Michael Romeo – Symphony X Interview18th July 2015
We managed to sit down & have a chat with Michael Romeo of Symphony X about the new album, movies & of course his solo album.
Your new record Underworld (due for release through Nuclear Blast 24/07/15) is a very strong record & has nods throughout to The Divine Wings (3rd album) was this something that was intentional during the writing process?
Yeah. Alot of the things we’ve done over the years was a big point that we wanted to put on this record. We talked early on about the flow of the record & to try & make it one cohesive piece of music & we talked about all the things we’d done over the years & re-visiting things.
Some of our fans really liked Iconoclast with the heavy progressive & we have others who really like the Divine Wings the more melodic & a little more progressive so it was definitely a conscious effort to include all of those things. Really trying to focus on the song writing, melodies & the playing of course. So I think this album has a little bit for everyone. We put a lot of thought into the songs with the arrangements & just tried to make the flow right.
As you just said this album is more song based as to a full on concept album like Odyssey for example. There are songs inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.
& Orpheus & the underworld where he’s going to go to Hades or hell to save this girl. That felt good. The heavier songs reflect that darker side & some of the more melodic stuff has that emotional concept when you’re doing something for someone you care about. So it’s not like a chronological story telling but we do touch on those things but in a more personal way. Some of the songs are full on hell fire but they all have a personal touch.
As the main songwriter you’re obviously inspired by Dante & of course Milton but is there anyone else you take inspiration from that some may have missed?
Well, I’m a fan of the whole dark & light, good & evil epic battles which is why I love Star Wars so much but I don’t want to write an album about Darth Vader (laughs)
Speaking of Dante & Milton, who else do you enjoy reading?
As I’ve said I’m a fan of the dark & light so a bit of Poe that kinda stuff. But I’m more of a movie guy than a book guy
What was the last movie you watched?
Lethal Weapon 4 was just on which I’ve seen around 30,000 times (laughs). A few newer movies I’ve liked have been the last Planet of the Apes movies as well as the new Star Treks as they were really well done.
I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about the new Mad Max & Jurassic world so I’m looking forward to catching those.
Going back to your guitar playing, on this record you’ve srpassed yourself. The finger tapping intro on the track Legend is just insane.
Yeah, just trying different things & trying to do something new. Just sitting there & noodling on the guitar & stumbled across an idea that’s cool. Obviously there’s a lot of influences that are at the back of my mind when I’m playing & stumble across an idea that I just have to develop. That get’s the ball rolling & then it’s all lick for lick dude (laughs)
Who has been the most influential in your playing?
So many guys. early on it was Randy Rhodes & was a big hero to me. He was the first guy that made me more serious about playing. From him came Yngwie, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Alan Holdsworth, Uli Jon Roth there’s just so many guys. Shawn Lane (Jonus Hellborg, Johnny Cash, Joe Walsh)is my favorite. He’s a great musician aside from his guitar playing. He plays really passionately when called for as well as these insane licks. He’ll do this vibrato & then this amazing riff I’ll sit there & be like “What The Fuck, I gotta practice, holy shit” so yeah, he’s my favorite guy.
Your playing is very neo classical.
Well that’s the Rhodes & the Malmsteen coming through & I do like try to break it up.
Going back to the Dark Chapter (1994 solo album before Symphony X) you were playing Paganini on there.
Michael – Wow that was such a long time ago. I look back & see what I was into back then with the whole baroque style, Bach & Paganini. I still like that stuff but now, over the years you open up to different things. Back then I don’t know if I would’ve been a big Stravinsky fan that I am now. As you get older you get more influences & I’m always learning, well I try to (laughs)
You’re now 9 albums into your career with Symphony X. Did you ever think it would last this long?
Well you don’t really think of it. When you first start a band it’s like we’ll see what happens tomorrow. You just really just worry about the moment. Whether I was in a band or not I always knew that I would be doing something with music. But luckily with the band it’s been doing OK even with the music industry being in a bad way. A lot of friends of mine in bands are going through a rough time.
The industry is not in a good way at all. It’s almost they took their eye off the ball & weren’t expecting the internet to be as huge as it is.
But luckily we’re still doing our thing & doing the best we can & I’m a pretty firm believer that if you put out a quality thing people will respect that & enjoy listening to it & hopefully they’ll buy it at some point. I think a lot of metal guys still purchase, I know I still buy CDs. I’m hoping with this record that people listen to it & but it. I’m sure they’ll do the right thing instead of just downloading for free.
Do you still get much of a budget for the albums or are the purse strings pretty tight these days.
Michael – It’s solid. Not anything ridiculously high but it’s solid & we’re able to do what we do. We’re able to take our time a little bit.
Does the label have much input or do you have complete artistic freedom?
No body’s a worse critic than ourselves. W have a pretty good track record, we do what we do & they give us the space to do our own thing. They know we’re not just going to put together any old shit.
Is there anything you’re especially looking forward to playing live?
(laughs) Well we haven’t gotten that far as yet. But the heavier tunes, more up tempo songs are always fun to play. But i think Without You from this new record will be a good track live.
It does have a fairly catchy chorus. It’s got a hell of a good hook to it for live appeal.
Nothing wrong with catchy hooks man (laughs). There’s a couple of tracks on this album that will translate well live.
What is the plan for the tour?
We’re going to do a little run here in the states with our friend Overkill. We’ve been friends with them for a while now & some of the guys were over at the house the other day. We’ve always talked about doing something together which will be a lot of fun. So we’re going to do a run here with them in September & October. Take some time off for the holidays and then hopefully at the beginning of the new year looking at a European tour which is looking around February/March somewhere around there. We’re still kinda putting it together now so that will be the next thing.
We really want to get out there & play these songs. I want to play as many places that we can. There’s so many places that we haven’t been to that I would love to hit. Just hit as many places as we can. We’re pushing for as much as we can do.
What about recording the shows for either a live album or DVD
DVD is something that keeps coming up a lot. I’d like to do something cool like that but again it all comes down to money.
It would be great to have the stage show that WE want but we’re in talks to do something with the stage show within the budget that we have. A lot of those things come into play. It is something that we’re talking about tho.
Prior to hitting the stage what do you do for warming up?
I just play. Unless I don’t feel like it’s happening then I’ll start running scales & simple exercises. Usually I’ll just play. Maybe put on a drum machine or backing track & jam & just try & get the fluidity back to where it should be. I have a bunch of rhythm tracks that I’ve made specifically for that purpose. They have different tempos & time signatures & just jam on it. Bit of picking, bit of tapping, vibrato. Just getting the whole fluidity thing. I really like playing along to something as then I’m really paying attention to my picking, phrasing, improvising & things like that. It’s better than just running scales.
Any rituals before you hit the stage?
Maybe have a couple of whiskeys & chill out before the adrenaline rush of the stage. But no ridiculous rituals before we hit the stage. There’s no prayer circle or anything like that. Just relax the best we can. Just another day at the office so to speak (laughs) It’s the best job in the world.
How do you keep things fresh so you’re not feeling like you’re just going through the motions?
Every place is different. Different crowd, different city, different country so it’s never feels like just going through the motions. It’s always great to be up there with the guys playing the songs. Maybe if we worked 5 years straight then maybe I can see it getting that way. But it’s never felt like that with the tours or shows that we’ve done. We have fun playing.
Any shenanigans you can mention?
There’s always shenanigans going on but nothing crazy just goofing around. We’ve been together that long that we just have a good time. This line up has been together now for 17 years now.
You’ve only changed 3 members since 1994 (Thomas Miller − bass guitar (1994−1998), Rod Tyler − vocals (1994) & Thomas Walling − drums (1997−2000) )
Michael – It’s not like there’s been a million different guys in the band which is why I think it’s kept everything cool. There’s a level of respect among us all & we all get along good. We goof around just like anyone else.
It’s been 21 years since the Dark Chapter, will there be another solo album?
Yeah I think there will be. It’s always something in the back of my mind & over the years putting things aside that I really like. But it’s tough man, especially with the whole recording thing. We do everything at my house & we spend a whole year writing & recording it’s like a full-time job especially as I’m behind the board most of the time & it’s hard to find time.
Then the touring stars & hard to even write on tour. We’re focused on the show & the day-to-day stuff on the tour & that’s why it does take us awhile to get these record together. We don’t start writing until we get off tour so we go into it with a fresh approach & not be distracted.
But I do think the solo record will happen within the next year. I kinda have a couple of things here & there & I have to give it some thought to exactly what I want to do. Obviously make it a little different to the band. Maybe try some different things as well.
It’s been said that when the Dark Chapter came out it was almost like a demo for the 1st symphony X album
Yeah it was all demos to me man. Even the 1st record really. We were just staring out & we didn’t have a lot of money so we were just trying to figure things out really.
The solo record was really me just noodling around in my apartment. When I do another one it’ll be a lot different to that one.
Is there anyone in particular you’d like to play with?
It depends what it is. Obviously there would be a few heavy riffs & prog elements to it. In all honesty I haven’t really givin it that much thought.
Would you consider doing G3 with Joe Satriani & Steve Vai?
Yeah sure I would. I know the band will be really busy now for a couple of years but yeah if the opportunity a rose & it was cool & the timing was right. All that stuff. Playing on different peoples records that I do from time to time. But the band is the priority.
But now with the solo record I’d like to really think about doing that & make time for it & there’s other things that I would like to do.
Michael – I’ve been on contact with people in the movie business & the video game world. I’ve reached out as I wouldn’t mind doing something with that on the side. something epic sounding with some guitar in there
Well, Symphony X is a pretty cinematic band with the strings & choir you add to punctuate certain points throughout the tracks which gives it that cinematic & symphonic feel.
That’s the right words. I’m all about the cinematic symphonic sounds. This is where the band is perfect as you can add those elements & it works.
Given a chance I’d like to sit down & chat to my hero John Williams. I’m a huge fan of the classic movie music & John Williams is really iconic. Everyone knows the 2 notes from Jaws or the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. So I’d sit down with him, try & snag a few ideas from him & steal some shit from him. I think that would be great.
Michael, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you for taking the time to speak to us here at AATR Towers.
No problem. You’ve asked plenty of questions that have made me think which is a good thing so thank you.
Hopefully see you on tour next year & catch up again.
The new Symphony X album is released 24th July via Nuclear blast records