Destination Onward: The Story Of Fates Warning – Jeff Wagner

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Destination Onward: The Story Of Fates Warning – Jeff Wagner

We’d been impatiently waiting for a book about Fates Warning’s career. After all, this is a band that might not have reached a huge commercial status but nevertheless is widely considered a prog metal pioneering force and of course an outfit that always pushed the artistic boundaries with each recording effort. So, if you ask me the book title is quite fitting and spot on! Personally, when I learned that Jeff Wagner was the man behind “Destination Onward”, I instinctively knew that this would be the ideal book for all the Fates fans out there. What I didn’t know was how brilliant and flawless it would be! Jeff was kind enough to answer a few questions that shed more light to the book…you will find all about them below.

“Destination Onward” highlights almost every aspect of Fates’ career right from the very early days (when they were first called Misfit and even earlier when they were just jamming buddies without a band name) up until nowadays. The author cleverly avoids the usual “trap” that almost every author falls into upon writing a book. We are talking about the childhood and school years that might bear a slight interest, but they are not always essential to the story and they can’t be quite tiring for the potential reader. Wagner depicts only the necessary info from those adolescent years and goes straight to the core of the story: the artistic aspect of Fates’ career!

The other attractive point of the book is the fact that Wagner brilliantly blended his own narrative with the memories and comments of the protagonists of the saga: the former and current members of the band. The final result is quite “attractive” for the reader who gets both the author’s personal point of view (pun intended) plus what the musicians had to say about the story. The truth is that Wagner is a fan of the band but most importantly a gifted author and that helps extremely to get only the essential stuff as he knows exactly what to leave out from the text. That’s really crucial for a book, of you ask me.

The overall structure of “Destination Onward” is the classic, chronologically linear one as we follow Fates’ trip through the years and through the albums. At the very end, we are treated with lists of best albums, songs by other bands etc. that were penned by Fates Warning themselves while Wagner picks his favorite albums, cover sleeves etc. by Fates, too. Last but certainly not least, it would be a mishap if we didn’t mention the…angry letter that Wagner sent to the band when John Arch was dismissed. The cool thing is that he got a letter back from Matheos! Several years later, Fates Warning’s mastermind contributes to “Destination Onward”! As they say, reality could be stranger and more fascinating than fiction, right?

If I had to use just one word for “Destination Onward” that would be PRICELESS for all the Fates fans! A must-have not only for us all, the fans but also for anyone who has an interest on heavy metal and prog rock in general. Mark our words: money well-spent on a fascinating book that you just can’t put down! For more info check here: https://radicalresearch.org/product/destination-onward-the-story-of-fates-warning-book-by-jeff-wagner/?fbclid=IwAR3cfc8NhdcdWYa4UISLKssAA-t-xINUcGVCSnfm-YEll44hV2qwfDaDZik

Fates Warning

Jeff Wagner Interview

Rockpages.gr: Jeff, congratulations on “Destination Onward”…I really mean it. Being a longtime fan myself I thoroughly enjoyed it. How long have you been working on it?

I first thought of doing it in late 2018, and actual work started in 2019. I was at InsideOut (the label) at the time, and we knew that Fates Warning were going back to Metal Blade. In talking to Jim Matheos, he told me, in utter confidence, that it would likely be the final Fates album and he wanted to go back to the label that started it all. A full circle thing, in Jim’s mind. And I felt, if that was truly the case, that it would be a great time to have a Fates Warning book out there. I had a bunch of ideas for my next book that weren’t really going anywhere, and I was already starting work on a Voivod book too (out mid/late 2023), but I jumped on this. I felt I could do a really good job of this. So I talked with Jim about it and he was super receptive. He had read my previous two books (Mean Deviation, Soul on Fire) and liked them, and he was up for the whole idea. He was extremely helpful in giving me access to some of the original members that I’d never had any contact with (Victor Arduini, Steve Zimmerman), and that started the ball rolling.

Rockpages.gr I wrote in my review that you selected some of the most wonderful stories on your book. Was it hard for you to leave out other stuff? This is an almost 400-page book so I guess there must have been some stuff left out. Right?

Yes, of course, there are always things you leave out. It’s like writing an album:  you might have more stuff up your sleeve, but why fill it with absolutely everything for the sake of filling it with absolutely everything? That usually results into a chaotic mess. It should have focus and be effective and make an impact. Even with a biography like this. You sculpt it with the most effective narrative you can and leave out stuff that, while entertaining as hell, doesn’t have a place in the final result. The “toenail jar” story, for instance. It’s even grosser than it sounds, but it was so silly that it just never found a place in the narrative. Ultimately, I believe I included everything that was important, crucial, super-interesting and complementary to everything else around it. There are other things I left out, some of it personal items that may be too personal, some of it too trivial, some of it an unresolvable set of memories that don’t really match up between various members. I haven’t thought of anything glaring that I left out, thankfully, although it’s an oversight to have not mentioned, not even as one of the many footnotes, about Spiral Architect’s version of “Prelude to Ruin.” That deserved a sentence or two, but oh well.

Rockpages.gr: You’ve been following the band almost from the very beginning and you have got to know them on a more professional level as the years went by. Judging by the fact, that they are -more or less- private people (especially Jim), how did they react when you asked for their permission and contribution on the book?

Every single guy was super enthusiastic about the book idea. I think they’re all very proud of what they did in the band, and what the band means in the bigger picture. And I think most of them feel the band is a bit underrated and under-represented, in some ways. So to have their story told and to put a lot of focus on their career seemed to be something they were all positively responsive to. As for Jim, he and I have had contact, off and on, in a variety of capacities, literally since 1987. It was only when I started working on Mean Deviation in 2008-2009 that we had regular contact. After that, I was hired at InsideOut Music in 2014, and stayed until 2019, so I worked directly with Jim for the releases of Theories of Flight and Live Over Europe. I’m extremely grateful Jim entrusted me to tell the band’s story, and even more so that he really liked the final product.

Rockpages.gr: You chose the title “Destination Onward” which is absolutely fitting given the nature of Fates’ music through the years. Were there any other titles on the table?

Nope. I don’t necessarily like taking a song title and making it the book title. Seems a bit lazy to me. If I was reading someone’s book on a band and the title was one of their song names, I’d probably look askance at that, yet I did it anyway! I did it for two reasons that were so glaringly obvious that I had to answer the call: 1) it’s the first song on what is apparently their final album, and 2) it so perfectly describes their creative posture throughout their entire career. They pushed their sound forward for so long, that the only destination seemed to be a place of constant forward exploration. That signifies movement…the only destination is one where the wanderer keeps wandering and never calls one fixed place home. That’s also depicted on the book cover. It’s all very deliberate.

Rockpages.gr: They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but let me tell you that this is a stunning artwork for a cover sleeve. Was it your idea?

I’m grateful for all the positive comments about the cover. I had two graphic artists on this project, Scott Hoffman and Patrick Crawford (incidentally, they’re band mates in Nite). I initially told them I didn’t want any band photos on the front cover, because Fates have had so many lineups, and I didn’t want to favor one over the other. I also didn’t want any kind of collage of various band lineups. So the idea was something that had a similar atmosphere as the Darkness in a Different Light album cover, because I really like that stark yet powerful vibe. They came up with the idea of a huge tanker ship breaking through icy arctic waters. I thought it looked cool but felt a little impersonal. And then I thought of the wanderer (as I call him) featured on the cover of The Spectre Within and Awaken the Guardian (and, in my own strange thoughts, possibly on the cover of Long Day Good Night as well). Then it came to me…I told them to have an indistinct human wanderer looking over the tundra, off into the horizon, outward into the unexplored. I also wanted birds on the cover, because Fates have, unintentionally, had birds on five of their album covers, never as the main focus, though. So…there you have it!

Rockpages.gr: The book features various recollections and comments from past and current members of the band. Were you surprised by any info that you weren’t aware of all these years? Any special story that you didn’t know? For instance, I didn’t know that Frank wanted to leave after the completion of the “Perfect Symmetry” tour cycle and that Jim had his eyes on Andre Corbin from Helstar…

I definitely found out about a lot of things that were previously unknown to me. The Andre Corbin thing is a great one. A few others: the story of Ray Alder and John Arch saving an abused puppy in 1994; the fact that they were looking at Kal Swan (Tytan) or Christian Augustin (Sortilege) to replace John Arch; the story about them meeting with Paul O’Neill in 1987 and Paul telling them his idea to have a band record metal versions of Christmas songs. They thought it was a dumb idea, but had they thought otherwise, could Fates Warning have been the basis for Trans-Siberian Orchestra in an alternate reality? That kinda blew my mind. 

Rockpages.gr: Loved the fact that you included all these lists at the very end. You put “Awaken The Guardian” on the top of your favorite Fates albums. Is it a sentimental bond due to the fact that it was one of the very first Fates albums that you listened to back in the day or you sincerely think that this is the best recording ever made by the band?

I sincerely think it’s my favorite recording by the band. I don’t think that, I know it. But that’s just for me. Every person hears music differently from the next person. And yeah, it was one of the first Fates albums I ever heard, but my bond with every single note and beat and lyric on that album has remained intensely powerful for 36 years now. It’s such an incredibly well-crafted piece of work, it truly is a deep journey of a listen. I can barely express what that album truly means to me. I just know it when I listen to it.

Rockpages.gr: I absolutely loved reading your first “encounter” withe Fates via the…angry letter that you sent them because of Arch’s dismissal in 1987. Priceless memories or what?

Haha…yeah, I was just a passionate fan that thought he knew what was best for Fates Warning at age 17. Hilarious. But, I’ve learned that I was one of many who, when they heard of Fates parting with Arch, thought the band should just stop. Of course, I’m super glad they didn’t, as Ray was a fantastic choice and his work on the next handful of albums speaks for itself.

Rockpages.gr: Did you have the chance to talk with Jim about the book? Did he like it? I know that Mike Portnoy absolutely loved it!

Oh yeah. I ran a lot of the writing by Jim, but only to get feedback on factual, timeline sort of stuff. He was very complimentary and supportive all the way through. I know he’s happy with it, and that makes me ridiculously satisfied. And yes, Mike Portnoy loved it too. The book has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response, and for that I couldn’t be more grateful.

Rockpages.gr: Last but certainly not least, do you think that we will ever be treated with one last Fates record…?

Probably not. But then A Pleasant Shade of Gray or FWX were looking like potentially “final” records, and of course it didn’t turn out that way. So…you never know. If Long Day Good Night is the last one, I think it makes sense. I can’t imagine where else Jim and Ray can take the music that they haven’t already traveled.