Gama Bomb – Speed and NostalgiaFriday, 2nd November 2018
Dead Rhetoric: When you look at the career arc for Gama Bomb over the 16 years as an active group, can you think back to some key moments when you knew things were advancing for the band in an upward trajectory and you were gaining more of a foothold in the scene?
Byrne: It’s a flatline (laughs). The aspirations for the band when we started were extremely limited. I remember we would say to each other that we were going to play a show outside our hometown. We are going to get a t-shirt made. We are going to get patches made. We are going to play outside the country. We are going to make a demo as well. And I remember as we checked off each one of those things, there was a sense of excitement. It was amazing at that time to see those steps.
I think another big moment is when we were on Myspace. Before we got signed to Earache, and I had an office job. I would go work, open my Myspace page, and in the back office I would write down the number of followers we had that day. We got 4,000 followers and I knew something was going on. There was a palpable sense back then, we started to appear in the press within the UK. We were in magazines like NME, Metal Hammer, and Kerrang. People were liking us and following us. That culminated in getting signed- I remember being in my office and Joe rang me one morning before lunchtime one day. I thought there was something wrong, his voice was trembling. I got louder, and people around were looking around at me. He told me we were getting signed to Earache – my legs shot out like Yosemite Sam in a cartoon and kicked the table I was sitting at. All the people around me thought I got bad news- I’m not good at conveying joy, they must have thought I was getting a death sentence. I told them after I got off the phone that I got a record deal. That was a real moment for us.
In having relationships with any label, especially like Earache, there will be travails involved in that. The moment you find out you are going to get a real record deal is amazing. Back when that was a big deal, there was a big moment. When we went to America for the first time, when we went to Brazil for the first time. We played a couple of shows in Brazil with Dark Funeral, in Sao Paulo on the first night. We went up to the roof of the venue and there was a smoking area and we looked across the city with the sun going down. Joe was just like, this is it- this is what we came here for. This is why we are here. It’s rewarding, they do come. Playing 70,000 Tons of Metal is really good and people appreciated us enough to bring us there. Playing Hellfest was a big moment because we’ve played there twice, and we had played in Europe to no people in really small clubs before that. Maybe 10-20 people – but those people had always been warm and enthusiastic. Arriving at that festival was the place that people had gone on vacation to- sudden there was over 8,000 people. Doing the road work worked.
Dead Rhetoric: Touring with many legends and newcomers in the thrash field, what do you feel you’ve learned most and taken insights from to best apply to Gama Bomb?
Byrne: The band we learned the most from- or putting it proper, the band we stole the most from would be Overkill. Overkill we learned a lot in terms of how to perform, from those guys. How to really make a show explode. They are very aggressive, they are very disciplined. When we first toured with them, and we’ve toured with them a couple of times, we played in Milan and I remember being on stage. There was a flight of steps off the side, and in the shadows I could see Bobby Blitz kneeling down smoking a cigarette and the red light lighting up his little goblin face. After the show he let us know he watched a little bit of our show. He told us we were chaos on the stage- and he said they give the appearance of chaos. That’s what it is- controlled chaos. We took that to heart- and we learned a lot about stage craft from them.
Bobby is like my metal dad. He always does this thing where he drops down on the mic stand in a crouch, as if he’s like James Brown who can’t take no more. He told me he drops down and looks through the hair into the audience to find the prettiest girl in the front row. And he gives her a smile like he’s got a secret, and then he gets up and screams. That’s a guy who has been doing this for well over thirty years. He knows every nook and cranny, he has such knowledge of being a frontman.
The first time we met Sodom, we were hanging out with them backstage in Germany. There are other thrash metal bands that need to go and play 300 shows in order to live and afford everything, look out for their families and kids. They don’t do that, they have backup plans and other ways of making money. They believe that they should be able to pick and choose what they want to do – and we understand that. A lot of other people have thrown themselves on the mercy of being in a thrash band and it’s not guaranteed to pay your bills for life. That was interesting as well. You learn about the attitude you should have in a band.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you think are some of the most common mistakes that you see musicians in the metal scene make, or fail to take into consideration to better their chances for a stable or successful career?
Byrne: The biggest one is, no matter how admirable is it, betting the farm on your career. Putting all your eggs in one basket. Metal eggs in a steel basket. A lot of our contemporaries when we started our career, bands who were more popular than us and writing more accessible, better songs even, they’ve all gone home – largely because they bet the farm. They didn’t have a backup plan. They were throwing their all behind it. We admire that, and don’t get me wrong- we did it too, but we also had to figure out what we were going to do with our lives alongside that. I met Gene Simmons once and he told me you need a backup plan. Before he was in Kiss, he was an English teacher in Spanish Harlem. He had money in the bank, he bought himself an apartment, and then he did Kiss – he knew he could go back to doing that if something went wrong.
That was quite sensible advice. Give it your present, not your future. The other thing is, people who don’t go into it with realistic expectations get burnt. People who go into heavy metal – I remember one band, I won’t name them, they got signed to a decent record label, they would tell me, don’t worry- next year we will have a swimming pool. You are on Earache man, that’s not happening. And it didn’t happen. I guarantee the reason why they are not a band anymore is because that guy realized it wasn’t going to happen. We went into this realizing we were going to have normal lives, get our education, do the things we needed to make money. All the other bands would drop everything and then come out a few years later and say they are 34 with nothing. It’s a common thing you see a lot- people buy the fairytale but they aren’t willing to commit to the reality of it.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like you get the proper respect within the UK press?
Byrne: We are universally disrespected, and I think that’s how we like it! (laughs) I am joking but it’s also kind of true. We are really mouthy and people tend to be quite warm to Irish people. Especially in the UK, we have a lot of friends in the press. Do we have clout? No- Ghost can turn up any time and get a feature, we can’t. We are not a very popular beast, we don’t book a lot of big tours, so in the UK we don’t earn a lot of space in the media. We do get treated with respect. In a way we are kind of like how when Christopher Walken shows up in a film for five minutes – he turns up sometimes, and it goes down very well. When it comes to global coverage, we are treated very well by the press. There is a lot of cynicism when it comes to smaller blogs, or have a go at it journalism. Arguably those people have a lot less stock and a lot less claim to say that they really are journalists. Generally, the people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you satisfied with where Gama Bomb is at as far as a career – and what would you like to achieve over the next three to five years as a band?
Byrne: Am I satisfied? I’m the kind of get things done and achievement kind of guy. I’m never really satisfied. In terms of me being 35, have two kids, and I make money in my life – this kind of thing where I have six albums, a sixteen-year career with touring all over the world, make funny music videos – I am very satisfied. It’s a thing that other people just don’t have. If you know somebody who plays semi-professional sports, that person can understand what it’s like. This doesn’t happen to normal people. Our fans get us, which is a major measure for me of what we do. It’s not about the press, or tons of metal – do these couple hundreds of thousands of people like us, understand our new ideas. I’m still hungry, I don’t look at what’s happening over the next three to five years, outside of helping children as a teacher. I look at Gama Bomb as something that I’m going to be in for the next twenty years.
We have not been to Japan yet. We are in talks to do that. We want to go back and play a lot of great festivals. We want to make a movie at some point, a full-length movie. We want to keep making albums and expand what it is that we do. We’ve literally just added a seven-foot Yeti to our lineup, so I don’t think we are quite done yet with where this mission is headed.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Gama Bomb over the next twelve months?
Byrne: We are going to make some music videos, play a special show around Christmas in the Netherlands as a warm up for next year. We will return next year with some very well chosen and tasty tours – we are hoping to return to the Americas. I can’t be more specific than that, we are going to visit Japan for the first time and we will hit Europe again. A lot of these things are being booked right now, so we can’t say for sure otherwise we would look like idiots if they didn’t happen. We’ve also talked about releasing more music – we may release some songs on Spotify, like one song at a time, two songs at a time. Trickle some new music in between, so there’s not as big of a gap between albums. We will try to hit places where we’ve never been. Like a little Pez dispenser for thrash.
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