Habitual Sins – Serial OffendersThursday, 9th February 2017
Steady inroads continue to develop in the traditional forms of heavy metal going five decades strong. Excitement abounds through the old guard when it comes to new studio albums and tour announcements (Iron Maiden’s North American summer run for instance currently bombarding your social media feeds), and there seems to be a healthy crop of younger bands giving their creative take on the genre. Another relative new act to sink your teeth into for US metal is Habitual Sins – featuring a couple of ex-Icarus Witch members in Matthew Bizilia and Steve Pollick, plus well-respected guitarist Jim Dofka.
Their debut album Personal Demons reaches into a mid-80’s style of power metal with traditional, classic, and doom nuances. Many will take the material and think back to early Savatage, Metal Church during their early David Wayne years, and others of that offspring. Feeling the need to catch up on the happenings of the group, multi-instrumentalist / vocalist Matthew spoke to Dead Rhetoric regarding the development of this debut record, the challenges of keeping things in house without a hovering deadline, and memories surrounding his time with Icarus Witch. Already digging deep into the follow up album, the man’s love of heavy metal rings through this talk.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us some of your early memories surrounding music – and how you gravitated to heavy metal and eventually the desire to start playing in bands?
Matthew Bizilia: I think my dad has some cassette tapes that a buddy of his from work made for him, and they were heavier than anything else I was listening to at the time. I remember listening to Hall & Oates when the H2O album came out, I used to play that, Night Ranger, Journey. From there I decided I wanted to pick up the drums, and stopped doing what I was doing with action figures at the time. My dad had the biggest influence for grabbing those eight-track tapes and jamming out to some Styx. Hanging out in the living room I would listen to music. In high school our singer quit so I started thinking I could sing a song, then decided to play drums and sing – and I figured out I could do that. Then I was weened off drums and I’m trying to do both at the same time now, which can be a little taxing but it’s working out.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you take any sort of formal lessons when it came to singing?
Bizilia: No lessons on singing, I took some drum lessons though in high school.
Dead Rhetoric: What circumstances led to you forming Habitual Sins – as many in the metal scene hadn’t heard from you since leaving Icarus Witch in 2010?
Bizilia: I had a couple song ideas a long time ago and I wanted to get them down. If I was going to do that, I figured I might as well try to get a bunch of stuff together. I can try finding a band to do it, or I could just go to my buddies who are completely capable of doing it and maybe lay it all down at once. I talked to (Jim) Dofka and laid the drums down in his studio, and everything else we just kind of built on top of that. Things went back and forth and it took quite some time to do it all, but I got it all together. I then figured if I was going to put it out there in any way, shape, or form, I’d try to find some label that would do things like we were able to do with Icarus Witch. Now I am going to try to get another album out there as soon as possible, which I’m trying to put together right now.
Dead Rhetoric: Personal Demons as a debut album for Habitual Sins seems to straddle numerous classic, power and doom metal influences. Tell us about the songwriting and recording sessions for this effort – and how the three of you ended up juggling around multiple tasks as far as instrumentation and behind the scenes duties?
Bizilia: Like I said, I wanted to get it all down, but I didn’t want to incorporate an entire band. Jim did such a good job recording the drums for me, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t lay down guitar solos too. And the same with Steve, he laid down the rhythm guitars and I told him to just keep going. I mixed most of it in my home studio- but when it came to mastering Jim is completely capable on that. We are hoping to do the same thing with these three members the next time. The songwriting didn’t take too long- they came out pretty fast. What took longer was buying all the gear to mix it, and buying all the gear for this. It’s like building an old car, you buy one thing and then you have to go back and buy something else to top what you just did. We tried doing everything ourselves, it’s rough because the motivating factor isn’t there. When you have a whole bunch of guys there as a band as Icarus Witch, we all hung out together, we all had ideas and bounce them off each other. When you are by yourself, you are your own worst enemy. Maybe I should try a different snare sound, when you don’t have someone to say, ‘hey-enough is enough’.
Dead Rhetoric: How did Pure Steel Records come into the picture for Habitual Sins? They seem to have a passionate staff that are 100% dedicated to the true/power forms of heavy metal from around the globe…
Bizilia: Yeah, I got everything together, the website, I made the video myself, we got the record totally done. From there I pitched it to some record labels and I went online and looked at what was happening. I shot some e-mails to a couple of people- they got back to me very fast and they wanted to hear more material. They asked us when we could get them the masters, I looked up some of the bands on the Pure Steel roster and I know some of the bands on there. From there I decided to go for it and they took care of everything, they are doing a really great job.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the idea behind the cover art for this record?
Bizilia: That’s actually a painting my dad got at a craft show years ago and I’ve loved it my whole life, so I wanted to do something with it. We got a nice picture of it, my buddy Louie did an awesome job taking a picture of it, and we changed the color and switched it around a little bit so there was something that was beautiful. It’s perfect for my style.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like you are able to exercise your own ‘personal demons’ through the performance and writing of heavy metal?
Bizilia: I think definitely. Every song has something personal that I feel I add to it. I don’t just write lyrics down that sound cool, I need things that have meaning to me. Going back all the way to the Icarus Witch stuff, I put my heart and soul into that stuff for real. This album was kind of an experiment, to see what I was capable of doing myself and what I was capable of writing. I’m really happy with it, it came out exactly how I wanted it to- it’s one of the reasons why it took so long, I wasn’t willing to compromise on anything. If we needed the gear to get something done, we did it. The next one I’m hoping I can make a little bit more organically, lay down some really tracks and work from there. I want more of a fluid sound, a solid overall songwriting approach. Hopefully the guys will be in on that.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you bounce a lot of ideas of recording and gear things off of Jim, that is a part of his expertise?
Bizilia: Yes, Steve and Jim are 100% pro. If I have an idea of something that I want to sound like, not only gear-wise but songwriting-wise, they can do it. Gear-wise I’m trying to build my home studio as much as possible, I want to record the drums here next time and play them myself. To get all of that stuff together, these guys have all the answers for me.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe your time in Icarus Witch – and which albums and tours hold special memories for you?
Bizilia: That was a really great time for me. It’s one of those stories where you get together to make some rock, and people liked it, we got signed, and all of a sudden we end up doing songs with George Lynch and Joe Lynn Turner, the next thing I know we are touring with Paul Di’Anno, as his backing band and the opening act. I had posters of Paul on my wall when I was little, those are great experiences. Songs for the Lost is my favorite album, that was my favorite lineup. The songs on there, I had the most involvement with as far as songwriting and ideas. The lyrics on that record for me are really great.
Dead Rhetoric: And which covers did you enjoy the most- I have a special preference for “Mirror Mirror” on that record for instance?
Bizilia: I agree, that was really great. Doing that with Joe Lynn Turner, that song came out great. Those recording sessions with Eric Klinger, those are great memories. We really had a good time doing that stuff.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the Pittsburgh metal scene currently? Do you believe there’s enough support on all fronts as far as promoters, venues, bands, and fans?
Bizilia: It’s kind of tough. We are limited for places to play, the goal here is really to open for bigger acts that come to town. Like opening for Queensrÿche so that you can slide in on a local slot, that seems to be the way to go. The clubs seem to cater to the newer, modern metal, so it can be tough.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve already begun work on the second Habitual Sins record – what can we expect as an audience, do you feel like you will consistently refine where this band goes stylistically or are you fairly satisfied with the direction already established?
Bizilia: I’m real happy with it. We’ve established a unique following with Icarus Witch, and I’m trying to do my new stuff. It’s not like I’m trying to top what they are doing in any way, shape, or form- I just want to do the road that I’m doing. Kind of like what King Diamond was able to do around his second album – I really love that era of music. Like Seasons in the Abyss Slayer, it’s one of their best records but it’s old metal compared to their new record. I’d like to go that mid-paced, heavy as hell style, rather than fast-paced, heavy as hell. I was thinking about doing something a little faster though on the next record, getting a bit into that speed zone. That was a weird era of metal- Judas Priest was doing it, Iron Maiden was doing it, Megadeth was doing it to slow down for just a second here. I’m not knocking the fast stuff- Nuclear Assault with Game Over is one of my favorite records ever, you end up trying to pick up that stuff for the drums and you end up throwing up. It’s just pure speed and it’s great, but I’d like to enjoy what I’m doing for a second.
Dead Rhetoric: Would you entertain the possibility of doing a concept record, or do you enjoy coming up with multiple subjects?
Bizilia: I have five songs demoed for the new one, I have no lyric ideas but I have a couple of song titles popping in my head. I remember back even in the Icarus Witch days, we were like thinking about doing a concept album. I don’t want to think that’s been overdone, but if you are going to do a concept album it’s gotta be great. I think it’s a failsafe for me to just do individual songs. Nobody these days is interested in the full album, so they might not even understand what I’m talking about.
Dead Rhetoric: Does that frustrate you, that many of the younger listeners can’t grasp listening and digesting a full album like you could back in your youth?
Bizilia: Yeah, it’s one of the reasons why I tried to make my website look like a record, and make the video look like it was from an older style. My CD has a nice foldout, I’m trying to get that all back in there. I put my lyrics on the website, you can get that ‘hey, I’m a part of this’.
Dead Rhetoric: Have there been any particular life lessons that you’ve learned and applied to your current views that you believe have made you a better or stronger person?
Bizilia: I work hard, and hopefully I can get something out of all this work that I’ve put into this effort. As far as life lessons go, I try to just stick to my guns.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have any prized possessions or special editions of records in the metal realm that you will carry into the grave?
Bizilia: King Diamond- Them. I rode around on my BMX bike with my boombox and that album for like five years straight.
Dead Rhetoric: What were some of your favorite shows that you witnessed as a fan?
Bizilia: I’ve been going to shows for a long time. I saw Judas Priest, Megadeth on the Painkiller tour- that was epic, a front row show in a small arena. I saw Deep Purple, The Scorpions, and Dio in Pittsburgh- that was unbelievable.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you balance the music career with day jobs and maintaining friendships/ relationships – do you have enough support from family and friends to fuel the fire?
Bizilia: I work very hard at a day job and I spend the rest of my time having a good time. Day in and day out- but I’m never going to quit. My family has been amazing, they take care of everything I could possible need to do what I do, there is no way I could do what I am doing without their support. My friends have my back 100%, they are sticking with somebody who has this hobby for six years straight, spending every dime I make on this- it’s tough to keep people around. We seem to do what we are doing here.
Dead Rhetoric: You also seem to be getting great online support from your ex-bandmates in Icarus Witch towards Habitual Sins, how does that make you feel?
Bizilia: It’s great. We had our hard times, we’ve had our good times, but we’ve put everything in perspective at this point. Those guys are really great friends and great people all around. They are working on new music right now, and I hope that maybe we can do something together sometime. I support them, they support me 100%.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Habitual Sins over the rest of 2017? Any possibility of small tour runs, festival appearances, another conceptual or performance video?
Bizilia: I definitely want to get this (next) record done and out, within the next year or early next year. I want to do another video, I have a couple of people in mind to look into this. I want to find somebody that can see my vision and do that on the next one. As far as shows, I want to get the new one recorded and ready to release and then maybe get a band together- hopefully the guys that recorded it, if everybody’s schedules worked out that would be ideal. In this world, who knows – but I may have to find another set of musicians who would be willing to go on the road.