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Quintessance - August 2002
Since 1986 when I was just discovering more and more Metal bands through rebellion and the dislike for dance and cheesy Top 40 radio play, a few bands always tend to stick out in one's mind as an overall influence to stick with the genre. Sure, everyone will most likely say Priest, Sabbath,Zep or Maiden as main influences but I'm talking about the other bands that made some impact within the Metal scene like Loudness, Manowar, Virgin Steele and the many from Germany that Noise Records carried let alone Metal Blade, New Renaissance and other labels. Two bands from a major label status I discovered within this time frame were Sanctuary and Fifth Angel; both very different msically but both hailing out of Seattle before the Grunge era pretty much smacked everything in the head. This next chat involves one of the greatest lead guitarists from the 80's that in my opinion was somewhat underrated and overlooked but is still a commodity in today's world of Metal, Hard Rock and instrumental guitar music.

Quintessence: "Anthem" takes on a Malmsteen meets Queen approach compared to "Flying Beyond The 9"; is that quite accurate?
BYRD: "No, unless one is in a serious hurry to put me in a "box" with a label. The album has a lot of background vocals and the guitar playing could be called technical. Queen was an influence in a very general way in that I really do like their use of background vocals in an a classical style. As for Yngwie, he's a friend of mine and has been since 1993 so I have to be careful how I answer this question because I don't want my reply to be taken the wrong way. So let me preface it here by saying that I think he's a truly great guitarist and musician. But an actual influence on what I do? No. Can you seriously compare the music on this album to anything he's done? I really don't think so".

Quintessence: Alot of people and critics compare you to Malmsteen and would be necessary to say he's an influence even though he's close in age. Your material with Fifth Angel was totally different than what you are playing now and even the soloing was identifiably yours.
BYRD: "Really. No, not "Alot". Some "critics" have said this and it's not accurate. I can't change the fact that in terms of being a neo-classical household name, Yngwie became one and I didn't in the early 1980's, but I can certainly set the record straight to such a presumption. This is no different than the common assumption that Marconi "invented" radio. He didn't. Tesla did, but the "case" was not finally settled until the late 1980's in court and it was in favor of Tesla. But how many people, even high school history teachers -who should know better- still go around saying otherwise? The only way to deal with errant historical facts are to refute them with the correct facts and unfortunately, this never manages to totally erase a myth with everyone".

"People who actually know guitar music well or who actually play a certain style of guitar can clearly hear and understand that when they hear Yngwie's own influences, they're hearing a lot of Uli Roth's actual phrases and solos in Yngwie's early playing. Uli was around many years before Yngwie was ever known but did he get the credit he deserved as a true innovator from the press? Hardly. Most people have still never heard of him outside of particular guitar circles but that doesn't change the fact that he was an immense influence on an entire generation of those "particular guitar circles" and both Yngwie and I happened to be among them. To me, Uli Roth is the "Tesla" and Blackmore can not be discounted either here- of what's been termed "neo-classical" rock guitar. Now there clearly are players who are influenced by Yngwie, but like Yngwie himself, I am a "second generation" player and not "third generation" player in this whole musical evolution. Those who were influenced by Yngwie himself are a third generation of players. Yngwie and I came into the recording industry at about the same time, but he was far more visible, and even today, he's more well known than I am. Let's face it, a lot of players have in fact copied him and then gone on to deny it in interviews. This doesn't make my job any easier. It seems that in your question here you want to see if I actually fit this assumption by a few critics? Yngwie certainly didn't seem to assume this about me though did he. He's not exactly known for remaining quiet if he thinks someone "ripped him off". I mean look at what he said about Tony McAlpine!,who is a very fine player in my opinion-. No, Yngwie himself heard my music and seemed to think it not only very good, but in his words to me- that I "played from the heart". So it should not have escaped notice that when he finally granted a public and uncompensated endorsement to my record label of me as an artist who'd been overlooked too long by the guitar community, he did NOT claim me to be "the best Yngwie influenced guitarist" he'd heard, but rather, he said I was "the most exciting, European sounding guitarist I've heard in years". This actually didn't escape notice by most legitimate critics like "Guitar" magazine- and that should have put an end to a myth, but I suppose there are always going to be a few people who just don't know or get it".

"You say that my playing today is not the same as it was in 1983? Good because it shouldn't be if one's goal is to grow. If you have good ears you won't listen to"Marching Out" and tell me Yngwie's guitar playing sounds anything remotely the same like it does on his recent albums. When I finally did hear "Marching Out", I heard entire extended solo sections which were the same as those on Uli Roth's early albums. Anyone who plays guitar well who listens will tell you this. Yngwie took that original influence and built it into what he does now. No one develops in a vacuum, we all learn from others and evolve. Both Yngwie and I play a lot faster today than we did in 1983 but we never have actually played the same things or even had the same sound, at least not to anyone with more than a nominal understanding of the actual musical content. The truth is that the only Yngwie record I have ever owned that he didn't personally send to me after we met in 1993, was "Trilogy", and this was given to me in 1989 by my drummer Ken Mary when I was in Fifth Angel. I actually heard "Marching Out" for the first time in 1996 when my engineer played it for me in the studio after I noticed it sitting on a shelf. Do we have things in common? Sure, quite a few. We both play very fast, we both use scalloped necks and single coil pickups (Ritchie Blackmore is the source for this in both of our cases) . We both like a lot of the same guitarists from the 1970's and are influenced by classical music. But this is hardly an earth shattering coincidence is it. Only a superficial or uninformed listener would not hear the innumerable differences in what we actually play, but unfortunately, some people are unable to discern the difference between technique and the actual musical content it's used to support".
"So in conclusion here, there is not a lot I do about this assertion other than to either blow off the statement as utterly inane, or give the very long answer to incorrect assumption. You got the very long answer to your question/statement here".

Quintessence: Why did Atlantis Rising fall as well as the phenomenal Fifth Angel?
BYRD: "Well, if you look at the first Atlantis Rising album you'll notice that it's actually called "James Byrd's Atlantis Rising" and that it wasn't a "band", but that it was my first solo album. So I don't think "fall" is really an appropriate word because it was an album by an individual artist-- me- and as far as I know, I'm still standing. Neither did it "break up" really, it was just a question of what I felt I needed to do after I made the album in light of artistic desires and business considerations with regard to the feasibility of continuing in the midst of a nasty business dispute with the label "Shrapnel"-. They got into a dispute with their distributor and I'm the one who got the shaft with an album that sat in cartons for a year while advertisements for it ran anyway. What could I do? Nothing. I owed them another album, my U.S. sales were destroyed, and Varney held my fucking feet to the fire to take far less money for the next one because of what he actually did. Is this then a "fall" or band "break up"? Not in my book it's not, it was a raw deal and I did what I had to do to continue being a recording artist who would hopefully emerge free from a truly horrible contract. Even that wasn't honored. The album was a remarkable success in Japan and Europe actually. The answer to that statement is simply that I make the albums I want to make when I want to make them. I've done what I've had to do to keep going without selling-out artistic control and it has not been an easy path to take".

"As for Fifth Angel, they made one more album after I departed and I don't know why they didn't chose to keep going. I mean I have some opinions about it in terms of why, but even though the circumstances under which I was fired from the band I formed were extremely duplicitous and personally painful for me, I'm not going to go too far out of my way here to sling mud and speculate on why they failed to continue. It's not like I haven't given extended interviews on the whole sorted mess of Fifth Angel, but there does come a time when one is completely sick of discussing an "Ugly divorce". After 13 years, it's a subject that while apparently- interesting "tabloid" type fodder in certain heavy metal circles, I'm anything but interested in living in the past, especially when I've felt so artistically happy beyond that chapter. "Bands" don't last forever and some burn brightly for only a short time. That's the short answer on the subject of Fifth Angel".

Quintessence: What are Ken Mary and Ted Pilot doing nowadays..still stay in touch?
BYRD: "I stay in touch with Ken. He's a good friend and decent guy and although he lives in Arizona and I live in Seattle, we talk on the phone. I've not spoken with nor heard from Ted Pilot. The last time I saw him I was at "our" attorney's office unknowingly signing away my existing rights to him under the influence of a lie and plan known only to Ted, Ed, and the attorney who violated any and all ethics in what he did. I'm owed a lot of money still, I've never gotten a dime of the advance due me as a writer/co-producer of Fifth Angel. Would you want to stay in touch with him if you were me?".

Quintessence: Since I like reminiscing the Fifth Angel days, how did the band get "Midnight Love" on the Howard Stern TV show?

BYRD: "I was not in the band when that happened, I didn't play on the album in question, so I don?t know".

Quintessence: Reading your bio I see nothing was mentioned of any type of guitar lessons or schooling..are you self-taught?
BYRD: "I had a cousin who was a great musician and band leader when I was a little kid. He had a 10 or 12 piece band that toured the west coast playing covers of "Chicago" and "Three Dog Night" songs. For a couple of years my parents rented a house from his parents and his band practiced in the multi-car garage next to the house. He played trumpet, piano, guitar, and bass, but he played horn in his own band. He wasn't a guitar virtuoso or even a lead guitarist by any means, but he knew chords. He taught me how to tune the guitar and how to play chords. I'd say he gave me maybe 7 or 8 lessons in this. I took maybe 5 or 6 lessons from actual guitar teachers as a kid but never more than one or two from the same guy. All that was really available then where I lived were guys who taught country music -which I hated-. So I'm self-taught apart from a few really basic lessons in playing chords and tuning the guitar. I learned from playing along with records; Al DiMeola, Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, Deep Purple, D'Jango Reinhardt, U.F.O., Scorpians, a long list of bands and artists that I still consider great today".

Quintessence: Flatters....isn't he Takara's new singer? How did you meet up with him and Hutchison for the Byrd project?
BYRD: "Michael sang with me on "Flying Beyond the 9" before he ever sang with Takara. He's still singing for me on "Anthem". He sings in a bunch of projects actually "Blue Mud" is another one-. There does exist a reality apart from fan's perceptions that bands somehow constitute some kind of "blood-oath brotherhood". Some may, but artists often engage in a variety of creative efforts if they're able to and I don't personally believe in trying to hold people under "exclusive" contracts or control. "If you love something set it free" you know the rest right?".

"I met Michael through a vocalist named Steve Benito who used to sing for a Seattle band called "Heir Apparent". I thought he -Benito- was a very good singer. I called him about doing the album and he said he was involved in theatre and acting and not really into doing an album, but he highly recommended Michael to me and gave me his phone number. Michael turned out to have been a big Fifth Angel fan and to have a really good voice. We played each other some current stuff over the phone and that was it, he wanted to do the album. Michael has been a complete joy to work with".

Quintessence: Touring at all or soon?
BYRD: "Probably not, it's extremely expensive and the market for this kind of music is mostly overseas and pretty limited in terms of generating enough income to pay for a tour. I'm not in debt and I want to keep it that way".

Quintessence: If you had a one-time chance as the guitarist of an all-star band to record one CD, whom would you like to jam with living or dead from any genre (name the whole band in parts-- keyboard player, drummer, bass, another guitarist, etc.)
BYRD: "Cozy Powell on drums, Ronnie Dio on vocals, Roger Glover on bass, and John Lord on keyboard. The premature loss of Cozy was very, very sad".

Quintessence: Will Byrd stay around for awhile or is this just another project until you get bored or delve into another interest musically?
BYRD: "As a solo recording artist who's invested almost 20 years into making the albums I make because they're what I like, I do what I want to, when I want to. I haven't gotten rich doing this, I do it to express myself as an artist honestly as possible. Should I apologize for this or allow what I do to be determined by the opinions of some critics who would never agree with each other anyway? I don't think so".

Quintessence: Your equipment (guitars,strings,peddles,amps,effects)...any vintage guitars you own?
BYRD: "I play patented Byrd Super Avianti ( R) guitars these days. I've never had any "vintage" guitars other than the one's which became "vintage" while I owned them --that was a joke but I'm afraid it's true-. I have some "vintage" flying V's from 1970 and 1973. I don't play them though. I use a stock Marshall 50 watt plexi amp, and a rare 1966 Marshall 8X10 speaker cabinet which is the only really ancient gear in my arsenal".

Quintessence: Final comments, recommended websites..
BYRD: "Thanks for your interest. For readers here who want to find out what my music is really all about, my home page has links to full mp3's and sound clips for the new album at http://www.jamesbyrd.com "

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