JUNE 25th 2015
MICHAEL ROMEO'S UNDERWORLD
“You know if it were up to me I would just put the whole album out there for people to hear rather than to issue a couple tracks,” says Symphony X guitarist Michael Romeo. He adds, “It’s incredibly hard to select two tracks that represent the album.” MetalTitans caught up the guitarist while doing press for the new album ‘Underworld.” The new album runs the gamut from hard hitting progressive metal to melodic hard rock that enters AOR territory. The album is due on July 24th, 2015 on Nuclear Blast Records which issued their last effort ‘Iconoclast.’
MetalTitans: Having heard an advance of ‘Underworld’ it is an eclectic record like you have stated. It’s got all sorts of flavors to it.
Romeo: As we were writing this album we were thinking of this record as a whole. I mean we always do but this time we were thinking of the placement of the songs---it was all about the balance. It was all about having diversity of this one. It’s really hard to just pick two (songs) and say the album sounds like this. It just doesn’t work that way.
MetalTitans: So you’re telling me as you were writing ‘Underworld” you had the vision of the album as a whole--are you also talking about the sequencing of the album as well?
Romeo: (pauses) On this one yes, from day one we kept that in mind---absolutely. In the it wasn’t so much like that. We did try to find a concept or theme that would unite these songs and the lyrics. On the last album ‘Iconoclast’ we had a theme of ‘Man vs. Machine’ that just made for heavier music. That just had this relentless ‘mechanical’ sound to it. As I said with ‘Underworld’ I would say it was about the thing as a whole from the beginning.
MetalTitans: I haven’t read the lyric sheet as of yet, but would you say that ‘Underworld’ is a ‘concept’ record or does it have an underlying theme?
Romeo: I’d say this has more of an underlying theme, each song isn’t linked to the next. I think our record “The Odyssey’ is a concept record because there’s a beginning and it follows the theme in chronological order. The last couple of records have all had the underlying theme. There’s not a chronological story there but it touches on topics that we thought were cool. On ‘Underworld’ we touched on Dante’s Inferno into hell and back for someone---we just had all of these ideas; that you hear in the lyrics and in the music.
MetalTitans: I discovered Symphony X around 1999 but it wasn’t really until 2002 when you issued ‘The Odyssey’ that the band began to gather momentum in in United States. What do you think it was about that album that connected with the American metal fan?
Romeo: (pauses) I’m not really sure...I remember that we did Gigantour that year. I think there were a lot of people who might have heard about the band but might hadn’t seen the band live got a chance to do so. I think that was definitely a factor.I think the style of metal that we play connects with fans. We have done stuff that’s been more symphonic in the past some have been more progressive and there’s always been that diversity there---most people find something that they like.
MetalTitans: Symphony X have had gaps in several years in between album at least in more recent years. Has that been done by design or is that the way you work as a band?
Romeo: That is the way that we work. There was a time….I think right around we did Gigantour that’s when we started doing a lot of touring and it kept us busy. I think before that we’d toured but it had been very sporadically. When we were writing for ‘The Odyssey’ I remember that I thought it was a good idea to write on the bus. I remember I had a nice little set-up in the back of the bus and dude I absolutely got nothing done! (laughs) You just can’t concentrate to write on tour.
MetalTitans: How much of the various different projects that band members are involved in bleed into the Symphony X? How do you sort that out as to it doesn’t result sounding like something other than Symphony X?
Romeo: Like you said everybody is involved in something else---we know what needs to be done with Symphony X so that doesn’t affect what we do in this band. When we get together to do this we are here to get this done---it’s a priority. The music business is pretty tough these days and we’re all trying to keep as busy as possible and we do what we can.
MetalTitans: ‘Underworld’ is set for release on July 24th the tour in North America doesn’t begin till September 2015. Do you think that the dates are a bit removed from the release date of the record? Wouldn’t it be best to get out there while the iron is hot so to speak?
Romeo: (pauses) It doesn’t really bother me. It kind of works out--mainly because it gives us a little break from the album because we just wrapped up with it. This gives us an opportunity to do stuff like this---interviews so I get to talk about it. Next month we start rehearsing and getting a set together then the tour will kick off shortly after that. It’s cool.
MetalTitans: You’ve done some high exposure tours as you mentioned Gigantour, I also felt the pairing of Symphony X and Iced Earth was brilliant. This fall you’re heading out with Overkill--you’re heading out with a thrash band!
Romeo: It’s cool though. We’ve know each other for years. When we first moved into a rehearsal studio in about 1998. It was Dee’s (Verni) place. We were there for years so we had a great deal of interaction with him. We worked on his records and helped him out a little bit. They’re great guys--we’ve always talked about doing something together and now we are. I don’t think this pairing is too far off. It’s a great mix for the fans they won’t get bombarded to three hours of the same shit. We have a very diverse catalog so I think we can make it work with any band that we tour with.
MetalTitans: It would seem to me that at this point in your career that it’s got to be a nightmare to draft a setlist. How do you handle this? Does everyone throw a couple suggestions into a hat and you hash things out that way?
Romeo: (laughs) Oh man, I think we all cringe at the thought of having to relearn some the songs that we’ve done in the past as great as they be. We all know who likes what songs there’s even songs that we’ve played that maybe we didn’t think much of them so we’ve taken them out. Then there’s times where there’s songs that we really thought that they’d go over great live but fell short. The heavier stuff or the heavier groove stuff is the stuff that really goes over well live. So we really play around with the set until we think we have something that really feels good.
MetalTitans: One thing that Symphony X is due for at this point in time is a live DVD. I know that’s a huge undertaking and a production thing that at times the band has to pay for out of pocket. That would be a great way to document to where the band is now and the work that you’ve put into building this in the past 12-13 years.
Romeo: Yeah without a dough money plays a factor for sure. It just has to be something that is done well. We could set up some cameras and record any old show but the fans want and deserve more than that. That is something that we’ve been talking about while planning this tour and planning setlist, playing around with different lighting and stuff like that.
MetalTitans: If you had to select three tracks from the Symphony X catalog that would give someone a glimpse of what the band is about what three tracks would the be?
Romeo: (pauses) Oh, my God! You’re putting me on the spot. (pauses) Let me see…”Set the World on Fire” from the ‘Paradise Lost’ record. Wait are we including the new record as well?
MetalTitans: Yes. Absolutely.
Romeo: Oh, youre fucking crushing me now! (laughs) Alright, I will say “Without You” from ‘Underworld’ which is ultra melodic and has a hummable melody. Wow, this is hard for three songs! I think I’d have to got with “Iconoclast” or “The Odyssey” it’s hard to pick just three man.
MetalTitans: You’re a RUSH fan. What’s your take of their unofficial ‘farewell’ tour? They are one of those bands that you’d hate to go into retirement because they are so good now.
Romeo: RUSH I love that band. They’re done so many great things. Will this really be their farewell tour? I don’t know. I did hear some of the stuff about the current tour and how they are doing some of the deeper cuts for the fans--that’s fantastic. I’ve always loved RUSH if this is in fact their farewell tour that kind of stinks. Who knows maybe in a couple of years they decide to get back and tour? It’s hard to say, but they have given us so much great music.
MetalTitans: Last question; who’s been a musician that’s been an influence on you and why?
Romeo: (laughs) Oh my God, not again?! You’re giving me this killer questions dude! (laughs) We can talk about this for hours. That’s really hard too. Guitarists?! Bands?! Composers?! What? Wow there’s Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen...I admire and respect them all. I’ll have to whittle it down to who I think is the king as far as I’m concerned. I’ll have to go with John Williams for all of his film scores that everyone knows and they are just brilliant. He’s my hero---everything he’s done has been ingrained in people’s mind. Who can’t go into the water without hearing the ‘shark music,’ then there’s ‘Indiana Jones’ and the list goes on and on. It’s a different realm than metal but it’s about emotion and power.