John Arch is back with his first release since 2003’s “A Twist of Fate”. His new project, Arch/Mathoes, is a collaboration with his former Fates Warning bandmate Jim Matheos. The debut album by Arch/Matheos, “Sympathetic Resonance”, will be released worldwide September 13th, 2011. For more information on the record and to purchase a copy, please visit www.ArchMatheos.com.
Austin Jenkins recently spoke to John about what it was like for him to rebuild his voice after years out of the business, his approach to songwriting, the new Arch/Matheos album, and much more!
Austin Jenkins: Who were some of your biggest influences vocally when you first began singing?
John Arch: I guess I have to go back to the days when I played guitar and sang in cover bands. Some of my favorites were Dave Byron of Heep (RIP), Mark Farner of Grand Funk, Brad Delp of Boston (RIP), Mickey Thomas of Starship, Lou Graham of Foreigner,and Steve Walsh of Kansas among others. Obviously, I liked more melodic singers that sang in the higher register. Bruce Dickenson and Rob Halford were some later influences.
Austin Jenkins: What was the process of becoming a singer like for you? Was it a natural talent or something you had to work hard to develop?
John Arch: Well I never took the time to read a stitch of music, and everything I do is by ear, so I guess some aspects of it came naturally. Conditioning the voice for the type of singing I’ve boxed myself into takes motivation which is getting harder to come by.
Austin Jenkins: Have you ever had any formal voice training?
John Arch: I studied technique with a local teacher for about a year, but most has been on the job training.
Austin Jenkins: Often times, a singer’s priorities in terms of their own style tend to change throughout the years. Early on they may be obsessive about singing with as much range and power as possible while later on down they road they decide dynamics and emotion are more important… is this true for you? How has your own personal style changed throughout the years?
John Arch: I never considered it an option for some strange reason, in part it may be that what you’ve defined yourself as is what the fans expect. Singing the way I do was difficult twenty something years ago, so now it is even more so. Had I been less worried about disappointing others, I may have considered developing a less demanding style of vocalizing.
Austin Jenkins: How do you approach vocal tracking in the studio? Do you tend to nail down takes quickly or do you take your time and comp together your parts until they are perfect?
John Arch: The latter, and even doing that, listening to the CD now, I still hear flatties wondering..”How could I have missed that?!”.
Austin Jenkins: When recording new material, how loose are you with your lyrics and melodies? Is everything perfectly formed when you step into the vocal booth or do you allow room to improvise?
John Arch: No such thing as perfect, but the ideas are pretty much ready before I get in the studio. I am constantly searching for better melody lines and lyrical ideas, so I am open to suggestions from Jim while recording. Some of the best things happen spontaneously.
Austin Jenkins: As you’ve mentioned recently, you went an extended period of time without singing at all. Can you describe the process you went through to rebuild your voice?
John Arch: I never assume that when I step in front of a mic that good things are going to happen; I know better. This time around, being eight or nine years without singing,I found it very difficult. During the demo process my vibrato was non-existent and my pitch was off as well as my range.. so it seemed like I was starting at ground zero again. By the time we wiped out the demos and started the final tracking I was still not where I wanted to be vocally, but I worked with what I had. You have to consider that working in the studio gives you the flexibility to re-take tracks, giving you a chance to recover while strengthening the voice, whereas singing these songs in their entirety one after another, such as in a live situation, takes a huge amount of stamina that takes a lot of singing and strength training to acquire.
Austin Jenkins: What was, overall, the biggest challenge you encountered while retraining your voice?
John Arch: The whole thing was a challenge collectively. I don’t like singing, or doing anything for that matter, without having the training and confidence to do so. I can’t tell you how many times people tell me,”Don’t worry about it–just hop on stage and it will all fall into place, you’ll be fine”… ahh.. I thank myself for knowing better.
Austin Jenkins: You tend to incorporate a lot of riffs and runs which is fairly unusual for the type of music you sing. Since you were really an innovator in bringing that style to metal, where did the inspiration come from? Were you a fan of other styles, like R&B and POP, where thats kind of stylizing is more prevalent?
John Arch: Much like the guitar style of Steve Morse where it seems to me to have a Gaelic influence quite possibly from a subconscious connection to ancestral roots,
I’ve often thought my style comes from the same place, and has morphed into prog metal .
Austin Jenkins: Can you describe your writing process for us?
John Arch: I will listen to Jim’s musical compositions in my own environment over and over until I am inspired to a subject matter, then line by line in no particular order it becomes a building process of melodies and lyrics sometimes in unison.
Austin Jenkins: Lyrically, how has your writing evolved over the years? Have you noticed any changes in terms of lyrical themes?
John Arch: Yes. Back in the day the lyrics were written with the ominous theme of “Fates Warning” in mind, although mystical in nature, there we certainly elements of real life such as expressed in “The Guardian”. A Twist of Fate and Sympathetic Resonance are self expressive lyrics based on real life events, personal in nature that hopefully inspire a feeling of empathy for one another. Self indulgent, yes.
Austin Jenkins: There is a very clear evolution in the production quality of your 3 albums with Fates Warning. Although they are all considered classics amongst your fans, you and Jim both have mentioned some regrets and the fact that some of those songs are hard to listen to today. Given the opportunity, would you like to go back and re-record any of those tracks or do you feel its best to leave things as they were?
John Arch: I don’t know, I guess we have to accept our past, mistakes and all. I have to take into consideration all the variables and digest them. Some feel that that there is a certain rawness to the early stuff and like that so I say leave well enough alone.
Austin Jenkins: Guardian has been revered for years as one of the definitive progressive metal songs of all time. Looking back on it now, how does it make you feel to know that all of these years later people are still discovering the song and sharing it with others through websites like Facebook and YouTube?
John Arch: Pretty cool, who knew?
Austin Jenkins: Which of the three Fates Warning albums you were a part of would you consider to be your favorite and why?
John Arch: Guardian being a double edged sword is my favorite, but also the most difficult to sing. Guardian seems to have a notable aura or mystical feel to it that seems to be timeless. For me personally, it was the best shape vocally I’ve ever been in. Having said that, I would still change some things if I had the chance to go back.
Austin Jenkins: Looking back on the early days of career, what were some of your favorite memories?
John Arch: The best times for me were the early days where our youth and ignorance took us on an haphazard adventure void of the political ranker that eventually seeps in. We were just doing our own thing really clueless to where we were going, we were broke and riding around in the back of a rental truck… but we were laughing. I have heard from Jim that the current line up of Fates really enjoy themselves when they hit the road, and that is so important..good chemistry.
Austin Jenkins: In this day and age, everyone has an opinion and an outlet to share it with millions of people through the internet. Do you ever read what the fans and critics say about your work and if so do you then try to adjust accordingly to please them or are you fairly confident in what you do and block out other people’s opinions?
John Arch: I try to stay away from that, but what I have read has been mostly positive, and some that are not are certainly entitled to their opinions, whether I subscribe to them or not. I am my own worst critic anyway.
Austin Jenkins: A Twist of Fate” was one of the most anticipated EP’s of all time for fans all over the world. What made you decide to step back into the spotlight and record an album at that time after so many years of being out of the business?
John Arch: I looked at it as an opportunity instead of being afraid of failing. I needed to step out of the box.
Austin Jenkins: Can you tell us a little about what each of the songs, “Relentless” and “Cheyenne” are about?
John Arch: Relentless is more easily defined. Inspired by the music, this song lyrically departs from anything of the intangible nature, and deals with the anger I have carried with me as a defense mechanism since childhood. This song was therapeutic for me and gave me a chance to lash out and then come to terms with an abusive upbringing. I now understand “although there is no excuse” the people you are supposed to trust are indeed victims of their own abuse, and refuse to get the help to break the chain. There are many references to the genetic strand and the bird in a cage, as I believe there is a genetic component as well that some of us battle.
Cheyenne is a little disjointed and hard to define as there are many things being expressed. The song is a lot about imagery, ancestry, lashing out against the organized religious beliefs that has been part of the shame and guilt I grew up with.
“And if from grace I’ve fallen then pray for me in silence”
Austin Jenkins: Again, almost out of nowhere, the announcement was made that you would collaborate with Jim Matheos on a new full length project and fans all over the world immediately began speculating as to what the record would sound like. How did this project come together?
John Arch: I was asked.. and I felt it was a good time in my life to keep my head busy.I also felt it was a good opportunity to finally do a follow up to the EP so with much apprehension, I took it one step at a time and here we are.
Austin Jenkins: What were those initial writing sessions like with Jim? I imagine, this being more of a group effort than a solo project like “A Twist of Fate”, the dynamic was different and perhaps more challenging?
John Arch: Yes it was a collaboration more in line with the same writing style of the old days. I think we were both pleasantly surprised and relieved that it was shaping into what we think the fans new and old will enjoy.
Austin Jenkins: Which song from “Sympathetic Resonance” are you most proud of?
John Arch: Incense and Myrrh, probably because it is a song that I had been toying with for years and with the help of Jim I was finally able to bring it to “Life” no pun intended, since it is a song about suicidal ideation.
Austin Jenkins: Outside of the recently announced festival appearance for next year, are there any plans for live shows?
John Arch: Not yet.
Austin Jenkins: What music do you listen to these days? Can you see yourself ever recording anything outside of the rock/metal realm?
John Arch: Still listening to prog like Dream Theater, Opeth, etc. but I’m always interested in hearing new stuff. As far as singing anything outside of what I’ve done.. it certainly is tempting as it would be easier, but I don’t know if I’m capable of writing anything different.
Austin Jenkins: Speaking of modern music, what’s your take on controversial effects used widely in music today such as auto tune? Do you see it as a tool for enhancement just like a guitarist will use an effect for a specific sound or do you consider it to be “cheating”?
John Arch: I think it is to late and has become part of the industry standard. I don’t want to incriminate myself but hearing some of the flatties and sharpies in this album, I don’t think we used it… Jim?
Austin Jenkins: A lot of fans are hungry for more material from you. Are there any unreleased songs/demos stored away that may someday see the light of day?
John Arch: I hope not.
Austin Jenkins: Do you plan to do anymore work, either solo or with Arch/Matheos, or was this a one off?
John Arch: I always go into these things kicking and screaming in fear of failure, but the end result has been positive to date, so as long as I focus on the good.. there is always the possibility.