Interviewed by Rick
When the conversation turns to guitar heroes this man's name is
rarely mentioned by the casual music listener. Its a shame because James
Byrd is one of the better players to ever strap on a six string. From
his days in Fifth Angel to his current symphonic output, James Byrd has
never lost his edge on the fret board. I recently had the opportunity to
pose these questions to him which cover everything from his past with
Fifth Angel to his latest release: ANTHEM.
have a new CD out on Lion Music called ANTHEM. Is it true that you
started this CD once but scrapped the songs and started over after the
events of 9/11?
Yes. I always write music that reflects my environment. September
11th changed everyone's environment. I realized that I had to begin over
again when I tried to continue with the album I was working on. I just
felt no connection or further sense of importance in what I was doing.
So after a couple of months of floundering about trying to move forward
with it and feeling as though I was pulling teeth, I just gave up and
started with a fresh slate so to speak.
Can you talk a bit about some the specific songs from ANTHEM and
speak about the lyrics and what they mean to you? Do you have any
Each track reflects my thoughts as events unfolded after 9/11. I can
recall that when we recorded the vocal for "Anthem -dealt by
darkness-" Michael and I had just witnessed the destruction of
American Airlines flight 587 over queens New York over our morning
coffee. I just remember the feeling we had that day and I think the
track drips with passion. "Omen" is more a stream of
consciousness type of writing that creates imagery with words.
"Messages from Home" was my message to those who stand in
harms way for us. Without going through every track, "The Price of
War" is probably my favorite track on the album. I like it because
it really tells a story and I wrote it in the 3rd person. For me this is
more interesting because I had to try to capture a vision someone else
would have, and the idea of being on an aircraft carrier in the Persian
Gulf at night just seems almost alien to me. I think that track really
paints a picture and has power.
Why did you feel that the material you had written before was no
longer of any use?
I just didn't identify with the mood of the music. I don't need to
beat the hell out of an idea in hopes of "salvaging" a song. I
don't work that way. Writing music should be completely effortless, and
when it's connected to your feelings, it really is. I don't actually
spend much time with the basic structure of a song. Whatever it is, it
comes to me very quickly and fully formed and I've learned not to second
guess myself. I would rather just write another song than try to
"twist" one that's already written. I guess I kind of view
them as little gifts from some unknown "beyond", and I feel
they're "right" the way they come to me.
Will we see any of those songs show up in the future?
No, I don't think so.
Why did you choose not to advertise the CD as a collection of
songs about the terror attacks. Wouldn't that have attracted more
attention to the album's release?
enough shock wore off from the attack that I remembered that I had to
deliver an album, just about the first thing that came to mind was that
there would, inevitably, be all kinds of "cashing-in" on the
tragedy. The thought made me a bit sick to be honest, but it's an
extremely unfortunate aspect of the darker side of human nature that it
was entirely predictable. My intuition told me that this particular
event, would probably bring every Tom, Dick and Harry out of the
woodwork, playing on people's sympathies in a ploy for personal
recognition and gain. So the short answer is that it probably would have
"increased sales" but that I did not want my motives as an
artist contaminated that way. Any "tribute" was going to have
to stand on content alone, not "profit" from something so
Now that it has been almost a year since that horrendous day, have
the emotions that you used to create Anthem changed in anyway?
I'm just as angry, but I've become very cynical as to our
government's demonstrated refusal to do the obvious. When to this day,
90 percent of all checked airline baggage is still un-searched, our
borders are still unsecured, and immigration to this country is at
record high levels, something is seriously, terribly wrong with that
picture. It's as if they almost want it to happen again. It's incredibly
disturbing to me.
Can you talk a bit about the recording of Anthem. Where it was
recorded and did you use traditional techniques or more modern
technology such as Pro Tools?
Yes, modern technology. The last album is probably the last
album I'll record on tape decks. The quality of recording on hard disk
is much better and the control one has when mixing the tracks is
How do you handle the orchestration that is on Anthem? Who
composes the music and is it created at the same time as the initial
song or added afterwards?
I write the music and words, and I compose all the orchestrations.
Although I initially begin writing with my guitar, the parts I write
first are for the piano. I just use my guitar to show Brian the parts.
Once the piano is established, everything is built around that. My
guitars are the last thing done. I think that the piano holds the most
concise aspects of the music from a beginning stand point. It has the
polyphony, range, and dynamics, to create the best outline for further
development. I think there's a reason the piano is associated more than
any other instrument with composition, and this is it.
How did you find Michael James Flatters to provide vocals for your
last couple of CDs?
I hooked up with Michael through another vocalist I had contacted
when looking for a vocalist. He couldn't do my album, so he recommended
Michael, who coincidentally turned out to be familiar with my work in
Fifth Angel and actually a big fan of the band. He's been just an
outstanding guy to work with on every level.
Why did you go with the Byrd moniker on your last couple of
releases instead of Atlantis Rising?
I wanted to "turn over a new leaf" on a number of levels. I
wanted to pursue music that was much more orchestrated and symphonic,
and I also felt I had a fresh start with a new label who conveyed to me
that they wanted to treat me well in business. We were also on the brink
of the millennium. So for me, it was just a way to mark what I think
will be my new direction for some time musically.
Whatever happened to Freddy Krumins who provided vocals for
Atlantis Rising and would you consider ever working with him or any of
that bands members again?
I have lost track of him. I'm very happy with Michael, but Freddy and
I were always on decent terms. I don't even know if he's still singing
to be honest.
You were a member of Fifth Angel for the debut CD. Why did you
leave that band and with the recent glut of re-unions would you consider
working again with Fifth Angel?
I get asked this question in nearly every interview. It's like rehashing
a 13 year old divorce, it just gets to be a drag. So I will give you the
briefest possible answer, but short answers do not really explain what
happened because it's complex. But I was fired from the band without
notice, immediately after signing a new partnership agreement which
relinquished certain important rights I had in the band. It was a stab
in the back, it was done for money and a right to continue using the
name without me, and if one wants all the extended and lurid details of
what's really a "heavy metal soap opera", I'm just not up for
it today. Sorry.
You contributed a solo to the Jason Becker Tribute "Warmth in
the Wilderness". How did you get involved with the project and why
that particular solo?
The Becker tribute is how Lion Music and I actually got hooked up in
the first place. Lion heard some of my music on mp3.com and knew who I
was. They emailed me and asked me if I'd play. I said "sure".
I already had ‘flying beyond the 9' in the can when this happened, and
I was looking for a deal. About two weeks after I accepted the request
to play on the Becker tribute, I emailed them and asked them if they
wanted to hear a new album I needed to find a deal for. They did, and
that's how that happened. I was not really in a position to produce a
complete track for the Becker tribute because I was finishing my album,
so Lion asked me to contribute a solo and sent me the track to play on.
I get the feeling when I am listening to your music, that you are
heavily influenced by music from the 70s. Could you fill me in on some
of your influences and how they find their way into your music?
Yeah, it's nearly all 70's influences. I think it's more a matter of
a general perspective than any particular band. I like a lot of vocals,
I like a certain type of writing that's very "song" centered,
and I like "big" productions with a lot of depth. I listened
to so many different types of music growing up; Hendrix, ‘Purple,
Rainbow, Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, Al DiMiola, Uli Roth, Pink
Floyd, Elton John, Beatles, Andrew Lloyd Webber, UFO, Be-bop Delux, Jeff
Beck Group, Return to Forever, Journey, Kansas, Robin Trower, D'Jango
Reinhardt, Paco DeLucia, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, and I'm sure I've
only hit on half of them here. It's a truly mixed bunch of influences.
Do you listen to any newer bands?
Having a girlfriend makes it imperative. I couldn't tell you who any
of them were -I hope she doesn't read this-. I seldom actually listen to
music, but when I do, and it's my choice, it's usually the local
classical station. The last CD I bought was Blackmore's Night. I played
that very, very loud driving to LA with my girlfriend and I ended up
driving about 110 miles an hour for the full length of the CD. I liked
it -if you couldn't guess-. But if you mean "Nu-metal" like
"Korn", forget it. It might as well be rap as far as my taste
goes. I like singers that sing and guitar players that
As do most of our readers!!
On FLYING BEYOND THE 9 you decided to go with only 1 guitar track.
Quite a departure from what most guitar players are doing now. Why did
you choose to go that route and looking back, do you feel that the
finished product came out as you had envisioned it?
wanted the guitar to fit within the compositions, rather than being the
compositions. I also wanted the actual sonic "room" for the
orchestrated parts to reveal their detail. I just tired of the
"wall of guitars" sound of most metal, especially since
"grunge" came into being. I prefer the purity of using
symphonic instruments to carry counter-melodies, and using the guitar as
a fundamental just wipes out the separation and clarity of everything.
Yes, I'm pretty happy with that album, and if you know me, I'm not
always happy, and I'm pretty up-front about anything I think is less
than perfect that I've done.
Did working like that give you an interesting ideas that you put
to use on ANTHEM?
I've always been able to hear complex and finished music in my head,
I just didn't have the resources to develop those ideas as fully as I'm
able to now. Recording on hard disk enables me to select from a huge
variety of symphonic sounds and to have enough tracks to create this
music. The last album -flying beyond the 9- was first recorded on 16
track digital, then the tracks were flown into PC for the additional
orchestrations. It was sort of a bridging point between recording the
old way, and the new. On ‘Anthem', everything was recorded direct to
disk on PC and the sound is markedly cleaner I think.
Its interesting to note that though you are from the United
States, your last couple of releases have been on Lion Music which is
based in Finland. How did you get in contact with this label and why not
release your music on a North American label?
They were the people who stepped forward and it's been a positive
experience for the first time in this industry for me. If there's an
American independent label who want to distribute my music and are
ethical, I'd love to hear from them. I don't think the music scene is
too healthy here apart from the fact that no matter how bad it gets,
there will always be bands and artists who keep going anyway. I went
through that here with Shrapnel and managed to make it out the other
side, but this is a very rough business. Lion Music has been a breath of
fresh air, and frankly I needed one.
Metal seems to be making a comeback in many parts of the world yet
North America seems to be far behind in picking up on the growing
popularity of metal. What are your feelings, if any, on the metal scene
in North America?
I don't trust any of these so called "trends", whether
reported on by someone, or actually polled. I think that the fan base
for great music never went away, only access to them was limited. People
who -for example- liked Journey in the 70's didn't all of a sudden
decide that they had to have the newest hip-hop album. The industry as
known through the major labels decided to ignore them, period. Why?
Because they are one dimensional, have no real understanding of music as
"art", and their values are devoid of any aspects other than
the biggest sales to the easiest demographic to part with their money.
The demographic targeted used to be between 17 and 35. Now it's between
9 and 12. That says everything about values in the culture. I don't
think record companies have ever been very smart to be honest. Just
consider all the labels that passed on the Beatles before one guy said
"I'll give you a chance". I think that for them, they just
throw shit at a fan and see what ends up on the wall. If it sticks,
Can you speak a bit about your training? Did you pick up the
guitar on your own or did you take lessons?
I had a hand-full of lessons from my cousin and a couple of guitar
teachers. My cousin taught me how to tune the guitar and play a few
chords. I've had maybe 7 or 8 lessons in my whole life. I learned to
play by playing along with my records and learning the guitar parts and
What words of wisdom do you have for young people just picking up
Play in tune, please! Learn to be discriminating in your assessment
of guitar playing. If you think someone who's awful is "God on the
guitar", you'll end up being awful. Record yourself and be
critical. Don't practice mistakes. That's about it, but it takes a lot
of self-discipline. I don't think a teacher is the answer most of the
time. If you're really motivated, and have self-discipline, a world of
great players will be your teachers because you'll take responsibility
for reaching your goals yourself and you won't need someone to smack
your knuckles with a ruler.
notice that in most of your pictures you are holding a Flying V. Is that
your favourite guitar and could you give me a rundown of what equipment
you use to get your sound?
It's not a Flying V. It is a Byrd TM Super Avianti ® guitar
that I designed, built, and patented nationally. It's not actually
shaped like a ‘flying V' if you compare them. The guitar has a unique
patented body design called The Balance Compensated Wing ® and a unique
patented neck and head stock. The electronics and scale length are based
on the Fender Stratocaster ® , but improved. I use only my own Byrd
guitars these days. I use a Marshall model 1987 50 watt "plexi"
amp, all stock, and an ancient Marshall speaker cabinet with 8 ten inch
speakers in it. I use a DOD250 over drive pedal, and a Jim Dunlop Cry
Baby wah pedal. That's it. I don't have a rack or any special effects,
just the guitar, and OD box, and the amp.
You have an official website which can be found at
www.jamesbyrd.com Do you think the internet has impacted the way that
music is made available to the masses and has it helped you in anyway to
make your music more accessible?
I wouldn't be here without it -pun intended-. Yes, it's made a huge
difference. I am able to reach fans that are widely spread around the
globe. When you're not a platinum artist, you need to reach as many fans
as possible, and the net has made it possible without going bankrupt
trying to do it.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions James. Is
there anything else that we haven't covered and you would like to tell
the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
Sure, you're very welcome. I always assume people don't know me, and
at least half the time I'm right. So to those who don't know my music,
have a visit to www.jamesbyrd.com
where you can find links to some mp3's and samples, and see if you like
it! To those who've remained faithful fans over many, many years, I'm
truly thankful that I've had your support, so thank you very much.