Of Metal - September 2002
By Jack The Jester
with the birth of Anthem. Was it tough to produce this one?
Thank you. Yes, It was a very hard album to make for a number of
reasons. First, I was recovering from a serious spinal injury I
suffered in 2001 and I was unable to walk or play my guitar for
almost 10 months. Then I began writing the music for my follow up
to flying beyond the 9 in the summer of 2001. When the
attack on September 11th happened, I was in shock like everyone
I imagine. When I tried to continue with the album I had begun,
I felt nothing for it any more. 9/11 had really changed my perspective.
After a couple of months of not feeling connected to the music Id
written and having no more passion for my pre 9/11 album, I gave
up on it and started all over again and wrote Anthem.
By the time everything else was recorded on Anthem,
I was just finally able to hold and play my guitar without severe
pain. This album pretty much came out of hell like a flower forces
its way through concrete.
you did almost everything by yourself. Youve written the music,
the lyrics and also done the production of the album. Now I know
from experience that mixing can be a hell of a job, because it takes
hours and hours of listening to different kind of sounds,
reverb, EQ settings so on and so forth that you might loose touch
with what you really want. How do you keep on objective mind?
It is a pain in the ass! Mixing is one of those things that if you
want to get it right, it can become incredibly tedious. Ive
had to invent little ways around that like taking frequent breaks,
and listening to the mixes on different sound systems. Ive
found car stereos to be the universal test of mixes
just because no matter how expensive they are, theyve all
got similar problems in certain frequencies, and if theres
anything EQd wrong, youll hear it for sure in a car.
Mainly Ive found that after about 6 to 8 hours, one has to
call it a day and come back to the mix. Ill then mix a reference
to listen to in the morning to see if I was close the night before.
And no matter how much effort one puts into it, its always
something that can be second guessed later; Is that section
of the guitar solo loud enough or Id like to hear
a tiny bit less of the highest vocal harmony during that one section.
The list of possibilities one can question are nearly endless really.
When its all said and done, its a very carefully calculated
leap, and thats it. You wait for everyones opinion.
Hopefully none of them can agree on anything negative. I hate mixing,
but it has to be done, and nothing short of a best effort has a
chance to be something Ill end up liking down the road later.
lots of dept and dynamics to hear on this album, is this thanks
to the hand of James Byrd or the hand of Brian Hutchinson?
Brian is the engineer, and I am the producer. I mixed the album,
so I suppose thats me. His role though is also important because
if the sounds are not as clean as possible, mixing with good separation
is next to impossible.
the sound you now have exactly the sound you wanted, but looking
back at the recording process now, are there things you would have
There are always things one would do differently, especially if
theyre as involved and responsible for everything as I am.
But Im pleased with the results on this album, and I was generally
pleased with the last one as well. When one spends the amount of
time I spend crafting music and mixing it, it becomes impossible
to really hear it the way others whore listeners will hear
it. I usually just come to a point by the time Im finished,
of not wanting to hear it again for a good long time because I just
know it too well.
Flatters is a very talented singer, who also did the vocals on Flying
Beyond The 9. How did you guys got in touch with each other?
I met Michael through another vocalist who recommended him to me
as someone I should call about doing my album. He turned out not
only to be a fantastic vocalist, but also one of the nicest, most
professional people Ive ever had the pleasure to work with.
So weve ended up being good friends as well as working together.
music and lyrics are written by you and deal with certain feelings
and emotions. How hard is it for Michael to relate to those feelings,
and whats it like when somebody else is singing about your
feelings and emotions?
Michael has done a better job of understanding these things than
any singer Ive worked with before. The great thing about Michael,
is that hes insightful, and understands singing almost from
a role-playing perspective, in that he embraces the vision, and
does everything he can to help bring it to life.
can you tell us about your way of songwriting? Do you start of with
a melody line and the words follow later, or is it the other way
around, and do you write music based on lyrics?
I guess its very unusual, but for me its normal to hear
finished music in my mind before I ever begin to pick up an instrument.
I hear everything, even production. The really hard part is learning
what I hear and recreating whats in my mind as accurately
the other bandmembers have a say in musical or lyrical matters?
I bring finished music to the table, so the answer is not really,
but thats not to say that there isnt dialog. Sometimes
I will have several versions of a vocal line and Michael and I will
try them to see which one fits his voice the best. There are always
small changes that happen to accommodate personal styles and techniques,
and there is a dialog between us to create the best performance
you give us a short description of what each track means to you,
musically or lyrically?
(Dealt By Darkness)
This is a pretty direct statement regarding the attack.
Omen is written in a stream of consciousness style,
relaying imagery rather than direct statements. I just sort of went
on automatic when writing the lyrics out, not second
guessing any meanings. Its one of those tracks that different
people are probably going to get different things from.
This was another very direct statement lyrically. Its a message
of support for those who stand in harms way, far from home.
This was what I wanted to say to those whod lost loved ones
in the attack.
Things take a bit of a turn here. This track could be about many
things if one was not told what it was about. But I wrote it about
the media, and yes, its cynical. Predictably, as post September
11th reporting in the news returned to the usual ratings driven
perspective, it all started seeming crass and calculated to me.
I just got tired of the constant alerts every other
day, and all the speculation based on little, as is so often the
case when they need to fill space or time with something, anything,
and keep ratings up.
This track is also a twist on a theme. Its in the middle of
an album about war, but its not about war. Its about
playing music, and the song is even about itself. The song has a
lot of chord changes and an unusual harmonic structure, so when
the lyric says when you want to make the changes, its
actually talking about chord changes. The track has two tri-tones
in its structure, plus its poly-modal during the verses.
I wanted to create the sound of a machine with the verse figure,
constantly descending and cycling over again. You might also notice
that when the lead guitar comes in behind the vocal on the last
choruses, I referenced somewhere over the rainbow briefly
behind the vocal.
I wrote this for my girl friend who took care of me when I was hurt.
Price Of War
I think this is my favourite track on the album. I wrote it in the
3rd person from the perspective of a Sailor stationed in the Persian
Gulf on an air craft carrier.
I wanted to try to end the album on a positive and hopeful note.
The song was inspired by the war in Afghanistan and the hope that
some how love would prevail.
The design of the albumcover also shows your
trademark, but I noticed that your albums with a guitar on the cover
(five of them) all have nine tracks, whereas CDs with the
Atlantic logo on m (three of them) all have 10 tracks. Now
I dont want to make a conspiracy theory out of it, so
it coincidence or on purpose?
.just a coincidence.
11th 2001 has changed the world forever, but especially in America
the events had an enormous impact, more than anything before. What
was the effect on James Byrd as a human, a musician and as a songwriter?
It made me really, really angry. For a time it gave me hope, but
I honestly have little of that left at this point in terms of how
its been dealt with, or not dealt with. Whatever effects me
profoundly as a human, that ends up becoming imbedded in my music,
so well both have to just wait and see how it effects the
tracks like The Price Of War and Only Love
direct results of the September 11th events?
a professional musician since 1980, and a lot has changed in the
past 22 years. From a commercial perspective the times are better,
but from a musicians point of view maybe a bit thin, for most
of the music was designed for chart success. You yourself never
quite joined the rat-race for a Number 1 spot in the charts, but
the effect of that was that the general public in Europe never have
heard from one James Byrd. Do you think of that as like a missed
opportunity, or are you quite satisfied with the respect you get
from those small number of people who do enjoy your CDs.
Im very happy with things. Theres always a price to
be paid for winning the so-called rat race, and in the case of music,
I think the price is what you do with it. I like what Im doing
and Im just not the kind of person who responds well to authority.
I think that had I have been a huge commercial success in the 80s,
Id have to deal with people who wanted to push me into directions
for their own reasons. That is so antithetical to my nature, I think
things have probably turned out the way theyre supposed to
for the most part.
in 1979 I heard the album Earthquake from Uli John Roth
and was absolutely blown away by it. Now I can imagine that in those
days your guitar playing was compared to his, and that he might
have been a kind of inspiration for you. In which way do you think
youve grown as a guitar player through the years?
Yes, Uli was one of the players who inspired me in my early days.
I have so many different influences musically, and I have so many
different ways to approach the guitar in terms of how I chose to
play, that I think that the way Ive grown is in an ability
to incorporate my guitar playing into the music, as opposed to on
top of the music. I stopped caring about showing off
a long time ago, and for me, there is a feeling of greater freedom
as an artist, when my perspective is complete, as opposed to individual
and dare we say insecure. Im content with myself
as myself, but always striving to improve.
coincidence you and Yngwie J. Malmsteen are both guitarists, both
of you have gone through practically the same experiences, and both
of you have kind of the same influences. Its a pity that hes
much more known here in Europe than you are, so lots of people think
Yngwies your greatest influence, while it could have been
the other way around. Dont you get sick and tired of hearing
that, and dont you think this misunderstanding should be removed
from the planet?
Well, I certainly dont know if I was an influence on Yngwie.
But no, he was also not an influence on me either. Yes, we have
remarkably similar backgrounds in terms of our influences. I really
do get tired of these comparisons to be honest. Yes, hes a
great player, and also a friend. But some people have very small
minds about these things. It is as if they are saying We cant
have Vivaldi and Mozart without accusing one of them of insincerity
for copying the other. It really is absurd, but what can you
do? I only hope that history will be more objective than some critics
have because its a disservice, to both of us, but especially
you choose for a kind of sober and clean guitarsound, and to me
the songs sound honest and transparent by doing that. Can we say
that this is the typical James Byrd sound?
Ive tried hard to attain a guitar sound that is natural, and
not dirty sounding. Yes, Im very pleased with
my sound. It requires more effort and technique to use a cleaner
sound, but the results are what count, and I am very happy with
Beyond The 9 got a lot of cool reviews from the press, but
hows Anthem doing at the moment?
It just came out last month, so I dont have any sales figures.
But it does seem to be doing very well, and the reviews have been
mostly very good again.
customary these days to pin-point everything down to a certain style,
which is the easiest way to describe a particular album, but if
you had to describe your album to someone who doesnt have
a clue who James Byrd is or what he stands for, what would you say?
Thats hard to do. I would say that its a mixture of
classical influences, 70s art rock, hard rock, and pop (without
Anthem is released, so the logical question is: Will
this release be backed by a tour, and if so, will you also do Europe
No, its just too expensive unfortunately and Im not
going to go into debt or place myself under the control of someone
whod loan me the money -tour support-. This sort of music
does have an audience, but at this point, its spread out around
the world and the only way at this time for me to effectively reach
them without going broke, is through the internet. This is where
its difficult for someone in my position. If I was a platinum
artist in the 1980s like Yngwie, I could play in Las Vegas
and make money doing it. But Im still too much of a cult
figure as an artist to sustain a profitable tour overseas.
you where forced to move to a desert island, and you could only
bring album with you, which would that one be, and why.
Can I trade the one album for one guitar please? Or is this Island
in hell? But seriously, its really hard to imagine choosing
what imposed impoverishment I could choose to live with
there. Maybe Mendelschons violin concerto in E min.
I forget to ask something which you definitely wanted to talk about?
No, I think weve covered it pretty well. Thanks very much
for your interest and some insightful questions.