Gama Bomb – Exploring New Adventures

Sunday, 10th December 2023

Photo: Emmett Moore

Veterans of incorporating pop culture, movie, and society topics with a sense of humor over an addictive brand of thrash metal, Gama Bomb through their latest album BATS explore varied influences and special guests to attain possibly their strongest record to date. These lads never forsake the energy or fervor that put them on the map, as they’ve now been together as a group for over twenty years, still going strong. We got the chance to catch up once again with vocalist Philly Byrne, bassist Joe McGuigan, and guitarist John Roche regarding the exploratory angles for the record, special guest rapper and sax player spots, the importance of the visual medium for the group’s brand, what keeps the band going strong this deep into their career, and what’s on tap for the future.

Dead Rhetoric: BATS is the latest Gama Bomb studio album. You describe this effort in the background notes as exploratory while becoming the weirdest album you’ve ever made. Discuss the creative process behind this effort, and where do you believe this no holds barred approach paid dividends in such a different final product for the band?

Philly: We are not the ones to decide if it pays dividends, we only can look at our own metric with are we happy with this? I think we are really happy with it. I think it’s our best album. It’s probably the closest representation to the music that we love since we’ve made our first two albums. This album represents what we are really into musically. In terms of the creative process, it was a long road.

Joe: We made the last record over a long period of time. We were able to work on this for a long time, obviously separately because of the time period. Because of the pandemic, it necessitated how we went about writing the songs over lockdown. We made a great album previously with Sea Savage, so we were happy with this new way of writing. I think before Sea Savage was out, we even started working on songs for this record.

Philly: We had done a demo. We’ve been very lucky with these last two records that we’ve been very prolific. We wrote a huge amount of music – about two and a half albums worth of music – but obviously not all of it would make it on the record. That started very quickly after Sea Savage. Generally speaking, we worked on demos. It was a steady current from the last record to this record. It was a longer process to make this record than it was to make Sea Savage. We started this last year recording wise, but we didn’t get done until the spring of this year. I felt like it was a pretty good experience.

John: We did a lot of this ourselves. We had no outside people helping us, it was all internal, so it was a bit scary as well to expect the outcome. We really wanted to play as best as we could, really tight – so it was pretty stressful as well. It can be stressful; we keep things to a high standard. The older you get, the more responsibility you have to keep things to that high standard. That’s more of the stressful part, to make sure you have really good takes.

Philly: Our other guitar player Domo, produced, mixed and mastered the record. He’s a hard customer to work with, in a good, productive way. The songwriting was quite free and easy – the recording was not quite free and easy (laughs). We all threw our ideas at the wall. Some of the best ideas may have come out of us hanging out together, having some beers, and writing, which we hadn’t done in a lot of time.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the remote recording process work across Poland, Northern Ireland, and England – do you feel that the trust you have in your fellow bandmates made this easier given the circumstances at play due to the pandemic?

Joe: To be honest, it’s just one of those things. Because our long-time drummer had left the band at the start of 2020, we didn’t have a drummer. So, we’ve been using James from Vader, we know he’s a great drummer and a great guy. We would send him demos, and he would send us back finished drum tracks. And we would then all go about doing our parts and send them individually. John and I probably have the same opinion, it is easier to be able to do stuff at home. There is a lot of stuff that would be a lot faster if we were able to sit down together in our free time to do things that way.

Philly: In terms of remote recording, we accidentally stumbled upon this. Ten years ago I moved to London, JR still lives in London, and over the course of those years we learned how to program drums, send things over Dropbox and I would sing over the top. It was still new to metal bands, but as we continue to do that through Untouchable Glory and Speed Through the Light, we picked up a lot more skills to record ourselves, the demos would get closer and closer to what would end up the record. This is a great way to do it, receiving a demo from the guys with guitars and drums on it, it gives me the time to listen to it anywhere, come up with ideas and take my time at home to record the vocals I’d like to see. I think a lot of bands are doing the same thing.

John: A lot more bands are doing this – and it’s a way more efficient use of time. The demos are better. Hashing out things in the rehearsal room is cool, but to be honest sometimes it can get frustrating if you can’t hear a song clearly. When you lay it down on a demo, you can hear if it comes out great. You can refine the songs better, to write better songs.

Philly: We have better pre-production demos. This album has a lot of singing on it. I would sing something over it and put something underneath that. Domo would give some suggestions of what may go better over certain things. For instance, the song “Rusted Gold” on the new album, we did over 300 vocal takes for that song. Which makes me sound like I don’t know what I’m doing (laughs). We love putting in the harmonies, backing vocals, double tracking, you end up with a lot to go through.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the guest appearances come into play with hip hop pioneer The Egyptian Lover and saxophonist Gavin Kerins with “Egyptron” and “Bats in Your Hair”?

Joe: The thing about The Egyptian Lover is he is a true, authentic, genuine person from the 80’s. It would have come across as disingenuous if we had gotten some modern artist. We were trying to write a song that was partially in that style, and we thought he would be perfect to get.

Philly: There’s a classical station that does a special radio show that’s done here in London every Sunday and Monday night called Mystery Train, and this guy John Kelly, his taste in music is amazing. You name it, old archive music, obtuse jazz, he just throws it all in there. We were listening to it one night and we heard this song “Come With Me to the Casbah” by Ganimian & His Orientals. He had a couple of novelty hits with this Egyptian style music, and that song had a cool riff. I had the title, we decided to write music to it, and we asked about The Egyptian Lover to do the guest spot. Should we have a rap? I followed him on Instagram – I sent him a message, told him we were a heavy metal band, would you want to be on our song? Sent him the demo, and he loved it. He’s low-key, and he thought it would be volcanic. We are all fans of funk and old rhythm and blues, classic hip-hop and stuff. He wrote this really fun rap about being a lady killer (laughs).

Gavin is a really old friend of my wife’s. He has played saxophone with lots of bands here in Ireland. We wanted someone to play sax, but we also knew he might be the kind of guy who might say no. I kept thinking of not asking him, and then Domo told us he had this amazing guy to record the sax. We said, ‘who’, and he said Gavin (laughs). That’s cool. Guest appearances for us. Nowadays, there are a lot of middle or smaller bands who have lots of guests by other say bigger metal guitarists, they are paying for that.

John: Yeah, you hear that with tier two or tier three guitarists or sometimes even singers. Let’s get someone that knows of 1985 or lived that period so he can reference that. There are a lot of guest appearances as a favor, but do they genuinely want to be on the album? Probably not. Does it make their profile any bigger? Probably not. Does it make the album any better? Probably not.

Joe: If you have the ability to have Jeff Waters do a solo on one of your songs, you may do that. We’ve avoided doing that because we didn’t have a meaningful one to do before. And these appearances to us are meaningful.

Philly: In the past, we weren’t really interested in having other people guests on our tunes – it just didn’t seem worth it. We never were interested in doing covers either, but now we’ve done one or two because they were a bit more personal to us. I’m really proud of the guest appearances we had on this record – it’s great fun. The people we chose are obtuse and add a lot to the record.

Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the video concept/shoot for “Speed Funeral” – and how entertaining the medium is for you at this point to mix in the band’s performances/personalities with the narrative sequences and actors/actresses you work with?

Joe: My family have always been super supportive of the band, ever since we started off, they’ve helped us with demos, paying for us to record in the studio when we were kids. On a couple of occasions, we’ve filmed these videos at my house or my mom’s house as she lives in a village house by the seaside. The label would probably tell you better what we coined the term for the video itself, we called every single person we know. People knew what we needed; we didn’t have to tell them really what to wear. We said that it was wake, and it was great. It couldn’t have gone any smoother – things like this generally take a couple of days to get it all.

Philly: When we first started out in the band and made our first couple of records, we started playing internationally – video was still considered very expensive or was by our record label at the time. Other bands on the label who were performing better, they got videos to get a big soundstage and cameras. We never got that, and then suddenly when we changed labels to a smaller label, they were up for actually throwing a couple of hundred bucks to us to get a video going. Very quickly we started making music videos. It sounds like a cliché to say it, the music is only a part of what the idea is. We have a picture of the sound, a video to go with the song – if we could, we would make a video for every single song. Generally, it’s quite easy to come up with ideas. Video is a really important thing for us. With this album, we learn as we go – we’ve done videos that are more serious, we’ve done funny videos and people really like those. We’ve done videos with no performing in them, and that’s ok – and we’ve done videos with us performing. We learn as we go what a cool video is. It tells a story, it has acting, it has us playing – we think this video is exciting and funny. Our next video is going to be like a 16-bit video game. For me, videos are a big part of it. We’ve learned how to produce and direct videos.

John: The concepts are getting better; the ideas are better. We have a team of people using the cameras, editing. We have people that we can work with, they understand us.

Philly: We have a costume person, a camera person who acts as an art director, we’ve got designers. The funny thing is a lot of these people we have known since we were teenagers. It’s our hometown crew that helps us make these videos. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed, it’s stressful.

John: We may be stressed out, but it’s in one day for eight hours. It’s not the way other bands do it to get up at 4 am in the morning.

Dead Rhetoric: Where did you want to go with the lyrical and cover art / inlay content this time around? Do you believe your fans/followers really enjoy the diversity and entertainment value you provide in this area against the energetic musical backdrop?

Joe: Yeah, I would say it was on purpose. Generally, you will come up with two or three good ideas, eventually doing a horror-style inlay. I’m not 100% sure about, I love cool inlays and it bums me out when I see a badly designed inlay, or it’s just got the lyrics. I want it to tie in and be thematic. People have mentioned it before, but we aren’t exactly well-known for this.

Philly: If you are in a band, especially now when it’s so easy for people to access music, and not support you if they don’t want you, any gesture that people make to support you, you should give them as much value as possible. The physical things – really cool t-shirts, a record with a cool cover, back art, the sticker on the record should be awesome, heavy weight vinyl, cool slipcase. I think that’s what you have to do, or you just end up wasting people’s time and money. It might be the last record you ever make – why wouldn’t you just pour everything you can into it? All the art kids in the past would spend hours on band logos to be accurate – inlays like that, you are personalizing things.

In terms of the theme, we didn’t necessarily have it to be something horror or movie related. When Graham sent the art work back, it’s very 1960’s. The moment we saw it, it fit. The previous album was set in the Victorian period, the design in that printing. On this one, I had an initial idea to make things more like in the 1920’s, black and white. What we ended up with was more swinging sixties. It’s about giving people lots of bang for the buck.

Dead Rhetoric: The band has now been together for over twenty-one years. What factors keep the band moving along so strong – does it get tougher to maintain a certain level of consistency not only for yourselves, but to appease the fans who’ve been with you since the beginning?

Philly: I would say what keeps us going is spite. (laughs). I don’t know.

John: For me, what keeps the band going is at the start there was a period where the band wanted to grow. Let’s do an album. Okay- let’s do a tour. Then let’s play outside the country. Let’s do a European tour. A US tour. Once you accomplish those things, there are other things that you want to do. After doing a US tour, there was a period of time where we wanted to do really great albums. We weren’t going to be able to tour all the time, but we can still play and travel to obscure places. Play in Japan, around the Caribbean. The new album, we have collaborators that wouldn’t normally be involved with heavy metal bands at all. That makes us want to keep going.

Philly: It gives you new problems to solve, new adventures you can go on. You get to travel, meet interesting people. We all get along very well; we enjoy what we do. We get the best of things. When you are being creative, there’s an aspect of self-actualization. We get a real burst by making music. Very early on, we said that even signing with a proper record label, real life still has to go on first. Make sure that there is a backup plan. We have always had other lives.

John: You can still have a life and be able to write and record music. It’s not that expensive now to write and record music. That’s a bonus of this era and pattern of life now, versus twenty years ago. You only need a fraction of the money to record an album now. We can still write good, high-quality albums.

Joe: When we were young, a lot of the bands we were into weren’t as successful. When we were listening to bands like Flotsam & Jetsam, we could see all the pitfalls where things were messed up. We also had very real expectations. We knew that many of these bands were working difficult jobs. The best thing about being in a band is the friendships you develop. We all get on so well, like going on holiday with your besties.

Philly: I wonder sometimes when you meet other bands our size, how do they keep going? You are at these festivals, and you see that people aren’t having as good of a time. There’s a cynicism too that I just don’t get.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Gama Bomb over the next year or so to support this release?

Philly: I think we’ll probably split up! (laughs). Maybe never talk again. (laughs).

Joe: We have a UK tour coming up. We will play in Mexico, which will be cool. We will do a week-long tour of Europe. We will start writing another album next year.

Philly: We’ve been told if we have another album written this year and recorded, they’ll be able to release it in early 2025. It would be nice to give it a go.

Joe: We’ll talk about it and see what ideas we have. We took some chances on this. Maybe we’ll have ballerinas on the next album (laughs).

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