Band Interview: Byzantine

Matt Albers

For music fans, there are few experiences more impactful than discovering a band. Like all discoveries, it can feel even more important and memorable when they are found in an unlikely place of origin. On the opposite end, few things are can be harder for music fans to take than when a favorite band breaks up. And one of the most conflicting experiences is somehow discovering a band after they have broken up or gone on hiatus.  In terms of modern day heavy metal, any and all of these aspects and experiences can be used to describe West Virginian quartet Byzantine.

Metalheads love to classify and discuss genres, scenes, and movements that are usually spawned from a particular geographic location, when local like-minded musicians and fans share styles and influences, usually through playing and attending shows together. But while just about any area can have their own community surrounding a certain genre or even music as a whole, some areas may rarely or never receive notoriety outside of their market. For example, if someone were to ask you your personal favorite metal outfit from the state of West Virginia, you might not have an answer. Especially if one of the most notable bands from that state were a band that, through their own struggles and challenges, gained only marginal success disproportionate to their talent and potential, leading to a disbandment for several years.

Despite adversity within the metal music industry, lineup changes, and a little thing called real life, the progressive groove thrashers that make up Byzantine continue to persevere to meet their creative goals and aspirations. Their fun-loving, down to earth attitude allows them to expand their artistry freely, while still maintaining a serious approach to their craft. While on tour supporting their upcoming fifth album, To Release Is To Resolve (their second in a row to be crowdfunded), I was able to talk with the band at The Schlafly Tap Room in midtown St. Louis, before their show just down the street at Fubar, with local openers CarolAnne, Grays Divide, Legend, and Absala. There, the four musicians – along with their crew and some of their friends – enjoyed local beer while they entertained my curiosity and intrigue into their unique identity and history.

To start, I wanted to get an idea of how your home base of West Virginia has influenced you as a band as well as individual musicians. What are the scenes of metal or music as a whole like there, and how were you affected by them to get into and create the music that you do? Does the location still play a role in your creative process to this day?

Chris “OJ” Ojeda [vocals, rhythm guitar]: …That’s FIVE questions! [Laughter] We’re going to take this one at a time.

I can start over…

[Laughs] It’s fine. Being from West Virginia… it’s not a hotbed of this type of music; when you think of heavy metal, you do NOT think of West Virginia. But there are fantastic musicians from there, and growing up around them and playing around a lot of these musicians kind of helped hone our sound and our style. We weren’t really introduced [to] a ton of different genres of heavy metal, so were just able to kind of grab on [to] what we could and just focus on it, tear it apart, you know. I grew up in a separate area of West Virginia than these three [other members]; they grew up in and around the Charleston area, [the] state capitol. I grew up more south. But it’s weird, especially with me and Matt [Wolfe, drums]; we’ve both been playing music together for about thirteen years now. And even though we didn’t grow up together, we almost listened to the exact same style of shit, so it [was] easy. When we got together, “Oh, you like Testament?” “Yeah.” “You like Forbidden?” “Yeah.” “You like Dark Angel? OK, let’s do it.”

Matt Wolfe [drums]: To the other part of your question, another influence that the state has provided is lyrical influence. There are a lot of stories considering coal mining, [the] Hatfield and McCoys, a lot of battles that happened within the state during the Civil War and that kind of era, that have influenced his [OJ] lyrics of a few songs.

Matt Albers interviewing Byzantine at The Schalfly Tap Room. Left to right: Chris "OJ" Ojeda (vocals, rhythm guitar), Matt Wolfe (drums), Sean Sydnor (bass).
Matt Albers interviewing Byzantine at The Schalfly Tap Room in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20, 2015. Left to right: Chris “OJ” Ojeda (vocals, rhythm guitar), Matt Wolfe (drums), Sean Sydnor (bass) [Photo credit: Nick Licata].
Growing up in that area… it can be a curse and it can be a blessing at the same time. The blessing is that you can develop your own sound. There’s a few bands that have been signed, from West Virginia; there’s been Chum who was on Century Media, Bobaflex, there’s been Karma To Burn… we all sound COMPLETELY, a million percent different from each other. And they sound completely different than everybody else out there. So it’s easy to get a good sound. But the hard part is, it takes you fucking forever to get out of there and get a fan base, you know. We’ve been doing this for fifteen years and we’re still playing to half-empty venues. It’s not like we come from an area where you can build a huge fan base there. Geographically, we’re so split up. Because we have to go OUT, to play everywhere to try to build something. So it took a while. I mean, it gave us road chops and we’ve got a lot of horror stories that we could build up. Nothing’s been handed to us.

Yeah, it’s definitely given us more of a blue collar mentality as far as working for what we might be able to achieve.

Sean Sydnor [bass]: I want to add something kind of different to that. As far as the state goes, the one thing that I think that pretty much all of us did, is that [in] West Virginia, there’s not really that much interesting stuff there. I mean, you can go to school and go to college and get a dead end job, or whatever. But, if you’re lucky enough, your parents own a business and you can just squeeze your way in there. But truthfully, when there’s not much here, we all just kind of picked music… Like I came home from school every day and did that instead of sports or, you know, whatever clique there might have been.

It’s kind of like the bands from Sweden; all there is to do is practice. There’s nothing else to do BUT play music.

Yeah, it’s one of the things that I think you cling to here, to release from, kind of, the monotony. West Virginia’s not that popular… [But] there’s a positive aspect to the state. I think that we all share [this] because, what else is there?

Drugs, drinking, and fucking up. That’s about it. [Laughter] Playing music and staying out of trouble… I mean, you can do drugs while you play music, [but] it’s not very professional sometimes, I guess.

…Thanks for answering all of that mess. Like you said, there was really like five questions in my first question, so I’ll try to condense it all down. I don’t know when to stop [laughter]. You’ll see that when you play the show, I’ll make an ass of myself [laughter]… When not referring to the empire of the Eastern Roman Orthodox Church founded in the first century, the word “byzantine,” is defined as: “a system or situation that is excessively complicated, typically involving a great amount of detail.” Byzantine, the band, has been and still is regarded as a musical outlet underrated for your complex musicianship and song structure, while still retaining familiar accessibility… So the title seems appropriate. Was this something you intended for the band, to always represent you in this way, or was it just a coincidental afterthought or happy accident?

It was actually planned. When I was wanting to form this band, I was looking through a thesaurus and stuff to try and find a cool band names. And one of them that I came across was Byzantine; it was because I was looking for something that was complicated. And I thought, at that time, our music was kind of complicated. Now, with the advent of djent, and Meshuggah pushing it [complexity] to an exponential degree, we’re not super-complicated, but still it’s intricate enough to fall into that term. And I looked around and realized that there were no bands that had trademarked that name. So I was like, “OK, we’ll take that, I think it works.” And luckily, you can play on that a lot, with the Byzantine Empire…

Chris "OJ" Ojeda (vocals, rhythm guitar) of Byzantine, live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO; Friday, March 20, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata]
Chris “OJ” Ojeda (vocals, rhythm guitar) of Byzantine, live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata]
It also has a second meaning in the dictionary that says, “Carried out by cruel and underhanded methods,” which is also kind of metal.

That’s VERY metal!

And the good thing is, that name doesn’t give a negative connotation. Like, if you’re flipping through something, and you see, “Ah! Casket Full of Babies!” [Laughter] …That’s probably fucking brutal. But if you see “Byzantine,” you’re like, “…What? That could be prog, that could be hair metal, that could be death metal…” So, you have to give it a chance. So the name doesn’t, like, kick us out of the shuttle.

But nobody can pronounce it right.

Right! “Bye-zen-teen,” “Biz-in-teen,” “Biz-in-tyne,” but no one ever calls it “Bye-zin-TYNE!”

No! But yeah, that [name] was very pre-determined.

Cool! You mentioned that with djent, Meshuggah, and a lot of the progressive styles that we’ve been hearing in metal for the past couple of years now are kind of really reaching its peak. Because your music is known for being so complex, where do you influences from, and how do you incorporate them together while avoiding them going off the rails? Still retaining that groove, musicality, and melody. Do you have some kind of special technique? And if so, is it a secret?

For me… I think it might really apply to the riffs, as well. We really don’t bring any outside influences in this band anymore. We did at first, when we were developing the sound. Like, we would put together the Bay-area thrash and the southern groove of Pantera and Exhorder, mixed with some Opeth… But in the last five, ten years, we’ve really kind of just shut it down and just [stuck] to that format.

We kind of stay away from any kind of influence while we’re in the writing phase. We, kind of, on purpose, by design, stay away from all other… Like, I don’t listen to any new music, at all. I don’t, really. Everything I listen to is still Exodus, or Overkill, or Testament, or Forbidden…

Or not metal.

Yeah, or not metal at all. A lot of jazz, a lot of prog rock, or acid rock. That kind of thing.

You can get into a tricky situation if you start listening to new styles of music, because it can get incorporated subconsciously and all of a sudden people are like, “Oh, Byzantine are now a djent band.”

Yeah, “They’re trend-followers.” We would rather not… not so much be a [trend] setter, but we just want to do our own thing; what makes us happy. And that’s not playing whatever the flavor of the week is.

I love that you guys are actually kind of reading my mind, because several of the questions I’ve written, you’ve already answered before I asked them [laughter]. Like about distinguishing yourselves among the climate of djent and of modern progressive, technical metal. You also mentioned lyrics, but I’m really curious about the vocal style, because your vocals are very unique. What do you like to portray in the words you choose to use? And does the way in which you present them – whether it’s harsh vocals, clean vocals, or the occasionally spoken word – play into their writing as well? If so, how (lyrically or musically)?

Well, the style that I put into it… I only have about four or five tricks, you know, vocal styles I use. I do that just to keep it entertaining, because I’m not a fantastic vocalist. I’m a rhythm guitarist by nature. Brian [Henderson, lead guitar, vocals] is a way better vocalist than I am. So I try to incorporate a bunch of different styles to keep it interesting, to match with the music. If I just did the shouting in key, it [would] kind of get stale. So I’ve been able to figure out how to sing properly now, and how to do the, uh… I call it the “Cobra Commander Voice.” [Laughter] It’s weird, so I try to do that. It’s almost like three or four different people singing.

…Do you also hold out the “S’s,” and hiss?

Oh yesssssssss! [Laughs] There’s a song on our third album, Oblivion Beckons, where I talk about something like, “Slithering, silently, like a snake,” and it’s total Cobra Commander! The helmet and everything!

I really would’ve expected that more on the album …And They Shall Take Up Serpents.

Yeah! Anytime you hear that voice, I’m just thinking of Cobra Commander.

I don’t know where it was, but I saw on the news the other day, that Cobra Commander got the key to a city. [Laughter] THAT is fucked up.

I saw that on Comedy Central the other night! It was Springfield, IL! Just like two hours away.

…We normally write the music first. I never do the lyrics… the lyrics always come after the music’s completed. And then I’ll just start jotting down prose, or stories, or anything like that. And then I’ll make them fit wherever I think they [will]. “Well, this song has an upbeat feel; this might have, like a Fear Factory or Exhorder-style cadence,” so I’ll match that. And then I’ll change the words to make it sound smarter. Because normally I’ll write it out and it’ll be kind of dumb, and then I’ll go to a thesaurus and be like, “Oh! Instead of saying ‘pain,’ I’ll say something else.” So it’s a very thought-out process. And then, once it’s all done, the style of vocals just kind of falls into place. Like, I hear it in my head; oh, this has to be guttural, and then this has to come in, and it just, like, works itself out.

On the last two records, our producer, J. Hannon, will give his input on what vocal style should be [used] during what part of the song.

We’ve been working with J. Hannon, who played guitar for a band called Gizmachi… They were signed and played Ozzfest, he’s a fantastic musician. And he’s got an input; he’s a New Yorker and he’s going to fucking tell you what he thinks. But he’s like our… Fifth member. So I’ll be like, “I’m going to sing it this way,” and he’s like, “No you’re not; you’re going to go higher. And you’re going to sing it Cobra Commander.” [Laughter]

He gets you to bring stuff out.

He does man, he pulls it out of us.

I did things on this [new] album… retrain playing techniques, and everything. He’s badass, J.

Sean Sydnor (bass) of Byzantine, live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO; Friday, March 20, 2015
Sean Sydnor (bass) of Byzantine, live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata].
When you hear the new album, the recording value that we got out of it, we’re super happy. It’s very clean and exactly like a [live] band in front of you… But yet, it’s not completely over-processed.

Real drum sounds, real guitars, I mean… Everything is not simple, not over-processed or digitized. And going back to the vocals, we were all unhappy with that stagnant, metal, guttural… We all [in the band] want a smooth singer that can sing, and [do] parts that call for heavy vocals, and parts that call for total screaming, the Phil Anselmo sort of thing. We don’t want to get pigeonholed in any certain style, and hopefully we never will.

I think that’s one thing that hurt us in the beginning. When we signed to Prosthetic [Records], they couldn’t find a genre to put us in…

So we got assigned.

Yeah, so they were like, “OK, you’re metalcore,” and we knew we were NOT metalcore; we didn’t listen to any of that shit. But they were like, “We’re going to try; you go be metalcore.” And then they were like, “Well, that didn’t fucking work.” [Laughter] So they were like, “We don’t know what genre to put you [out] towards.”

It’s just metal, that’s it.

Yeah. So it hurt at the beginning. But now, coming around, fifteen years later, it’s like, “Oh, you’ve got your own sound.” So it kind of helped to not fall into that.

And speaking of coming back around after this reunion, Byzantine officially announced their first breakup very shortly after the release of your 2008 album Oblivion Beckons, only to reunite for a few shows over a year later, leading to an official reformation of the band. Why was it important for Byzantine to live on?

I think it was because we weren’t simply done yet. Three out of the four of the original lineup had kids at the same exact time. So we all decided that we were going to be good dads and watch all of our kids grow for a little while, and be home to support them, and that kind of thing, work day jobs… As they grew older, we decided we missed each other and missed music, that kind of thing… Especially Tony [Rohbrough], our old guitar player, and OJ had a ton of riffs stockpiled, because they had been sitting around in [their] basements for four or five years, doing nothing with their guitars but writing. So we all decided to put it back together which we made [and] we’re all still really proud of. It’s just something that none of us ever wanted to let die. We [just] had priorities that came into place.

As a band, we just did not know how to keep it going. Because when the label started pulling back money and PR, we just felt lost and we were like, “We can’t keep driving around playing to ten people for nothing.” So naturally, you hitch.

I’ll tell you this. The last tour we did… I think it was [with] God Forbid, Mnemic, Goatwhore…

I mean, it was fucking stacked.

Yeah, major tour. We came back over $25 in debt. We had no tour support, nothing. And gas prices at that time were almost $4 a gallon, and whatever else. After that, we decided, “No more touring.” And that tour happened to take place in the middle of me tracking drums for Oblivion Beckons, which was a considerable inconvenience in the first place. But, that was, I think the final nail in the coffin at that point in time. And if you read the lyrics, there’s a lot of innuendos about that being the end of the band.

Like the song “Hail the End Times”?

Yeah, and the song “Receiving End of Murder” is completely about our relationship with the record label and that sort of thing.

We had already agreed to break up by the time that the album came out. And it was kind of a middle finger to the industry, and kind of a, “We need a break.” But none of us ever put the “Never Again” stamp on anything; maybe [just], see you in a few years.

Byzantine has retained its sound despite several lineup changes over the years. What do you look for when acquiring new members? Is it important that they also be from West Virginia?

No, it’s not like we’re Menudo… “You’re 18 now, get the fuck out.” [Whole group of people busts out laughing] Our bass player, ‘Skip’ [Michael Cromer] that we had for years, he was from Pittsburgh. So the West Virginia thing, it wasn’t like it had to be… But it’s way more convenient when you’re five minutes away [from each other] as opposed to five hours. So when those guys left… [Matt and I] made a pact that we had to find guys within our home town. It wasn’t hard, because Brian had filled in for Tony multiple times before, so we knew like, the guy. And Sean had played with Matt before and I knew of Sean’s legendary bass status in town, but I just didn’t know how to get a hold of him; you know, he was MIA. We got them together, and a lot of times when you put new members in, you’re like, “There’s something wrong.” Especially when you change two at the same time. Like, with Tony leaving the band, he wrote 30% of our material. That’s a BIG chunk of our sound. But we brought in guys that were very respectful, musically, of what we’d done before, but also had their own style. So we knew going forward that we’d be able to stay with that sound, but expand upon it and still sound like Byzantine.

As a thirteen-year member, bringing these two guys in – being Brian Henderson and Sean Syndor – I’ve played with them both since teenage years. And they’re some of the best musicians in the tri-state area of where we’re from, and I’m super happy to have them with us. But, being a member of Byzantine for thirteen years, and being a part of the songwriting process and all that for that whole time that we’ve been signed and everything else, I knew… we [were] not going to lose our core sound and our core values without Chris Ojeda’s songwriting. You know what I mean? It just is what it is. And like he said, anybody that comes into it has heard and is very familiar with Byzantine, and they know what is expected of them as far as their influences in what they write and create, and what goes into it. And it’s all turned out… I mean, the new record is definitely a Byzantine record, but it definitely has a lot of different aspects that have never been heard before, that I think fans will look at as more of a bonus, if they can get past the whole… Like, when I was a kid and Testament kicked out Alex Skolnik, I was like, “Oh my God! What the fuck, dude?! What are they going to do now!?” And then they put out Low, with James Murphy and I was like, “…OK, well this is still a badass album.” You know, it’s different personnel, but it’s still the same badass band and core songwriter… So, I think there’s some bonuses instead of things that we’re taking away with these two guys. Not taking anything away from the two previous members though, because they were integral to Byzantine’s growth.

Byzantine drummer Matt Wolfe live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata].
Byzantine drummer Matt Wolfe live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata].
You’re about to release your fifth album, To Release Is to Resolve, which is also your second consecutive self-produced, crowdfunded album. Why go that route twice in a row, let alone at all?

Because the first time worked. Within six months, we were in the black. And that’s hard to do as a heavy metal artist. We put three albums out on Prosthetic and we’re still unrecouped, haven’t seen a dime. So then we go and we crowdfund the first album [through] Kickstarter; we raised like $7 thousand, it costs like $13-$14 thousand overall to do it. So, we were like $6 thousand in the hole right there. And like, right of the bat… [It] took a couple months and we were making money, getting royalties. And I realized, “Holy fuck, why weren’t we doing this before??” What I’ve realized now with the industry as it implodes – not implodes; it gets smaller, because we’re all connected – is that these people that just work with record labels, like PR companies, and magazines, they will work with independent artists, IF you write them a check! So we just hired all the people that worked with our record company to work directly with us, and we were able to promote our album – you know, talk to people like you guys – and get out there and tour. This album, we’re probably $23 thousand of the $25 thousand in debt right now. But, I’m not worried about it, because it’s a direct-to-consumer product, and we’ll probably see a return in the first year, which would be amazing.

And also, if what he [OJ] told me is correct, the presales… We signed a distribution deal with Red Distribution, and the presales for this record have already surpassed our best-selling record, …And They Shall Take Up Serpents, for the first week of sales. And we still have a few weeks before it even comes out at all. I’m not going to say for certain that we’ll recoup, but hopefully we will.

Yeah. I mean, if we break even then we’ll be fine.

The hype is already bigger, and the presales are more than any that we’ve had on a record label.

Personally, I’d like to add that I like doing the extra work. I like staying up, burning the midnight oil… It’s like an obsession. I own my own business back home, so it kind of falls right in that line. And I really like working with manufacturers and distributors and stuff, and it’s streamlined our situation as a band.

What was the difference between crowdfunding your last, self-titled album – which, by the way, was fucking phenomenal –through Kickstarter, versus this new one through PledgeMusic? Is there a difference at all between the two websites, how they operate, and how you use them?

Kickstarter is a very big website, they get a lot of traffic. We went with that first because that was the biggest, and I knew we would get traffic through that website. But, PledgeMusic actually contacted us directly after that, and said, “We would like to work with you on your second album.” So they sent a representative that worked with us all the way through it. That’s the difference; with Kickstarter… you’re [just] dealing with a computer. PledgeMusic, I’m on the phone with every week. They call me, or they talk to me, email and say, “Hey, it’s time to put up another update. Why don’t you guys do this, add another tier?” So it’s been really hands-on, that’s been one of the main differences. The other difference is they hold some of your money back until you completely finish sending all the tiers out. It’s an incentive for bands to not rip people off, and I actually like that. So we get a little bit now, we put the stuff out, we get the rest, and it keeps everything on a timely fashion. Because if you’re dealing with a record label, everything is on a timeline. And when you’re off a record label and dealing with crowdsourcing, you can fuck off and take your time; PledgeMusic doesn’t allow you to do that.

You could start a campaign June 1, 2010, and then put a record out five years later. Then you’ve got a bunch of pissed off fans that gave you money five years ago, because you’ve already got your money. We would never do that, and we didn’t do that on the Kickstarter campaign. But I like that also, about PledgeMusic, that they work with you… It’s kind of like [having] a financial adviser there with you, you know what I mean? And they are experienced in the fact that they’ve put out other, bigger artists’ releases as well. Like, Alice Cooper and those kinds of guys have done PledgeMusic releases.

I would definitely do a PledgeMusic again over Kickstarter, just simply [because] PledgeMusic is JUST for music. Where Kickstarter is… If you want to start a coffee shop, you go to Kickstarter. But if you want a be a band and put an album out, you go to PledgeMusic.

Who did the cover art for this album? It just goes on forever!

Christopher Lovell, from the United Kingdom. And he is a world-class, top of the art pen and ink illustrator. That [album art] was all done pen and ink, he threw it up. He’s been a fan of ours since he was in high school, and we connected on Facebook a few years ago. And we talked one time, and I was like, “I would REALLY love [for] you to do one of our albums, but I don’t know if we can afford you.” And he was like, “…Oh, you can afford me.” So, we worked on this album, [then] we gave him the demos without lyrics, and he sat with them for a few weeks, and he just drew it based on what he heard. And it just unravels…

It’s like an Iron Maiden album cover. You can sit there, take a hit of acid, and look at that thing for three days, seeing shit the whole time. [Laughter] [It’s] fantastic.

You’ll be seeing him a lot. He did the last Pop Evil album cover, he’s been working with Tommy Lee, he’s a very up-and-coming illustrator.

Very talented guy.

I understand Byzantine just played Texas for the first time at South by Southwest this week, as part of MetalSucks’ “South by South Death.” How was that experience, and what else do you have planned or hope to do in support of your new album cycle?

Brian Henderson (lead guitars, vocals): Austin was great. I’d never been to the city, I don’t think any of us had before. Especially experiencing the city for the first time doing that festival was kind of a sensory overload. It took us 24 hours to get there total [from the last gig]. We’re were talking earlier today; we were so amped and pumped to get on stage, we kind of blew our wad the first song [laughter from all the band members] and the rest of the night, we were just huffing and puffing, we were done. Because we hadn’t slept in two days, pretty much. It went pretty good, we could have played a lot better. Last [night] we played pretty much perfectly, so next time we’ll do a show before we have any other BIG shows to do. But it was awesome, man. Austin’s great; great food town, great bar scene, had a blast man. It was awesome.

Brian Henderson (lead guitar, vocals) of Byzantine, live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO; Friday, March 15, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata]
Brian Henderson (lead guitar, vocals) of Byzantine, live at Fubar in St. Louis, MO; Friday, March 15, 2015 [Photo credit: Nick Licata]
For my last question, I want to talk about sense of humor. We all have been laughing this whole time; I’ve had a great time, I hope it hasn’t been a total waste of your guys’ time. But I’ve noticed that Byzantine is not afraid to goof around and have a good time. Your commercial for your PledgeMusic campaign was hysterical! And I love metal bands – my favorite music, the “angriest” music on the planet – not take itself that seriously and just have fun. Is that important to you guys?

Oh, totally. I mean, heavy metal is supposed to be… You know, you can get into genres of heavy metal where it’s just downtrodden stuff. Our music IS fun even though it’s intricate. On stage, we’re not portraying a big jovial, comedy outlook. But off the stage, we’re just normal guys. And I thought if we [came] up with just a little quirky video that we could put out there to get people’s attention…

It’s my favorite thing we ever did.

Yeah! But it turned out way better than it should have. I mean, we had a GoPro, and we just kind of came up with the idea. Just fucked around with it, and I had no idea the guys in my band were such good actors. [Laughter]

We just went around to everybody at their day jobs, and acted like, “It’s fucking time for the album!” “ALL RIGHT!! Let’s go!”

It looked professionally done.

It was just [done on a] GoPro that I had at the house! [Matt and I] are contractors, so when it starts we’re working on a house. We’ve got to get Brian, he’s working at the bar where he works at. He [Sean] is a physical fitness instructor, so we go interrupt him while he’s working out.

Weren’t you [Sean] doing a handstand or something?

[Laughs] Yeah, they talked me into that shit.

Yeah, we made him do it [laughs].

Dude, that video is one of my favorite [things we’ve done]. And at the end, we had to do the Three Amigos move.

Would you guys ever consider doing a comedic music video for an official release of one of your songs? Just take a comedic approach toward it?

There’s been discussion in the past… We were going to do a Stand by Me theme. And I was going to be what’s his name, the fat kid. [Laughter]

I was going to be the kid from Star Trek, and he [Matt] was going to crawl under the house and dig, looking for pennies…

“I found a body!!” [Laughter]

Yeah, and just do the whole thing. But, it just seemed like a lot of fucking work, so we just didn’t do it.

Here’s the thing. Outside of music, we’re all very fucking laid back; we’ve got a good sense of humor. But, we’re not like Anthrax or M.O.D. where we’re going to wear jams and engine hats and all that stuff. You know what I mean? We take the music seriously enough to portray it in a serious manor. But if somebody wants to fuck around about it, you know, we have no qualms about joking around. We have senses of humor, but we’re not some black metal band that like, sacrifices animals to the gods every night or some shit like that.

When the album starts to when the album ends, it’s all fucking serious. And when we’re on stage and Matt clicks off the clicks, it’s serious. Everything else is just fair game.

Happy times.

Yup! Happy times!

I can’t thank you guys enough for just letting me pick your brains and talk your ears off; I think this is just so cool. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. And I really hope that you guys get to play Rock on the Range this year.

Just need to keep sharing that [link]. It’s unfortunate that we have to do a “battle of the bands” at forty years old.

“Battle of the bands” have always been the worst.

But, you know… We submitted ourselves to it too early, it was already booked; we have a booking agency, but their hands are tied. So we’re going to just go around the backdoor, and if we can get some people to vote, then we’ll go there, kick some ass, and see what happens.

You deserve it; it’s a great festival, and you guys area a great band. You just go together

Thank you! We appreciate it.

Byzantine's set list at Fubar in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20 [Photo credit: Nick Licata].
Byzantine’s set list at Fubar in St. Louis, MO on Friday, March 20 [Photo credit: Nick Licata].
Thanks to Byzantine for a very fun and informative interview, and special thanks to The Schlafly Tap Room for allowing us to conduct the interview in their establishment, as well as Zach Shaw from The Syndicate for setting it all up! Check out the rest of Nick’s photos from the show, and be on the lookout for our review of Byzantine’s new album To Release Is To Resolve, which you can stream here before it’s April 7th release. And if you like what you hear, share this link to help them play this year’s Rock on the Range in Columbus, OH at Mapfre Stadium (formerly Crew Stadium) May 15, 16, and 17 featuring Slipknot, Judas Priest, Anthrax, and many more!

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