OSI is essentially a dream come true for prog rock fans, bringing together Fates Warning guitarist Jim Matheos and Chroma Key/ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Kevin Moore. For the past ten years, the two have been collaborating on progressive and experimental music, often sending recordings and ideas back and forth to each other from a distance. And on March 27, Matheos and Moore will release OSI’s fourth album Fire Make Thunder via Metal Blade Records.
Metal Insider had the chance to talk with Matheos himself. During out chat, the guitarist discussed the benefits of long distance collaborations, his hopes to one day bring OSI to the stage, and the status of Fates Warning’s long awaited new album.
I always found it really intriguing how OSI is a “long distance” collaboration between you and Kevin Moore. What would you say are the biggest difficulties in partaking in such a project?
For me, I think it’s mostly a positive. If you’re talking about the long distance part of it, it gives us the opportunity to work on things on our own and to develop them, and take our time before we pass them on to the other guys for review and further development. If there’s any downside, I guess you lack that immediate response that sometimes is nice. It may take a couple days to a week or longer to really get feedback on where an idea is going; to see where we want to take a song. So it takes a little longer, but again in the long run, for me it’s a much more comfortable relationship without having to worry about the clock ticking, and being able to try different things on my own to see if they work or not instead of having to do that in front of a bunch of other people.
I have to imagine also it’s a lot easier now with the advancement of technology.
Oh yeah man. I mean, I’ve been doing it this way for pretty much my entire career, but back in the early days it was cassettes in the mail. That could take a real long time. So yeah, this is a luxury for us.
OSI’s past three albums featured numerous guest appearances and session musicians. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only other musician on Fire Make Thunder besides you two is Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison. Did you and Moore consciously decide to limit the guest appearances on this album?
We didn’t, not ahead of time really. We just found that we had written enough material for a record, it sounded like a complete album to us, and we didn’t need any guests. Usually in the past, they’ve been vocalists, and that comes about because we’ll have a song idea we both want to have on the record but for one reason or another Kevin doesn’t want to sing on. Maybe he can’t come up with the right melody line for it or he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for his style of singing, but we still like the idea or want it on the record. So that has led us to look for outside vocalists from time to time. And again on this one we had written the entire record, it sounded like a complete song cycle and we didn’t need to have any guests on it.
Throughout your career, you have worked with a lot of talented singers. Do you tend to write music with a singer in mind or do you write material and then the singer adds their own thing afterwards?
Yeah, it’s more of the latter. I’ve written for John [Arch, ex-Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos singer], Ray [Adler, Fates Warning singer] and Kevin [Moore] and I don’t think I approach any of them differently. I always look at a song from an instrumental point of view since I’m not writing vocals or melody lines, very rarely anyway. So I don’t have that in mind. I kind of make my song arrangements so they sound good to me instrumentally, keeping in the back of my mind that there’s got to be some interesting chord changes for the vocalist to latch onto. But that’s not really in the forefront of my mind. Again, I just try to make them interesting for me to listen to the instrumental. Very often, when I give it to whichever vocalist it is, they may have ideas for changes. They have this idea for a melody line or another chord change that might be good for them or things like that. So it’s always open to interpretation to whomever I send it to. But I wouldn’t say that I approach any of them differently.
Even though this is the fourth album with OSI, this is the first via Metal Blade Records. I was just curious what deciding factors went into switching to Metal Blade after working with Inside Out for so long?
Well I mean, we’ve been on Inside Out for a long time, but I’ve had a relationship with Metal Blade since 1984 and they’re like family for us. And InsideOut is chill. I have nothing bad to say about them. In fact, Fates Warning is on InsideOut, so we did a switch around. It really just came down to a better deal for us. We were up for a new deal and Metal Blade really wanted to sign OSI, and they offered us a better deal than what we had on InsideOut. And it really just comes down to that.
Switching gears slightly, is the plan for Fates Warning’s new album to still come out this year? What’s the status on that?
Well, we’re working on it now. When it comes out is going to be up to the record company. Obviously they want to have it out as soon as possible. Usually, nowadays, there’s about a four month turnaround between when you deliver the record and when they put it out. But nobody likes to release anything in December. So if we want to get it out late this year, it means we have to deliver it sometime around July and I’m not at all sure we’re going to be able to do that. I know we’ll be recording this Summer. We’ll have it done this Summer or Fall, so either late this year/ early next year. It’s just out of our hands when it will be released. I’m just focusing on writing it and getting it recorded right now.
Has anything been recorded?
No. I mean, I recorded all my demos here at home, but we won’t actually do the tracking till everything’s done and everyone is ready to go. And then we’ll go into the studio for a month after that.
Back in 2010, Fates Warning played a handful of shows with the Parallels line up in 2010, and last you year worked on the Arch/Matheos album [with former Fates Warning singer John Arch]. Did working with older members or performing older material influence the writing of the new album in any way?
I don’t think so. It’s still really early going in this Fates record, I’m only a couple songs into it. So it’s kind of hard to say what final shape it’s going to take. It’s not drastically different then what I’ve done in the past. It’s not drastically different then what I’ve just done with Arch/Matheos, at least musically. I mean, obviously it will be very different with Ray singing on it, but it’s really early. I can’t say until the whole thing is done. Often when I get 4 or 5, even 3, songs into a record, those songs will determine which direction the rest of the record goes in. So the first couple is always just casting a wide net and seeing what comes up, and that’s the stage I’m in right now.
Fair enough. I know this Spring Fates Warning is doing some touring in Europe and South America. Besides recording, what other plans do Fates Warning have in the works?
Well yeah, we’re doing some dates. We have a lot of dates coming up in March and April. Then I’ll get back to working on this record, hopefully get that done this Summer and then we hope to be able to tour all over next year. The States, Europe, wherever people want us, we’ll be there.
I’m not really familiar with whether or not OSI has done any touring, but do you hope to tour behind Fire Make Thunder or will OSI remain as a record based project?
We’ve never played out yet, not even one date. We’re very interested in doing it. There’s been a lot of interest from different people wanting us to go out and do it. So we’re looking at it now, but unfortunately that’s not something that is easy to put together because our stuff isn’t just a couple guitars, bass and drums. There are a lot of samples and loops and a lot of different keyboards. lots of different guitars actually, and we’d like to be able to present it the way it sounds on the record. So it’s kind of an involved process to get that going. We have to see if there’s funding for it and really see how much interest there is. I’m sure there are people out there that want to see it, but we have to be able to justify the costs that either us or the label would have to put out to go out there. So it’s something we’re looking at now, but there’s nothing solid right now.
I imagine time constraints haven’t really helped that issue either, since you each have multiple projects also in the works.
Right. I mean, there’s 24 hours in a day, so we could make it work. I’d say that’s the least of our problems. If we could find a way to make it work financially and find that there’s enough interest out there to support a full tour, we could make it work. It’s a little bit of schedule juggling, but we could get it done.
[picture via Allen Ross Thomas of ArtistXposure.com]