James Munro of 4ARM
Interview by InfamousButcher
Photos by SheWolf
Interviewed on November 29, 2013 at the
Slayer / Gojira / 4ARM show in Camden, NJ
Australian thrash metallers 4ARM have been making a name for themselves in the US in 2013, on tours with Testament / Overkill / Flotsam & Jetsam and Slayer / Gojira. Although 4ARM has been around for 10 years and has recently released their third album SUBMISSION FOR LIBERTY, they are just now getting discovered by US audiences. Lucky for us – if you like 80s thrash metal, you’ll love ‘em! I was able to catch up with 4ARM guitarist James Munro before the gig with Slayer and Gojira in Camden, NJ.
Infamousbutcher: Thanks for talking with me today.
James Munro: I found out I was doing this about 10 minutes ago. I’m the new guy so this is I think their fun form of hazing. I have to earn my stripes. That’s how it works.
IB: 4ARM has been around for almost 10 years. How did 4ARM come into being? What was the band setting out to do?
JM: Being the new guy in the band is only a partial truth for me. I’ve known these guys for a number of years now. I originally worked as their lighting technician. They started out about 10 years ago and they originally wanted to do what they love which is thrash metal. Their earlier albums are a little different, and it’s kind of evolved like that to what it is now. The primary song writer is Danny Tomb. Their goal was to tour the world and play the music they love. So far this has been pretty successful I think. I got to tour with them a little bit as a lighting tech and now I’m playing for them. For them, this is their dream come true, and it is mine too.
IB: Do you play rhythm or lead guitar, or do you alternate?
JM: My role is primarily the lead role. I was taking the place of Johnny who was in the band for most of the time. Unfortunately his family had some issues so he needed to stay back with them. They needed a lead guitarist to fill in. I think of it a lot as wearing my plates. If I do alright, maybe they’ll let me in. If you tour with Slayer and if you do okay maybe we’ll think about it. Hard to say. They throw you right off the deep end.
IB: What part of Australia are you from?
JM: We’re all from Melbourne. Southeast coast.
IB: What’s the metal music scene like in Australia?
JM: One thing you have to understand about Australia is population wise we are quite small. The entire population of New York State fits into our country and our country is about the size of the entire United States. There is definitely an alive and active metal scene in Melbourne and in Australia. Unfortunately because metal fans are a small percentage of the general population, you have a small percentage of a small number of people. There are people into it, there are some very dedicated people, however there is just not that many of us. There are only maybe three or four major cities that we play in in Australia. We play Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth. Compared to the US where you could do all that in one state. North of Melbourne, the next nearest city that you play in is probably a ten hour drive. I think it’s about twelve hours to Adelaide along the west so you know it’s not really that viable and it costs too much to drive and it’s not really worth it. You’re better off flying. Definitely when 4ARM toured with Destruction when they were down there was no driving between cities. It was flights. It was five days they were in Australia and there were four shows and it was five flights in four days. All red eye 6am flights. It’s just a different sort of thing. When we are spending time over here I get a chance to see just how different things are. Labor costs for people are different. It’s more difficult in Australia to get those kinds of things afloat. Even for an Australian band to get out of Australia and set foot on American or European soil you’re already shelling out for a four piece band, twelve and a half thousand dollars. To get your flight out, just to move the people in the band. That’s before the road crew and any gear. That’s the one thing that keeps an Australian band in the quiet, and the same thing for any band coming over to Australia, they have that same problem. Australia is kind of expensive as well so there are other expenses that come into play. Those sorts of things draw a line. For the same amount of money bands can go to more places and reach more people. It doesn’t make sense from a financial point of view unfortunately.
IB: Prior to earlier this year when 4ARM toured with Overkill and Testament, was 4ARM only touring in Australia?
JM: Yes that’s correct. There was the Testament tour, and then there was some time in Europe around June and July, then the next couple of months off, and then here.
IB: Who were they touring with in Europe?
JM: They were actually doing the festival circuit. I was there touring with another band doing their lighting and I met up with 4ARM and there was three of them, where’s the fourth guy? Well things didn’t work out and we need to have a chat with you, we’ve got this thing coming up with Slayer so do you want to come along? Who says no to that? It’s a real rock n roll story. It just kind of happened. I knew the two bands were gonna collide at this festival. They were on one day so I went to see 4ARM and they’re like yeah come over here , so they sat me down in catering and said we really need to have a chat with you about something, it’s very important and here we are. It’s pretty cool. There was a lot of nights where you’re staring at the ceiling going, what have I got myself into? But those eventually passed because I think I had 8 weeks to learn the music.
IB: Who would you say your biggest metal influences are?
JM: Me personally I would say I’m a big Iron Maiden fan. I grew up listening to Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, of course. Ya know you don’t really get to be a metalhead without listening to Slayer. I really liked Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden. He’s probably my favorite guitarist. Just effortlessly flows when he does his solos, and they’re very hard, he’s all about expression. When I was a kid in the 90s that is what was around. Ya know I wasn’t really an ‘N Sync fan. I wasn’t quite into that to be honest. After that I’ve been getting into a lot of the Euro stuff which is really, really cool. My favorite bands from Europe, well I really like Blind Guardian. If they’re playing in Melbourne, I’m the guy that’s cued up and smashed against the rail. Outside of that I would say Wintersun. The one thing I would say about the band scene in Melbourne and outside of Melbourne too is that everybody knows everybody and everyone is kind of swapping band members and that goes on a lot. I also like Therion a lot and the album GOTHIC KABBALAH from 2007. What was really cool is Sabaton were playing in Australia and they had Snowy Shaw on drums for that tour and Snowy had been in Therion so I got to hang and chat with him about the Live Gothic DVD since he did that lighting for that tour. I’ve watched that DVD so many times so I got to hang with him and ask, how did you do it? So that was really exciting. He was really nice even though he was a bit jet lagged.
IB: I just wanted to comment on that awesome Death hoodie you are wearing.
JM: I was in Germany and decided to visit Nuclear Blast for a chat, and I happened to stop by the store which is probably the worst decision for my bank account yet. And they had this hoodie there, the SPIRITUAL HEALING hoodie. I was just sort of starting to get into Death and really take a while to absorb all the complex stuff going on in Death’s songs. So I wouldn’t be able to talk about it yet as I’m just kind of enjoying it for right now. I keep listening to it again and again going, oh they did this there, WOW, WOW! I think HUMAN is the album that I’m chewing through at the moment.
IB: There are so many new thrash bands like Municipal Waste, Havok, Warbringer, Toxic Holocaust, and Diamond Plate. Why do you think there is a resurgence in 80’s style thrash metal?
JM: I think it’s almost like have you ever seen the way fashion ebbs and flows? Something is new, and thrash was new in the 80s, it happened, it was on the high of the wave, and then it went down. Now people are going, where’s thrash? Ya know they look back to those times and they listen to it and there’s a gap for it to come back again. Young people, you know I can say that cause I’m old, I think are taking that stuff, ya know whatever the stories and songs at that time were about and taking their own spin on it and that’s really cool. So it’s kind of through the blender of time and a new generation too putting their own spin on it. It’s gonna be different, it’s never gonna be the same. Different stories. What the world was in 1983 and what’s going on now are different things to be thrashy about. It’s cool that we get to tour with and hang out with bands like Slayer and Testament who are the Fathers of Thrash. They are very, very akin to help us. Think about this, think about that, and they are nice guys. So it’s cool we get to learn from the people who basically invented the bloody thing. They created this thing and they are willing to share. We get to go back to Australia and they’re gonna be like, what did you see over there? Well, have you got four or five hours for a conversation?
IB: Have you felt like you’re touring with Slayer and you’re in awe of them? Or does it feel like you are more like good friends on tour together?
JM: I’ve known them for like five weeks now, so I would say good friends. Initially it was like how do we approach this situation because we are the guests in their world. But they made it very clear that we are welcome. They invited us to have a drink. They’ve been very understanding of the fact that we were unsure of exactly what to do. They’ve been very accommodating and were like, enjoy your time here. The crew has been incredible. Everybody’s been amazing and courteous and helpful and generous. Since this is my first international tour, I couldn’t ask for a better start to it.
IB: How has the crowd response been? And how has the crowd response been specifically for 4ARM?
JM: On the west coast, people were shouting 4ARM for us before we would go on, which was cool. We were told by the people in Testament that sometimes opening for Slayer can be difficult because sometimes the crowd throws shit at you. We’re not Slayer clearly, so we may get stuff thrown at us. But the crowd response has been extremely positive. It’s all been positive and we see smiling faces which is good. Probably the toughest crowd was New York. We went out there and it was just dead quiet. So we start going crazy and trying to do stuff to get the crowd to come on get into it. At the end of a song they cheered, and then they got absolutely quiet. And then there’s the obligatory one guy that yells Slayer. I don’t claim to be an expert in any way, shape, or form as to why this happened. In New York it was like crickets could have been playing kind of thing. I think we won them over in the end. But it was definitely the most draining for us. We got off stage and kind of went, wow that was really tough.
IB: What are your plans after the Slayer tour?
JM: Our immediate plans are to get back to L.A., and then we have a flight out to Australia. Immediately I think there is going to be some rest. There is more sleep going on in the RV than there is anything else. As far as plans the guys are talking about an album to follow the tour. But as to the reality of what is going to happen, I can’t be sure. I don’t get to ask those questions. It’s more like, this is what we’re doing.
IB: Are you hoping with this tour will give you good exposure to build a US fan base?
JM: Yes definitely. It’s been a great opportunity to be exposed to a whole lot of people and that’s what we are here for. Depending on how deep we go into this rabbit hole, we have to face the fact that if we’re going to do this you have to position yourself in the spot where it is the most viable staging point for your operation. If that means one of us has to move to L.A. to be in the center of it all, then that is what has to happen. But these realities are maybe a few years off for us at this stage.
IB: Last question. How were you affected when Jeff Hanneman passed away?
JM: It’s the cycle of life. This is the end of an era. And there’s a lot of talk about what does this mean for Slayer. I wouldn’t have a clue to be perfectly honest. That was one era and this is a new era.
IB: Thanks very much for your time Jim; it was great to interview you!
JM: Thank You.