Byron Stroud is a legend in the metal bass world. He was the man responsible for holding down the thunderous low end of Strapping Young Lad, as well as SYL offshoot Zimmer’s Hole. When Dino Cazares left Fear Factory and Christian Olde Wolbers switched over to guitar, Byron stepped into the bass slot. Then Christian and drummer Raymond Herrera were out of Fear Factory, Dino was back in, and SYL drummer Gene Hoglan joined, reuniting one of the most iconic rhythm sections in metal. You still keeping up? Well now Byron and Fear Factory singer Burton C Bell have another band on the side, called City of Fire. CoF is more melodic and traditional than FF and far less extreme than SYL, but that’s not to say they aren’t heavy. Their self-titled debut mixes metal and melody to great effect and allows Bryon to explore darker, moodier metal textures than he can in his other jobs.
When one hears of a band fronted by the singer from another popular band, the first thought is ‘I guess that’s something the singer put together.’ Not so with City of Fire – it all started with legendary underground thrash band Caustic Thought. “That was a band I started right out of high school with Ian White and Bob Wagner,” Byron says. “That was a band that Devin Townsend and Jed Simon both played in before we did Strapping Young Lad. I’ve always stayed in touch with the guys and we’d do the odd reunion show here and there. The last one we did a couple of years ago went really well, so we got together and started writing songs and we really liked the direction it was going. We brought in another player, Terry Murray, and once we did some demoing I thought Burton would be into it. Burton and I have a similar taste in music, and when I sent him the demos he freaked out. The only vision we really had was that we didn’t want any song to sound like any other song on the record. We’re happy with the way it turned out.”
The arrangements in City of Fire leave a lot more sonic space for Stroud to move around in. “It definitely gives me an opportunity to try different styles of bass. I do more fingerstyle playing. I started out as a finger player, and it was only when I joined bands like Strapping where I started playing with a pick to keep up with everybody. And when you’re playing finger style it’s one less thing you have to worry about: trying to find a pick!”
I suggest that I can hear a few psychedelic influences creeping into some of the riffs and melodies of City of Fire. “We hear that too in the songs, but it was just natural for us. And the songs we’ve written since we recorded the record are more of the same. We’ve definitely tapped into something we’re really into and feel we can pull off and make sound killer. That’s the great thing about Terry Murray – he’s a producer in Vancouver as well and he reminds me of a lot of things that Devin Townsend does. He has a similar production style that Devin has, so he’s really good at the layering and getting great performances out of people.”
Byron’s bass arsenal includes Fender and ESP instruments. “I have a couple of custom Fenders that I got made a few years ago when I joined Fear Factory. I’ve always been with ESP, then when I joined Fear Factory I started using Christian’s basses and I just loved them. They were a more rounded bass, whereas the ESPs were more cutting. I’m back with ESP now, so I use both. I have some ESP 6-strings and 5-strings, and I still have my trusty Fenders. For amps I was with Ashdown for a while but now I’m back to Ampeg again. I’ll use two separate tones: I’ll have one amp that’s strictly a sub tone – no mids or highs – and I’ll have another amp which is an extreme distortion tone. I can switch that from a distortion to a clean sound but I always keep the sub. But for City of Fire I just went with a basic old 1968 Ampeg SVT through an old 8X10 cabinet, cranked it up and got the classic tone.”
Blabbermouth.net has a great interview with Devin Townsend about his forthcoming album ‘Ki.’
Here are some selected highlights from the rather long interview. CLICK HERE to read the full thing.
Q: Please put the music in your own words? What is the common ground to your previous releases, and what is the major difference?
Devin: “Ki” is a subtle, severe album. A challenge in some ways. As the “intro” to the story (the story being the four records) it needs to set the stage. The point to the music is that the whisper is louder than the roar in many ways. “Ki” is (on the surface) quiet and unassuming. Whenever it begins to lose its temper, it stops. It does not let it go, it is avoiding that temptation, as that sort of anger is really gratifying but ultimately just leaves me unhappy. “Ki” is about control, and although it is not an overtly “heavy” album, it is heavy thematically. On these four records, it starts with “Ki”, which is essentially a cross section of all the albums, but the idea is that it is not here to impose itself. It just does it’s thing. Like a little a.m radio playing in the corner. Many folks have been waiting to see what I do next after SYL and “Ziltoid”, so after careful consideration, I wanted the first record to be quiet and subtle, however fear not chaos fans… the next two records in the quartet are progressively heavier, and the third album, “Deconstruction”, is the heaviest music I’ve ever created. So with “Ki”, I wanted to make it a bit of an appetizer. I know myself, that as I get older, a steady diet of chaotic music does little more than give me a headache. So with “Ki”, I wanted to re-introduce myself in a way that says, “I can make chaos like you’ve never heard, but for starters, please get comfortable.” The common ground to my previous releases would be my voice, but even my guitar playing has changed. I use primarily a clean tone now (no distortion) and in terms of the sonics, I have used very little compression and it is not mastered very loud. The term “Ki” loosely means “life force” and, therefore, in almost the antithesis to my previous albums, there is no real editing or triggers on the drums. Much of the music was recorded “live off the floor.” I wanted to preserve the energy flow without worrying so much about mistakes.
Q: How would you describe the philosophy behind “Ki”, musically, lyrically, artistically?
Devin: “Ki” appeared after I quit drugs. I found myself angry at drugs, in all honesty. I spent many, many years stoned out of my mind, making music that although clever, was a misrepresentation of what I truly feel I wanted to say. Once I started “clearing up,” I found that reality in many ways is much HEAVIER than the drug world. It has sharper edges and less release, but the point with “Ki” is that I feel I needed to clarify a lot of things I’ve said in the past musically. I believe in spirituality, and that life force is much more intense when I participate in it with a sober mind. Although “Ki” is a relatively quiet and unassuming album in and of itself, when folks hear “Addicted” (record 2) and especially “Deconstruction” (record 3), I have a feeling there will be a percentage of folks who will appreciate “Ki” even more than they do from the get go. The whole idea is to listen to “Ki” for what it IS rather than what it is NOT. There are leagues of people in my world that refuse to accept music from me that isn’t destructive and chaotic. For them I am writing “Deconstruction”, but for myself, and many people my age, that element of chaos becomes very tiresome if it is not juxtaposed by some sonic “space.” So “Ki” is a sober introduction to an (admittedly) epic musical undertaking and as such demonstrates some highs and lows without going to extreme in either direction. I assume that fans of my heavy heavy output will be far from “blown away” by this album, but in a way, that’s the point. I appreciate “Ki” almost more than any of the records, and am very proud of what it stands for.
Q: What was the reason for forming “Ki”? When did you start working on that idea?
Devin: I quit many bad habits in my life after STRAPPING YOUNG LAD ended. I felt depressed, angry and unhealthy and was not satisfied with living the rest of my life that way. I quit all drugs, alcohol and a host of other “addictions” that were controlling me and my world. It took three years to formulate the DTP and to write “Ki”. I had to re-learn how to create without drugs and through that personal transformation, I learnt a great deal of things. “Ki” was very hard to do, to break the musical constipation so to speak, but now that it’s here… watch out… I have lots to say that now I’m in control of myself.
Q: Is the album a concept work? Are the songs lyrically connected? What are the lyrics dealing with?
Devin: It is part of a larger concept, and I think once the four albums are all completed, not only will “Ki” be the introduction, it will also be the moral. Everything I do is connected, lyrically, musically and otherwise. I have a hard time writing without metaphor. The theme of aliens is present on the record, but again, as a metaphor. An obvious image that implies those thoughts that haunt us that ARE us, but we have a hard time dragging into the light. Elsewhere, the lyrics are pointed towards my new-found ability to say NO. In the past, I have been so insecure about myself and my music that I found myself agreeing to things for the sake of acceptance or whatnot. As a new father, and as a sober adult, the answer to many things now is “no,” and not loudly either. I feel that although the person I am today is shaped by my past (including my past music and drugs etc) what I need to do with my talent now is to represent exactly who I am in a clear world. I am not “pure” and I am not “evil,” I am just me, and I’m absolutely fine with that.
Q: Will you play live with “Ki”? Are there any concrete touring plans right now? What is the plan for the future?
Devin: When all four records in the DTP series are done, and the box set is released at the end (eight records, including a DVD), I will play selected shows throughout the world. I will not be climbing into a van and playing clubs in the middle of nowhere, though. I am going to assemble a sober team of incredible musicians to play ALL the records, perfectly, to many people. You will see me soon, and get ready for the next three records in the series. “Ki” is a subtle introduction to a sprawling theme. Please enjoy. It’s good to be back.
Now for some business: The Blabbermouth posting doesn’t specify where the interview came from, and I really don’t like to repost other people’s work uncredited even if it’s just a pointer to the full story, so if anyone knows where this interview came from please tell me and I’ll amend this post.