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Russell Allen (Symphony X)

Interview with Russell Allen from Symphony X
by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos at 28 July 2007, 10:27 AM

Paradise Lost has made a really big impression throughout the Metal community and Metal Temple crew took the opportunity to talk with the band's voice Russell Allen. Despite his cold he was more than eager to answer to out questions about almost everything.

It has been almost 5 years from the last SYMPHONY X album. Why did it take so long?

We were touring most of the time. We had some opportunities to go out with MEGADETH and QUEENSRYCHE get the exposure and spread out. Whenever we stopped to get on writing the new album another opportunity would come… You know Odyssey proved to be more powerful album than we were anticipating, and continued to sell in territories beyond the marketing range. We were playing until 2005 and did nothing else the rest of the years but working on the new album.

The album has been released for almost 2 weeks. What is the feedback so far?

It’s excellent! We’ve been charting in all these major territories for the first time in the bands history. It’s pretty exciting for us, we have never been charting on U.S.A, Germany or Japan. Actually we have never been on the charts.

You have already done some shows for the new album.

We did a warm-up show in New York and then we went on a Latin America tour; Puerto Rico and Mexico.

How did it go?

(coughs) Actually, I got a cold from the last one (laughs). It was great. We had a lot of sold out nights, pretty big crowds…we played in a small place in Monterrey, Mexico and this was a great show. I mean the fans there were really crazy and stuff. Kinda like you guys (Greek fans).

How long have you been working on Paradise Lost?

It was about 2,5 years. While we were on the bus for ’Gigatour’ we were discussing about the album’s direction.

The album sounds more aggressive than the previous. Did this happen on purpose or it just happened in the studio?

No it happened on purpose. We knew that we had to do a heavier, riff driven album with more Heavy Metal elements. So, that was planned from the beginning. The subject matter really changed my approach to the album. We were dealing with some evil things in Paradise Lost so I had to make my vocals more heavy. Finally, my vocals turned to be more heavy than I was thinking and this happened while in the studio; it wasn’t planned.

 What was your composing process? Did the lyrics or the music come first?

On this album the music came first. We made the best compositions we could and then adapted the lyrics to them. On the past we had the lyrics first and then the music. On Paradise Lost we had themes; we knew that this song would be about revenge, the other about tragic love and so on. So, we knew what we wanted to say and worked towards that way.

What was your contribution to the music?

I wrote some melodies in the singing parts. Well, some changes in the melody or the harmony were so good that actually effected the whole arrangements like we did on the middle section on The Walls Of Babylon. This was my way on contributing; I don’t write any of the musical sections. Mike writes the riffs and I am singing over them. If there is a feeling that the vocals are taking the song somewhere then Mike will follow this direction.

So, Mike is easy to work with and accepts changes?

Yes he is cool about that. We’ve working together like this for a long time; we have passed things like that; those years are way behind us. You know when you are young you eat each others throats because you think that you are right. It’s more about who is right and who is wrong and when you get older you realize that none is right or wrong it’s just music.

 Yeah, these arguments usually happen in Metal music.

Well yes it’s kind of healthy at some degree especially we you are enthusiastic about something. It’s a lot different now we have a ton of respect for each other and you know, Mike is a great artist to work with, he is really talented.

You have added some aggression to your vocals. Did you like it?

I loved it! It was a great thing to give vent to some frustrating feelings that I have (and still have) about some of my friends that are not friends anymore.

 So, you used music as an outlet for your feelings. It was something like a therapy session for you.

Sure, it’s definitely healthy to do this. You know, some may misinterpret me or the band because in the past albums we were into fantasy themes and mythological literature but in this album this is not the case. We did use a piece of classical literature to help us express but none of the songs are related to any particular storyline or something about the book (Paradise Lost by John Milton)

 So,Paradise Lost is not a concept album.

No, it isn’t. It’s like The Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd; it is not a story but it deals with life and death and things in between. The new album deals with feelings about what’s going on like love, betrayal, lost and revenge. Vanity is a big thing in the first few songs. The parallel to the book with Satan as a character is about all these feeling that he has. In the videos we did the director wanted to go in a more literal way which is fine with us because it is more impressive.

What videos did you make?

We did Serpent’s Kiss that shows something like the garden of Eden, with the apple and the snake and some symbolic references. It’s really cool instead of having political messages that we are dealing on the lyrics. The second video is for Set The World On Fire. I haven’t seen that yet and will be ready within a week.

You have sung Rock, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Is there any style that you prefer to sing?

No, I love them all. I do like sing the ballads in live concerts. It’s really challenging for to do this in front of a large crowd because they come to hear Metal. I like to deliver a performance that moves people; I don’t mean the sappy love ballads but the mystical songs like Communion And The Oracle or from this album, the title track. Rock and Heavy Metal are kind of the same thing for me; maybe in Rock there is more feeling but I sing them both in the same way. I just sing the songs without thinking of the style.

Are there any singers that you look up to and have influenced your singing style?

Oh yeah! Of course. One of the first that comes to mind is Ronnie James Dio who is a big influence for me; I really love his power and his passion in his voice. I started in a blues band, SIN RIVER, like Dio did with ELF. I like Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers but I got my Metal baptism with IRON MAIDEN

Are there any plans of making a live DVD?

We’ve talking about that. You must be the millionth person who asks this question; we wanna do it and if the new album continues as good as it started we will.

Paradise Lost is a great album and personally I think this is the best for SYMPHONY X. Do the rave reviews add pressure to you for the next release?

First of all thank you! Well, I do feel the pressure but you know they said the same thing about Odyssey and here we are with a better one. As long as we make good music without leaving a big gap between (we won’t do that again) we gonna come up with something similar to Paradise Lostin terms of the heavier sound. But we need to experiment now and go outside the box from things we’ve done in the past; stretch things out with things we haven’t done before.

You’ve released some great albums with Jorn Lande plus the solo album with ATOMIC SOUL. Do they serve a special personal need that SYMPHONY X can’t?

Well yes, they obviously expand my soulful sound. These albums mature me and when I get back SYMPHONY X I look thing with a fresh eye. I gained experience from ATOMIC SOUL because I did all things by myself; the ALLEN/LANDE stuff is completely different because I was following Jorn since he recorded first and then I had to go after him and match my voice. I learned things in the technical part since the tracks are simple AOR/Hard Rock songs nothing deep. In ATOMIC SOUL I had to bring out myself to sing the blues and this was a real challenge. You know, I didn’t use any effect on my voice because I wanted to make a real earthy organic album.

Will you make another solo album?

I don’t know. If I might do a classic Heavy Metal one like Dio’s Holy Diver; you know the classic sound without keyboards or maybe with a DEEP PURPLE sound on them. I don’t like doing something close to SYMPHONY X because I am not learning anything new.

 Let’s go back to the band. You’re planning to get on tour as a special guest to DREAM THEATER. Do you have plans on making headlining shows in Europe?

Yeah, we’re gonna come back later next year. We should come to Europe as headliners since we have been there for years and especially now that the new album is doing so great.

Will you visit Greece?

We intend to. Hopefully during this run. We haven’t booked all the shows yet so we are waiting… It’s really great to re-introduce the band in front of the European fans.

Do you think that fans will compare SYMPHONY X to DREAM THEATER?

Of course they will! It’s really fun to do it! Actually most of the fans haven’t seen both bands to realize how different they are.

 Indeed you are different. DREAM THEATER have become too complicated for me.

I don’t really like when the music, and even in SYMPHONY X, gets to the point where you loose the song. Especially in Paradise Lost we are kind of slaves to the songs. I think that everything sounds where it belongs; and that’s why it took us so long. I am more into the song thing; well I can listen to a long jam in a concert but not in an album. DREAM THEATER have some heavy stuff, Petrucci has some heavy riffs and Portnoy is a killer drummer but they are a Progressive Rock band. We are also Rock but we are more of a Metal band than them. Hopefully the fans will see that we are different! I mean I sing nothing like LaBrie; he sounds way higher than me and I’ve a mid ranged baritone voice. I am like a bear out there (laughs) while he looks slick and clean. Romeo and Petrucci are kinda similar but I think Michael has more vibe in his sound. Lepond has a dirty bass guitar sound with some distortion while Lepond has more smooth sound; I mean  Myung  has a seven strings bass!

 Is this tour a challenge for you?

Actually no. I mean we’re gonna give 110% as we do in the headlining gigs. I am not doing anything more or special to look better than them. I am going to sweat from head to toe as I always to do. We all going to perform in our best!

Ok, these were my questions, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you, too. I’d like to apologise to all the Greek fans who are complaining for not playing in their country and I totally agree with them. We will definitely have our great redemption this year and will be able to come; I can’t wait. You know I have both professional and personal reasons since my wife also wants to visit Greece.

Thank you again and I wish you to get well soon.

Thanks man, see you.


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