In the latest installment of Rocksins’ huge exclusive interviews, we were very privileged to catch up with one of the finest voices in all of metal, Symphony X’s Russell Allen. Symphony X were in the UK at the end of October for a couple of shows as part of their 2011 European tour (you can read a review of Symphony X’s London show here) and Russell very graciously gave us a large amount of his time so thanks once again to him! In fact, he gave us so much of his time that we had to split the interview in half. The second half will be available next week, but in the mean time please read on.
Jamie: I saw from your Twitter feed that it looked like you’d had a good day off in London yesterday (Russell had been posting pictures of The Tower of London on Twitter), did you have fun?
Russell: Yeah it was wonderful, really cool. We actually weren’t here yesterday, it was the day before yesterday as we were in Manchester yesterday. We drove through London first and then went off to do the show in Manchester and then came back down, but yeah it was great. I’ve never gotten to do anything here before because we’re always running through so to have a day off here was really, really cool. I just wanted to see the Tower, I didn’t try to piecemeal everything because you don’t see anything, you know? I was far more interested in doing one thing properly, then next time I come I’ll do something else. It was fun, really good, I have a ton of pictures from it!
Jamie: Awesome. Well the pictures I saw looked great, I’ve been there before and always enjoyed it.
Russell: It’s fascinating.
Jamie: Did the show in Manchester go well last night?
Russell: It was great. A good audience, they’re a really rowdy bunch, it’s a college town so it’s really a lot of fun. Everyone has a lot of energy there so it’s cool, really good.
Jamie: I know you guys have been all over Europe and you’re now nearly done, is it just one date in Greece that you have left?
Russell: Yup, that’s it. This is the end of the tour with the bus and all that kinda stuff and our support band DGM, we’re saying our goodbyes tonight. We’re packing up, as you can see there’s shit everywhere, everyone is scrambling to get their shit together. When you’re on the road for a month or so you accumulate a lot of crap, gifts and stuff for the kids and all sorts of stuff and we’re all just trying to sort out our travel.
Jamie: Is there any show throughout the tour that’s stood out for you?
Russell: There was a few, Rome really stood out in my mind, I wasn’t expecting that because when we were there with Dream Theater years ago we had played a really big place and the reaction was good but it was kinda reserved and I was shocked by that because I know the south and that people in Italy are really passionate. So that was an incredible show, one of the best we had in terms of reaction and that I wasn’t expecting but all the shows have been generally good. I’ve been pretty shocked on how we’ve been able to resurrect ourselves and still fill five hundred or a thousand seat places after being off for so long, like three years or whatever it’s been. I know we were just here in the Spring but before that it was two and a half, three years.
Jamie: Was the last time you were here before then the tour with Dream Theater that you mentioned?
Russell: We did a follow up to that I believe in 2008…
Jamie: I remember seeing you with Dream Theater at Wembley and I think that was the end of 2007 and I remember that being a really great show and everyone digging you guys.
Russell: Yeah, we blew the roof off that place that night! That was a memorable night, one of the best I think in the band’s history. We used to play the old Astoria here before they tore it down.
Jamie: We all miss that place.
Russell: Man what a great venue, we played a really great show there & had a lot of people there, as I said we were here in the Spring and had a really good crowd then, then there’s tonight and we’re hoping for a similar thing. London has always been really good for us, really high energy, really loves the music so we’re anticipating a good show. I hope we have a good show. You never know how it’s gonna go with this whole rock n’roll thing!
Jamie: Was the fact that you only toured Europe back in the spring behind the decision to play almost all of Iconoclast in the set list for this tour? Was that something you always planned on doing?
Russell: Yeah, on this tour we do have to play more of the new material because we were just here and on that tour we played a lot of the older stuff, a combination of a lot of old albums. When we come out on a tour for a record we try to play a lot of that record to give that record it’s due and then the next time we come around we probably won’t play as much of it, or maybe different songs we didn’t play and then more older material. This tour is the Iconoclast tour and this is what we’re playing and then we’re only doing a handful of the old songs at the end of the show. But it’s been going really well, people really like it, it’s very progressive so it’s not as accessible as the last album in terms of general listening you could say. But this one definitely appeals to more of our progressive fans and they love it. They’re the ones who write everything and saw “oh we love it” but a lot of the time it’s not the perception of the general public or that your fanbase has at large saying the same as what the musical critics say. We’ve been getting a good response from the fans as a whole and that’s pretty cool.
Jamie: Most of the response from the press I’ve seen has been very good, at least in the UK.
Russell: Yeah but the press never really represents totally the taste of the public because everyone in the press like yourself hear a ton of music and you’re very well versed in all of the different bands and everything that’s going on. It can take a lot to impress the press. So that’s great, it’s an honour but that doesn’t always reflect on the general public and the fans reaction to your music because they have a different perception on it. We try to do stuff to balance the show, play some newer material that the critics and newer fans are really into then to try and put some of the older stuff in there to make our older fans glad they came. That’s the trick.
Jamie: I know this is the first album Symphony X has recorded on Nuclear Blast, has that been a good relationship for the band?
Russell: Yeah so far it’s been great. We haven’t done any videos or anything like that but they seem to like to stretch everything out over the course of the album which is kinda what we’re used to. We have long album cycles anyway *laughs* but so far the relationship’s been really good. They’ve been very cool about the response, our German fanbase has grown on this album with their help so that was really, really cool and so far the relationship is great. Our American reps are awesome they do a really good job of reaching out to us and getting us involved in different articles and different press stuff, all sorts of cool stuff. They’ve got really great staff and I’d like to continue to work with them. In the grand scheme of things we do really well and we make a good living doing this and they’re continuing to make that a reality for us.
Jamie: Well that’s something that’s nice to hear as it’s obviously not getting any easier to make money out of doing this
Russell: No it isn’t and I’m very active these days, I do a lot of stuff besides Symphony X but you have to. I’m just very fortunate that Symphony X continues to generate income for us and our families and we’re very grateful for that as we’ve been doing this a long time. I mean we’ve gone all over Europe playing like you said in Wembley opening for Dream Theater to playing for 200 people in Glasgow and it goes up and down. Sometimes we’ll come over and we’ll play in Paris and have a big show with a couple of thousand people, and we haven’t played Paris this time. The crowds come and go, the markets go up and down and you just have to weather the high seas of heavy metal! You can succeed but it takes a lot of perseverance.
Jamie: I interviewed Rich Ward a few months back and obviously Rich, like yourself has a lot of different projects on the go and he said out of all his projects Adrenaline Mob is probably the hardest one to get the schedule together for because of his commitments, your commitments, Mike Portnoy’s commitments, has it been difficult for you guys to get together and has it been difficult to record the album?
Russell: The album’s been recorded already so the only difficult thing at the moment was trying to find the right home for it and trying to get a label or a music company believing in what we’re doing and supporting us and we think we’ve found that now. We’re in the middle of negotiating with them now and on the artistic side of it it’s hard to get everybody together like you said with the different commitments and everything. I don’t know what the future holds in terms of what will happen but the band is incredible, like most things bands are often short lived. When you get that much intensity on stage its kinda like “WHAM”, it might blow apart but I hope not, I hope it stays together and I believe in it. I think that music has a lot of potential and I’m really looking forward to seeing what that band can do.
Jamie: Adrenaline Mob’s style is very different from Symphony X and some of your solo stuff, do you find it almost theraputic to do something that is very different and almost straight up rock & roll?
Russell: Yeah I think so. To me it’s in my blood so it’s just another thing for expressing myself. In Symphony X I really don’t sing too many complicated things in terms of time, I’m always a melodic singer so whatever best fits the song. I don’t stress about the arrangements I just make sure whenever I hear a chorus or a verse It’s like “ok I can work with this” and that’s what I do. I’m not really a prog guy, I’m in a prog band but I’m just a rock, power metal singer that’s in a progressive metal band. I never try to be like the other prog singers, the very theatrical thing is not really my cup of tea. I like it here and there but I’m very passionate and aggressive, no holds barred what you see is what you get kinda guy, so I sing like that. Rock is better suited for my character and my personality and I bring that to Symphony X, that’s my job if people want to call it that *laughs*. So to do this other thing in rock is I guess a vindication in a way to validate my influences and validate my upbringing because that’s what I came up on. I didn’t come up listening to Yes, I love Yes but I didn’t grow up on that. I came up on Van Halen and Led Zeppellin and Metallica and Priest and Maiden and I’m into that. That’s what I come from. I respect and love Rush and all the prog bands that have influenced Symphony X – Kansas is a really good band that I like alot but I’m not really into that sort of music to listen to, I’ve told people this over the years and they’re always shocked by that, but it’s the truth. That’s what I bring to Symphony X, I’m bringing a rock singer to a progressive metal band. I think obviously it’s been working and it’s been successful for us. It works pretty well because you don’t want to be too different but you want to have some uniqueness and that’s our unique chemistry that with Romeo’s arrangements, I think that’s what makes Symphony X special. But the rock & roll stuff is just natural, it’s fun and maybe it is theraputic, who the hell knows. I’m definitely afraid of it because the potential is so frighteningly big that, not that I’m afraid to do it I love doing the music I just don’t want it to change my life too much. I’m kinda comfortable doing what I’m doing but I think I need something new, something fresh and I’ve been in this world for so long, the same as Portnoy. I think we both needed something fresh and it sure is a lot of fun going out there and earning that new audience that doesn’t give a fuck about Dream Theater or Symphony X or that doesn’t know anything about prog. These are just normal folks who want to pay their hard earned money and go out on the weekend and have a good fuckin time and you know what I work my ass off on stage every night whatever band I’m in and I like those kind of people. They are my people *laughs* all my friends at home are all the same. So it’s kinda cool, I think it is a good chance for me to be myself.
The second half of this interview will be available next week so please check back with us for part two as Russell discusses more on Adrenaline Mob, other collaborations and future plans for Symphony X amongst other things. Anyone waiting for part two may wish to read our review of Iconoclast, Symphony X’s most recent album. They may also like to check out some of the other metal interviews we’ve done recently including chats and discussions with members of In Flames, The Defiled and Trivium.
UPDATE – Part 2 of this interview is now available here —> Rocksins’ interview with Symphony X’s Russell Allen Part 2