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For a fellow Connecticut musician, Arch/Matheos is a sacred thing

The interviewer is a lifelong John Arch fan. He loves the fact that Arch is back with guitarist Jim Matheos, And he recently had the opportunity to interview Arch for Powerline.

The following is an interview with John Arch (above left), former vocalist of Fates Warning, current vocalist of the band Arch/Matheos. The interview was conducted by Phil Swanson. Swanson, who has written for Powerline numerous times, is a Connecticut musician involved with various bands: Upwards of Endtime, Vestal Claret, Atlantean Kodex, Seamount, Briton Rites and Lords of Triumph. Swanson  is a lifelong John Arch fan. He is also extremely knowledgeable of the world’s underground metal scene. The interview covers everything from Fates Warning’s genesis to the new Arch/Matheos release Sympathetic Resonance (read Powerline’s review of the album here). Enjoy.


You spent time in Long Island working with Dream Theater in their early days. What ever came of that and were there any other prospects between that and A Twist of Fate (2003 solo EP)?
John Arch: The audition for Dream Theater was sort of a fleeting couple of weekends where we had gotten together to explore the possibilities. I had been half-heartedly stepping in the direction of getting back into music again and as it turned out, the events and commitments in my life at the time instinctivley pulled me back home. Dream Theater had graciously given me an opportunity, but it wasn’t to be.

Were there any notable offers over the years to join up with any other bands?
Arch: I had been contacted by various bands and people looking for a project vocalist, but nothing of major label caliber. I wasn’t actively seeking out anything of that nature either.

Lyrically, IMO, you are the best writer in music. Where do you draw your ideas and concepts from — beyond the obvious?
Arch: Well, thank you for the compliment. In the earlier works with Fates, the music and the name had a mystical connotation to it, and what I thought would be fitting lyrically would be sort of a hybrid of fantasy, lore and the intangible — with glimpses of reality. It was all about using the imagination and taking a journey away from the harsh realities of life. The music has progressed to more complex arrangements with many movements, so, in essence, the lyrics and melodies have to evolve with the music and weave in between and around to compliment the music. It wouldn’t be very interesting to sing in a simplistic way to this music in my opinion. Sympathetic Resonance, much like A Twist of Fate, the lyrics are of a different beast and deal with less mythology, but in my opinion something equally perplexing and intangible: the human emotion. No matter how jaded some may think this is, to me it is the only way I could have turned something I’ve experienced that almost killed me, into something that can help me begin to heal.

Your voice is more powerful than ever, what do you attribute that to — seeing that most diminish with age? What’s your secret?
Arch: I wish there was a secret, because I’d love to hear it. In my humble opinion the digital recording versus analog brings more clarity, and the beauty of the studio gives you multiple takes. Having said that, I don’t believe we used auto tune and a plethora of effects, just straight-forward singing until we got it right. I had a difficult time at first on the onset of the recording because of not singing for the last eight years since Awaken the Guardian. So, in essence, it was a building process, getting my voice into respectable recording shape. I say “recording shape” because there is a difference between recording and the endurance you need to build for performing, which is a whole different animal.

Your style is so distinct and identifiable and, to be honest, the most courageous I’ve ever heard. An inspiration, if I do say so myself. To be an original voice seemed very difficult back then, do you agree?
Arch: Well thank you again. It is very gratifying to break away from the early comparisons and find your own voice. I still hear singers today who sound identical to early Geoff Tate, and although that is a remarkable achievement and takes skill, it seems more like a competition rather than offering an original voice. … which I believe everyone has…. you just have to find it. It is really interesting how opinions can differ and not everyone hears, or processes, the sound of my voice the same way, and I totally respect all opinions. To me it sounds like a natural progression, and I try to sing with as much emotion as my connection to the music and lyrics allows. This time around, I tried to use more of a range and stay away from anything that wasn’t complimentary to the music, such as singing in to high of a register. I partially succeeded in that.

It seems you were the most underrated singer in the genre. Do you feel a bit vindicated by the current demand for your comeback?
Arch: I don’t know. … I’m a little weird when it comes to accolades and such. I wouldn’t be truthful if I didn’t say that on some level I find it rewarding when the music connects with the listener, but parades and big fanfare brings with it “expectations” and that tends to make me nervous.

What prompted you to finally reunite with each other? Europe is rabid for Arch-era Fates Warning. How is it dealing with the great demand for a return? Was it the major factor in this reunion? Who approached who first on the idea? And what transpired between the Twist of Fate solo record and this Arch/Matheos record?
Arch: I, in particular, have never felt like I needed to do any of this out of necessity, and although I am humbled and honored that the fans have been so loyal to the music, this project came together by happenstance. It just so happened that Jim was looking for someone to collaborate with, so he contacted me to see if I was interested. It seemed like a good time in my life to get focused and keep my head busy, and I guess it was just what the doctor ordered.

What separates this from a Fates Warning reunion seeing how virtually almost all participants have worked with Fates warning on some level in the past?
Arch:I guess you may call it what you will, as long as we keep the facts straight. The proper respect must be payed to all the current members of Fates Warning.How far back do the pre-Fates Warning demos go … are there more besides “Misfit”?
Arch:I hope not.. those are not my proudest moments.

I am much like you, not a fan of touring and the live environment. Have your feelings changed over the years? Do you see any real importance in it in the end?
Arch: I totally “get it” as far as touring goes. I am a fan of many a band as well and love seeing a show. I have just recently better understood the connection the fans have with the music as part of an era or time in their lives where the music got them through tough times, or maybe in their youth. … it was the best of times, we all want to re-live that. My issues with touring are multi-dimensional. I remember when I was in the best of shape vocally, totally immersed in the band and touring and it was hard enough back then. Here we are twenty some odd years later and having been so out of that element for so long makes the tour very intimidating. To up the ante, during the ATG tour I was experiencing something many performers become hit with out of the blue And although I had no idea what was happening to me at the time I now better understand that it was a piece of the puzzle that would be part of a diagnosis years later. It still baffles me that something I once craved became a source of dread.

I respect more than anything an artist who recognizes the importance of real life work and family over the fantasy of a rock and roll dream. Can you share your opinion of the balance between music and reality and what it all means to you?
Arch: There is no question to take the risk and choose a career, or should I say hope to make a living with music takes a leap of faith… I suppose I wasn’t willing to take. It also seems to me those around me had more faith in me than I had in myself, and I have never been one that has “thought big.” I tend to limit myself and sometimes define myself by my weaknesses. Having said that, we all make choices when we come to the great divide, sometimes for reasons we are not aware of yet. A willingness to accept the decision isn’t easy, but it’s easier than spending your life regretting. Putting things in prospective, I think I have had the life that is more conducive to my personality, and also have had this opportunity to make music again and connect with the fans. I have to be grateful for that. I find it interesting that you use the word fantasy because I have often thought of the parallels between the fans and the performers sort of temporarily existing vicariously through one another, feeding off the energy and creativity, during a live show, as well as Just listening to a CD while banging on your dashboard. Either way one can’t exist without the other.

How do you see the prospect of metal now versus the heyday of the ’80s?
Arch: I’m pretty open minded and can appreciate that there is some quality or redeeming element in almost anything. I think technically, the speed and precision in which some of these musicians have progressed to is mind blowing, and I enjoy listening to new undiscovered bands. The prospect for new metal you ask? well there are plenty of us with like minds who need this type of music to stimulate our hungry brains, so as long as this breed of homo sapiens roam the earth, there will be metal.

What have you learned from your experiences?
Arch: Nothing, I keep making the same mistakes over and over.

What do you each think your biggest regret was over Fates Warnings career?
Arch: I tend to think in black and white, and that has been self defeating for me in all aspects of my life. A little more faith and a bigger dream may have been life changing.

What would you change if you could go back in time?
Arch: I would change… being afraid of change. That in itself has probably been my biggest obstacle. And, if part of this trip, me going back in time had an all-inclusive “new brain chemistry gift” with my frequent-flyer miles, I would treat myself and all that are closest to me like it were our final days on this planet.

How unforgiving has heavy metal been to you in the past and what motivates you to stick it out as you’ve returned to it?
Arch: When you speak of motivation, there must be some sort of reward or I wouldn’t be motivated to do it. And of course, when you do the math…. unless your willing to tour extensively and market yourselves as you would in any other business, sell a boatload of records, have a ton of talent, timing and luck … you’ll be eating Taco Bell seven days a week, and living out the back of a Ryder rental truck. Been there, done that. Since none of that is part of the equation for me by choice, it has been the reward of connecting with the fans, and knowing that somewhere you are making a small difference in someone’s life that has motivated me.

What can you say about growing up in Connecticut and how its environment separated you and your style from other bands of the scene in the ’80s?
Arch: I’ll have to guess that being on the east coast and close to so many major cities we as individuals had access to so many shows at any city any day of the week, and that we all had pretty similar influences, But I think it is how our influences manifested themselves in us as individuals that contributed to the style of our collective works rather than any definitive attribute related to our home town.

What are your current influences versus your past influences that have come into this new project? Obviously there is a much more modern style especially on the Twist of Fate EP as well as a bit of Tull, if I’m not mistaken, on Sympathetic Resonance it seems?
If there was one album that is more void of external influence than any other, it would be Sympathetic Resonance. There is always a subconscious influence in everything we do, but I had not been active in music nor listening to much when I began working with Jim. The only influences were the music that Jim presented me, and some inner turbulence I had been trying to resolve that would be the impetus for the lyrics. I really feel I had drawn inspiration from my internal workings and any influence besides what I’ve mentioned is not obvious to me, but very well could be. I guess it’s up to the listener and what they hear.

Are there plans to continue with Arch/Matheos or even perhaps a full-fledged Fates Warning reunion — and how far ahead to the future are you looking?
Arch: Well for me, I am rehearsing for the KIT [Keep It True] festival in Germany. This is a huge step for me and has consumed my focus. I am well aware of the requests for more shows and will be faced with a major decision if that were to happen. I am happy with the way things turned out  and would tend to not be afraid of my own shadow, so to speak, if the opportunity comes about to make more music.

Powerline asked me to include a personal bio to the end of the  John Arch interview. I guess, to give my background. I’m not much of a writer — more of a fanboy — but I have written reviews and blog posts, and conducted interviews for Powerline in the past. Lately, I’ve been on the other side of things, making it harder to do these things with the same integrity. It feels different when you know what it’s like to be on the other end of things. But there’s always the exception to the rule; as is the case when being asked to interview John Arch. I am a lifelong fan — as my friend, the editor Pat Prince, is obviously well aware of.

I’m a huge fan of ’80s heavy metal and Fates Warning — solely the John Arch years with Night on Bröcken (left) being one of my top 10 all-time favorite records and Jon Arch being one of my top 10 all-time favorites singers.

My obsession with ’80s heavy metal runs so deep that in 2005 I finally decided to wear it on my sleeve by finally starting my own traditional heavy metal band Upwards of Endtime —  who, like Fates Warning, is a Connecticut-based band. My passion for John and Fates Warning was so strong, I actually set out to record our first demo at Gallery Studios in Hartford just to somehow capture some of that essence. While in the vocal booth I felt as if I was on sacred ground even though I’m sure the studio had moved since 1984. No matter to me though — as long as in my mind I was there.

Now writing this, I can only believe that that essence did, in some way, stay with me. Despite many other failed musical projects, Upwards of Endtime was only the beginning for me. Releasing three  full-length records I was able to build a steady career which led me to more popular bands I now front. From UoE I started Vestal Claret whose double album is finally seeing release after 5 years with an assortment of guest musicians from all over the world, before joining German epic kings Atlantean Kodex for a short term, then German doom rockers Seamount (who is my mainstay and getting ready to release our 4th record). I am also working on my 3rd album with “occult masters” (I’m quoting of course) who recently (I’ve read on forums) have been compared to Fates Warning (for reasons unknown to me): Briton Rites, a nwobhm flavored band for fans of Witchfinder General, is releasing our second record in 2012 and Lords of Triumph epic doom from Denmark. There are maybe a few more (and maybe more to come) but I’m just having fun and doing what I can when I can. And if John left any of his magic in that booth, it’s safe to say, I took it all with me!

3 Comments on For a fellow Connecticut musician, Arch/Matheos is a sacred thing

  1. Wonderful interview! Listening to my older brothers Fates Warning vinyl definitely shaped my perspective as a 12 year old growing up in Connecticut. I can actually remember going to “Bedford Records” and picking up the new Fates Warming and Liege Lord albums – what a great time to be a metalhead!

  2. Great read! One of my favorite singers interviewing one of my favorite singers.

  3. Also coming up in the 80’s metal scene as a bassist in my band Frenzy, and being a huge fan of most 80’s Progressive Metal(yes, that is what we called it, and still do), Fates was one of my favorites. I saw them twice with John singing, the last time at Blondies in Detroit in October of 85 if I remember correctly. I really enjoyed this interview, nice to hear a little more about the ATG /Spectre years. Even moreso that John is still generally the same guy I talked with back then, and have exchanged comments with on facebook a few times. Kind of complexly confident and distant at the same time, or guarded maybe, but like a partially opened book you try to read from a distance. You get the gist of what’s on the page, but never really see the whole story. Nice job.

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