So James thanks for taking the time out of
your busy schedule and spending a few with The Shred Zone. So how
are you doing, and can you give us a quick catch up on whats
been going on lately?
BYRD - Hi Nick, youre quite welcome. Ive been taking
a few weeks off from writing and recording and am just trying to
clear my head to make room for the time when Ill start the
whole process again with another album.
As we all know, you have a new release on
Lion Music, entitled Anthem. When did you start writing
and recording for it?
BYRD - I originally started writing music for this follow up to
flying beyond the 9 in July of 2001. When September
11th happened, I no longer felt connected to what I was working
on, so I started all over again in November with Anthem.
What inspirations or events lead up to decision
to record this classical metal masterpiece?
BYRD - The album came out of a lot of adversity really. I had an
unfortunate domestic accident in the spring of 2001
that turned out to be life changing. I made the mistake of trying
to deal with a plumbing problem under a sink myself and I ended
up with two badly crushed spinal disks. It got worse and worse and
I finally ended up in the hospital strapped to a board with various
tubes in unmentionable places with these strange pulsating air bags
on my extremities because I couldnt move enough to keep good
circulation going. It was a personal nightmare really because I
can get claustrophobic. The neurologist wanted to do surgery on
my back and told me I wouldnt recover for 2 years if I didnt
let him. He also told me the risk of complications was 15% and that
they could include damage to my motor skills. Although I had a great
deal of pressure put on me to let them operate, this risk to my
motor skills was unacceptable to me. I refused the surgery and went
home. I was put on enough prescribed morphine compounds to knock
out a horse and I was completely bed ridden for months and dependant
on my girlfriend for literally everything. It was really the worst
thing Ive ever been through, the only blessing being that
due to the amount of pain killers I was on, I have a 6 month blackout
in terms of what I can remember. I then spent a couple of months
needing a wheelchair. I was getting better after a few months but
I then had the misfortune to be further injured by a doctor who
injected steroids onto my spine and he ended up making a mistake
and he put them right into my spinal chord. I thought I was having
a heart attack when it happened so intense was the pain, and my
left leg went numb immediately afterwards. Talk about a really bad
time, this was it. After a lengthy set-back from this, I was finally
beginning to be able to walk without my cane by the time September
11th happened, but I was still in chronic pain. I learned first
hand what unrelenting physical pain begins to do to your mind after
a while; It then also became a fight against depression. So actually
making this album was physically and mentally challenging for me
when I began composing and orchestrating again after September 11th.
I could only sit in the producers chair for about 15 minutes
at a stretch and playing guitar was not really possible for me at
that point. If I had wanted to record my guitars first I could not
have done it. Fortunately, the way I compose these days anyway is
to leave my guitars unrecorded until everything else on the album
is finished, so by the time all of the orchestrations and Michaels
vocals were done, I could finally hold and play my guitar again.
Im about 90 percent recovered at this point and have been
entirely off painkillers for about 5 months now and I dont
need a cane anymore. There are physical things I have to avoid doing,
but I know that I made the right decision in terms of how I decided
to deal with the injuries. I thank God for my girl friend and youll
also notice that I thanked her with a song called Thank You.
So Anthem is a reflection of a very dark period both
in the world, and for me personally and Im just thankful I
was able to make the album and heal. You know the old saying; If
the world gives you lemons, make lemon-aid.
Can you give us some insight to each track,
inspirations, stories or topics that lead to their creation?
BYRD -Well this is a pretty direct statement about the attack, and
it was my statement saying that -I paraphrase- If you thought
youd divide us with it, you were very mistaken.
BYRD -This is a very difficult track for me to describe really.
The words were not conscious, but stream of consciousness
and impressionistic. Its more about imagery than anything
direct. Its going to convey different things to different
people I think.
Messages From Home
BYRD -This was my way of saying to those whod fight our enemies
that it isnt Vietnam this time. That America is
behind our soldiers. And its one pissed off track.
BYRD - An effort to console the inconsolable.
All I Want
BYRD - As things began to unfold in this conflict, I began to see
things that bothered me; the way the media indulges natural blood-lust
while controlling and limiting the debate to only two carefully
crafted sides to any issue. Am I the only one who notices that there
are important questions never asked of our leaders in the media
that seem painfully obvious? Lets face it, I believe there
are in fact questions that the government does not want to be asked
and the media seems to continually facilitate their desire to avoid
those questions. Ive never really felt that America has had
a truly objective free press and this song reflects a level of sarcasm
at what I see as their often shameless and transparent exploitation
of fear for ratings, and an ongoing unwillingness to
put the truth ahead of the money and oil interests of private companies.
When I say, selling you the reason of their fame, thats
what Im saying. Do their statements and decisions truly reflect
the perspective and will of the American people as we would really
want our foreign policies to be? Or are they serving the interests
of those who think theyre above us and that they
are therefor entitled to save us from our own opinions
and wants, whether we like it or not? Am I the only one who does
not feel accurately represented? It was a point where
I began to lose some of my initial idealism about what this war
on terror was really about and what it would actually accomplish.
Im not a person whose thoughts are easily misdirected by mass-media
hypnotism or collective pressure; I try to come to my own conclusions.
The first casualty of war is the truth. Is this true
or not? If it is true, then what truth has been slain
in all of this? This is not only an important question, but the
only question we should be seeking an answer to now. As an artist,
I dont feel that my role is to foist my personal politics
onto others. Im not a politician or spin-doctor. But if I
can help people think for themselves, through what I write, I will.
Music can be so many things, some of them more relevant than others
BYRD -A lot of people are probably going to misunderstand this song,
especially in the context of the album. Its not actually about
war. The song is very harmonically complex and its not something
one can just play anything over. It presented a lot
of challenges in terms of music theory and understanding what could
be played where and how. The song is actually about itself, and
the challenge of playing over many different chords modally. Its
intentional irony is that it has a double meaning and that its
placed in the middle of an album whose subject matter is so clearly
about war. When you want to make the changes, know the strangeness
of this game is actually talking about the chord changes.
Harmonically, the tune is pretty unorthodox; its bi-tonal
in the verse and it has two tri-tones in its chorus. Im
not TRYING to confuse people, really. Its just a conceptual
twist that fit into the album in an ironic way, and
really who am I to argue when these ideas come to me? Its
not like I feel constrained by some outside force to fit some format.
You also notice that in the third guitar solo, I play the first
part of the melody to somewhere over the rainbow underneath
the original vocal melody. I find some temptations too inviting
to resist and I wonder if people will notice these little psychological/musical
anomalies at some point. Music is indeed a strange game
on some levels.
BYRD - A very straight forward story and thank you to the woman
The Price Of War
BYRD - I wrote this in the persona of a soldier on an aircraft carrier
in the Persian Gulf. I was trying to find that perspective in someone
elses head and I hoped to connect conceptually and convey
what to me seemed like a very surreal situation. Its one of
my favorite tracks on the album actually.
BYRD - One of the difficulties of making Anthem was
finding an ending that made sense out of everything that had come
before it and lent a sense of resolution. Each of these songs is
like a painting of the world seen through a particular set of eyes
at a particular time. There is always a finite amount of space to
convey what one wants to convey. Only Love is where
I chose to leave Anthems final message. To me,
love is the only certain value in the midst of some very complicated
and destructive forces at work in the world. Anthem
is such a meaningful name for this record. These songs are anthem
like. What does Anthem mean to you? BYRD - For me its
a term which is encompassing and descriptive of music which represents
a set of values and their context. It was the only title for this
album I think. All I want was one of my favorite tracks,
it's real slow, melodic and the vocal lines are so catchy and sing
Compared to the last Album Flying Beyond
the 9, Anthem seems to be a slower more moody
/ melodic record. Would you agree and how did it evolve that way?
BYRD - I would not say it was slower, its not.
But it is definitely a darker album at some points.
Can you fill us in on your mindset during
the writing and recording process?
BYRD - I felt that I needed to do serious subjects and words justice.
I usually write my lyrics first and Anthem was no exception.
For every song on one of my albums, there are usually many pages
of poetry/lyrics that must be edited. A lot of people probably think
my songs are already long at five and six minutes, but if I used
all my lyrics, each song would probably be half an hour. Saying
what I really feel I want to say with a song in such a self-limited
time period is probably the hardest thing I have to do. I had better
recording equipment for this album than the last one and I wanted
to make the album as clean as possible in terms of sound. I think
I was also a lot less calculating in my playing than last time.
Its mostly off-the cuff improvisation in terms of my solos
and there were very few punch-ins, so in that, I feel as though
I achieved the kind of continuity and feel I wanted in the performances.
I think its a very good reflection of my basic personality
as a natural player.
What kind of guitar techniques and ideas did
you incorporate into Anthem?
BYRD - Its all very standard from a playing technique
perspective, but I dont really think about these things when
Im playing. Im not a trick guitarist in
the sense of doing all that two-handed tapping stuff. As a matter
of personal taste, Ive just never liked that stuff. Whatever
I played, its just what I do naturally. My only conscious
concern in terms of my approach was the sound as it
was captured. I have always wanted to achieve a certain purity,
and to have my guitar sound on the recording, sound the way it actually
sounds to my ear coming from the amp. I feel like I got closer to
that goal with this album than I ever have before. I spent a lot
of time getting the sound exactly where I wanted it and used a very
fine microphone. The signal path this time was all tube and my guitar
never went through solid state devices or even a mixing board. I
think it made a real difference. I feel that the sound I got on
this album is the best its ever been and its a result
of a lot of factors that I paid careful attention to.
What gear did you use to record all the guitars
BYRD - My Byrd Super Avianti guitar, a DOD 250 overdrive with a
plain carbon type battery -this actually makes a difference in sound
believe it or not-, and my 50 watt Marshall plexi (stock) and my
ancient (1966) 8X10 Mashall cabinet. I used one ADK A51tc tube microphone
about 4 feet away from the cabinet. This went through a tube mic
pre-amp thru a Lexicon converter straight onto hard-drive. Michael
Flatters, Brain Hutchinson and yourself have a lot of musical chemistry.
His voice fits perfectly with your music.
How would you describe your relationship with
the guys inside the recording studio and out? Did they contribute
to the writing process as well?
BYRD - Michael is truly a joy to work with. I wrote everything on
the album, but the demands this material makes on a vocalist are
challenging. Michael is a consummate professional in the studio
who leaves his ego at the door, and even then, hes just such
a good dude, Ive never had the feeling he had an ego
in the negative sense of the term. He approached this album wanting
to do the best job he could in capturing a vision and I couldnt
ask for a better person to work with. Id describe our relationship
as very good friends, both in the studio and outside of the studio.
Brian is a personal friend too.
Your current band line up is hot. Will this
be the same lineup in years to come?
BYRD - Well Nick, I dont have a crystal ball, so who can know
this. But Im pretty sure Michael will sing for me again on
the next album. Michael has worked on these albums with me because
he enjoys it. Ive never held anyone under any sort of contractual
obligation. So on my albums, people have come and gone freely, the
dictates of their circumstance and desire alone are the only deciding
factors of who will appear on an album. A lot of people are attached
to the idea of a band as a fixed entity like the Beatles.
Some of us whove been through that -as I have with Fifth Angel
as one example- have come out the other side with decisions to take
more control over their artistic futures. Nothing lasts forever,
but a person whos individually committed to remaining an artist
can accomplish a lot, and for a lot longer than most bands
are around. Les Paul is a personal hero of mine on a lot of levels.
Theres one thing Id really like
to know, how did you develop this symphonic writing style youve
developed over the past few years. Your albums sound larger than
life! The last two especially have been larger than life.
BYRD - Thank you, thats great to hear. Theyre supposed
to be. I dont know really. Music comes into my mind finished,
I have no idea where it comes from. When I record, its as
though Im learning music already written really. Its
challenging to stick to and reproduce whats echoing around
in my head, but this is what I try to do as faithfully as possible.
Probably the biggest difference between what I do and the way most
rock musicians approach writing music is that I have chosen not
to look at music from the perspective of a guitar player,
but rather, from the perspective of a composer. I then approach
playing the guitar on my own albums from the perspective of someone
brought in to serve the interests of and outside writer/producer
who happens to be me. Its a decision to step out of my guitar
player shoes, and when everything else is as it should be,
I step back into them. Its a lot like being your own boss
and still having your boss be someone else if you think about it.
With the last album I proved a theory to myself and this was it.
Yes, I take playing the guitar well seriously, but these days I
have learned to discipline myself to take everything else seriously
first. I know a lot of guitar fans and guitar players buy my albums,
but my goal has always been to create music that goes beyond limited
connections and to try to make records which will stand the test
of time. When I write and compose music, I put as much effort into
creating the right horn part or the right flute section as I do
my guitar playing. I love the guitar, I really do, but its
only one instrument and I much would rather see it put forward in
a really good song than to just hear myself go-off without
concern for what to me is a much bigger picture. Its not the
same as it was when I was 18, but then I dont think it really
should be. Playing guitar solos just isnt the end-all and
be-all of music for me anymore.
A few months back you had the chance to be
on the Jason Becker tribute cd WARMTH IN THE WILDERNESS.
How did you get involved with that and can you share your experience
with us on it?
BYRD - This was how I actually ended up with Lion as my label before
they released Flying Beyond the 9. They heard some of
my music on mp3.com and emailed me kind of out of the blue. It was
strange because just a short time before they contacted me, I had
gone to Jason Beckers site to see how he was doing. Before
I did that, I wasnt even certain he was still with us. I wrote
Jason a letter of support, and then I got an email from Lion Music
asking me if Id contribute to the tribute a short time after
that. It was apparently a coincidence, but I found it quite eerie
So any touring planned to support Anthem?
BYRD - Nothing planned. While there is certainly a market for this
type of music, touring takes a level of income that can make it
Any news on your Avanti guitar line to report?
Care to hook up a fellow flying V player with a killer V, I have
cash? Pretty please, I only play Flying Vs too, the true guitars
of gods. (laughs)
BYRD - We can talk about this, email me.
So what's in store for you in the future?
Any things planned yet? Im sure its going to be over
the top as always!
BYRD - Im just trying to catch my breath and find a vision
for the next album at this point.
Where can Shred Zone readers pick up your cds and merch?
BYRD - I have links to places to buy the album on my home page at
Well James, thanks again for catching us up. I really enjoyed speaking
with you as always. Anthem truly left me mystified.
It was a very deep album for me, I really felt what you were doing
and it captured my heart musically. Id have to say this has
been one of the best CDs I heard so far this year and its
going to be hard to beat! Any last words my friend?
BYRD - Thanks very much for all of your support at The Shred Zone
Nick, Im glad youre enjoying the album.
Well folks that wraps it up. I hope you you
enjoyed this interview with neo-classical shred monster James Byrd.
Its always a pleasure speaking with him. So drop by his website
for more information and also check out Lion Music to purchase "Anthem"