Symphony X / Adrenaline Mob’s Russell Allen: “I’m Making Music For Myself”

Posted by on March 13, 2012

This past weekend, Symphony X’s co-headlining North American tour with Iced Earth came to an end. However, things won’t be slowing down for singer Russell Allen anytime soon. That’s because his other group Adrenaline Mob, also featuring Mike Portnoy, John Moyer and Mike Orlando, have just released their debut full length Omertà. And like he has been doing since the release of Symphony X’s Iconoclast, Allen will have to juggle both bands on the road for the remainder of 2012.

Rewind back to Friday night (March 9), a few hours before Symphony X was to take the stage at the Palladium in Worcester, MA. Allen took a moment to talk with Metal Insider aboard the band’s tour bus. During our chat, the singer discussed Symphony X’s potential plans in 2012 (including the possibility of recording a classical concept album), the criticism some hold towards Adrenaline Mob’s hard rock sound, and the solo material he’s been working on for over four years now.


Iconoclast marks the band’s first album via Nuclear Blast Records. Looking back almost a year after the album’s release, has Nuclear Blast met up to Symphony X’s expectations?

Yes and no. I think they’ve done a really good job. They’re really enthusiastic, they love the record. I think we need a little more time to answer that question. But to this point, they’re very enthusiastic and very supportive, and I have no bad things to say. I think they’re doing a great job. I don’t know what’s really going on in Europe, but I haven’t really gotten any information about that. But here in America, I love the people here. Loana at the label is a great rep. She really does a lot to help all their bands. So I like them, I like working with them, but I think time is going to tell and see whether or not the impact has been made. The jury is still out.


Fair enough. What were some of the deciding factors for signing with Nuclear Blast in the first place?

We wanted to grow the band, and get out there and get more exposure. Just trying to increase our exposure to the world, and get more people into the music. That was the whole goal, to go with a label like that. We had bigger offers from other companies, but it wasn’t really about the money. It was about a company that really believed in our band and wanted to grow the band. So that’s the decision we went with. And we’re still waiting for that whole thing to pan out. It takes a full album cycle to really see how it goes.


I know that after the band’s tour with Iced Earth, you’ll be keeping even busier with Adrenaline Mob and doing a few dates with Symphony X overseas. Besides that, are there any other big plans for Symphony X in 2012?

Well, we have a huge show coming up in South America. We’re playing with Megadeth, co-headlining a festival down there. It’ll probably be our biggest show to date. So it’s exciting. In the Fall, we’re headlining ProgPower in Atlanta, and we’re building some shows around those dates. That’s pretty much it. I mean, we really don’t have another tour planned. We’ve already toured the world twice. We want to try and get to Asia, maybe Australia for the first time in the band’s career? I’m sorry, Australia the first time, and then we want to go back to Asia, like we did with Paradise Lost. But right now we have nothing concrete. So we’re looking into it. Right now, we just got some festivals in June, along with a couple of shows.

That’s the plan at the moment, unless something else comes along. But right now we’re thinking about what we’re going to do for the coming year. We’ve got a couple of things on the table. We could do a live DVD, we could start working on a new album. So we don’t know yet. We’re going to wait and see how it all pans out. We definitely don’t want to wait and have an album out in another three, four, or five year gap. We really want to avoid that at all costs. That’s something we need to consider as well.


Each of Symphony X’s albums takes on a certain theme or concept. It may be too soon to ask, but have you given any thoughts as to where you might head lyrically with the next album?

Yeah, we’ve been kicking around the idea of doing another classically themed thing. We did the future [with Iconoclast], but nothing is concrete.


As you mention, you tackled the future of a world taken over by machines with Iconoclast. Was it at all hard to transition from writing about classical themes to new territory topic-wise?

Well, not really. We’re all pretty prolific writers and we can do a lot of different things. The cool thing was that Michael Romeo [Symphony X guitarist] had all of this new music and sounds that he came up with, this mechanical kind of thing. So that was inspiring the direction of the album. Really, it depends on what he’s hearing or what we’re talking about, and we just kind of take it from there. Then everybody chimes in, jumps into the fire.


Switching gears a little bit, you’ve also been keeping busy with Adrenaline Mob. What would you say are some of the biggest difficulties about juggling two very active bands?

The emails [laughs]. That’s about it.


Hard to keep track of them?

Well, for one, I get so many that it’s just dizzying. It’s kind of fortunate for me, in a way, that they’re totally opposite in the way they operate. One’s really active and communicative in a lot of things. The other is kind of not. So I don’t have to worry about getting bombarded. And then of course, spacing everything out. To the public, it might appear that things are whatever, but I sang that stuff [for Adrenaline Mob] a year ago. All the vocals were done in February of last year. The only thing I had to do is finish producing the record and working with the guys to get it done. But the majority of the meat and potatoes of all the work I did was already done over a year and a half ago. And the Symphony X [record] was actually a year before that. And the perception is “Oh, the releases are within a year of each other!” But the truth of it is the work wasn’t. The work was really pretty far spread out. So I haven’t had much of an issue with that. The only thing now, of course with touring is a little difficult, but it’s easy if you can just keep it separated. And that’s what I’m just trying to do.


As you mentioned, you’ve been sitting on music from both Adrenaline Mob and Symphony X for a while now. As a musician, was that hard for you to do?

No. I’ve got a solo album I’ve been working on for four fucking years now. Talk about sitting on music! [laughs]. And it’s killing me because it’s good, but I’ve learned my lesson now. I’ve sat on it for too long, and I let it change too much. If you sit on something too long, it starts to lose that initial magic that you had when you composed it. And you start to change it and tweak it to the point where it’s not even recognizable anymore. I made some mistakes, but then on the flip side to that there’s some other gems that I found that took me a long time to get. So certain songs suffered, but other ones have come along real nicely. The ones that suffered, I might just cut, go back to the original. It can be frustrating, but I’m used to it. This is what I do for a living. I sing on stuff, and it doesn’t sometimes get released until a year or two later. It is what it is.


Do you see a release date in the future for your solo stuff?

No [laughs], not at all.


You were saying how style wise it’s changed so much, but would you say your solo material sounds similar to your two current bands or something completely different?

Completely different. It’s more of a classic metal/rock sounding thing. I have a lot of classic influences. My stuff is retro, I guess you could say. We’re talking about like 70’s, early 80’s. I mean, I love Dio, I loved him in Rainbow, I love Deep Purple, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, all of the bands that were before my time. So I have a lot of that in my solo work. Very soulful, groove based music, but it has a little more of a metal feel I guess, a little more epic. It’s just different from anything else that I do. It’s me.


I hope to hear it sometime!

Me too! [laughs]


Disturbed bassist John Moyer recently joined the band, and last I heard Adrenaline Mob is opting now to add a second guitarist. What were some of the deciding factors to staying as a four piece?

I think the real factor was having to look for another guitar player. And we really didn’t need one. I mean, all of the stuff was written and recorded really without [guitarist] Rich Ward, and those guys were the touring act. We tried to get a good group of guys together, but we’re all committed to other things. I got Symphony X, I’m not going anywhere. [Mike] Portnoy, of course, is a very active guy; he does a ton of stuff. He literally has an album coming out [with Flying Colors] the same day or like around the same time as the Mob. So it’s obvious that the Mob has like other things going on. To add two more guys with two other commitments, we’d never play.

So the idea was “Let’s look for two other guys or whatever that don’t have the schedules.” And then it’s like “Well, you get used to playing with pros,” and then you really don’t want to go through the whole thing of auditioning everybody and their grandmother to get a kid that’s free and doesn’t have anything going on or busy. So the Moyer thing was [there at] the right time. Disturbed is going on a hiatus for a while, and John’s got nothing to do for a couple of years. And that’s all we want to do, ride this for a couple of years and then see how it goes, and make some music, do some shows and have some fun. And his sound is really good. Like I mentioned, I’m a Van Halen and Led Zeppelin fan. And these are all power four piece groups. So I kind of like that.


I also thought Moyer was a perfect choice because, and I hope you don’t mind me saying this, I really hear a mixture of Disturbed and Dio in Adrenaline Mob’s music.

Yeah it is, actually. Kind of strange, but it was just by chance.


Speaking of Adrenaline Mob’s sound, there have been a lot of fans critical of how it’s a little more hard rock friendly than prog, which given both you and Portnoy’s past work many were expecting. Was the criticism at all a little disheartening?

Not at all. [laughs] No, we could care less. Actually, I can’t speak for everybody else but for me. I went into this knowing that I’m not going to do another prog record because I’m in Symphony X, and I have no desire to do that. Honestly, I don’t care who’s playing in it. And the reason why I asked Portnoy to do it is because he was wanting to take a break from Dream Theater. That’s the last thing on earth he wanted to do, or I wanted to do with him. I mean, I don’t want to do anything else that I do with Symphony X because to me I’m in one of the best bands ever that’ done this. So I have no desire to go outside of it to do the same type of music. It’s just doesn’t interest me. I know some of the fans maybe were upset or whatever, but I’m not trying to make music for Symphony X and Dream Theater fans. I’m making music for myself. And there’s a lot of people in the world who like rock and I’m one of them. I don’t want the fans to be upset or whatever, but I can’t control how they feel, there’s trolls all over the place and on the internet. They’re going to say what they’re going to say because that’s just them.

But there’s a lot of folks that do like it. I don’t really have anything against them, and if it’s not for them, that’s fine. I don’t care. I don’t think John Moyer is really sweating whether or not the Symphony X and Dream Theater fans are going to like the Mob. I think having John in the band actually really helps with the understanding in that this is not what we’re doing, it’s not what we’re about, so get over it. And just either join the family or get the fuck out. It’s really that simple, I don’t have time for any other bullshit. So that’s that.


I remember that I got to see Adrenaline Mob’s debut show in NYC, and the thing I noticed was just how much fun you guys looked like you were having onstage.

Yeah, well that’s what it’s all about. This is a rock and roll band, it’s a fun rock band! It has a little bit of a metal edge to it because we’re all metal heads, but that’s all it’s supposed to be. It’s not trying to be anything else. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but the wheel has been pretty lame lately, if you want my honest opinion. So we just felt like “Let’s kick it up, let’s put together a group and write some tunes that have some attitude and real power, just a lot of fun and not try to be like ‘err’ but just real.” Real songs, real fun, real band. And that’s what that is. It’s not rocket science, it’s rock and roll.


Adrenaline Mob signed with Elm City Music (in conjunction with EMI Label Services). Did you guys ever consider releasing the full length via the DIY route?

We did do the DIY route for the [self-titled] EP because we had to. But truth be told, we needed the label and we needed the help from EMI to get this out there because it is a different genre and it’s not something we can just go out there and give to our existing fan bases because they’re not going to really dig it. So we had to go that route. I mean, we did admirable, to sell the EP and do what we did sales wise for really nothing else but some names [attached to it], but at the end of the day that’s not going to really reach the people who are going to like this music.


So I know you guys have the NYC release show, some dates in Europe and overseas, but anything else planned for Adrenaline Mob in 2012?

That’s about it at the moment. I’m kind of waiting to hear what’s coming next. There will definitely be something in the fall, in August we’ll be out because Symphony X is not going to be out until September. So I’ll probably be spending the Summer with them, and the Spring I might stay home. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’re talking about doing something, but back to your other question about juggling two bands, the only problem is the time away from home. It’s a lot of time away from home. I’ve got two kids and a wife, and it’s a lot of stress on us, but it’s something that we talked about as a family. And so going forward, this is what has to happen, just that this year is going to be a little hectic. But that will be the end of it. I’m not going to do this kind of thing again so close. So probably Summer/ Fall kind of thing, but except for Symphony X in early Fall. But I don’t know, we’ll see.

And you kind of have to wait to see how the record does too. It hasn’t even dropped yet. Symphony X, we know what it did already or what it’s doing I should say, and we’ve toured the market twice. The economy is really tough. So I think some of our numbers on some of the shows we were hoping for a little better on this tour, but the home crowds like here tonight [March 9] we’re expecting a really great crowd in Worcester and New York has really sold well. We’re doing good around here, and this is our base, but I think for the most part it was an eye opener a bit.

The ticket prices being what they are, you don’t know when you head into these things what’s it going to be like. It’s always its own little adventure, but this tour [with Iced Earth and Warbringer] has been really great in terms of comradely with the bands and how we’ve been getting along. Everyone’s been playing their asses off every night. That’s all that I’m about, I leave a nice sweaty pile of clothes in the “box of doom” when I’m done every night. It got to a point I think where people were just like “get it out of here!!” [laughs]


Just put it on Iced Earth’s bus!

Yeah! [laughs] They’re great guys. I really can’t say enough about how cool they are. Jon [Schaffer, Iced Earth guitarist] and I hit it off real well on this tour, became friends really fast and that’s rare.


This is the first time Symphony X and Iced Earth have toured together. That’s actually really hard to believe!

You know what, I think the same thing. I’m thinking “Why didn’t we do this earlier?!” But it’s just timing. We just had a lot of ups and downs in terms of the label and the records, and the timing has just always been weird. And you’ve got to have the releases out at the same time so the bands can tour at the same time. You just kind of throw it out there when you’re touring, and it just didn’t work out until now.


Well I’m glad it finally worked out.

Yeah, it’s a fun tour. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


[picture taken by Jeffery Chan for Metal Injection]

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