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Shredzone Interview
So James thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule and spending a few with The Shred Zone. So how are you doing, and can you give us a quick catch up on what’s been going on lately?
BYRD - Hi Nick, you’re quite welcome. I’ve been taking a few weeks off from writing and recording and am just trying to clear my head to make room for the time when I’ll start the whole process again with another album.

As we all know, you have a new release on Lion Music, entitled “Anthem.” When did you start writing and recording for it?
BYRD - I originally started writing music for this follow up to ‘flying beyond the 9’ in July of 2001. When September 11th happened, I no longer felt connected to what I was working on, so I started all over again in November with ‘Anthem’.

What inspirations or events lead up to decision to record this classical metal masterpiece?
BYRD - The album came out of a lot of adversity really. I had an unfortunate “domestic accident” in the spring of 2001 that turned out to be life changing. I made the mistake of trying to deal with a plumbing problem under a sink myself and I ended up with two badly crushed spinal disks. It got worse and worse and I finally ended up in the hospital strapped to a board with various tubes in unmentionable places with these strange pulsating air bags on my extremities because I couldn’t move enough to keep good circulation going. It was a personal nightmare really because I can get claustrophobic. The neurologist wanted to do surgery on my back and told me I wouldn’t recover for 2 years if I didn’t let him. He also told me the risk of complications was 15% and that they could include damage to my motor skills. Although I had a great deal of pressure put on me to let them operate, this risk to my motor skills was unacceptable to me. I refused the surgery and went home. I was put on enough prescribed morphine compounds to knock out a horse and I was completely bed ridden for months and dependant on my girlfriend for literally everything. It was really the worst thing I’ve ever been through, the only blessing being that due to the amount of pain killers I was on, I have a 6 month “blackout” in terms of what I can remember. I then spent a couple of months needing a wheelchair. I was getting better after a few months but I then had the misfortune to be further injured by a doctor who injected steroids onto my spine and he ended up making a mistake and he put them right into my spinal chord. I thought I was having a heart attack when it happened so intense was the pain, and my left leg went numb immediately afterwards. Talk about a really bad time, this was it. After a lengthy set-back from this, I was finally beginning to be able to walk without my cane by the time September 11th happened, but I was still in chronic pain. I learned first hand what unrelenting physical pain begins to do to your mind after a while; It then also became a fight against depression. So actually making this album was physically and mentally challenging for me when I began composing and orchestrating again after September 11th. I could only sit in the producer’s chair for about 15 minutes at a stretch and playing guitar was not really possible for me at that point. If I had wanted to record my guitars first I could not have done it. Fortunately, the way I compose these days anyway is to leave my guitars unrecorded until everything else on the album is finished, so by the time all of the orchestrations and Michael’s vocals were done, I could finally hold and play my guitar again. I’m about 90 percent recovered at this point and have been entirely off painkillers for about 5 months now and I don’t need a cane anymore. There are physical things I have to avoid doing, but I know that I made the right decision in terms of how I decided to deal with the injuries. I thank God for my girl friend and you’ll also notice that I thanked her with a song called “Thank You”. So ‘Anthem’ is a reflection of a very dark period both in the world, and for me personally and I’m just thankful I was able to make the album and heal. You know the old saying; If the world gives you lemons, make lemon-aid.

Can you give us some insight to each track, inspirations, stories or topics that lead to their creation?

Anthem (Dealt By Darkness)
BYRD -Well this is a pretty direct statement about the attack, and it was my statement saying that -I paraphrase- “If you thought you’d divide us with it, you were very mistaken”.

BYRD -This is a very difficult track for me to describe really. The words were not conscious, but “stream of consciousness” and impressionistic. It’s more about imagery than anything direct. It’s going to convey different things to different people I think.

Messages From Home
BYRD -This was my way of saying to those who’d fight our enemies that it isn’t “Vietnam” this time. That America is behind our soldiers. And it’s one pissed off track.

Some Day
BYRD - An effort to console the inconsolable.

All I Want
BYRD - As things began to unfold in this conflict, I began to see things that bothered me; the way the media indulges natural blood-lust while controlling and limiting the debate to only two carefully crafted sides to any issue. Am I the only one who notices that there are important questions never asked of our leaders in the media that seem painfully obvious? Let’s face it, I believe there are in fact questions that the government does not want to be asked and the media seems to continually facilitate their desire to avoid those questions. I’ve never really felt that America has had a truly objective free press and this song reflects a level of sarcasm at what I see as their often shameless and transparent exploitation of fear for “ratings”, and an ongoing unwillingness to put the truth ahead of the money and oil interests of private companies. When I say, “selling you the reason of their fame”, that’s what I’m saying. Do their statements and decisions truly reflect the perspective and will of the American people as we would really want our foreign policies to be? Or are they serving the interests of those who think they’re “above” us and that they are therefor entitled to “save us” from our own opinions and wants, whether we like it or not? Am I the only one who does not feel accurately “represented”? It was a point where I began to lose some of my initial idealism about what this “war on terror” was really about and what it would actually accomplish. I’m not a person whose thoughts are easily misdirected by mass-media hypnotism or collective pressure; I try to come to my own conclusions. “The first casualty of war is the truth”. Is this true or not? If it is true, then what “truth” has been slain in all of this? This is not only an important question, but the only question we should be seeking an answer to now. As an artist, I don’t feel that my role is to foist my personal politics onto others. I’m not a politician or spin-doctor. But if I can help people think for themselves, through what I write, I will. Music can be so many things, some of them more relevant than others I think.

Killing Machine
BYRD -A lot of people are probably going to misunderstand this song, especially in the context of the album. It’s not actually about war. The song is very harmonically complex and it’s not something one can just “play anything” over. It presented a lot of challenges in terms of music theory and understanding what could be played where and how. The song is actually about itself, and the challenge of playing over many different chords modally. It’s intentional irony is that it has a double meaning and that it’s placed in the middle of an album whose subject matter is so clearly about war. “When you want to make the changes, know the strangeness of this game” is actually talking about the chord changes. Harmonically, the tune is pretty unorthodox; it’s bi-tonal in the verse and it has two tri-tones in it’s chorus. I’m not TRYING to confuse people, really. It’s just a conceptual “twist” that fit into the album in an ironic way, and really who am I to argue when these ideas come to me? It’s not like I feel constrained by some outside force to fit some “format”. You also notice that in the third guitar solo, I play the first part of the melody to “somewhere over the rainbow” underneath the original vocal melody. I find some temptations too inviting to resist and I wonder if people will notice these little “psychological/musical anomalies” at some point. Music is indeed a “strange game” on some levels.

Thank You
BYRD - A very straight forward story and thank you to the woman I love.

The Price Of War
BYRD - I wrote this in the persona of a soldier on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. I was trying to find that perspective in someone else’s head and I hoped to connect conceptually and convey what to me seemed like a very surreal situation. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album actually.

Only Love
BYRD - One of the difficulties of making ‘Anthem’ was finding an ending that made sense out of everything that had come before it and lent a sense of resolution. Each of these songs is like a painting of the world seen through a particular set of eyes at a particular time. There is always a finite amount of space to convey what one wants to convey. “Only Love” is where I chose to leave ‘Anthem’s’ final message. To me, love is the only certain value in the midst of some very complicated and destructive forces at work in the world. “Anthem” is such a meaningful name for this record. These songs are anthem like. What does “Anthem” mean to you? BYRD - For me it’s a term which is encompassing and descriptive of music which represents a set of values and their context. It was the only title for this album I think. “All I want” was one of my favorite tracks, it's real slow, melodic and the vocal lines are so catchy and sing a longish.

Compared to the last Album “Flying Beyond the 9,” “Anthem” seems to be a slower more moody / melodic record. Would you agree and how did it evolve that way?
BYRD - I would not say it was “slower”, it’s not. But it is definitely a darker album at some points.

Can you fill us in on your mindset during the writing and recording process?
BYRD - I felt that I needed to do serious subjects and words justice. I usually write my lyrics first and ‘Anthem’ was no exception. For every song on one of my albums, there are usually many pages of poetry/lyrics that must be edited. A lot of people probably think my songs are already long at five and six minutes, but if I used all my lyrics, each song would probably be half an hour. Saying what I really feel I want to say with a song in such a self-limited time period is probably the hardest thing I have to do. I had better recording equipment for this album than the last one and I wanted to make the album as clean as possible in terms of sound. I think I was also a lot less calculating in my playing than last time. It’s mostly off-the cuff improvisation in terms of my solos and there were very few punch-ins, so in that, I feel as though I achieved the kind of continuity and feel I wanted in the performances. I think it’s a very good reflection of my basic personality as a natural player.

What kind of guitar techniques and ideas did you incorporate into “Anthem?”
BYRD - It’s all very “standard” from a playing technique perspective, but I don’t really think about these things when I’m playing. I’m not a “trick” guitarist in the sense of doing all that two-handed tapping stuff. As a matter of personal taste, I’ve just never liked that stuff. Whatever I played, it’s just what I do naturally. My only conscious “concern” in terms of my approach was the sound as it was captured. I have always wanted to achieve a certain purity, and to have my guitar sound on the recording, sound the way it actually sounds to my ear coming from the amp. I feel like I got closer to that goal with this album than I ever have before. I spent a lot of time getting the sound exactly where I wanted it and used a very fine microphone. The signal path this time was all tube and my guitar never went through solid state devices or even a mixing board. I think it made a real difference. I feel that the sound I got on this album is the best it’s ever been and it’s a result of a lot of factors that I paid careful attention to.

What gear did you use to record all the guitars with?
BYRD - My Byrd Super Avianti guitar, a DOD 250 overdrive with a plain carbon type battery -this actually makes a difference in sound believe it or not-, and my 50 watt Marshall plexi (stock) and my ancient (1966) 8X10 Mashall cabinet. I used one ADK A51tc tube microphone about 4 feet away from the cabinet. This went through a tube mic pre-amp thru a Lexicon converter straight onto hard-drive. Michael Flatters, Brain Hutchinson and yourself have a lot of musical chemistry. His voice fits perfectly with your music.

How would you describe your relationship with the guys inside the recording studio and out? Did they contribute to the writing process as well?
BYRD - Michael is truly a joy to work with. I wrote everything on the album, but the demands this material makes on a vocalist are challenging. Michael is a consummate professional in the studio who leaves his ego at the door, and even then, he’s just such a good dude, I’ve never had the feeling he had an “ego” in the negative sense of the term. He approached this album wanting to do the best job he could in capturing a vision and I couldn’t ask for a better person to work with. I’d describe our relationship as very good friends, both in the studio and outside of the studio. Brian is a personal friend too.

Your current band line up is hot. Will this be the same lineup in years to come?
BYRD - Well Nick, I don’t have a crystal ball, so who can know this. But I’m pretty sure Michael will sing for me again on the next album. Michael has worked on these albums with me because he enjoys it. I’ve never held anyone under any sort of contractual obligation. So on my albums, people have come and gone freely, the dictates of their circumstance and desire alone are the only deciding factors of who will appear on an album. A lot of people are attached to the idea of a band as a “fixed” entity like the Beatles. Some of us who’ve been through that -as I have with Fifth Angel as one example- have come out the other side with decisions to take more control over their artistic futures. Nothing lasts forever, but a person who’s individually committed to remaining an artist can accomplish a lot, and for a lot longer than most “bands” are around. Les Paul is a personal hero of mine on a lot of levels.

There’s one thing I’d really like to know, how did you develop this symphonic writing style you’ve developed over the past few years. Your albums sound larger than life! The last two especially have been larger than life.
BYRD - Thank you, that’s great to hear. They’re supposed to be. I don’t know really. Music comes into my mind finished, I have no idea where it comes from. When I record, it’s as though I’m learning music already written really. It’s challenging to stick to and reproduce what’s echoing around in my head, but this is what I try to do as faithfully as possible. Probably the biggest difference between what I do and the way most rock musicians approach writing music is that I have chosen not to look at music from the perspective of ‘a guitar player’, but rather, from the perspective of a composer. I then approach playing the guitar on my own albums from the perspective of someone brought in to serve the interests of and outside writer/producer who happens to be me. It’s a decision to step out of my “guitar player” shoes, and when everything else is as it should be, I step back into them. It’s a lot like being your own boss and still having your boss be someone else if you think about it. With the last album I proved a theory to myself and this was it. Yes, I take playing the guitar well seriously, but these days I have learned to discipline myself to take everything else seriously first. I know a lot of guitar fans and guitar players buy my albums, but my goal has always been to create music that goes beyond limited connections and to try to make records which will stand the test of time. When I write and compose music, I put as much effort into creating the right horn part or the right flute section as I do my guitar playing. I love the guitar, I really do, but it’s only one instrument and I much would rather see it put forward in a really good song than to just hear myself “go-off” without concern for what to me is a much bigger picture. It’s not the same as it was when I was 18, but then I don’t think it really should be. Playing guitar solos just isn’t the end-all and be-all of music for me anymore.

A few months back you had the chance to be on the Jason Becker tribute cd “WARMTH IN THE WILDERNESS”. How did you get involved with that and can you share your experience with us on it?
BYRD - This was how I actually ended up with Lion as my label before they released ‘Flying Beyond the 9’. They heard some of my music on mp3.com and emailed me kind of out of the blue. It was strange because just a short time before they contacted me, I had gone to Jason Becker’s site to see how he was doing. Before I did that, I wasn’t even certain he was still with us. I wrote Jason a letter of support, and then I got an email from Lion Music asking me if I’d contribute to the tribute a short time after that. It was apparently a coincidence, but I found it quite eerie actually.

So any touring planned to support “Anthem?
BYRD - Nothing planned. While there is certainly a market for this type of music, touring takes a level of income that can make it problematical.

Any news on your Avanti guitar line to report? Care to hook up a fellow flying V player with a killer V, I have cash? Pretty please, I only play Flying V’s too, the true guitars of gods. (laughs)
BYRD - We can talk about this, email me.

So what's in store for you in the future? Any things planned yet? I’m sure it’s going to be over the top as always!
BYRD - I’m just trying to catch my breath and find a vision for the next album at this point.

Where can Shred Zone readers pick up your cds and merch?

BYRD - I have links to places to buy the album on my home page at http://www.jamesbyrd.com

Well James, thanks again for catching us up. I really enjoyed speaking with you as always. “Anthem” truly left me mystified. It was a very deep album for me, I really felt what you were doing and it captured my heart musically. I’d have to say this has been one of the best CDs I heard so far this year and it’s going to be hard to beat! Any last words my friend?

BYRD - Thanks very much for all of your support at The Shred Zone Nick, I’m glad you’re enjoying the album.

Well folks that wraps it up. I hope you you enjoyed this interview with neo-classical shred monster James Byrd. Its always a pleasure speaking with him. So drop by his website for more information and also check out Lion Music to purchase "Anthem" online today.

Home News Discography Biography Byrd Guitars Other Guitars
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Buy Online Merchandise Image Gallery Lyrics Fan Forum Links
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