Interview by Jason Guest
Jason: Hi Hiran. Thanks for taking time out for this interview. To begin, as some of our readers may be unaware of Battlecross, can you give us a brief history, how the band formed, etc.?
Hiran: Sure the band formed in 2007 and was founded by Tony and myself. Bassist Don and vocalist Kyle joined the band in 2008 and 2010 from previous bands we had played with in the scene. We had been building a fan base in Michigan and slowly out of state from playing local gigs and staying active on social media. In 2011 we were picked up by Metal Blade and so began our journey…
Jason: Musically speaking, how have Battlecross evolved since its inception? How does the Battlecross of 2013 compare with the Battlecross of the early days?
Hiran: Battlecross has definitely evolved since Tony and I first began jamming together. Two best friends with a desire to jam in a band and play music. As we played with different musicians and watched other local Michigan metal bands come and go in the scene we were inspired. Musically we wanted to challenge ourselves and play stuff that was challenging but fun to play. Tony and I are both influenced by old school metal but we also have other influences of music that come into play with the band. Don’s unique and incredible bass playing (finger and slap) brought a whole another level and dynamic to the songs and Don was another writer in the band so we now had 3 string players writing music all driven by various influences. The key is taking all those influences and focusing them to fit a song. Everyone has input in the writing process but instead of just mish-mashing a bunch of riffs we all have input in an idea and make it make sense for the song. There are no egos in this band. We want what’s best for the songs.
Jason: 2011’s Pursuit of Honour was a re-recording of the band’s self-released album Push Pull Destroy. Why did you choose to re-record the album? Did you re-write any of the tracks or make any major changes to the material?
Hiran: The first album ended up being re-recorded because the first release Push Pull Destroy had our old vocalist on it and was self released. When Metal Blade picked us up we weren’t ready to release another album and we didn’t want to 1) miss out on an opportunity to sign with them and 2) didn’t want the first album to wash away unnoticed. We felt that album was a worthy release so we had Kyle re-record the album with his vocals. None of the music changed and the only song that changed vocally was ‘Kaleb’ since Kyle didn’t want to sing about someone else’s kid, hahaha. The album was re-mixed and re-mastered for the release and it ended up working out the best because we got to release our first album on a great label and we had time to focus on working on the next.
Jason: Second albums for any band are always a challenge for bands. 2011’s Pursuit of Honour is an incredible debut. Did you feel any pressure in following that album up?
Hiran: There’s always pressure when writing a follow up. You have pressure from the label, fans and yourselves. You’re torn between trying not to release the same album all over again and at the same time trying not to stray away from what your “sound” is. We also were under some time constraints to finish up writing and get into the studio. We had done a lot of touring in between 2011 and 2012 so the writing process was accomplished in between tours. When it came down to getting studio ready we wanted to make sure the album was done in time for the summer to be released right around Mayhem. We basically had about a month left to finish writing the album then we had the In Flames Tour and then we went right into the studio after the tour. With all that was thrown at us we definitely pulled it off.
Jason: What was it that you set out to achieve when writing and recording for War of Will?
Hiran: We set out to create a record that would top our last record and still bring the same no bullshit heavy metal feel. The writing process wasn’t completely smooth as there were some songs that weren’t lyrically ready and musically we weren’t completely satisfied with but once the songs were worked out in the studio and we had finished recording we felt very proud of what we accomplished. The album still has elements of what Battlecross is but to me it’s an evolution of the band.
Jason: How have the tracks on War of Will evolved since they were started? Did you play any of them live to kind of road test them?
Hiran: We didn’t play any new tracks on the road before they were recorded. We felt like they weren’t ready yet. The tracks definitely did evolve from pre-production to studio. We had Mark and Eyal go over the songs and lyrics to help mould them. Some songs we felt weren’t completely ready so to have a producer’s input and fine tune in the studio the songs turned out beyond our expectations.
Jason: How does the band write? Is there a main writer or do you all bring ideas to the band and then jam them out? Who writes the lyrics? And what are the main sources of inspiration for them?
Hiran: The band will individually write and come in with ideas so we don’t necessarily write songs together but everyone does collaborate and put their input on the songs. We will jam the ideas together to figure out what works. Gumby writes the lyrics but Don did write lyrics for ‘Ghost Alive’. A lot of the songs draw inspiration from everyday life obstacles but trying to overcome them. We try to send a positive message even though our music sounds pissed.
Jason: Shannon Lucas (of All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder among others) played drums on the album. How did you get Shannon involved? And what did he bring to the band and the album?
Hiran:Shannon has been a good friend of the band since we signed with Metal Blade. He was actually one of the main reasons why Battlecross was signed to Metal Blade. He basically “scouted” us and offered a lot of great advice. When we knew we needed someone to drum on the album he was the first guy we hit up. He was more than willing to help and was excited about the “pre-pro” we sent him. Shannon is an excellent example of a professional drummer. With very little guidance, Shannon adapted to and re-wrote certain drum parts quickly. He’s a beast of a drummer and it was an honour to work with him.
Jason: Are you close to finding a permanent drummer for the band?
Hiran: We’re still keeping our options open and Kevin Talley is currently doing our Mayhem run with us.
Jason: Battlecross is a very technical band. How does the band work to balance creativity with technical ability?
Hiran: We just write what feels right and also whatever keeps us from getting bored. We like a challenge but don’t want to go overboard on technicality and into a musician “wank” band. To us the riffs should drive the song and everything layered together brings the song its uniqueness.
Jason: Unlike most bands that play similar music, bassist Don Slater refuses to be relegated to the sidelines and his bass-lines stands out on both of your albums. Where the hell did you find him?
Hiran: We found him aboard a Viking Ship while he was raping and pillaging with a former group called Ten Count.
Hiran: The artwork (that appears on the booklet) represents overcoming obstacles, the weight of the world on your shoulders and to keep pushing no matter how much you struggle. We wanted to keep the soldier image but in a different way because a soldier represents someone who is honourable and keeps going no matter what. I think it represents in the aggression and positive attitude in the music. The main cover art was to show something straight forward, simple yet powerful which represents the music.
Jason: Who’s the artist? Why did you choose to work with him? And how much direction did you give him in its creation?
Hiran: The artist was a European artist named Stanis W Decker (Ed: his website is here) and we really liked his previous artwork he had done. We felt he could represent what we wanted in the artwork which was something powerful yet simple. We gave some direction with what we wanted but we wanted him to use his creativity.
Jason: Bands are finding it increasingly difficult to survive, particularly in an age where sales are down because of illegal downloading and bands are releasing limited digipacks, vinyl editions and packages in an effort to counter this. How does a band like Battlecross survive in such an era?
Hiran: I think participating in social media is extremely important. You need to be able to create life long fans that want to support you and the best way to do that is to interact with them and show your appreciate towards them. We’re always at our merch booth after our set signing and taking pics with our fans. Engaging with your fan-base is the best way to create a solid supporting fan base. We also recently used “Crowd Funding” to help us go on tour for Mayhem. It’s basically having fans contribute money in turn for perks like access to signed merch, early listen to the album, personal phone calls from the band, and even a chance to join the band on the road. Overall engaging with your fans is key to survival in the industry.
Jason: You recently played Metallica’s Orion Festival in your hometown of Detroit. How did you come to be on the bill?
Hiran: It was our understanding that James Hetfield personally picked the band which is a huge honor for us. We’re all influenced by Metallica so it was a dream come true to know that he actually picked and liked our band!
Jason: Did you meet Metallica? How were they? Were you starstruck?
Hiran: We got to meet James and Rob and they were so awesome! They were very down to earth and very laid back. I was personally star struck and could barely say anything, hahaha! We got to join them on a press conference and they introduced us on stage! It was unreal!
Jason: What does the future hold for Battlecross?
Hiran: After Mayhem we have the GWAR-BQ in August and then a tour with Hatebreed and Shadows Fall in the late fall. We’re hoping to get overseas really soon! Hopefully do some European fests!
Jason: No doubt you’ll be touring in support of the new album. Will we be seeing you in the UK any time soon?
Hiran: I hope so! We would love to come over there and play for you guys! It’d be nice to visit my birthplace again too!
Jason: Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
Hiran: Thanks to all the Battlecross fans that support us! We love you and check out and spread the word of War Of Will on Metal Blade! Hope to see you all soon!
And you can visit Battlecross on Facebook by clicking here