Interview with Philip Byrne of Gama Bomb


Ruth Medjber Photography

Interview by Lucy Gliddon

Lucy: You’ve just released The Terror Tapes (Ed: MR’s review is here). What touring plans do you have in the pipeline to support the album? You’re in Europe right now, right?

Philip Byrne: We’re from Ireland, so we’re always in Europe! Did you like that joke? Very clever, I thought.

We’ve just returned from our first European tour in a while actually, with Artillery, Tantara and Torture Squad, which was really amazing. We were just astonished by how many people were showing up to the gigs. We can be honest about it: back in the day, we’d play to a handful of people, sit around in a bar all evening with the same dudes we’d be playing to. On this tour, we’d rock in there before the show and the place would already be full of people in our shirts. That was a change we didn’t really expect. I suppose in a way it’s more remote, a bit less hands-on because you don’t get to spend as much time with the audience, but it’s more powerful in another way. You’re there to knock them dead, then you’re outta there.

So yes, we’re going to be busy for the next year at least supporting The Terror Tapes. It’s an album that deserves all our love and attention I think. We’re going back to the US and Canada, then we’re hitting South America….. There’s a lot to do. It’s exciting.

Lucy: What was the lyrical inspiration for this release? 

Philip Byrne: Well, we’re talking about 13 songs here; that’s a lot of lyrical lunacy to dissect. If I had to be glib, which believe me I like to be, I’d say the lyrics are a geek’s-eye view of the world.

It’s a stubbornly immature, very knowing and deliberately absurd album. It’s the attitude of Thin Lizzy and Overkill, shot through with a complete lack of self-consciousness. We’re taking the piss out of ourselves as much as we are out of anyone else. We’re paying tribute to things we love and shooting down stuff we hate. It’s the smartest dumb music you’ll ever hear.

Lucy: The Terror Tapes sounds noticeably different from previous Gama Bomb releases, both vocally and musically. Was altering the band’s sound a conscious decision, or more of a natural progression? 

Philip Byrne: A little from column A, and a little from column B, to be honest. Certain things, like my surgery, necessitated certain changes. My throat got lasered, and a little bit of laser got left in there. You can hear it in my voice, the laser. I think that made Joe look for songs that would suit my voice as it now was, as opposed to sticking to exactly the songs I used to sing.

Also, Luke left the band so his influences, the very strong punky and crossover vibes, kinda went with him or were diluted. And then, yeah, we consciously made a few changes. We didn’t want that kinda song, this kinda riff and so on. Things changed and so did we. But the greatest victory is that it still sounds exactly like all our other albums, which has always been our goal. Be consistent. Thrash metal’s AC/DC. Same album, different cover. y’ know?

Lucy: The Terror Tapes was released on AFM Records following your split from Earache. Why did you choose this label? 

Philip Byrne: AFM are committed Satanists whose lust for human and animal blood matched our own. Seeing they were interested in us, we set them ten deadly challenges, including fighting a windmill, taming a wild yeti and eating fifty Pot Noodles in one go, which they accomplished. That’s why we chose them. Not boring business reasons to do with contractual negotiations and long-term business plans… Nobody would find that remotely interesting.

Lucy: You mentioned Luke (Graham)’s departure. What kind of effect did that departure have on the band in terms of the recording process for this album, as well as the general outlook for the future of the band?

Philip Byrne: Luke leaving was heart breaking, but in retrospect I suppose we all saw it coming. He’d kinda accomplished everything he wanted to do in that area, with our tours in America and South America, so he was kinda moving on with his life. At the time we were all very bummed out about it and there were some very tearful phone calls all right… I think it’s been one of those things, something that could have finished off another band that just made us more determined to stick at it in the long run. Luke left with our blessing and is having a grand old time in retirement. And we drafted in our good mate John Roche to play for us, who has helped us expand the sound of the band and is a constant source of hilarious, eccentric laughs, so who can complain?

Gama Bomb-The Terror TapesLucy: The artwork for the album was designed by horror movie poster artist Graham Humphreys, known for his work on the Evil Dead and A Nightmare on Elm Street. How did the collaboration come about? 

Philip Byrne: We emailed him, simple as that. We found out who he is, because we knew of his work of course (being movie poster collectors ourselves), and we emailed him. We wrangled a bit, passed around ideas and he went for it. That’s a big lesson in life: it doesn’t matter how amazing and untouchable a person seems to be – you can ask them to work with you and they bloody might!

Graham is a complete legend. We went on the tear with him in London not too long ago. So full of great stories, good-humoured and warm. I’m fairly certain we’ll work with him again in future, if he’s keen. Are you, Graham?

Lucy: You’ve also recorded a Spanish version of the song ‘Terrorscope’. How did the idea for this come about, and how much of a challenge was it for you personally? 

Philip Byrne: I’ve spoken Spanish, in a rather crap way, for years. I studied it in school and just kept it on; it always came in handy on tour in Europe and South America. I love speaking it, any chance I get. The version of the song was Joe’s idea, and initially I was very hesitant to do it. I saw it as a rather cynical move, I think. Trying to curry favour in ‘markets’ and all this shit.

Turns out, that was nonsense though – the point was to do something fun and different. It was extremely difficult to record it, and I needed a hand translating the song in a way that still conveyed the message. In the end, I had to drop lots of words, mispronounce others, and just cram all the syllables into the space we had. It’s for this reason that no Spanish-speaking person can understand a single word of the lyrics.

Lucy: Speaking of you again Philly, last March, as you mentioned, it was announced via the band’s Facebook page that you had undergone surgery for ‘vocal fold nodules’. Did this create a sense of uncertainty for Gama Bomb’s future at the time?

Philip Byrne: Maybe not in anyone else’s minds, but certainly it did in mine. It was a huge knock to my confidence, because it was a pretty serious injury that affected me for a long time. I didn’t have my normal speaking voice for almost two years, totally lost my high range, and a lot of damage was done. It seemed like a huge deal to me at the time, going to the hospital so often and then the therapy and all that stuff… I’m glad I went about it the right way though, and the things I discovered I could do with my voice as I recovered work perfectly for me. I sound more like myself than ever, I think. The last year was really uncertain all-round. There were a few big things, which would have finished off most other bands. We never really entertained the idea of quitting though. What else are we going to do? You can’t let the day job become the only job.

Ruth Medjber PhotographyLucy: There’s a wonderful YouTube video of the band attempting to record ‘Jurassic Park’ for a B-side (Click here to view it on YouTube). Can fans expect to hear this recorded in full in the future, and if so, when?

Philip Byrne: I think, eventually – if we’re all killed in a hovercraft accident or something – that might get released. Along with the cover of ‘Independent Women’, the reworking of the entire Smiths back catalogue we recorded when off our chops on MDMA, and Domo’s long-lost disco EP, ‘Hot Nights, Cold City’…. How sad is it that none of those are real?

Lucy: In August the band will play the Bloodstock festival for the first time. Have any of you guys been to Bloodstock as punters, and how are you feeling about playing it? 

Philip Byrne: We’ve never been at all, not even as punters actually. We’re Bloodstock virgins so it’ll be an experience. We’re pretty excited about playing it, because it’s expanded from being another little regional festival into something sizeable and influential, and this seems like the year where it’s really going to explode so we’re excited to witness that. Plus we’ve got the morning slot, which I always love – blasting people out of their sleepy shoes with speed metal is a great feeling. Like waking someone up with a bucket of spiders.

Lucy: Thanks for taking time out to answer these questions for Midlands Rocks.