Besides fronting US prog metal pioneers Fates Warning since 1987, Ray Alder has his fingers in a number of pies, including Engine, Redemption and, most recently, A-Z. As he unveiled a second solo set, suitably entitled II, Prog placed a call to the singer’s home in Spain.
After being a ‘band guy’ for so long, how did it feel to release your solo debut, What The Water Wants, in 2019?
I like doing a lot of different things, which is why I’m involved in a few projects. A solo album just seemed like the next step. But if Fates Warning is no longer going to release material then I need an outlet. I don’t want to join another band, so a solo career seems the most logical thing to do.
Hold on a minute – no more Fates Warning?!
Jim [Matheos, guitarist and main songwriter] says he doesn’t want to write any more new music for the band. That could change, I don’t know, you’d have to talk to him. It’s not to say there won’t be any more live shows. The band didn’t break up. It’s just that there won’t be any more new music. And I need an outlet; music has been my life for over 30 years.
What The Water Wants was critically praised. Prog admired its “dramatic shifts in intensity and tone, contrasting elegance and melody with headbanging riffs”, but especially the quality of your vocals.
That sounds like an elegant review, thanks [chuckles]. I turn 56 this year and a lot of singers that use that higher range just tend to lose their voices as they get older. I sing every day for a few hours so maybe that helps. It’s a muscle – you have to work it or it ceases up.
Covid prevented you from touring What The Water Wants. That must have been incredibly frustrating.
It was the same with Fates. We did an album with them [Long Day Good Night] and then the pandemic hit. Every tour around the world was cancelled and the only thing musicians could do was write new music. That was the one benefit out of that whole shitshow.
In an interview with Prog for Long Day Good Night you admitted circumnavigating lockdown in Spain by going to live in the studio...
[Laughs] Yeah, that was illegal! I was evading the long arm of the law. Spain allowed you to move [house] during lockdown so I moved to the studio.
Making this new record must’ve been much less problematic?
It was. I started working on it two years ago but then Mark Zonder [ex-Fates Warning drummer] got a hold of me for A-Z. And then [keyboard wizard] Derek Sherinian called to ask if I’d like to be a part of an all-star thing with him. I kept getting sidetracked.
The timing, with Thomas Waber from InsideOut sending you an email, was pretty spooky...
One morning over coffee I was thinking about how I should get a hold of Thomas and see if he was interested in another solo album from me. I didn’t get around to it, but the very next day he sent me a message. That was really strange but it made me very happy.
Second time around you have retained the same cast list – Fates Warning’s touring guitarist Mike Abdow, Lords Of Black guitarist Tony Hernando and drummer Craig Anderson [Ignite, Crescent Shield], with Mike and Tony playing a big part in the writing.
I saw no reason to change anything. My original idea for the first album was to use tons of different musicians but that was such a logistical nightmare it would have taken years. Somebody you wanted was too busy or wanted too much money. So I’m very happy with these guys. I have such an amazing relationship with Mike and together we write these amazing songs.
Stylistically, II follows the sleek sophistication of What The Water Wants, though tracks such as Silence The Enemy and Waiting For Some Sun are slightly heavier.
A bit darker and heavier, yeah. I wanted to do some longer and more complex songs. I think of it as a mix of ‘old’ metal and something new as well. It has some cool detuned stuff. I hope it’s an interesting record.
The song Hands Of Time includes the lyrics: ‘Standing silent, staring at the sky/Never felt so lost as this’ and ‘Sinking deeper into emptiness/There’s no ladder left to climb’. Not exactly cheerful, is it?
Well, I do sing for Fates Warning, don’t forget [laughs]. None of these songs are interrelated – This Silent Shell is about someone that wants to take revenge on another person. I let the music guide me when I write lyrics. I just try to tell a story.
Passengers tackles the issue of old age (‘As the days grow colder and the sunlight dims/It’s hard to not feel older as the winter begins’). Is that something that worries you?
There are a few like that, including Hands Of Time. From the moment you’re born the hourglass is running out. Like I said, I turn 56 this year and looking back you realise that time has really fucking flown by. It seems like only yesterday I was in the studio with Fates recording Perfect Symmetry [in 1989].
Last year you made your solo debut at the ProgPower USA in Atlanta. That must have lit the fire to do more of the same.
That was great. It was such fun to play my new stuff. I didn’t do any Fates songs, though I included some stuff by Engine. It was weird, man. I was really nervous.
Well, you didn’t have your ‘brothers’ beside you.
I’m always okay before going onstage but at ProgPower I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life. The crowd response was good. I hope I can do more of that. When I made the record I was thinking, “I wanna hear this live.”