Kings of Mercia Rule Over Hard Rock and Heavy Metal On Self-Titled Debut (Interview with Jim Matheos)
Jim Matheos is a legendary progressive metal guitarist and a founding member of Fates Warning. His intelligent playing has allowed him to adapt to all manner of different projects over the years including his collaboration with fellow (now former) member of Fates Warning, vocalist John Arch; a project in which Matheos provided all the instrumentation with ample session musicians to boot.
Enter Kings of Mercia, a new project of Jim’s that includes a familiar face in heavy metal veteran bassist Joey Vera, Toto drummer Simon Phillips and FM vocalist Steve Overland. The sound this time around is more of a traditional mix of hard rock and heavy metal, showcasing the adaptability of Matheos’ guitar playing and a band that has had a relatively different kind of beginning in just how he canvassed folks to be a part of this new musical machine.
I chatted with Jim about his musical genesis, what styles influenced his play style, the formation of the band, this more stripped down and straight forward play style, the possibility of taking the show on the road and what the future might hold for this new beast of theirs. Read on below and listen to the self-titled Kings of Mercia right now!
Jim, you’ve been involved with so many legendary projects over the years, how do you stay inspired to not only continue those, but create new ones?
Thanks for the compliment, but that’s actually a hard question to answer, mostly because I don’t see myself in those terms. Making music is just what I’m lucky enough to be able to do. In that respect it’s not much different than any other job. If you take pride in your work, and enjoy it, it’s not hard to just keep doing what you do.
What makes the formation of King of Mercia different from other bands you’ve worked in?
Most of my work, obviously, has been in the prog/metal field. I’ve done a few other things that lean towards ambient/electronica. Those two styles were a big influence on me in my formative years. But I was also hugely into more straightforward hard rock as well. UFO, Scorpions, etc… even Bad Company. KoM allowed me to tap into those influences more and it was very rewarding. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m never going to do another prog record, or acoustic, or whatever. I hope I still have a few more of those in me. These are all just manifestations of what I enjoy as a listener and am lucky enough to explore as a musician.
What was the Pandemic like for you creatively seeing due to the isolation?
Honestly, aside from not being able to tour, it wasn’t very different. I don’t go out very often and I like to spend most of my time in the studio. So, other than worrying about family and friends, nothing really changed.
Stylistically how did you home in on a sound for King of Mercia?
It kind of just happened, at least for the first few songs. Once I’d written the first couple songs, without really having an idea of what I wanted to do style wise, a direction seemed to present itself and I just followed through with that. Initially I was a bit unsure about the more straightforward direction but, having worked on quite a few heavier/prog records over the past few years this felt like a refreshing challenge. Once I heard Steve’s vocals on the first few songs I was convinced.
Since the band is a mix of folks you’ve neve played with and first time collaborators, what was the recording process like? How much of a "band" does this feel like?
It’s not much different from anything else I’ve done, in terms of construction, putting the songs together, recording, etc.. Fates has been working like this, remotely, for at least 25 years. So in terms of the mechanics, recording, mixing, it was no different. It WAS a bit different working with new personalities, getting to know them in terms of communication preferences, work habits, etc... but there were no real challenges there either. We’ve all been doing this for a very, very long time and so there was no hand holding or nudging necessary.
What is the inspiration behind "Nowhere Man"?
Lyrically, you’d have to speak with Steve – all the lyrics are his. Musically, there’s no specific inspiration behind any of the songs other than Steve and I trying to create music that we enjoy and are proud of.
I get a very King Nero vibe from the album art, was that intentional or is there something else behind that?
Ha, yes, I could see that. But, no, nothing intentional there. With the cover, we basically hired the artist (Simon Ward), gave him the band name, song titles and a couple songs to check out. This is what he came up with and we loved it. No deep meaning or message behind it.
Steve Overland does a great job on this record on vocals, what was it like canvassing friends for this project and landing Steve, with whom you were the least familiar?
Well, the search wasn’t really all that exhaustive. Originally I put together quite a long list of people that I thought might work but I only ever got around to contacting, I think, two of them.
At this time Jeff Wagner was working on the Fates book, so we were speaking often and I mentioned to him what I was doing and that I was looking for the right singer and he mentioned Steve. Now, I was familiar with FM but hadn’t heard them or Steve in awhile, so I did some reconnaissance and I loved what I heard, I thought he would be a great fit for the music. Long story short, a mutual friend put us in touch and Steve and talked and wondered what a collision of our two main styles might sound like. I couldn’t be happier with the result or Steve’s performance. I can’t imagine this coming together as well and as seamlessly as it did if I had gone with anyone else.
What does the future hold for Kings of Mercia? Is this strictly a studio project or is there more to it?
Steve and I are both interested in doing some dates if the opportunity presents itself. But I have to be realistic – it’s hard enough to get a band like FW, a band with a small but dedicated following, out on the road. So with KoM, although all the players are known, it’s still a new thing and people are very careful about what they want to spend their money on, rightly so. So I’m not sure the demand would be there, at least initially. We do plan on doing a KoM2, perhaps after that it might be more feasible. But, as I say, if anything does pop up, festival appearances, whatever, we would take a serious look.
Kings of Mercia's debut is out now on Metal Blade Records.