By Matt Albers
In any successful, long-running music scene, bands that don’t make their mark come and go, making it easy to leave even the most die-hard fan question the current state and future of the genre. But every once in a while – usually when you are least expecting it – a band pops up to remind everyone of the basics of why people listen to the music and refresh its own potential, either intentionally or unintentionally. In the current heavy metal climate, one could easily make the case that such a band is Detroit, Michigan’s Battlecross.
Originally formed in 2003, Battlecross gained solid footing to establish their own presence in the metal world with their 2011 full-length debut Pursuit Of Honor released on Metal Blade Records. Extensive touring would follow and subsequently land them slots on tours opening for bands such as In Flames, Goatwhore, Demon Hunter, Origin, All Shall Perish, Cattle Decapitation, Hate Eternal, and many more, as well as reputable festivals including Metal Hammer’s Trespass America Festival, Montreal’s Heavy MTL, and most recently the 2013 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, which allowed the band to support their sophomore release, War Of Will.
In a stroke of pure luck for the area of St. Louis, MO, Battlecross was a part of a post-Mayhem Festival off date show at Pop’s in Sauget, IL on August 7, 2013 featuring three other bands on the same tour’s bill: Amon Amarth, Children Of Bodom, and Huntress. With their rising success and growing fan base to back their own identity, it seems that Battlecross has quickly become a band that may have the ability to bring metal back to a much needed state of rebirth and rediscovery through no fluff, bare bones understanding of the significance of the music and it’s possibilities of expression and creativity.
We sat down with three of the members of Battlecross just before doors opened for their show at Pop’s. There, we discussed the band’s history and future possibilities, as well as their recent experience in crowdfunding and what makes the sound of their “Blue Collar Thrash Metal” such a strong and unique example of what they refer to as “awesomenicity.”
Damnation Magazine: So I guess first we’ll start off with the very basics, with just kind of how Battlecross came to be, how you guys got to where you are now – individually, as a group – what are the back stories? Spill your guts.
Hiran Deraniyagala (guitar): Well the band was formed, Tony and I (the other guitar player), formed the band. The name Battlecross kind of came about in 2003-2004, and then we started getting serious in 2007. But we’ve been gigging under the name, sound change and everything. Since 2007 was kind of the start of, “We’re doing something with this, we want to go somewhere with this.” So around 2008/2009 Don [Slater, bass] joined from another band that he played in, in 2010 Gumby [Kyle Gunther, vocals] joined. So we’ve been gigging, playing shows, just kind of getting our name out there. And we were hitting up all kinds of people for label support… Hit up Metal Blade about late 2010, something like that, and they wanted to know what was going on with us. We showed some interest so it was about a year long process of talking with them and developing a relationship with them. Finally the bridge of the gap between the two was Shannon Lucas of The Black Dahlia Murder, when he was in the band, and we developed a friendship with him and [he] really dug the band and supported us… and he vouched for the band pretty much and that’s how we signed with Metal Blade.
Kyle “Gumby” Gunther (vocals): Yeah. He said, “These guys’ dicks are good.” (laughs)
You mentioned a sound change, Battlecross has its own unique identity. Pretty much anyone whose heard you guys, enjoys you guys can vouch for that. I’m not even going to attempt to label you guys under a subgenre because…
…You’re not going to get it.
We’ll be here all day (laughter). Is there a musical direction or vision in Battlecross? Was there from the get go? How have your musical influences played a role in that?
It’s called “awesomenicity,” and we try to achieve it. That’s what our goal is. It’s not to sound like one thing or sound like another thing it’s just to sound like awesomenicity.
…Sounds like The Police’s “Synchronicity” but a step above it.
Don Slater (bass): We’re out to establish the Battlecross sound. We don’t want to sound like anyone… you know, we have our influences but we want to establish the Battlecross sound which, if you come to a show you’re going to hear good music, fast, energetic, just in-your-face metal. Plain and simple man, that’s Battlecross. You can subgenre us all day like you said, split hairs, “Oh, thrash metal, melodic metal, death… oh yeah a little bit of Gothenburg influence,” which I’ve heard… OK, that’s fine and dandy but, we’re still Battlecross.
…I understand the point of subgenre labels and things like that, but I just tell people we’re metal. If you went to a show and someone said, “It’s a heavy metal show,” you would go in with no expectations. You wouldn’t think of anything of what the band would sound like.
You would go in with an open mind and you would take the band for what they were, and that’s what people need to do… We just do what we do, and we obviously draw influences from something because that’s what comes out in our music, but we’re not set out to be “this type of music.” We’re metal; no bullshit, straight to the point heavy metal. That’s the best way to describe it.
So if there was a subgenre [for Battlecross] it would be “awesomenicity” (laughs) …This is something I’ve personally noticed – maybe other people have picked up on this and talked to you about it before; When you hear the music and look at the titles of the albums and songs, even the artwork on the albums, one might assume that there is a theme to this band, and that theme seems to be military. Is this a fair assumption?
We get that, but… it’s just badass. We like supporting our military.
Is that a central theme?
No, it’s just, honor… the military sacrifice a lot of stuff for your freedoms, and we sacrifice a lot of stuff for this band so it kind of goes hand-in-hand.
Our friend “The Nerd” said it best: “positive aggressiveness.” That’s our general theme… the strife that everyone goes through, just spin it as positive as you can and still be as aggressive as possible in the music and the lyrics itself. We’re not calling out anyone specifically, we’re just saying, “Hey, we’ve been through a lot of the same shit.” You’re going to empathize, you’re going to be able to think, “You know, I know what the hell he’s talking about.” That’s our theme.
And the military just became a good vision.
If you think about what a soldier represents, somebody that’s strong-willed, somebody that’s not going to roll over, that’s going to fight through the worst and prevail, and that’s kind of what we represent as a band; no matter what shit we go through, we’re going to fucking overcome that and come out on top. The military kind of thing and look just has kind of an epic feel and I think that kind of comes out in the music. I mean his [Gumby’s] lyrics are a lot of his personal experiences in a broad range, and anyone can take it in how they want to but it’s like his own personal message dealing with day-to-day life… and try to turn that into something positive. We don’t ever try to make it a certain point like, “Oh, that’s exactly what that means,” – obviously SOME [of our] songs do have that, but overall it’s kind of a broad thing where you can take in and listen to it and go, “Oh man, that speaks to me,” in whatever way.
Keep it open for interpretation.
You can put yourself in that song, and put a name on that “he” or “it” or “the” that I put on there… you know, “FUCK YOU BITCH!” (laughs)
Well, like “Kaleb,” which is about his [Gumby’s] son, a lot of people can relate to that. People still draw inspiration saying, “Wow, you wrote a song about your son… that just inspires me about my kid.”
I actually got a kid named after him. Some dude was like, “Somebody named their son after that song.”
…Oh, so someone named their son after a song that is about and titled after…
…My son. (laughs)
It all comes around full circle.
It’s probably safe to say that many people in and around the St. Louis area, for various reasons are pretty damn stoked about the show tonight, especially considering that this is the first year that The Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival did NOT come to town. So it means a lot that we get – in my extremely humble opinion – the four best bands on that bill (which, given our track record in this town, especially in recent years, is VERY surprising)… So first, how was the Mayhem Festival for you, being not only first-timers for the tour but also newer bands, as opposed to many of the seasoned veterans on the bill?
It was life-changing, man. It WAS the Mayhem Fest; living on a bus, playing in front of huge crowds at 2:20 PM every day just, slaying it… just being AT that show was huge. We played a show in Michigan; that’s where YOU went to go to see all those bands. I started seeing Hatebreed and all those bands there and it’s just like, I’M at that show now and it’s just… you’re there, you’ve waited since you were a kid out in that crowd and you’re like, “I want to be on that stage so bad!” And then BOOM, you’re there!
So that and [Metallica’s] Orion Music + More and [last year’s] Trespass America tour, do you guys feel like you have “made it?”
No, no, no, no. We’re still out there to grind. We’ve done what we came to do, but we haven’t gone as far as we can yet. We’re still hungry for it, we’re still out there. We’ve got two tours coming up and we’re just, steady on the grind.
When we get home we’re not going to be like, “Oh, I was on the Mayhem Fest,” and like walk down to the store or something like, “Fuck you!” (laughs) No, were just going to get home, we’re going to sit on the couch and be like, “That was a kickass tour… All right, gear up for the next one.”
As much as you can say that doing Orion Fest and Mayhem are definitely… cornerstones in our career that we’ve accomplished, but by no means are we done and settled. We need to keep going, this is just the beginning; the hard work is just breaking in.
We have a good foundation to build a house off of.
Absolutely, I mean… We want to play the whole world man, I want to be like, “I’ve been to these countries,” and everywhere like, 500 times. Just to like, have a passport and look at it and all the stamps and be like, “I’ve been all over here!” It’s just that feeling of you need to play everywhere and anywhere that you can, and that’s just our motto.
And impress the one uncle in the family that hates everything you do. (laughter) Slap that down like, “OK, flip through that. What, you don’t like that? Here’s some records for you. (laughs) Here’s all my tour passes. Convinced yet?” (laghter) That’s about as far as you go. We just want to go out and play, man.
So Grammys, Revolver [Magazine], that’s secondary to… showing up the black sheep of the family, or something like that? (laughter)
Well I mean, that’s just the stuff that comes with it. Those are – to me – never personal goals; like I don’t want to be like, “I can’t wait to get a Grammy,” or, “I can’t wait to be on the cover of this…” It’s just like, the next day, one after another. We take in each thing one at a time and just try to go out there and make a name for ourselves. I want Battlecross to be a household name; everyone will know who we are by… I don’t know how many years.
All that would be a bonus, for sure. I mean, to be nominated or whatever, awesome. But, at the end of the day, you’re sitting at home thinking, “I have another record to start writing.”
We do this for the love of the music and we obviously want to make this a career and do it for a living, but you can’t have that mentality of, “I want this, I want this…” You have to look at the big picture.
You can’t be like, “If I don’t win a Grammy, then fuck all you I’m out of here!” (laughter)
Yeah, you know, “I’m not rich yet,” or “I don’t have all these chicks over me.” That’s not why we do this, we love music and we love playing music and… like I said we want to just, take over the world [with] Battlecross. (laughter)
I know that Mayhem Fest is now over, but how did these dates featuring Mayhem Fest bands come together? Can you give us a little insight for a local having this cool show come into to his town? How did it come together, if you guys had any – not necessarily say – but any knowledge of it coming here or anywhere else?
That’s just how the tour is routed. You get a lot of days off for mayhem; it basically works like… they usually do Monday off, Tuesday-Wednesday, Thursday off, Friday-Saturday-Sunday. And so you get a bunch of these off -dates, and for the bigger bands that can afford to take those off-dates, then yeah it works. But… for us we need to keep working, we need to keep going. So, the agent says, “Book it,” just looking for stuff to keep us busy so they book these off-shows and things that don’t affect a radius clause for Mayhem; you can’t book a show that’s so close to Mayhem that you’re effecting it. So there’s those off-shows that we get to do and make some extra money so that we can keep building our brand.
For the next three days, we’re essentially working our way back home. We have St. Louis, Nashville tomorrow, Cleveland – that’s only a 3-hour trip from home. But I’d rather work… the days off in between that six-week tour, they’re nice once in a while, but if you can play a show, then I’d rather play a show.
I’d rather stay busy, you know? Because for us, a day of just means parking a bus somewhere and just chilling on the bus… We don’t have the money to be like, “We’re going to go get a hotel and we’re going to go do this, and we’re going to go do this, and this, and this…” I’d rather stay busy and keep building the Battlecross name and play shows. And sell merch.
…Pursuit Of Establishment. (laughter)
That’s what the first album should’ve been. (laughter)
So this is my first time seeing Battlecross. But you guys have played Fubar a couple of times in the past two years since the first album.
Fubar was also one of the worst turnouts we’ve EVER had as a band.
Yeah! Because didn’t they announce that show like, the DAY OF or something like that?
Something like that. Two people [showed up]. And the bartender.
Slap in the face big: it was St. Patty’s day.
Ooohh, what’s the excuse there? (laughter)
I know! It’s like, “What the fuck? We’re at a BAR!”
The bartender felt bad for us so he gave us all shots of whiskey.
So anyway, do you like this part of the country? I know you’re Midwesterners yourselves.
Yeah, it’s close to home.
Yeah it’s cool man, we still have fan support and love out here… whether it’s two people coming out to a show – obviously that stuff happens when you’re a new band – you’ve got to build steam. We’ve had our fair share of good shows; like we came through with Origin and I thought that was awesome… We did come through ourselves with Abiotic, that was cool. And actually, at Fubar we did have to cancel one time, but there was just no way that was going to happen.
I think I remember that, it was an off-date of Trespass, wasn’t it?
Yeah it was Trespass. There would’ve been just no way for us to have played that show and make it to the next show on time.
You just have to cut your losses.
Yeah, it sucks because most people don’t understand that when you cancel a show… they’re like “Damn you,” and we hate cancelling shows, we do whatever it takes to play them.
You don’t work, you don’t get paid. I know what that’s like; I think we all can relate.
Yeah, but at the same time, you don’t want to disappoint fans.
That’s the point in making all the apologies; we feel bad! We don’t WANT to cancel a show, ever.
I was going to ask you about goals for the band, but it sounds like you guys already covered it, in that… “fuck goals.” (laughter)
We’ve got goals, I mean…
…Yeah, we’re Detroit fans, we’re Red Wings; we get goals all the time! (laughter)
You know, we have to set goals being in a band… we still have a ways to go. Yes, we did just get off of a killer tour, but we still have a lot more to do. We’ve still got a lot of the country – THIS country – [the rest of] North America to cover, and we’ve still got the rest of the world to go. We’re just getting started.
The last thing I want to talk about before you get out of here is the crowdfunding that you did for your last album; how did that turn out? We see that a lot, it’s kind of the next stage of social media has brought us; we see a lot of bands doing this in metal alone – Chimaira, Protest The Hero, Obituary, Jeff Loomis, and Austrian Death Machine – even Huntress who did it for the tour, though you guys did this for the album…
No actually we did it for the tour.
Oh did you? Well tell us about why you did it, how it turned out, how you worked through the benefits and the incentives that people would get.
Why we did it is because when Mayhem calls you and says, “Do you want to do this tour?” You don’t say no. (laughs) So that’s why we did it.
Obviously – for someone like me who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a band – they don’t just say, “Here’s some money.” (laughter)
The industry has changed; [record] labels can’t throw you money that they used to, to support a band on tour. And there’s all these costs that go with them; if you’re on Mayhem tour, you’ve got to have merch, you’ve got to have money to pay for that merch…
…You’ve got to have transportation. You have to have a down payment for transportation. You have to have backup money. You have to have… driver down payments. You have to have everything. There’s just SO much stuff that can just pile up that you go, “AAAHH!” Then you ask your label for the money and they’re like, “Alright, do you have the money back for us? Because, you just BORROWED that.”
Just think of a year’s worth all [your] bills condensed into six weeks… And we’ve got all this we need to pay up, but what Indiegogo and all the crowdfunding stuff has shown us [is] how awesome fans still are. I mean there’s kind of a revolution going where… I forget who we were discussing it with, but people just used to… just steal music, steal music, steal music. Now everyone’s getting back into BUYING music because they understand… you’re screwing your favorite bands who are like, “You CAN’T; you’re STEALING our music!”
So NOW it’s sinking in. (laughter) After a decade and a half after Napster, NOW things are finally starting to sink in.
Well if you look at iTunes and stuff, you can’t steal off of it, you know? …People are just like, “Aw fuck it, I’ll buy it off iTunes.”
What’s nice is that a lot of people… they still download the music, but they’ll come out to a show and BUY YOUR CD to support [you] because they understand.
People have bought, like, three or four CDs from us just because they want us to sign it.
Or they’ll forget it at home and say, “You guys are here, I’ll take another one because I want you to sign this one.”
It’s that morale of kind of like being together.
Oh yeah… we’ve even had like, pre-signed stuff, and we’ve had people be like, “No I don’t want that pre-signed thing, I want YOU to sign it.” But it’s already signed! “I don’t give a fuck!” (laughs)
“I want to WATCH you sign my shit!” (laughter)
“I want to see you do it!” (laughs) “…I don’t believe you mother fucker! You had some intern do it!” (laughter)
…Do you have interns?
Well, our manager does.
…The Indiegogo thing was not just begging fans for money. Look at it as a fan investing in their band. You like a band, you want them to do stuff, “Here’s some money so that you can do what I love that you do.” You know what I mean? That’s what crowdfunding is. They give us money to contribute toward a good cause so they can see the bands that they want to see.
It really is a chance for our fans to live vicariously through their bands. Because we offered perks like, “Hey, come hang out with the band for a day,” you know? Some dude… God, I can’t remember his name but he was drunk, passed out on the bus… he woke up like, “This was awesome.” (laughter) Experiencing the life.
There was another dude that – he actually MISSED our set – but he hung out with us the whole night, and he sent a message [to us] the next day and said, “That was the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever done; I missed you guys, but I still had the fucking best time. You guys are awesome.” You know, just giving the fans and experience that they don’t get… You know, a lot of these tours do these V.I.P. things… and all it is, “I’m going to go wait in line with a hundred other people waiting in line to see some singing” and that’s it. And you sit up close.
Yeah, and they pay a fortune. (laughs)
Yeah, and they pay all this money. Where here [crowdfunding] they are contributing, get to help the band, AND they get to… hang out with the band, they get signed stuff, they get a copy of the album early…
You cross the invisible line.
Yeah, the get to live – kind of – what we’re doing, like he [Slater] said, vicariously through the band.
You LET them, sort of.
Yeah of course. We even did like phone calls, just calling people and stuff. Just saying, “Hey, what’s going on?” Just chit-chatting and, you know it does seem cheesey at first but people are actually like, “Holy crap!” Like, “Wow, you guys are ACTUALLY calling me! This is really cool!” So I think fans really enjoyed it and loved it, and I see that kind of being the future; the next wave of what bands are going to start doing. And you’re already seeing it! And people are going to criticize and say this and that and say bands shouldn’t do it…
“You’re bleeding your fans dry! Isn’t it enough [that] we just buy your merch?” …Sometimes, sometimes not. Especially on a tour like Mayhem where there’s certain requirements you need to have that we simply just couldn’t afford. So we offered a bunch of perks you know, limited edition t-shirts, we’ll send you stuff, make calls, hang out [with you] in the bus, get a signed guitar from us… As much as you contribute to us, we’re going to contribute right back to you.
Just like we mentioned earlier, it all comes full circle
Right, and those things cost money, too. So it’s not like they’re… anything free. Our goal that we raised… we padded that goal so that we could pay for those things that people get. …So it’s how you do it. It helps, and people are jumping on to it, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.
As long as it’s done classy. You can’t just be, “Give me money. Fuck you.” (laughs)
Sounds like Battlecross is a classy band.
Classy awesomecis-… Uh, awesometis-…
I think that’ll wrap it up for me, I know you guys have got to go, I want to get in there and have a good time so thanks again for meeting with us!
Oh, and this is also the first interview for Damnation Magazine.
Pop that cherry! (laughter)