INTERVIEW WITH BOBBY JARZOMBEK BY KELLEY SIMMS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEPHANIE CABRAL
Appearing in 1984 on the burgeoning metal record label Metal Blade with its debut album, Night on Bröcken—with formidable singer John Arch—Fates Warning set the standard for progressive metal. By 1988’s No Exit—now featuring vocalist Ray Adler—the band morphed into a different entity by altering and changing its musical dynamics into a more melodic/ethereal prog band, especially by 1989’s Perfect Symmetry and 1991’s Parallels.
Fast-forward to 2020, the band once again turns a new musical chapter by adding another expansive soundscape by releasing its 13th full-length album, Long Day Good Night. Featuring Adler (Engine, ex-Redemption), original guitarist Jim Matheos (Arch/Matheos, OSI), bassist Joey Vera (Armored Saint, Engine), and drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Riot, Halford, Iced Earth, Sebastian Bach), Fates Warning remains a powerful musical force.
Jarzombek has an impressive résumé and he is one of the only drummers that prefers to play without wearing shoes, while his open-handed drumming style and playing cymbals behind his back also set him apart from his peers.
During Jarzombek’s downtime, the drummer enjoys working on his house and tending to his garden. And since the pandemic hit, there’s been plenty of opportunities to do so. Speaking with us during a recent phone interview, Jarzombek talked about the new Fates Warning album, Long Day Good Night, how he prepares for the studio, his early days with NY rockers Riot, and why he plays drums barefoot.
During this global pandemic and social distancing, what have you been doing? How have you been channeling your creativity?
If I go back to March when this whole thing started, I was supposed to go out with Sebastian for an eight week tour, but the tour got cancelled obviously, as everyone’s tour did starting in March. I was working on the Fates Warning record that I had started on in late 2019. I was learning material and recording it, so I wasn’t going to be able to finish the Fates record because I had the Sebastian tour. So, when the Sebastian tour got cancelled, obviously I had the time to finish the Fates record.
I worked on that until May and completed the Fates record. I had some tracks I had to do for local people. Then the bars and local stuff started opening up around here in late May and June, so I started doing a few local gigs and a few different things. And then everything closed again because of Covid, and it ended up that I went back into, “What do I do now?” But at that time, people who weren’t able to tour wanted to do little studio projects. So, I’ve been doing a lot of sessions locally and playing some little clubs here and there, working on my yard and house. The Sebastian tour that was supposed to happen in March/April/May ended up getting moved to October/November/December, which obviously is not happening. Now they’re talking about rebooking it again for sometime in early spring, but I haven’t received any official word about anything yet.
How did you record this new Fates Warning album? What was the process like?
It’s pretty much the way we did the two previous studio records that I’ve done with the band, Darkness in a Different Light  and Theories of Flight . It’s Jim putting together the songs on his own, musically, with a drum machine, playing bass or programming it, then putting the guitar parts together and sending it to Ray. Sometimes Jim writes lyrics, sometimes it comes to where Ray will start from scratch. He’ll work on pieces of music and create more of a full song. Then I’ll receive the demos with the drum programming on it and I’ll sift through that and make my parts.
“I CAN CONTRIBUTE SOMETHING AS A SONGWRITER A LITTLE BIT EVEN IF IT’S JUST SOME BEAT PATTERNS”
Then we’ll go back and forth with the ProTools files. On the last three records that I did work on with Fates, including this one, I did write a couple of things where I was able to record some patterns and beats, and I sent them to Jim and he wrote a couple of tunes around what I had sent him. I feel like I can contribute something as a songwriter a little bit even if it’s just some beat patterns that Jim will feel inspired to come up with some riffs. And we came up with some pretty cool stuff for this one.
In the past while recording, you’ve always meticulously charted out your drum parts for each track. How did you apply this theory to these new tracks, especially on the longer compositions such as “The Destination Onward” and “The Longest Shadow of the Day”?
My process has changed from years past. When I’d work on old Riot stuff or something in the last 10 years, I would play along with something, whatever I was learning, and I would write it out at that moment so I wouldn’t forget it. I’d write the patterns down to make sure I had it correct, fills and everything, and I would do it that way. Since I’ve had my own recording gear at home, my process has changed in that I’ll come up with a part or a section, and I’ll play it along with the guitar and the bass, and then I’ll listen back to it and analyze it.
“THOSE LONGER SONGS WILL TAKE ME TWO TO THREE WEEKS TO COME UP WITH THE FULL SONG WITH MY FULL PARTS.”
Then I’ll make demo versions of it and work on it for a week or two, especially with the longer songs that you mentioned, “The Destination Onward” and “The Longest Shadow of the Day.” Those longer songs will take me two to three weeks to come up with the full song with my full parts. And then when I like all the parts, I’ll send those to Jim. And then if Jim says they’re all cool, we’ll do a real recording of the song and I’ll actually take my time. But right before I do that, I like to write out the music so I can actually read it and play it. So, I’ll have everything charted out so I don’t have to rely on listening to the demo version that I made. It takes me less time if I can see the music on the paper and I can rip through it a little bit quicker. My process has changed over the last 10 years a little bit. Having ProTools and my own recording setup, it makes things refined a little more.
Why did Gavin Harrison play on “When Snow Falls”? What did he have to offer instead of you?
Gavin’s one of my favorite drummers to listen to. I love his playing. But as I mentioned with the Sebastian tour, I was going to leave in March/April/May and I wasn’t able to finish the Fates Warning record at that time. I told the guys, and Jim and Ray weren’t happy about it, but I couldn’t help the situation, I had to go on tour. Obviously, they understand that. So, Jim said we had some options, and one option is that we have somebody else play on a couple of the tracks, maybe we can make them bonus tracks. So, I gave my blessing to go ahead. I actually encouraged it because the band really wanted to go out and tour in 2021.
Jim actually had some files of Gavin when working on one of the OSI records, a bunch of beat patterns. And he was using these as reference points for that particular song. They worked and sounded really good, so Jim went into his files and found some other stuff Gavin had played and it worked perfectly for that song. So, when the Sebastian tour was cancelled at that time, I called Jim and said I could do the rest of the record. But there was that one Gavin song, and everybody said it sounded great so let’s keep it. We didn’t know if it was going to be a bonus track, but it ended up being included on the record. It’s cool and everything, but it might seem like a little bit of an oddity to people that Gavin is actually on one song.
Michael Abdow is also a great addition for the guitar leads. He plays live with the band and appears on one track on the previous album, but his playing is more prominent on Long Day Good Night. How did this come about?
Mike has been the second guitar player in Fates since 2013. Of course, Jim wants to include him on the record, and Mike is a great solo player and a great guy. Mike will end up doing the tour, if there is a tour or whenever the band gets to tour. Jim had him play a few other things on this record. On “The Longest Shadow of the Day,” he plays some amazing stuff. We love Mike, Mike’s great.
Coming into Fates Warning, you already had a great résumé and were well known and well revered behind the drum kit. What were your expectations or game plan when first joining the band?
I had initially demoed two songs for FWX . I’d known Jim just through other people, but I grew up in San Antonio when Ray was here in San Antonio. So, they knew of me for years in the business and I knew of them and they knew my brother Ron [Jarzombek of Spastic Ink]. I don’t know if they were having problems or whatever, but things weren’t working out with Mark Zonder, or he wanted to leave the band. I’m not sure of the exact situation. But Jim asked me sometime before the FWX record came out, when they were working on material, if I would sit in with the band and work on the record. So, I actually demoed a couple of songs that actually made it to the record, not with me playing obviously, but with Mark Zonder playing. I don’t know if Jim disliked like what I played or if they were going to stick with Mark for the record, but for whatever reason, Jim decided to not have me play on the FWX record. I was bummed out about it because I wanted to play on it.
They went on tour with that record, but Mark didn’t tour with them, they got Nick D’Virgilio. I don’t know why they didn’t ask me, I have no idea. Then in 2007, they were going to do a festival in Europe and I was going to play it also with Sebastian. Jim called me and asked me to play their set as well as Sebastian’s. I wasn’t going to play on the tour because I had broken my wrist, but I said I would play the gig because I was missing the full tour. I learned the set, played the gig, the gig went great, and the guys were sitting around and Jim asked if they booked more tours if I would play. I don’t know the reason, but Fates weren’t working on a record at that time, and we’d constantly go to Europe and play. Then when it got to be around 2011–12, Jim wanted to start working on Darkness in a Different Light. Then we started touring the US, but there was that weird period for about five years where it seems like all we did was tour Europe and play the back catalog. But I was finally able to record something with the band. Of course, I was anxious and excited to do that record.
“WHEN I WOULD SIT DOWN ON THE KIT IN MY BEDROOM I WAS NATURALLY BAREFOOT AND IT JUST FELT NORMAL.”
About your playing style, you’re one of the only drummers who plays your kick drums barefoot. How did this come about and what advantage does it give you?
It started out when I was a kid running around the house in Texas. I’ve always preferred being barefoot. When I would sit down on the kit in my bedroom I was naturally barefoot and it just felt normal. When I started playing gigs I’d have shoes on at my earliest performances, which were talent shows and variety shows at school. I remember having shoes on and it just didn’t feel right playing with shoes on. There’s even some pictures of me and Ron when we were kids playing, I might’ve been 13-years-old, and I’m playing with socks on rather than shoes or barefoot. I was still trying to figure it out. It just got to the point when I’d go to gigs it just didn’t feel right to have shoes on. The only advantage that I can think of… I don’t know if I would have more power if I had shoes on, but the thing for me that’s an advantage about it, is that I don’t have to go through all these stupid questions about the right kind of shoes, or maybe I could play better if I would have worn my other shoes. For me, it’s always the same every time I sit down at the kit. So, at least I don’t have to go through that, as I’m guessing a lot of drummers do go through that.
Tell us about the early days of being in Riot and knowing Mark Reale (R.I.P. 2012). A lot of people feel like Riot never got the recognition they deserved.
Unfortunately, for some bands, they will always be labeled as underrated or underappreciated, and Riot is one of those bands that fell in one of those categories. All the records are great, whether it’s Thundersteel  all the way up until the last one I did, Immortal Soul , and even continuing on now, the guys are still doing it as Riot V and putting out great music. Working with Mark was awesome. He was such a great songwriter. He’s different from a lot of guys I’ve worked with who are guitar players that didn’t come from his generation. Mark would sit with a guitar, with an acoustic sometimes, and just hum melodies. He was really into the melodic sense of songs. That was important to him, the melodic parts of the music of hard rock, heavy metal, or whatever you want to call it.
He was a great guy as a band member. It wasn’t like, “My way or the highway” at any point with him. It was his band, of course, but while everybody else was moving along with their lives and doing other stuff or family stuff, Mark was always dedicated to the band, putting the records out and doing all the stuff you have to do like the liner notes, the pictures, and all that stuff. I had to quit the band a couple of different times because of things just not happening with the band, because of poor management. It wasn’t a band that was ever going to be really successful for those reasons because of the management and everything else involved. It could never get that stuff together. And Mark wasn’t even about that. He never thought of looking for better management. He just said, “If you put out great records then people will notice and things will get better.” But sometimes it doesn’t, it’s not enough. Thundersteel was my first record, it was a great time to be in the band. It was exciting. I think about it a lot.
Fates Warning has been around for more than 35 years, and even though you weren’t there from the beginning, what is it about this lineup, the legacy, and the music you guys have excellently created over the years?
Like Riot, Fates Warning has always put out great material. You’ll come across different fans of the band that like different records for whatever reason. There’s never been a record of the band where a fan will say, “I don’t care for that.” You lose touch with a band because there’s different things that you’re into or whatever it might be at that particular time. But a lot of people always come back to the band, and you can put on a Fates Warning record at any point on any of the records and you can’t say, “This one’s a dud.” All the records are great and that’s the one thing that keeps fans coming out to the shows. When I was asked to join the band through that first show at the Evolution Festival in 2007, that’s the thing, I know I’m going to play with a band that people like because it’s a great band that always puts out quality material.
“ALL THE RECORDS ARE GREAT AND THAT’S THE ONE THING THAT KEEPS FANS COMING OUT TO THE SHOWS.”
The other thing I like about the band is that I like being on the road with the band because we have sort of the same background, musically and personally, too. Jim and his wife Lori have been married for 30 years. Me and Carol have been married for 30 years, Joey and Tracey. Ray recently got married about five years ago. And then Mike Abdow and his wife have a baby on the way and have a little girl. He’s a younger guy, of course, but we all relate to each other’s situations as people. I think that’s a cool thing if you respect the people that you’re working with and respect who they are. If somebody has something going on with their daughter or this going on with their wife, you can relate to it. I like the band personally and I like the band musically, and that’s one of the things that keeps the band together. Even though we don’t talk all the time, especially because we’re in different cities, I just really like the guys.