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shred/metal guitarists that is New Jersey, USA. One of those v ery rare bands whose signature sound and approach was pretty much fully formed f rom day one, Symphony X emerged with a stunning blend of precision metal riffing , soaring melodies and show stopping solo passages from guitarist Michael Romeo and keyboardist Mike Pinella that provided the previously unchallenged Dream The ater with a viable contender for the throne of the ultimate prog metal band. Over the past decade Symphony X have steadily improved their craft with a succes sion of increasingly successful albums and tours that culminated in 2007's 'Para dise Lost' - which has been their most successful to date and seen them traverse the globe on a number of hugely successful tours (including one with the aforem entioned Dream Theater). To many virtuoso metal guitarists and shred fans back in that 'lost decade' of grunge, Britpop and virulent anti technique, Romeo provided a lifeline with his genuinely fresh take on shred guitar. He proved that you could do something fre sh within a genre that was frequently written off by the mainstream guitar media as being creatively stagnant. In addition to his brutal rhythmic ability, Romeo incorporated a unique approach to scalar and arpeggio lines utilising a seamles s tapping and legato approach that influenced a whole new generation of metal pl ayers. Whilst the influences of players such as Jason Becker and the ubiquitous Yngwie Malmsteen remain self-evident in his playing, he nevertheless took these elements a stage further and is nowadays increasingly well-respected as a genuin ely original voice in the shred arena. Indeed, AOG's resident wunderkind guitarist, Andy 'The Future of Shred' James st ates: "As far as neo-classical shred guitarists go he is definitely? one of my f avourites: with his fantastic metal rhythm and his very unique approach to tappi ng within arpeggios, scales and pentatonics, he’s been a massive influence!" In this exclusive 2 part interview, AOG spoke with Michael from his New Jersey s tudio as he was preparing for the release of 'Paradise Lost' and again in March 2008 midway through their headlining European Tour to get the low down on the Pr og Metal Titan that is Michael Romeo. Early Days What age were you when you started playing? Probably the first musical thing I had going on when I was young was playing pia no a little bit: y’know, like you do when you're in elementary school. We had a ba nd and I played clarinet a little bit and I could kind of read music and I under stood a little bit about theory from playing the piano for a couple of years - I wasn't too bad in the end. Did you have piano lessons at school? No, we had a piano at the house and my parents had a piano teacher come around o nce a week. So, unlike a lot of guitarists you started reading music right from the beginnin g which is a real help: when did you get into the guitar? I got a guitar when I was about 14 or so, y’know what it was like at that age! I w as into a lot of bands like Led Zeppelin, Sabbath and Judas Priest - you can pro bably guess what I was into! Picking up the guitar and knowing all my stuff from playing the piano - like knowing how to read and understanding about notes and basic theory - was a pretty big help. Did you have any lessons on the guitar or were you all self taught? In the very beginning I had some lessons, yeah - the guys name was Wayne Cooper: he was a very good fingerstyle player and played a lot of the classical stuff, but he was also familiar with a lot of the rock stuff. I started off learning th
. Phil Collen from Def Leppard. From hearing and reading about Randy. New Jersey seems to have such a disproportionate amount of absolutely worl d-class virtuoso rock guitarists that there must be something there! Growing up and getting involved in the music scene there. Y’know.. Did you develop quickly? Yeah.e easy stuff . and guys like that .. Yeah.so it was very much the about the classical side of things for me.it wasn't being b ack at High School when everyone’s trying to outdo everyone. I decided to re. then you get to Uli Roth . Ritchie Blackmore . 1981.. in the beginning it was only just the basics like chords and pentatonic stuff .. There were some things I did when I was young that were real bad: I mean I wasn't doing alternate picking . That year they narrowed it down to somethin g like 20 guys: the night of the event they had all these great musicians as jud ges. for a little bit. I can't remember: I know I didn't have a backing track .or was it a completely solo perfor mance? Tell the truth. But for me it was all the guys who were the first: Jim my Page.and as a finalist you ha d to go on stage and play for 3 minutes in front of those guys .in fact I don't think any of the guys had anything! You just had to go on stage and pla y for 3 minutes and not stop .even Angus Young.and then of co urse Malmsteen came along! . and like everyone else. Speaking of school.. I was born in ’68 so it was the early 80’s: 1980. what year was it that you started playing SERI OUSLY? Well. I think so. everyone was cool. something in the water or something?! Well.and Stephen Ross . the main guy for me was Randy Rhoads. DURING THAT era Eddie Van Halen WAS MASSIVE: WAS HE AN INFLUENCE AT ALL? Yeah..and every other hot guitarist in town! We've chatted with Rob Balducci (fellow New Jersey axeman and now Favored Nation s recording artist) as well as Ron Thal about that very competition: did you guy s have to play with a backing band or track .and a bit of rele vant theory: then I kind of just took it from there. He had more of that classical thing and I started to go much more in that direction than Van Halen. I'll tell you a funny t hing about Wayne.analyse the who le picking thing. However.always doing lots of down stroke s. because I still see him sometimes: he was telling me recently that he was in the Guinness Book Of Records because he played the guitar for som e ridiculous amount of time . when I started to hear Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin . New Jersey Heroes You're from New Jersey.like a week straight or something crazy! I mean. did you ever see any of your peer s play in the local clubs before they all became ‘names’? I remember seeing lots of the guys back in about ’91: the Sam Ash music store had a big state wide guitar competition.and heard how they picked..and of course eve ntually Malmsteen! . t his was the kind of crazy guy that was teaching me! As I said. I was listening to loads of Di Meola . what did you do when you left high school for a job? .who really had that classical thing down: and then that takes you to Ritchie Blackmore.because we were chatting with Ron Thal a fe w months ago and apparently all you guys knew each other? There must be somethin g in that. aren't you . Bearing in mind those influences.it was pretty intimidating! That was probably the first time I met Ron . everyone respected everybody . I j ust picked solos off records and kind of advanced it all.y’know the pentatonic scale and everything.so it was really intimidating: but th e thing was.
let’s do this together" and they're playing stuff with the most impossibly uncomforta ble intervals for conventional guitar playing to replicate . Well. Like anyone else.I was still getting my chops together a little bit.and all the Shrapnel guys . I was tota lly into the Malmsteen stuff .but if you were into it too much.and there'd be all the ‘Battle of the Band s’ competitions and stuff . even when I was at high school. A New Shred Approach One of Michael's trademarks is his amazingly fluid tapping approach: with his sc alar and arpeggio runs . but I did enough teaching to try and ge t by and give me the chance to make music. I was never really into do ing the whole covers bands thing: right from the beginning I was always really i nto doing my thing. Did you have any people who influenced you in developing your unique approach to tapping? Because it’s definitely not the same as the typical Yngwie-esque Harmoni c Minor alternate picked run and Tony Macalpine/Jason Becker/Vinnie Moore sweep picked arpeggio sequences that so many players of that ilk replicated. I was only teaching beginners . a nd see if I could tap it and come up with some different kind of phrases.combined with loads of string skipping . I would perhaps try to take some sort of pattern that you'd usually sweep. all through High School I'd be jamming with this guy or that guy . B ut the main thing I did when I left school was teaching.really a lot! I first started practising a lot when I heard Randy Rhoads . There was a time when I first got turned onto Allan Holdsworth .but nothing really serious.he developed a whole new vocabulary for the whole Neo Classical/Shred repertoire.well.in real terms a couple of years after the heyday of ‘proper players’ as it were. you have to b e creative to be able to do it..and did you ever do the cover band c ircuit? I never really did the full on covers thing.. then you would start to sound like this guy or that guy: you end up losing your own identity. Eventually it starts to become something you can do all the time: it becomes you r own style.I began teaching at the local music store. This was when the evil ‘Grunge’ era rose: that m ust have affected you. so it is really hard to take some of those things and make them y our own. lines that a re now referred to as being ‘Romeo-esque’.. I hav e had my fair share of odd jobs as well. W orking with a keyboard player is another thing. This must have been the early 90’s era . y’know? They would still come in with a Cac ophony record and ask me to figure out all those amazing Jason Becker and Marty Friedman parts for them: yeah. you know: when they say "Oh. I think there were a lot of little things that led to me finding my own voice. and were serious about it. So. How much were you playing up to the dark chapter period: to get to that level of technical proficiency how much work per day were you practising? A lot .. there were still some guys out there who cared ab out playing in tune! When did you get your first band together . How did y ou pick up on all of that? A lot of it was consciously trying to do something different: I mean.and he is such an ama zingly fluid guitarist that I thought I'd try and emulate that sort of thing wit h the tapping. All those guys you mentioned have something great abo ut themselves. the good thing was that there were a lot of guys who were still properly i nto guitar. I mean.
another amazing picker was Paul Gilbert... or rather when you s tarted to get ‘serious’? Yeah.like Burn magazine . You say from the beginning: do you mean right from the off. really fluid thing he has.so. One guy who made a big impressi on on me when I saw him do a clinic was Frank Gambale: he gave me a realisation that there were other ways to approach the instrument and that really inspired m e to do what I do....and started getting really The use of a metronome a metronome right from then when Malmsteen appeared on the scene.I did what everyone else did. of course. Also. of course I said "Yeah!" A nd. But at around 18 I r eally started to hear other the guys and realised I'd better shake this up a lit tle . As they are fellow East Coasters. Dream Theater came through with ‘Images and Words’: I imagine that must have been inspirational . so you had to give that one a go! Out of your influences. I made sure that I'd pick up some books and practise the stuff in them . We were doing s ome press over in Germany and we all stopped on by to go and see them. at least trying to emulate his sound! I think at that point I didn't really understand him too much as a musician .. I sent it up to Mike Varney and he put some great things in the magazines about i t. There really wasn't much going on apart from that though.did that help you keep the faith when they struc k big? Yeah .I remember when that came out: great musicians. I see what you mean: I think for the first 3 or 4 years . so I just decided to noodle around in my bedroom with a 4 track and drum machine and try to put some stuff together of my own. I then had to go and look for some guys to try and make it happ en! .. great music. and got kind of ok.up until I was a bout 17 . Als o.I mean the guy is from an other planet! . did you ever see them live in the early days? No.. He was also an awesome picker. Jason Becker had a lot of that too. who did you look to for getting your picking chops down? Di Meola and Malmsteen! Legato? Holdsworth.and it developed a real buzz over there. and.. as I hadn't.a real favourite one was Paganini’s ‘24 Caprices’: that was really the 'in thing' back then (even though it’s impossible!).. the way the ‘The Dark Chapter’ thing happened was that I was in a lot of bands that weren't really happening.but it was going for that really. I got a call one night from a record label in Japan ask ing if I had a band that did that sort of thing .and Al Di Meola . I mean there was nothing really going on in the States at this time! Having said that. How did the first Symphony X album come about then? With the ‘The Dark Chapter’ thing (which was only really a little demo) getting all that attention in Japan. There were some publications in Japan . it wasn't until around 1998 that I eventually saw them live.well.it’s tough to remember! I just remember reading and hearing a load of these guys say that they’d worked on their picking technique by using a metronome that I knew I should do the same. A New Symphony In the early 90’s you started to work properly on what became ‘The Dark Chapter’: how did you hook up with (Symphony X Keyboardist) Mike Pinella? Well. that’s when I serious! divides many of the big names in this genre: did you use the beginning? Yes I did..
Were did you record it? In my bedroom! Everything happened so fast that we really didn't know each other that well . we're kind of narrowing it down that little bit more and more.but compositionally I was already borrowing a lot from Mozart. we didn't really know each other well and were just trying to find out our band identity.and by ‘Divine Wings of Tragedy’ it was pretty much fully formed.we liked all the same music and everything . Over time. and their compositional structure. As it was. and you could kind of see where the music was going. and with each suc cessive album. and so we just wanted to spend time wr iting together and figuring out our things. working away on music together for ye ars and years. Mike Pinella was j ust a guy working at a music store in town who we knew was good.!" The first record was really kind of like a demo. but also crucially a lot of overtly romantic and classical theme s. Elgar and p eople like that. looking at that album now. and we tried to write an a lbum really quick. This never sounds forced . and we'd integrated all the classical influences into a cohesive style .really on top of it y’know? We got along g reat .. I ask Michael about this. The Romantic & The Classical One aspect of Symphony X’ music that separates them from many in the prog metal ge nre is a great understanding and integration of classical and romantic music the mes.alway s practising and into the chops stuff . Symphony X def initely have their own identifiable sound . you get some decent reviews and sell a few records: what was the plan then .. Jason we met through the original singer Rod Taylor.it was all coming together r eal well.apart from me and Tom.. the album was released. there was a lot more there compositionally: you'd developed a unique hybrid of metal and pr ogressive rock. Like I said.. How did it do? You got a good response from it in the reviews didn't you . So. another guy we knew of from the local scene .The one guy who I was always in bands with was the original bass player. We also kind of now sounded like a real band . It was only released in Japan. ‘The Dark Chapter’ had a lot of solos in the Bach kind of style . with us figuring stuff out as w e went along: finding out what we were going to do.but we sort of want it to kinda be like this.’ we'd basically found what our direction was going to be. the production is God awful .so it was never like one of those bands that had been pals forever. So.. It just all came together very well..how would you take it to the next level? Well..very Malmsteen rea lly . He was into the classical stuff and was a real 'properly trained in a mu sic school' guy. some of that was starting to come into play: also a little bit of the film score type of thing: I've always been a fan of John Willi .we’re not really sure wh at it’s going to be . It was simply "We've got to do something . and he was like me .. firstly we knew we could do better. I think the second album only came out something like 8 months later! Compositionally there is a massive difference between the albums. In ‘98 I guess they saw the potential first! For me .. so we checked h im out.so I got in touch with him a nd got together and then started looking for some other guys. Around that time I started listening to loads of other stuff an d appreciating it more. Tom Mil ler: we were always in bands together at high school. What were your musical influences? Well by the time of ‘Divine.. Getting away from guitarists specifically.and always serves a definite melodic purpose that ta kes their music to a higher level.parti cularly Japan again.but you can really he ar the chops.as it can do with a lot of their peers .
That’s the album I first heard back in ’97 . Mind you. Were you touring at this point? When ‘Divine. he’s a p ro and has to do music in many differing styles for his job. That album did a lot for us: like I said.and he’s a really great singer.. And. Had you got a web site by then? Yeah I think so. I imagine then that you are a fan of Hans Zimmer's work (massively successful Ho llywood composer perhaps best known for his incendiary ‘Gladiator’ soundtrack)? Some of his stuff I love .w ho was on the 4th record . that’s what happened.and at that time was a breath of fresh air! Did it sell many copies? In Japan it did really well. By the time we found Tom Walling . He ki nd of comes from more of a more straight ahead rock background than us . but unfortunately there was some friction going on between Jason and Tom and Jason left the band for a little while . As it was the first record available in many differ ent places it really started to sell.... as luck would have it.but by the time of the ‘Divine.’ record we were all on the same page.so we didn't have a drummer.but some is a little too ‘happy’ for me. So. It’s one of the biggest selling records we'v e ever had: that. So. Were you doing this full time now? You weren't holding down any other jobs I pre sume? Yeah pretty much .’ re cord was ready. but I know another singer: maybe he’s not as good as me.how did they evolve? Probably the main thing is the influence we all have from Queen .’ came out we set up our first tour in Japan.. The Metal Business Were you still on the same record label or had you switched? We were still with the Zero Corporation in Japan. there was some stuff happening in Europe .and he came down whilst we were recording the second album. we got introduced to Russell through Rod . Symphony X’ vocal arrangements were one of the first things that attracted me to t he band . going back to Mozart’s 'Requiem' and all of that era. ‘The Odyssey’.it’s kinda rushed.maybe doing some lessons here and there..and other places as w ell..he said "I don't know guys. The Japanese were always o nto us for a new record and we were kinda rushing back into the studio to get st uff done with this new guy. so we started utilising that i n several of the songs and gradually that became an integral part of our sound. when we it all got going with the first record . By the time this all became part of our sound Russell Allen was in the band . all understood what we were doing and were all committed to seeing it through. How did you find him . but by the time the ‘Divine.was he another local musician? It’s a funny story: when we had Rod (the original guy) it got to the point that it wasn't really working out: he kinda wasn't into what we were doing enough. but I can introduce you to this guy Russell". I think of all our albums.and we knew that Rod wouldn't l ast long term .a lot of time had gone by.ams and a lot of the other great movie composers.and again a lo t of the classical stuff.. we really had our thing going and more and more people were getting exposed t o it. that’s not one of my favourites mainly because of that reason . Some of the stuff on there is not what it could and sh ould have been. . it felt like we were a ‘real band’ no w. and of course the latest ‘Paradise Lost’.
The New Mythology’ is a true epic album: how did you approach this record? Like I said.. 'V ..it was so long ago! Inside Out were i nvolved with us for a while because they were licensing the other albums from th e Japanese and so when we came to start work on 'V.... but at same time we were touring and there was some internal stuff happening with the band that maybe explains why it wasn 't as strong as it could have been... in your case am I ri ght in thinking that the record company looked after all of that? Yes.and thus a lot of artists basically have ende d up doing a lot of the marketing and promoting themselves. ‘Twilight. after the ‘Twilight.’ record was the first record where we were kind of free. and the tools and technology we had to do that record with were a lot better. Where did you tour for that? Japan.. that’s when we really did start touring..but there were several companies involved with this worl dwide.others only O K: it could have been a little better..even though we weren't directly with them at that point.Because the internet’s been a lifeline for loads of people in the progressive meta l genre . the Zero Corporat ion was kind of always under EMI in Japan. How did ‘Twilight in Olympus’ sell? It seems that very soon after that release you w ere working on the first of your real epic albums ‘V .’ album we were all a little disappointed: we knew we could have done something better.' they were in the picture ... and did something that kind o f painted a bigger picture. Were you on Inside Out Records AT this point? Yeah I think so.indeed any niche music .I'm trying to remember . Look out for Part Two very soon when Michael brings us up to date. . when we came to doing the ‘V.’ did really good in Japan and some other places as well . We did the best we could.. and try and make it a big epic".. So. South America. it’s more about the record as a whole than just any on e song..’ record we figured "Let’s do something different let’s try and do a concept thing.. Europe. The ‘V.The New Mythology’. Regardless. and EMI kind of took it over and we k ind of went with them .. Incorporate th e orchestra a little more.
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