The combination of big riffs, driving rhythms, thick yet lithe bass lines and rich vocal melodies has made for some of the greatest music of all time, and in the hands of Kings Of Mercia this recipe is intoxicating. Best known as the founding guitarist for Fates Warning, but with countless other projects under his belt – including Arch / Matheos and most recently Tuesday The Sky – Jim Matheos is incapable of stifling his creativity. In early 2021, he started working on the songs that would become Kings Of Mercia’s self-titled debut album, bringing his distinct style yet doing something a little different. “I started writing without any real idea of what direction I wanted to go in or what I was going to do with the material. The first few songs came together quickly and were a bit more straightforward than I!m used to, and I really liked that idea, kind of going back to my early heavy/hard rock roots.” Not having any pre-conceived ideas of what the record should or would end up sounding like, at least early on, certainly helped, “as did the fact that it!s our first record, so there was nothing to measure it against or expectations to live up to, even if only in my own head.”
Churning out songs, Matheos’ next concern was to find the musicians who would help him realize the material, and his first priority was a vocalist. Putting together a list of 30-40 contenders he contacted a handful but none of them worked out for various reasons, and it was his friend Jeff Wagner who suggested FM’s Steve Overland, and another friend, rock journalist Dave Ling, who put them in touch with each other. “Jim had asked Dave for my contact details, we talked about his idea for mixing the two styles, his heavier background, with my melodic/bluesier direction,” says Overland. “We decided to try a collaboration on one song and see how it worked, we came up with the track “Humankind”, and we both loved it.” The combination of Matheos’ riffs and Overland’s vocals makes for perfect bedfellows, and the evident chemistry belies the fact they have never met. “We both wrote on our own, me completing songs instrumentally and then sending them to Steve who wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals on his own. But there was never a moment where he said, ‘I don!t really like this part, or that song’, and likewise there was never anything that he sent me where I thought, ‘Hmm, I!m not sure about that…’ Everything I sent to him he worked on as is and everything he sent back to
me ended up being final vocals, first time around. So there wasn!t any of the usual ‘what if you try this instead?’ that I!m so used to. That was really refreshing.” Having already settled on this hard rock direction, it was only
once Matheos got the first couple of songs back from Overland that it became all the way clear of the shape the record would take, with the vocalist sending over his parts every few weeks, everything gradually coming together. “I think “Humankind” set a precedent for the way the album would go,” says Overland. “It!s a heavy anthemic track, but it!s hooky and has melody. Although the songs all have their own identity, I think they are
all very powerful. Lyrically, it’s very varied, and there is a different subject matter and story in every song, so there’s no concept or thread that runs throughout the album.”
Behind the kit for the record is the legendary Simon Phillips (ex-Toto, Derek Sherinian), one of Matheos’ favorite drummers. “I decided to contact him on a whim, not really expecting that he!d be available or interested in this project. But, to my surprise, he liked the music and was able to fit some recording into his schedule. It!s an honor to share a credit with him and I couldn!t be happier with what he added to the record.” Rounding out the group is bassist Joey Vera – Matheos’ Fates Warning bandmate – who brings his trademark style and professionalism to the table. “My old friend and co-worker Joey Vera was a natural choice for bass. Not only did I know he would deliver performance-wise, but it was nice to have a familiar face among the new personalities.” With these players involved it was an easy, stress-free process throughout, making music for the love of it, and coming up with something that sounds familiar yet new, expanding the repertoire of all involved. This means songs like the half-acoustic ballad, half-swaggering “Too Far Gone” or the beautiful “Everyday Angels”, and the soaring “Wrecking Ball”, which opens the record on a high note, all brought to life in dynamic style.
The hardest part of the whole process was coming up with a name for the band. “We didn!t want to go with Matheos / Overland, or Overland / Matheos, etc, and Steve and I probably batted around 50 ideas before settling on Kings Of Mercia. It!s pretty much the only one we both liked. There!s no specific meaning or message behind it.” It made sense to self-title the record due to it being the band’s debut, and given how much life there is in the songs it would not be surprising if it did not become the first of many, the combination of those involved creating something special, and with Matheos’ permanent creative hunger you may well be hearing a lot more from Kings Of Mercia.
Kings of Mercia TRACK-LISTING:
- Wrecking Ball
- Sweet Revenge
- Set the World on Fire
- Too Far Gone
- Liberate Me
- Nowhere Man
- Everyday Angels
- Is It Right?
Greetings from Metalheads Forever Magazine Jim, I’m Keith Clement, How are you doing today?
Hi Keith, I’m well, hope you are too.
King’s OF Mercia’s debut self titled album is to be out on September 23, Would you like to tell me about the songwriting and production behind the album?
JM: It kind of started with me looking for something to do after Fates released our last album, Long Day Good Night. We knew there wouldn’t be any touring for some time so I immediately started writing again, without much forethought about what I’d like to do. The first couple songs came together quickly and I liked the more direct, simpler sound that seemed to be presenting itself. I continued on in that manner until I had 4-5 songs done at which point I realized, hmmm I’m gonna need a really strong singer for these. After a short search a friend of mine suggested Steve. Steve and I discussed it and decided to try a “test” song to see how we work together. That song turned out to be Humankind and it convinced us both that we might be on to something and that we had a similar work ethic and a good rapport.
10 mind blowing rock anthems, each song is beautifully done, great vocals and amazing musicianship, how do you feel about the outcome of the album?
JM: Thanks! We’re all really proud of it. It started off as a bit of an experiment, with Steve and I wondering how the clash of styles between our two main bands might work. We couldn’t be happier with the result and look forward to working together again very soon.
You put up an awesome cover art of the album, Can you tell me the story behind the art?
JM: Thanks again. The cover and sleeve work were created by Simon Ward. Simon has done quite a bit of work with Marillion over the years and that’s how I discovered him. In this case, basically, we gave him the band name, song titles, and a few songs to check out and this is what he came back with. So, not a lot of creative input from the band, all credit to Simon, but we’re well happy with it.
Do you have any release day plans?
JM: Ha, no not really. We’re of course very happy with the record and are excited for people to hear it. But, speaking strictly for myself, once I’m done with a record, once it’s mixed and mastered and sent off to the label, I’m on to the next thing. I don’t really enjoy the whole promo/hype phase and try to steer clear of it as much as possible. So release day plans for me, I’ll be in the studio working on something else.
How is the touring plans look for Kings Of Mercia?
JM: Steve and I would like to get KoM out there at some point, perhaps some festivals. But looking at it realistically, touring, even for a semi-established band like Fates Warning is very difficult, particularly in the current situation. So, even though all the players in KoM are known we’re still a new band releasing a debut record. So we need to see how the record does and if there’s any demand out there for shows. It’s possible, and if it does happen we would welcome it. But I think it’s more likely that we may have to wait until after KoM 2.
Would you like to share how Kings of Mercia formed and how you all got together into this new band/Project?
JM: That’s all pretty well covered in the bio.
Two amazing videos “Wrecking Ball” & “Liberate Me” Would you like to tell a bit about the making of the videos?
JM: Well, as you can probably tell, they were all dome remotely. Steve is in the UK and I’m here in the US. Between our schedules and lingering covid concerns, getting together was just not possible. So for both videos we both shot in our separate locations and they were combined with some stock footage/images by some clever directors. Given the circumstances and limited budgets they came out ok. The next one, Humankind, is more of a “proper” video – although still done all remotely except for Joey and Simon who actually filmed in the same room.
Are there any plans to come up with more videos from the album?
JM: We’ll be releasing a video for Humankind on release day, Sep 23. After that I may do a few “guitar play through” type videos. Not sure after that.
How do you look into the future for Kings of Mercia?
JM: See next answer.
What would be some of the upcoming plans for the band?
JM: Steve and I are talking about starting work on KoM 2 soon. We both really enjoyed the process and end result with KoM1, so we’re looking forward to see if we can carry that chemistry over to KoM2. And, of course, if any touring opportunities come up we’ll take a close look at those.
Jim, Being the founding member of Fates Warning and a whole lotta band and projects at work how do you feel about the road you traveled so far?
JM: It kind of depends on which day of the week you ask me. Most days I feel pretty good about it. When I was a kid all I ever wanted to do was make music for a living. I’ve been able to do that, and still enjoy it, which says a lot. Other days though, those self doubts creep in and I feel like everything I’ve done is crap. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people, not just musicians/artists, but anybody who cares deeply about what they do. Luckily, for me, those first kinds of days outweigh the second.
Finally what would be the message for the fans?
Thanks for your support and I hope you enjoy Kings of Mercia.