During his time as the frontman of 18 Visions
, James Hart
dealt with the age-old problems that always seem to plague many bands: Creative differences and major label conflicts. While plenty of fans were saddened that the metalcore band had called it quits in 2007 after over 10 years together, splitting with his bandmates has appeared to be a blessing in disguise for Hart
. After all, the singer always had his heart set on quite a different blend of rock. The product of that stifled creativity will finally be made public on March 31 with the release of his new band Burn Halo
's self-titled debut, and listeners will likely be surprised to hear that the music now leans more toward acts that hearken back to the late 1980s namely Guns N' Roses
With the help of co-songwriter Zac Maloy
(The Nixons) and guest studio musicians such as Avenged Sevenfold
's Synyster Gates
and Chris Chaney
of Jane's Addiction
, Burn Halo
's debut delivers the precise sound that Hart
had in mind all along. Once again, however, the woes of working with a major label did set his back slightly. While Island Records had expressed interest in releasing the album, it was still shelved at the last minute. Hart
's manager quickly came to the rescue by forming his own label, Rawkhead Rekords, and things finally (knock on wood) are falling into place. Burn Halo
is a huge leap from 18 Visions
' sound, but if you're a fan of melodic guitar leads that carry a song, you'll agree that Hart has made a change for the better.
UG: Before we start discussing Burn Halo's debut latest album, can you explain what some of the main reasons were behind the break-up of 18 Visions? Did it have to do more with lack of label support or was it a case of creative differences?
I think it was a combination. Over the years and throughout the albums, we've progressed musically in our songwriting and the way we approached releasing albums and being a band in general. With that in mind, on the last album I felt like we really wanted to take the record in a pure, hard rock direction. There were a lot of compromises given on that record by multiple band members. I think we really, really started to feel a conflict of musical interests on that last record. When we went in to start demoing the songs in 2007 after the label had decided they didn't want to move forward with us anymore, that was when musically everybody kind of shifted in their own little world.
I think that being in a band for so long after so many years, it just kind of wore down on everybody. We had such high expectations on the last record, and those expectations weren't nearly met not even close. We had just gone through so many internal and external issues with the band. A couple people were just kind of fed up and they just wanted a normal, simple life. They just wanted to kind of do their own thing at home.
After everyone decided to go their separate ways, were you immediately ready to move forward with your own project?
"I wanted to keep things going and I still had the hunger to write, release music and tour."
I knew that I wanted to keep things going and I still had the hunger to write, release music and tour. So with that in mind, I wanted to get things going right off the bat. I really didn't know how to approach anything like this or how to go about things. So my manager actually set up a writing session with me and Zac Maloy in Oklahoma, where Zac is from. We wrote 4 songs out there for the demo deal that I was given by Island and turned them in. Lo and behold, I got a record deal within basically 2 months of 18 Visions disbanding. It was a really, really quick transition for me. I knew it had to be. I felt like if I were to go out and get your average 9-to-5 or get caught up in something that was really putting me in a solid place financially, then I probably would have never gotten back into music.
I was taking a look at all the different artists that Zac Maloy has worked with in the past, and it's a huge variety with everyone from Chris Daughtry to Bowling For Soup in that bunch. Given that you have more of a metalcore/hardcore background, were you hesitant at all to collaborate with Zac?
Not at all. I didn't want to make a hard rock record in a sense of the 18 Visions records. I wanted to make it more of a traditional rock album that had some hard rock songs on it that had no ties or significance whatsoever to what I was doing previously. He does have a great resume, but to be honest with you, I didn't know a whole lot about him before I met up with him. I just heard little tidbits about the Daughtry thing, Bowling For Soup. He's a songwriter and his job is to write songs for an artist and to accommodate their particular styles.
When I met with him I said, Hey, I want to make this straightforward rock album. I want to make it simple. I want to make it easy to digest. This is what I want as far as guitar tones and vocally. The first 4 songs we wrote, it was really, really easy. I loved the way the songs came across and the whole process of writing. It just made sense to continue to write with him for the record.
It sounds like you are a frontman who is extremely hands-on with the musical portion, as well as the lyrics. When you were in 18 Visions, were you as in-depth with ideas about guitar tones or how a song should be arranged musically?
I was, but because they had their sounds, they were really adamant about their guitar tones and their tuning. Those were issues that when they were brought up, they kind of got laughed at. It was 18 Visions' style and sound. To be honest with you, the guitars in that band the tunings and the tones in general I see now that they were not very accommodating to my vocals. It just was such a low tuning that my voice wasn't as bright sounding as it is on this new record. I've never been in a band where we've written songs in standard tuning.
So it's a whole new ball game for me and I really love the way my vocals sound as opposed to the past records I've made. It's all good and I'm not tripping on that, but I am very hands-on working with the songs on this record from top to bottom. I had input on everything from start to finish. Previously it would be, Here is a bed of music. Write some lyrics and arrange some vocals to it. It was tough. With 18 Visions, I really felt like we really needed proper preproduction, to where we would strip down the songs completely.
The new record sounds incredible, and it does seem like it recalls that riff-driven rock n' roll sound from the 1980s. Were there any specific bands that shaped the way you wrote the record?
"I felt like we really wanted to take the record in a pure, hard rock direction."
For the most part, I would only say that when I made this record there was only one thing in mind that I wanted as far as like an influence or something that I wanted to mold something after. That would be the guitar tones and the guitar leads. I really wanted guitar leads that sang a song within the song. I feel that's where a lot of bands strike out. They've got these great songs, and then they've got guitar solos or a bridge section or an intro. It's just kind of like aimless shredding or the notes aren't just put together well. It's not really singing a melody, and that's what I really, really wanted to do. I guess if I could name one person that had an influence on the record specifically, it would probably be Slash.
You seem to be in touch with the guitar aspect of the songs more than most frontmen.
I think that it's important and it's sorely missed in today's version of rock and roll. There are still some great guitar players and some great guitar solos, but for my brand of rock that I'm doing I just don't hear a lot of it nowadays. I really wanted to get back to that and really have guitar leads that sang their own songs.
After you wrote the Burn Halo record, I understand that you had even more label issues with Island Records and once again had to find a new home for your music. Was that incredibly discouraging or did you just try to move forward and not dwell on it too long?
It was definitely very discouraging at the time because I had this great A&R guy behind my record, and he believed in me and what I was doing. About a week before we went into mix the record, he was let go from the label. That's where everything really kind of fell apart. It just seemed like they didn't know what to do with me or they didn't want to have anything to do with me. I was discouraged at first, but it was one of those things where I just kept praying about it. I was able to have peace with what happened and move forward. Thankfully my manager knows some close friends in some high places, and he was given the opportunity to have his own record label to put this thing out.
With that in mind, I've noticed a couple of different things from Island to Rawkhead and the independent label group. With Island, there were some ballads on the record, and they got really, really excited about those ballads. Whereas they weren't as excited about the proper rock tracks. That was the problem that we ran into with 18 Visions on the last album. They were excited about the ballads, but not excited about the rock tracks. That can make or break an artist. With the current situation, my manager, myself, and the people behind the record know exactly what needs to be done. We're all on the same page, and that's so important nowadays. It has brought a comfort level to me with this whole situation.
You originally finished the debut album in early 2008, and all of the drama with the labels happened shortly after. Have you made any tweaks to the album while you've been waiting to release it?
I pretty much made it wait and sit. There are a couple tracks, like Fallin' Faster, that vocally the verses I thought were good. Lyrically, I thought the verses were good but they weren't great. I went back into the studio, retracked the verses, rewrote the melodies to them, and then rewrote some of the lyrics to make it simpler, easier to digest, and honestly more powerful. The other song was So Addicted. I kept hearing a guitar lead over the chorus, this repetitive little note scale over the chorus that would help bring it to life musically. I wanted to go back in and track that guitar when I kept hearing it over and over in my mind. For the most part, that's it. Otherwise, the record just sat still.
There was quite an impressive group of studio musicians working on the album, from Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold to Chris Chaney of Jane's Addiction. How did they get involved?
"Being in a band for so long, it just kind of wore down on everybody."
Syn's been a friend of mine for a very, very long time back in the 18V days. I knew the guys in that band even before we were really in proper bands. I approached Syn before we even started the album. I said, Hey, would you guys like to write some songs with me? They were all about it. Unfortunately, right around the same time I was writing my record, they had to go and write their own record.
Syn presented a music bit for me that was very, very stripped down. It was just rhythm guitars only and not even any leads or anything like that. We took that song in the studio and tweaked it around, and we got a great song out of it. Because he wrote the song, I called him up and said, Hey, do you want to come down to the studio and jam on that song and lend your solo expertise? Of course, the guy that he is, he came down to the studio and ripped a couple of solos for us.
He was really the only guy I knew except for Neil (Tiemann) who played guitar on the record. I met him when I was out in Oklahoma, and he did most of the demo work for us. Daniel Adair from Nickelback just kind of came through mutual friends, and I knew I wanted a proper rock drummer on the record. He was available and an awesome dude. Chris Chaney has been doing a lot of session work right now for different artists and albums, and he had worked on a project with my manager in the past. So that was another easy phone call to make!
The last time I heard, your touring lineup included Joey Cunha on lead guitar, Ryan Folden on drums, Allen Wheeler on rhythm guitar, and Aaron Baylor on bass. Is that the official lineup?
Yeah, totally. It's good to be able to get on the road and have these guys translate the songs on the record to a live setting. It just feels good to really get these songs across right now. I actually hope to have everyone in the band play their respective instruments on upcoming records. I think that it would be a good thing.
What else does Burn Halo have planned in the coming months?
We've got the album dropping in March, and then we've got a couple weeks of dates with Avenged Sevenfold, Buckcherry, and Papa Roach. Then we've got about 5 weeks on the SnoCore Tour with Saliva. We're doing the Rock on the Range Festival in May. We're going to keep at it. Hopefully we can just keep getting these great support opportunities while the record is just starting to get off the ground.
Interview by Amy Kelly