A band that I’ve been a big fan of for many years is OSI, which features Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) and Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater). There is something old-school, yet incredibly futuristic about their approach to prog-metal. I can’t exactly explain it, but listen to their albums and you’ll understand what I mean.
So, with great excitement, I got the opportunity to speak to Jim regarding the upcoming album Fire Make Thunder (out March 27th). We spoke about everything from the title to specific songs to how many of the sounds were created. Check out this exclusive interview below.
Bloody-Disgusting: How are you doing?
Jim Matheos: Good, thanks!
BD: First thing I’m curious about is the actual title of the album, ‘Fire Make Thunder’. What does that signify?
JM: Wow, start me off with a hard one [laughs]. Actually, you know, not a whole lot. From what I remember, it was a phrase from a spoken-word sample we were using at one time which actually ended up not being on the record. That’s really about it. We just thought it stood out and that it would make a unique album title. Not much else. No grand concept.
BD: Can you tell me a bit about the samples on ‘Cold Call’? Why the announcer first stating that there is a serious situation, then telling people NOT to call the studio, and finally it all ending up as a miscommunication?
JM: Well, that’s an actual thing that happened on that radio station in the 70’s. That was really Kevin’s idea. He’s always looking for interesting samples. Again, we’re not really trying to say anything extremely serious about the music or make any sort of grand statement. It’s just something that’s kind of clever, interesting, fits in with the music, the rhythm flows with the music. We thought it made a cool opening track to.
BD: I can envision fans and even casual listeners hearing it and drawing deep, meaningful ideas from these samples. It’s humorous that, in the end, it was the two of you thinking, “This sounds really cool”.
JM: I mean, that’s what it really boils down to. I see what you’re saying though. A lot of times, when there is a sample, it does make people, and even myself, think about how we should take it. Does it have greater significance? But, like I say, for us, it was just really cool sounding.
BD: In my opinion, the album, as a whole, is less heavy than ‘Blood’, yet there is still a very “heavy” emotion about it. What are your thoughts on that?
JM: That’s probably fairly accurate to what I think. It’s always hard when you’re so close to an album to look at it objectively. I can look back at ‘Blood’ now and say yeah, that was our heaviest record. There was a lot of heavy guitar-driven songs. It’s easier to look at that album and give an objective opinion than it is with this one, which I’ve lived with close to two years, day in and day out. So it’s really hard to be objective.
But I would agree. I think that there’s a little less of the heavy guitar-driven things. It does seem to be a heavy record for me, but again, not necessarily in the obvious, heavy metal kind of way. Thematically, lyrically, and mood-wise, I think it was a consistent dark mood throughout the whole thing. And that’s not to say that it’s extremely mellow all the way through. It does have heavy guitar parts throughout.
BD: A track that I love is “Winds Don’t Howl”. It mixes a lot of melody and beauty into the OSI sound. Can you tell me a bit about that song?
JM: Musically, a lot of our songs, rather than starting with a riff or a chord progression, start with a sound. For that one, I started with that odd sounding guitar you hear at the beginning. That one was really structured around a sound, as many of our other songs start out.
BD: What goes into making these specific sounds?
JM: You mean the physical process or the mental process?
BD: Well, I was wondering if perhaps it’s a bit of both?
JM: Well, it can happen either way. Sometimes I hear something in my head and try to develop it. More often than not it’s just playing with different pieces of gear or starting a new album. And this is definitely true with the new OSI record. I went out and bought a bunch of gear just to, kind of, be inspired. So, with that specific song, I had went out and got a couple of new effects pedals and was just having fun! It’s one of the things I do that’s actually fun, to be able to go into the studio and just twirl knobs. And sooner or later, something will spark my interest. A lot of times I could just spend the whole day and end up with nothing.
BD: Is there anything that you purchased for this album that stands out?
JM: Yeah, a few pieces! For this one, I used this noisy little distortion pedal called the Super Sonic Fuzz Gun. That was one of the elements with ‘Wind Won’t Howl’ as well as ‘Cold Call’, maybe some other things. Then there were these analog Diamond pedals. The tremolo and vibrato pedals.
But I want to say that it’s not a huge part of the record. It’s just something that helps it get started. It’s not to say that I lean on it for the rest of the record. I don’t want to make it sound like that.
BD: In previous OSI albums, there were usually a few guest appearances, such as Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson and Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt. Any particular reason that it was just you, Kevin, and Gavin this time around?
JM: Really we just found at the end of the process that we didn’t need any! Most often, in the people that you just mentioned, the people come in as guest vocal appearances. This happens when we have a song or a musical idea that we want to include on the record but, for some reason, Kevin [Moore] might not be interested in singing on it. It could be that he doesn’t think his voice will do it justice or he doesn’t really have any ideas that he likes for it vocally. And yet, we’re just really interested in having the song on the record. That’s where guest appearances have come in to play in the past.
With this record, we just kept writing and writing. And by the end, we felt that we had enough material that the album was well rounded. So when we were done, we didn’t really need anybody.
BD: I saw the interview you did with Brian, CEO of Metal Blade, and there was talk about you and Kevin considering if touring was something you’d be interested in. Has there been any headway in that department?
JM: Well, it’s definitely something we’re interested in. We talk about it after every record. There are certain obstacles in the way. One of the things being that, to do this the right way, we’d like to go out and present the music as it is on the record. It’s a lot easier to do it in the studio than to do it live [laughs]. So it’d take a lot of preparation.
It also costs a lot of money and, for a band at this level, it’s hard to justify those costs for even a small club tour. But we’re looking at ways to get around that. We’re thinking about doing some sort of live recording, which would allow us to do all the preparation and to fund those costs by having that available for sale. And that would, at the same time, have us prepared for a live tour. That’s something we’re looking at now, budgeting it out, and seeing if there is any interest from the label.
BD: Earlier in this interview, you mentioned that the sample from which the album title was derived came from a sample that didn’t make the cut onto the record. Are there any plans for an OSI B-Sides release?
JM: We don’t really have a lot! Especially for this record…I’m trying to think so I’m not lying but I don’t think there is any extra material for this record at all. This is a new label for us. On Inside Out, we were always required to do a bonus CD which would have extra songs on it. So we always kept that in mind writing those records. We’d do a cover or a remix or something like that. But this one, number one it wasn’t required of us to come up with anything extra and, just the nature of the way we work, we spend a lot of time on each song. So, for them to get to the final stage, it’s a lot of work and we’re pretty certain they’re going to make it onto the record. If it’s something we’re not 100% in love with or something, we don’t really pursue it and it just gets left by the wayside. So there might be some riffs or ideas on the side, but certainly no full songs.
BD: Jim, thanks so much for your time. I love ‘Fire Make Thunder’ and I can’t wait to see what other people think of it!