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Symphony X Interview

A Conversation With Guitarist Michael Romeo

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Symphony X
Inside Out Music
Symphony X fans have been anxiously awaiting the band’s latest release, and after five years, Paradise Lost has finally arrived. It’s not a concept album per se, but it is inspired by Milton’s work of the same name. Guitarist Michael Romeo fills us in on the new album and Symphony X’s tour plans.

Chad Bowar: What has the response been so far to Paradise Lost?
Michael Romeo: It's been pretty good. I've seen a lot of reviews that were really positive. Now we just have to wait and see how the sales go. So far it is really going well.

It has been five years since the last album. How come it took so long?
There were a lot of factors. With the last record we did a lot of touring. In 2004 we said we needed to start working on a new record, but a lot of other touring opportunities were coming our way. A lot of things were happening here in the United States, and it has been a while since we had done anything here, so we wanted to take as many of these opportunities as we could. There was the Queensryche tour and Gigantour. We did start to work in 2004 on some of the ideas for the songs. We would stop, then rehearse, then go out for a month and then come back and write again for a while, and then something else would come up.

We really were not getting a lot done with the writing. All of these ideas were piling up and nothing was getting completed. We didn't have much direction and it wasn't a cool situation. So after Gigantour in 2005 we said we had to commit 100% to the album. Once that time came, that was it. We really got our heads in the game and dedicated 100% to it. By that time so much time had gone by already that there were a lot of expectations. We knew we really wanted to do the best we could. Time just flies by, and the next thing you know it's been five years.

In the past, you have written lyrics first and then the music. Was that the case this time?
Usually it's the music first. Usually it's a simple riff or some kind of musical idea. There are times that there are some lyrics there. Every album is different. Each one takes on it's own life and goes wherever it's going to end up. For this album, a lot of the music was done first because as we were writing all of these riffs and coming up with ideas, we didn't really have a direction or any kind of lyrical thing. Early on, the only thing we did say is that we wanted a little heavier record, a little more guitar oriented riff-based songs. We really wanted strong songs with good melodies and good arrangements. Just going with that basic guideline, stuff was getting done. But once we stumbled upon Milton's Paradise Lost, we thought it would be a cool thing to bounce ideas off of and use it as a backdrop and a little bit of a guideline for some of the music and lyrics. Once we did go with that as the theme, the music came together pretty quick and we definitely had some focus. The riffs became a little darker and there was definitely some of the orchestral stuff. It does have this pseudo religious, gothic feel. With the lyrics, we did not want to do a concept thing. Instead, we wanted to focus on some of the core elements of Milton's work, such as human emotions like betrayal and revenge and lust and greed.

You recently did some shows in South America. How did that go?
The shows were great, but the traveling sucked. Sleep was a luxury for that two weeks. It was rough, but the fans were great and the shows went really well. South America is tough because you can't drive a bus through the Amazon.

What's next?
We go out for the summer with Sanctity. That will be cool. I think it's going to be a great summer. Then we have a Dream Theater tour in Europe this fall. We are trying to keep busy and get out there. We are just trying to work as much as we can.

With so much material, is it difficult to put together a set list?
That is so true. It is. Each guy in the band has a tune or two that they love. So then we have 10 songs that we all want to do, but then we have all these new songs now. It is tough to get a set together. Usually we will try to find what has the best flow. And with the new album obviously want to get a pretty good amount of new songs in the set and still keep some of the ones that the fans like from the older records. So you just try to find something that feels really good and has a good flow on stage.

You have three Michaels in the band. How do you avoid getting everybody mixed up?
We call Mike Panella “P.” From the first week we met him our old singer started calling him “P.” It stuck forever. Mike Lepond became Lepond, and I’m pretty much Mike.

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