PlanetMosh is proud to be one of the official media partners for this weekend’s Blazefest, Northern Ireland’s biggest annual charity gig, which brings together the top rock and metal bands from this part of the world to raise funds for the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Headlining this year’s bill are a young band whose sheer work ethic alone definitely has earned them the top billing: Maverick.
We took the opportunity to chat with band founder and lead guitarist Ryan Sebastian Balfour (pictured right). It’s been a little more than a year since PlanetMosh last caught up with Maverick, and a lot has happened since then, with 2014 having been an extremely productive and successful year for them. Not least, it saw the release of their debut album, ‘Quid Pro Quo’, which has been receiving rave reviews from around the world. They must be very pleased with the reaction to it?
Yeah, cheers Mark! We’re very happy with the reaction to the record. We put a lot of work into it and it’s a great feeling seeing such great reviews for it. It means a lot to us. That said, thanks for your review of the album! To be honest there are not many feelings more rewarding than hearing people appreciating something we have created from scratch.
We’ll come back to the album in a minute, but one thing that happened early last year was that you underwent a change of line up, with Chris leaving and Richard joining. Can you give us a bit of background as to how that came about?
Well, what it really came down to was us growing in different directions musically. After Chris departed, Ric was luckily close by, we became acquainted with him through playing on the same bill as his old band ‘The Unprotected’. He already knew our material and I remember hearing later from his girlfriend, that Ric once told her something like “That’s the kind of band I would like to be in,” while watching us live. So we had him round and he pulled it together in a few short days and had his first gig with us in Limelight 2. The rest is history haha.
You’ve all remained good friends with Chris: indeed, his new band have played with you a couple of times. In a scene as small and insular as Northern Ireland, is it important to maintain friendships?
Yeah of course, even though Chris’ departure was tough for everyone, we all wanted to try and keep business and friendship separate, which you can understand is not easy to do. Chris was very good about the whole thing and I think he understood our reasoning, and both parties are better off because of it. His new band Dead Addiction is great! Check them out on Facebook! But yeah, we’re still the best of friends. I don’t think the music scene politics really had much to do with us staying friends because we have known each other for nearly 15 years, and we couldn’t imagine not having him in our lives, and we’re sure he thinks the same.
Returning to the album, you invested a lot of time, energy – and money – in its recording, which was done at Manor Park Studios with Neal Calderwood at the helm: what lessons did you learn from that experience and working with a producer as experienced as Neal?
Well that was a bit of a baptism by fire, in the best way possible of course. Neal is a true professional, he cuts no corners and he is extremely precise when it came to the recording process. He would never let a take go unless it was 100 per cent. The main thing we took away from the whole experience was construction of harmonies. Neal helped a lot with the vocal harmonies and made a lot of very good suggestions, which improved the songs a lot. He was a proper producer and most importantly, very patient. He improved us all as individuals and as a band. ‘Quid Pro Quo’ is not perfect, but Neal brought out the very best in it.
As we said at the top, 2014 was a big year for you, and you achieved a lot. Most of your success has been down to your own hard graft and the loyalty of your fans supporting you and spreading the Maverick message, either by word of mouth or on social media, and without the support of a management agency or outside PR company. Have you ever felt the need to go down this latter route, or are you much more comfortable controlling your own destiny?
Well to be honest we are proud of everything we have achieved without outside help from the management, booking and PR side of the industry, but that said, we can only take this so far without their help. We are currently scouting for a booker and manager, but we want to get the ones that are right for us. This band means the world to us and we will only do what is best for it no matter what. So the selection of people who are going to help shape the future of the band, is of paramount importance. If we must go it alone, we most certainly will, we will stop at nothing to make Maverick a success.
The reason we’re talking is because, of course, you’re headlining this year’s Blazefest – and I know it is an event, and a cause, which is very close to your collective hearts. What does it mean to you to have been asked to top such an extremely strong bill?
It’s nothing short of an honour! We were meant to be somewhere on the bill last year, but we just couldn’t do it because our singer Dave Balfour was suffering from vocal issues that prevented him from singing. We were all gutted about it at the time, but for us to be welcomed back to headline the following year, over so many top notch bands is a great honour. As a band, Maverick matured playing alongside the likes of Screaming Eagles and Conjuring Fate, so the quality of the bill will only spur us to make sure we justify our position in the running order.
As a music journalist, I’m always giving my opinion on bands. However, I’d like to put the boot on the other foot for a moment, and ask you to tell us what you think of the other bands on the bill…
I think it’s a vary varied and interesting bill. Of course I think Screaming Eagles, Sinocence and Conjuring Fate are all great bands, as well as people. I have not got a chance to hear XeroSun, Selene or the Irontown Diehards as of yet, but I haver heard good things about them all! I also think Donum Dei have come a long way and have came into their own a great deal since their inception, a very good band. I’m really looking forward to playing alongside all the acts on the bill.
If you had to cover a song by one of the other bands on the bill, who and what would it be?
That’s a tough one to say. We would consider getting out of our comfort zone and going for one of the more metal bands like Sinocence or Conjuring Fate, but we could also go the other direction, play it safe and cover a more suited rock number by Screaming Eagles… I dunno if I’m honest. Our favourite song by a ‘local band’, would be ‘Rock n Roll Soul’ and who knows, we may even give it a go one day.
After Blazefest, you’re heading back over the Irish border to play the Siege Of Limerick on Easter Sunday (April 4). It’s better known for being more of an out-and-out heavy metal event, so Maverick seem an unusual inclusion… how did this come about, and are you in any way nervous about how a more straight ahead hard rock band such as yourselves will go down amidst all those heavier acts?
Well we were approached by one of the guys who run the event, we of course accepted, despite us being out of our comfort zone musically. We’re going to try and play a “heavier” set if you will, by taking out the more melodic numbers and keeping the faster, more hard-hitting songs in the set. We are also toying with the prospect of doing a thrash or heavy metal cover to keep the audience happy ;). We have heard nothing but great things about the people who run the festival and the festival itself, it’s a big deal for any band, rock or metal to be on this bill, so we are honoured.
You’ve already played in Scotland, when you competed in ‘Highway To Hell’ in 2013: I hear you are preparing to launch another assault on our Celtic neighbours: can you shed any light on that at this stage?
We are still on the planning stages of this but we plan on embarking on a European tour, including a bit of UK this summer. As for further details, we cannot say just yet until we finalise them ourselves.
So, finally, what does the rest of 2015 hold for Maverick? Are you thinking of another album, or trying to extend your reach further with more touring outside NI?
Of course, the work never stops with us, we have a good eight to 10 tracks under way in the writing process, which we’re extremely happy with. We can say without a shadow of a doubt, that the material on the second album will blow ‘Quid Pro Quo’ away. As for what else the year holds? We don’t know but we will be pushing to get every opportunity under the sun, and trying to further ourselves in every stretch of the business. As for the touring, yeah as I said up there, we are planning one currently, and no matter what we will be playing outside the UK this summer. Thanks a lot for the interview Mark, we will see you at the Empire for Blazefest!
Blazefest takes place at the Empire Music Hall, Belfast, this Saturday (March 21). In addition to Maverick, the line up also features Sinocence, Screaming Eagles, Xerosun, Conjuring Fate, The Irontown Diehards and Donum Dei. Admission is £10 and tickets are available (with no booking fee) from Ticketmaster, and also on the door.
Maverick also play Sinocence’s ‘No Gods No Masters Vol 2’ EP launch at Limelight 2, Belfast, on Saturday March 28, with Conjuring Fate, Donum Dei and Gasoline Outlaws. Admission is £5 (pay at the door).