|Posted on August 10, 2015 at 1:15 AM|
Interview with Russell Allen
By Dave Smiles
Russell Allen is the singer from Progressive Metal band Symphony X who have just completed their new album Underworld which contains some of their best work to date. It is their ninth album in a twenty year career. He is also a member of super groups Star One and Adrenaline Mob, and has also toured with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. A great performer with a powerful voice, Allen’s range has covered melodic singing to aggressive screaming depending on what the song calls for. During my recent interview with him we spoke about composing a theme based album, the effects of technology on music, as well as how he maintains his ability to perform to a high standard.
First up congratulations on the upcoming release of the ninth studio album from Symphony X Underworld.
Thank you sir.
You’re welcome. When you first joined the band back in 1995 did you think you guys would still be making music together twenty years later?
No. Well I was kind of hoping we’d have a long career. But when you think about the time it’s been quite a long time. Twenty years.
There have been a lot changes in the technology involved in recording music and distributing music in the past twenty years how have these changes affected you guys as a band?
Well it’s tough to say. We are going to see how this one goes because obviously the past three records have been put out with five years between them so for fifteen years of our career we've only put out three records, maybe four. The times change pretty fast. From Iconoclast to this one, a lot has changed. I hope it’s for the best but the biggest thing is that record sales are not what they used to be. The media can be quite extreme. The people now use Spotify and were more concerned that that will effect sales and make the label not want to put any more into promotion. What people don't understand is that the record company is still a pretty important part of creating a band’s success. I guess we’ll find out on the 24th how it turns out. I’m optimistic, I think the fans are going to come out and support the album. I really encourage them to buy it and support us because in doing so we can create a better tour and better show and will keep the band going.
When the album was completed was it everything you thought it would be or did it exceed your expectations?.
It exceeded my expectations. I have a tendency to be very, how can I say it… I can predict, in a way, what the album’s going to be like because I know these guys so well. But I got to say when I heard the record I was really blown away by how good it was. I knew it was going to be good I just wasn't expecting it to have this synergy and cohesion with the performances. Everybody just stepped up a level. There’s this thing that I think a band only of tenure can have. There’s an energy there and everyone’s just really comfortable in their skin on this record and gelling together as a band which is something I was surprised by. In the past everyone was doing their best and not out do the other members of the band or anything like that, it’s not a competitive nature within the band. But everyone is focused on performing individually very well. That’s why this record sounds really good.
When you guys where writing the songs was there a need to take things to the next level. Do you think it was conscious or it just turned out that way?
A little bit of both. Romeo defiantly plans everything out. It takes a long time to write these records, as everybody knows. At least get the riffs going. By the time the rest of us are called in to look at ideas and what’s going to happen. A lot of experimenting and a lot of passing around ideas with the other band guys, myself included in terms of story and things like this. You know, he definitely crafted these songs to be a certain way so that they would be heard as a whole, that the album would be heard as a whole. I was surprised that a few elements of the album came out really good. One thing I asked at the beginning when they were doing the concepts was I just wanted to sing something, not scream so much like I did in the last album. I wanted to get back to the old style of singing I did when I was a kid which was cleaner singing and more melodic. So we just went super melodic. I love writing hooks, I’m really good at it, and I love writing melodies and anthems. I love anthems. This album has a lot of that in it. It just came out great. So I’m very happy with it. It was intended to be a melodic record. Focusing on the details of the songs making sure that nothing was over played and over produced. But I think the result was, ‘wow, this band can sound like this. It’s amazing.’ I think we were all a little shocked by.
I believe there a running theme throughout the album based on Dante’s Inferno is that correct?
How do you go about fleshing out a theme for the album’s worth of songs?
Well, we talk about it in the beginning before any music’s written. Sometimes I’ll ask Mike, ‘What are you doing, what are you into musically?’ And he’ll answer ‘I’m really into this industrial sound’ and that kind of went through the Iconoclast stuff, and the theme for that. And for this one he said ‘I’ve got all this orchestral stuff I’m into. I wanted to do something with numbers and I’m into ancient aliens and all that sort of stuff'. So I said 'why don’t we do something about that?' We’d already done something technical, like a technology based thing so we couldn’t really go anywhere with that idea. So someone said 'well we could do a new version of Dante’s Inferno'. I said 'that’s cool as long as it’s a new thing and we get some of that numerology stuff going on there and things like that'. That’s how the conversation started. We were talking about Romeo and Juliet vibe at the beginning and that sort of turned into this Dante’s Inferno of the modern world. Like a modern day Dante’s inferno. That’s where it came from, from those conversations a few years back.
The two singles, Nevermore and Without You, they’re quite diverse from each other. Would that be a good representation where Symphony x is at right at this moment in time?
Kind of. One is very fresh and a bit of a departure from what we normally do. It’s just another step and evolution of the band. The riffs are kind of familiar but the singing against heavy riffs I haven’t done since the Five album. So the older fans they will recognize it but the other fans are thrown out a little bit but it’s all done on purpose. We want people to understand that the delivery of the vocals and things like that are all based on what the lyric is saying. It’s really hard to scream your head off when you have a really melancholy lyric. ‘My strings ring hollow, bleeding nevermore.’ It doesn't have that visceral attack that Iconoclast would. That’s just one thing, then of course we’ll have a little more of the stuff that people maybe didn’t get to hear in the last two albums. The record has a little bit of everything. Those two songs definitely have the fresh space, if you will. So I guess to answer your question it is kind of where we’re going. But the album has something for everybody on it.
When you’re writing your songs with all the progressive elements and the odd time signatures and the various parts with all the musicians and all the instruments and the singing, can it be hard to bring everything together into a structured song?
Well it can be but I rely on Mr. Michael Romeo for all that. He is the Maestro of the band. He orchestrates everybody’s music and stuff and musical ideas into a cohesive tune and I come in and play in my two cents here and there. I can write and produce too and we all work together to make as good a record as we can.
What’s been the most challenging thing for you as a singer?
Just staying in shape. I’m out there working a lot and constantly trying to just keep going and stay in shape. I’ve done also a lot of project work in the past five years and stuff and I’ve done another band. And my biggest challenge is just to keep my voice in top shape. And that’s what I’ve been focusing on and that’s what I’ve been doing.
How does performing in something like Adrenaline Mob differ to playing with Symphony X?
Well in the past with Symphony X there’s been a lot of brakes. You know, there’s a lot of down time in the riffs and songs. Sometimes I can walk off the stage and I’m not even back on for five minutes – the length of an Adrenaline Mob song. With an Adrenaline Mob song I can’t leave the stage ever. It was good for me. Adrenaline Mob really kicked my butt and got me into shape, so it’s good for that. So the Mob is a high energy show and it’s all about just keeping going. Keep hitting them, keep hitting them, keep hitting them. We very rarely slow down for anything. Maybe a ballad or two, that’s about it. Symphony X is more robust, there’s more colour, there’s more dynamics, just a lot more going on. And the band is featured a lot more in the show so that’s the difference. Having those brakes, which is great. You know? With the Mob I didn't realize just how out of shape I was. So it’s cool. I always learn from everything that I do. I learned from the Mob, I learned from TSO, I learned from the projects that I do. I always bring it back into Symphony X in one way, shape or form. Which is who I am as professional entertainer and singer song-writer. It helped realize I have to stay healthy to keep going here. So I’m in the gym a lot these days. Just to keep my body in shape, cause I am the instrument. So the philosophy is trying to eat healthy, and that kind of stuff.
Are there any songs on the new album your particularly proud of and looking forward to playing live?
I really like Without You I think it’s a great song. Live I don’t know but I’m really proud of it I think it’s a really good solid song from front to back and I’m looking forward to doing Hell And Back, and I really like Legend a lot. Those are probably three stand outs for me in terms of performing. I really want to get to the point where we can play the whole thing. Put on a really great show, cause the album was meant to be done that way. So I hope the fans support it. So please support us fans. The whole idea is to get us down to you guys, and the places we never been before.
So we’ll be seeing you soon here in Australia?
We’ve been talking about it and our agent said there’s plenty of opportunity down there. So that’s the plan. Right now we’ve got a couple of offers. We’re just trying to get something else going in Asia so we can tie it together. That’s the idea.
For more information about Symphony X visit the official website at www.symphonyx.com
Symphony X – Underworld is available on Nuclear Blast Records.