A Conversation with Byron Davis, God Forbid

Still banging out original, old-school metalcore after more than fifteen years on the circuit, God Forbid continues to pound heavy on the hearts and minds of fans across the country. Fresh on the road with thrash legends and fellow Jersey-borne musicians Overkill, God Forbid is bringing their new album "Equilibrium" to the masses. Singular front man Byron Davis sat down with me to talk his band, the music industry, New Jersey and how Predator owns everyone.
M. DREW: “Equilibrium” is on the shelves, how do you feel about it?
BYRON DAVIS: Pretty stoked, man. It’s on the shelves and we got another crack at it. We parted ways with Century Media and were able to picked up by Victory, so pretty stoked about that. The new record is awesome, so even more happy about that. It’s being received very well.
M.D: How’s it been working with Victory so far?
B.D: It’s been really good, man. Gotta say, through it all they’ve had our back. They’re definitely doing what they need to do and what they said they were gonna do, so I see nothing wrong with that and I will continue to support that. Those dudes are awesome, they come out, they make shit happen, and that’s what a band wants from their label.
M.D: It’s been three years since your last studio release, what’s different about where the band is now versus where you were then?
B.D: We got a new member, for one. The band’s a little bit older, life has moved forward. Musically, we’re still those same teenagers that we were when we first started. We’re in a position where you see things a little bit differently. It’s not necessarily a financial position or anything, but musically we’ve just grown and we’ve added a new member to the repertoire, so that brings on new influences, definitely sparks more creativity. I think we’re just now getting started on this leg of our run as God Forbid. ‘Version 2.0,’ I like to dub it. We got upgraded.
M.D: Speaking of which, you’ve only had one lineup change in the entire run of the band. How are you so solid as a lineup? Because most bands don’t do that; they don’t go this long only changing one face.
B.D: I think it’s just the love of the band, man. You know, the love of the music that we create together, you know, we’re all five different individuals. We all have our own quirks and little personalities, at the end of the day when we get in a room to write music together, we’re all on the same page. So I think that’s part of it. Between me, Corey and Beeker, we kinda grew up together, kinda knew each other already, and then the other two were brothers, which knew a mutual friend of ours. So, I mean, it’s always been a kind of family thing for us, even though it’s a business. It’s music and we’ve always approached it in a family manner. I think that that’s partly the reason we’re able to have been together so long without line-up changes. When people get older, their values, what they consider to be important, changes. Like, Dallas wanted a family, so he couldn’t foresee having a family and doing this and us not being at some financial echelon to allow him his main ability to take care of his family. So, you know, he had to jump ship and pursue other avenues and interests. We wish him well, and he’s doing pretty good. It just wasn’t as important to him anymore, he wanted something more for himself.
M.D: You’ve written some songs and albums before about topics ranging from the apocalypse and George W. Bush and other things. What is the central focus of “Equilibrium”?
B.D: Just finding balance. You know, your placement in society, as far as what’s going on around you. Everyone loves doing what they do to help keep themselves going. For us it’s just grass roots, we’re a hard working band, ‘blue collar’ has been our lives. So, we just try and keep it music that everyone can relate to, we’re not living fairytales, you know? As you can see we’re sitting in a van here, going across country, we’ve been doing it for years. Me personally, I can’t write a straight out party song, I don’t know how. I just party, I don’t write about it, I just do it. I try and keep topics that are… I question things with my topics, and I think its questions other people always ask, or wonder if anyone else is thinking. In that respect, I think that’s where my writing stems from. From reality.
M.D: When you say finding yourself and your balance, do you mean internally or externally?
B.D: Internally and externally. You can’t have one without the other. It’s like, you love music, you do it because you love it, but at the same time it is an industry, and people are making money off of you in this industry. Being in the industry as long as you are, you’d like to make some money, too. Not necessarily being completely rich, money funneling out your asshole, but being able to do music and function as an adult. Have music, but still be able to pay your bills. That kind of balance is important. Being able to give back at the end of the day. There’s so much of everybody just taking and taking and taking and not trying to help someone along the way. I think it’s important to find balance. You can’t be the center of the universe to just yourself and not care about what’s going on around you. That’s where “Equilibrium” comes from.

M.D: The genre that you’re in, and I hate labeling people by genres, but for identification purposes, this metalcore genre, it almost seems bloated at this point, like there’s a full roster of bands going for the same sound. How do you distinguish yourself from everybody else?
B.D: We’re the godfathers, yo. We’re the originators. If you want to take it there, I understand that people gotta classify shit, but we are the founding godfathers. There was a few bands that was doing what we was doing, but they dissolved, and we picked up the torch and kept running with it. There’s a couple bands that influenced us that aren’t really around anymore, like For The Love Of, you had Marauder, those bands. Basically, the word metalcore is just a fucking retarded word. All it is is metal music with groove. So they want to label it ‘core’ because of the hardcore base of the music. It’s got breakdowns and shit like that and it grooves. Fuck it, I used to get upset about that name, but whatever. You can always tell the good apples from the bad apples in the bunch. Like I said, we are one of the godfathers, so I’ll wear that badge proudly. At the end of the day, if you’re feeling the music, you’re gonna feel it regardless of what it’s called. It’s just a way to classify us. Let ‘em classify, if it makes it easier for them to understand what the hell’s going on.
M.D: If you don’t mind my saying so, you’ve been around a really long time…
B.D: Yeah
M.D: …what’s changed about metal since the time you started and what’s changed about the industry since you started? And is it better or worse now?
B.D: The changes, I would have to say…metal has somewhat become fashionable. You definitely have real metalheads and you have metalheads that are metalheads this week because all their friends are metalheads this week. You definitely have a lot of third, fourth and fifth generation clones of bands that were prior that are trying to pick up, or take something they saw and morph it back into something that was already done. Which is cool, I mean, music is always gonna change, it goes through its phases. You had your grunge period right after the hair metal and you had thrash and all that. But there’re certain bands and styles that will always run through that. We’re not trendy band, we’ve never been a trendy band, we just do what we do and people love it or they don’t love it. For the most part, some kids are into it this week and they’ll be into some other shit the next week. But you can’t focus on that, you just gotta keep doing what you’re doing.

As far as the industry goes, a lot has changed in the industry. It went from 8-tracks to cassette tapes to records to CDs, now CDs are becoming obsolete and you have the era of the .mp3 player. So in that respect, it definitely has changed the way that media is heard now as far as sales goes. Between that and record labels signing multiple bands…there’s not really that situation where labels would take a band and develop that band, help that band grow. Now, it’s just a matter of signing as many bands as you can, throwing them all at the wall and seeing which ones stick. Whichever sticks, those are the ones you focus in on and you let the other ones do all the grunt work. Either give up, or just keep grunting it through. In that sense, the industry’s changed. It’s weird, too, I always say this, but it’s becoming very true: the music industry is the only industry where you can work and not get fired for a fuck up. If you fuck up some shit, nothing will happen to you. Unless you fuck up HUGE. If you have a multi-platinum band and you’re there A&R and you fuck up then you get fired, but anything else other than that, you can fuck up and still keep your job. [laughs] In that respect, the music industry is pretty strange. Good or bad comes with the territory, you gotta take it for what it is, make the most of an opportunity you’re allotted. There’s a lot of people who are envious to be in a position to write music and have it spread all over the world, so we take that very seriously. Our music is done out of love, but it’s done with love and seriousness. We don’t find any joking manner in it whatsoever. I think that’s really important.

M.D: Has the change in the way the industry works changed the way you and your band go about your business?
B.D: Yeah, I mean, you have to change with the times as far as operating a business, because at the end of the day it is a business, you’re either in the red or you’re in the black. If you’re in the red more than you’re in the black, then you’re just digging a whole that you can’t get out of. For as much love as you give to the industry, if you can’t pay your bills then it doesn’t make sense to do something that’s just gonna make you go more negative. There’s no bailouts in the music industry like government has. Like, credit card companies can get bailouts, oil companies can get bailouts, car manufacturers can get bailouts, but bands, they don’t get bailouts, man. You’re out here every single day doing what you gotta do to make it happen, just hoping that it all works out in the end. You really gotta love what you’re doing to go into that mindset and a lot of people really don’t have that mindset. That’s why certain bands are here today, gone tomorrow. There’s other bands that just grind it out and keep pushing forward. That’s where we happen to be, one of those bands that just keeps grinding out.
M.D: What’s it like being a band out of New Jersey, and trying to not get sucked into either Philadelphia or New York?
B.D: You just gotta stand your ground. We represent Jersey to the fullest, we always claim Jersey. It’s just one of those things, man. Being surrounded by two cities gives you more opportunities to play, but at the same time, Jersey’s vibe is totally different than Philly’s vibe or New York’s vibe. Jersey people are Jersey people and New York people are New York people and Philly are the same. But the thing about Jersey is, we can meld into either one of those environments because we know who we are. We know we can hold our own and stand out in those different environments. But, I would never claim to be a New York band or a Philly band because I don’t live in New York and I don’t live in Philly. I live in Jersey. It’s cool, we got a lot of Jersey love for all the bands that come through and we got a lot of love for Philly and New York. It’s the tri-state area, man. It’s in the water, it’s a special breed.

M.D: You’ve told me briefly before the story where you were in an elevator with Nicko McBrain. Tell the full story.
B.D: [laughs] Dude, I went to NAMM, yo. It was 2009. Fuckin’ in the elevator steps Nicko McBrain and he was just standing there and I was kind of dumbfounded. This dude…for me, I grew up on Iron Maiden. Like, Iron Maiden was my rock. Anytime I had issues or whatever, that was my main album. I put in Iron Maiden. I love Iron Maiden, I still love Iron Maiden to this day. My drummer actually took me to Iron Maiden for my birthday last year when they were in town. I love Iron Maiden. The whole with Iron Maiden is, to me Iron Maiden is like, godly, you know? They been doing it forever and they’re cool dudes, man. He was having a conversation with someone he knew in the elevator, he was just being really cool and chill, and I was just standing there dumbified. I had camera phone and I didn’t pull that out, I wanted to take a picture, I wanted to say hello, but there was a part of me that didn’t want to destroy that image. At the end of the day, sometimes people have good days and sometimes people have bad days. I didn’t want to approach him…even though he was just talking to someone that he knew and was all jolly, I didn’t want to approach him and say either the wrong thing or something stupid and totally have him go off on me and then ruin my whole image of him as being this rock god that I have grown up to. So I just shut up and stood in the elevator with Nicko McBrain and left it at that. I’d rather play it safe than totally fuck up my image, because that’s already happened to me one time. I met Yngwie Malmsteen back in the day. I went to a guitar signing that he was doing and he signed ‘play a Fender’ on my guitar. I was like, ‘Yo, why did you write that on my guitar?’ and he was like ‘Because they pay me to.’ Right then and there I knew he was a fuckin’ asshole. So, after that incident, I knew I didn’t want to deal with him and I would hate to have to go into another incident with another one of my idols and have that happen, so that’s why I shut it up and decided not to talk to Nicko McBrain. I’d rather leave him there. But if I were to see him in a more casual environment, like at a bar or drinking situation where I’m drinking a beer or whatever, I’d be more likely to say ‘Hey, what’s up, I’m Byron, I love your band, I’ve always loved your band.’ I’ll go give him the whole spiel because I’ll be drunk and it’ll be okay then. But being stone sober and running up on a dude being like ‘Yo, I love your band, I have all your albums, I got the back patch, grew up with you on the posters on my walls, I got all the tab books…’ I don’t want to be superfan like that. [laughs]
M.D: Somebody more your contemporary. April marked the tenth anniversary of Layne Staley’s death. What impact did he have on you and what does Alice in Chains mean to God Forbid?
B.D: Alice in Chains had a huge impact, man. Before we actually started doing what we were doing, we used to listen to Alice in Chains. I’m dating myself, but the album “Dirt” was our party album, man. Cats would play that album relentlessly, all the time. Layne Staley had an incredible voice, he was kind of like a phenom, just the way he positioned himself musically, the way he performed, his ideas, his phrasings. His voice is like haunting, but it’s that haunting that’s kinda like…it gives a feeling of calm. There’s some people that when you hear their voice, you automatically know who it is. A lot of Alice in Chains songs, they put you in a place where they make you remember things or feel a certain way, and his voice was definitely a key to that. I never met the dude, but weird because right when they came back out with the new guy, I ran into Jerry Cantrell at the Metal Hammer awards and I met him through a mutual friend. He introduced himself, and I was like ‘Dude, I know who you are.’ It was that situation where he was a genuine, friendly dude and I kind of fucked up because I was ‘Yeah, dude, I know who you are,’ instead of being like ‘Hello, how are you?’ There’s certain people that you get around and you just kind of…even though they’re humbled out and cool as hell, you still want to keep that image in your mind as far as them being untouchable. Layne Staley, Alice in Chains, Anthrax, there’s a couple bands that I love. Met Joey Belladonna once, he’s cool as hell, too. Guys like that make up for the one bad one that you experience.

Everyone in the band loves Alice in Chains, man. If we could do Alice in Chains, we would do Alice in Chains, but there will never be another Alice in Chains. Even with the new Alice in Chains, it’s dope, it’s good, it’s amazing, but it would be so much more amazing if Layne Staley hadn’t died. That shit happens. [William DuVall’s] voice is dope as hell. He’s a great singer. He holds it down, he can do all the old stuff and he can do the new stuff that they do, and the shit is amazing. But, it sucks that in order for Alice in Chains to have him, Layne had to die.

M.D: Is that a Predator around your neck?
B.D: Yeah, man. Family member, it’s my uncle. I’m all about the “Predator” movies, man. Even though the ones that were bad, like “AvP” was alright and “Predators” was alright, but that whole creature itself is amazing to me. Like, the Predator is fuckin….oh, it’s the shit, man. He’s evil as fuck, but he’s still, like, humane.
M.D: He has honor.
B.D: Yeah. That’s rare to find nowadays.
M.D: So is that your icon in horror and action, over everybody else?
B.D: Yeah, man. I mean, the Predator makes total sense to me as opposed to somebody in a fuckin’ hockey mask or a fuckin’ ripped up sweater. Those are cool, Freddy Krueger is cool and Jason is cool and Michael is cool, but they just seem too evil, you know, slashing innocents. The Predator wasn’t really slashing innocents, he was fighting other people with weapons, other ‘predators’ so to speak.

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