to a large degree on the final
result, too. But once he came in and started steering it in that
direction, I saw, okay, we can go in this direction and it'll sound, to me,
it'll sound so much cooler. So, that kind of made me lean in that direction a bit
MU: Between you and Mike, you guys started out as more guitar/drum
JM: Basically, I mean, it started off as kind of what you would expect
from Fates Warning, just from the writing point of view, but I figured
it would be different with Mike in there, a different bass player and a
keyboard player. So, that's kind of the idea of the direction it was
going. I don't know if you've heard the limited edition, but if you
hear the limited edition, there's a song called "The Thing That Never Was".
Actually, what that is is a twenty-minute song which is the first
original thing that I had written, just me and Mike playing, except for the bass
or keyboards, so you get an idea of the direction that it was going in
originally. It's kind of cool.
MU: So, you and Mike pretty much had all the material laid out before
the other guys came on?
JM: I think pretty much it was all done before. Obviously, it's much
different from what you hear now, but the basic structures for all the
songs I think were there, except for "Head", which Kevin did most of that. I
kind of gave him a few riffs to play around with and we came up with "Head".
So, other than that, most of it was written ahead of time. It was kind of
everyone working separately. I wrote basically, again, all the structure of
the music and songs, and then Kevin kind of did his thing to them
separately, really, in Costa Rica. He wound up doing editing and adding
vocals and keyboards, and then we got into the studio and Mike did his
thing, as far as arranging and ideas for different structures and things
like that. So, we really didn't work together at all, for the most
part, with everyone working on songs themselves.
MU: So, with Fates Warning, is that how you guys write, as well?
JM: With Fates it's even more that way, because with this. . . I'm not
gonna say in Fates that the other guys don't have the ability or the
input to change things and bring out opinions, but it's just become the
way that things work that they don't. The songs are done, they come in and they
do their parts. So, with this it has much more prerogative, even though
that people were doing things on their own, it was still a collaborative
process, which it isn't so much in Fates.
MU: Sean lives in Portland, is that right? Do you send each other
tapes or something?
JM: Sean got the stuff at the end of the sessions when everything was
written and the drums were all recorded, so he didn't have as much input
on the writing as I wished he would have. I really like his writing, that's
just the way things worked out. He basically got the Pro Tools sessions
on CD with everything that was done, drum tracks, everything. He did his
bass playing in another studio.
MU: For the vocals, did you have someone else in mind before Kevin came
JM: Yeah, that was one of the things we, me and Mike debated for a long
time about which direction to go with the vocals. We ended up deciding
we were going to use Daniel Gildenlow from Pain of Salvation, which in the
original direction the music was going, I think it was a great choice
and it would've been really cool. Actually, I've heard some of the demos of
the stuff that he was working on, and it was very cool. Then, you know,
along comes Kevin and he takes the music in a totally different direction with
his vocals, and at that point it just seemed to be the way to go.
MU: Is OSI gonna be a long-term project?
JM: You know, it's something we haven't sat down and really discussed.
I would personally love to do it. I would love to do another one, maybe
after the next Fates record. I mean, right now we're kind of dealing with our
own projects. You know, Kevin's working on the Chroma Key record, and
Mike's gonna start working on the Dream Theater record and I'm working on the
Fates record. After that, I'd love to do it.
MU: From what I know, Kevin had left Dream Theater because he just
became disinterested with that type of music.
JM: Again, you'd have to ask him about that, but I would assume, I
mean, just from what I know of him, he'd kind of grown away from the whole
prog thing and doesn't like to do so much with that style of music, which was
kind of hard in this project. We started off as that, and we had those
two competing forces, Mike really trying to point in more of a prog
direction and Kevin trying to pull away from it. I think the results are kind of
cool. There's hints of prog in it and there's more, with Kevin's
performance, it's a good balance.
MU: The term progressive, it almost means nothing now when applied to
music. Do you even use that term anymore?
JM: No, but that happens with anything that gets labeled. Back in the
80's, it was just hard rock or heavy metal. Even that doesn't mean
anything anymore. Prog, which is the much more. . . It really doesn't
mean anything to me. I have no idea what it means, if you ask me for a
MU: So, if I mentioned progressive, what would you expect that to mean?
JM: To me, I'd still kind of envision it as like the Seventies prog
rock. Prog metal might be something a little different. I don't know. I
don't really concern myself with all those terms.
MU: Are you a self-taught player? Have you ever taken lessons?
JM: No, I did a lot of reading when I was younger.
MU: So, you did at least study scales?
JM: Pretty much, scales. . . I don't really apply it to anything,
nowadays. I know my way around if someone wants to talk to me in that language. I
can understand what's going on, but I really haven't used it much.
MU: So, who were your influences when you were growing up?
JM: As far as bands go, there was always the two sides. There was the
progressive side and there was the metal side. So, I guess that's why
you get what you have now. The progressive side would be like Genesis,
Rush. The metal side would be like Mountain, Deep Purple, UFO.
MU: In the bio I have, you said you guys had "less control" on this
album than you were used to. What was that in reference to?
JM: Basically like what it said, it was more of a collaborative process
this time around, more I had to give and take. Whereas I think in each
of our bands, Chroma Key and Dream Theater and to a certain extent Fates
Warning, we all have a lot of say in what goes on and kind of direct
everything. You get three leaders like that in one group, it makes a
lot of people, not really try to take control, but they have a strong vision of
what they want to hear and they're trying to get that done, but somebody
else might have a different direction. That's why you give and take and
compromise. In the end, I think it's a good thing.
MU: You mentioned the possibility of Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree)
producing the next Fates Warning album. Is that going to happen?
JM: I don't think it's going to happen. I would love to do it, but I
think he's. . . he's not really fond of prog as prog, and I think he's
not really particularly fond of singers like Ray, the high, kind of
almost operatic voice. It's not so much something he wants to work with.
MU: The opening title track on the OSI album with the news samples and
Dan Rather's voice, was that taken from a particular event?
JM: I don't know what news cast it was from. It was just an outtake.
Peter Jennings was on there. He was talking about the flag-burning
amendment, but Dan Rather, I don't know what it was in specific
reference to. I thought it was just cool kind of hearing him flustered like that.
That was more the point of it rather than what he was discussing.
MU: Looking at the album title and some of the lyrics, did current
world events have a strong impact on your writing?
JM: Again, the music was all written before any of the lyrics came
along. I think Kevin had a few things he wanted to get off his chest. We let
him say anything.
MU: Did he write most of the lyrics?
JM: He wrote all of the lyrics, except for "Shutdown".
MU: I know where the name of the band came from, but what made you guys
pick that name?
JM: Well, again, it was just kind of up to Kevin. It was a cool
concept. It allows us to do cool things with the packaging, t-shirts, lyrics, we
just thought it was a cool concept. I don't personally think we're trying to
get anything across that would be a political concept or statement.
MU: Did you guys float around any other names, anything funny?
JM: Not really. The only one that I had thought of before Kevin came
along was "Looks Like Rain" which is now a subtitle to one of the tracks.
MU: What artists do you listen to today? Anything float your boat?
JM: Not really. (laughs) Probably the only thing I'm into is Porcupine
Tree, and they're a contemporary artist I really like. King's X - pretty
limited listening habits.
MU: As far as your guitar leads go, what's your approach? Do you plan
them out in advance?
JM: I probably needed to in the old days, like in the early days of
Fates, but nowadays I really don't like to do leads, number one. In the old
days, you'd write a song and you'd say, "here's where the lead's gonna go,"
and write a rhythm for it. Nowadays, I listen to the song, and if I hear a
section that I think a lead would sound good in, or if I'm playing
around and something comes up that sounds cool, we'll put one in. So, it's
more - it's a totally different way of doing things than I used to.
It's gotta be something that sounds like it'll add to the song. It's not a lead.
It's not there because it has to be there. So, on this album, I think
there's two solos. Again, those are things that just came up while I was playing
along with the song. I played something, "Oh, that sounds cool, let's
add it," rather than saying, "Here's the lead section. Do the lead."
MU: I don't know how far you're into the next Fates Warning album, but
is there anything you've done with OSI that may influence Fates?
JM: I don't think so, if anything, maybe just on the technological
side. This is the first time I've done a record at home, actually, putting all
the guitars on Pro Tools at home, so I've learned a lot of things about that
MU: With all the advances in studio technology, have you been able to
cut down on costs?
JM: We've cut down on production costs, but actually the time is more
now, because if you have perfectionists and they're at home at a studio where
you don't have to pay time, you're gonna keep doing it over and over again.
All the record companies have noticed that, too. Inside Out and Metal Blade
have noticed it, too. It's happening with a lot of bands now, where
costs have gone way down but delivery times are a lost cause. It's addictive,
if you're into that kind of thing. You can sit in front of a monitor for
twelve hours working on one part.
MU: Does OSI have any touring plans?
JM: There's definitely nothing planned. Again, just like doing another
record, it's something that we're into, but there's a lot of logistical
hurdles to cover first. Not only are we doing things with our own bands
right now, but Kevin being in Costa Rica. . . So, it's something I would
love to do, but I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon. Plus,
we only have one album, maybe fifty minutes worth of music at the most.
So, it'd have to be an opening slot.
MU: In the future, is there some area of music that you still want to
JM: Maybe a CD of traditional Greek music.
MU: Are you Greek?
JM: Yeah. That'd be fun.
review of OSI 'Office Of Strategic Influence'
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