John Knowles of Metal Exiles recently conducted an interview with former ICED EARTH and current ASHES OF ARES frontman Matt Barlow. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Metal Exiles: How did the three of you, yourself, Van [Williams, drums; ex-NEVERMORE] and Freddy [Vidales, guitar; ex-ICED EARTH] get together and decide to put a project together?
Matt: Well, Freddy and I were in ICED EARTH together. He was the bass player when I came back for the second part of the "Something Wicked" monstrosity that it was. So he and I got along really well, we spent a lot of time on the road together. More often than not, we were roommates, just because, you know, we didn't smoke and we have similar likes and dislikes, so we would hang out a lot. We had thought about doing some stuff together way back then. Jon [Schaffer; ICED EARTH mainman] has his other projects, and we thought it would be fun if we ever had some time to get together and see what sticks. But, we didn't have the opportunity at that point, and when I got out of the band, Freddy continued on with ICED EARTH, and they were touring a lot, plus Freddy has his other career as a civil engineer. So it basically opened up when Freddy decided he was going to get out of ICED EARTH, and he had personal reasons for doing that. So it opened up from there, and when Freddy had left ICED EARTH, I was actually out of work for medical reasons because of an injury to my hand. I was out for about three and half months, so it gave us a pretty good opportunity to get together and knock out a lot of stuff at once. On top of that, I had been in contact with Van prior to his departure from NEVERMORE. He was living in New York where he grew up, and had moved from Seattle so he was in close proximity. I had hit him up for various reasons and when I brought up the project Freddy and I already had some things demoed, so I shot that over to Van and he liked what he heard, so then the three of us started putting things together. So the three of us started working on songs, cranking things out, one thing led to another and that's how things worked out. Freddy and Van get along really well, and I've known Van since 1996, and Freddy since 2008, and it just worked out, man.
Metal Exiles: On that note tell us a little about the writing process. Were there collaborative jam sessions, or did one guy bring in full song ideas to present to the rest?
Matt: It's all been collaborative; every part has really been collaborative. The one thing was Freddy had some song ideas socked away, and riffs that he developed further for this, and I had some lyrical ideas written down. Usually when I write lyrics, I write them out like a poem and I'll fit it in to however the music works, or move things around, if necessary. I usually start out with an idea concept, and I'll just start writing it that way. And I write it like a poem so it's going to have a certain flow anyway. So on certain songs, we had that. I had some stuff, and Freddy had brought some stuff, and I thought it sounded pretty cool. For some of the other stuff he had given me, I just started fresh with new ideas and I would be inspired by what he did musically. Van's approach was just doing his thing with the song structure that we had established. His approach was not to change the structure but to add his thing to it. And that was the coolest part, because what Freddy and I had pales in comparison to what Van added to it. We were both like, "Wow, this is how a drummer writes drum parts," and it was really cool. It added a whole other level to the songs. I think the songs were solid, but when Van got ahold of them, it took things to that whole other level. Getting back to your original question, every song was approached in a little bit different way, but it was a full collaboration. The three of us all added something special to each track to make it what it is. I was able to do all the lyrics on this album, and maybe future albums down the line, that may change if Freddy has something to contribute lyrically, melodically, or whatever, but it's still going to be ASHES OF ARES. We're treating all these songs as being written and arranged by ASHES OF ARES. We're not taking individual credits, the three of us are ASHES OF ARES and we'll split it up that way. Everything we contributed to this made these songs what they are. It was really fun for me, because this is the first record where I have contributed all the lyrics and vocal melodies, which says a lot, since I have been in music for a long time now and this is the first time I have had creative control as far as that stuff is concerned.
Metal Exiles: I would find it really hard to believe that a few years ago had you and Freddy presented Jon with a demo of, say, "The Messenger", that it wouldn't have immediately been received well and possibly become an ICED EARTH classic. Would you care to comment on that idea, and maybe shed some light on some of the creative challenges you and Freddy may have faced while in ICED EARTH?
Matt: Well, the thing of it is I never really got to that point. When I came back for "The Crucible Of Man", Jon had some songs that needed lyrics or vocal melodies that he gave me to work on, and I was happy to do it, man, proud to do it. And I know where Jon's at as far as his control of ICED EARTH. He doesn't shy away from sharing that to anyone who asks. So I understand where he's coming from, and I was happy to add to that record. I really like some of the stuff I did on that record...I thought it was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. [laughs] Like, "Crucify the King", the concept was Jon's, and I just went with it. He would say: "I have this spot, and this is what I need...so just run with the lyrics and the melodies." And in the end, I really dug that song. Now when it came to the next record, around that time, I was already pretty much committed that I wasn't going to be in the band. I was writing stuff, I had actually written the lyrics for "The One Eyed King" by that point, and it was written out like a poem. But I think that that's probably one of the songs I would have submitted to Jon if I was staying on with ICED EARTH, just because it certainly was along the lines of common thinking... I don't know if it would have made it on the "Dystopia" record or not, but it was along those lines of common thinking and what I tend to believe. And more so the underlying thing in "The One Eyed King" is that everyone tends to follow blindly. Where I came up with the concept is the old proverb that says, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." And if we're all following around blindly, the man with the one eye will basically lead the pack. So that's where that kind of came from. Anyway, I digress. As far as your questions... I don't know, man. I don't know if stuff would have gotten picked or not. I know that Freddy did submit some stuff to Jon and they never got put on the record. But again, where that's concerned, it goes back to creative control, and that may be one of the reasons why our approach in ASHES OF ARES is collaboration, and I feel very strongly that we need to continue down that path. And I'm fine with Freddy taking over the reins of the music, and there are actually a couple of songs on the record that I initially wrote the music for. "The Answer" is one of them, it was an acoustic song, and then Freddy just took it and blew it out of the water and took it to a whole other level. Now we did do an acoustic version on the digipack just because the label wanted a bonus track and it was the easiest one we could really crank out because we already demoed it in an acoustic form and it was there. Also, "Move The Chains" was one that I wrote the body of the music for, but I am not a guitar player so I took what I had, all my Pro Tools stuff and I asked Freddy to play it like its an actual guitar player playing it, and we structured it from there. And that may continue, I may have some other ideas like that, and we may contribute and turn it into songs, and maybe not... What I come up with may suck, but we'll all come to that conclusion, and we're all going to keep doing our thing, our parts. Because Freddy can play bass, guitar, drums, and he'll probably start demoing up stuff and then shoot it over to me, over to Van as well. I would like it to be us coming to an idea or understanding of things minute by minute, but it doesn't always work out that way. We may have ideas that take a couple weeks to come to, like a melodic direction, or lyric idea, or what have you. We'll figure it out. We're already excited about the next record now that we have this one done, and I think that's a good thing. You always want your second record, your sophomore record to be a strong one, and I think all of our heads are in that to make the next one even stronger than this one.
Read the entire interview at Metal Exiles.
"Dead Man's Plight" lyric video: