Share and Share Alike

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Many bands talk the talk of file sharing being something to be embraced, rather than eschewed, but how many bands do you know that walk the walk and actually release an album for free, especially a band on a big metal label? You’ll know at least one now, as Ireland’s Gama Bomb have done it through Earache Records with Tales from the Grave in Space, the follow-up to the extremely well written, balls out thrash masterpiece Citizen Brain. At the time of this interview I had not yet heard the album, as it was not available, so the idea was to focus on the band’s/label’s decision to release it for free, a preview, if you will. Now that I’ve gotten my own digital copy of the album (and you can too), I can tell you that it is every bit the rip roaring, fun-filled vintage (with modern sensibilities) thrash extravaganza that is Citizen Brain. Vocalist Philly Byrne fills tells that tale of Tales and how file sharing can be a good thing for metal bands.

Well, the big news is that Gama Bomb is releasing Tales from the Grave in Space free through Earache. How in the heck did that come about? One would think that a label would want to make money releasing an album.

It surprised me too at first, how readily they got on board with our idea. Then again, from an insider perspective it’s plain to see where they can benefit from it. It’s no secret that the music business, especially at our level and in our corner of the market, is the T-shirt business. Merch, publishing and sometimes gig fees are where income for labels comes from now, not CDs. I happen to think that’s great, as someone who downloads music all the time and has come to expect not to pay for it. From Earache’s point of view, experimenting on releasing our album for free acts as its own PR machine, its own pusher. So hey, you give it away, people talk, then maybe – just maybe – more people come to shows, buy more shirts and even the physical CD, which is to follow. They’re actually making a stab at increased income with this – and our objective is, of course, to just get the music out there – so we’re in concert on the plan, even if the ends are different.

With regard to file sharing then, how much does it help and how much does it hurt, especially with metal bands?

Here’s the truth: file sharing is the best thing to happen to music since the CD. The hand-wringing, the bitching, the complaining that Home Taping Is Killing Music is all bullshit and we have to forget about it. Since the 1980s the big end of the music business has been preparing for the dawn of file sharing, with the 360 deal and God knows what other ‘alternative business models’, but the sheer greed that drives those enormous profits keeps them whingeing even while they continue to merge, expand and profit.

At our level files sharing hurts bands – there’s less income from CDs, yes, because people take it for free – but that’s seeing it from an out-dated perspective. CDs aren’t where the money comes from any more. When you accept that, you realize music being free is amazing for small bands. People worldwide can get intimate with your music and are ready to come see you and buy a shirt when you come to town, without spending a cent. What could be better?

Musically, what will we be hearing in Tales from the Grave in Space compared to Citizen Brain?

Having heard the finished tracks I can only say the differences are subtle but powerful. You won’t be hearing avant-garde passages or experimental things: you’ll be hearing the sound of consistency, and a machine that’s grown more powerful and refined, which is what we are now I think. It’s fast of course, on an equal footing with CB, but it’s more athletic: there are literally more riffs, and each riff challenged our skills in a different way. There’s a punk streak to the album with tracks like “Mussolini Mosh,” which are straight skate-hardcore, there’s a touch of power/classic metal on tracks like “Slam Anthem” and “Polterghost,” and there’s full-on balls out thrash on every second of it. I’m really proud of it, and I wouldn’t say that otherwise. I did the best work of my life on this album, and I can say without doubt that everyone else did too. It’s a fucking monster.

Since the vintage thrash resurgence has been in full swing this last couple of years, did you feel any pressure in the writing/recording process, considering the competition?

Not one bit! We exist in our own bubble, entirely. The fortunes and sounds of other bands mean literally nothing to the “direction” of our music or the way we record it. Beyond wanting a clear, powerful production, there was no other consideration given to “competing” with other bands on Tales… Everywhere lately you see thrash bands jumping ship or aggressively retuning their style, which is fine, but we don’t feel the urge. Our formula for music, and our delivery system for it, is perfect for us.

Two things dare driving the current “cooling off” of new thrash bands: one is the urge to grow musically, and the other is the fear that the ship is sinking, the scene is dying, style is turning and bands are afraid of becoming a joke. For the first, we grow musically by refining, by developing character and chops and balls. And as for the second, we’ve been together for seven years, popular for two, and have no fear of going back to “unpopularity” in whatever form its meant to take. We’ve never been cool anyway, so being passé is about as scary as a hairbrush to us. We’ll stick with the thrash thanks!

What was your overall reaction to how Citizen Brain was received by the fans and the critics?

My reaction was just delight – so few albums of any genre are welcomed as warmly as CB was. The reviews were so overwhelmingly glowing and moreover, people just got it you know? We were really lucky. The people who didn’t get it were just amusing, too. I liked the bad reviews – which were thin on the ground – almost as much fun as the good ones.

Any feedback about it that you found to be either baffling or pleasantly surprising?

You hear some crazy shit about yourself, comparisons to singers and stuff you’d never dream of. Generally, we just got a lot of thrash kids who speak very little English screaming about how we were wrecking their necks and how we have to come to their town immediately. That’s the best reaction you can get in my books!

How much touring did you do for it and to where did you travel?

We toured Europe three times – the first time as a kinda primer, doing really rough small club shows and sleeping on floors before release. Then we did the Thrashing Like a Maniac tour with Bonded by Blood, which was amazing fun, still around clubs, and then we toured Europe again with Overkill and Exodus, playing much bigger clubs. That was a killer experience, we learned so much from those guys. We’re a hard-touring band, because gigs are the be-all, end-all of music for us. On this album we’re going to get over to the States and South America. I’m especially jonesing for South America, because people there are so desperate for good thrash and it’s a total adventure, heading into the underbelly of Bogota like explorers. Wicked.

Any eye-opening experiences on the road?

On tour you’re constantly getting your eyes opened, to good and bad things! Like we accidentally played in a bar controlled by a Nazi biker gang in Berlin, which was horrible. Coming into proximity with people like that is very instructive…and then we have so many amazing times. We swam in the sea in Barcelona at 2AM in the autumn, drunk off our asses, and we drove through the Alps in the depths of a snow storm in the winter, where our RV was slipping all over the iced road with these huge torrents of melting snow creating waterfalls all around us. Just amazing stuff. Touring is the most amazing thing in the world. It’s hard and it’s amazing and sad and happy and fascinating and boring all at once. It’s life and you just want more when you get a little.

You are working with Scott Atkins again on this album. What do you feel he brings to the table as far as capturing the Gama Bomb sound is concerned?

Scott brings understanding and respect to the equation. He respects our independence, in that he doesn’t try to change our style or our songs or offer undue input on our ideas – some producers will literally force a band to rewrite songs. We’d laugh at that of course, and Scott gets that totally and just says “Your songs are good enough.” And he understands thrash perfectly – he has an encyclopedic knowledge of it, every album and band no matter how small they were, he knows them, and he knows their vibe, so you can relate in the language of thrash to him. Plus, his powers of concentration are extraordinary. He can work with these little fiddly .wav files for 10 hours a day and still with total focus.

What about lyrical themes for this album? Once again you’ve got some entertaining song titles, such as “Mussolini Mosh” and “Escape from Scarecrow Mountain.”

Yeah the theme to this album is horror, the unexpected, the grotesque, kinda penny dreadful tales with gruesome twists in the end – very much in the vein of Tales From the Crypt, but there’s other stuff on there – “Mussolini Mosh” is an anti-fascist song, “We Respect You” is literally a list of all our biggest heroes, and there’s some science fiction type stuff there too, to keep the ‘weird tales’ kinda vibe going. The irony is, we didn’t deliberately aim to write a concept album, we’re just steeped in this stuff.

Fun seems to be priority number one for Gama Bomb.

It has to be for every band doesn’t it? Being in a band isn’t a picnic – it can be hard, trying and harsh living when you’re a small band on a club circuit and without the backing of a major label or agency. If you can’t have fun with writing and playing the music, and hanging out with each other, then what’s the point in the 12-hour drive, the poverty, the empty club room and the McDonald’s dinner? It’s our priority and always has been, to have fun and make music people want to have fun too. That’s a very difficult thing to do, much harder than creating music people sit and feel miserable or angry to. Those are blunt emotions you can nail easily with a few words and chords: excitement is a needlepoint thing you need to catch in a net and hang onto with serious chops and incredible energy. Doing that is fun, luckily.

I enjoyed the “What we’ve been drinking” and “What we’ve been listening to” sections of your Myspace blog. So as of this week, what have you been drinking and listening to as a band?

Well this week we’re at home after recording, so I’ve been celebrating that and catching up with old friends back here. Let’s see…one night I was on the Heineken, the next it was a friend of mine’s birthday so we took a smoothie maker, a bag of ice, some rum, whiskey and gin and a lot of fruit and juice and made cocktails. I invented an amazing one called Self-Stabber. Here’s the recipe:

Four handfuls of ice

One ring of pineapple

Four large measures white rum

2.5 large measures gin

The juice of half a lime

Mixed fruit juice

Apple juice

Put it in a blender and then add a mint leaf. Serves four people and is tight stuff.

As for listening to? While we were recording we listened to tons of UFO, and some great soul music too, Al Green and Jackie Wilson especially. I got really into Hank Williams, too. This week I’ve been listening to Turbo by Judas Priest and the rapper Rahzel, and the new Gama Bomb album, funnily enough.

By the way, why is there only one “M” in Gama?

We can’t agree on that! Let’s list the reasons: I recall we took an ‘M’ out because it made the words of equal length, and that meant we could make the ‘Dawn of the Dead / Star Wars / Masters of the Universe’ logo shape, which sort of automatically came with the name for us. Joe says it’s in tribute to bands like Megadeth and Def Leppard, you know the classic rock and roll misspelling thing, and Luke insists it’s because one of the guys, who is dyslexic, wrote the band’s name on a table when we first started and misspelled it, so we stuck with it!

What do you think the future holds for Gama Bomb and what do you hope it holds, if of course different answers are required?

Good question, but the two are inseparable in a way as they’re both bound up in eventualities and possibility. I think we’re going to make better music than we ever have, and we’re going to tour pretty heavily for the next year and then take a look at where we are, but after that I have no idea what the future holds. Sink or swim. We’re not the world’s biggest band and don’t really care if we ever are, and we’ve all got lives outside the band, so we’ll reach a point where we work out the ratio between life and band – do we spend eight months in a band and four months out per year, or vice versa? – that’s what we’ll be wondering. We’re under no illusions about the future, but we’re happy where we are right now.

As for my hopes, well they’ve always been big, and the good thing is, I’ve generally been proven right…I hoped and knew we’d get a record deal, and we did. I knew it was a great idea to release an album for free and make history, and it is, so now we’re watching that play out. I hope we’re invulnerable in the future, untouchable and most importantly incredible. I hope, wherever we go, we play to full houses of people who we drive out of their minds. And I hope we have fun doing it.


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