“HalcyonWay” Interview by David Maloney
Hello and thanks for taking the time to speak with us, how are things? Hope all is well. You guys have worked and toured with some of the best in the business. From the grassroots of writing, producers, labels right on through to peers you have performed with. In 2008 you released a debut album on Nightmare Records “ A Manifesto For Domination” this album was released to rave reviews, did you know than that you were unto something great and would continue into your next two releases?
Things are great in the HW camp! When we started the band, it was really with the idea of just writing some songs and playing locally, nothing big. Over time, we realized that the material was really strong so we decided to record a demo version of the songs, and that turned into the debut album because it came out really well. Throughout the process, we had a lot of member changes so it really took us about 5 years to get the album out from the time we cut the drums to when it actually got released on Nightmare. It was really just a huge monkey on our back and we were relieved more than anything to get it out there! By the time we had it released, we’d actually already written at least half of the material that ended up on Building The Towers and Indoctrination, and we knew that material was orders of magnitude stronger, so I do think we knew we were onto something.
The Album was produced by Jon Bodan and James Murphy (formerly of the band Testament) What was it like to break bread and cut music with these guys? To take it one step further the album was mixed by none other than producer Lasse Lammert primarily known for his work with bands such as Alestorm, Gloryhammer and many more. What can you tell us about working with such influential individuals? And the process of getting this album written, mixed and mastered and to the public?
Well, like I say – the process was very long and involved to get the first album out there. We had all the member changes, we had some technical issues where we lost some of the recordings, the schedule got messed up as a result, and it was a heck of a lot of work in general, but it was really worth it.
James was actually who we had lined up to mix the record, and working with him was cool. In particular, he really rode me hard about my playing and I learned a tremendous amount about how to approach my playing for the studio, which has helped me to this day. However, that process was pretty painful because I think I ended up recording the guitars 4-5 times on the album, some because of issues in my technique that I had to correct to get a great sound, some because of technical issues. So what happened was that this was going on, and we lost our slot in James’ schedule
– so he introduced us to Lasse, who mixed the album down. Then James mastered it and got it over the finish line.
Of course, we ended up working with Lasse on Building The Towers, Indoctrination, and Conquer. He’s a great friend and we recommend any band hit him up if they need a producer or mix engineer. James is also a great friend and I would recommend him as well.
In 2009, you began tracking the follow up record, “Building The Towers”. This time you upped the ante in all respects, most notably with the acquisition of vocalist Steve Braun, formerly of Lion Music’s Italy-based Ashent. In addition, the band enlisted former Black Label Society drummer Mike Froedge to engineer the drum tracks in his studio, had Pamela Moore (“Sister Mary” from the legendary Operation:Mindcrime album by Queensryche) guest on 5 tracks, and brought the most sought after artist in heavy metal, Travis Smith, onto the team to create the artwork. Lasse Lammert was again tapped to not only mix and master the album, but to co-produce it alongside Jon. Once again enough can’t be said about the talent you surround yourselves with. What was different about the approach to this album as compared to the approach to the first album? In terms of Sound, writing? And of course with the number of new characters helping you grow as a band and help mold you into the band you are becoming? Do you feel at this point in time you are becoming tighter as a band more mature as individuals?
We definitely did up the ante across the board. We felt that we had put out a really strong album in “Manifesto” but we needed to blow the doors out with the next one, which we did.
We’d written most of the material in the lead-up to “Manifesto” being released, so we knew we would be able to get the next release out pretty quickly. However, our singer on the first album left the band about 6 months after it was released, and it was an ugly breakup. We’d already begun tracking the drums at Mike’s studio and the singer basically said ‘you can’t use any of my lyrics or melodies or I’ll sue you.’ That put us in a sticky situation on a few fronts – first of all, it’s hard to find a singer that has the right kind of voice. Secondly, the material was written and being recorded so there was no going back. Third, we had Pamela’s plane tickets to Atlanta booked, studio time set up, and a big photoshoot booked. So it was not optimal.
Long story short, we called Lance at Nightmare and asked him for the contact information of a couple of singers – he gave that to us, but was really like ‘you need to call Steve – he sings for Ashent but is looking for something more full-time’. So I picked up the phone and we spoke. A week later we drove up to Nashville and saw him with his cover band, and that was that. He was the new Halcyon Way singer!
So what we were able to do was reinvent the material in the studio with Steve’s vocal style and ideas, and it came out better than ever.
Working with Pamela was great, she is a super nice lady and did a killer job. We’ve stayed in contact with her and have met up while on tour since then and hung out.
From a production standpoint, we tracked the drums here in Atlanta with Mike Froedge on that release, and then we brought Lasse over from Germany to stay with us for a month and do the rest of the recording. So he stayed at my house and he and I co-produced the album.
As far as the artwork went, our old singer Sean was the artist on the first release because he’s a very talented graphic designer. We’d always been known for good art, and we knew that we had to get the very best, so that’s why we got with Travis. He was so backed up that it was going to be 6 months before he could get to ours, and he tried to talk us out of waiting, haha – but we knew what we wanted and he absolutely crushed it. We’ve been fortunate to build a relationship with him over the years since and he’s done all our albums since then and just killed it.
“ IndoctriNation” had been written and recorded during the “Building The Towers sessions”, with the plan to release it as the third Halcyon Way album after the “Building The Towers” touring cycle had ended. Why was it decided to move the release of “IndoctriNation” up to late 2011?. It was again mixed & mastered by Lasse Lammert, why mess with a winning formula. How hard or difficult was to essentially be working on two albums at the same time? Do you enjoy the pressure that comes with meeting the deadlines or is something that motivates you to move forward and be one step ahead of the last album ? so on and so forth.
Well, this was a bit of an odd time in our history. In 2010 after we completed the mixdown of Building The Towers, we were booked for a month-long European tour with Stuck Mojo in October. Towers was going to be released just a week before we were scheduled to leave, so there was a lot of press and fan buzz, and this tour was kind of our ‘big break’ as the only other tour we had done was a short UK run earlier that year.
However, a week before the release date of Towers I found out that I had Stage 2 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. This was obviously a massive thing for me personally, as I was facing a lot of treatment and possibly death. We ended up having to cancel out of that tour last minute, which was a very difficult decision. I started chemotherapy treatments immediately and that culminated with a stem-cell transplant in May of 2011. During my treatment I was very limited in terms of going out in public, and when I had my transplant I was not able to go out in public at all for over 3 months because my immune system was completely obliterated.
So during that time, I continued to work with Lasse on IndoctriNation and getting it mixed and ready for release. Since we had been on the sidelines for a while, unable to pursue other tours or to really play live, we decided to move up that release to keep the band name out there and to keep the train rolling. So IndoctriNation came out in November of 2011 as the sequel/companion to Building The Towers.
Around this time, I was declared to be in full remission, and we immediately contacted management to find us a tour because I could travel again. A few weeks later they got us the offer for the Delain run, and we went to Europe in early 2012 for a month with them.
Obviously you aren’t a band to sit on your asses, while completing the new album and having it mixed down, you were booked for a 2-week US/Canada tour in April of 2013 with the legendary U.D.O. That must have been an honor to tour with such a legend and the original voice of Accept. This must have been an amazing experience for you? Opened the door for many new fans to see you? Did this tour have a positive impact on the band?
We definitely don’t sit around! We pride ourselves on a blue-collar approach to things and work constantly in some form or fashion, really. We had gotten Conquer recorded and it was in the mixing process when we hit the road with UDO in the US/Canada. That was a great experience for us, because it was our first time touring the USA. We had done spot dates and festivals, but never anything sustained. It was great to hit the road in our homeland. The tour itself was a little tough, because the crowds were very old-school metal and we really had to work hard to win over the crowds with our modern style, the death vocals, and so forth. I think we ultimately did pretty well, and most importantly planted our flag as a touring act at home.
In addition, you embarked on the largest tour of your career, a 24-show, 32-day US & Canada tour as direct support for the legendary Saxon, and Fozzy. This tour helped you deliver your unique brand of metal to thousands of fans across the entirety of the United States and Canada.Is that fair to say?
Definitely. We had toured the UK with Fozzy in 2010 and they contacted us to hop on this run in the USA. We had just completed the UDO tour, we knew that Conquer was coming out in August, and we felt that it would be a great way to immediately get out on the road and start the tour cycle for that release. It was a split on the crowd – some old school metal fans for Saxon, and a much younger generation for Fozzy. We did better on this tour with the crowds for sure, and had a blast. The Fozzy guys are great friends still – we’re actually playing a one-off with them in a month here in Atlanta – and this was our first of 2 tours with Saxon. Those guys are great and we stay in regular touch with them as friends. This was also a longer tour than the UDO run, and it enabled us to hit some additional new markets.
Were these tours designed to build awareness of Halcyon Way in preparation of the release of your fourth album, “Conquer”? To this point in time as the band progressed and matured in songwriting? And has your live show gotten better with each passing album and each passing tour?
After the time off we were forced to take when I was sick, we definitely developed a fire in the belly to get out there and tour as much as possible. We knew that Conquer was an amazing album and we knew we needed to get out there and support it. So we just wanted to bootstrap it so the album would succeed and so we could make up for lost time.
Since the release of Conquer, we’ve been fortunate enough to get out on the road quite a bit, and after we did the Saxon/Fozzy tour, we went out with Fates Warning in the USA for a couple of weeks. We also went to Europe with Saxon and Skid Row for a month, which was great. We’ve actually done 50 shows with Saxon now! We also had the opportunity to go out for a month in the USA with Queensryche last year, which was huge for me since they’re my favorite band of all time. then we went to Russia and did 2 weeks with Sabaton this past December. So that’s been great – it’s amazing being able to go out and see the world doing this, and I never take it for granted.
We’ve definitely matured as songwriters – the band started out as more of a progressive metal outfit, but we always had the heavier leanings and thrash roots. So I definitely was more aggressive in terms of bringing these elements out, pulling the death metal influences in there, and just getting heavier in general.
But at the same time, I love great vocal melodies and feel that a lot of modern metal lacks hooks and ear candy – and if you have the best guitarist in the world but your band can’t write a decent memorable song, then the only audience you’ll ever have is musicians.
So my whole focus is that if a song doesn’t have a great hook, a catchy chorus, and great melody, it won’t make one of our albums. We scrap songs with great riffs or breakdowns all the time because the hook isn’t up to our standards. So that’s really important to us – it has to primarily be a great song. The solos or complex riffs or whatever else take a back seat to that rule.
Live, we feel that we have grown a ton over the years and can go toe-to-toe with anyone out there from an energy standpoint. We don’t have the budget or crew at this stage in our career to have an insane planned out light show or multimedia, but we make up for it by putting tons of energy out when we play, interacting with each other and the crowd, moving around a lot, and spending time polishing our live technique. We also have developed a feel for what works in a live setting and what doesn’t, and we try to keep that in mind as we write riffs and songs. It helps us connect with the audience and that’s really what it’s ultimately all about.
In closing you have built a reputation – brick by brick & stone by stone – as being a blue-collar, hard working band that will seize any opportunity given them, and wring it for all it’s worth. Is this a accurate assessment? What’s even more amazing to that point in time you with no label support. It has been due to your hard work, sacrifice, and dedication to succeed at all costs. Do you feel you are gaining respect from the music industry as a whole? Finally what can we expect from you in 2017? Any final words for your fans and readers of our publication?
We absolutely just work hard, and try to take advantage of every opportunity possible. We haven’t been able to do every tour that’s been presented to us, but we feel blessed that there are opportunities coming our way and we grab whatever we can.
The state of the music business is very strange these days – we have never gotten a label advance or any tour support. So we have just made it happen on our own, and we basically assume that’s going to be the case. We think we’re slowly getting respect as a band because we’ve persevered and we put out solid albums. Our new management with Alpha Omega has been hugely helpful, and we’re very excited for what the future holds.
2017 should see the release of our next album – we’re currently in the studio getting it wrapped up. This time we’re working with Mark Lewis, who has previously worked with a ton of bands like Whitechapel, Trivium, Devildriver, and so forth. We feel that the new material is going to come out sounding heavier than ever and the rough mixes already sound fantastic. So I think the fans can expect an even heavier Halcyon Way album this go around!
Thanks to everyone out there for the support, and we really appreciate the interview!
Thanks again for your speaking with us, it was a pleasure and best of luck in all your future endeavors.
David Maloney / MHF Magazine