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ARCH / MATHEOS – A Sympathetic Resonance
Anthony Morgan
September 2011

Arch / Matheos (l-r): Jim Matheos and John Arch

The existence of Arch / Matheos was publicly revealed to the world on January 19th, 2011, the outfit a collaboration between Fates Warning / OSI guitarist Jim Matheos and erstwhile Fates Warning vocalist John Arch. “It really just kind of fell together without too much planning really,” reveals Jim Matheos, guitarist and songwriter for the project. “John and I just stayed in contact over the years, and I had a few songs lying around that I thought John might be interested in and would sound good on. I always jump at the opportunity to work with John whenever he’s ready to do something. I gave him a couple of songs a couple of years ago, and just took it from there really – one song at a time, and put them together. I think we got through three or four songs before we realised we should maybe do a full-length LP together. It was kind of a long process – it wasn’t really a well thought-out plan in advance.”

Bobby Jarzombek (Fates Warning / Halford / Sebastian Bach / Iced Earth / Riot) began tracking drums for Arch / Matheos’ debut full-length – Sympathetic Resonance – on January 12th. Completing the line-up was bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning / Anthrax / Armored Saint / Seven Witches), and second guitarist Frank Aresti (Fates Warning). “I’ve been working with Bobby for awhile in a live situation, but this is the first time I’ve done something with him in the studio,” Jim notes. “I was just blown away by how well prepared he was. It wasn’t a situation where he came into the studio, and said ‘Well let’s try this here.’ He had everything done and written out right down to the fills, so I was really impressed with his amazing playing. He really studied the songs and tried different things, and really tried to add new dimensions. With people like Joey and Frank they both have such busy schedules, so they both added a great touch to it but I think probably less so as far as writing things out in advance. They more or less came into the studio in the last couple of weeks and put their touches on them, not to say that they had any less input into the songs. I think someone like Bobby though really spent a lot more time trying to craft them almost as much as John and I did to a certain extent.”

“I was really impressed with Bobby,” exclaims John Arch, vocalist for Arch / Matheos. “As Jim said he was very prepared, but at no time did he come in – and he’s an awesome drummer – to showboat his talents. Everything that he did was very complimentary to the music.”

“Yeah, it was always about the song,” Jim agrees. With everybody I think.”

“And at some points, he was so quick that I didn’t understand what he was doing at first,” John admits. “It took a couple of listens to understand what he was doing, but it was almost another dimension of creativity that he added to things. He did a killer job, and I’m very happy with his playing as well as with everyone else’s.”

The tracks ‘Neurotically Wired’, ‘Midnight Serenade’, and ‘Stained Glass Sky’ were originally composed for an 11th Fates Warning studio full-length, though vocalist Ray Alder unfortunately couldn’t commit. “You’d really have to talk to Ray – I can’t speak for him,” Jim stresses. “I know it’s not a great answer, but it’s just not my place to speak for him.”

Seven years has passed since the issue of previous record FWX in 2004. “Yeah, that’s right,” Jim confirms. “It’s been awhile. Hopefully we’ll get back on track next year. We’ve been talking about putting out a new record next year, so hopefully everything works out for that one.”

Some might construe Jim’s words as evidence of friction within the Fates Warning camp, but this isn’t the truth he asserts. “We did some dates in Germany, Holland, and Greece. I would honestly say that this line-up of Fates Warning is one of the strongest we’ve ever had,” he insists. “We all get along superior together, we have a blast together, and there’s no friction whatsoever. I’m sure from the outside looking in it does look strange, but there’s really nothing nefarious going on. It’s not my place to speak for why Ray didn’t feel like he couldn’t commit to a record at this time, but there’s nothing suspicious about it. I consider Ray probably one of my top best friends in the world, and I think he thinks the same.”

Opening Sympathetic Resonance’s account is the tune ‘Neurotically Wired’. “That was the first one that I think I started maybe three years ago or something like that, and that really kind of set the tone for everything else that I was gonna write from there,” Jim divulges. “It was more on the heavy side of things and a bit more progressive than the last couple of Fates Warning records, and again it was just a natural progression. Everything I do is a natural progression – I never sit down and come up with a map or a game plan of what I’m gonna do. It’s just wherever my head space is at when I start writing, and then as it goes further along those songs dictate the rest of the record. By the time I got to something like ‘Any Given Day’ I had a feel for where the record was going, and I knew where to take that song. The first couple of songs ‘Neurotically Wired’ and ‘Midnight Serenade’ were really more or less written in a vacuum though. I didn’t know where I was going, but it just so happened to be that they were heavier and longer, more progressive tracks. I’m kind of glad of that.”

“When I first sat down to listen to the compositions that Jim had written I was kind of taken aback because I had been out of it for awhile,” John confides. “It took me awhile to wrap my mind around what was going on – there were odd time signatures, a lot going on, and I was like ‘Holy shit. Where am I gonna go with this?’ Once I started to dissect these things though and understand exactly what Jim was doing, things started to take shape. Again, the way we work is if I’m inspired by something that Jim does I kind of know immediately, and it starts to moving into a certain direction one step at a time. ‘Ok, so let’s start humming some melody lines here.’ Then the lyrics started to follow, and I started to draw from that well of my experience which sometimes I think is what is needed as well as growth in putting out an album year to year. Sometimes you need those kinds of experiences to draw upon to make it personal, and when I sing them it comes from the heart and the soul. I think that has a lot to do with what you’re hearing, so yeah, on the longer side but everything seemed to fall together. Like I’ve said in a couple of other interviews, I can’t imagine the songs being any other way than what they are. To me, it’s pretty amazing. You have no idea what direction they’re going in. You take things one step at a time and sometimes one line at a time, and that’s how it’s built. The end result is painstaking, a lot of time, and a lot of thought. I’m happy with all the songs.”

‘Midnight Serenade’ serves as the lead composition from Sympathetic Resonance. “Musically, again it’s one of those songs that I had written for a Fates record,” Jim reminds. “Musically it’s pretty much the same as it was back then; I didn’t do a lot of changes to it, and I thought John could do a great job on it. I gave it to him, and I think some of the music inspired him to come up with the great lyrics and melody lines he did for it.”

“When I first heard ‘Midnight Serenade’, I was a bit taken aback because it was a shorter, more simply constructed song than we’re used to working on,” John feels. “It’s one of those songs though where I started humming the melody lines to it before there were any words actually, and it’s one of those songs that felt natural. It came pretty quickly as far as the melody lines, and then from the melody lines the words just came quickly too. It seems to be one of those songs that… Jim gave me an option actually when we started working together; when we were hearing these songs, if they felt suitable for me I had an option on whether I’d like to work on them or not. At first that was my impression of it, but I’m glad that we did that song. It’s on the shorter side and it’s a little bit simpler, but I don’t know. I like that song a lot; it’s so dynamic, it’s got some great meaning behind the lyrics, and to me I think it has nice, strong, catchy melody lines as well as choruses. I’m very happy with that, which adds to the dynamic sound of the album. It’s also a little bit of a breath of fresh air I think too when you have three or four songs on the record that are ten-minutes plus – it’s good to have something that’s a little bit shorter and more direct.”

‘Stained Glass Sky’ immediately follows ‘Midnight Serenade’, the composition surfacing as track three. “That’s one of my favourite songs actually,” Jim discloses. “I like the whole instrumental section, and I think Frank our lead guitar player and Bobby our drummer really got a chance to really stretch out on the intro there with crazy stuff.”

“That song was another one I have to say where nothing came quick,” John confesses. “This was an awful lot of work for the both of us, but ‘Stained Glass Sky’ is probably the only song that isn’t connected by the overall theme of Sympathetic Resonance. It’s kind of a break away which again is refreshing lyrically, but when I first heard it there was no doubt in my mind that the inspiration I get from what Jim creates is what direction the song’s gonna follow. It had such a Middle Eastern sound to it – especially with the intro – and just the heavy riffs of this song took a turn in that direction where we broke away from the collective theme of the album. The song lyrically is different, but to me it’s just a heavy, great, forward, kick-ass song. I think it’s one of the strongest on the album.

“The lyrical theme deals with… I try to touch on very delicately our relationship with the Middle East and it ties into the religious beliefs and the fanaticism of that region, and how we are intertwined with that region whether we like it or not.”

The overall lyrical thread of the record is a deeply personal one for John. “Let me say that there’s been a gap between A Twist Of Fate and Sympathetic Resonance, and I’ve had some life experiences that’ve been of a personal nature to me,” he shares. “Let me just say that with the lyrical content I was able to tap from that well of experience, and share some things about me and about those experiences where hopefully listeners will relate to the human experience and they’ll make a connection with the fans. It has a lot to do with my personality; it takes a journey through my mind, and it brings you on a journey from everything from what I call the keeper which keeps stuff spinning. It’s like a pathological critic that keeps you in this place where you’re constantly spinning and cycling. A song at the end entitled ‘Incense and Myrrh’ has to do with suicidal ideation and there’s a lot of stuff in between, so these lyrics are very open to interpretation but they do have a lot of personal meaning to me. It was actually quite therapeutic to get a lot of things out of my system. What it ended up being for me though was it seemed like a death of a real person, but it became the death of my inner child. So yeah, there’s a little bit of psyche 101 going on here and it does depart from the mythological lyrics of previous albums. I really thoroughly enjoyed this though because as humans we all hide things pretty well, but we all deal with a lot of things differently. I think we deal with a lot of the same things though too, and I hope that although they’re open to interpretation the lyrics are something that the fans can relate to. That was my whole goal.”

John very much identifies with a specific personality type. “Well, that’s some pretty… I can almost let Jim answer that question, but I’m definitely a type A personality,” he reckons. “Jim has always said I’m very hard on myself, which I believe is true. I don’t know where this came from, or whether it was from the Catholic upbringing in a Catholic school (laughs). But yeah, I’m a type A personality and my mind is very active; sometimes it spins, and puts me in places where I don’t like to be. I’ve dealt with something all my life that I’ve covered up pretty well. A lot of people are very surprised, but it all ties in with certain phobias we have. Like I said, my personality is a lot different than other people’s. I think it’s all in how we deal with it, and this has been therapeutic for me to be able to share these lyrics with others.”

June 2003 solo EP A Twist Of Fate was John’s last prior musical outing, his sole musical output between 1987 and 2010. His only other recorded work consists of Fates Warning’s opening trio of full-lengths, namely Night On Bröcken (September 1984), The Spectre Within (October 1985), and Awaken The Guardian (November 1986). A lack of self-confidence has been a determining factor. “Yeah, definitely,” John concurs. “It all ties in together. At some point I had to make a personal decision on what direction to take: whether I was going to do music full-time, or work nine to five. I chose a certain path and I have no regrets, but I will say that I’ve done okay and having this opportunity to work with Jim again has really been the best of both worlds. It’s given me an opportunity to express myself and create some music, which I think has probably been the best thing for me. I don’t know if my personality was suited for the kind of lifestyle that is required to be able to tour, and to be able to dedicate my life to music. Maybe at some point I didn’t have enough confidence in myself – I don’t know. I think there are a lot of reasons, but it’s just my personality. I’m just wired a lot differently than other people.”

Night On Bröcken may have been the duo’s opening statement 27 years ago, but that doesn’t mean John and Jim’s songwriting relationship has evolved all that much. “It’s pretty much been the same since we first started working 25 years ago,” Jim believes. “We have a really good chemistry, I think. I think part of it is because we’re both – as John was saying about himself – really hard on ourselves, and we both have these internal critics that don’t let just anything go, at least as far as we’re concerned. We’re really hypercritical on ourselves, and I think over the years we’ve developed a lot of trust in working with each other. We know that if we both come up with something that we like a lot then it’s probably pretty good and other people are gonna like it as well, and that’s just because we’re both so hard on ourselves. We have that times two, so there’s a pretty good bar set there for us. It just comes real natural.”

“And let me just add that I think if you were to put Jim and I in a band setting where the whole band sits down together in a room to write music, it just doesn’t work that way because I think it steps on our creativity,” John adds. “I think the times where I’m most creative is when Jim gives me something that he’s created, I feed off of his energy and I put myself in a quiet, dark place where I have a chance to think without being uptight or without the possibility of being criticised. It works out better that we just do our own things independently, but when it comes together you have something that I just think works.”

“That’s an important point, because neither of us like to do things on the cuff,” Jim observes. “I don’t think – like John just said – there’s nothing we could do in a rehearsal room where we could pound out a song in a couple of days. We both like to work on things and let them sit for awhile and ferment, and see if we like them a week later, two weeks later or a month later. We both work the same way, so that’s really good for the both of us.”

The title of Sympathetic Resonance can be interpreted as a reference to the pair’s relationship. “I think it is personally,” Jim senses. “I think it’s a relationship between the way we work together, and it’s also a relationship between what we do and the fans, the people that listen to us. Hopefully we’ll strike a chord, and it’ll resonate with fans out there and that’s basically what the title is. I think it comes down to the way we work together, too. There’s a certain kind of sympathetic harmony that we have when we work together. Not to sound too corny, but I think that’s true to a certain degree.”

“The title works on many levels,” John judges. “It has definite meaning with the lyrics, as well as with what Jim just said.”

‘On The Fence’, ‘Any Given Day (Strangers Like Me)’, and ‘Incense And Myrrh’ round out the studio album’s track listing. “Again, ‘Any Given Day’ and ‘On The Fence’ lyrically tie in all together and make it more of a haunting album lyrically as well as open for interpretation,” John surmises. “They’re long songs, they’re hard driving, they’re theatrical, and they’re all connected lyrically. Musically they start off and they come full circle, and come down to a beautiful ending I think. At the very end of the album, ‘Any Given Day’ comes down to a very nice, dynamic part which synchs into a song called ‘Incense and Myrrh’ that deals with thoughts of suicide, and it’s all open to interpretation on how the listener is gonna interpret that. I don’t wanna give the ending away, because I want people to take the time to read the lyrics and decide for themselves. I’m very curious about what people will get out of this, and how obvious I actually was with the lyrics – if they’ll actually get them, or they’ll interpret them otherwise. To me the album has an overall feel though, and when you put it all together I think it flows nicely.”

“John said it well,” Jim acknowledges. “I like to actually listen to the record as a whole. I think with the way we constructed it and the sequence of the songs, it really works well as one long piece to me. It’s not supposed to be one long song, but I think we put a lot of time and effort into the way the songs flow in and out of each other lyrically and musically, even down to the keys and things like that. For me it would be great if people could listen to it as one long, continuous piece, because I think they’ll get a lot more out of it than listening to songs separately. I enjoy it all though.”

“And I think the songs themselves are very different from each other,” John contributes. Am I right, or..?”

“Yeah,” Jim replies. “I think – like you said – lyrically there’s a theme that goes through them, but…”

“Lyrically yeah, but the songs themselves?,” John clarifies.

“Each one of them has a different character,” Jim verifies.

“They’re very different from each other, but they’re all connected,” John continues. “I think that’s a part of the dynamic of the album, and that’s why I like the album.”

To date, Arch / Matheos has no live performances planned nor future recordings. “It’s really in John’s hands at this point,” Jim concedes. “He has a normal life outside of music, so it’s hard for him to get away. I think we would all love to and we’re gonna try to put something together, but there’s nothing solid at this point. “We kind of just take it one step at a time, but I think it was such an enjoyable experience for the both of us that I wouldn’t be surprised if we do another record somewhere down the line in a couple of years. I would love to; it’s been a great experience and it’s a lot of work, but in the end it’s really rewarding. So yeah, I’d love to.”

“Everywhere I go I drag my feet,” John chuckles, also hoping to cut future Arch / Matheos material. “It seems like once I’m talked into it and I’m immersed in it, it’s…. This whole experience was very nerve-wrecking for me. I don’t take anything for granted; I don’t think that just because I get in front of a mike it’s gonna sound awesome, because that’s not the way I am. I’m my own worst critic, so getting involved with it is the first step and then we take baby steps. It was one song at a time, and then the end result I’m very happy with. So yeah, Jim has always been great to work with. In that environment we work in, there’s no extreme pressure with time. Where we’re in a studio paying $400 a day where time is of the essence, that would be very difficult for me to do. Being in an environment though where Jim and I can work together under a relaxing environment works for creativity. I’m sure the future probably holds more music, and I look forward to that.”

Sympathetic Resonance was released in Europe on September 12th, 2011 and subsequently in North America on the 13th, all through Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in September 2011. All photographs by Jeremy Saffer.

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