Jim Matheos on the new Kings of Mercia album (Interview)

Guitarist Jim Matheos on the new Kings of Mercia album and more.

Photo: Chris Kissadjekian

Kings of Mercia, the new group formed by acclaimed rock/metal guitarist Jim Matheos (Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos) and powerhouse rock vocalist Steve Overland (FM) have announced the release of their self-titled debut album on September 23rd, 2022 via Metal Blade Records. Accompanying the duo on the upcoming album are Matheos’ Fates Warning bandmate Joey Vera on bass, and legendary drummer Simon Philips. We caught up with Jim for a brief chat about the new band and album, and on what is next for Fates Warning.

Talk about the idea to start to create this new band and how it got started?

The last Fates Warning record came out at the worst timing because it was right at the start of the pandemic, so we knew pretty early on we weren’t gonna be doing any touring for a while. So I just sat about looking for something else to do. Immediately after that I did that Tuesday the Sky record, which was kind of planned anyway, and that took maybe about six months or so. Still at that point it didn’t look like there was any touring in the foreseeable future, so I didn’t really have a plan on what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something musically. So without too much of a preconceived idea, I just started writing as I do sometimes. I go into the studio, play around and just try to find something that interests me to want to pursue a certain direction. I worked on that for a little while and came up with the basic structures of what were the first couple songs that would end up being on this album. But again I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be something more ambient like Tuesday the Sky, just really no idea. I came up with these first couple songs in this direction that seemed to be a bit more straightforward, just kind of going back to another side of my early influences that I hadn’t really explored that much and it was fun and I liked the result. I just decided to keep going in that direction and wrote a few more songs. By the time I had like three or four that were basically in this style, I started thinking about what to do with it and who would be involved.

How did you hook up with vocalist Steve Overland?

When I got these first couple of songs together, I knew it was going to be kind of a vocal centric album, so early on I put together quite a big wish list of people on there that I knew I wouldn’t be able to even contact or, if I did, probably wouldn’t be interested. It was just kind of a list to focus myself and what kind of thing would work for this. I did indeed contact maybe two of those people and you know didn’t really work out for various reasons. Then at that point I had been talking to Jeff Wagner (author of Destination Onward) and he suggested Steve Overland (vocalist for FM). I knew of them way back in the day because they started around the same time we did, but kind of lost touch with what they were doing. When Jeff mentioned Steve, I remembered I like his voice, so I checked out some of the more current stuff and some of the projects that he’s done and I thought this was a great idea and that he’d be perfect for this. Another mutual friend put the two of us together and we had a couple of initial conversations just kind of talking about how these two styles might fit together, my style being heavier and progressive and his more towards AOR, so maybe we could meet in the middle somewhere. We tried doing a test song and it went from there.

How did Simon Phillips and Joey Vera get involved?

Same story, I started to put together a list of drummers that I thought would be really good for this project and the first person I thought of was Simon Phillips, because well, he’s Simon. I contacted him first before I put together a further list and to my surprise he was open to it and he liked the music. I think he was available in part because of the pandemic again that was putting everybody on hold so people were looking for studio work and things that they could do at home, so it worked out really well. With Joey, number one, I know what I’m gonna get with Joey. I know he’s gonna deliver, he’s gonna be easy to work with, his tracks are going to be great. I decided at that point that having two new personalities and people that I hadn’t worked with before together, it might be nice to have a familiar face and a familiar opinion around.

The songs are more straight forward, have great melodic choruses, was that the goal when you started writing, or it just naturally evolved?

I was going to do so those first two songs if I remember right, I think probably Wrecking Ball and Humankind were the first two that I just battled with instrumentally and I liked that style. I did feel a little weird about it because it’s out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure how it would go over or who would listen to it but that didn’t really bother me too much. The first song was Wrecking Ball and that’s the only kind of nod to progressive stuff with it being in seven in the intro although it doesn’t sound like it. I’ve done so much over the last 10 years between the Fates records and other projects, I was kind of feeling a little progged out at that point. This was this was a relief for me rather than having to hold myself back to go in this direction.

There’s a new book on the history of Fates Warning called Destination Onward. What was it like revisiting the entire history of the band for that?

I worked closely with Jeff [Wagner] from the beginning so I don’t have that benefit just reading the book from front to back. He was writing stuff along the way and we talked a lot about a lot of stuff, so for me it was kind of like almost like making a record from day one and you don’t really get that overview. But yeah, it was surreal having to talk about. It was fun talking about all this stuff going through all my old calendars and trying to remember certain things.

What’s next for you?

With Fates I’m kind of leaving it up there and try not to make any definitive statements because I don’t really know. I would still at this point love to do some dates for that last record. We haven’t done that yet so who knows when or if we’ll be able to do that, but that’s that’ certainly a possibility. As far as new music, none of us are getting any younger. I’ve been doing this for a long time, part of me kind of feels like anything that you do for 40 years is probably enough. But, you never know, I could wake up tomorrow and have this urge to start writing something more progressive and heavy. If I do, that not going to be a side project. There’s no reason for me to write something in that style and get other guys, because I have the perfect vehicle with these guys. I love these guys, so if I’m going to do anything in that it’s going to be a Fates record. I’m just not sure that I have that in there at this point. If I do, then sure.

TRACKLIST:
1.Wrecking Ball 3:54
2.Humankind 4:13
3.Sweet Revenge 4:38
4.Set the World on Fire 4:16
5.Too Far Gone 6:07
6.Liberate Me 4:18
7.Nowhere Man 4:20
8.Everyday Angels 3:59
9.Is It Right? 4:03
10.Your Life 6:07

The album is available on CD, LP, and digital formats.
Pre-order here: https://www.metalblade.com/kingsofmercia/

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essential modern progressive rock album