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Gama Bomb Talk Thrash Fashion, ?George Fucking Orwell, and a Comic Book-Inspired Concept Record

Gama Bomb Talk Thrash Fashion, ?George Fucking Orwell, and a Comic Book-Inspired Concept Record
Earache Records

Gama Bomb is hell-bent on having fun. The band from Newry, Ireland, happily bangs out frenetic '80s-style thrash while tapping into their geeky side without a care. The pop culture worship of "We Respect You" off Tales from the Grave (available as a free download at  Earache Records) effectively communicates the idea that these guys are probably awesome to hang out with.

Philly Byrne's warped, speedy preacher shout pays tribute to a few filmmakers (like Richard Donner and John Carpenter) and a cavalcade of actors, including Steve Guttenberg, Christophers Lee, Lloyd, and Walken, Bill Paxton, Kurt Russell, and Michael Biehn. (The latter gets the best shout-out: "Here's looking at you, Michael Biehn/When we go drinking, we shout about you/Outlining your career, pumping my fist/Aliens is amazing, it's true.")
All of Tales is gushing with a similar kind of personality; bassist Joe McGuigan has described the record as a "thrash comic book." In keeping with this freewheeling sensibility, Byrne called for an unexpected interview at 8:30 p.m. last Sunday after playing a sparsely attended show in Amarillo, Texas, with Evile and Bonded by Blood.

The three bands will bring the same tour to Chain Reaction in Anaheim this Sunday, Dec. 12. (Intruder, enRot, and Madrost will also be on the bill.)



Admittedly, Byrne had a bit to drink before this conversation, but he remained entertainingly incisive. Although this transcription strives for accuracy, forgive us if it isn't 100 percent accurate; Byrne's brogue moves at the speed of your average NASCAR driver.

The vocalist dished on costume changes, punk, and the band's style.

OC Weekly (Reyan Ali): In Gama Bomb's early days, you used to dress up in various costumes and covered the Ninja Turtles theme. Things seemed a lot jokier. Why'd the shift in dynamic happen?

Philly Byrne: We've been together since 2002 so those were very gradual. We stopped doing the costumes after a while because we couldn't be bothered.

At the start, I had short Tintin hair. At the time, I wouldn't have admitted it, but the costumes were a way of appearing more committed to the idea of the band. Dressing up was my way of saying, 'We don't take ourselves seriously, but we're quite metal.' I still dress up, but not in the same way. Before every show, I put on a pair of skintight black jeans, a pair of high tops, a black T-shirt with no sleeves on it, and a Washington Redskins jacket. I'm still dressing up; I'm just dressing up as myself.

We may not do covers now, but we're a much more gimmicky and interactive and theatrical band than we ever were. It just doesn't extend to make-up and tights, that's all. 



Did you dress up as anything besides a chef and a pirate?
Yeah, I had a lab coat. The lab coat was the classic one. Among the 20 people who remember us from that time, it was a lab coat with bloody handprints all over. It had studs on the collar and drawings of different symbols all over it. It was my madman jacket. I'd dress up as a cardinal as well; I had a full costume.

I was a chef: I had the proper checkered trousers and the hat and everything. I only ever did that once or twice. I still have the lab coat in my wardrobe and I imagine if there was ever the appropriate time, I might actually bring it out on tour with me.

In a review of a Gama Bomb show, a writer mentioned that the band looks like it stepped out of a time machine, with the jeans, the long hair, and the vintage T-shirts.

Do you purposely try and emulate '80s thrash fashion or is that just how you happen to dress?

It's pretty much how we dress, but whenever it comes time to do the gig, you have to dress in a way functional to the music. Generally, that's going to be a T-shirt that's loose with no neck and no sleeves so you can sweat it out. You're armed when you're wearing tight jeans. I'll generally be wearing high tops anyway.

I suppose in a way, we are the typical dressed thrash band, but that's what we look like. When you see Luke [Graham, guitarist] offstage, he is wearing denim cutoffs with studs and patches on it. When you see Joe offstage, he is wearing a baseball cap with a Ninja Turtles logo on it. I suppose we can always reassure ourselves that we were into this sort of thing before it became popular. There weren't skater kids dressed up like thrashers or whatever else. We were pretty much the only people doing it where we came from.

Vocals-wise, you don't do straight metal screams, but you don't really sing either. How would you characterize your style?
I'd probably say, wobbly, whingy. [Laughs] We were talking about this tonight. On our first album, which we made, like, five years ago, I'd just kind of roar. I'd make this Lemmy-ish barking noise. The screams never sounded right. The singing was always too hoarse. It took a long time to develop into anything approaching a real singing style. [Now,] whenever it comes time to deliver a high note or a scream, I always make sure that those get delivered.

The rest of the time, it's a combination of pronouncing things razor sharp--a big thing that Dio, Bobby Blitz [of Overkill], and all my favorite singers do. Their pronunciation of things was unbelievably spot-on. When it came time to sing whatever insane lyrics I've written, I always find it valuable to enunciate well. Other singers mumble and grumble through a set, whereas I'm just talking with a very loud voice. I never thought I was in any way a good singer until I heard people hating the way that I sang.

People who sound unbelievably generic never get pointed out as a problem with a band. In metal, that's actually a bonus point most times. As soon as you have your own personality, someone will hate you for it and that's how you know you've got one. 

I'm happy with the way I'm singing these days. On this tour particularly, I've done the best singing in my life. Everything's there. Plus, I stole Bobby Blitz's moves. [Laughs] We've toured with Overkill twice and I've stolen every move and note he's ever held, so in the long run, I'm just going to be a mixture between Bobby Blitz and Joey Ramone.

 

Gama Bomb Talk Thrash Fashion, ?George Fucking Orwell, and a Comic Book-Inspired Concept Record

Have you ever wanted to do something more traditional such as a whole album where you're screaming in a way closer to black or death metal?

I'm not a fan of black or death metal. This year, I was talking about making a solo album. If we do get around to it, it would definitely be something a bit different. It would be like speed metal crossed with Turbo by Judas Priest--that kind of high camp, glossy, 1980s synth-metal stuff that's so out of fashion.

Turbo, to me, is a glittering testament to what you can do with heavy metal if you're willing to put a pop sheen on it. It doesn't need to be fuckin' Backstreet Boys vocals. You can actually do something creative and awesome and sexy with metal.

I couldn't picture myself grunting or griping on a record. It's got loads and loads of power but not enough heart or personality.



Your mention of Joey Ramone brings to mind you noting that punk played a major role in shaping Tales from the Grave. What punk bands are especially important to shaping this sound?

When I was 13, I got a hand-me-down T-shirt with Sid Vicious' face on it off my brother. I was raised listening to classic British punk--the Sex Pistols, The Pogues, Generation X--because my big brother, Gavin, is a punk. Luke, our guitar player, is very much in the punk camp. He loves D.R.I., Agnostic Front, Minor Threat. I would listen to a bit of D.R.I. and Black Flag. Me and Joe, as teenagers, are even into a bit of glam-punk, like Backyard Babies.

These days, crossover and a bit of hardcore are where we take a bit of influence from. I like the idea that we're not a glossy metal band. You need a bit of punk in you to be something else. It's okay to just be into those five heavy metal albums, but the edge we have on other people is that we have a bit more balls, a bit more grip. I want to be a bit of a punk; I just don't want to smell like one.

Do you ever imagine the band making a punk album that's influenced by thrash versus a thrash album that's punk-influenced?

Luke and I have talked about having a side project. The side project is tentatively called G.F.O. and we're going to hopefully record an EP. That's going to be political anarcho-punk with a bit of Clash-type reggae thing going on. I would love to sing on a straight-up punk release, but I don't think it would happen under Gama Bomb. One of the big things we have with the band is that we say that if we ever start changing this style of music, like if we go to rehearsal and start playing something that sounds like Radiohead or Aphex Twin or The Killers or whatever else, we'd just not call ourselves Gama Bomb. We wouldn't sully our--here's a bad word--brand. We wouldn't wreck our recognition by foisting that on people, which is something that bands like Anthrax did. They effectively weren't the same band anymore.

What's G.F.O., the band name you just mentioned, stand for?
It stands for "George Fucking Orwell." I'm a huge Orwell fan, and the whole joke we always have is that if you're being politically right on, you go, "George fucking Orwell, yeah! Right on, man!"

Joe described Tales from the Grave as a "thrash comic book" in an interview. Elaborate on this idea. Are there themes to the record? Would you call it a concept album?

It's a concept album loosely in that the concept of the album is that it's like a Tales from the Crypt comic book, where you open up the comic book and there are six stories in a row. The idea was [that] each one of [the songs] would be a considered a story from this book. In the past, we've been big into referencing other people's ideas.

We'll write a song about Robocop. We're still into that, but our whole thing with this was, 'Let's write our own tales. Let's write the theme songs to the horror films that were never made.' There's "Escape from Scarecrow Mountain," which was like a B-movie.

The idea is that you're looking at a book of stories. Other bands stretch two or three ideas across an entire album, whereas every song on our album is jam-packed with the most musical ingenuity and acrobatic playing and concepts we can come up with. I'm proud that you can zoom in like a high res photograph and still [find] things that are worth seeing in every part of every song.

Have Gama Bomb started plotting the next album? Do you want it to have a concept, too?

Recording [Tales] was quite difficult personally and professionally. Afterwards, we were all like, 'Stand back, we're not going to do anything creatively for a while,' although this year has really turned us around. In the past, we've made albums and had to ramp up to make it whereas right now we're on an all-time high. I'd say we're going to exploit that next year.

I like the idea of another album with a concept, but the only concept I really adore is that compendium of stories. I don't know where I could take it from there, but at the same time, our whole reason we gave Tales away for free was because you can't just do something that's been done. The music that we do is music that's already been done. We sound like a thrash band from 20, 30 years ago.

Anything we do beyond what we sound like has to be original. I've toyed with the idea of making an album that's more political, but as soon as you do that, you put your neck on the chopping block for people to criticize. It's something we're not even sure we can do, but we wanted to make a movie and write a soundtrack for it. I don't know how possible that is. It would be nice to make our own sci-fi apocalyptic short movie and soundtrack it with an album's worth of material. If we can get away with the last thing we did, maybe we can do that, too.


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