FATES WARNING Main-man JIM MATHEOS on Upcoming TUESDAY THE SKY Album: “I’m Not Telling a Story, I’m Trying To Get an Emotion Across.”

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Make no mistake about Tuesday the Sky. The beautifully weird solo project from Fates Warning honcho Jim Matheos is the closest thing to a full solo vehicle these days. Whereas his primary gig is a collaboration with Ray Alder, and OSI was a partnership with Kevin Moore, Tuesday the Sky is all him, with a few friends pitching in to help Jim realize his vision. “I toyed with the idea of releasing “Drift” as a solo album with my name on it,” Jim says of the 2017 debut from Tuesday the Sky, “[but]I didn’t want people to be confused, thinking this was another organic acoustic record. This is pretty much the opposite of that. It’s very processed.”

Indeed, my own first impression (see what I did there?) of “Drift” was that it sounded like the dreamy flourishes that adorned Fates Warning albums like “FWX,” “Disconnected,” and “A Pleasant Shade of Gray. The upcoming sophomore offering from Tuesday the Sky, “The Blurred Horizon,” sees Matheos continuing the path set by its predecessor: loops galore, subtle samples, and moments that recall the likes of Tangerine Dream and Buckethead.

A frustratingly spotty Internet signal somewhere in rural New England meant exchanging text messages with someone who has had a big impact on my life. Matheos has a long-standing reputation for basically being a hermit, but I found zero evidence of that. We discussed the process by which Tuesday the Sky‘s decidedly non-metallic sonic screenplays come into being. The dude was downright affable, kind, and eager to discuss where his music previously has taken him–and where he is currently taking his music. Enjoy the interview transcript of our conversation below.

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

Full disclosure: I missed the boat on the first Tuesday the Sky album. I finally got it about a year ago. And to me, it sounded like you had taken all the spacier and more ambient elements that had been on a few Fates Warning albums and put them on their own album. Am I on the right track?

I think the observation is on track. I don’t think I did that purposely or consciously. I think it’s more a question of having those influences and liking ambient music. I mean, I’ve liked it as much as metal since I was a teenager. So I’ve always tried to insert those kinds of elements into Fates’ music, realizing that a good portion of our fanbase probably has a limited tolerance for that. So I’d try to put in as much as I think people can handle on each record. Finally deciding to do a full record of it and having that ability thanks to Metal Blade, Inside Out, and the other people helping me out has been great. I still try to insert some of it into Fates because I think it’s nice to have those kinds of shades in there, but having another outlet to do a complete record like that has been pretty satisfying.

The last few Fates records sounded like all that spacey, weird stuff from the late Mark Zonder-era were now being done with guitars rather than keyboards.

That’s a good observation, actually. I’m a really, really limited keyboard player. I wouldn’t even call myself a keyboard player, I kind of just make sounds with it. But when I started doing OSI, I started getting into that a bit more. And then that seeped a little bit into the “FWX” record, and looking back on that when we got to “Darkness in a Different Light,” I wasn’t real happy with that. So I decided at that point to go back to my roots. I could still do those kinds of sounds and those kinds of shades, but just focusing on the guitar doing that. And that’s exactly what I started to do from there on.

Photo by Mark Cubbedge

Kevin Moore [Chroma Key, OSI, ex-Dream Theater] is often seen as largely responsible for that “Pleasant Shade of Gray / Disconnected” vibe. Did working with him push you more in that direction?

Certainly more with OSI than with “A Pleasant Shade of Gray” or “Disconnected.” But no, not really. He definitely had his stamp on those records, but he played what I had written for the demos. I had a guitar synth at that time, so I’d do a lot of demos using that, and his job was to come in and basically humanize those parts, play them as a keyboardist, rather than as a guitar player. I’ve always loved his sounds. And he’d come up with the great sounds and invert things, find different ways to make the parts sound more like they were written by a keyboard player. He did bring a lot of input, especially on “A Pleasant Shade of Gray.” A lot of those parts weren’t there when on my original demo. So he definitely brought his own input to it, but I wouldn’t say it influenced me until we got to OSI. In that case, we started doing a lot of recording digitally and together, and it really opened up a lot of possibilities for me, what was available to do technologically. And like I said, starting to experiment a little bit with keys and, and different software.

Yeah, OSI seemed a lot more collaborative, whereas Fates Warning is very much Jim Matheos.

I mean, I would say that’s true. OSI is definitely more collaborative, but I think when you say that Fates is more me, it’s something that’s a little bit overstated.  Especially the last few records have been very collaborative between Ray [Alder, Fates Warning singer] and me. The thing with OSI is the music is a collaboration as well. So whereas with Fates, the music is going to be maybe 90% me, maybe someone else comes up with an idea or Ray suggests a change. With OSI, it was really 50-50. I would write the music most of the time, with Kevin would come in and change things and suggest things or edit my part. So it was a lot more collaborative, both in the music side and the, and the lyric/ vocal side than Fates.

Your two solo albums from the 90s, “First Impressions” and “Away With Words,” were very, very different from one another, and Tuesday the Sky, which one could rationally see as a solo project, sounds very distinct from those two albums as well. Then of course there’s Fates and OSI. It’s curious to see all these different facets coming out from your brain that sound so little like one another.

It’s just the function of the music that I like to listen to. I would think that most people, or I hope most people, have a wide variety of influences of what they listened to as well. When I was younger, I was more a metal head. I did like a lot of ambient stuff too, but I was pretty limited in my listening other than those two styles. But as I got older, I started listening to a lot of different kinds of music and when I listened to them and it inspires me and it moves me, it’s something that I want to dabble in. So it’s just a function of the kind of music that I like to listen to. And I’m lucky enough, very lucky to be able to able to explore all those different things. You know, I’ve had great support from the labels and the people that I’ve worked with that have allowed me to do that.

Photo by Joel Barrios

So let’s talk about the new Tuesday the Sky album. It’s called “The Blurred Horizon.”  I’ve been binge listening to it for the past several days. I think it’s wonderful. And in contrast to your first two solo albums, there’s a sense of continuity between this one and “Drift.” That’s not really a move that you have made previously. Was there any motivation behind that?

Well, the first reason I didn’t call it a solo record using just my name was because those first two records were all acoustic and I didn’t want people to be confused thinking this was another organic acoustic record. This is pretty much the opposite of that. It’s very processed, has a lot of effects, a lot of processed guitars going on. It’s a totally different project. And so I wanted to come up with a different name for it. That said, “The Blurred Horizon” is similar to “Drift” because I’m working the same way. I’m going after the same moods and fields and recording using one of the same instruments and constructing the songs the same kind of way. It’s completely different from the acoustic albums of the 90s.

I’m probably gonna butcher the title of this song [“Cwmwl”]. It’s in Welsh. Is it pronounced “koo-MOOL?”

I think it is, actually. I don’t speak Welsh myself. I just love the way it looks.

To me, “Near Light” and “Cwmwl” are fantastic examples of music that’s almost minimalist, that doesn’t necessarily exist to make a bold artistic statement, but rather to convey an emotion and to inspire that emotion in the listener. “Cwmwl” in particular makes me feel much the same way I feel when I belatedly realize that something is right in front of me.

[laughter]I mean, it’s tough with instrumental music because they’re not telling a story, you’re just trying to get an emotion across. All these titles come up, for the most part, way after the fact. It’s not like I come up with a title and I say to myself, well, “I have to write some music that conveys the thought of ‘Cwmwl,’” which means “cloud” in Welsh. Very rarely that happens. It’s more or less me just playing around with a guitar or effects or whatever, and finding chord progressions, or sounds, more often in this kind of music.  Sounds that interest me,  and exploring that. And then later on listening to it and asking myself, “what kind of image does that give me,”  and trying to find a suitable title. And sometimes it’s not even that “deep,” sometimes it’s me just looking at a list of titles that I have and saying, “oh, that’ll do.”

A lot of it starts with sounds, so I have a lot of different effects and amps up in the studio. And often it’ll just start with that, trying to find an interesting sound that catches my attention. And often that’ll lead to different chords. It’ll lead to different chords, progressions, or melodies. Whereas with Fates or anything else I do in that vein, more often than not, we’ll start with me looking for a riff chorus, melody lines, something like that as much more focused on that. Whereas this often often starts with sounds. It’s just a different way to try to find and try to stumble on ideas. It’s always about stumbling on ideas for me. Sometimes I can work for a days and not hear anything that sounds interesting to me. And sometimes I’ll go up there, and first thing I hear is something I want to explore. And that’s just the question of trial and error, putting it down and trying different ideas. It’s all about just listening to it. As a listener, does this interest me? And I usually just go with my gut instinct. If it’s interesting to me, then there’s going to be someone else out there, maybe not a large volume of people,  but there’s someone else that’s going to find it interesting as well.

Photo by Joel Barrios

You have a couple of guest musicians on this album, Gavin Harrison [King Crimson, The Pineapple Thief, ex-Porcupine Tree] for instance. That dude is the perfect drummer. How did that ball get rolling?

He worked on the last two OSI records, “Blood” and “Fire Make Thunder.” That was my first experience working with him. And I just loved working with Gavin. He’s one of my favorite drummers. He’s incredibly musical for a drummer, as he always fits the songs perfectly, not only part-wise, but sound wise. I just love the sound of his drums. And it always seems that caters to the music really well. I hadn’t worked with him since, “Fire Make Thunder,” which I think was maybe 2012 or so, and we haven’t done the OSI since then. Oddly enough, he did provide a loop for the last Fates record, which is kind of a whole other story. He played on it, but he didn’t play on it, if that makes sense. It was a drum track that I had from previous sessions that fit into the song. So, yeah, I just love the opportunity to work with him whenever I can. And when I was working on this record, it’s mostly driven by a loops. A lot of electronic loops, a couple acoustic loops, and there’s a couple songs that had acoustic drum loops that I started to think would benefit from having a real drummer.  Of course, the first person that thought of was, was Gavin. The first record, by the way, “Drift” had Lloyd Hanney from God is an Astronaut, one of my favorite post-rock bands. But I didn’t want this project to become like a band, like to have the same lineup, because it’s not something that’s going to be really an ongoing concern with touring and promo videos and pictures and all that. It’s more like a solo project. So I like to think of it as bringing in different people for each record.

Photo by Mark Cubbedge

The first person I thought of was Gavin, and luckily for me had some time, maybe because of the whole pandemic thing. Originally, I just had maybe one or two songs that I wanted him to try out for me. And he liked the music, and he did it, and he made it sound so good. Like I said before, not only the parts he plays, but the drum sound really fit the songs nicely to make to my ears. So I kept kind of sheepishly asking him if he could do a couple more. For me, it ended up being five or six songs.

It’s hard to find somebody that’s more well-rounded than Gavin. The dude is just a monster drummer, but he’s not overstated and I really appreciate that about him.

That’s the whole thing. He’s got the chops, obviously he can do anything, but he doesn’t feel the need to necessarily do that unless it’s appropriate for the song. And I love that.

I have a question about “Laudanum Dream.” I had to Google that word.  Please explain.

[laughter]It’s an opiate that was popular I think in 18th century, and a lot of poets would take it back in the day for inspiration. I believe Samuel Taylor Coleridge was under the influence of Laudanum when he wrote “Kubla Kahn.” In fact, I think he dreamt it. So that’s kind of where the idea came from. I’ve never tried it, but I’m fascinated with it.

I wasn’t expecting to talk Coleridge with you. I haven’t read him since I was getting my degree in English.

Oh, nice. Yeah. I’m a huge fan of all that romance poetry from back in the day.

I’m sure Iron Maiden had nothing to do with that.

It really didn’t. I read “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” way before I heard the Maiden song.

Photo by Joel Barrios

Nice, a fellow word nerd.  So, “Hypneurotic,” for me, is the album’s centerpiece. And I think that one of the reasons that it stands out is because you could have made it work with OSI and you could have made it work with Fates, but instead you made it work with Tuesday the Sky. Did you consider that while you were working on it?

The interesting thing for me on that one is the double drums. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story, but Gavin is actually playing two kits on that one, basically left and right. I had done that in my original demo. I had two loops going, but it was very, very basic, but I like that idea of hearing the snare on one side and then it switches the other side. So he latched onto that right away, and he wrote all those drum parts. It’s definitely two distinct drum kits going on through the whole track at the same time. I think it gives it a lot of color. Other than that, it’s got a lot of a Tangerine Dream influence for me.

Ray’s voice would not have sounded out of place over “Hypneurotic.” It doesn’t need a vocal, but if it were to have a vocal, Ray would sound perfect.

Interesting. It’s probably one of the only songs on the record that would work vocally, besides the one with vocals on it. Yeah, I can see that.

I want to ask about the very last song on the album. It’s called “Everything is Free.” It sounds an awful lot like the song that closed out the last Fates Warning album. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that you wrote that as a companion piece to “The Last Song.”

It’s originally by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, one of my favorite acoustic duos. That song has been around for what, twenty years now? I love that record, but that song, specifically, the lyrics really spoke to me at the time, and it’s only become a lot more relevant these days. Actually, the bed for that song was written with Fates in mind. We were talking about doing a bonus disc of cover songs for “Long Day, Good Night.” And for whatever reason it didn’t happen, so I had a bunch of tracks that Ray never got around to. I really liked the way this one sounded and I thought it might be an interesting idea to close out an otherwise instrumental record with a vocal song, making a strong statement, at least in my opinion, vocally, lyrically. So I talked to Tim [Bowness, No-Man], who I love working with. We’ve worked on a bunch of stuff together and asked if he’d be up for it. Luckily he was.

He sounds perfect on it.

I love his voice. I thought because of the treatment I gave the song, I thought his voice would be perfect for it.

It’s difficult to conclude this discussion without mentioning Fates Warning, the cryptic album title “Long Day, Good Night,” and the title of “The Last Song.” Ray just started a new band with Mark [Zonder, ex-Fates Warning drummer]. And Bobby [Jarzombek, longtime Fates drummer] is now playing for country superstar George Strait, which I think is an awesome gig for him.  But some of this seems to point to the end of Fates Warning, and I really want you to say it ain’t so.

[laughter]Well, I won’t say it is. I’m trying really hard not to make any definitive statements at this point, because I honestly don’t know. I kind of feel like I’m not going to do it any more at this point, but I don’t like putting myself in that box only to find out that next year I’m itching to do one and Ray is itching to do one. If we’re all dying to do one, that may happen. It may not happen. I don’t see it happening at this point, but I’m not willing at this point to say we’re not doing anymore. Uh, I strongly suspect that’s the case, but you know, I never say never.

Photo by Joel Barrios

I have seen you change your mind about these things before. [laughter]It wasn’t that long ago that you vowed to never play the old stuff again, but then you did, and it’s all good.

In my defense, I think I said I would never play the old stuff without the old lineup. I could be wrong. Maybe I’m rewriting history to make myself feel better about that. But I think that’s kind of what I meant.

I’ve got one last question for you, Jim. What does Tuesday the Sky even mean?

[laughter]You know, it’s a long, boring story. It’s just a nonsense phrase. Honestly, it means nothing. When I was working on the “Drift” record, I had probably half the record written and I was being pressured to come up with a title for the project. And I had nothing, and I was thinking about just calling it a solo project. And that seemed to cause problems just like we were saying earlier, style-wise. So I was under pressure to come up with a title for the project, which I’m not very good at, and I don’t enjoy doing. And one day I was out with my wife, my daughter, and my mother-in-law and they’re all in the car kind of yakking away. And I was driving and I think it was my mother-in-law who was talking about the weather we had been having, but they were all kind of talking at the same time and she had to keep starting over and over again. And at this point I was thinking, I got to get a title for this band and getting a title with this band. And as she was to tell us about the weather, she kept saying “Tuesday, the sky,” and then she would get interrupted and she’d say it again. And she said it like four times and I said, huh, that kind of works. Maybe I’ll use that.

Photo by Joel Barrios

It’s nice and obtuse and makes you raise questions.

Yeah. And I could finally get it off my to-do list.

It’s been a great honor talking to you, Jim. So much of your music has helped carry me through some of the roughest moments in my life, and it feels great to finally thank you personally for that.

Well, thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you.

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