John Arch interview
By Steph Perry
December 1, 2011
He may not be a full-time musician anymore, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to singer John Arch on the Arch/Matheos album Sympathetic Resonance. John’s voice is as good if not better than when he was lead singer for Fates Warning in the 1980s. The melodies he wrote to go with the musical compositions of Jim Matheos are beautiful and stirring. His lyrics are full of imagery and metaphor, and personal yet open to the listener’s interpretation. I called John at his Connecticut home and we talked about the new album, performing in his first-ever music video, how music is a great healer, and much more.
What does it mean to you to hear all the positive comments about the Arch/Matheos album?
I try not to swim in the praise, but the only way I can put it is: it’s a big relief to me. Sticking my neck out after all these years of silence and then to come back. And with the expectations of the fans and being older and a lot of variables, it was kind of a scary thing to even get involved with this. Having said that, when it’s all said and done, I am really just thrilled that it’s a good positive response. I don’t do well with criticism (laughs) and I wanted to do well on this. I’m really pleased.
When you guys did the recording for the album, did you do it together in the studio or were parts recorded separately?
Basically it started with just Jim and myself. Jim had some material written and wanted to know if I was interested in hearing it and giving it some thought. So I went up to his studio in New Hampshire, just him and I, and at first it was just sitting around and talking and listening to a couple of things he had. So after hearing some of the material, it sounded like it was up my alley as far as the type of music I thought might be inspiring to me to do some writing. So many trips from my home in Connecticut to his studio in New Hampshire, basically every weekend I would drive up there and we would go through the demo process, I would listen to what he had and would take it home and put the headphones on and listen to it over and over and over again. And just one step at a time it started coming together, and before you know it we were immersed in it and there was no turning back at that point. We were on our way to getting something accomplished. In the early stages it was just Jim and myself, and then at some point I think even before I started writing the lyrics and melody lines to Jim’s compositions, Bobby Jarzombek had been involved with some of it because it had originally been slated for Fates Warning. For some reason Ray wasn’t available at the time, and Jim just doesn’t like sitting around and he wanted to do something with this music.
So, to get back to the question, Bobby had already been working on some of this material, not in-depth but he had an idea of probably half the album. So at that point where I stepped in, you could tell there was a direction. Joey and Frank came in after the demos were done, and it was time to wipe clean the demo drums that are done electronically by Jim. Bobby started sending back what he put down on the music and it was of course totally different and so original. As far as Joey is concerned we were never in the same room at the same time for this album, it was all sent electronically to Joey and he put the bass lines down. And then Frank was the last one to come in to put leads down, and he did go up to the studio with Jim and they worked together and bounced ideas off of each other. So really the first time that I saw Bobby was when we went into the studio to put his drum tracks down. Joey, unfortunately until this video we did was the only time that I saw him. So that’s how it actually worked. It’s amazing I was kind of blown away, having done it in this fashion which I know a lot of bands do, when you listen to the album it doesn’t sound that way to me, it sounds like a cohesive group and it sounds like there’s chemistry between all of us. It sounds like we were in the same room writing and recording together.
Absolutely. And the songs all fit together so well. Lyrically, too, it really just flows.
Cool, I appreciate that. As we were moving along I got into a groove with pretty much a personal theme. It’s amazing when you listen to the whole thing in context. I feel the same way, so I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s a compliment that it does all gel together.
Jim made an interesting comment about the song Incense and Myrrh during the Brian Slagel interviews, “it was the perfect coda to the whole thing.” And this song was different from the rest in that it’s not one of Jim’s compositions, it’s your composition that you brought in later in the process. Did you write it specifically for this album or was it something you were already working on before Jim contacted you about doing an album together?
It’s something that I had been working on for the longest time. It seems like when I’m working by myself, I get so far but I can’t seem to finish. When Jim gets involved it helps me, because he helps with the arranging and he has an objective ear. When we work together that’s when things start to happen. So this is a song that I had been working on an acoustic guitar just on and off, and I had it kind of sitting in a closet. Originally the album was going to end before Incense and Myrrh, but I really felt strongly that the album wasn’t long enough. And I told Jim that I wasn’t quite done lyrically and wanted to tie all the meanings together. So I sat down with Jim and played what I had for him on the acoustic, which was about 99% of the song, and we worked on it together and it became the final song on the album. I think it tied the whole album together and time-wise it was much better.
It does exactly that, it really ties the whole thing together. It’s a great song. I noticed a lot of positive comments about it on youtube and other sites. I don’t know if you saw any of the comments.
I have. And it’s a huge compliment to me. First of all it came from a personal place. It came from a difficult time. And to try to describe something that you really can’t put into words, somehow you put it to music and you find something that’s abstract and you bring it to life somehow. That’s how it turned out for me.
Did you enjoy the process of making the video for Midnight Serenade? You looked very natural and just so into it, all of you did. And the comment you made earlier about the cohesiveness within the group, it really showed in the video.
I did enjoy it. It seems like when I’m involved with something it’s hard for me to enjoy something while I’m in the midst of it, because I’m a Type A personality, I get very nervous and uptight. In the moment it’s hard for me to enjoy it. But after it’s all said and done, and you see the results were good, then I’m happy about it. Yes, after the fact looking back I did enjoy it. It was a pretty cool experience, it was the first time I’m ever done a video. I’m glad I actually sang, full blast, because it gives a much better feel then trying to lip synch. All of them are great guys, they’re so relaxed. I have a lot to learn from them. It was a fun experience, I would definitely do it again.
Can you share a quick story or comment about each of the members of the group?
Sure. You just don’t find any better people. They’re just a pleasure to be around.
Frank. We saw each other at shows and stuff every now and then but this is the first time we’ve worked together since Awaken The Guardian, and we had a different relationship back then. But he’s a very cool guy. Before we left the parking lot after shooting the video he had some very kind words for me and I really appreciated what he said to me.
Jim. He’s a very smart guy. He’s a very talented guy. He seems to always have it together. I have a lot of respect for Jim. He’s been doing this music for so long and he’s just so talented. He’s been a great help to me as a friend.
Bobby. Another down to earth sort of guy. He’s a professional. When he came into the studio he had everything written out on score paper. He was so prepared. I really like what he did. I think there’s a mutual respect there.
Joey. A fantastic guy. I went out to L.A. with Jim to do some press and he was such a cordial guy. I met his family and sat pool-side with him at his house. He was so hospitable.
You have many recurring themes and metaphors in your lyrics. What is the significance of Queens of the May to you?
“Forever and a day, Queens of the May beckon you to dream your life away.” Queens of the May represent our care free youth unbridled by the constraints of time and boundaries and like sirens from some distant shore lure us back to a time when ignorance was such bliss.
There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that I thought you might relate to, “we do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand.”
That’s so true. Trying to put something intangible into words is very difficult but being put to music and the whole thing, it’s like therapy for me to help me better understand where I’m drawing this from and trying to make sense of it.
How are you preparing for the Arch/Matheos appearance coming up at the Keep It True festival in Germany this April?
I’m preparing the best I can. It’s hard but it’s something that I have to put my mind to, and set my mind to practicing as much as possible. You work 10 hours and then come home and the last thing you feel like doing is going down and singing. But that’s what I’ve been doing as much as I can.
Are you guys thinking of doing a warm-up show in Connecticut before you go overseas?
So many people, including my wife, have said we really should do a warm-up show. Yes it’s possible.
Can you reflect more on the lyrical content?
I think it’s important when you listen to the songs, you’re going to hear certain messages. When we’re talking about “Any Given Day” and we’re talking about the keeper. The keeper is ourselves, and we sometimes keep ourselves locked in that maze of turmoil, when we get those repetitive thoughts that just won’t stop. We get these symbolisms, we’re talking about asylums but the asylums are our own mortal asylums. So there’s language that’s being used in all these songs that maybe people are thinking, what the hell is he talking about, but I play on metaphors and colorful terms but it’s all about the human experience. We all go through bad times and tough times, and I think when we’re strong, we should be strong for people. And when we’re weak, well there’s others who have been strong for me. I think by making that connection, and that’s the way the fans have always been when they connect with a song like Guardian. It has been 30 years, just about, and people still make a connection with that song and it means so much to them at personal times in their life when they’ve struggled and it’s gotten them through. And that’s the biggest compliment you can have. I think it’s about making the human connection. We’re all human and we all have our struggles. I think by making that connection with people it brings the music to life and it makes it more meaningful.
Back in the day with Fates Warning, and just the name of the band – Fates Warning – with its ominous sound, the lyrics were more mythological and there were some elements of reality and dream state and mystical fantasy or whatever. The whole idea behind that was to kind of disconnect and take a journey out of reality, and to take a journey with the songs and the music and the lyrics. It took you on a little adventure or journey. With this it’s a little bit different, it’s not Fates Warning. The lyrics are of a different nature and I had to draw on what’s inspiring me. What does somebody write, and especially to this kind of music, when you listen to what Jim comes up with, and you listen to it with all its movements. The music is all over the place, and it’s minor and it’s major and to say something simplistic over this like fast cars and women, it just doesn’t do.
When you’re drawing from a well of ideas, some of them are current and some of them are deeply imbedded and rooted. There can be double or triple meanings to it. It’s always interesting to me on how other people interpret it, or how obvious I have been. You just don’t know how you appear through other people’s eyes.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’m thrilled to death that the response has been great for the album, number one. I hear the requests for live shows and if we can make that happen, the possibilities are there to get that together. I do realize that something should be done as far as more shows, and I’m putting a lot of thought into that. And this is a very rewarding thing, especially when all is said and done and you’ve made connections with people, and somehow it gets me to a better place. It’s amazing to me, the response. And I am so thankful.