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Ray Alder – interview met Ray Alder (vocals)

Ray Alder: “So yes, I think I am a bit restless, when I have nothing to work on, I don’t really know what to do with myself. And my wife doesn’t know what to do with me either (laughs). Maybe I can clean up the backyard ”
Ray Alder is – mede door de vrijgekomen tijd tijdens de pandemie – toegekomen aan een tweede soloalbum simpelweg ‘II’ genoemd. In 2019 verblijdde hij ons al met een eerste solovrucht ‘What The Water Wants’, maar verder kennen we hem natuurlijk ook als de in Fates Warning zingende Amerikaan die nu in Spanje woont en tal van andere projecten. Het is altijd een plezier om naar de gedreven woorden van de frontman te luisteren. Vandaar dat dit gesprek wederom een aangename conversatie werd. 
Vera Matthijssens Ι 14 juni 2023

Hello Ray, We have a long history and last years were pretty busy for you I guess. In November 2020 we talked for the last album of Fates Warning, then you made an album with Mark Zonder, A-Z then I talked to Mark Zonder and there was a live album from Redemption on which you were still involved I think…
I did like one little part actually on that latter one.

And your first solo album was released in 2019…
Yes… AND I just finished another album, a couple of weeks ago. That will be announced pretty soon I guess. I don’t know when it will be announced actually. It is an album I did with Jim Matheos (main composer and guitarist of Fates Warning – Vera).

Wow, what a news item!
Yeah, the two of us did something completely different from Fates Warning and we decided to do it with Metal Blade, but it is quite different from anything we did before. We will see. It gets to be announced and we are still finishing the artwork of the album. It has to wait, probably until 2024, when it comes out.

Can I write this in the interview or is this strictly confidential?
No, I don’t know, I’ll contact you later. I am going to wait for Jim to wake up. He is on the East Coast and I haven’t discussed it with him. I did tell him that I was doing interviews, but I didn’t mention if I would say anything about it. He might be okay with it. I will write you later today to say if it is okay. I think it is fine, but just to make sure it is okay.

In 2019 you decided to create solo albums as well. When did you actually start writing songs for your second solo album ‘II’?
We actually started writing during the Summer of last year. Then we really began to get into it. The funny thing is, I was beginning to write the new album and then Mark contacted me about doing the A-Z thing, so I kind of stopped with the solo thing and started working on that. It took a while, just because I was doing other projects in between. So last Summer we really started.

It is fine that you could engage the same people as on your first album to do that…
Yeah I did not want to go anywhere else. I like the way Tony (Hernando – guitars/bass – Vera) and I love the way Mike (Abdow – guitars/bass – Vera) write. I love the both together on an album. It is two different styles, which I think makes sense on the album, instead of having just one complete style. I played it for some friends and some people like Mike’s songs better and some people like Tony’s songs better. So I think it is a good mix of them both.

And also the Italian Simone Mularoni is very important again…
Yeah! I love that guy! He is amazing. He knows exactly what I want, which is fantastic. Even working with all these guys: Tony, Mike and Simone, is like family. We all know what we are talking about and there is no confusion. I don’t see any need to change that right now.

Let us focus on some songs: ‘Hands Of Time’ should be left from the sessions of the previous solo album. Can you tell something more about that?
The thing was, with the first album I was on a timeline. I had a set schedule that I had to finish, so that I could begin writing the Fates Warning album. I had to be done at a certain point and I just didn’t have time to finish writing the other songs to put them on the album, because I had to begin writing for the Fates Warning album. I knew they were very good songs and I wanted to keep them, but I had to wait until this album. So it worked out and it was nice.

Generally speaking, this album is darker and heavier, because the first one was rather smooth and contemplative. Now there are more progressive influences. Is it the real you that came up again?
Yeah I think so actually. With the first album, I said before that I wanted to do something different than Fates Warning. Something more trying to get away from the FW sound, I guess. That is what I wanted to do with the first album. Somehow a song like ‘Crown Of Thorns‘ is completely different, just a cool catchy melody. With this one I think I just… well, it depends on the kind of music I listen to, that is very different. I rarely listen to music actually, which is funny, not anymore like I used to listen to music when I was younger. Now I don’t. I don’t know why. But I think I prefer the heavier stuff, the darker kind of moodier stuff. Mike and I talked a lot about where we wanted to go with it and he listened very well, you really hear that. What he gave me, I loved right away and said ‘let’s do this’. There is actually a couple of songs that I did not do, but I think he is using them on another album for somebody else, which is okay, we will come back and write new stuff. With Tony, it was another thing, because we had a song leftover from the last album ‘Hands Of Time’, but that was already 80% ready. We actually just finished that one and put it on this album. Again, I wanted a darker sound, I wanted to be heavier, longer songs as well which is I guess reminiscent of FW.

Nothing wrong with that, an artist should follow his heart…
Fates Warning isn’t only my past, it is what I do. It is what I love about Fates. The longer songs with a lot of different parts in one song make a lot of sense to me. Just to keep it interesting. That is how I feel it. My musicians are amazing, I am very lucky that I found them.

Do they all live in the US while you are in Spain?
Mike is on the East Coast and Craig is on the West Coast. So everything was done through emails and recording in home studios. We had Skype conversations, but we did not meet.

Photo by Jorge Cueto

I remember you worked that way for a long time…
Yeah I am completely used to it now. I think the last album we all worked together on for Fates Warning was ‘X’ maybe. That was the last time and that was just Jim and myself there in New Hampshire we met each other. Being in the studio all of us together would be nice, but it is what it is now. It is wonderful to have a studio on your own though. I don’t need to go somewhere else. It is nice to know you can record every day. And it is more relax and cheaper (laughs)

That reminds me of a question that came up in the back of my head when I was preparing this interview. Are you a restless person or very laidback?
Well… I like to work and the funny thing is that for so many years, the writing was the least funny thing to do for me. Touring was my passion. Always, just touring, but writing was just an instrument: you need to do it to go to the other thing. And now – since we haven’t toured for years – now writing to me is everything. Now I just finished the solo album, then I finished the thing with Jim and now I am thinking: ‘where will I go now?’ I may start another A-Z album, not sure about that at this point. So yes, I think I am a bit restless, when I have nothing to work on, I don’t really know what to do with myself. And my wife doesn’t know what to do with me either (laughs). Maybe I can clean up the backyard. But I am not as restless as Jim. Jim is constantly in his studio. I am not that bad, but I definitely feel that I need to work in order to feel fulfilled I guess.

Is the song ‘Waiting For Some Sun’ a kind of view on climate change or something completely different?
No, although it is a good question. I kind of write what comes out of my head when I am writing lyrics, but most of the time about relationship. In the case of ‘Waiting For Some Sun’, just waiting for something good to happen. The lyrics are always very personal, so I prefer that the listener follows his heart and feelings and figure it out themselves. It may mean something different to them than it does to me. Usually I really don’t like to talk about my lyrics. Most of them are about life situations where everybody has to go through at some point, whether it is good or bad.

In that respect ‘Changes’ are something that everyone deals with in life. I think everybody will relate to that last track ‘Changes’…
Obviously yes. You really cannot control what’s going to happen in life. You can only seek your way through it when things happen. You never know what is going to happen the next day. So you just have to find your inner strength and move on, figure it out.

Look what happened at the time of the pandemic… nobody expected that…
Exactly. Nobody had any control over anything anymore at that point, but in the end usually things get better and you work it out the best you can.

Let’s have a look at the only concert you did as solo artist, at ProgPower USA in Atlanta. What about this experience?
It was great. I was actually so happy to do it. I know Glenn Harvest. I have known him for years and I attended the very first ProgPower festival in Chicago. I was thinking about calling Glenn and ask if he had an open slot, and a week later he emailed me and asked if I wanted to do it. Yeah of course, I’d love to. So it was great to play the songs live and to see everyone again after a while and play a live show. I was actually very nervous. You can’t imagine how nervous I was! It has been so long and normally I am used to play with the guys in FW. There are no nerves involved there ever, it is just what it is. I was surprised how nervous I was to play live again, with a band I never played live with, except for Mike. But it was great. It was a lot of fun.

Do you have any plans to go on the road with this album?
No plans at the moment. I’d love to! I just don’t know what’s going to happen. Everyone who played on the album is dying to go on the road, I just don’t see how it will work out. If we should be invited, that would be great, because I’d love to go out, especially with this new album.

Touring is not that simple anymore. It has turned into an expensive trip…
Yeah especially in the US, that seems to be the worst. That is the other thing. It seems like touring in Europe is a little bit easier, but I don’t know because I haven’t been out there yet. But indeed, it seems to be a lot more difficult than it was. It is good that the festivals are going on this year though. That’s all back to normal. In Europe at least.

Are there plans for video clips?
Yeah we are working on a video right now. We are editing it. We shot the video a couple of weeks ago and now we are finishing it. That takes a while. It is for ‘Waiting For Some Sun’. We should have that soon.

Do we see the whole band then?
Yeah that was really difficult. Craig had to film his parts in Los Angeles, Mike had to film his parts in Boston and I did my parts here in Madrid. In order to make them all looking good and similar, took a lot of coordination to get it all together, but I think it looks okay. Now there is only editing. It is a pretty dark video I would say, but it is a live performance.

That is fine, because I am tired of visualizers…
Yeah I think because of the pandemic there were a lot of animated videos. So hopefully it is okay.

Why is the cover art so simple?
I wanted different ideas for the cover, but none of the songs really fit. There is no constant theme that goes on. I don’t see myself having a kind of heavy metal cover, painted or whatever. I just like the simplicity of it. The first cover was very simple and clean as well, I like that. The first solo cover was white and blue, on this one I wanted to do the opposite. Black and red. I didn’t want to name the album after one of the songs and thrown all the focus on one of these songs. It doesn’t make sense to me and then again, there was no constant theme running through. I didn’t have a title that would work to cover everything, so I just called it ‘II’. The record company was not very happy with that, but…in the end…

That is the freedom of the artist I guess…
Yeah. That’s the way I see it as an artist. Over the years – also with FW – it is always discussions about which artist is going to do the cover. The only covers that I have seen that kind of really matter to me are like the The Pink Floyd covers. ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ the prism, or the shaking hands of ‘Wish You Were Here’. That is art. That is beautiful, but it doesn’t sell a record. Album covers don’t sell albums to me, so again, I just went down the simple path.

Although in the metal scene you often hear that young guys bought an album for the cover to try out, think of Eddie on the covers of Iron Maiden…
(laughs) I can see that, but I don’t have a mascot. I don’t have a monster (laughs) and nobody wants a picture of me on the cover either. That would NOT sell the album.

Many singer-songwriters do that though…
Yeah that is true. No, nobody wants to see this.

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