(TheMadIsraeli scored this interview of two very talented dudes — Chris (“OJ”) Ojeda and Tony Rohrbough — of the revived and rejuvenated Byzantine. We could hardly be more excited about the rise of this band from the ashes and the promise of new music to come. We wrote about them most recently HERE, in a post that included their appeal for help with a Kickstarter campaign to assist in the financing of the new album — a goal that has already been met and exceeded. But the campaign is still open, and you can GO HERE to contribute.)
It seems appropriate to do this after Byzantine officially reached and exceeded their Kickstarter goal. Now, production of a new album can officially commence in earnest, and I’m quite looking forward to seeing and hearing what will happen. I hope you will enjoy reading this interview of Chris Ojeda and Tony Rohrbough as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Alright guys, I don’t want to bother with the bullshit formalities. Let’s start with what I think of as the ideal opening question is here. Byzantine: What happened to break you guys up, why did it happen, and why did you get back together?
CHRIS OJEDA: My perception of what happened is this: and it might differ from the other guys because we all were dealing with this internally and processing it differently… We signed a deal with a label and we didn’t really know what we were doing and weren’t prepared for the task at hand. And by task at hand, I mean, going broke, working shit jobs between tours, and not having one single thing in common with your boss at the record label. It started out nice, turned sour and then ate away at our friendships.
When you’re in a touring band, certain things are destined to happen if you do it long enough. 1: You will begin to lose sight of why you became a musician. 2: Relationships will falter back home and/or family members will die while you are gone and you will resent it. 3: Your hatred for your spiraling life will turn and focus its vitriol on your band mates because… well, because they are there. We essentially signed a recording contract, said “Fuck it! Sink or swim”, tied an imaginary chain around ourselves and dove into the water. Unfortunately, I was the first band member to wiggle out of the chains and swim for shore. I bailed. A divorce happened between friends and we wound up not playing music for the better half of 4 years. Wow… that was long winded!!! LMAO!
How does it feel to be hitting the old grind again? This must be pretty exciting for you guys, especially since this Kickstarter thing worked out, both successfully and I imagine much quicker than you would’ve ever anticipated.
TONY ROHRBOUGH: The success of the Kickstarter thing was kind of surprising to me. Maybe we set the bar too low in regard to the dollar amount we should have shot for. But really there was just no way to know that people would respond so well to the idea of us recording again. It’s been a while. As to the first part of your question, we’re not really hitting the grind. It’s not like we’re planning a tour or anything like that. We’re just writing/recording as time allows. In that respect, it’s been fairly smooth.
OJEDA: It really feels good again. I feel like I did before I ever signed a recording contract, like I have something to prove to myself, NOT to others. The goal is back to being the original goal: writing decent heavy metal tunes that we enjoy hearing and having fun while doing it. Knowing that our Kickstarter pledge campaign hit it’s goal in 16 days with a month left to go is humbling and assures to me I’m back doing what I should be doing, making music with good friends.
Does it surprise you that that so many people cared that much?
OJEDA: Yes. I always felt a fervent, almost cult-like following when we played shows. Even when we would play a show in Tree Stump, Arkansas to 10 people, 5 of them would be so passionate it would make my head spin. Our crowds have always been small but they seemed super pumped to hang with us. It was an amazing feeling to be appreciated even on such a small scale. To know that those same people would easily fork over their hard-earned cash to make another Byzantine album happen surprised the shit out of me! All this time, I thought our fans were broke as hell because they all looked like bums…
How are you feeling about the material you have lined up right now? Do you feel like you may surpass your other albums?
ROHRBOUGH: It’s still too early to know for sure, but so far things are sounding very left of center. Very strange. I don’t want to say too much too soon though, because although we have a number of songs written they seem to change quite a bit as we rehearse them. At the end of the day, of course, the material has to be a strong as previous efforts. No one wants to phone it in.
Would you say on the next album we’re going to hear classic Byzantine, or are there a few surprises we should be in store for?
OJEDA: I hope that every album we have put out has had surprises on it. I mean… let’s be honest. The landscape of heavy metal is so saturated with “guitar Olympics” that what we try to do within our album timeframe is not going to melt farm animals or change the way anyone looks at the world. We can’t physically do what a lot of the kids do nowadays and that is totally cool with me. What we can do, is write a decent heavy metal tune. I know this. I have confidence in my band mates that they know what a good heavy metal song is. If, in the grand scheme of our album, we melt a farm animal or two, that would be awesome. But that is all subjective to the listener.
Was the idea of re-forming intimidating at all?
ROHRBOUGH: Nah. We just got together, got a few beers, and listened to demos. No biggie.
You originally had someone else in Tony’s spot that went by the nick name “Hendo”. What happened there? How did Tony end up back in the band?
OJEDA: “Hendo” is Brian Henderson. He is one of the badasses in the WV music scene. He is a great friend of Wolfe and myself and was a logical choice to help us do some reunion shows back in 2010. We decided to make him a full time member after the shows but I always had this flicker of hope we would get Tony back. Hell, I started Byzantine back in 2000 simply so I could play in a band with Tony Rohrbough. That being said, Tony expressed some interest in rejoining the band in 2011 and that’s all we needed. I love Hendo, as we all did, but this is Tony’s throne. If Tony wants to reside, he resides.
How does it feel for the four of you to be back together practicing, writing, and all that?
OJEDA: Pretty natural. I have spent more time in my musical tenure practicing with these guys than anyone, so it feels pretty normal.
ROHRBOUGH: It’s actually a lot of fun. It’s good to have some bros to drink beer and make fart jokes with. For me personally, it’s good to be around people and working on something. It’s nice to feel productive.
Since you guys have opted for a fan-funded indie release, one has to ask, what is your opinion on the state of the music industry within metal’s confines? What’s your take on this whole file-sharing issue, and the imminent death of the label system if things keep going the way they are? For the better or for the worse, you think?
OJEDA: The death of record labels is coming soon. It won’t be every record label, but the groundswell of record labels we saw in the late 90’s and early 2k’s will implode upon itself like a mushroom cloud, and rightfully so. When I was in High School there might have been 40 heavy metal bands signed to record contracts in the USA. Now, there might be 40 signed in CA. File sharing is going to happen. It’s a part of the advance of technology. It will weed out the bands that don’t deserve to be there. We very well might be one of those bands. I think you will see a solid trend evolve in years to come. Bands who are superstars and can sustain the record industry’s demands and bands that can’t but still want to be musicians and find a means to promote themselves. The rest of the sheep will flock somewhere else and be hunted by another pack of wolves.
You told me in our private conversations how you guys wanted to revamp your rigs so, what gear are you both using right now? I want to know everything, including string gauges.
ROHRBOUGH: Yes OJ, What gear are you using right now? (inside joke) Here’s what I’m using:
Guitars – Ibanez S-1625FB with a Dimarzio Tone Zone and PAF Pro pickups. Ibanez RGA1 with Dimarzio Evolution pickups.
Pedals – Bad Horsie Wah, Boss OD, Noise Suppressor, and Tuner in the front of the amp. I also have a IDP Decimator, EH Nano Boost, and TC Electronic delay pedal in the effects loop of my amp.
Amp – Peavey 6505+ head and Mesa Boogie Stiletto 4×12 cab
OJEDA: I currently do NOT own an amp. Thanks for the subtle hint Tony! I know… lame. I sold my Mesa Boogie Dual Rec to pay bills and haven’t bought a new one since. A far as guitars, I still rock my Schecter Stealth Lefty as my main axe and use Knucklehead Light Top / Heavy Bottom gauge strings. I have been jamming through our drummers’ amp, which is a Peavey JSX half stack and it’s pretty mean. On my pedal board I have a Korg Tuner pedal, a Boss Noise Suppressor and a BBE Sonic Maximizer.
When you guys first got together, what idea or goal did you have to arrive at your sound? You’re one of the most original sounding bands in metal in these last 12 years if I were to give my opinion on it. Obviously people have compared you to the metal core movement, when Chris here has told me that was never the intention and that that shit didn’t even factor in as an influence.
ROHRBOUGH: That’s true man. We never had an agenda or wrote riffs around the idea of being part of a specific genre. We just write riffs and then try to finds neat ways to combine them. That’s it. That’s hard enough as it is, let alone trying to identify with a particular trend which may become unfashionable at any time. Best to just do what you do and hope people like it. There’s a market for anything that doesn’t suck and most of what does.
What are some albums or bands you’ve heard recently that are really catching your attention right now?
OJEDA: The newest bands I have heard that I really fucking dig are RXYZYXR, and Our Malignant Beloved. Other than that, everyone bows to Seal, Bjork, Sigur Ros, Fiona Apple and Adele.
What would you say, in bands or artists, are your five biggest influences for each of you?
ROHRBOUGH: Randy Rhoads, AC/DC, early Metallica, Testament, Allan Holdsworth.
OJEDA: I am really big into Devin Townsend, Opeth, Gojira, Mastadon, and Porcupine Tree.
Djent. Is it good? Shit? A fad? The next frontier?
OJEDA: I think it’s fantastic. Will it last? Probably not. Those kids are hitting the boundaries of what can be done within the interaction of a normal human and a guitar. The last real movement with any validity that I can remember was the Grunge scene and, although it provided some of the most fantastic music and musicians, it went the way of the Dodo as well. This Djent movement has a small shelf life. Look for the likes of Tosin Abasi and Misha Monsoor to move on to more eclectic, deeper music as they get older. They are jazz cats in young Djent bodies.
ROHRBOUGH: Like any other movement, there are some great bands and some not so great bands. It’s hot now and I guess it’s nice that kids are studying rhythm. Rhythm is key.
So now that you’ve got the money, do you have an established timeframe for the completion of this album or even an estimate? Are you pumped as fuck to put new material out there?
OJEDA: Our timeframe is 2012. That’s all I’m saying. This is the first time we have had total control, and forcing a date is counter-productive.
What’re Byzantine’s plans going to be post-release?
ROHRBOUGH: No idea really. I’m sure we’ll do some local shows. Mostly we just want to write and record songs. No sense making things complicated.
OJEDA: I agree whole-heartedly with Tony. I am really digging taking small steps and having no big future plans. It might allow us to actually enjoy the now. I’m sure if this album doesn’t suck and we have fun making it, we will pursue other Byzantine related interests.
This is one of my most anticipated albums ever right now. I’m looking forward to you guys delivering! Thanks so much for doing this!
OJEDA : Thanks so much for being a huge supporter and becoming a friend to us as well. You have helped ignite some interest back into our band and for that, we are grateful.