Interview with Russel Allen

“One of the most underrated and yet most popular bands in the underground Progressive Metal scene has to be this band ‘Symphony X’ from New Jersey (USA), an excellent band with such a talent that in the UK is not noticed here, that is until the band played their debut UK show. This band are extremely highly talented musicians to say the least and with several albums behind them the band are not gong to let anything stand in there way. The band released their latest release late last year titled ‘The Odyssey’ through Inside Music, what an awesome album this is. Here is what frontman Russell Allanhad to say, check them out!!”

“Well Russell, this is the first interview I have done with the band and I am looking forward to asking you the following questions. My first question is When did the band form and who formed the band?”

“Well we formed in 1994 and Mike had got a lot of interest from a demo he had put out through Mike Varney @ ‘Shrapnel’ and he sent some demos to Japan and Zero records from Japan showed interest in Michael Romeo’s work. They told him that they were interested in his work if he could form a band, so that is what he did. When he formed the band he first found Thomas Miller, then later on Mike Pinnella and then they were looking for a drummer and Jason Rullo came along. He had mentioned the perfect singer at that time, who was called Rod Tyler before I joined the band. That is how they first got the first line-up together. I came into the band in 96 and I feel old now (laughing) and I did the ‘DamnNation Game’ album and I sang the vocal’s in 2 days.”

“You were not the original singer for the band, so how did you hook up with the band?”

“I use to play in a band called ‘Sin River’, it was like a Blues type band with a Seattle sounding and I was really into Chris Cornell & Alice In Chain’s at that time. We were a power 4 piece. I hooked up with Mike Romeo when he came to see When I was helping out Badlands. It was Ray Gillan’s friend Alex who had written ‘Winter’s Dream’ and I got to meet Ray just before he pasted away.

I met Ray’s mother and she asked me if I would play a benefit show along with Glenn Hughes and other artist’s. Little did I know that Rod Tyler was in the audience & Thomas Miller. They later on approached me after the show and Rod was leaving the band and Thomas had mentioned by name to Michael Romeo and suggested that I take Rod’s spot in the band. I do not know why Rod left the band, I think he thought he could do something better so that is why he left the band.

I was not sure if I wanted to join the band back then because it did not seem like the sort of music I would like to listen too or either play. I told them ‘No’ several times and in the end I gave in. They had been having problems with Rod in the studio before he left the band, so I said I would help them out with the 2nd album with the vocal’s. I heard some of the early recording for the ‘Damnation Game’ album without the vocals and I thought it sounded much better than the debut album. I told them that I wanted to sing in my own way and not like Rod’s style, as it did not appeal to me, and they said go for it.”

“The band have had some drum line-up changes over the years, is that the only line-up changes the band has had since you replaced Rod?”

“Well no not really, Thomas Miller left the band and he was not health at the time when he had to leave the band. We then found Michael Lepond and Jason came back into the band after Tom Walling. Jason was going through some tuff times and he needed to take a break and Tom Walling helped the band out until Jason was OK to come back into the band.”

“So why the name ‘Symphony X’ and were there any other names for the band at that time?”

“Well Michael Romeo came up with the name and a lot of people think it is the tenth symphony of Mozart, which it is not. It is the X factor, is the heavier part of the band & that is the core behind the name. The ‘Symphony’ aspect of the bands name is pretty obvious to me, with the Classical influences of the band and the way we blend them into the Heavy Metal style of music we are creating. We have a lot of modern style of Classical music in there now it sound’s slightly different.”

“So who are the bands influences and how do they reflect in the bands music?”

“Well we are a odd cast of characters, Lepond is into total Metal, he loves ‘Manowar’, and bands like that. Mike Romeo is into the old Metal stuff like ‘Judas Priest’ & ‘King Diamond’ etc.. He also likes bands like ‘Kansas’, ‘Yngwie Malmsteen’. Jason is really into bands like ‘The Police’ , ‘Rush’, and Jazz. Pinella is into bands like ‘Pink Floyd’ and Classical music. I like Blues and Rock, like Zepplin, Van Halen, Paul Rogers, and we all combine our influences. We are a Heavy Metal and we love the symphonic sound. I like all different types of singers, and I met Rob Halford recently, he is cool with no Rock Star attitude. “

“Would you agree that the band’s music comes across between ‘Yngwie’ & ‘Dream Theater’ and does it piss you off when you are compared to these artist’s?”

“Well I think that the ‘Dream Theater’ thing is kind of old and I guess the reason why we get compared to them is because they are at the top, so people compare us to them in one way or another. It is good that journalist’s like yourself and the fans are comparing us to them, so thank you!! When you start to compare us as musicians then you are total off base, we are a lot heavier then they are.”

“Who are your vocal influences Russell?”

“I would have to say, Halford, Dio, Dickinson, they are the power singers in my opinion.”

Out of all the previous album’s you have recorded with the band, which are your favourite and least favourite and why?”

“My least Favourite would have to be ‘Damnation Game’, why? Because I did not feel as if I was in the band at that time, I felt as if I was the newcomer & a stranger. I also felt that I did not contribute to the album so that is way I do not like it that much. My favourite one is probably the new one, because I write a lot of stuff with the rest of the band & have such a big influence on the music & the way I sing it. Before this album I would say it is the ‘The Divine Wings Of Tragedy’ because it felt as if I was for the first time in the band & the 2 in between are just journey, stepping stones.”

“Are you happy with Inside Out Music? Also have you been approached by any other labels of recent?”

“Well I am sitting in their office right now, so I guess I am happy with them (laughing). Yes we are happy with them, we have known them for some time now and they are like family now. Yes we have been approached by other label’s and we really want to stay on Inside Out and make thing work out between us.”

“How long is the deal with ‘Inside Out’ and also how did you hook up with ‘Metal Blade’ for the album titled ‘V’?”

“We did a 3 album contract the first time around with ‘Inside Out’ and now we have re-signed to them. We made a big mistake going with ‘Metal Blade’ in the U.S., because they have so many acts and they did not know what to do with us. Press in the U.S were asking why we did not have an album out in the U.S.. There is nothing wrong with Metal Blade, Brian is a cool guy but like I said they have too many bands on their rooster.”

So why did you not go with ‘Inside Out—America?”

“Well they were not set up at that time, that is why we went with Metal Blade. But once you sign a deal with a label, then the ball is in there court. We are lucky that we only signed for a one label deal, otherwise it could have been worse and we made the right move in only signed for a one album deal.”

So Russell how do you see each album as a progression?”

“I think it all boils down to a mature factor as each album has something new on it & when it comes to a day were nothing is new then we will call it a day. Each album has a different type of energy to it & I am singing a lot heavier these days and Mike has such a groovy sound to his guitar sound. You can still hear our sound which our fans know right away, so that makes it a lot cooler!!

“Now could you tell me why you decided to release a live album before the new album and why was it not released as a DVD & video?”

“It all boiled down to money, we did not have the money to do it right & we will release a live DVD & video in the near future. We want to do it when we find the right place to record it, a bigger venue and a great stage setting.”

Ok now let’s talk about the new album, why did you decide to call it ‘The Odyssey’ and were there any other titles in mind?”

"We did not have any other names for this album. The title track is 24 minutes long & I think it is some of the best work the band has ever done. That song is a combination of everything on that album from heavy to light and Mikes guitar playing and my vocals are like a nut in a bult locked together. As the song was 24 minutes it made scene to call the album after that track. We had no other titles as we suck as finding titles for our albums (laughing).”

“Have you ever thought of asking your fans on your website to choose a title for the next album?”

“That is a good question, thanx. Yeah I think that would be a great idea. Maybe we could do this for the DVD.”

“Does the album cover reflect in the title and the music for this album?”

“Yeah I would say so big time!! The cover is a scene form the ‘Sirens- The Odyssey’ , it was painted by Tom Thiel, and he is a great artist. He sent us sketches of the bodies and I was just blown away by those, and when we saw the finished thing we are totally shocked, it rules!!”

“How long did it take to record the album & are you happy with the end results?”

“It took about 5-6 months to record the album and mix it. We were going through a tough period as we had a lot of technical things standing in our way with computers etc. I am very happy with the outcome of the album, I think it is the best album we have so far. We got Steve Evetts to come in and give it that special touch to the mix and that was the icing on the cake. The album was done in our own studio called ‘The Dungeon’.”

“What are the songs about and are they wrote as a team effort?”

“Well most of the songs are wrote by Mike Romeo, and I did a lot of lyrics on this one. Mike Lepond also wrote a lot of the lyrics on this album. We did the song ‘Accolade 2’, which is not a part 2 of the first Accolade, it is more of a trail by night. ‘Incantations Of The Apprentice’ is about a sorceress apprentice who starts looking at the masters book and we got the idea from the film ‘Fantasia’. The album is mainly based fantasy material.”

“So Russell what songs on this album stand out for you and which are your least favourite and why?”

“To me I would have to say that ‘Incantations Of The Apprentice’ stand out for me, also ‘Kings Of Terror’, also ‘Accolade 2’, & ‘The Odyssey’. I really do not have a least favourite song.”

“What sort of press reaction has this new album been receiving?”

“It has been receiving overwhelming response from the press actually, they love it!! It feels right for us and things are on the up & up.”

“When will we see the band touring the UK, it’s about time you came here as you have a cult following?”

“I did not know that we did? It’s all about people like you Jason, spreading the word. We are playing a one off in with ‘Stratovarius’ in March, so hopefully we see you there.”

“Moving away from the band for a few questions, how did the project called ‘Star One’ come about?”

“Well Arnjie called me up because Bruce Dickinson did not want to sing on it. He is a great guitar player so I agreed to do it, so he had to re-vamp the whole album because it was meant to be for Bruce. I did not do the album because Bruce had left him down, I did it because I thought it would be a great project with a lot of interesting people. I think the overall project is a great thing and Ed Warby is a great drummer, who also played on this album, he played with ‘Elegy’ and ‘Gorefest’, he is totally underrated.”

“How was the tour with ‘Star One’?”

It was pretty much the same line-up as the CD, only person who could not make it was Dan Swano, so we had a guy called Robert who replaced him. We were suppose to be playing with ‘Vanden Plas’ but they could not make it, so we did a 2 hour set which was great!!”

“Do you agree what it is a waste of time doing a side project if it is going to sound like the band you are already in?”

“Yes I totally agree with you Jason, what is the point to it?”

“What bands have ‘Symphony X’ toured with since you formed?”

“Well not too many actually, when we first toured with had a British band called ‘Mindfeed’ who supported us, they are a great bunch of guys. We have only been to Europe a couple of times actually. We played the ‘ProgPower’ festival with ‘Ark’ in the U.S., Jorn Lande is a great singer. Actually I was suppose to be the original singer on the ‘Masterplan’ album with Roland Grapow, but I did not take it up as I have my band and I do not want another band.”

“Well Russell thanx for doing the interview, do you have anything to say before it comes to an end?”

“Yeah, thanx for the interview Jason, thanx also to our loyal fans for their support, take care and see you on the road.”

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