It was early morning in the United States when guitar genius Michael Romeo took my call from his home studio, reacting shocked when I told him it’s 1am in Melbourne, Australia for myself. The Symphony X founder recently announced his debut solo album, ‘War Of The Worlds, Pt 1.’, which is due to hit all stores on the 27th of July. The interview began with Michael explaining what the upcoming release means to him:
“It’s just cool. The band had a little time off last year and a lot of the guys were doing different things. I thought it was a perfect time for me to put some of my ideas together and do a solo thing. Get some of my friends and other musicians who are good pals of mine and just make some music and have fun. So yeah, man, it’s great. It’s great to be finished with at least half of it. Going in writing I had written so much stuff that it was pretty obvious in the beginning of the process it was like ‘okay man there’s way too much material just for one record so looks like I’m gonna split it into two.’ So, the first one’s done, a lot of it’s done with the second one but a little bit of work. So yeah having this first one done and getting it out there, it’s great, man. It’s always great finishing up a record and just getting it out there. And then it’s like phew onto the next thing!”
On the topic of Part 2 of the album, which has no set release date yet, Michael elaborated further on how far into the production he and the rest of the personnel are. Demonstrating just how prolific he can be, “Maybe a little more than half way. Once you get going, you get in the zone and the ideas are just coming and coming.” He then went on to explain some of the concepts that are running throughout both eventual discs, explaining that it’s not a concept album in terms of one big story running throughout, but rather musical concepts and overarching themes presented in different ways:
“Early on, when I first started putting ideas together and figuring out what the direction would be, I knew I would wanna do more orchestral stuff and maybe some electronic stuff in there. But I knew I wanted the vibe to kinda have that sci-fi, that space, that Star Wars thing that I like. All that good stuff. I was trying to find a title or an idea. Just looking at different books and things, I stumbled across HG Wells and War Of The Worlds and it was like…okay, that has that vibe. I think I can make the music go in that direction. When we got to the lyrics I remember me and Rick Castellano sitting down and it’s like ‘okay well every song can’t be about Martians and ray guns and flying saucers and shit.’ War Of The Worlds, it could be the worlds of religions or worlds of politics and all the other conflicts that are happening.”
Touching briefly on the aforementioned musical themes and motifs, Romeo detailed some of the process on how he went about deciding which ideas were suitable to reoccur:
“When I started putting ideas together and finding a little theme or a little chord sequence maybe it was like, ‘okay man I’m gonna use this one again.’ There were even parts where Rick and I had worked on a vocal melody at one point and it’s like, ‘oh, you know it’d be good if I took that melody and put it somewhere in the strings early on, so it happened already.’ There’s definitely movements and a lot of little things that are always there and it might not always be so obvious.”
While discussing some of Romeo’s reservations about hearing the lead single Black out of context for its lyric video, he explains the difficulty in choosing one song to represent the album, because there is so much variety within. I took the opportunity to single out F*cking Robots which is essentially a metal dubstep tune. This prompts Romeo to explain how fun creating this tune was and detail the process and inspiration behind it:
“Years and years ago, when that kind of stuff was making an appearance, I remember my kids listening to it and I’d never heard it. This is going way back, and I was like, ‘man, what the hell are you listening to?’ and then I’m listening to it and it has the big heavy drop, and it’s freaking aggressive and, man, that’s pretty cool. So, doing this record, I thought it would be kind of fun to take something like that and put in some guitars and mix the orchestra, throw it all together and see what happens. So, a good friend of mine Marco, he goes by Sciatica, he’s an electronica kid and he does all that kinda stuff. We were going back forth with some ideas! I don’t know how people will react but I listen to it and I laugh and think that’s cool, man. And then the title it was a working title, because first hearing that stuff I was like, ‘man it sounds like a bunch of transformers of having sex.’”
Changing topic slightly to the master’s guitar work itself, he explained the differences of arranging his parts for this album as opposed to a Symphony X album. His main point being that when writing Symphony X albums, he needs to keep live performance in mind, whereas with this he was a little more free to expand, “There’s a little bit more with, like, secondary guitar parts. Pile on the guitar tracks, lines underneath. Let me double all these crazy violin runs so the guitar is part of the orchestra.”
As is tradition, I asked Romeo to give one piece of advice to any musician looking to take a similar career path as him and his response: “Only do it if you love it.”
‘War Of The Worlds, Pt 1.’ will be released on the 27th of July.
PRE-ORDER ‘WAR OF THE WORLDS, PT 1.’ HERE!