by Kris Peters
Playing live has always been considered an integral part in the birth of a new band. The accepted normality of touring, releasing, touring is almost a given, but cast back 20 years ago around the time Symphony X began their odyssey, and things were not as cut and dried as they are today. In fact, it wasn’t until after the release of their third album, The Divine Wings of Tragedy, that the band played their first live show.
“With Symphony X it’s a weird story,” admitted bass player Michael Lepond, “because most bands, you really gotta go out there and get in a van and tour and just pay your dues and tough it out but we were lucky because really the first show we ever did was in Japan more than three years after we started, so we never really had to go through the whole toughing it out in the van with no sleep and no showers and that type of thing so we’ve been really lucky up to this point.”
When I mention the likelihood of that being possible today, Michael let out a chuckle.
“Oh yeah, it would be totally unheard of today, especially because today bands really have to tour more than ever,” he agreed, “because they’re really not making enough money with sales because of the illegal downloads but back in the late 90’s a record company was able to give a nice advance and you could just hang out for a while and not necessarily go on tour.”
In October Symphony X play their first ever live shows in this country, a remarkable fact gives they have been active since 1994.
“We’ve wanted to play in Australia from the beginning of the band,” Michael countered, “and there’s been plenty of times there has been offers to play, but for whatever reason it fell through so it has been a long time, but we are so happy that finally, we are getting to play. We’ve always heard great things about the Australian fans; how passionate they are and the high energy they have so we’re excited to be finally getting there.”
Symphony X have always been a band that embraces the use of conceptual ideas when writing their albums, and Michael says that for them and their approach to music it simply makes sense.
“I think for us we’re a thinking man’s kind of band,” he mused, “so we just kind of think in concepts. Maybe some bands will just write a cool riff and slap a few parts together, and then the lyrics are maybe secondary, maybe not, but for us if we have a concept we are thinking about that kind of shapes how we write the music; like if there’s a song that requires sadness or a song that requires something evil or dark we’ll tailor the music to that. If there’s a certain part of the story as a battle, musically we’ll create something like a battle theme so we’re always thinking conceptually by nature; we’ve done that from the beginning.”
When an album is written to a particular concept, the order of the songs becomes important in the telling of the story, and therefore it would seem obvious that playing the songs out of order in a live setting with material from different albums and therefore different concepts could pose unique problems.
“You know what, sometimes that’s very true,” Michael concurred.
“A perfect example of that is when I first joined the band we did a record called The New Mythology Suite, and on tour, of course, we played a lot of the album, and it flowed really nice and conceptually worked out but since then we’ve had a lot of problems fitting songs from that album into our set list because they work so well together but when you take them out by themselves we have trouble making them fit into the set, so it is true that different concepts can make it really weird when you are trying to pick a set list.”
Symphony X have never been a band to rush new material, with just nine studio albums in their 22-year career, and Michael explained there are several factors which dictate this.
“Symphony X is a band where we don’t write on the road,” he said.
“Our principal songwriter and guitar player Michael Romeo, when he writes…he’s just one of those guys who really needs privacy and quiet so he can focus on writing stuff. When we’re on the road we’re usually on a tour bus with five guys in the band plus five crew guys and everyone’s all loud and there’s not enough privacy to really write, and that’s one of the reasons why we take so long between records because we don’t start writing until we’re done touring the last album.”
As well as giving the band a quiet time to write new material, Michael agreed that finishing one thing before moving to another also gives a fresh perspective on the task at hand.
“Actually that’s a great point,” he enthused, “because we’ll do a record and go on tour for a year, year and a half, and when it’s all said and done and finished, and we start writing again we’ve got kind of a different mindset so it’s not like we’re gonna write the same record again. We’ll have different things on our mind, and we’ll be listening to different things and being influenced by different things which in the end works out for the best.”
In effect, each album reflects a different chapter in the band’s life.
“That’s absolutely true,” he continued, “and I think…. Every album has a little bit different of a sound based on what has influenced us in the time between our last album and you can be influenced by anything. You can be influenced by other bands; you can be influenced by seeing something in your travels – maybe some castle ruins – it could be anything, but it is the end of an old chapter and the beginning of a new one.”
After so long in the business with a fiercely loyal fan base it would be easy to think that Symphony X have their sound measured and set, but Michael says that it is important for the continued success of the band that they don’t fall into that way of thinking.
“I think one thing that does help us is a lot of us do listen to newer bands,” he said, “and we do keep an eye on different styles of metal: how metal is changing, where it’s going, and I think it does help in our writing. Unfortunately, with a lot of bands when they get to a certain age they just stop listening to new music and you still have to have your bands that you’ve always liked which is great but, say, Michael Romeo, he’s always looking for new bands to listen to and he’s always open to listening to new music and him kind of puts that influence into whatever he’s writing and of course he has years and years of the older influences too so I think that actually helps keep things fresh as well. Just to have an open mind to different kinds of music and new bands. You might like some of them; you might not, but at least have a listen to see where the genre is headed.”
Symphony X will be heading Down Under in October, playing just Melbourne and Sydney, grab your tickets before the sellout!
Symphony X: Australian Tour Dates 2016
11 October – Max Watts, Melbourne, 18+ – Tickets HERE
12 October – The Metro Theatre, Sydney 18+ – Tickets