Talking all things Fates and 'Long Day Good Night' with the acclaimed metal drummer.
Words by K-Man (@kmanriffs):
I’ve seen Bobby Jarzombek play. It was with Sebastian Bach’s band, around 2016 here on the Gold Coast Australia, at the Coolangatta Hotel. I had to pinch myself several times. I mean the man has backed the likes of Halford, Riot, Blaze Bayley, Arch/Matheos, Spastic Ink, Painmuseum, and even way back to 85-87 with Texan progressive thrashers, Juggernaut. I knew it - I was watching drum royalty that night. Of course, Bobby has another gig in FATES WARNING. Not just any other band folks – but fucking FATES WARNING! You don’t get a gig with this band unless you are the crème-la de crème of your craft.
Bobby has been with FATES for 13 odd years, but their new album is only the 3rd he has recorded with them. It seems like rather slim pickings, but add in several European tours and a monster live album, the man is clearly a main part of the fabric that makes FATES WARNING such a revered act among its progressive metal peers. With album No. 13 having hit the shelves in early November, we were lucky enough to grab some time with Bobby to chat about all manner of things associated with Long Day Good Night. I hope you enjoy his time signatures:
Welcome to Heaviest of Art, Bobby, it’s an honor to chat to you today and great to have you answer some questions for us!
Jarzombek: Cool. It’s good to be here today!
Now I know you’ve been in the band since 2007, Bobby, but FW has just clocked up 35 years in the game. 13 albums. How do you view this bands longevity and the ability of Jim to keep things rolling over three decades? Was there a period where it almost did come to a close? I mean, the 9 year gap between FWX (2004) and Darkness in a Different Light (2013) albums was torture for your fan base - you were in the band for 6 years before you appeared on the latter album, what were the circumstances there?
Jarzombek: Yeah, that’s kind of weird that I was with the band for quite a few years before I recorded with them. I don’t really know the reason. During the years between me joining the band and the release of DIADL, we toured Europe twice a year, usually 3 week tours. So we stayed fairly busy and it was a good way for me to get familiar with the fans, the fans to know me, and for me to learn of bunch of the material as we changed the setlists during those tours. Then, Jim (Matheos, guitars) talked about writing and putting together the material for DIADL. We got the stuff together and I flew up to Stamford, CT to record the drums at The Carriage House. The record turned out great and we did our first headlining tour of the US since I joined the band, and of course Europe also.
Brilliant. And now you’re 3 albums in! Of course, the main reason we have you here, is to chat about the new album, album No. 13 - ‘Long Day, Good Night’ – you and the band must have been keen to see it released once November 6th came around?
Jarzombek: Of course. It’s kind of crazy that the record is released now in the middle of this pandemic thing, but I actually think it’s a good time for the record to come out being that so many people are at home right now. People are working at home and they’re listening to music while they’re doing that. I don't see too many bands releasing at this time, which is a little bit odd for me. Of course you want to tour immediately following your release and we’re not able to do that at this time, but I still think it’s a really good time to put a record. The reviews have been great so it’s working out pretty well for us.
Yes, I’ve read nothing but praise for it so far! I want to dive into the process of putting that album together in a moment, but can we go back to 2016’s Theories of Flight? Loved the album, Bobby, by the way – how do you view that album now and the response from the fans?
Jarzombek: I thought TOF was a great record. Any time FW puts out a record, there is a long process from start to finish because of all the intricate details of the music that comes along with it, and it was sort of a concept record for Jim in that in his younger years, his family moved around quite a bit living in various places and cities, different schools and all that.
Now, just a year later, the original FW did the 'Awaken The Guardian' live set release from the Keep it True XIX festival. As a long time fan, this was a dream come true seeing/hearing Jon Arch for this release. Were you just as enamored with seeing this happen? What are your thoughts on that reunion (of sorts) with John, Frank, Jo and Steve? Everyone is all still good friends! Now, I’m not suggesting at all that the current line-up is any less stellar, but were you aware of how much this line up is regarded?
Jarzombek: Yeah, Jon getting out there and singing again was a great thing for him and for the fans . And yeah, I remember when the 'Awaken The Guardian' (1986) record came out in the 80’s. Living here in San Antonio, we had a radio station that played quite a bit of the hard rock and heavy metal that was coming out of the late 70's and all throughout the 80's. I heard quite a bit of the two albums, 'The Spectre Within' (1985) and 'Awaken The Guardian'. I’m friends with all the guys from that lineup. John obviously because I played on his record, 'Sympathetic Resonance' (2011), and with Frank obviously because he was in FW with me for quite a few years. Joe DiBiase actually has filled in for Joey on a few occasions playing bass. I’ve only had a few occasions to talk with Steve when FW play the Hartford area and he comes out. I respect him as the original drummer in FW and all the cool playing that he did with the band back then. So yeah, it's a great thing for those guys to play that record and for the fans to hear it in it’s entirety.
And as if to bookend this event, in 2018 we got the monstrous double live set of ‘Live Over Europe’. The band sounded better than ever, Bobby. You must have fond memories of that time?
Jarzombek: Yeah, the live album is great. I really love the way it turned out. You know, it ranks pretty close up there with the Halford - Live Insurrection record for me. On that, we played a lot of Halford material and also the Judas Priest and Fight classics. For the FW - Live Over Europe record, we played about a dozen shows and recorded all those shows. I remember specifically the last show in Athens, Greece where we played for two hours and 40 minutes (or something ridiculous) and I remember thinking I would really love to have that performance on a DVD because it was so special. I remember looking out into the crowd and thinking that this is a great moment in my career. I still remember that feeling.
Awesome how that feeling has stayed with you! Which brings us to the new album. I believe Jim and Ray spent the last half of 2019 writing for this one. Can you give the readers an insight as to how this album came together – given COVID, Ray’s solo work and Joey’s Armored Saint work? And finally, what was your role?
Jarzombek: Jim and Ray started writing the record I believe in the spring of 2019 but I didn’t start working on my drum tracks til' November because I was on tour with Sebastian until that time. The process for LDGN was pretty similar to the other records that I’ve done with Fates. That means Jim sending me songs, sometimes with Ray’s vocals, sometimes only the music, depending on if Ray has worked on it at that point. Jim uses drum programming for me to listen to and to work with. So, me and him go back-and-forth with me sending him demo recordings of my drumming until we get all the parts and sections worked out. Then, before I record it for real, I change my drumheads and tweak the microphones in my studio and make sure that everything is sounding nice. I was actually able to contribute a little on this record as a writer (as I was on the last couple of records also), and that means basically me recording drum beats and patterns and various things and sending them to Jim and he takes those ideas and writes guitar parts for those to create new songs.
Now, I’m pretty much aware that when Jim begins writing for a new album, he’s never really certain of the direction until he starts. and that the first couple of tracks tend to steer the rest of the album. Is that the case with 'Long Day, Good Night'?
Jarzombek: I’m not sure if Jim had any preconceived ideas when he was writing the record. The record is very diverse and it’s funny because when most bands are writing music, they have sort of working titles. Maybe it’ll be something like ‘Heavy-Metal Burner’ or 'Pounding Steel’ or something stupid like that, but Jim has numbers for song titles and he writes them. Song 1 turned into ‘Scars', which is pretty much straight ahead but it has some intricate little sections, but it’s basically a four minute song. Song 2 turned out to be ‘The Longest Shadow Of The Day', which is the most progressive song I’ve ever recorded with the band. I don’t think he really had any preconceived ideas. I think he wrote something that he felt was good melodically and then for the second song, he just was thinking I’m gonna work on maybe something a little more progressive.
Having said this, it does appear to me that even though there is ample proof of the signature FW sound and groove on the new album there is a complexity about it, a darker, moodier element to several tracks. Ray’s vocals are emotive and expressive as always, but the whole FW palette is explored on this album. Would you agree with this?
Jarzombek: Yeah, I guess I would agree. As I mentioned, there is a variety of different things on this record, and being that the record is longer than any record clocking in at 72 minutes long there’s gonna be a lot of different moods and that can be explored. They come out in different ways.
For me, and surely it’s plainly obvious to others – if there is a FW album that was written for the bottom end rhythm and groove and especially the bass – it is this one – Joey Vera’s work is incredibly prominent on the new album. It is something I noticed immediately. More than ever. I would even suggest deliberately so. If so, I think it is the absolute masterstroke move that you have pulled off here! Please tell me I’m on the right track…
Jarzombek: When the album reaches the mixing stage, you don’t exactly how everything is going to sound together as a whole. The guy mixing the record is a little like another band member. You don’t know the amount of reverb he will put on the vocals, or if something’s going to sound dry, if one instrument is going to be more prominent in the mix, etc. Of course the band has a lot to say about this, but the mixer starts the whole process. We had Joe Barresi mix the record, and when we got the first song back from Joe, he had the bass pretty much up there. It’s great because Joey is an awesome player. We all liked it. And to me, the bass seems to be mixed too low on a lot of metal records.
'Long Day, Good Night' is also a very long album. 72 + minutes. But it never feels like it. Were you conscious of its length or does that just happen organically? I think it is your longest album in your entire discog?
Jarzombek: Well, when Jim was sending the songs to me of course I was thinking, wow there are a lot of songs here, and a few of them clocking over seven minutes. I guess that’s good if the record doesn’t feel like a long record.
And the production – Jim has produced the album one again. Not surprisingly the new albums ‘sounds’ like FW! – lush, strong, heavy with depth and separation. However, you brought in Mike Baressi to mix it. What does he do that Jim couldn’t? Is it just that second set of ears being involved and him stepping back from it to allow feedback? You know that some people (with stronger egos) can’t allow themselves to do that….it seems to be deliberately conscious from Jim.
Jarzombek: Jim has never mixed a FW record. That’s always done by someone that specializes in mixing, and knows frequencies, eqs, etc. If Jim is listed as mixing a previous record, that pretty much means that he sat along side the mixer and had a say in volume levels, the amount of reverb on something, etc. but he’s never been the person turning the knobs, etc. Joe’s resume is pretty extensive: Tool, Volbeat, Queens Of The Stone Age, Avenged Sevenfold, etc.
Ok, can we dive into a couple of songs that stand out for me? Let’s chat about the longest track – the 11:30 ‘The Longest Shadow of the Day’ – such a diverse meshing of loads of your signature styles. The lounge jazz/blues intro, your subtle use of hi-hat and splash symbols and the omnipresent Joey Vera bass line. And that’s just the first 3-4 minutes! A true joy to listen to – how does that even come together?
Jarzombek: 'The Longest Shadow Of The Day' was the last song that I worked on and recorded. Jim purposely gave it to me last because he knew that it was going to take some time. Jim and I sort of look at that song as 4 sections.
The first section features Jim, Joey, and Mike trading solos. Pretty impressively too! The hi-hat and kick drum patterns that I’m playing is pretty much what Jim had on his drum programming. It was interesting to me because it’s not the type of drumming that I would typically play. It’s very difficult because the kick parts are really syncopated, and the hi hat is pretty quick. I added splash cymbals, bells, etc. as that whole section develops. The second section, from 2:48 - 5:25, is in 12/8 time signature (triplet feel) and it’s the only 12/8 song that I know of in the Fates catalog. It’s interesting because Jim’s drum programming wasn’t that way. His programming was sixteenth notes instead of triplets, but I listened to his picking and noticed his guitar figures were more triplets. Anyway, I couldn’t play any of the stuff he programmed because it wouldn’t fit with the guitar, so we went back-and-forth with me recording parts for each of those sections, and there were a lot of sections to work out. It was a lot of fun doing that because it allowed me to stretch out and be really creative. Then on the 3rd section, Ray comes in with his vocals and the music is mellow with a lot of layers of guitars sounds, Jim melodic soloing, and I’m doing a lot of layering also with press rolls, splashes, bells, etc. and it builds. The 4th Section is a cool riff on the bass, then Ray’s vocal, and Mike closes the song with a ripping guitar solo. Great song for us.
And then you have ‘Scars’ – totally opposite to ‘Longest Shadow’ but still very much FW! It is probably the go-to track of the album if you wanted to introduce a new listener to your music. FW seem to be able to crank out these signature tracks every new album - I won’t say with ease – but Jim and the band do have a knack, Bobby?
Jarzombek: Yeah, Scars is more straight ahead but has that cool syncopated riff section. I would agree that’s probably a good song to play for someone if you want to introduce them to FW. And yeah, Jim is a great writer on the straight ahead songs and the epics.
And ‘Under The Sun’ – Ray has said this track took some time to come together lyrically/vocally and you also used a full string section on this track. Once again, FW doing something else to keep things fresh and progressing?
Jarzombek: When Jim sent me 'Under The Sun' and I heard it with Ray's vocals, I was so into it. I texted Ray in Spain where he lives and I told him how amazing that song was, and the melody of the chorus. It sounds like it could be in a commercial for dishwashing soap or a commercial about bath towels, or maybe kids playing outside rolling around in the grass. I thought it was a brilliant performance by Ray melodically and lyrically.
Yes, Ray nailed his performance on that so well! Now, you also brought in some guest musicians for some tracks – your touring guitarist Mike Abdow, who contributed some solos, plus Porcupine Tree/The Pineapple Thief drummer Gavin Harrison. Was this planned or was Jim looking for something specifically from them?
Jarzombek: Well, Mike is a great musician and guitar player of course. Jim wanted him to contribute some solos to the record. And you know, Jim writes pretty much all the material and he knows all the parts, so he’s going to play the rhythm guitars on the record but having Mike add his touch for the solos is great. As for Gavin Harrison playing drums on the record, that's a whole different story.
That actually came about because while I was learning the songs and recording them starting in November 2019, I also had various other things going on, and then the holidays came, then I also had some one-offs and a cruise in Jan 2020 with Sebastian, so I wasn’t able to get the Fates songs done as quickly as I hoped, plus I had an upcoming tour booked with Sebastian through March/April/May. I then mentioned to Jim that I didn't think I was going to be able to finish all the songs before I would leave for the Sebastian tour, and I could get it done in June and July when I got back. But the band really wanted the record to come out in 2020 and this delay in my schedule would probably cause the record to be pushed back to 2021. So at that point, Jim and I were trying to come up with options to get the record done in the next couple of months. There was also talk about holding back some of the tracks that I hadn’t recorded yet and releasing them later on a bonus disc, and various other scenarios. Also, having another drummer play on two or three of the songs was an option, which I was ok with because I just wanted to do what was best for the band in the long run.
So, Jim started looking at the songs and he went through some of the drum files for the OSI project, in which Gavin is the drummer, and he found some patterns and beats that worked well with the song ‘When Snow Falls’. He mentioned it to me and I thought if the parts work well, then that's fine with me. So, he put that together and sent it to Gavin. Gavin approved of the use of his drumming for that song and that one made it a little less stressful for me being that song would be done. We started looking at other songs but that was early March when the whole Covid thing hit and so my 9 week tour with Sebastian was canceled/rescheduled. I was able to finish the rest of the drum tracks in March and April, and deliver everything by May. So that was good, and we had the one song with Gavin’s drumming. At that point, it didn't really make any sense for me to play on that song since it was already finished, and it sounded great with Gavin's playing. I guess it’s a little bit of a strange thing but that's how it all came about.
I guess that comes with the territory when trying to traverse the commitments across two bands. Glad it worked out! Can we touch on the relationship you have with your band members for a moment. Ray Alder - Bobby, you must be truly grateful for what he brings to the table? So reliable and forthcoming with his contributions to the band’s musical ideas. And his voice is still absolutely top shelf magnificent! I believe he also went through some rather taxing Covid restrictions to get this performance down in the studio too? Admirable stuff.
Jarzombek: Sure, I love Ray as a person and I love his voice. He's been a great friend of mine. Yeah, he had to basically pretend like he was moving and rented a moving truck so that he could drive to the studio because Spain had restrictions with anyone leaving their homes unless an emergency, or if you were moving. So, he lived at this little studio room and slept on a little cot (or something) for two weeks while he was recording his vocals. Pretty crazy stuff.
And Joey Vera – Again, this album really gives him a greater voice. Of course, he has his work in Armored Saint, but wow, you must be thrilled with his performance here and the fact that he is in the band. In the pocket, solid, delivers in spades!
Jarzombek: Yeah, Joey's my favorite progressive bass player that I've worked with. He has such a great funky feel and heavy at the same time. And great tone. I love his playing.
And finally, Jim Matheos. One of the truly great progressive metal masters! Can you give us something about the man and his way of doing things? Does he blow you away with what he conjures up?
Jarzombek: Jim is a great writer, great guitar player, and it’s really cool that you can hear his influences in his writing…from UFO, Pink Floyd, Rush, to Porcupine Tree, etc… And he’s been a great bandleader for all of us throughout all these years.
Obviously there is a plan, a wish to tour on the new album. How do you see this playing out given COVID just isn’t doing what we want it to do. 2021 doesn’t look any brighter worldwide on the touring front – at least to mass audiences. Thoughts on the current increase in streaming live sets? Would you consider this? Is it worth it?
Jarzombek: Of course no one knows how this is all going to turn out in the next few months and next year. Of course we all want to be touring again. But I do see that when things open up, I'm thinking every band is going to want to go on tour. I feel like there will be so many bands touring at the same time. That might sound like a good thing but it isn't necessarily. 2 or 3 bands in one city of any given night is definitely not a good thing. That will cut into the attendance for the shows and merch sales, and promoters will likely cut the guarantees for bands because of the risks involved with split attendance of too many shows happening at the same time. But we’ll see.
Bobby, such a pleasure to chat with you today – the new album is another top notch FW album in what is a classic discography and we here at HOA hope its all goes well. Anything else to add here?
Jarzombek: Cheers, K. I want to thank you also for the interview and the cool questions.
Long Day Good Night is available now via Metal Blade Records. Secure your copy HERE.