Net Interview - August 2002
Shortly after the release of Byrd's
new album "Anthem" I had the opportunity to do an interview
with creative brain behind this band /project James Byrd. Despite
a killing 9-hour time difference we managed hook up and took answer
following bunch of questions.
James, first of all let me congratulate you on "Anthem".
How have responses been so far?
Thank you very much. There has not been very much time since it
came out, so there has only been one review so far. I hope it does
well because it was a very difficult album to make and I really
put my heart into it.
That's well audible. Unfortunately I'm only
familiar with "Flying..." and "Anthem" but with
said limited knowledge of your work it sounds like a natural progression
from first to latter.
Good, I'm trying to feel as though I am moving forward and building
upon something, but also remaining consistent in a way. I have so
many different directions I'm able to go in stylistically that over
the years, my albums have been more different from each other than
alike. This is good for me artistically, but sometimes it makes
it hard for people to get a grasp of what one is about because they
all want a degree of predictability. It's a difficult balance to
Yes, I read about the variety of other material
you are or have been working on. I know you have a fair amount of
music available at mp3.com but haven't had time to check that out
yet. Sorry about that. I am wondering, however, if you are constantly
writing new music. I ask, because I find the songwriting style of
both albums I've heard quite similar, and wonder if you simply keep
writing songs even after a new album of yours has just been released?
Yes and no really. I had already begun writing right after 'flying
beyond the 9' was released and then September 11th happened. I was
actually at a complete loss as to how I could continue. I didn't
feel connected to what I had begun any more. So I was trying to
figure it all out. In November I decided I had to just start all
over again and that's how the follow-up to 'flying..' became 'Anthem'.
I have to feel a sense of purpose and the songs I had worked on
before September 11th just ceased to fit with my perspective and
what I felt I needed to convey.
A lot of musicians were influenced by what
happened that day. Wonderful tribute songs were written and / or
performed afterwards. Harlan Cage, Jim Peterik and of course the
"Tribute To Heroes" telethon. Are any of the songs on
"Anthem" directly linked to September 11th?
Sure, but not directly in any kind of outward way. Only through
the lyrics. The album's about more than just 9-11 though. It's really
more like a diary which begins with 9-11 and goes through the same
stages as my natural thought processes went through as events unfolded.
It's not "contrived", it just is a reflection of my thoughts
and feelings which begin at a point where it seems that our nation
began a paradigm shift. Some of the songs like "Thank you"
are entirely personal and not related to 9-11.
Ok. The impact of such events is understandable.
How far 'into it' were you when circumstances made you start over?
Well as I said, I finally felt as though I had things to say in
November. The opening track is pretty much where I feel most people
were at the beginning. When I look back at this album and its contents,
I can see a pattern which emerges: 'Anthem -dealt by darkness' Unity
of national purpose, "Omen" paranoia, "Messages From
Home" anger, "Some Day" personal sadness, "All
I want" the beginnings of doubt in the sincerity of the media,
"Killing Machine" a bit of sarcastic irony at the glorification
of vengeance, but actually having a double meaning in that the track
is actually about playing music, "Thank You" was about
a physical injury I suffered and to my girl friend who helped me,
"The price of war" envisioning the war from inside the
head of a soldier, and "Only Love" was the only thing
I could find as a certain value that could be relied upon in the
Isn't it weird to have the lyrical content
- something very personal - sung by someone else? From you lyrical
style it's obvious that you've put a lot of thought into writing
I've never actually thought about that. That really speaks highly
of Michael Flatters though doesn't it? He's been so great to work
with in every way. I've worked with so many different people over
the years and been lucky that most of them were very cool. But Michael
is by far the most facilitating vocalist I've worked with. His mission
as he sees it is to help me convey what I have written and you can't
ask for more than that from anyone professionally. So I guess his
level of professionalism has made it possible for me never to really
consider this, it just flows very naturally when we work together.
Did the recording of "Anthem" coincide
with Mr. Flatters' work for Takara?
I don't believe it did. I think he was finished with that before
we started recording his vocals. I was working on the orchestrations
during that time though. You're the sole songwriter, or so I understand
from the liner notes.
To what extent are Mr. Flatters and Mr. Hutchison
involved in the process from writing to arranging to recording,
other than actually *performing* of course?
Being the producer as well as the writer, I have very complete concepts
which are presented. With regard to Michael, I have the vocal melodies
worked out as well as the harmonies, but I sometimes have several
possibilities for the details of any particular section of line,
and I will ask him to sing each one. We then decide which one fits
the most naturally with his style and gives the line the best feel.
Sometimes a decision of sing the same line on the up-beat (for example)
will be arrived at. There really aren't any "rules" other
than to create the music within the scope of an established vision
and then to have the performance be as passionate as possible.
Sounds like a sound approach to me. Are there
any songwriters you are seriously inspired by?
Elton John, Rodger Waters, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend,
Freddie Mercury, Andrew Lloyd Webber, these are a few.
Ah. that makes sense to me. Allow me to quote
from the review I did of "Anthem": 'The pompous following
song "Omen" with the staccato piano, layered guitar licks
and powerful choruses sounds like something the mighty Queen might
have performed in the earlier part of their career. I wonder if
Byrd himself will admit to the similarity. I'll ask him.' Looks
like I wasn't too far off...
Sure! I loved "A night at the opera". While I never actually
"study" what someone else has done, there was a definite
decision on this album to really stack-up the vocals in places and
this is definitely due to my love of bands like Queen and Styx.
I just enjoy that whole "larger than life" approach to
production. I especially admire Phil Spector's records from the
mid-1960's as far as that goes. People ask me if I like "Nu-metal"
sometimes in interviews. I don't. I don't like sparse, droning music,
I like it to be as detailed and dynamic as possible.
Did you deliberately make Mr. Hutchison dress
up as Elton John for the "Anthem" photo shoot?
No, he's a freak on his own. It's was pretty funny the way that
came about. He sent me that picture as a joke in an email and I
used it! I thought it was pretty damn funny, especially since he
was "only kidding". The joke's on him now isn't it? I
did show him the art before I sent it to press though and he wasn't
too upset. Although I take music very seriously, if you know me,
you find out that I have a pretty twisted sense of humor and I'm
not afraid to use it at importune times.
Can we expect any of your classical work (like
"Byrd's Bolero") to be officially released in the future?
Well "Avianti Suite" is on "Flying Beyond the 9".
The Bolero though was something I did in 1996 as part of a 3 movement
concerto. I just didn't have the money to finish recording the other
two movements. The Bolero was close to finished and was a sort of
pre-production mix. If there was enough funding for me to produce
all my strictly classical pieces I would definitely want to do it.
But there probably just are not enough potential sales in this to
get the support I would need to do them to the standard I insist
upon. Yngwie (Malmsteen - Ed.) spent nearly half a million getting
his concerto suite album done in 1998, and I have to doubt that
this album alone recouped the investment it took to do. Because
he achieved such a level of commercial success earlier in his career,
I suppose that the label was willing to take up the financial loss
to keep him happy. That must be nice!
I don't suppose Lion Music will cough up half
a million for a project like that. But I gather you're content about
They did a very good job with 'flying beyond the 9'. I had a lot
of problems with a label I was tied to off and on for 12 years -
Shrapnel Records - and they really damaged my career I think. Things
like intentionally pressing up fewer records than would allow me
to ever recoup, but that WOULD make them money, then using artificially
created low sales they created by this to force me to take less
money. Lion has actually upheld their agreement with me and in this
business, this is actually rare. So although there hasn't been a
huge amount of money for these records, they have done a better
job than I've had in a very long time.
Ok, so now I know in what corner to look you
if ever Lasse (Mattson of Lion Music - Ed.) and Mike (Varney of
Shrapnel records - Ed.) get in the ring :)
Yeah, no doubt about that. I think the guy -Varney- is a very nefarious
guy, like a snake really. So what effect does the bad relationship
with Shrapnel have on your Back catalogue availability? The price
Varney gets to pay for it might not be in paying me all the money
he owes me, but it's going to be in my up-front willingness to tell
it like it is. So my back catalog is just that: BACK. He bloody
well knows that the last thing he wants to have to start doing is
watching my alleged "debt" to him disappear due to album
sales, and I really don't think he wants to open the can of worms
of sending me another bullshit accounting.
Alright, without wanting to degrade into mindless
shit-talking, I *would* love you to tell me some more about the
sneer at Kirk Hammet on your website.
Oh God, the subject still dogs me. I don't like the guy. For some
reason people seem to think that because I'm a musician, I'm not
entitled to state my opinion. For him, I made an exception to my
normal policy of NOT criticizing other artists. His whole trip just
got on my nerves so badly, I finally just said what I thought and
let the chips fall where they may. I've liked a couple of Metallica
songs. Really. I think Hetfield is a hundred times the guitar player
that Hammet is. Hetfield is actually competent as a guitarist.
On the Tribute to Jason Becker you play on
the "Outro Jam" together with Torben Enevoldsen, Patrick
Rondat, Roh Thal, Mike Chlasciak, Sami Asp and Lars Eric Mattsson.
That must have been a thrill. Most people familiar with you and
your work will know about your earlier influences but are there
any new players out there who make your jaw drop?
You know, I'm not very good at keeping up with new players. To me
a new player was Shawn Lane - brilliant beyond belief - and he's
been around for a while now. I just honestly don't have very much
interest in listening to guitar players or guitar dominated music.
I'd rather listen to something completely different than what I
do if I'm going to listen to music. I guess it's like not taking
your work home with you if you know what I mean. I pretty much quit
listening to guitar stuff in about 1980 actually.
Okay.. let's talk a little about your other,
related, trade: your own signature guitars. I trust it you played
the Byrd TM Super Avianti exclusively on Anthem?
Are you still continuing to develop your guitars?
They're complete as far as design is concerned. They went through
numerous refinements beginning in 1996 from the first prototype.
Over the years I would play them and make improvements on each one
I built. A little more wood shaved off here, a control moved a quarter
of an inch, things like this that you notice when you play an instrument
for hundreds of hours. This is really the difference between my
guitars and the ones that big companies market; consideration for
performance from a players perspective, not a marketing perspective.
The whole thing has been an exercise in making a better instrument
from a playing perspective, not in making changes which have no
meaning. I'm so happy with these guitars now, I don't want to play
Is there any chance that they'll be commercially
available sometime in the future? Or has that never been your goal?
That became my goal after I finished the first prototype and decided
I was really onto something. But it's a goal which has been very
frustrating to realize. I am finding out that when it comes to getting
a major manufacturer interested in producing a "better mouse
trap", it's not any different than getting a record label interested
in better music. Big corporations know how to market, but it seems
that they seldom recognize better ideas as beneficial. Why should
Fender purchase a license to produce a new guitar designed by a
player when they can sell tens of million of instruments designed
in 1953 by a radio repairman? This is what it comes down to. It's
the same reason people eat at McDonalds. Not because the food is
good, but because it's THERE, everywhere you turn. I can not compete
with companies who go to Mexico and China and have their instruments
manufactured for a penny on the dollar either. So getting a new
product into the market is very difficult. There are also forces
that just don't want you to do it. An "outsider" is often
viewed as a threat as opposed to an opportunity by these large companies.
I haven't given up, I still hope someone will take me up and I can
get them licensed.
I noticed the Avanti has a scalloped neck.
Ever tried a fanned neck?
Scalloping is an option on my guitars if someone orders one from
me. I have seen the "fanned fret" design, but it's not
for me. It's one of those things that in my opinion, takes such
a major readjustment to technique, that it seems that it would cause
a person who really got used to it problems playing a standard guitar.
The "Guitar" as a concept is not something I think needs
changing at it's most basic level. I've never been a fan of 7 strings,
fanned frets, or any other anomaly like this. Can anyone say honestly
that they've mastered six strings with such totality, they need
a seventh? I'm skeptical.
Fair enough. I think the 7th string simply
came forth out of rock music becoming 'heavier' and lots of musicians
being too lazy to tune down :) Though I'm sure there's players out
there who can do clever stuff with that extra string.
Perhaps. Personally, I don't care for a range that is extended to
the bottom, I think that's why the bass was invented. But to each
his own. The guitar is hard enough the way it is for me.
Are there plans for performing live in support
of "Anthem" ?
Probably not. It's so expensive and one of the things I have going
for me at this point, is that I'm not in debt OR under obligation
of a "recording contract". I will never sign a "recording
contract". Laws were changed in the middle of the night which
effect the song writers ownership of his own works. If you write
songs while under contract, those songs are now the "intellectual
property" of the company you're under obligation to, even if
they're not put on a record. I want nothing to do with losing these
rights, so I license my work one record at a time. I've found a
way to make some money, retain control over my art, and give the
public music they're not going to get on Sony. The audience is there,
but so spread out geographically that the internet is the most sensible
marketing method for someone like me. "Tour support" is
a "Loan" from the company and must be paid back. They
only give it when THEY are in control of everything in hopes that
you'll become the next 'Backstreet boys". That's not me.
*grins* Just had a visual..
What was it? "Byrdstreet boys"?
Something like that: you and 4 look-alikes jumping around in front
of a 50.000+ teen audience. Not playing a single note of course.
Great! Like when they sent Hendrix out to open for the Monkeys...
That's what you get for being part of the same generation. But hey;
Hendrix, Ten Years After and The Who were all at Woodstock. I don't
think Nesmith & co would have survived there, Yeah, those were
the days. The record industry had an entirely different perspective
I think. It was still money, but they got there by recognizing -
sort of - what fans wanted and resolving themselves to trying to
fill that desire without looking TOO stupid. Now though, it doesn't
seem fan driven from the fans, but label driven TO the fans. And
the entire demographic is different. It used to be people in their
20's and early 30's who created the demand for music. Now the demographic
is 12 and the labels have realized that kiddy gets an allowance
and isn't much of a challenge to sell "crap" to. This
is how I see this. And to think that Britney is going to take a
'much needed' sabbatical... When I really think about it, I conclude
that television is degrading everything in culture.
Do you have any golden tips for young and
aspiring musicians, other than to steer well clear of Shrapnel records?
Only that whether they do it now, or later, they're going to have
to find a sustainable reason to be a musician beyond all the B.S.
that is foisted on them by "the industry". If you can't
find your own path, you're going to end up on someone else's and
there are painful lessons awaiting anyone who isn't very very careful.
Please give me your first thoughts on the
"Flying Beyond The 9"
Free speech. For now.
Genuine and decent.
And finally: "James Byrd"
Oh... that's not fair!I *know* .... If forced to choose one word,
I'd probably say "independent".
Sounds like an excellent choice to me... Do you have any last-minute
message to any of your fans who might turn up at RockNet?
I hope they like the album. It's music that makes demands on the
listener and I hope they don't mind those demands. I appreciate
all those who've sent their messages of support for what I do, I
Alright, James. On that note I'd like to thank
you very, very much for your time.
Thanks Eef, you're very welcome, it's been a pleasure.