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Russell Allen Symphony X - Interview
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When it comes to progressive rock/metal Symphony X are easily one of the top bands and 20 years into it, they have no plans on slowing down at all. The band are about to release their latest effort entitled "Underworld" which delves into the "Dante's Inferno" book, a story about love and the evil that fights it. We had the pleasure of speaking to singer Russell Allen about the new songs and how the band keep things progressing forward.



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Andrew: I guess the first thing we will get into is the new album coming out at the end of the month, "Underworld". I was just listening to a preview of it and it's sounding really great! You must be happy with how the songs turned out.

Russell: Yeah I'm really excited about it. The performances by the band are just incredible and the songs are great and just really proud of it, it's a great piece of work.

Andrew: I know you got a couple of songs put out there already so have you been getting much reception from those so far?

Russell: Yeah everything that we've been getting from both the press and the fans have been super positive, better than expected to be honest with you. I can't tell you how excited we are and we are just really optimisitc about this record, we're hoping for great things so we're really excited.

Andrew: Now I understand that this is not a concept album but there is a theme to it based on Dante's Inferno. Can you tell me a little about what the album is about?

Russell: Yeah basically it's a story about a modern day twist on Dante's Inferno. Dante's Inferno is a story about this guy who goes into hell to get his wife back to save her from hell. We didn't say he or she or whatever, we just keep that vibe that this person is going into the underworld to save his love or true love and that's pretty much the jist of what the songs are. There is a sort of linear storyline that goes along and it is meant to be heard from front to back as a whole work of art from beginning to end. So that's pretty much it in a nutshell. It's pretty accessible, not too crazy, pretty simple and lyrically are pretty self explanatory.

Andrew: And what made you guys decide to do that?

Russell: We always talked about what we were going to do in terms of concepts or stories really in the beginning before we start. It was dicussed almost a couple of years ago now and talked about how we were going to pull this off so that's just how it starts. Me and (Michael, guitarist) Romeo will be having a conversation about things, I'll ask them what kind of riffs you got cooking, what are you into right now and what type of sound you are digging and that leads me to think, well if that's what you are into. We just have these conversations, that's how we do it and then of course him and (Michael, guitarist) Lepond really got together a lot on this one and got lyrics going and talked a lot about what that was going to be and so that's how they did it. And I contributed when I got into the mix and started doing some of that lyrics and stuff once they had settled on this storyline. That's how we've always done it, we talk first, Mike goes and writes for a year and then we get back together, reconvene as you will.

Andrew: So this record there was nothing particularly new as far as the writng and recording process, pretty much the same as you have always done it?

Russell: Yeah pretty much, the process hardly changed at all. The only thing that was different was that I'm in a heck of a lot better shape than I used to be in the old days so I got all my tracks done in 8 days. From creating them to singing them to everything, I mean Mike had a lot of the stuff written. There's a ton of stuff to go off of, it's not like he writes me a guide book and says sing this or whatever, that's not how we do it. He does go 'I kinda like this there, what do you think?' 'Oh I like that and it can go here too' and he goes 'Oh I like that too'. 'Oh OK great, well these words fit, I'll make them fit'. 'OK great, what have you got. We need some lyrics? OK What are we talking about? OK great I got this.' That first song "Run With The Devil" there's no verses, it's the one song that's [has] lyrics galore! It has the most lyrics on the whole record on that one song. So I sat down for an hour or so and just penned them and they just came right out. 'What are we talking about? Where are we in the story? What's happening?' He told me what in time needs to happen, what's going on and I just went. But I've been writing and recording and doing these projects so my work flow is just a heck of a lot better these days than it used to be so I'm definitely in a different place. So my process is definitely different than what it was in the past. It's kind of like a muscle in your body and your brain is the same thing, you use your brain creatively and you're creating and creating and you can really channel that inspiration in the moment and get something really good. When you're fighting it all the time because you are so fustrated, it doesn't happen so I've kinda learned to just relax and let it flow, let the ideas come out. Just make that channeling vibe happen pretty quickly and stay focused and not lose focus during the sessions. That was the biggest thing for me.

Andrew: OK so it sounds like you have made it go towards more natural rather than make it more difficult I guess.

Russell: I guess, it just is more natural and it isn't as difficult just because I've had a lot of time doing different stuff. Other projects with other artists, I did the Adrenaline Mob band doing studio records with those guys, 2 original records and then the covers. The more you do something the more you get good at it so I've just in the past 5 years had the luxury of working with all these talented people and I even produced a band out of Brazil called Nocturnal and working with them. Just getting better at my craft and becoming a better songwriter and producer and understanding more about what my singing thing is. So that's helped me a lot, to just get in there and sing this stuff out and have a really high quality of work in a shorter amount of time. That's the big difference for me.

Andrew: The last album (Iconoclast) was quite successful for you guys, it was received really well by the fans. The fans absolutely lapped it up and it was also quite heavy for you guys. Did you feel any pressure at all to outdo that one?

Russell: No not really. The pressure is always there on ourselves to create the best record that we can regardless of the one before it or after, you are always in the moment. But the truth of it is we don't compare to each other like the fans do because they are all different. This isn't a story about technology killing the human spirit, this is a love story. So there's deeper elements in it, there's compassion. It's not about betrayal except for the actual evil itself fooling you into thinking that everything is going to be OK. The last record was very aggressive because the content was aggressive, the lyrical content was aggressive. This album is different so we didn't feel we had to measure up to the last one and the fans, they expect a certain thing and so we try and just create the best record that we can. Of course there are some things on the new record that are reminiscent of the last one but that's because we are the same band haha! Same 5 guys but there's a little bit of growth there too, also the same 5 guys who have grown up a little more in the past 5 years so there's a maturity on the record that was not on the last one. There's a synergy on this album that wasn't on the ones before it because we are 20 years together now and there's something to be said for that, to be still at the top of your game playing and still getting better and making quality music 20 years in. And that's a special thing as it is, a lot of bands they just implode early on and they get so much success they just can't handle it. They just shred to pieces before they can really mature and all you are left with...sometimes it's brilliant like Guns N' Roses "Appetite For Destruction" and then they did the "Use Your Illusion" thing and then they're gone, that's it. And you're left with these brilliant rock albums that are just a flash in the pan of a moment in time and that's it. And then there's other bands like Rush that go for a lot of years and are able to continue to make good records and we're just one of those bands that are able to just stick it out and put out records all these years. I think this latest album definitely shows a maturity level that is reflected on our tenure that we've had in the business and together as a band and the songwriting is just really solid so I'm happy. There's something on this record for everybody, fans of "Iconoclast", fans of "Paradise Lost", fans of "Divine" and the old stuff so it's a pretty well rounded album.

Andrew: Yeah I totally agree with that, it's a great album. You mentioned that you guys have been around for 20 years now, that must feel great to still be around for that long especially in this music industry at the moment and still be putting out great albums.

Russell: Yeah for sure, it really is difficult to stay relevant. I think the secret to our success in a way is we have not been a victim to trends, trends have come and gone. We were around before all the cookie monster stuff came out and we were around before a lot of the emo thing happened haha. We've been around since 1995 dude!

Andrew: Haha yeah a lot of that has come and gone so it's great to have seen all that and still be around.

Russell: We're fortunate and it's really because we were able to stick to our guns for the most part and do what we want to do but grow as well and not be like 'Hey we're the same band we were 20 years ago'. No we're not but we've grown since then. The playing is still there, we still have elements of that in the music true to the origins of the band but the band is a progressive band so in a way we have the luxury of that tag which is a blessing and a curse. Because having that prog tag means that you can kinda get away with anything as long as you're being progressive and that doesn't mean time signatures as much as people will argue that point. Being an odd meter doesn't make you prog in my opinion, you need to be moving the ball forward, you need to be progressing and that means musically taking chances. Having long arrangements that makes sense, that keep the listener engaged in your arrangement in your music and having a message, having it tell a story. A lot of songs have all that but not in a 26 minute epic odyssey. So that kind of thing allows us to create a sort of get out of jail free card, we can take a lot more chances than we do because the genre is tolerant of it but at the heart of it Symphony X is a band that writes great songs regardless of whether they are prog or not. We just want to make great songs and I think that this album is a testament to that driving desire we have.

Andrew: What have you got for tour plans for the rest of the year? Obviously you will be playing some of the new songs so what have you got scheduled?

Russell: Well we got a tour with Overkill which we are really excited about, a co-headlining run. It's good because it's not all on us, we got a great band with a bunch of old friends that is going to come out with us. And remember I've been out doing my thing for the past 5 years touring and singing and playing and staying in shape. The band hasn't played in years so we need this kind of a kick the dust off kind of a tour, get out there and get our legs about us and I think 2015 you will see this band in full swing touring the whole world with a really good production. So that's the plan, that's what we're going to do. We want the album to be absorbed, we're not really stressing about...we do want it to sell really good, don't get me wrong, we need the fans support to go out and buy it because in this day and age it is important for them to physically support us so we can get the festival offers and get the touring packages we need together in order to go and play for everybody. So that's still something we're hopng for, we're really positive about it. We have this tour booked and then we're looking at next year it's Europe then it's Australia, then it's South America, Japan. Not necessarily in that order but it will be the whole planet next year and that's our goal.

Andrew: Awesome! It would be good to see you in Australia actually, I don't even remember when you came here!

Russell: We've never been! So we really want to do this right and get it going. I think it's the perfect record to do that, I think it's an exceptional record not just for prog fans but metal fans in general, rock fans will dig it. And I hope we can turn a lot of heads down there with help from people like yourself. We can have a decent showing down there and get the band down there so I thank you for your support and the fans down there. I know there's a lot of them down there, they keep telling us they want us so let's make it happen man! Let's do it and we'll be down there!

Andrew: Yep! As you said it's the perfect album for a world tour and everything. So thanks for your time today, it's been an absolute pleasure and good luck for the rest of the year.

Russell: Thanks a lot man!

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on July 15th 2015