Ray Alder – Floating in WaterWednesday, 9th October 2019
Primarily known for his progressive metal discography as the second singer in the veteran act Fates Warning, Ray Alder has also done work with Engine and Redemption in downtime from the group. Deciding to scratch that creative itch in a solo record – What the Water Wants will be a diversion for many, as he assembled players and developed songs that still contain his rich voice and catchy choruses, just in a diverse platform of material that can be ambient, rock, alternative or soulful in expression. Including friends he’s known for ages and Fates touring guitarist Mike Abdow among others, it’s a record gaining solid acclaim to prove that he doesn’t have to live on past nostalgia to be a vital part of the current musically relevant landscape.
We reached out to Ray while he’s home in Spain, and after a brief blip in Skype connection we got down to learning the players assembled for the record, what he wanted to accomplish in the songwriting, beyond a lot of talk regarding Fates Warning and his thoughts on the ever-changing music consumption model.
Dead Rhetoric: What the Water Wants is the first solo album of your career. Tell us why now seems like the best time to create this material on your own – and how you went about assembling the players and songwriting for this record?
Ray Alder: A long time ago, I did a couple of solo projects I guess you would say – Engine – and I wanted that to be more of a band thing. Not that I wanted to leave Fates Warning or anything, I just wanted to do something different. At the time I thought I could do that, go out and tour, and do other things. It never really took place, we did a few shows, but nothing really took off. It’s funny that Fates Warning had all this time – nine years in between doing albums, and I could have done something then, you know? We were still touring, but we weren’t doing albums. Now it seems that everyone is so busy – Joey is in Armored Saint, Bobby is in two or three different bands, he’s always playing, Jim is doing the Arch/Matheos record, I’m living in another country. It seemed like the right time, I needed something to do- I didn’t want to sit around and wait to do another album with Fates. I figured I would try to do a solo album.
I met a few people in Spain – said we were thinking about doing this and we started to write together. Another guitar player Tony (Hernando), he has another band called Lords of Black, he was really busy with his band at the time and he couldn’t focus as much as I’d like him to have been. We were on the road with Fates when Mike told me he knew I was doing a solo album and that he had some songs he could contribute. I thought that would be a great idea, he started sending me songs – I liked what he was doing, really different and really cool stuff. A lot of guitar effects and really what I wanted to do – we discussed what style I really wanted and he was really cool about it. Craig the drummer I’ve known forever, he’s really one of my best friends in the world, I’ve always wanted to work with him on an album.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the abstract cover art concept come about – and how hands on are you in this process, or do you trust the artist to come up with a proper visual representation of the themes contained in the record?
Alder: Very much actually. I had a few ideas for the cover. I was going about it with art online and seeing which artist to use, or maybe use some sort of thing you buy online. My wife is a graphic artist, I told her about the idea and she started putting it together. Let’s find an artist who could do that- and then after a while, it was like why don’t you just do it? She came up with the art herself. I thought it represented very well the small blood splatter and the water, kind of life in turmoil so to speak. Every day was what about this, move the blood over just a little bit more, things like that. I love the cover, it’s very nice.
Dead Rhetoric: When it came to the songs for this record, was it a difficult process to think about what the first single release would be to give the listeners an idea of what to expect?
Alder: It was, actually. I was going back and forth, everybody had different ideas, even the guys that had played on the album and the record company. I think the actual song “What the Water Wanted” was a good way to come out. The album is very different, not every song is super heavy. I don’t know what to expect, but I think listeners will probably expect more of a heavy metal record, which is… I wouldn’t call it heavy metal. I went back and forth with the guys at the record company and they asked me to compare it to something – and I don’t know. You can’t really compare it to anything, it is what it is – it’s rock music, sort of alternative meets rock meets metal.
Dead Rhetoric: I agree. If you are doing a solo record, you don’t want to do something that is 100% Fates Warning.
Alder: Exactly. That was the thing. I was thinking of more along the lines… a varied album like The Real Thing by Faith No More. It didn’t sound like anything familiar but they blended a lot of (styles) to make a brilliant album. I think that’s one of my favorite albums of all-time, because it’s not the same thing all the way through. That’s kind of what I wanted with this album – different songs, different styles, different moods. Some heavy, some not heavy, some pretty – and hopefully I’ve accomplished that but again, as far as the first single I figured I would give the people a little bit of what they expected. Not completely blow them out of the water with “Crown of Thorns”, which is the next video – and it’s a rock/soul kind of song.
Dead Rhetoric: What can people expect for the video with “Crown of Thorns”?
Alder: It’s more of like a performance piece. The thing is in doing this album, Mike lives on the East Coast, Craig lives in California, I live in Madrid, so we couldn’t really get together with the budgets that are allowed now to do a real video. It’s each of us recording separately, the editor/ director put everything together. It’s monochromatic, I wanted that cool look about it. It matches vibe of the song pretty well.
Dead Rhetoric: This deep into your career, do you find it more of a personal challenge to find unique or different ways to express your ideas lyrically and musically considering what people have heard you deliver for decades in other projects and bands?
Alder: Now at the moment we are writing material for the new Fates Warning album. I started writing lyrics 15 years ago or so, it’s fairly new to me but I’ve always second guessed myself. Did I write something like this already? Am I just repeating myself? It’s a struggle, I’ll tell you. I could be smoking a full pack of cigarettes trying to nail down one chorus. For me, it’s very difficult. I don’t want to rehash the same old things. Writing to me is very personal, the lyrics are personal, but I try to let people decide what they want from the lyrics. I know what they mean to me, but they can interpret it any way they want, and I think that’s kind of the key about writing a lyric, you aren’t telling anybody what to think.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you today approach the art of singing now that probably differs greatly from the Ray Alder of the 1980’s and 1990’s?
Alder: For sure – my voice isn’t what it used to be, obviously. Back then, that was kind of the style, singing really high. It gradually started to go away, and as people get older it happens with everybody. I actually like where my voice is right now, my range where it is – the timbre of what my voice is. I’ve learned how to use it more, I used to beat my voice up a lot going on the road for six weeks and never rehearsing to blow my voice out. I try to rehearse two or three times a week in the studio now and belt out as much as I can, plus singing at home every day. I am trying to stay in shape more now than I ever have.
Dead Rhetoric: I’m curious to know at what point did you start feeling comfortable being the vocalist of Fates Warning – especially considering the era that preceded you with John Arch fronting the band? Is that why No Exit seemed to feature more of that high pitch vocal activities until you were able to gain comfort with your position and establish your own niche?
Alder: Yeah. At the time John Arch was one of my favorite singers. I came from singers like Rob Halford and Steve Perry, they were my influences coming up. And then I heard John and I loved his voice, his harmonies and melodies. The trills he did with his voice were amazing – I wasn’t trying to copy him but that was my forte at the time, singing high. It just seemed natural, and that was probably the reason that Fates hired me in the first place. Slowly, I was a kid – I was 20 years old, I started to grow into my voice and learn more about singing and learned to appreciate artists more than just heavy metal. I got more comfortable and the high stuff, I started doing less of it. We could do without it, and that’s where it is now.
It’s been over 30 years and we still get like – where is John Arch? Okay – after 30 years, I think that’s been enough time (laughs).
Dead Rhetoric: Almost the same feeling that Todd gets from Queensrÿche fans sometimes…
Alder: He probably gets it a lot worse than I do! I really love his voice though, he has a lot of talent. We did a great tour with those guys.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like Fates Warning is at another level in terms of respect and admiration in your lengthy career, especially because of the general international acceptance of your catalog and latest albums? It’s not like you are consistently living on your past catalog but have genuine excitement for the new material on tour…
Alder: It’s interesting that you say that because, the way I see it a lot of bands… I’m not going to name any bands because I don’t want to offend anyone, but a lot of bands that are out there are kind of redoing the same thing. And most people I think want to just hear the old stuff, and I’m guilty of that myself. When I go to a show I want to hear the old songs that I know, and like most people when a new song is playing, it’s time to go grab a beer. For us, I find it extremely exciting to have people singing the new songs, especially for something that has been out for a couple of months. It seems like it to me that the fans really appreciate the new stuff and want to hear the new music.
To me that’s a great sign of respect and a great sign of patience for people. They are still holding to the great songs from 30 years back and still wanting to hear something new. It’s a wonderful feeling. We’ve done two albums over the last five years I think, and they’ve done really well, better than we expected- and the tours are great. As long as we can keep that up, we could still be out there for a while.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of the music industry currently – are things still in a state of flux and upheaval, or do you believe measures are starting to be put in place for the benefit of all parties involved?
Alder: Somewhat. The streaming thing is a pain in the ass for everybody and everyone is still kind of confused, and no one has still really figured it all out. It’s been almost ten years, and I’m an old guy who misses buying the CD, looking over the liner notes and albums, having a physical product in my hands. It’s funny, you look at social media and you look at everything else, older bands with older fans – but there is a whole other world beyond us, bands that are older than thirty years together. A lot of people aren’t willing or just don’t want to listen to anything new. I don’t listen much to anything new, there’s nothing out there that I really like. It’s hard to put into words. People are buying LP’s again, which is really cool – but they don’t sound as good as a CD. I’m sorry- they don’t. You can argue with people a lot, and if you want to be nostalgic, that’s fine. Musicians get money from their publishing, from touring, and from album sales. And a lot of that money is not coming in because people are downloading it on YouTube for free. No one is ever going to understand that, the fans at least I don’t think.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about InsideOut Music as a label – especially given their track record of understanding progressive rock/metal for so long? Do you enjoy the freedom and respect they trust in you as an artist?
Alder: Absolutely. I went to a few different labels with demos of this album. They were one of the first to be interested. I liked the people, I like Thomas and Leif, I thought they would be great people to work with. And Metal Blade just signed Fates Warning, so that wasn’t really a big option to go with them. InsideOut was perfect, and they gave me all the freedom I wanted. They only heard the four songs – and they signed me on that. I thank them very much for that, and I hope they are happy with the album.
Dead Rhetoric: I’d imagine over your career, people consistently come up and ask for advice regarding vocal technique, things you may use to keep your voice in tip-top shape, or even navigating certain things on the business side. What topics come up the most, and what advice or things to think about do you impart?
Alder: Most people say they can’t believe I can still sing as well after smoking for so long. People ask for advice on how I do it, and I tell them, don’t do what I do. Don’t smoke, eat right, take care of your voice. Now I’m practicing, now I use my voice. It’s probably the reason why I damaged it, I never practiced and I would go on the road and mess it up. It’s a muscle, you have to work it out and if you don’t it will go away.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there plans for some possible solo shows to support this release – and if so, what other material would you draw from for a show?
Alder: No, there’s no plans at the moment. If something comes up later on, then maybe. At the moment I did the album and now we are writing the new Fates Warning album, that’s taking up all my time. Nine or ten hours a day. Who knows, maybe a couple of one-off (shows), one day – who knows?
Dead Rhetoric: At what point did you move over to Spain, and what do you enjoy most about living there?
Alder: Three and a half years ago I moved here. It’s a great country, it’s very different than America, obviously. And watching everything that’s happening right now in the states, it’s really unsettling. I’ve never seen… maybe it’s different looking at things from the outside, and I never noticed it while I was there, but America seems in turmoil right now. Everybody hates each other, generally here you will see this real feel of relaxation. Everyone is super chilled out, and they love sitting outside and having food, having beer, families are the biggest thing possible here. The culture is very different, they are old people that are very set in their ways. I love it here, the weather can be a nightmare from time to time. It’s hot as hell in the summer, and in the winter it’s balls cold – but it’s way different than Los Angeles (laughs). There are actual seasons, it’s a wonderful place and the people are great.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think the arts and culture are more well accepted in Europe than in the United States?
Alder: Probably. If you really think about it, America is not that old. Things started in Europe. I just went to Italy on vacation, we went to Pisa, and those cultures and the museums, I don’t know if it’s appreciated more but culture is to be amongst something, it’s an extraordinary feeling.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Ray Alder over the next year – I’d imagine more work on the next Fates Warning record, anything else in the cards we might expect?
Alder: Just the album right now, it’s all I’m thinking about. It’s funny because with the success of the last two Fates albums, there seems to be a bit more pressure now. And this will be our thirteenth album, which is a little freaky. Some people consider that good luck, some people not. Right now I can tell you we are very happy with what’s going on with the songs so far. I think they are really great songs, and hopefully people will too. We hope to get this whole thing finished within the next few months.