INTERVIEW: Michael Romeo (SYMPHONY X)
Levi: Can you tell about your new album Underworld?
Michael: We’re definitely happy with the record. It is a little bit of everything and that was a conscious decision too you know. Keep some of the heavy stuff real heavy but also you know get back to some of the more melodic things and some of the progressive stuff and really focus on the song writing, just the flow of the record. That was a lot of the point of the record too, when we started writing too, just really try to make an album that flowed well and that was diverse and had the variety, the real heavy stuff and the melodic stuff, just trying to make it work, so I hope it did.
Levi: What age did you start playing guitar? And who were the guys that you looked up to and said “man, I want to be like him”?
Michael: The real main guy for me was… When I was growing up I started playing at around maybe 15 or 16 and I was into like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and all the metal stuff. But I think Randy Rhoades those first two Ozzy Osbourne Records The Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, that’s when I started to become a little more serious, when I started to hear those records and get into those kind of guys, Uli Jon Roth and The Scorpions and Yngwie Malmsteen and a lot of different guys. The more you get into… I discovered Allan Holdswoth and some of these other players, Shawn Lane. I think Randy Rhoades really got me onto the whole playing guitar thing. It was a good time back then there were so many guys Paul Gilbert and of course Van Halen, Steve Vai and so many great players. Those guys were just all a part of what I was listening to and what I was learning and I was trying to listen to different stuff too you know. More metal stuff and jazzy fusion stuff, yeah man there were a lot of dudes but I think Randy Rhoades was the first one that kind of set me on the path.
Levi: When you first started playing how many hours a day or week would you play? And how many years did it take before you could say “I’m a good guitarist now”?
Michael: Can we ever say that though? We’re always trying to keep going, keep trying to improve. I don’t know, when I first started I was just noodling around jamming with some other guys in the garage, playing some Priest and that. When I really started getting into it I was practicing a lot. The normal thing you know, lock yourself up in the bedroom, back then we were slowing down the record or the cassette even, doing whatever you could to figure out how to do the solos, trying to get it note-by-note all the time it took hours and hours. After a couple of years you start to develop your own thing, taking in all these different influences from different players and I think that’s important, definitely learn as much as you can but make it your own, try to put it together differently, something that’s unique to you, which I think all of us are trying to do.
Levi: There’s a few videos on YouTube of you demonstrating a few of your riffs and solos. Would you be interested in doing more of those EMG TV type demonstration videos?
Michael: Yeah, I’m not opposed to it. I wouldn’t mind doing like a really in-depth series or something like a DVD or any kind of an instructional thing. I think that would be cool, it’s cool to watch guys play and maybe get a couple of licks but there’s so much more to music. There’s so much more theory and different things to practice over, I wouldn’t mind doing something like that at some point. A More in-depth kind of… Obviously a lot on technique and guitar playing and improvising and theory as well and some other different thing you know. I listen to a lot of different stuff and I think it helps to do your own thing, you have all these other influences and different types of music. If I did something, I would like to do that at some point.
Levi: One riff of yours that really blew my mind was the main riff in ‘Iconoclast’, do you have a favourite riff?
Michael: I’m always trying to do that with every record, pull something out. But there’s a few ones, on the last album I thought ‘dehumanizer’ was a pretty cool riff and an odd groove and kind of always feels good. This new record there’s so many of them, I think they don’t sound hard, that was one of the things too. We still want to write good songs and we still want the riffs to be cool, but we didn’t want it to be too complicated or too crazy or without any kind of a flow or a groove or anything about it you know. On this record at first glance they don’t seem that difficult and the solos as well, trying to make the solos have some phrasing. There’s a lot on this record I really like, the ‘Nevermore’ riff and the whole song is a fringing riff you know. It’s non-stop but in the arrangement it doesn’t sound like the guitars too busy or out of place, it all works and that’s just going back to theory and arranging the song and taking those parts out and making them work.
Levi: Being such a fast guitarist is it hard for you to slow down, maybe let the bass player do his thing for a while?
Michael: It’s always about what’s right for the song, and an s a guitarist, a bass player or a drummer you want to do some crazy stuff and have some fun and shred and everything but you just got to pick the places where it’s most effective. And don’t forget about phrasing and vibrato and all the other things you can do, if it’s just an onslaught of shred its like “okay, but what are you really saying”. And a lot of the guys a like do have the phrasing like Sean Lane, one of my favourites, he’s amazing man. He can shred like no-ones business but he had great phrasing and on slow stuff he could play great vibrato. A lot of the guys I like are like that. I think Randy Rhoads was responsible for that, he always had good phrasing you know. Maybe this part was tapping, this part was picking, there were some double-stops here, there was a nice little bending phrase. I think mixing it up is the way to go.
Levi: You guys have never been to Australia, would you like to come play down here?
Michael: Yeah we’d love to, we always try to get to as many places as we can. There’s always schedules and there’s always conflicts and all this. This records done, we put a lot of time into this thing. So now it’s time to just really get everywhere we can. If there’s some interest for us to play there we’ll be there dude. We’ll make it a point