Mike Romeo is a modern metal guitarist whose talent and respect transcends the scene. He is basically a mixture of Blakemore, Malmsteen and Iommi in one guitarist, with the song writing ability of Steve Harris. His band Symphony X is power metal, traditional metal and obviously symphonic metal, in one outfit. The band has been recording since 1994 and they have navigated their own path throughout the evolution of metal genres. Ultimately they have outlived the majority of the “A-Grade” power metal bands, rode a top of the folk metal scene, ignored the birth of nu-metal and have travelled side by side with the rebirth of more traditional metal sounding bands. I put this clearly and explicitly down to Mike, as the musical conductor/composer of Symphony X. Throughout their back catalogue, they have released conceptual, thought-provoking albums, which are dripping with melody, complex structures and flawless musicianship.
We are fortunate to have Sympony X grace our shores next month through Soundworks Touring and I was fortunate to catch up with Mr Romeo, to discuss all things Symphony X and the impending tour.
Oh god, I mean every record that we do we try to find some kind of idea or underlying thought. You know some sort of inspiration. With this we were taking around a lot of different ideas and we all thought that this would be a cool thing. It was just the idea you know, going to hell for someone that you love. Musically it is really dark and light, with ballads all mixed through and this fits the music so I guess that’s where it comes from.
How does Symphony X translate their studio songs live?
They are not much different really. There are certain things like orchestral sections we have to work that stuff out. But ninety per cent of the time it is like the record. So things just fold out and work you know, but at times we obviously need to compromise.
As the founding member and musical engineer of Symphony X, how do you create new material?
It is just hard work to be honest. The normal thing with these records is we will get together a couple of times and work through some ideas. We get the ball rolling like that and then the guys give me a little time to put together musical ideas and from here it is just studio and arrangement. It always starts though with that idea you know, if there is something that you want to say. You kind of have a goal and with this album (Underworld) we had the dark and light and also revisiting some of the earlier ideas that we have had. So I guess that’s the essence of where we come from.
As a musician where do you get your inspiration from?
A concept of a theme as I said above. It is a lyric, a story, an inspiration and this come out in the music. Sometimes it is music, sometimes it’s a film, but it can be anything. The idea you know is really enough, it just gets those creative juices flowing.
What guitarists and musicians inspired you to start playing guitar?
When I first started guitar it was you know the stuff I grew up with in junior high school – Priest, Maiden, Sabbath, Zeppelin and I started playing guitar a little bit. Randy Rhoades was a huge influence you know, Eddie Van Halen as well. And as time went on I found other types of music and you know John Williams as a composer, he had a huge influence. There were so many great bands and players at this time it was an amazing time to be experimenting with music.
Today, in the current scene, what bands and musicians impress you?
Usually for inspiration, there are a lot of great bands out there at the moment, absolutely. But for me it comes back to what you grew up with and what moulded your journey and your past. You know I put on Rush or Blizzard of Oz and what got me in to music back then and it still talks to me. It can also be classical stuff; there are just so many different things. But it is the stuff I grew up with that I keep going back to.
Is there a specific musician or band that you would like to collaborate with?
That could be a huge list!! There are so many guys and musicians. If I had to narrow it down, you know anyone from Rush, Priest! This is overwhelming, take your pick man!! I can’t really answer this properly to be honest!
Symphony X’s material is quite conceptual across all albums, so how do you decide what songs appear in a live set?
That is the question!! There is a lot of back catalogue stuff and everyone in the band has favourite songs. But generally we pretty much know when it is right and we try different things and different orders. We also have so many songs to really choose from, as I said, but we want to express the new material and get it out. But with the last record it is around the flow of the record and we are playing most of this at this point. From here we try to get other songs in here and we work it in this way. It is about mood and dynamics and flow. But this is always a difficult task.
To the uninitiated, describe what a Symphony X live set is all about.
The flow coming out as I said before. With usually the new stuff, it is up front, it has to be. It is about energy and making the show work, so it is dynamic and up and down and keeping the audience in to what we are doing. It is a journey that we like to take people on and we try to kick you in the face at the same time. That is a Symphony X show.
What would you like to your Australian fan ahead of the tour next month?
Definitely that we can’t wait! It has been forever coming this tour. After all this time we are coming. It is cool because it is somewhere that we have never been. Thanks to all of the fans who have listened to us over the years and been patient. We can’t wait to get there and blow you all away.
Mike, as I envisioned, is a calm, quiet and though provoking individual. He is also very humble, and really, at peace with who he is, and how he fits within the music scene. For fans of Symphony X you are in for a real treat in October, and for those who are oblivious to the Symphony X phenomenon, I guarantee you they won’t disappoint, and what will actually happen, is you will be converted!
Interview By Mark Snedden
Details of the Symphony X shows can be found here
Interview with Mike LePond of Symphony X can be found here