By: Robert Cavuoto
The latest CD from Symphony X, Iconoclast, can only be definite as a manifesto – a commanding declaration of an inventive blend of Classic Rock, straightforward Heavy Metal and ambitious Prog.
From the straight rock track “The End of Innocence” to the thrashing dark and virtuosic of “Prometheus” the fusion of musicality will command the praise of listeners. I had the pleasure of speaking to guitar virtuoso Michael Romeo, while at one of the last shows of their tour to give us a final word on the CD before the work begins on the next.
Robert Cavuoto: Can you tell me how you came up with the idea of the man vs. machine for Iconoclast?
Michael Romeo: It’s more of a theme or a story that flows through the CD. I tend to work best when I have an idea or direction for each CD. Everything works out better from the riffs to production when you have a goal. The man vs. machine came about when I was listening to movie soundtracks, possibly The Matrix, and thought it could be a cool idea. We did that with our last on our last CD, Paradise Lost, and the good vs. evil theme.
Robert: Is it difficult to stay on track for a themed CD vs. writing 8 to 10 unique songs?
Michael Romeo: I think it’s easier if you have a theme. With Iconoclast, I had three to four songs already written which didn’t incorporate any type of theme. Once we started talking about this mechanical theme I started to go back and layer in abrasive sounding guitar parts or keyboard parts for texture. Once the idea was cemented, it’s easier to put it all together. The same goes for the lyrics; it could have been any type of man and machine idea; from a kid with a cell phone to a Terminator thing.
Robert: I really enjoy the level of detail on the CD’s artwork. Who is the artist and how you work with him to bring your musical vision to life?
Michael Romeo: For the last two CDs we have been using the artist Warren Flanagan, he does a lot of conceptual art as well as art for films. I’m a fucking huge movie fan so when we get on the phone to talk about the CD, we connect. For example, when we did Paradise Lost I told him that we had this good vs. bad and angels vs. demons idea. He just ran with it. Same for Iconoclast, he started throwing out movies like The Matrix, Terminator, I Robot and Alien so we knew we were on the same page. He has a tremendous imagination so I just trust his vision.
Robert: I interviewed your buddy Mike Orlando (guitarist for Adrenaline Mob) about a week ago; he said some great things about you. Tell me a little about how it works with Russell Allen trading off as front man between Symphony X and Adrenaline Mob?
Michael Romeo: That’s really Russ’s thing and as long as it doesn’t interfere it’s cool. He finds a sense of balance with his responsibilities and that’s fine.
Robert: Mike told me to ask you about when you guys get to together for your shredding sessions.
Michael Romeo: [Laughing] Mike is a fucking cool dude. When he and Russ started working together, he and I started hanging out at my place to play. We both love to shred and trade licks. We like to keep each other on our toes.
Robert: You’re an amazing guitarist. Do you have a specific practice routine?
Michael Romeo: When I was young I did a lot of the hard core ultra-picking and tapping with a metronome. I really dove into theory and tried to read up as much as I could on it. Now, practicing involves putting on rhythm tracks with progressive chord changes and working out different licks as well as improving. I now apply what I worked so hard to learn.
Robert: What was your first major guitar purchase?
Michael Romeo: My first major purchase was a Kramer Pacer. It was main guitar for a long time. I was teaching at a music store so I was able to noodle with all the guitars and pick the one I liked the best. I still have it and actually had Caparison Guitars model the neck on my signature series guitar from that Kramer neck.
Robert: What does the future hold for the band with your next CD?
Michael Romeo: It’s a little too early to think about a new CD. Maybe in the next few months we can throw some ideas around.