Chicken Fighting With Battlecross
Battlecross is a band from the rust-belt suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. In 2005, the nascent band crafted up a few tunes and self-released a demo. What a difference a few years makes: by 2013, they’ve been signed to Metal Blade Records, and have partied like rock stars on many festivals and the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival tour. After watching hours of Battlecross footage, PlanetMosh writer Iris North cornered guitarist Tony Asta. Threatened with further interrogation, the Battlecross axeman chose to answer ‘just a few’ tour and album questions. Some results of the chat are detailed here.
You guys have some interesting new words! Bangover, gig butt, tour AIDS: it sounds like some serious dues-paying. Each of those words has to have had an origin. Indulge us please.
Haha, well, living on the road can get dirty. We all do our best to take care of ourselves, but it can still be hard to put off the inevitable.
Everybody knows what a bangover is: that’s when your neck, back, and shoulders are cramped up so badly from headbanging that you can’t think straight. Usually you can avoid this by stretching every tendon and muscle in your body before every performance.
Gig butt, that’s a funny one. That’s when you sweat so bad you smell like ass. Kevin Talley has it the worst, and he tends to leave his shorts in the trailer in the worst places, like right on top of a merch bin. Then someone has to move (the shorts) with a stick. I can’t wait to burn those damn shorts… Wait, can you burn biohazardous material?
Tour AIDS: that’s when everyone on our bus/van gets sick from being in small quarters together every day for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. Always roll stocked with Zicam and Airborne.
What’s the story behind your band name and logo?
In 2003, I came up with the name by putting two words together that luckily no one had thought of yet, “Battle” and “Cross”. You see that a lot. A lot of band names are two words put together that just sound cool. It didn’t mean anything when I came up with it, but that was the intent, as I much prefer the music makes the name. It can mean anything you want it to mean though. Some people compare it to a fallen soldier memorial, chicken fighting, an old arcade game, power metal, etc. It’s open to interpretation, but as long as people associate the music with the name than I’m happy. The “Battlecross” lettering was designed by Chris Horst, who’s done a bunch of awesome thrash and death metal logos. I designed the original glyph or ‘star’ that you see associated with the logo back in the early days of the band. We are big fans of a logo you can read, along with vocals you can understand, clean or not.
Wow, how a lot can change in a few years. In 2005 you self-released your first demo, and here you are in 2013 on the Orion Fest and Rockstar Energy Mayhem fest. A lot of bands would kill to be in your position.
Yes, we have killed many to be in our position. But really, Hiran and I have been actively jamming in the band for 10 years, if that puts it into perspective. We’ve been doing the same thing we’ve always done. With a few line-up changes, a matured sense of song writing, and a little talent, I think we’ve created some good shit along the way. The biggest difference in the past 5 years, is that we’ve had a dedicated ‘crack’ team of strong believers on our side. Everyone: from our local supporters, up to our management, label, and booking agent helps. Without the strong local support along the way, we wouldn’t have gained any attention to be worth a damn. We have worked our asses off, but now we’re at the point where we aren’t doing it all on our own.
We’ve heard that “it’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll”. What did you have to give up to get to where you are right now? And could you talk about the oh-so-glamorous life of touring?
It’s a long way to the top for sure, and we’re somewhere at the bottom, haha. We didn’t really have to give up anything (in retrospect) because this is what we wanted. We want to be on the road, we want to playing shows and hanging with fans, we want to be out there kicking ass and turning heads. Music comes first, but it is show business too, and as you know, the show must go on. In the moment, sometimes I’m like ‘damn, that sucks I have to miss stuff back home’; I think we all feel that way. It does suck, not being able to see our families often, missing family events and such, but it’s all worth it. This is our dream, and we should do it while we are young and able. Thinking of where I was 5 or 10 years ago, and knowing where I am now is a good feeling; it’s like my life and all its obstacles and sacrifices to make this even possible have been justified. It is true – there is no place like home, but touring life is cool man, you get to go places, meet new people, and play music every night. It’s like a fresh day: every day in a new place, but with a similar routine. We usually tour in our van and trailer as well; we only had a bus once. In the van, we pull out all the benches, put down padding and blankets, and it’s comfy as hell.
A lot of this ‘making it’ or going from ‘underground’ to ‘success’ seems to be… you get picked up, and then you’re swept along by this current of managers, tour promoters, record labels… How do you get from point A to point B?
This will be a long answer. I’m sure there are a slew of bands that get caught up in that ’cause I’ve heard it from them before, but in our case it’s different. We’ve been jamming in the Detroit scene at bars and venues since 2005, and it takes a while to get noticed, by anyone. We’ve played for two people in an empty bar, and sometimes that’s where it starts. For us it was always about creating the most kick ass music we can, first and foremost. It also took a long time to find the right band members. With each one that came and went, we learned what to do and what not to do, and discovered the kind of people and caliber of musicians we truly sought. Also, jamming with other bands, sharing practice spaces, and associating with other acts really influenced us on the do’s and don’ts of the core material and live performances. No one gives a shit what kind of antics you’re doing on stage if your band sucks. You can see right through the authenticity, or lack thereof, of a band that understands that. Nothing lives stronger in us than the good shit, as we are highly influenced from bands like Pantera, Metallica, Judas Priest, Slayer, Testament, GWAR, etc. I know there’s a large group of people on this earth who are just waiting to hear that straight to the point, ‘kick you in the teeth’ aggressive energetic metal come back stronger than ever. Working the streets, pounding the pavement, handing out flyers at local clubs, record stores, tattoo shops, you name it, for getting that name out there. You take all that and that’s just the tip of the ice burg. When you listen to our music and read our lyrics you can see, no matter what we will always do our best to push through, that’s just the nature of the beast. We met our manager Velda Garcia in 2008, and at the time it was just a fun idea, a challenge for her to take a band with a decent following and put on some shows to get people motivated and excited. It was successful to say the least, and together we kept pushing the limits and tackling the next big step. Our manager is largely responsible for the awesome opportunities we have undertaken. She helped us shop around for the right label and build the relationships with Metal Blade. Once we signed to Metal Blade, people started taking the band and our manager more seriously, and the opportunities escalated from there by similar strategies. As we solidify a tour, the individual promoters all over the country bid on the package to determine where the tour will come through. And yes, we are sent an itinerary of all the stops, not by a stranger, but by our kick ass booking agent Tim Borror (The Agency Group). I have to mention too, not to sell ourselves short, but the band is somewhat responsible for our success thus far. I think we’ve proven ourselves to “seal the deal” by not sucking, writing the music we want, putting on an energetic fun live show, and providing music for people to enjoy and relate to. In conclusion, it’s really not an A to B type thing. It’s more like a string of events, a series of relationship building, and big risk-taking type shit that gets your band places. Seize the opportunity! … I could go on forever.
Did Metal Blade allow the Indiegogo campaign? What was the crowdfunding experience like for you?
Metal Blade definitely allowed the Indiegogo campaign. We conducted ours earlier this year to help raise money for Mayhem. Contrary to what some people may say, it really is a useful tool for up-and-coming bands. Set a goal, and offer worthwhile perks. Crowd funding is another way to keep connected to your fans. While offering them something in return, they can help you get your feet off the ground.
How do you keep the band together, through all of the internal and external pressures?
The band is a self-sustaining machine, for one thing. We haven’t reached the point where we can live off it, but it definitely pays for itself. But that’s because we try to work smart, while doing our best to deliver both in the studio and on stage. I don’t think this is a really hard thing for us, because this is where we want to be. Being in this band is not work, but rather enjoyable. I mean: it is work, because it takes a lot of effort, but it isn’t ‘like a job’, if you know what I mean. We are all grown ass men!
You mentioned writing (for War Of Will) between tours. How much of it did you have demoed prior to entering the studio? I was wondering how much of it you’d set in stone, and how much you were willing to ‘wing it’ under the producers’ direction.
Before we entered the studio, we had all the tracks recorded ‘demo-version’ on my shitty laptop, with programmed drums and scratch guitar/bass tracks. Only a couple tracks had vocal ideas with them, as most of the vocals were phrased and even written in the studio. Don and Gumby collaborated a lot with lyrical ideas and such. Producers Mark Lewis, Eyal Levi, and Jason Suecof made phrasing suggestions and really pushed Gumby to perform at his best. When I was struggling with some of my leads, Eyal really helped me hone down some killer ideas; he has a great ear for what sounds right. Besides that, Mark and Eyal only had a few suggestions on cutting down a few things that seemed to be a little excessive: ‘trimming the fat’. The album turned out far beyond our expectations.
‘Extreme’ metal is a much narrower genre then rock – what does “really diversified” mean to you?
Diversified basically means “a variety” so I guess really diversified probably means “an unpredictable variety”. All of us in the band come together with a slew of influences that brew together to give us our sound. Note, it is important to be dynamic when writing aggressive music. Our guitars are tuned to standard E and drop D, which is surprising to some people. My point is: you don’t have to tune lower to sound heavier. Write dynamic. If you can compose music that gives you that feeling of heavy aggression, where your chin scrunches and your lip curls, then you have achieved something awesome. That is the feeling which I seek and try to convey through our music. A part may be awesome, but it’s the part before it which sets it up and makes it sounds so good when it kicks in.
Has touring with a bunch of different bands sculpted your sound or your songwriting? i.e. being exposed to bands as diverse as In Flames, Origin, Metallica, and Hatebreed.
Yes, touring with other bands is a heavy influence, but mostly with how we conduct ourselves as people. And I would be lying if I said those bands listed above haven’t crept into our music. Every one of them is a huge influence on Battlecross, since before touring with them. We write a lot by feel man, it has to feel right and kick a certain way.
Your lyrics are deeply insightful re: our modern cultural immersion… You mentioned trying to find points that each listener could relate to. How do you engage new fans to your message?
We always want to leave our subject matter open to interpretation. Check out the lyrics in the booklet, there is some powerful stuff in there. Some songs are powerful messages of perseverance, believing in ‘you’, and thinking for yourself no matter what. Other songs are about the choice to go one way or another, and how it’s all on you – no one else to decide your fate. The song “Beast” speaks of our inner demons, while “Ghost Alive” gives a glimpse of post-traumatic issues.
Any closing message for your fans or readers?
Thank you all for your interest in Battlecross! And thank you everyone for reading this long-ass interview. This took me a while to do, and now I have to drink a beer. Cheers!