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Russell Allen – Vocals for Symphony X

Date: 05/30/07
Interviewed By: Rich Catino



1. So it has been a while since Symphony X put out a record (“The Odyssey” released in 2002). You recently started doing some shows in support of the new album “Paradise Lost” which will be out on June 26. How did those first two shows go?

RUSSELL: Those shows went great man, the New York show was sold out and we had a lot of international press in attendance, like thirty plus, people from Italy, Germany, it was great. It was an opportunity to say “Symphony X is back”. The crowd was awesome they were singing all the songs, it was definitely a metal night. The Puerto Rico show was cool but it was just hooootttt in front of like twenty five hundred in an amphitheater, the heat was brutal.

2. How long have you guys been actually working on “Paradise Lost”?

RUSSELL: Probably around two years but with the tour opportunities that arose during that time, like Gigantour, it set us back every time when we tried to finish the record. So when Mike Romeo (guitars) started writing the songs he said it was going into a darker direction. Like Mike said the title track to “Paradise Lost” was going to be like “The Odyssey”. So after he started working it out it was rather killer and I said “What’s on the rest of the record then”? With that we decided to record something that really had an energy to it from beginning to end. But it took us a while to get the right vibe, we needed the right lyrics and wanted each song to have their own thing. We weren’t going for a concept thing with this album it has more of a common theme that runs through the entire record. The good and evil, heaven and hell thing that exists in all of us you know. Its not a particular Adam and Eve story more or less we wanted to assimilate that into an every human being saga and the internal every person goes through on a daily basis. That’s why the lyrics are very potent but very general in a way that they can pertain to anybody.

We tried to put a kind of Star Wars spin on it and I think that’s why the angel on the cover has a futuristic look and we didn’t want the demons to have a traditional pitch fork look and that. So the artwork has a bit of a modern look to it and we wanted the lyrics to reflect that. The album touches upon betrayal, revenge, lusting for power, it’s a very dark passionate album.

3. Did you write the lyrics?

RUSSELL: Yeah me and Romeo did.

4. Your vocals on this record are more aggressive than usual. Which songs do you find you used the more aggressive style and sound?

RUSSELL: Yeah its only on the ones that really need it. Like “Domination” is the heaviest, you have “Set the World on Fire” which is about a guy who is dealing his own personal issues and its like he’s looking in the mirror. I was also thinking of and picturing like maybe the evil demon on the mound or dictators from history like how Hitler or Stalin gave speeches, like Darth Vader saying “You don’t know the power of the dark side”. You know stuff I could really get into to give the tracks the vibe they needed. It needed to be heavy. “Walls of Babylon” has a little bit of heaviness to it, the “Seven” tune is obviously seven deadly sins which needed it, wherever it needed the sauce I went for it.

The thing with me is I’m not like these younger guys who scream and yell and I don’t feel I have to its just not me, call me old school or whatever. I grew up with Iron Maiden and those bands and to me the singing thing is where its at. As long as there is a melody I can be as heavy as I can be getting my point across without being something I am not or changing our sound. I mean I don’t do the heavier vocals to piss the fans off its just what was needed for the song and I think it sound killer.

And I do like the music from these bands like a Killswitch Engage because they mix it up with the vocals but this whole screaming thing is so trendy its gonna go away ya know. People are saying “O these newer bands are drawing their roots back to Pantera” but you know what Phil (Anselmo, former Pantera vocalist) had a voice man and people gloss over that fact. Its always gonna be cool to sing I don’t care what people say. Look I’m not trying to bag those guys they do what they do and if they are feeling that so be it. But I don’t have to scream to show you anger and that I’m pissed in my music. I just try to keep within the realm of the melodic structure because if you don’t then it kinda gets into rap, like screaming rap like Limp Biscuit, you know metalcore. Hey.. you know its an art form whether you are into the abstract or the more eloquent its your pix.

5. Do you think being part of Gigantour led to this more aggressive side to Symphony X?

RUSSELL: No Gigantour wasn’t any influence really, we didn’t say after that tour “O now we have to be heavy”. I know that technology has come along since we recorded “The Odyssey” and I found this new microphone that I was just loving and I did some stuff through it for Romeo and he was like “Yeah dude I can hear every grunt and growl you are doing”. It was just all sounding good and feeling good while we were recording “Paradise Lost”. But then again you have the title track which has the softer side to Symphony X. Its not like, you know what brother, a lot of this frustration in this business and trying to keep our heads above water is also on this record you know. We are just doing what we do just making it a bit heavier and fatter.

6. Are there any new instruments or sounds to be heard on “Paradise Lost”?

RUSSELL: Not really. I know Mike Romeo did a few things with his guitar tones and texturing more than on the “Odyssey”. Like on the last song he broke out a Stratocaster, he used some other guitar tones that were not the norm for him. Maybe a few beefier sounds from the microphone, no matter where you go in the mix the vocals really cut right through. The symphonic stuff really was a big deal also because technology got to a point, like you can hear these gothic vocals in “Domination” and for the intro for “Set the World on Fire” you can hear them. They are human voices but were modeled in the computer and Romeo is really a master of all that stuff. And sometimes I will sing with it to give it more of that human feel but really I think the symphonic stuff is what’s really popping on this album and coming to life more than any other of our records.

7. Would you say this is the most challenging, say complex, Symphony X record?

RUSSELL: I know for me it was challenging, everything was a challenge to do in order to get the right feel for this record. There are definitely some timing things that are different than before and more complex than what I am use to doing. The ballad I sing my balls off on it but it’s a ballad yet I really went for it, I did these really passionate vocals over a real airy tune, it really matches the motif of the record when you go back and listen to it. And then Mike did this killer acoustic thing at the end of it. I mean I wasn’t over thinking anything I was just doing what I do. I’m in my prime and Romeo is too so we were just doing our thing.

8. I know it is still early to get reactions because the record is not out yet but what has the feedback been so far from the press and fans?

RUSSELL: So far people love it. You know you have these real savvy internet guys who downloaded it ahead of time and said “O it’s a little too heavy” or “I wish it was more like “V” and after a while when they go back and give it another couple listens they dig it. In this day in age people rush to judgment and don’t take the time to listen to it. They don’t have enough experience in this business to know that once you go to print you better make sure you are happy with what you are saying. But the majority of people are happy with it and then you have others that know nothing about what they are reviewing and say something dumb like “o now these guys are trying to be trendy” and I’m like, “trendy”? We couldn’t be trendy if we wanted to. I mean if the record blows up and becomes successful it wouldn’t be because we were trying to be trendy. But the press has been really great so far I mean you are only like my tenth interview so we have to see.

9. Any plans to release a promo video?

RUSSELL: Actually we are, this will be our first one ever, I think its gonna be for “Serpents Kiss” which is currently on our Myspace site. I think the other one will be “Set the World on Fire”. I know we are gonna shoot them in Europe sometime in June while we are over seas doing the summer fests and will hopefully release one by the time the record comes out the end of June. There is a lot of down time in between playing these fests so it was a perfect opportunity to shoot a couple videos and keep our crew busy (laughs). You know this will be the first time we are doing this, having this type of marketing tool, we were always more concerned about being good live. So hopefully it will be something that will help us out. I think one will be more of a performance thing and the other may be using some blue screen stuff. I mean we don’t want to act or follow a script we want it to come off natural, maybe incorporate some imagery to get across the concept of the song. You know less or more sometimes.

10. What type of setlist are you planning?

RUSSELL: Well right now we are doing a couple new ones like “Domination” and “Set the World on Fire” plus older ones like “Inferno”, “Of Sins and Shadows”, “Sea of Lies”. We just did “The Odyssey” in New York as an encore which was awesome I don’t even have to sing because the audience does it for me the whole twenty minutes (laughs) which I am not use to hearing an American audience singing our songs. The Puerto Rican audience was great too and South America will probably be great also. When we come back to the States we may add in a few new ones depending on how the album is received. We are gonna play it by ear really.

11. What are the tentative touring plans behind “Paradise Lost”?

RUSSELL: We have South America, U.S., European fests, a special guest spot on Dream Theater’s European tour in arenas which is awesome and that will take us up to the holidays. Then maybe in 2008 we will head out again in the States in a support spot…..I know we have to go to Japan, India, Australia, Italy, India…. I don’t know we have to see how the album does. We are looking at a lot of time on the road if the record does well. Its just getting going really.

We do have a ton of material still left over from this record so I don’t think its too long before we get back in the studio too for another record, but like I said it all depends how well this one does.

12. Any plans to record a show for a DVD?

RUSSELL: That’s the other thing we are talking about. Depending on budgets we would like to even do something with an orchestra if possible. That will be recorded somewhere along the line but when and where is undecided.

13. Are you satisfied with your first solo album “Atomic Soul”?

RUSSELL: Yeah man I am it was a great reason for me to stretch my creative wings and do something that Symphony X was not about. I got the organic bug from doing that which was cool, it was all about getting the mic to sound great without any crap on it and that’s what you do when you do a rock album. You want the band to sound as good as it can be in the room. “Atomic Soul” has really no effects on it. It was fun, the songs were fun and I wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with it.

14. Will you do another one?

RUSSELL: Gheez I don’t know I would like to but right now I am in Symphony X mode full on. I did the first one in a time when I didn’t have too much going on but right now I have nothing cookin.

15. How was it doing the Allen/Lande records?

RUSSELL: Those were really cool too they are records by internet really Hahaha because I never even met the guys. But their talent is great I could hear it on the demos they sent me. It’s a good collaboration because you don’t have to worry about personalities and baggage like that its purely on artistic value. Like a band is great but there’s a lot of baggage with it because it becomes personal. I mean Jorn Lande is a great singer and I can compliment his voice easily so it works. The whole project lasts like two weeks recording my parts and getting it back to the rest of the guys. It was a good opportunity to get my chops back when I did those two records.

Official website: www.symphonyx.com

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