Interview by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
We met with Philly Byrne of Gama Bomb in Dublin when they were supporting Nuclear Assault on their “Final Assault on Europe Tour”. He exclusively revealed the title and details of their fifth studio album due for release in October, and tells us about their upcoming plans.
Alan: Hi Phil. Thanks for taking the time to chat, especially straight after your show. So tell us how tonight went for you?
Philly: Hi. It went really well I think. We wanted tonight to go really well. We’ve been gigging for a few days now. We did Resurrection Fest in Spain, Dynamo in the Netherlands, and then we had a night off. So we’re revving up again, and this gig was really important because it’s Nuclear Assault, and their music has a lot of history for us. And it’s Dublin as well. We’ve been through all the stress of making an album and all the arguing and everything that goes with that. So we knew we just had to nail it when we got to Dublin. Yeah, I think we did a really good job, I think it sounded good, held together well, my voice held up well, I think the lads sounded great on the guitar.
Alan: …and there’s a great crowd in there as well.
Philly: Good crowd, yeah. And that venue is really important for us too. We used to play there when we first gigged in Dublin in like November 2007, maybe even earlier. It was an amazing venue for us because we used to socialise with all the other Dublin thrash bands back in the day, and that’s where we met Paul who joined the band, and Domo as well.
Alan: Were Nuclear Assault in your record collection growing up?
Philly: No, not really. I think they were very much culter than cult. In 1999 or 2000, Luke, who’s our former rhythm guitar player and a good mate, went to Newry library, where they were having a sale to get rid of all their old tapes and stuff. And Luke picked up Survive by Nuclear Assault. He was already a metal kid and we were already listening to a lot of metal, and Luke was just like “Oh this is fucking amazing”, and him and Joe kind of became friends because of this tape. Literally because of the tape. Luke lent it to him and they played guitar together. Luke wrote all the tabs for the album. We got really really excited about it, and I was kind of on the edge of it, and I was like “Oh, what is all of this?”. And then we started listening to crossover and more Nuclear Assault and Sodom and Tankard. And then we realised we wanted to be in a band and play this music. And people forget that this music was unheard of in 2002. Thrash was completely off the radar. And with good cause. I think it took a new digitally-connected generation who could see the things that went wrong with thrash. Everybody can see that in 1989/1990, everybody tried to copy Metallica and killed the genre. Our thing was like, “Alright, stick to your guns, do the stuff they did well, add your own personality on the top of it, and don’t deviate”.
Alan: So your new album is almost ready to go?
Philly: Yeah, Halloween. It’s coming out on October 30th, and I think November 2nd in the U.S. It’s on AFM Records, the same guys we did the last album with.
Alan: Have you a title?
Philly: Yeah, it’s called Untouchable Glory. There you go, you’re the first to hear that!
Alan: Thank you! What’s the significance of the name?
Philly: Well, we’re very into psycho movies, like exploitation movies from the eighties, and there’s an American/Korean co-production movie called “Ninja Untouchables the Untouchable Glory”. And we just thought it’s such an insane name, and it just sounds so ridiculously big. And I suppose in my mind, you know, when bands like The Rolling Stones or Kiss were suddenly making 4, 5, 6, 7 albums, they made themselves bigger and bigger. Their concepts were bigger, their ideas were bigger. They had a swaggering egotism to them that I think is sort of lost in modern music. So I think instead of calling it “Skulls and Blackness” or whatever, we were just “Fuck it, we’re going to call it something cool and big. Really overblown”. The whole concept behind it is it’s like a 1960’s action movie and we’ve got Graham Humphreys the amazing poster artist to paint our cover…
Alan: He did the cover for your last album, The Terror Tapes as well, yeah?
Philly: Yeah he’s a very famous movie artist and he’s doing our album with us and he just does that because he likes us, and we get him, and he gets us.
Alan: And who’s behind the mixing desk this time?
Philly: Scott Atkins again. This is the situation we’re in. The music industry is such that you need to forge strong relationships with people, and with people who will do you good turns. And without “mates rates”, I don’t know how any of this could be done. Like Scott believes in what we do, and we get him and we get along well. We’ve been making records with him for nearly ten years. So I think we understand each other., and we’re friends, and he’s very graciously helping us do this.
Alan: I saw you describe yourselves as “the AC/DC of thrash metal, same album, different cover”. So should we expect more-or-less the same from the new album?
Philly: Yeah… Actually… No! It’s different. I think it’s much more broad. I think people dread the word “accessible”, but I think we deliberately tried to write like the biggest choruses we could. The songs are hooked around huge, huge choruses. And also, I was recovering from throat surgery, and I’ve been seeing an Opera singer – a woman called Idit Arad. And she’s an Israeli Opera singer who’s incredible and teaches loads of top singers. The work I did with her has given me a lot more power and a lot more confidence. And I think we’ve incorporated that in a bit more. So it’s still crossover-ey but there’s a lot more operatic Bruce Dickinson type stuff; like tener registers and that type of stuff. So I think that has made a difference. I think Paul’s playing is incredible. His drumming has really matured. And that isn’t really obvious to people that hear it, but his playing is really incredible. His fills and pieces are less complicated, but they’re way way tastier. So there’s a degree of maturity in the new album. Now that won’t be reflected in the lyrics, obviously. But musically, it’s quite mature. It’s very rounded.
Alan: Have you ever considered doing any cover songs?
Philly: Yeah. We argue about it all the time. There’s lots of different things we’ve wanted to do. We talked about doing an EP of covers once, but we think about Overkill/Coverkill and stuff. But I don’t know – maybe B-sides. We really want to do ‘If I Should Fall from Grace with God’ by The Pogues on something at some point. And there’s a couple of other things; songs that aren’t really metal tunes that we want to cover, but the effort in producing your own stuff is such that there isn’t time to re-arrange other people’s songs. It’s probably a lesser use of energy than doing your own. And we’re essentially quite lazy, so that’s why it hasn’t happened yet.
Alan: Any guest artists on the album?
Philly: No. Actually, there’s none whatsoever. It’s something that we’ve resisted. There are a couple of people that we would love to work with and who we do talk to, but we haven’t got them. And I think, and Paul’s attitude is very much “It’s just us”, and what’s the point?
Alan: Is there anyone at the top of your list, alive or dead, that you would like to work with?
Philly: Yeah, well a friend of ours, Bobby Blitz [Ellsworth] from Overkill is somebody that I would love to bring in, but with scheduling it just doesn’t happen. He’s got a lot of different stuff going on. Bobby would be amazing to have on. We would love to do something with Zombi, the synth band who are on Relapse Records. They’re two lads from Pittsburgh who write this incredible synth music. We’d love to work with them. Mike Muir would be unbelievable, obviously. Yeah, there’s not too many.
Alan: We caught Suicidal Tendencies twice last month at Download and London, and it’s amazing to see Mike still pounding around the stage.
Philly: He’s fucking great, man. He’s a legend.
Alan: So what’s coming after the album release? What’s next?
Philly: Touring again next year. We’re going to Spain in February. We’re going to do a European tour hopefully later in the year, and Summer festivals. And what we really want to do is go back to America. We went to America in 2010. It’s great that there are people there waiting for us. We really really appreciate that. We got to play 70,000 tons of Metal this year in January, and we got to play to an American audience, because it was coming from America. And I think people really appreciated it, and it was amazing for us to get back in front of those people because touring in America is a logistical nightmare for somebody on a small record label. The financial and legal stuff behind it is very very complicated. I think we are going to go back, but it’s still “TBC”.
Alan: And what do you make of the metal scene in Ireland at the moment in general?
Philly: Well, I’m based in London now, but judging by tonight, it’s in completely rude health. Ireland has a finite population, so it’s never going to be like it is in San Diego or whatever. But I think that audience in there [in the Voodoo Lounge] shows you the range of age that there is. And that’s something that we wouldn’t have seen seven years ago. To see men in their thirties and forties with their wives and also to see fifteen year olds at the front. And I think Fergal [Holmes, DME Promotions], has a lot to do with that. A person who takes the music seriously, who knows the music and is professional about it; organising big concerts with big names. I think that’s amazing. It’s like back in the day when you had the SFX in the eighties, metal had a place in Dublin. And I think it disappeared for about ten years, and people like H have brought it back. Along with Facebook and forums and people like yourselves.
Alan: We try to do our bit. We’ll wrap it up there because there are a lot of people queuing up to chat with you. Thanks again Phil.
Philly: You’re very good. Thanks very much.