John Arch Interview by Jeff Wagner (1995)
(This interview was conducted in late 1995--I honestly don't remember the exact date and didn't make a note of it on the tape. It was originally intended for Symposium #7. Neither the interview nor the issue ever saw the light of day. The following is a verbatim transcription of the conversation. I got the offer to do the interview with John that same morning from Metal Blade, but it had to be done quickly. John was in a very happy, upbeat mood. Ellipses are there to indicate pauses, not untranscribable moments.)
Jeff Wagner: Hello, John!
John Arch: Hey, Jeff, how ya doin’?
JW: How’s it goin’, man?
JA: Pretty good, thanks. How about yourself?
JW: Very good, very good. Didn’t know this morning that at the end of the day I’d be talking to John Arch, so it’s quite a pleasure I must say.
JA: No sweat, no sweat at all, really.
JW: How did this come about, you having some conversations with journalists for Chasing Time?
JA: [tape garble] as far as the music’s concerned. But then he said, “Well, you know, it’s just a compilation of the older stuff and they might have some questions about the older albums,” so I thought, yeah, that couldn’t hurt. And I’m glad he [asked me to do this] because a lot of the people that I’ve talked to tonight so far are real nice, real receptive. It’s cool. It’s been, like, seven years since I’ve been out of the band so I’m really amazed that a lot of people are still into it.
JW: I can never forget. Just as a way of introduction, I’m 26 and got into Fates Warning when I first heard “The Apparition” on a Metal Blade comp.
JA: Cool! You’re actually the oldest person I’ve talked to tonight.
JW: Awaken The Guardian was an album that literally helped me through a very, very hard period of my life and I just want to thank you for that. I’ve talked to Jim Matheos a few times and I was able to give him my thanks, too, so—
JA: That’s awesome! I’m really glad to hear that!
JW: Awaken The Guardian still stands as one of the finest albums in metal history, if not music history...so how do you feel about the track selection on Chasing Time?
JA: Well, actually I don’t even have it. [Onetime Metal Blade publicist] Matt [Bower] is gonna send it to me, but he informed me that “Guardian” is on there, and “Damnation” and “The Apparition,” and I think that’s it, but that, to me, I think those are probably...I think “The Apparition” is probably one of the strongest songs on Spectre...”Guardian” I like a lot, “Prelude To Ruin” is cool. I think it’s good, I really do. I’m lookin’ at the first album here, it’s been so long since I spun this thing, man, it’s got cobwebs on it!
JW: Do you have all three of the album covers?
JA: Yeah! Well, as far as on Night On Bröcken? Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em all. They’re all pretty equally, uh, weird
JW: Well, the third one was okay.
JA: With the moon on it?
JW: Yeah, that was all right.
JA: Yeah, that’s not bad. Yeah, that doesn’t depict any death or...[laughing]
JW: What was up with the first two? I remember back in the day it didn’t seem so terrible, because a lot of the covers were rather similar—
JA: Exactly. That’s like your low-budget artwork. How that came about was, Night On Bröcken was basically just a demo. We went into the studio and recorded a demo and it was, like, five or six songs on it or somethin’, and I think we sent that to [Metal Blade’s] Brian [Slagel] and he liked it and called us up and said, “Well, make it into an album.”
JW: Was that when the band was called Misfit?
JA: Yeah. Yeah, we were just changing our name to Fates Warning. I guess I wrote some lyrics, “the fates warning is heard,” that was “The Calling,” and Steve Zimmerman, the drummer, said “Hey, you know somethin’? ‘Fates Warning’ sounds cool!” And I was like, yeah, it kinda does! Y’know, it’s weird, I’d never heard that combination, so that stuck and we changed our name then...and turned Bröcken into an album. We had two more songs that we had to write and I think “Damnation” was one of the last ones we wrote, and maybe “Kiss Of Death” or somethin’, and so we were kind of under a time constraint and we’ve got to do some artwork. With the last day to hand it over, we looked at it and said, “Oh my God!” Well, we had no choice, so we handed it in and said, “Brian, the cover’s pathetic,” and he was like, “I’m not into spending the money [on another cover]” or somethin’, I don’t know, whatever. So that came about where that album cover came out, and then we pleaded and he gave us a second one and it wasn’t much better! [laughing] And then the third one came out and that’s fine, that’ll do, that’ll have to do. But we did have an album cover burning party after...we did, we went on the front lawn and just like piled ‘em up and torched ‘em all. It’s a stigma, y’know, that album cover, like “Oh, it’s a death band,” y’know, we didn’t want to be...not associated, but that wasn’t what the music was about.
JW: Are there any unreleased tracks from the Arch-era that remain unreleased? Besides cover songs, like “Beyond The Realms Of Death.” I have a tape of you doin’ that, and I know you did “Princess Of The Dawn.”
JA: You’re kiddin’ me! Oh my god. Now who could I have given that to? [laughing] That’s gotta be so embarrassing, oh man.
JW: That stuff gets around. Fates Warning has a cult core of fans and we’ll find the stuff.
JA: That’s definitely cult-ish, that’s definitely cult-ish! That’s like the most raw, out-of-key, most ridiculous thing, oh my god, I’m so humiliated
JW: Are there any unreleased tracks from that era?
JA: I don’t believe so, no. Everything we wrote we basically worked on it until we thought we could record it. I don’t think so, not that I know of.
JW: And of course the old albums have recently been recently remastered and rereleased by Metal Blade. Have you seen them, have you listened to them, are you satisfied with them if you have?
JA: No I haven’t. As a matter of fact, Matt’s gonna send me all that stuff. I don’t have anything.
JW: What form of the old stuff do you have, the vinyls?
JA: The old stuff, yeah, I’ve got the vinyls and then I have CDs. I’ve got all three that I was on, and then I have No Exit and Parallels and I know I’m missing some Fates Warning, the later stuff.
JW: What were the circumstances that led to your departure from the band?
JA: Okay, um, let me see...where do I begin? It’s actually real simple. What it came down to was, as far as our schedules about being busy, we all worked, and I worked a full-time job and everybody else had part-time jobs, but the one difference was I’ve always been older than these guys, but unfortunately it always stays that way, I’m always older! Um, so I guess I had a different standard of living, I had a rent. The rest of the guys, not all of them, I think Jim lived on his own, but the other guys were younger and they lived at home and you kinda have the luxury of going where you want and money’s no problem. But I was older and I had more responsibility so of course I had a job, which I thought was important to keep. And my boss was great, he’d let me come and go as I pleased. Whenever I had a tour or album, it was great, he always wanted to see me better myself, it was absolutely no problem. So it was kinda the best job in the world. It was the best of both worlds, so I definitely wanted to hold on to that as long as I could. So I guess where that led me—I was given an ultimatum by the band. Apparently, they felt that when it came down to the point—wherever the hell that is—where we would have to do it full-time, say we had to relocate to Germany or whatever I had to do with the band, if it was going to be a full-time thing, they were afraid that I was gonna let ‘em down. Okay? They were wrong. I wasn’t gonna do that because the band was my first commitment. I would’ve done whatever I had to do to make it work, and they gave me an ultimatum to quit my job or else. So I said, Wow, that’s really weird, and I told ‘em, well, I really feel that by being with the band and doing a lot of the writing, I wrote all the lyrics, all the melody lines, and I really was, I think, instrumental in writing the songs, too. I never missed a practice, I was always there—I felt that I had to show my commitment to the band 100%, and I was being kinda like second-guessed. I guess my pride got the best of me and I said, “Well, listen, y’know, I don’t think it’s necessary, you guys do what you think you have to do,” and that was just Jim, and I got off the phone and he talked to the rest of the guys in the band and he called me back and he said, “Well, I guess it’s unanimous, the band feels that they’re going to start lookin’ for another singer,” and I was blown off my rocker.
JW: Up to that point you guys were building something that was just so incredible and original.
JA: I thought so. I really did. Everybody around me thought the same thing, too. Even my mother, my parents, they all felt that, y’know, they’re not into that type of music, but they could see the qualities in it.
JW: I was lucky enough to turn a teacher onto it in high school.
JW: I kept writing about it in these journals he had us keep, that he would read and comment on each week, and for several weeks I was writing about Awaken The Guardian, just how much it meant to me for so many reasons on so many different levels and how it kinda pulled me through this depressing time. So I got him into it, just through the lyrics. That was kind of a personal triumph, getting him—
JA: Sure is! It is for me!
JW: But I’m getting off the point.
JA: No, that’s great!
JW: When you split, I remember the metal underground and my close friends were just shocked. Like, this is the wrong time for this to happen to Fates, this is not what we thought the destiny of Fates was.
JA: I agree with you 100%. I really do, because I felt, when this happened, we were done with the ‘87 tour for ...Guardian and we were ready to go in to start writing, and I felt that even though at that point I didn’t know what direction we were goin’ in, I actually didn’t even have any lyrics written yet, didn’t know what was gonna happen, but I felt deep down that I had a lot of creative input left to give and I was really looking forward to topping...I have a personal goal of always trying to outdo myself and I was looking forward to seeing how much better we could be and how much better the music could be, and I got the rug pulled out from under my feet and it was like, wow, you don’t realize the ramifications to it until years later when it’s kinda too late.
JW: How did you deal with this rather disappointing event in your life?
JA: Well, that night...I’ll tell ya, and I’m gonna be truthful and very candid with ya, that night I downed close to a half a liter of vodka, I was so out of it. I was in the shower and I couldn’t feel myself and it was a pretty bad experience.
JW: A purging that people need to go through at times.
JA: Exactly, yeah. So I got up the next morning and even though I was very disappointed and kinda just lost, I felt this great sense of relief a little bit.
JW: Maybe a lifting of pressure.
JA: Yeah, a lifting of pressure because of the fact that, it’s not the recording end of it, it’s not the writing end of it, even though your life is basically dictated for you because you have to do the media thing, you have to do the writing, you have to do the practicing, your whole life rotates around it. I mean, there’s not a minute that goes by where you don’t think about it and it’s your life, y’know? And it was kind of a relief. The performances were difficult for me because I kind of wrote myself into a corner. Y’know, the higher I sang, the harder I sang. It didn’t dawn on me that, well, gee, you have to do this live! [laughing] So the more we toured, being a frontman and a vocalist, I’m not saying any job is less harder, but it was hard, it was hard night after night singin’ hard and...being a drummer and a guitar player, sure, you catch a cold or a fever or something, you can get through it somehow. You can pull up the energy. But when you’re a frontman and you’re nervous and you’ve got a cold and you don’t feel good...[sighs]...it’s hard to hide that. And the pressure is unbelievable, because I always put so much pressure on myself to do the best I possibly can.
JW: I think with the emotional context of some of your later stuff, especially on Awaken..., there’re a lot of vocal things happening there. It’s a complex vocal line that you use a lot of the time. That would be hard to pull off night after night.
JA: Yeah. It’s almost like I wrote a song over another song. With Jim, y’know, they’re writin’ complex guitar parts, and then singing, kind of, uh...I got a little
busy on the melody lines! [laughing] The guitars are busy, and then the vocals are busy. It’s almost two songs going on at the same time!
JW: I remember first hearing it, I was into it, I knew I liked it, but I wasn’t sure. The first few times it went completely over my head because there’s so much goin’ on. I don’t know how many hundreds of times I’ve listened to it, and I still get something new out of it each time. That’s a timeless quality.
JA: That’s why I wish I could’ve done more.
JW: What a your thoughts on No Exit? Did you hear it when it first came out? Was it how you had envisioned the band evolving when you were still in?
JA: Well, No Exit...Actually, I did an interview a couple weeks ago and I had to spin it again and listen to it to familiarize myself with it because I’m not...I listen to a lot of newer stuff and I really haven’t gone back to listen to ‘em, and stuff, but, um...I’m tryin’ to remember my feeling at the time, when I first heard it. I was envious, number one, because I wasn’t on it. No matter what it sounded like, you know what I mean?
JW: It’s like your old girlfriend being with her new boyfriend.
JA: Yeah, yeah. “That’s my group!,” y’know? But I was a little envious and a little bit jealous and then...you could still...there was reminiscence of old Fates
there. You could hear it. It was still heavy, still fast, um, but then I started listenin’ to it more and, to me, there was a little bit of a personal victory because Ray [Alder], he’s got the potential to be a really good singer. And I do like him, I think he’s a good singer, but potentially he could be much better. He was off key, especially the very first opening melody lines of “No Exit,” you know what I’m talkin’ about?
JW: Yeah—”Under brooding skies...”
JA: Yeah. That is like...still, to this day, I don’t understand what key that’s in or where...it doesn’t really fit, you know what I mean? I don’t know if you agree with me but to me it sounds strange. Whatever. So anyway, as far as the vocals were concerned, I didn’t feel threatened by it, because I know that I—I’m not trying to sound conceited because I am not a conceited person at all—but I just know that I could’ve done better. As far as the writing is concerned, like “The Ivory Gate Of Dreams” on the second side, I like it. As a matter of fact, I like that album probably—as the albums go on—I like ‘em a little less and less.
JW: I thought Perfect Symmetry was really underrated. It’s excellent.
JA: Yeah, yeah. As far as the talent there, the talent is there. But the music, you can definitely hear it changing. I realize you gotta move on, you have to, from a business standpoint, if you want to make a living off it, you definitely have to change, you definitely have to shoot for the stars, you have to take chances, you have to write those “Eye To Eye”’s and “Parallel Life”’s [referring to “Point Of View”], those are excellent songs, I like those a lot. Even though they’re more written for commercial acceptability, I still like ‘em.
JW: I feel like Fates Warning is still Fates Warning, even with Inside Out. The essence is still there, and it seems like the progression has been sincere. What do
you think of Inside Out, are you familiar with it?
JW: Do you like it?
JA: Oh yeah. Again, I like certain cuts off of it. I like a lot of it and I don’t like some of it. Basically that’s as truthful as I can be. I do like some of the cuts off of it...uh...god, I’m tryin’ to think of it, there’s that one song that I really don’t like on it...I know Jim likes it a lot...
JW: “Island In The Stream”?
JW: That’s one that Jim really likes a lot. “Monument”?
JW: “Face The Fear”?
JA: Nope. It’s kind of a...it’s very pop-ish and it’s like, um...
JW: “Pale Fire”?
JW: “Shelter Me”?
JA: No. I like “Pale Fire” and I like “Shelter Me.”
JW: “Outside Looking In”?
JW: “The Strand,” “Down To The Wire,” “Afterglow.”
JA: Is it on that album?
JW: Maybe not. That’s all of ‘em...maybe back to Parallels.
JA: I’m lookin’ at it right now. God, there’s one song...oh yeah, you’re right: “We Only Say Goodbye”! I cannot stomach that song. See, that’s Jim’s favorite song off that album, I think that’s what he told me. I don’t like that song at all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the rest of it. As far as “The Road Goes On Forever,” I like that a lot. “Don’t Follow Me” I don’t particularly like. “Point Of View” is a good tune, “The Eleventh Hour” is a great tune. “Eye To Eye”’s great, “Life In Still Water” is a good tune, “Leave The Past Behind” is good, so I mean, it’s like I do like it, and who am I to say, y’know? They’re doing more than I am, you know what I’m sayin’? I’m not in a position to criticize.
JW: How do you think it would sound now if you were still in the band? Would it be more mystical, more progressive?
JA: I have a feeling, just the way I am, as far as my creative input, I’m not satisfied until it’s kind of...it just got busy because I really...I’m not sayin’ I’m
a perfectionist but I really like to add, I like to have a challenge, y’know? I think it would probably be a little bit more progressive. That’s if I had a say in it. Maybe I would’ve gotten booted out of the band at a later date because I wouldn’t have been willing to change! [laughing] I don’t know, I don’t know what it would sound like. I do realize though that you do have to grow and you have to expand your horizons. You can’t just keep writing Awaken The Guardians or keep writing The Spectre Within, you have to come up with something new and innovative, so I would just hope that I had the foresight to do something like that. And I think I could’ve. It seems like anything I’ve tried to do in my life I’ve always stuck to it and made a go of it, y’know, given it my best shot.
JW: You wrote all the lyrics for the first three records. They got deeper during Spectre... and more poetic and philosophical for Awaken... They read really well as pure poetry, just by themselves. Do you write now at all?
JA: No. No, I don’t. I’ve always wondered if a lot of the things that I’ve written were, not out of context, but if they were proper sentences. [laughing]
JW: That’s the great thing about it—the artform of music allows you to do break those rules.
JA: [laughing] Yeah. That’s true.
JW: A lot of the lyrics on Awaken... are rather unorthodox, and they just fit so well anyway.
JA: It’s probably the way it was written, because the music came first and we’d work on that music until it really got flowing. Sometimes Jim would write parts that were designed for a lead and I would listen to it and say, “Y’know, Jim, I think I could write something vocally really nice over that.” He would give me that part and then he would write a lead part, so we had spare parts filed, who knows what, where we would put the songs together and they started to flow, and then the lyrics came in and then the song would sort of inspire me. I’d lay back, y’know, 12:30, 1 o’clock in the morning with the headphones on, over and over again, I’d just close my eyes and use my imagination and before you know it I had kind of a theme or a topic to write around. And I’d have one line...the first line, of course, was always the hardest, and once you get past...and I always wanted to have something from beginning to end, a complete message and a complete thought, and I’d do my damndest to fit it all in! That’s why it seems so busy, there was so much crammed into one song just because of the way we wrote. That’s why it would be hard for me today to write anything where I would just sit down and just write lyrics and then write music around it—that would be ass-backwards compared to what it used to be like.
JW: “Valley Of The Dolls” seems like a really eloquent put-down of the whole poser/glam scene. It wasn’t all “Posers will die!,” that whole mentality. It was very
subtle. Is that what the song was about?
JA: It sure was! You hit that right on the head! [laughing] Yeah, that’s great, man. Most of the posers wouldn’t have the brains enough to figure it out [laughing] so that’s great. And it appealed to an audience exactly just like you, the more...it seems to me anybody who took the time to read the lyrics or to get emotionally
involved were people who had intuition, people who had creativity, and actually people who are a lot deeper than people on the surface level. That’s perfect, because it hit the nail right on the head, exactly what you just said. And you seem real intelligent to me.
JW: I think the reason I continue to listen to Fates Warning is because they always progress. Like Rush, they’ve changed every album...and that’s why I appreciate your lyrics, they make me think. And, y’know, I don’t want to start kissing your ass here, ‘cause I’m sure it’s been kissed all day, but the lyrics to “The Apparition” and “Guardian” still mean so much to me and they always will, 20 years down the road.
JA: Cool. I love to hear you say that, because the whole point behind this is to spur people’s imagination and to make contact with people out there and hope that they got something out of it, whether it was their own interpretation. Because I felt a lot of emotion when they were written, and when you get something like that back... For instance, I did a show with Fates Warning a while ago, not the whole show, but I sang “Guardian,” and what was cool about that was after the show I was out talkin’ to people because I was really impressed that people actually made me feel warm. And somebody came up to me and he just wanted to let me know that “Guardian,” “Guardian” the song itself, he had been in a bad accident and he was paralyzed and he was in the hospital and he was bed-ridden for the longest time. Somebody turned him onto “Guardian” and he said that it really inspired him. The kid was on his feet. He was on his feet and he pulled through a real difficult time, and I’m tellin’ you, what you told me tonight was really impressive, I really appreciate something like that.
JW: That’s the important interplay between musicians and listeners. One gets something out of the other’s appreciation.
JA: Absolutely. I think the musicians are just as hungry to see if what they’re doing is the right thing. Maybe it’s not the right thing to sell millions of albums. But for me it’s all I know. I have to be honest and...I don’t know, I just couldn’t accept anything less as far as...it’s a challenge. And it seems really intriguing and fun. I don’t know, it has a mystique about it, almost like The Number Of The Beast, kinda. That album’s got it’s own mystique of its own. The young Iron Maiden, you can feel the energy there. Bruce Dickinson’s freakin’ out, he’s singin’ fantastic! And that album itself is a classic. I’m not comparing that, but what I’m saying is on the album, you get a certain chemistry that you can feel.
JW: And you’ll leave a lasting impact for life.
JA: Wow. It’s made some kind of difference, y’know? You know, when you play a show and you’ve got people that are like slam-dancin’ and they’re not even listenin’ to what you’re playin’, you’re sayin’ to yourself, “You know, does anybody understand, does anybody get any of it?” and then it kind of disillusions you, but then there are great things that can come about, like what you told me.
JW: At that show, when you sang “Guardian” with Ray, people like Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy were quoted as saying they were moved to tears it was so beautiful.
JA: That’s wild. That’s good to hear. I’m not makin’ excuses, but I hadn’t sang in so long and I felt kinda out of shape vocally and I was so nervous but I’m so glad that people kinda probably overlooked a little off-key here and there and just appreciated it. That’s cool. I was so nervous. I can’t tell ya how nervous I was.
JW: Who are some of your vocal heroes? I remember you used to get comparisons to Bruce Dickinson all the time, which I don’t think is bad—
JA: No, not at all!
JW: But that’s an obvious one. Are there others you admire?
JA: Uh, yeah, I have a lot of, not so much heroes, but people I think are really good singers. One of ‘em’s dead, but David Byron of Uriah Heep I thought was a great singer. Ann Wilson of Heart I think is a phenomenal vocalist, and she’s so underrated. It’s so hard. I do tend to like the vocalists that push hard and
that have higher ranges. Like Geoff Tate, I did like him in his earlier years, but he’s toned down quite a bit because of the style of the writing Queensryche’s doing now.
JW: Do you still like that band, do you think their new material is good?
JA: To be truthful with ya, I haven’t heard a lot of the latest stuff. I’m really not as in touch as I should be, I should listen to more stuff. But again, I do like his other stuff. I like Mickey Thomas of Jefferson Airplane. I think he has a great voice, it’s really high. Of course Ronnie James Dio is always phenomenal.
JW: What do you think of King Diamond, do you appreciate him at all?
JA: [laughing] Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, as a matter of fact, that band is one of my favorite bands. And Mercyful Fate is really good, too. I think the writing is so cool. Like The Eye. Oh, man! And King Diamond, as far as his singing, of course it is ear-piercing, his style, I don’t really like it, but his melody lines are really good! I think he’s really good, he’s really creative.
JW: I have the Dream Theater audition tapes—
JA: Oh, god, those have to be the most horrible—
JW: Well, at least you tried on “The Apparition”...they slaughtered it! I don’t know if it was a good marriage of styles, but it was so good to hear your voice again.
JA: Oh my god, I can’t believe that, that’s gotta be so bad! So bad...I can just hear it now, ‘cause it’s like, I went down to audition for ‘em, I hadn’t sang in I don’t know how long. Actually, I thought that audition was gonna be mostly talk and we were just gonna start...maybe they were going to write a little something, and I had no idea they were going to do something and I was so out of shape. I couldn’t hear myself. I could make all the excuses in the world but it’s not gonna do any good! [laughing] That’s gotta be horrible, god! They gave me the masters of the first album, there was one song on there, “The Killing Hand,” that they gave me the masters to and I put my voice on the four-track over “The Killing Hand.” Now that didn’t come off too bad because at least I had warmed up a little bit. I kinda improvised a little bit, did it a little bit different than Charlie would sing and I put some different shading on it, y’know, it sounds okay.
JW: So what happened with Dream Theater, why didn’t it pan out?
JA: Well, again, it’s one of those things where I had the ambition, I had the drive, I had the want, because I really love that band, I still to this day, they’re
excellent, and they’re all nice, down-to-earth guys, and they’re really committed in what they’re doing. So I really wanted to, but in the interim I had gotten married, bought a house, so, you being a little bit older, I’m sure you can understand, I kinda committed myself, financially. I mean, $1200 a month for a mortgage, plus all your other bills. They’re in Long Island, I’m in Connecticut, so it’s like a three-hour drive, at least, to Mike’s house. I went down there and we did the audition and—well, hold on, my son’s...[pauses to talk to his son]—so I went down, and the music that they were writing, it was a lot different than what came out of the album, I just couldn’t believe it! What they were writing was kinda like the girls and the cars, the fast cars.
JA: Yeah! I was tryin’ to sing this stuff and I felt really awkward because they wanted me—we just got together in a room and I’d never heard the music and they’re
playing it and they were tellin’ me how they want me to sing it, playing it on the piano, and there was no inspiration there, it was just like, here, sing what I play. So I was doing that and it just wasn’t doin’ it for me, it was really weird. It was like, wait a minute, the way I usually do it is, y’know, you hand me somethin’ and I’ll listen to it and I’ll try to come up with somethin’ and then we work on it together. You know? It’s kinda hard to have somethin’ forcefed down your throat when you’re not into it. So that was, to me, it was a little weird, I had a hard time grasping that, but that’s not the whole story. I mean, we rehearsed a little bit, then I slept over at Mike’s house and I’m kinda like layin’ there, it was like 10 o’clock in the morning, and of course I’m usually up and goin’ to work by then, and those guys sleep until three in the afternoon, get up, y’know, they start their night rehearsing and they’re night owls, y’know? And I’m layin’ there and I’m just like, “I miss my dog, I miss my wife,” and I’m sayin’ to myself, “Do I really want to start this all over again?” I had just finished this with Fates Warning. Even though I loved the band, I would’ve loved to have worked with them ‘cause to me they are top-notch. I admire them all a lot. And I had to make a decision. I had to make a rational, common sense kinda decision. If I had said, “Okay, I’ll join the band, um, what do I do?,” and then it worked out where my wife ended up getting pregnant, I just can’t say to my wife, “Uh, yeah, we’re having a baby but I’m touring and I’ll see you in seven months!” I felt really responsible and I had to make the call and I feel I definitely made the right one. And of course, ‘cause I love my son and my life’s goin’ good and I have my own business and I own my own house—
JW: You own your own business?
JW: What do you do?
JA: I build custom furniture. Executive office furniture. So I do have my life together, per se, even though it does feel empty without doin’ music, but as far as
Dream Theater’s concerned, they said, “Well, let’s keep working on it,” they seemed interested.
JW: So you auditioned with them just that one time?
JA: Um, well, twice. I went down there twice. The second time is when it just hit me all of a sudden, like a ton of bricks. Like, what are you doing down here? Common sense finally came in and said, yeah, I knew I wanted to do it, I was heavily into it, I really wanted to create some more, but then somethin’ hit me like a ton of bricks and it just said I can’t do this right now.
JW: Bad timing.
JA: Yeah, it was just timing, and I committed myself to a mortgage, a wife, my child—what are you gonna do? I just think I had a responsibility elsewhere and it would’ve been really irresponsible for me just to leave. And I just couldn’t do it, it just wasn’t in my heart.
JW: How old is your child?
JA: He’s three.
JW: So he doesn’t really have any comprehension of your past history as far as being a singer?
JA: [laughing] No, but even though, he loves Dream Theater, ‘cause when my wife was pregnant she had it on all the time, I think he heard it in the womb. If he comes downstairs and it comes on he hangs on that, and if I put the radio on in the car, he wants to hear music with drums, and if I put my metal on he just starts banging his head. Not banging his head, but he kinda shakes his head back and forth and it’s so funny. Like, oh no, here we go again! [laughing]
JW: The world needs more parents like you.
JA: Yeah. I think he may pick up where I left off. Hell, he’s got good rhythm and he knows what he likes to hear, and it’s the progressive metal.
JW: Are you going to encourage him to get into music?
JA: Um, whatever he decides to do, yeah, I would not discourage him. Of course I would try to keep my distance but I would try to give him any advice that I learned, because before Fates Warning, I was in bands all my life, y’know, playing guitar and singin’, doing cover tunes by Nantucket and Grand Funk and Elton John, and I’ve always been into something, musically. Actually, I wouldn’t discourage him from it because I feel it’s kind of a healthy thing and really did keep me out of trouble, it kept me busy. Y’know, doing things that I liked to do. Even though I was involved with bands...of course, there’s the stigma because you’re in a band you’re a drug user and blah blah blah, y’know, I’m not gonna deny ever trying anything, of course I did, y’know? Did a little here, a little there. But as far as the band, like in Fates Warning, they were just a drug-free band, we weren’t into that.
JW: Elevation through the music.
JA: Yeah! I think you can hear the difference between bands that are serious and bands that are not, they’re just in it for the women and for the drugs, they’re along for the ride, y’know?
JW: I’ve got a couple live videos of Fates, only one with you in it and it’s from The Spectre—
JA: Thank god there’s only one! [laughing] That’s got to be Detroit, Blondie’s, right?
JW: How did you know that?
JA: Ah, because everybody’s got those. That’s incredible. If somebody could find something other than that one, because that was embarrassing. We played that club at the last minute. It was one of those deals where we were in the area and we kinda got together with the club owner and we were doin’ the show. There was no publicity, hardly anybody showed up and then there’s one guy with a camera, he goes, “Do you mind if I just tape this for myself?” and we said, “No,” and the guy kept buggin’ him and Jim said, “Alright, you can do it, just don’t spread it around.” And surer than shit, that tape is everywhere. I’ve talked to people from Germany that have it, it’s everywhere!
JW: What’s your perspective on the metal scene today, do you keep up with it at all? If so, do you feel there’s as much of a sense of unity amongst bands and fans as there seemed to be back then?
JA: Um, I guess I really don’t keep up with it that much. Yeah, I go to the Dream Theater shows, I’ll go to the more major shows, major acts or whatever, but as far as the underground is concerned...um, at the Fates show, yeah, the ones that I’ve been to, yeah, it seems like, yeah, as a matter of fact I think they’re a little more united because they tolerate more. Y’know, they’re up front and there’s people slam-dancin’ and it’s almost like an arena and everybody accepts that you want to slam-dance, they’ll go ahead, some people kind of move back a little bit, y’know. Like you or I, we’re there, we’re interested, we wanna hear the music, we wanna hear the performance and we’re not there to stagedive or whatever but, yeah, I guess I’m really not qualified to answer that question at any great length ‘cause to be honest with you, as far as—and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not a different class of person or anything—but it seems like at live performances and everything, I really connected with a lot of people and we had a really great time. One big party. There’s times where the shows went so well and the people were so into it that I was in control and it was such a big party. And then there’s other times where I felt like I really didn’t fit in. Like a mixture of feelings. With the whole scene, with the whole genre. And it’s not for any particular reason. It’s almost like I had two lives going. One was the responsible one, like save money and buy a house and live the middle class lifestyle, and then we had the other one where it was like living night to night out of the back of a station wagon.
JW: Maybe you felt that coming naturally, like, something’s gonna give here soon.
JA: Probably, yeah. That’s why I make no excuses. I’m not sayin’ that as far as that job ultimatum, that was the thing that spurred it on but there was probably a lot of other mixed emotions involved, too. Live performances, I wrote—[tape ends here] [other side of tape] like no matter how long you practice, your voice, it wears down after a while. Again, that’s probably another thing that was a contribution to those feelings of, y’know, doin’ other things.
JW: Two more questions and then I’ll definitely let you go, because I know you’ve got a kid there and he’s probably very tired and everything.
JA: Oh, no problem!
JW: With songs like “Epitaph” and “The Apparition,” your lyrics dealt with some very heavy topics—y’know, life, death, the path you go through in life, and a possible afterlife. Don’t take me wrong here, because as a whole, “Epitaph” has a very positive affect, but it has a very negative side to it. I always thought that if I was ever to the point of total suicidal depression that that song would either lift me out of it or make me do it, y’know what I mean? It was that kind of teetering-on-the-brink sort of song. It can be interpreted in so many ways. It’s hard to tell whether you strongly believed in an afterlife, or that no, you don’t, that its all black and bleak afterwards, you know what I mean?
JA: Boy, I tell ya, you’re so perceptive it’s not funny! You’ve obviously—
JW: I’ve listened to the stuff a lot.
JA: Right. Actually, you kinda shed some light on it, um...well, as far as that’s concerned, who knows where the stuff came from? I went to a Catholic school so I was surrounded by nuns and priests...and my mother was very spiritual, she was into meditation. I was always surrounded by that and it was always so...I don’t
know...intriguing. Now, everything that’s realistic here I take for face value, but the untouchable, the unseen, the unknown, was always intangible and really intriguing to me and if I was to write about something it’s like, well, maybe that’s up my alley. And as far as religious beliefs, I do believe in a higher plane, in a higher god, but just what that god is or looks like or whatever, I don’t know, and I don’t envision him as a man sittin’ up in the clouds with his scepter wielding fear into everybody, that’s not my personal belief at all. So I think with “Epitaph” it’s probably just a confused person caught between believing in something but not knowing what to believe in, you know what I mean? You want to believe in something, you don’t know what it is. Since the beginning of time everybody wants to tell you what their interpretation of god is, and that’s where “Damnation” comes in—I guess my religious beliefs lean pretty close to what the Native American Indians believe in. Just being in tune with nature and god’s name is nature and the powerful force...and there’s a higher force that created it and, to me, just being kind to people. Just being a good person. To me, those are my beliefs. I mean, if that gets me to where we’re supposed to go then fine, if not, well, you have to go with what you believe, you can’t lie to yourself. As far as “Epitaph,” those lyrics, they might have gotten a little bit dark because...that goes along again with the music being written first. [laughing] You hear the music? It’s so ominous, it puts you in this mood, and that’s when I listened to that and that’s the mood I got from it when I listened to it. Some parts seemed real dark and dismal and then other parts picked up a little bit and the lyrics move right along with the mood of the song. So maybe that’s why it’s so up and down.
JW: I like the end of it, too. It’s a perfect way to end an album, with the falling, the “aah aahs,” you know what I’m saying?
JA: Yeah! Yeah, that was myself and my brother.
JW: I always envision a soul falling and falling and falling forever, it gives a great visual image.
JA: Again, what’s most important is it could come from anywhere. It could come from “The Number Of The Beast” kind of thing where you’re just touching on, well, does he believe or not believe? And that’s weird because, I could see what you’re saying, it’s almost pushing you over the edge...god forbid, I mean, it was never meant to do anything like that.
JW: No, I didn’t mean that in a literal sense. I make my own decisions, but hypothetically, if I were to choose suicide—
JA: Music to go by!
JW: Yeah, that’d be the one to go by. Honestly. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s almost good. It causes a reaction. But at the same time, you must know the ideal behind depressing music causing a purging and therefore making somebody feel good. You listen to something depressing or dark and you come out of it feeling better than when you went in. That’s another way to look at that song.
JA: Oh yeah! Yeah. Wow. What an educational experience for me tonight. Nobody’s ever really gotten that—with me, anyway, talkin’ to me about it—that involved with the lyrics. That’s great. I hope I don’t end up in court with, like, Judas Priest [breaks down laughing]—no, that’s phenomenal, that’s unbelievable, it really is. I can’t believe I’m doin’ an interview with somebody that really knows so much about it. I was afraid doing these interviews that I’d get the critics, but it’s been great, you know?
JW: My last question is, have you done anything else, besides Fates Warning or Dream Theater?
JA: As far as music is concerned?
JW: Yeah, musically.
JA: Yeah, well, ‘cause I took up mountain biking. [laughs] I love that. Oh, man. It’s the best. I needed something to concentrate my energy on and plus, being my age, it’s great to stay in shape, so I’ve kinda gone head over heels with that sport.
JW: How old are you?
JW: So musically you haven’t really done anything since?
JA: Musically, no. There was the Dream Theater thing and then Watchtower, they called me. And I respect those guys, I think musically they’re incredible, but again, as far as style is concerned I—who knows what my style would’ve been if I continued—but I really didn’t feel that singin’ a hundred miles an hour was gonna be what I wanted to do. He just called and I had to decline ‘cause I just didn’t think that was my, uh—I think, again, we were talkin’ about what direction, I’m not sure what direction, but I’m sure it would be along the lines of something creative, maybe a little bit less complex, maybe, but I know it would’ve been moving melody lines and lyrics. I know that much. After that, you know, just touch and go. Mystic Force called. I had a bunch of bands [call], but it’s something that never transpired because it’s almost like...again, not to sound conceited, but if you’re gonna do somethin’, after doing three albums with a certain band, if you’re gonna do something you want to make it worth your while. I’m not talkin’ monetarily, I’m talkin’ just, you know, you always want to try to top what you did before. You don’t want to come in sub-par. So the bands were good, they were all good, but not what I wanted to do. And again, my schedules didn’t lend too much time to me anyway. That’s not to say that I’m not interested in anything. If something came along where...and I’m not sayin’ I would go into it half-assed, I would try my best, but if I thought it was something that would really suit me or suit my style, then I would try something, I really would. Who knows what the future holds? I hope to do something, ‘cause my only regret is I wish I could’ve done more.