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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 it.

MU: So, would you say Kevin was more responsible for the sampling and electronic elements?

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 more, too.

MU: Between you and Mike, you guys started out as more guitar/drum orientated?

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.

OSI - Jim Matheos

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 on?

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 definition.

OSI - Mike Portnoy

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".

OSI - Kevin Moore

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 process.

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 explore?

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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