Power of Metal.dk Interview

Interview with Michael Romeo - Symphony X, March 2012

How many shows have you done thus far on the tour?

Michael Romeo: Oh I don't know, a lot? Almost 30 or 20 something maybe... and we have 3 left. So we're getting towards the end.

So it’s almost done…

MR: Yep.

How is it so far?

MR: It's good. Everything is going good, going smooth. Fans have been great and the Iced Earth guys, Warbringer guys, cool dudes... Every night partying, just having a good time. Everybody gets along really well so that makes it a lot of fun, too.

Someone just reminded me that it was your b-day 3 days ago, happy belated b-day.

MR: Thanks!

How is it like being a 44 year old musician?

MR: (laughs) It's all the same, y'know? I feel young still so it's all good. I don't feel old.

How are people responding to the album?

MR: All the reviews that we've seen since it's been out have been really positive. The fans seem to really like it. Overall it's been really positive.

Other than 'Fuck you, it's my music!', what would you say to those who are apparently rather disappointed with the new direction of your music since Paradise Lost. Those who prefer more of your 'neoclassical' era, as one might say. Why have you decided to do this? 




MR: (laughs) I mean, I don't think it's that different. It's really not, it's just a little heavier but I think it just has a lot to do with the concept of the records. Like the last album Paradise Lost, just the theme itself is a little darker and the riffs needed to be a little heavier and with this album, it's a man vs. machine thing so it's a little aggressive, a little abrasive. Every album is different, you know?. I think if we do the same thing over and over… (pauses) We try not to repeat ourselves. Obviously there are some records that's a litte more progressive, there are some that are neoclassical, there are some that are a little more metal and heavier and the next album will be different, too. It might be really progressive or it might be this or that, but to me it’s not like we’ve changed anything drastically.

The last couple albums may be a little more guitar driven and that’s what I grew up with. I grew up with Sabbath, Maiden and Priest… You know, Pantera and stuff. Those were always been my influences anyway, so I think the subject matter of the last couple albums being darker and heavier, lends itself to that. And a lot of times as an album grows on some people, I think their perception changes. Maybe at first they’re like “Oh man that so heavy” and so on… But there are some progressive things on the new record. For instance, the first song on the album, it’s a long song and there’s some shit in there, you know?

If you compare let’s say Dehumanized to The Turning, obviously you can make a really clear distinction between the two. So if people refer to your older albums as neoclassical and progressive and as you say Iconoclast is heavier, could you put a tag on it? What’s this new formula of yours?

MR: I don’t think about any genre and we’ve always been a metal band. This is… As I said every album’s gotta be different. There’s some neoclassical on Iconoclast. Some songs that have that influence and the progressive thing has always been there. I think depending on what we’re trying to say with a record with the lyrics and all that. Like the song The Odyssey, it needs to be this big epic, thing. So for Paradise Lost, we didn’t really need anything like that. Maybe the next record will be something like that. Some kind of big epic… who knows?

Are you playing anything from The Odyssey tonight? That’s one of my favorite albums.

MR: Yeah… maybe a song. One song… I know a lot of people like to hear The Odyssey but usually when you have a new album, there’s so much new material to do and you want to play some of that. As time goes on, you’ll start to integrate some other stuff. But yeah, we tried to play at least a couple of songs from the last few records.

This time the sound is bigger and again as you said, heavier, and there are some mechanical sounds involved which really connects with the lyrics, the more imposing lyrics.


MR: Yep, exactly.

… and more keyboard exposure. What was your intention with this album? It took you 4 years!

MR: It doesn’t usually take that long to write. Usually with a record, once we start, it’s a year at the most but it’s the touring in between... and I tried to write on the bus. There’s so many distractions and you can’t get your mind… You know what I mean? I like to just have that dedicated time. When have an idea for a record, we know what we want to do, we know what we want to say, we know what we want the album to sound like and it’s like, “alright, let’s just go”. No interruptions and just getting it done.

You’ve always had sort of a theme in your music: Mythology, English literature… In Iconoclast is there a particular theme?

MR: We wanted this man vs. machine kind of theme with this record and we would want some of these mechanical textures and a little bit of this kind of flavor to it. That all comes about once you know what you want to say with a record - what the goal is to do that. So with the idea in mind with this man vs. machine-thing, it was, “okay the riffs, definitely a little more aggressive – maybe some background guitar stuff” kind of abrasive instead of a big orchestral thing, maybe more something synthetic. The keyboard sounds a little more mechanical. So it’s just being creative with the idea that you have. And that’s why the album is what it is, every album is a little different.

I really like Heretic and the solo for Dehumanized. Your solo in that is so varied in terms of what you played in the past – more subtle and not your usual crazy but not so conventional sweeps.

MR: (laughs) Right, right.

Many styles in a short period. How do you sit down and create something like that?

MR: I like Dehumanized, too. I think every song needs to have its own kind of thing now and that song is not really particularly neoclassical. It’s just a riff kind of song, a heavy riff and that solo part did have that kind of vibe.

Very rock and roll…?

MR: But maybe not really Pink Floyd-ish. It had something where “Hey, you’re not going to a bunch of arpeggios” or some craziness but you’re just gonna play. Usually with the solos I don’t work ‘em out too much. Just hit record. Do a couple passes and sometimes I like the way I started it and then “let me try another ending.”

It’s impressive.

MR: Oh yeah, thanks.

So it was never like, “Yeah, it should sound like this”?

MR: If you sit and try to write a solo piece by piece… Nah, to me just let it roll, just hit record and see what you feel, see what comes out. And sometimes you get lucky and you’re like “Wow, that was perfect” – which is rare, honestly. With Dehumanized I really like the first path I did. “Let me try something on the second half that maybe climbs” or kind of climaxes.

Yeah, that’s the kind of answer I was looking for.

MR: Yeah, so you just kind of noodle and it’s like, “okay, I think I got a pretty good idea.”

What’s your favorite song on this album?

MR: My favorite song… probably the first track - Iconoclast, because that song… I kind of wrote it right after we decided on this man vs. machine and we were talking about what the album sounds like. And that’s when I started thinking about the mechanical textures. I mean some of the other songs were already kind of written basically. Maybe 3… but then that song is when we decided, “let’s do this.” And once the idea was in my head for that sound, I think I just sat down a day, maybe a day and a half (to get) the whole thing done. You know, rough with no drum machine and some scratch keyboard stuff but pretty damn close to what it is now. I remember I made a mix and sent it to Russ and the guys and it was basically, “Yeah that’s it, don’t touch nothing. Don’t change it.” I like to kind of noodle and it was like “no don’t touch it, that’s the sound.” So to me that song is… that’s this record.

Which song do you think is a big crowd pleaser?

MR: From this record?

This, yeah.

MR: It’s tough to say because in Europe some different songs had good reactions but here… (pauses) Well even there, too, I think Dehumanized seems to get a pretty good reaction. All the songs have a good reaction but maybe that one and Electric Messiah seem to really go over, and we’ve been playing the ballad. When we put a set together live, it has to be something that feels good because there are some songs in the past that we’ve recorded like The Accolade, and that was ‘96 from The Divine Wings album, and a lot of people really love that song and we love it, too. We try to pick songs that feel good to us in the water and hopefully the reactions will be good.

Do you plan on coming out with another solo album following the Dark Chapter? If so, what’s the plan, when and how will it be different?

MR: The Dark Chapter… that’s ancient. I actually recorded that and everything before the band. The band was ’94, and I think I did that ’91, '92? So it was even before the band was formed. It was me and I had maybe an 8 track recorder, I think. Minimal gear just a little thing in my bedroom, kind of noodling and having fun. But yeah, I always get asked about a new one and the last couple of years I’ve just been kind of “categorize what I have” and what wasn’t right for the band. Y’know, there’s so much stuff and usually when we have time in between, I kind of go back and work on it a bit, try to get it together - but it’s always a thing with time. I work so much better when I have a big chunk of time to really key in on it and get my head in it. I’ve been trying to get it going and hopefully I will. Maybe even within this year.

Musically it would be the same kind of thing. Obviously more guitar oriented but it would still have a lot of epic stuff and that film score kind of thing with some heavy riffs. It’d be whatever. Just me having fun being creative, that’s what it would be.

How do you think you came to achieve such speed and endurance during your earlier years as a guitarist?

MR: Just practicing a lot, just listening to a lot of different bands and I just enjoy playing.

Who influenced your playing the most?

MR: It has changed (throughout the years). When I first started, Randy Rhoads was my big influence. Of course there’s Van Halen, Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert and these guys were around and that was the stuff I listened to all the time. Al Di Meola, Frank Gambale, there are so many. So I grew up with that environment plus Sabbath and all this.

How do you feel when they compare you to Yngwie Malmsteen?

MR: He was obviously a big influence. Anybody who has an influence is always gonna have that in their style but I like a lot of different guys. There were so many when I grew up, you know to get licks from. I think having different players that you like and different kinds of music, different instruments that you learn in parts… As time goes on, you develop your own style. If I’m playing I know it’s me, but I can tell what came from where and which licks are mine and which ones I kind of borrowed. I mean we all do it, everybody, we all have done it. That thing is trying to keep it your own style, your own way of writing, your own riffs and licks, all this modifying and building upon what you learn.

What do you listen to from the classical/romantic era?

MR: So Randy Rhoads and Malmsteen having this classical thing, I would go back and listen to classical stuff, learn some violin things. Now with classical music, I like more modern stuff. There was Bach and Beethoven and all that is great but now, if I’m going to listen to classical stuff, it’s usually Stravinsky or John Williams - something a little more epic, bombastic, more modern.

How about newer bands and other guitarists. What are you listening to nowadays? Do you listen to Loomis for instance? He has a new album coming out next month.

MR: I know Jeff, good friend of mine.

Oh is he?

MR: Oh yeah. Jeff, he’s a great guy. I haven’t heard his songs I know he’s doing his own solo stuff now.

Doesn’t it make you want to make your own solo stuff, too? I think everyone would be really curious to hear what it would sound like.

MR: (laughs) I mean… I’m more of a band guy. I like the environment of song writing, the vocals... But I mean for a solo record it’d be different to just do more guitar. I kind of like the band environment. If it was my own, it’d be like the band without singing and more guitar noodling. I like the band environment. For a solo record or something of my own, I’d just do it all myself. I’d play bass and keyboards… (pauses) But yeah, Jeff is a great player, awesome dude. I haven’t heard it yet.

One of his songs The Ultimatum is on Youtube now.

MR: Jeff’s?

Yeah, his song.

MR: Oh okay.

Yeah I actually listened to it recently and they’ve premiered another one on Full Metal Jackie yesterday, or maybe it’s today…?

MR: That’s cool, yeah I’m sure it’s good. You know with Jeff, he’s…  great.


You played guitar in Kotipelto. How’d that come about and why aren’t you a part of it anymore?

MR: We toured with Stratovarius in Europe years and years ago. We played festivals with those guys so we know Timo and all the guys. We all became friend so I guess when he was doing a solo record. He gave me a call and said, “hey you wanna play some guitar on these? I’m doing a solo album” and I was like “yeah dude, of course.” You meet so many people and you become friend with a lot of them so it goes “if you need something just call me or I’ll call you.” So yeah, he was doing that and of course I agreed and just bang it out and just have fun with it and you know he’s got a lot of guitar players now that he can ask.

Oh I see. Did you take part in making the new Ayreon album this time? I haven’t much looked into his (Arjen Lucassen) updates.

MR: I’m not sure what his newest one is.

Oh okay because you were a part of zero-one and Universal migrator part 2.

MR: But there’s one new one now?


MR: Arjen... we see him. The same thing when we go over there, he’d come to our show and we hang out. And the same thing… He said “oh I got this part and I thought it’d be right for you to solo on this” and I said “yeah, cool!” Usually it’s kind of on the low down, we’re friends so it’s like, “sure!”

His music is cool, too.

MR: Yeah, definitely. He’s a talented guy that’s for sure.

Yeah, I think that’s it. That’s all I have for you.

MR: We've covered a lot of stuff, that’s good.

Any last words to your listeners and our readers at Power Of Metal.dk?

MR: Thanks to the fans for being patient with every record and as I said, most feedbacks have been positive so definitely thanks to them and it’s good to see everybody when we’re out touring – so we appreciate that, too, the fans for coming out and thank you for this interview, it was very good.

Thank you.

Symphony X - Iconoclast

Label: Nuclear Blast

Link: www.symphonyx.com.


Russell Allen - Vocals
Michael Romeo - Guitars
Mike LePond - Bass
Jason Rullo - Drums
Michael Pinnella - Keyboards

Iconoclast (2011)
Paradise Lost (2007)
The Odyssey (2002)
Live on the Edge of Forever (2001)
V: The New Mythology Suite (2000)
Prelude to the Millennium (1999)
Twilight in Olympus (1998)
The Divine Wings of Tragedy (1997)
The Damnation Game (1995)
Symphony X (1994)


Interviewed by Haydee G.