All Music, No Gimmicks: Ray Alder Talks Fates Warning's 'Long Day Good Night'

Fates Warning released their new album, Long Day Good Night, on Friday, November 6th via Metal Blade. It is the longest album they've ever created, at over one hour and 15 minutes of play time, and it's also by far their most varied, bringing in elements that range from Rock to Metal to Electronic. It was an album that evolved during the process of writing and one which they chose not to retrospectively trim, curb, or redirect.

Now, in the absence of live performance experiences for most of us, an album like Long Day Good Night is particularly welcome. Not only is it long-playing, but it will remind you of why you follow Fates Warning. They always put in the extra effort in writing their music, and this record is a particularly strong example of that, having spent a year on the writing alone.

But if you're wondering what a personal toll it takes to get an album like this recorded, you really need to hear from Fates Warning vocalist Ray Alder himself as he tells his "fireside story" in our interview with him below from his home in Madrid, Spain.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Do you have any overlap with shopping at Tower Records or doing any in-store events.

Ray Alder: Of course, I used to love Tower Records. I used to go to the one on Sunset, and one time I walked around the corner, and Pat Benatar was sitting there, signing albums. Sadly, there was no one there. I think I just kept walking, and got what I needed to get.

HMS: Is that because of the embarrassment of being the only person who walks up? There’s a certain awkwardness in that.

RA: Yes, it was a little Spinal Tap-y.

HMS: [Laughs]

When you were shopping at Tower, what were you usually looking for? Was it mainly Metal, or were you shopping for all kinds of stuff?

RA: It’s funny, but I don’t really listen to that much Metal music. It’s not embarrassing, but it’s probably strange to people. I listened to Metal a lot growing up, but my tastes changed. I got into this whole female Folk thing for a period of time with K.D. Lang, and Maria McKee, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. I was into this whole female singing thing.

HMS: That is so awesome, though!

RA: It was very calming. Sarah McLaughlin was the queen god to me for a while. Anyway, when I was a kid I would go to record stores, and I would buy an album just based on how they looked. If an album looked cool, I’d pick it up. Oddly enough, one was Armored Saint, and that’s our bass player [Joey Vera] now. I bought the EP when I lived in Texas, just because of the album cover. I turned it over, and thought, “They look Heavy Metal! I’m buying this!” That’s a true story and I never thought I’d be playing with Joey Vera. It’s the craziest thing. The first time I met him, I was just in awe. He was the biggest Rock star in the world to me.

HMS: That is so amazing that you were a fan of his!

RA: Usually when I go to a record store now, I know what I’m going to get. Those days of searching are gone, now, sadly.

HMS: What do you do now when you’re looking for music? Do you follow certain bands, or do you look for recommendations by genres?

RA: Nowadays, it just tends to fall on me. Maybe I’ve heard of something through someone, or in a story that I read where a band seems interesting enough that I just want to check them out. One of the biggest bands that I came across in the last ten years, is Ghost. That was recommended by Brian Slegal [of Metal Blade Records]. He said, “Dude, you’ve really got to check this band out.” Another one was Coheed and Cambria, also suggested by Brian. I fell in love with both bands. For Ghost, I picked up everything.

I saw them at the El Rey in LA. I used to live right around the corner from the El Rey, and I saw the band Ghost there. When I saw them, I stood there the entire time, not moving. I’ve never done that at a concert in my life. I’m that guy that usually goes, sadly, after three or four songs, “Let’s get a beer”. But I stood there the entire time unmoving, and I’ll never forget that because I never do that. That’s probably the most popular band that I listen to right now. But being a musician, sadly, I just don’t listen to that much music anymore. I just don’t have the time for it.

HMS: That’s totally understandable. Also, if it’s 24/7, that’s going to really grind you down, presumably.

RA: Some people do, like Mike Portnoy. He’s the biggest music lover I’ve ever met in my life. He know everything about music. He’s like the almanac of bands, but I’m the opposite. But for me, it’s like if you own a pizza restarant, the last thing you want to do at night is have fucking pizza. That’s how I am.

HMS: [Laughs] Yes, totally. I’m sure other musicians and fans understand that. I think it probably goes through different eras, too.

I think it’s so cool that you used to listen to Folk. Talking to John Bush from Armored Saint, he mentioned how many genres of music he likes, and I think that egalitarian approach needs to be more widespread. Then people feel like they have permission to explore and find stuff. I think fans and musicians, as people, should always be changing, at least a little.

RA: Absolutely! Music is what got me to where I am today. I never thought I’d be living in another country. I never thought I’d see Peru, or Uruguay, or Chile. Music has done so much for me. I remember as a kid taking the cassettes of mixtapes to parties and to other peoples’ houses, saying, “You gotta check this out.”

And I miss those days, I really do. Maybe it’ll happen again, but at the moment, I just did a solo album, then I did the writing for the Fates Warning album, so it’s been two years of just solid music. So I’m just kind of done with it right now and just want to watch a horror movie.

HMS: You deserve a break! Take it. Do something else for a while.

Long Day Good Night is the longest album you guys have ever released. At what point did you realize that?

RA: It was near the end. We were writing all this music. A lot of people, especially the Japanese, like bonus discs. It’s the way to give something extra to a fan. We started thinking, “We’ll do this song, maybe it’ll fit on a bonus CD.” Some of the songs were so different than something we would normally do.

But at some point, we thought, “Screw the bonus disc, this is our 13th album, let’s see if we can do 13 songs.” It was quite a process. It’s almost an hour and 15 minutes of music, which is, I think a lot for everybody. Hopefully people appreciate it. The songs on the album vary greatly, I think.

HMS: Yes, they do!

RA: Some are Rock, some are Electronica, some are Metal. Out of 13 songs, hopefully people can find something that they like.

HMS: There are a lot of things that fortuitously work in the album’s favor, anyway. I think you found your audience for a long-play record. I know people are listening to full albums more right now.

RA: Yes. We do have long songs. It goes hand in hand. Especially since there are no live concerts to go to right now. A lot of journalists have been asking me, “Do you think it’s a good idea to have the album come out now, during this whole thing?” We questioned it as well. But seeing as there are no concerts and there aren’t even any movies coming out, why not offer something? Here’s some music. Take your mind off this whole shit show for a little while. Hopefully it was a good idea.

The original plan was to the album and go on tour. The last tour we did, we were on tour two days after the album came out. But here we are now.

HMS: I’d like to thank you for deciding to release despite the circumstances right now. I think new music is really helping people. But I know that’s also selfish of me because I don’t understand the full ramifications of the impact that has on bands.  

RA: We don’t either! We’ll see. But with nothing else happening, hopefully it’ll put a smile on someone’s face.

HMS: I think it will. You’ve already released some singles and videos, and I see a lot of excitement around this giant album coming out. Is it true that you recorded your own parts relatively quickly?

RA: Yes, it was really quick. One of the main reasons is that we wanted to use Joe Barresi to mix the album. Obviously he’s a legend, “Evil Joe”! His schedule was really tight and he was going to start working with Avenged Sevenfold for two or three months. We had to be in line so as not to mess up that schedule. The only way to do that was to record every day and while I was doing that, they were mixing. That was pretty stressful, knowing that if I screwed up or lost my voice, the whole schedule would be off.

But, hey, I’m a professional [laughs] and I did it. I remember about the eighth song, thinking, “There’s no fucking way I’m going to finish this!” And there were five more songs to do. It ended up working out. I ended up living in the vocal booth for a couple of weeks eating microwave food. It was pretty awful, but you sacrifice for your art. Art is pain!

HMS: I’ve heard of people really going crazy with recording non-stop before, but I’ve never heard a vocalist’s story like this. This is like being in a mini-prison.

RA: It was nuts! Also, because of the lockdown here, one of the legal things you could do was actually move. There were a million things you could not do, like go to a job. I couldn’t travel back and forth to the studio, so I moved. I physically moved to the studio.

HMS: Oh my God! I didn’t realize you meant that literally.

RA: Yes, I rented a moving truck. I moved into the vocal booth, which was four by seven.

HMS: That is freaking amazing.

RA: Yes, it was cool. No, it wasn’t cool at all. It was horrible. But it was an adventure and something to talk about, I guess. I got the job done, which was the important thing.

HMS: Does this make you feel unusually close to this album, like you sort of inhabited it, to have been there like that?

RA: Yes, I’ll definitely remember it. I’ll remember all the other ones as well, of course. I loved recording with Joey and Jim [Matheos] but this one is definitely a fireside storyteller, “I remember the one time I had to…” Telling the grandkids, “Back in my day, we had to ride around in moving vans…”

HMS: [Laughs] Were the other guys recording in totally separate locations also and sending stuff in?

RA: Yes, that’s how it’s always been. We’ve been doing it that way for 20 years or so. Jim sends the music and I work remotely, everyone works from home now. It’s not like the old days when we’d get together in a studio and spend 100,000 dollars but work for six months on an album. Those days are long gone. I do miss them, they were a lot of fun. Now it’s, “Here’s the file. Get to work.”

HMS: It’s almost like you’ve been preparing your whole lives for this terrible situation that we’re in now.

RA: [Laughs] Yes. If other bands are dealing with this and don’t know how to, we can give them lessons. We can write books on this. This is what we’ve done. It works for us.

HMS: I’m proud of people who are learning how to record from home from a zero point, but it is tough if you have never done it before.

RA: We were doing this before ProTools was available in homes. I had a 4-track recorder, a cassette recorder, that had only four tracks of vocals, but you could double them, and make eight tracks. It was a nightmare. But then you could send cassette tapes through mail and that’s how we did stuff back then. Those were demos. Then we’d actually go to a studio and record. That was a nightmare, though, “Where’s my tape?” “You should have had it a week ago.” Craziness! Now it’s, “You should have it right….now.” “Yes, I have it.”

HMS: Do you have to have the best wi-fi connection possible to handle such large file sharing?

RA: Pretty good, at least. Sometimes it takes a while. Our files are usually pretty small and we can compress them.

HMS: When you were doing the intense imprisonment of vocals for this album, did you ever have a moment where you thought, “My voice is going to go. I can’t do this.”? 

RA: Every morning when I woke up, I’d start [makes sound of clearing throat repeatedly] and I’d think, “Oh God, is it there?” It would take a while, a couple cups of coffee, being awake for two or three hours, before I could actually start singing. I can’t just wake up and start singing. That’s the scary thing, you’re singing for 9 or 10 hours, and at the end you can tell your voice is kind of going. You just hope that the next day, it’ll be there, and usually it is. I did take one day off, because I just had nothing left. But that one day was a miracle, actually.

HMS: Even if you’re someone who has travelled, and toured, and played night after night, like you have, this scenario is just totally different.

RA: It’s broken up, but it’s funny, because if you’ve ever been in the studio singing, you know that you can say, “Let’s call it until tomorrow.” Then you come back and listen to it, to sing another verse, and you find that your voice is completely different. You can hear the difference. It’s the weirdest thing. The tone and volume can change. To me, it’s usually, “Finish the song or go to another part of that song. Never finish in the middle of a song.”

HMS: Yes, I can imagine that you’re trying to create continuity and consistency, and that would be the opposite.

RA: Being under a microscope, it’s that much worse. But it’s the life I’ve chosen!

HMS: You mentioned earlier that the songs are really very different, and they have a really big spread, sonically. Did that variety enable you to go through all these vocals because you were changing it up from day to day?

RA: Yes. When Jim would send me songs, with the first three that he sent me, he told me to pick one, start with that, and then we’d move on. Those were all from the same range or genre of the last few albums we’ve done. Then they started varying and becoming more and more different. Again, that’s when he’d say to me, “I don’t know if this is going to fit on the album.” But once we had the idea that “different is better”, that was easier on us both because we didn’t have to second-guess or question ourselves about whether it would make it on the album. We just made the best of each song.

We’ve always done that anyway. We could work on something for four weeks before being completely done with it. To work on a five-minute song for four weeks, 8 hours a day, is a process. We wanted to get it right until you can’t mess with it anymore. That’s how the process is for us. We try to be perfectionists.

HMS: I heard that you spent over a year just on the writing process on this album.

RA: Yes, about 12 months, working every day, whether on lyrics or melodies. I remember at one point, for Christmas of last year, I went to Uruguay to spend Christmas on the beach, which was really nice. I remember telling Jim that I would be gone for three weeks, but the whole time I was thinking, “I’ve got to get back to work.” I was really worried about it. I felt guilty the whole time, but I had a great time anyway.

HMS: You’ve got to do that or you’ll go crazy.

RA: That’s what the process was like. That’s how involved we were in that process. 

HMS: How early in the writing process did you realize that you weren’t going to try to force the sound approaches into the same vein?

RA: That was later on. When we realized that there were so many and that they were going to be so different, that’s when we started doubting ourselves. We wondered if it would be too much to swallow, or if it would be too long. Maybe people’s attention spans would be too short. It was really a problem for us.

But in the end, we worked hard on it, so we just decided to throw it all out there to see what sticks. I hope people appreciate the work that went into it.

HMS: I hope people appreciate the work that went into it, too. This is a kind of out-there comparison to make, but your concept album, A Pleasant Shade of Gray, is also a very long album.

RA: 51 minutes!

HMS: Long Day Good Night kind of seems kind of like the opposite number to that album. That was the unified giant album. This one is the eclectic, wide-ranging but powerful statement album. These are the two ways in which you guys can work.

RA: I think that would be a question that Jim might be able to answer more, as a composer. When he sends me something, he says, “If you don’t like it, tell me.” But I like pretty much everything he sends me. Occasionally, I say, “I’ll work on it, but I don’t know.” But 90% of the time, I do what he sends me. When he wrote, A Pleasant Shade of Gray, we were in a strange place. MTV was going out and radio was going out, so we just decided to write an album for ourselves, something that we enjoyed.

This was something that he enjoyed, saying, “We’ll do one long song. Fuck it.” I remember wondering if that was a good idea. “People don’t do albums like this. We’re not Pink Floyd.” But it worked and it ended up being one of my favorite albums, if not my favorite album. Just because of what it is and what it represented to us at the time, which was: To hell with everyone. Then, being on the road and playing that album live every night, at 51 minutes! It was a great tour, one of the biggest tours we’ve ever done. Something worked out.

HMS: If this tour had gone ahead on schedule, what did you have planned? What would it have been like?

RA: The original plan was do the album and be on the road maybe a week or two after, which would have been a winter tour. But if you ever went to one of our shows in the past, you’d see that we didn’t even have a backdrop back then. We just went on and played. I remember people saying to me, “You guys just kinda dress like you’re going to the store. What’s going on?” What do they want, for us to be in matching outfits, like bellhop outfits? It doesn’t make any difference.

I think, for us, we just let the music speak for itself. No one is there just to look at us fucking ugly old men. They just want to hear the music, and that’s what we’re all about. I think it would have been the same on this tour. We don’t even hire lighting guys. We just hire the best techs and the best sound guy we can afford, then we go out and let the music speak for itself.

When we were young, we’d stay up super late and drink, but as we got older, the music just became that much more important. And I think we want the live music to be what people remember, because that’s what people should walk away with. So we just do our best wearing our “going to the store” clothes and playing music.

It’s funny, I was talking to Brian Slagel a while back, and he was saying, “I saw Van Halen in LA a long time ago and they were just horrible. They were drunk. David Lee Roth was forgetting the words. They were awful live.”

And I thought, “See, that’s what people remember.” I’d rather they walk away thinking, “Wow, those guys were really tight. They really know their stuff.” That’s kind of where we’re coming from, I think. No gimmicks.

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