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Symphony X    
Symphony X
With the exception of Dream Theater, progressive metal has been largely overlooked in the US. But much like the metal genre as a whole, prog metal is beginning to claw its way to some semblance of commercial success. This success is evident not in the Billboard charts or on MTV, but in the fact that bands are finally getting enough support that they are able to tour. By reaching this important milestone, the bands are able to bring their show to the fans that have stood behind them as well as the new recruits that help make this slow expansion possible. For Symphony X, landing the support slot for the eagerly anticipated Blind Guardian tour was no small victory.

Hailing from New Jersey, the band was able to show their countrymen what they were about for the first time. For many, it was like finding gold in their own back yard. To mark the occasion, Metal Update caught up with guitarist Michael Romeo in the midst of the tour to talk shop.

METAL UPDATE: You guys are currently on tour with Blind Guardian, correct?


MU: Is today a day off for ya?

MR: Yes it is. Day off.

MU: Are you back at home at the moment?

MR: No. We're in. . . (asks someone) Where are we? Detroit? (voice from background) Detroit Rock City.

MU: Very nice. So how has the tour been going so far?

MR: Pretty good. It's been really good and we're really happy about it.

MU: How does it feel to be touring the US finally? It's your first time right?

MR: Finally is the word. But it's all good. Before the tour even got started we were pretty excited about playing here and now it feels really good.

MU: Better late than never, right?

MR: Yeah. (laughs)

Symphony X

MU: It seems like this type of music is starting to pick up in the US, obviously.

MR: I think it did a little bit. When we first got the tour happening, obviously we were excited to do it, but we weren't expecting too much. We're not that familiar with how that kind of scene is. After the first couple of shows it was really good. So I think a lot more people are starting to hear this kind of music and becoming interested in it, so it's a good thing.

MU: What other notable tours have you been on in the past?

MR: Most of the stuff we've done has been headliners and festivals overseas in Europe, Japan and South America. We're pretty established over there so to open up for Blind Guardian is the first time really that we were an opening act for another band. And I guess it's their first time over here as well so it's kind of a special kind of package. Neither one of us have played the States before. They've been around awhile and we've been around awhile so it's a cool thing.

MU: There are definitely a lot of curious people coming out. So you're going to be touring with Stratovarius in 2003?

MR: Yeah. In March and April over in Europe with those guys. They're pretty popular in Europe so we'll be playing some pretty nice places I'm sure. And they are all cool guys. We've met 'em. We've done a couple festivals with those guys. We see them from time to time. So that's another cool thing. It should be a really good time for us.

MU: Do you have any other touring prospects in the future besides that?

MR: We're probably going to go to South America, possibly before we go to Europe in March. February might be South America. There was some talk of us doing a headlining tour here in the States. They were saying January. And for us, we get done this tour in the middle of December. I think like December 15th or something. For us to do a headliner thing, we would need at least a month to rehearse and get a good show with some of the longer songs and that kind of stuff, so there is really not enough time for us to actually rehearse. We're going to do a headlining tour in the States. We're just not sure when now. January is just a little too close for us so I don't think we can really pull it together as far as rehearsal in that short of time. Maybe after we get back or. . . we don't even know yet. We're trying to figure out what we are going to do. But we are definitely going to do something.

MU: If it were up to you as a headliner, who would you like to take as support?

MR: Oh man, I don't even know. Honestly I don't even know.

MU: If you were to open up for any tour possible or any band, who would that be?

MR: Oh man. There are so many real big bands.

MU: No dream tours or anything like that?

MR: You know. There are so many bands I grew up with that are still big like Rush. Bands like that are fantastic. We'll have to wait and see if that ever happens.

MU: Do you see your style of music on the upswing in the US?

MR: It's kind of hard to really say. Just from doing some of the dates that we've done, I think something is happening. A lot of the shows were sold out. New York. Up in Canada. So yeah, I think there's something going on. I think a lot more people are finding out about this kind of stuff. It's really hard to say if it's getting bigger or if it's always been underground and is starting to come out now. It's hard for me because I really don't know. I do know that there are fans of this kind of stuff. I'm sure a lot of them are new fans but I'm sure there's a lot that have always been into this, like me. I've always been into metal ever since I was in high school. I still love to hear the same kind of stuff. There are a lot of people like that.

MU: Do you think it might be the labels that you were on in the past that really had something to do with a lot of people not knowing about you?

MR: Probably in the beginning. The first label that we were on was a Japanese label. In Japan, they were a pretty respectable label. A pretty mid sized label. So over there everything was great for us. They were really into the band. They had some of the financial backing to really make everything happen for us there. But that was it. It was just there and by the third album we started to get more popularity in Europe, South America and places like that. Here we never had a label up until the fifth album. I know that you could get it on import and all this other stuff. I'm not even sure why. I remember years ago, the band would always be asking the Japanese label, "Hey, when can we get some kind of American thing?" According to them, they tried to go after some things and they said nothing was worth it. It never worked out for whatever reason. So it took us a long time to actually get something secured over here. Now it's all good. The Japanese and European labels know it's all good for us. We're with InsideOut America here which is a brand new European label. They specialize in this kind of stuff and they're really behind the band. Everything is starting to look pretty good.

MU: So you were on Metal Blade for only one album?

MR: Just one album.

MU: What happened with that? Was that all there was for a contract or was there some sort of falling out?

MR: No. Not really a falling out. I think the band just felt that they have a lot of stuff that really wasn't in our vein. Maybe just heavier than us, the bands that did well for them. Maybe we were just overlooked a little bit. With the label that we are on now, with InsideOut, they are trying to make us a priority. They specialize in what we do, so I think we have a better place at that label. With Metal Blade, there wasn't any kind of falling out. Nothing bad happened. They have a lot of bands and a lot of other stuff that did well for them. Maybe we just got lost in the shuffle a little bit there and we decided to try something else and see how that would go.

MU: It definitely looks like it's working out for you.

MR: Yeah. I think everything is going good.

MU: 'The Odyssey' was recorded in your home, correct?

MR: Yes.

MU: What was that like? How long did it take?

MR: It was a pain in the ass sometimes. Usually, what we've done in the past is record some of the tracks at my place. Back then, a couple of years ago, we had a couple recording machines and then some basic gear just to do some basic tracking. Do some of the guitars there. Keyboards. Vocals. We would always go to another studio for drums and mixing. Maybe acoustic guitar somewhere in a bigger room, that kind of thing. But for this album, we just figured lets just spend a little bit of money and invest in some more gear and try to do everything. It was tough because we're trying to do the recording and I'm trying to read the manual of whatever new piece of gear we got. It was a little tough, but eventually it was cool. Once everything fell on the plate it was cool. We could record and take a break whenever we wanted. If someone felt like recording at three in the morning, we would just get up and go. It was own schedule, so it was cool with us.

MU: It makes for a stress free situation, which is a very good thing. What were you using? Were you using mostly computer-based programs?

MR: Yeah. We decided to go that route just because I just thought it would be a little easier. If we did run into any kind of a problem, which eventually we did during the mix. During the mix, I was starting to get burnt out so we had to call a friend of ours, Steve Evetts to help us mix. He has the same kinda thing - the same computer based recording stuff - so it was actually a good thing. We ended up copying all the discs and bringing them over to his place. We were thinking ahead a little bit. A lot of new studios now do have that kind of stuff, so if you ever did have to get in somewhere for whatever reason, you could do something else. You know, that kind of thing.

Symphony X

MU: What program were you using?

MR: For all the recording, we were using Nuendo, which is Steinberg's Nuendo. I know that Pro Tools is the one that a lot of guys have. We were looking at the whole set up for that and it was pretty pricey. We felt that for what we needed to do, we could use Nuendo. Nuendo is still an awesome program. We do have a lot of good outboard gear and mic preamps so we just needed something to do the recording. We went with that. We bought a couple of small things - just whatever we needed to get it done. The tough thing was that I had to try to read the manual in one night. It was a little tough. I've worked with some of those programs, so I wasn't totally lost. There's just so much stuff that you can do.

MU: Where did you learn to produce and engineer music?

MR: I guess just from doing it for so long. When I was 18 or 19, I think I had a four track and some reverbs. I was always doing home recordings and that kind of thing. I guess over the years you just learn a lot of stuff. And from watching other guys in the past, when we would go to other studios and the guys are mixing. You just kind of see what they are doing. You always learn things here and there. A lot of trial and error too, you know? But I've just been doing it for so long. Even when the band isn't doing anything and I'm home when we have time off, I'm always writing and doing something where I am working with the computer or mixing or anything like that. You're just doing it so much you start to get a good feel for it. But I didn't go to school for it or anything.

MU: Do you produce any other bands?

MR: Nah. The studio we have at the house, we definitely could do other bands if we wanted to. I have some friends, guys I know that play guitar or whatever. Sometimes they'll ask me to record a song or a demo for them, little things like that, but nothing real producer kind of stuff. Kinda helping out friends. Mostly spending the time with the band because it takes up a lot of time.

MU: Do you think studios will eventually phase out with the ease of being able to record at home?

MR: In general, I don't think so. There's always a time where you just might want some analog kind of thing happening. Or you want a big room. There are all these reverbs and digital effects and all this and that. Sometimes nothing can beat a real live room and just the knowledge of engineers. The guys that work at these places. Their knowledge alone and the way that they work. I think they'll be around. The computer thing is easy to operate but it doesn't mean that you know what you are doing. If there is some kind of frequency problem or two instruments that are battling each other, a pro guy will get right in there and smooth it out. For me, just learning, I have to noodle with it for awhile before I can nail the problem. Just things like that. The real studios have the real guys there and they are always going to be around.

MU: The song "The Odyssey" was written with the lyrics in mind first, correct?

MR: Yeah.

MU: Are there any studio elements in this song that'll make this difficult to perform live?

MR: The orchestral parts. It's a little tricky live sometimes. Like with the last album, there was some orchestral stuff, but it was more like segues and short interludes and stuff. So live we could pull it off with just a little arrangement changing and that kind of thing so it was easy to pull off. For "The Odyssey", there are a couple of parts that we are going to have to work out because there is a lot of shit going on.

MU: I didn't know if keyboards would be able to take care of a lot of that.

MR: The keyboards could probably take a pretty good amount of what needs to be done, but still there's so much other stuff going on that we are definitely going to have to get in there and see what we can do. We'll do it. Somehow, some way we'll do it.

MU: What percentage of your past songs have been written in that manner, with the music written to the lyrics?

MR: Usually it's the longer songs or any kind of a concept thing or something like that. Like the last album - which was the whole concept and one whole big story - we pretty much had to outline a lot of the lyrics before any of the music was done just so we knew what we were doing. And with 'The Odyssey', we wanted to have a song that was a longer epic kinda thing where we could do some of that orchestral stuff. That kind of film score, big grand kinda thing happening, so we decided that The Odyssey would be a cool thing to do. Musically, we figured we could do some pretty cool stuff with it. We kind of just took the part that we wanted to do, sketched out some of the lyrics and that kind of thing so that the music makes sense. It moves along in the right way. Usually it's the longer songs that are like that though. That's usually the way it is. Sometimes there might be a shorter song that the lyrics are done first. For the long songs, it's usually a kind of thing like that where there's kind of a story happening. Usually we try to get the lyrics done first or at least some kind of outline.

MU: With the Symphony X lyrics, do you write about existing themes and also some of your own made up topics?

MR: It's kind of hard to say. There's a lot of things that we go back to that we are pretty comfortable with like some of the mythology or some of the fictional stuff - even some gothic horror stuff. There's always some Poe and Lovecraft here and there. It depends on the song. Sometimes there might be an introspective kind of lyrical thing. It all depends. There's no set formula or any one particular thing. We just kinda get a vibe going and whatever works we go with. For the longer songs, we try to find something that is interesting, and the mythology always seems to come out a little bit. We're all kinda into that thing, as far as putting music to that stuff. For me, it's a lot of fun. There's so much to work with. But it all depends. With this album, there was a song called "King of Terrors". Russ had the lyrics. It was based on Poe's Pit and the Pendulum. When you have something like that, the guys are like we have this Poe thing and we need a dark kind of tune. That works well too because we just try to find some real heavy, dark riff and song for that stuff. So it all depends.

MU: What are some of your collective musical influences?

MR: That's really tough because everybody has such different things. I think all of us in the band, we all grew up with like Sabbath, Cream, some stuff like that, Rush. I know we all like Kansas. There's just so many different things but I think each guy has his own. . . I like a lot of classical stuff - a lot of the modern classical stuff. Pinella likes a lot of piano classical things. For Jason, the drummer, it's a lot of jazz and fusion so it's a really wide range of stuff that we all throw in there. I think the common thing is a lot of the metal bands that we grew up with and a lot of the prog bands. The 70's kind of stuff - Kansas, Rush, ELP - but there's so much stuff.

MU: So you're all fans of metal then right?

MR: Oh yeah. For me that's why I started playing guitar. In school it was heavy Sabbath, Priest, Maiden - all the stuff from back then. It's still good. Ozzy. Randy Rhodes. That was a big influence on me. All that stuff. I still listen to the stuff all the time now. I'm a big fan of that always.

MU: What is the last album you went out and bought, if you can recall?

MR: What was the last album I bought? Oh, the last album I bought, it was a couple. I bought the new Rush album 'Vapor Trails'. The same day at the same time I think it was 'Star Wars: Episode II' soundtrack. So there you go. Two totally different things, but its all good.

MU: Sounds pretty fitting for you anyway. What is your least favorite style of metal out right now?

MR: My least favorite style. I don't know. What styles are there?

MU: You have all the subgenres. I didn't know if you had any in particular that you didn't care for too much.

MR: I don't know. I don't really know too much new stuff. I don't like that nu metal stuff too much. They tune down and have some kinda, not even a riff. They tune down as low as they can go and start chugging away on some kind of thing. No vocals, they kinda rap. I don't know. I don't even listen to that stuff. But anything else. . . I still love Priest and Sabbath and all that stuff. It's pretty much the old school stuff for me.

MU: You guys definitely fall into the progressive music category as far as I'm concerned. Which of you went through professional music schooling?

MR: I think the guy who had the most schooling is probably Mike Pinella, the keyboardist. Just being a piano player, with classical lessons. I know he did a lot of piano competitions and studied with people at Juliard and that kind of thing. He's probably the one that has a lot of that stuff. A lot of us have done other things. I never went to school, but I spent a lot of time studying on my own. School wasn't the way for me. I still think you can learn a lot and do what you need to do if you just have the incentive to do it. Everybody is different. But he'd probably be the guy in the band that by being the piano player, they have that kind of training.

MU: Are you guys involved in any other projects currently?

MR: Not really. From time to time some guys will call us. The guys from Stratovarius. I worked on a couple of side projects that they had. Singer Timo Kotipelto, he did a solo project and I did some guitar for him. Jens Johansen did an album and I did some stuff for him. That kind of thing. Russ did some stuff with the guy from the band Aryeon, the guy Arjen. Usually if someone calls and they want to do something, we're usually pretty cool about it. It's always a good thing to do a little jamming with some other guys and have some fun. That kind of thing is always cool.

MU: Definitely. How often does Symphony X practice as a band?

MR: Depends. Before touring we practice a lot. But when we are writing, it is kinda weird. We don't practice too much. The whole writing thing, we'll usually start with me and Mike Pinella getting some ideas down in the studio. We'll put together basic song ideas and then we'll do a little rehearsal one night with the guys, trying to work the tune out. For recording that's how we work. For writing we really don't practice a whole lot as a band then. We get really consumed in the recording thing, and for me doing all the engineering, it's killing me. As soon as we get done with the album we're going full force with rehearsal. Like you said with "The Odyssey", trying to do it live, that is going to be an adventure to do that.

MU: Do you all live close to one another?

MR: Pretty much. Most of us are real close to each other. The guy who's got the farthest drive is probably Russ. He doesn't even have like 40 minutes so we're all kind of in the same area.

MU: Do you have any idea when we can expect a new Symphony X album?

MR: Oh wow, who knows. It all depends. It all depends on when we start writing again. We have this tour that we get done in December. We're gonna have to start rehearsing for whatever else we do. March and April we're over in Europe with Strato. Then in the summer, there's some festivals and stuff that we are probably going to have to hit. The US tour, whenever that is going to happen. After the summer we'll probably start writing a little bit. I'm sure we'll be touring into the fall of next year. It's hard to say. I think that's when we'll probably start writing again, but who knows. We don't have any set schedule of when we are going to try to do it. Whenever it happens. Whenever the time feels right we'll just go with it.


review of Symphony X 'Live On The Edge Of Forever'

review of Symphony X 'V'






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