Symphony X’s Guitar Maestro Michael Romeo Discusses His New Solo Album
By Andrew Catania
Guitar Maestro Michael Romeo is a talent that comes once in a great while. He is a musician and songwriter who is known as one of the founding members of the progressive metal group Symphony X. He has been composing and writing music ever since 1994 until now. His music genres include power metal, progressive metal, neoclassical metal and symphonic metal. He was ranked as the 91st out of 100 best heavy metal guitarists of all time.
Michael Romeo fell in love with music as a child. This is why he was encouraged to take piano lessons at the age of 10. He began to play the clarinet as well. It was when he listened to a music album by the band “Kiss” that he decided to take matters into a different turn. He decided to buy a guitar and ended up buying a cheap guitar at a garage sale.
As a young aspiring musician, Michael Romeo was heavily influenced by the musical style of bands like Kiss and Rush. He liked their style and they had a great effect on the music he made later on. He also got influenced by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and progressive rock groups like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
His love for the guitar became a real passion for listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz. He was also deeply touched by the unique and neoclassical style of Ritchie Blackmore, Randy Rhoads, and Uli Jon Roth.
His work was also influenced by many famous classical composers including Ludwig Van Beethoven, Igor Stravinsky, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach. Their music style and technique is quite obvious in the progressive music he composed later on.
In 1992 Michael Romeo recorded a demo tape that he sent around to various production companies but he didn’t face any luck until a Japanese record label expressed their interest in the tape and asked for further material. Zero, the Japanese label decided to produce Romeo’s album in 1994. Romeo teamed up with a keyboardist called Michael Pinnella to work on the album and together they decided to form the band Symphony X. This album was called the “The Dark Chapter”, an entirely instrumental album. The track titles referred to works by the American poet Edgar Allan Poe, like the “The Masque of The Red Death” and “The Premature Burial”. The album cover even featured a raven in reference to a poem by the famous poet of the same title. 9 of the 10 tracks included were composed by Michael Romeo himself.
The band was originally founded by Michael Romeo and Michael Pinnella in 1994. Today it includes drummer Jason Rullo, bassist Michael Lepond, and lead vocalist Russell Allen. After “The Dark Chapter” became quite popular especially in Japan, Romeo recruited bassist Thomas Miller and vocalist Rod Tyler along with drummer Jason Rullo. They recorded an album to bear the name of the band which was again produced by the Japanese label “Zero”. It was released at the end of the same year. After that album, the lead vocalist left the band and was replaced by the current vocalist Allen. The band produced their third album “The Damnation Game” 6 months later.
Symphony X became popular in metal circles after producing their album “The Divine Wings of Tragedy”. The album took some extra time in preparation with recording beginning in 1996 until it was finally produced in 1997. This album allowed Symphony X to become a success in Europe and at the same time their popularity in Japan kept on growing.
The band recorded “Twilight in the Olympus” in 1998 with a replacement drummer when Rullo had to step away for a while and this gave the band the opportunity to have their first live show in the same year which took place in Japan. It was soon followed by a world tour and the bassist left to be replaced by Michael Lepond.
The band released its fifth album in 2000 with the major progressive music label InsideOut Music, which was their first concept album dealing with the myth of Atlantis. The band then recorded their first live album after a tour in Europe and South America. 2 years later the band released an album called “The Odyssey” and was followed by “Paradise Lost”. The last album had darker musical themes and included a special DVD footage of the band throughout their history. In 2007 the band also released their first music video. Paradise lost was followed by another album called “Iconoclast” that describes the way machines are taking over everything in our lives. It was produced in 2011.
Michael Romeo appeared as a guest guitarist for other bands like Ayreon and Flaud Logic. He still managed to work on a new album with Symphony X in 2014. The album was titled “Underworld” and was finally released in 2015. The first single was released in May 2015 while the second followed in June 2015 and was made available for digital download.
Michael will be releasing his solo album, “War of the Worlds Pt1′ on July 28, 2018. I spoke with Michael recently to discuss his new album.
You have volume 1 being released on July 28th, did you record a volume 2?
MR: I wrote a bunch of songs, we went in and recorded as much as we could. It was getting to be too much so we recorded half of it. We will eventually finish the remaining songs.
How did you pick the musicians to record War of the Worlds?
MR: I’ve known Johnny Mac (Macaluso) for a while. He was covering some festival dates for Symphony X last tour when Jason, our original drummer was having health issues. Rick (Castellano), I met when I and some friends from high school were jamming to some Sabbath and Priest. I remember hearing Rick sing and told him he’s a really good singer. If I do any future projects I’ll be in touch with him. We stayed in touch with each other and JD (bass player) I went to high school with.
Why did you wait so long to do a follow up to The Dark Chapter?
MR: Because of the band I always spent so much time writing and once the band got going, a lot of writing and recording and that would always take us a while and then we’re out touring and we come back from the tour. We kind of catch a breath and then right back to the next thing and then it’s another couple of years cycle of that.
I didn’t have time until recently. We took a break last year, Russ, wanting to try to get his thing going, and spend some more time on it. Everybody took a break doing some other things they want to do. I said I’ll do this, I’ll do this solo record.
What inspired you to write these lyrics?
MR: The music always comes first. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted a lot of riffs, heavy stuff and some progressive and I definitely wanted it to be really orchestral.
The whole album is pretty orchestral. I have a little bit of Star Wars type sounds on the album. I was looking for a title and something that would say that. I was looking through books and I saw War of the Worlds. When I was sitting with Rick and we’re trying to work out lyrics, you don’t want to sing it exactly like that book and all about Martians and stuff.,
Everybody’s all up in arms and crazy all the time, all the conflict going on. So we went with that.
Were you trying to get a different sound from your Symphony X albums on this solo record?
MR: I wanted the music to be a little different. If I’m doing a riff it’s hard to be too different because with the band I’m writing a lot of the stuff so there’s going to be some similarities. I wanted a lot of orchestral sections. Cinematic film sounds.
What made you decide to start playing the guitar?
MR: I was about 11-12 and I was listening to Kiss Alive II. I picked up an acoustic guitar from a garage sale and started fiddling around with it. A couple of years later I got serious with it and purchased an electric guitar.
Did you take lessons or were you self-taught?
MR: In the beginning, I took lessons, learning chords. Then I went on my own and I learned a lot just by practicing and reading theory books. I went back and I took classical lessons and it was like, Nah, you know I don’t know if this is my thing because to practice the technique. It’s a totally different thing. I think I’d rather do metal riffs, you know, then Bach, but it was still cool.
Who were your influences growing up?
MR: Huge Randy Rhoads fan. There were so many guys out there while I was growing up. Uli Jon Roth, Al Di Meola, Yngwie, then came guys like Jason Becker, Shawn Lane, Marty Friedman and Allen Holdsworth.
How did you get involved with Caparison Guitars?
MR: It’s been over ten years that I’ve been involved with Caparison. We were playing a festival and one of the other band members was playing one. I liked how it felt and he put me in touch with them. We went back and forth about things. I was telling them about this Kramer guitar that I’ve had all my life and I really liked the neck. I sent them the neck and told them something like this, one volume, one know, I don’t need all of that crazy electronics on there. Ever since then I’ve been playing Caparison. I love how they feel and play.
Who are some of your endorsements?
MR: I’ve been a long time endorser of Engl Amps and DiMarzio pickups. I’m not a guy who has 300 different racks going on. Maybe a tube screamer. That’s it. It’s like three cables and I’m done.
How have you evolved as a musician?
MR: Trying to incorporate different kinds of music. I think probably if you want to say evolve, I think just by listening to different stuff, studying other stuff, studying orchestration and really diving in with some of that and then trying to use that when I write, try to just try to do something different
Are you going to be touring in support for your new solo record?
MR: When I started this project I really didn’t think about. We could. It will depend on well received the record is.
Any discussion of a new Symphony X album on the horizon?
MR: Nothing for right now. I just finished my solo album. We’re all friends and talk all the time. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually, we’ll all sit down and discuss doing another album.
To order War of the Worlds Part 1, please visit https://www.mascotlabelgroup.com/michael-romeo
To learn more about Michael Romeo, please visit https://www.facebook.com/MichaelJRomeo/
Symphony X https://www.facebook.com/symphonyx/
To learn more about Michael Romeo’s Caparison Signature Guitar please visit https://www.caparisonguitars.com/products/dellinger-prominence-mjr-michael-j-romeo-signature/