Band Interview (Follow-Up): Battlecross

Matt Albers

Two years ago, way back in August of 2013, I had the opportunity to conduct Damnation Magazine’s first ever artist interview with Detroit, Michigan blue collar thrashers Battlecross. That night, they were performing at Pop’s in Sauget, IL (just across the Mississippi River from our home base of St. Louis, Missouri) as an one-off date of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, with fellow Mayhem bands Amon Amarth, Children Of Bodom, and Huntress. Since then, we at Damnation have been on good terms with Battlecross, covering their next area show several months later at Fubar that October (on tour with Death Angel, 3 Inches Of Blood, Revocation, and Diamond Plate), as well as photographing their most recent show in town – Late November 2014 at The Firebird with Wretched, War Of Ages, and local friends Black Fast.

On Friday, September 11, 2015, GWAR’s 30th Anniversary Tour stopped at the band’s usual area venue, Pop’s. Battlecross was providing support on this tour along with Butcher Babies, and local band ThorHammer opened on this date. While we also were able to interview GWAR guitarist/barbarian Pustulus Maximus (video to come later), I was also able to catch up with Battlecross guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala officially for the first time in two years. We discussed the latest Battlecross album, Rise To Power, touring with GWAR, and promoting your own album in the social media age.

Battlecross guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala at Pop's on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Battlecross guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala at Pop’s on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]

It’s been two years since Battlecross was our first interview ever. And now, we’re back again. You just released your third album, Rise To Power, last month on Metal Blade Records. What were the differences for you in writing and recording this new album, as opposed to the last two?

Honestly, I feel like it was probably the most relaxed and most natural and organic as far as writing. We started writing riffs and coming up with ideas, and we didn’t really hold back on anything. [With] the second album, you’re still sort of figuring out what you’re doing with your sound. And at the same time you’re also taking a lot of advice over trusting your own opinion, to an extent. Because I feel like we were still a little green going into the second album. Third album, I felt like we had this experience of being on the road, we had already done two albums by then, and I think this time around we really [felt] confident about what we’re going to write here and what we’re going to do. Because, I think [with] the label and management, there was that pressure of, “You guys [have] got to deliver,” that sort of thing. And it was kind of like, instead of feeling stressed or pressured by it, it was more like, “We’ve got this. Don’t worry about it, we got it.” So, we sort of shut out everything around us and sort of avoided being influenced by anything outside other than what we were feeling when we were writing. And… we started writing riffs, and each song was different. I would come with a demo idea, and when it was finished, I was like, “This is really different,” from, I guess, what we normally do. Not entirely different, but just sort of like, “This sounds really ‘80s, but fuck it. Who gives a shit?” Or, “This is more of a slow groove vibe, fuck it. Let’s see where it goes.” I think in that sense, the writing process was more, like I said, organic and natural and everything just sort of flowed, and we didn’t sort of try to do anything, other than just whatever came out, came out.

Studio-wise, we went back to Audiohammer, but this time we worked with Jason Suecof. So that was a different experience, working with him one-on-one, but he was awesome to work with, and he really helped guide our vision to what we wanted to do. He’s a great guitar player and great producer, so he had a lot of ideas to guide us and throw suggestions, where it was like, “OK, cool… Oh, that’s great! Yeah, we didn’t’ even think of that.” It was an awesome experience, overall. It was just great to be in that environment where you could feel relaxed. And, I think, also we had more time in the studio. With War Of Will [2013], we were very much on a schedule. It was like, [we] got done with [the] In Flames [tour], went in the studio, we only had like five weeks, max, to get [it] done. And then it was like, [a] tour coming up after that, and this, this, and this. So, we were trying to get as much stuff done to have the album released for Mayhem [Festival] and all that stuff. This time around, we had an idea of what we wanted to do. And at first, I think we thought we were going to have less time, and then Jason’s schedule actually opened up, so it sort of relaxed everything a little bit more. And it was like, “OK, now we get time to really focus on this,” which I’m thankful for, because that really helped bring out how this album sounded.

Battlecross drummer Alex Bent at Pop's on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Battlecross drummer Alex Bent at Pop’s on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
How did the addition of your new drummer play into the process, too?

With Alex [Bent, drums 2014 – present], it was great, man. I mean, honestly, I feel like this was the first album we got to write together as a band. Because [with] the first album [Pursuit Of Honor, 2011], Kyle [“Gumby” Gunther, vocals] came in later singing someone else’s [Marshall Wood, vocals 2006 – 2010] lyrics, except for [the song] “Kaleb.” On the second album, we had Shannon [Lucas, 2013 – 2014] step in on drums at the last minute. So this was the first time we all got to write together and throw Alex ideas. Alex has had experience writing with other bands and things like that. I mean, he jams with [guitarist] Erik Peters from Testament now and then. So he writes with him on the Testament stuff. I mean, Alex doesn’t write drum parts for him, but he sort of works with Eric in that sort of sense, and Alex has experience, just in general, knowing how to write drum parts with guitar riffs. So we had drum ideas, but it was like, “Here you go dude; this is what we had in mind, but feel free to go nuts.” So that was cool, working with him on that, and it was just a cool experience. Although, the only thing that was different, and we really haven’t gotten to do this since the first album, was actually jam. Almost every day, writing new songs, it was kind of like, we had maybe a week and a half to jam out new songs with Alex, because he lives in California. So, a lot of the demos that were written, which is how we do it now, just sort of working on our own, writing drum parts on a program and then hashing it out in the studio.

I understand that guitarist Tony Asta is sitting out this current run.

Yeah, Tony is sitting out. Him and his wife are having their first kid.

Oh! Well, mazel tov!

Yeah! So, definitely got to take care of the family stuff and all that. So, we have our dude Joe [Cady], he’s basically our tech and he’s done merch for us in the past, he’s been doing that for years with us. And he was just the perfect fit. The first time that he actually filled in for us was when they [the rest of the band] went to Colombia, I actually sat out for my brother’s wedding, so he filled in for me. So when this came up, it was like, “Joe’s perfect.” He’s just a great fit in the band, we always consider him the sixth member. But yeah, Tony’s got to take care of family stuff and he’ll be back, he’s just got to work that out.

Joe Cady filling in for Battlecross guitarist Tony Asta at Pop's on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Joe Cady filling in for Battlecross guitarist Tony Asta at Pop’s on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Well again, congratulations to Tony. That’s fantastic!

Yeah absolutely, we’re excited for him.

Does he know if he’s having a boy or a girl?

He’s having a boy.

Do they have a name picked out yet?

Yeah, Giovani.

Nice! Very Italian. [Laughter] So, in promoting this new album, featured Battlecross as a kind of shooting-off point for an op-ed that they wrote regarding social media promotion, particularly receiving private Twitter messages. I follow Battlecross on Twitter, so I received those same messages, but apparently Metal Sucks were annoyed by them. [Laughs] But Battlecross turned that op-ed into further positive promotion for your new album on the band’s Facebook page. Can you explain how that happened and came together?

When it came up, all of a sudden, we were having fans hitting us up saying, “Man, Metal Sucks wrote this fucking article blasting you guys.” And honestly, I didn’t really intend on replying to it. I was just like, “Whatever. Let them say what they want. I don’t want to respond in a negative way to draw more negative attention.” But Tony got a little fired up and replied, but he did, I think, in a way that was sort of just like, “Hey, thanks for the promotion! All we can say is, you sign up for it.” We don’t steal people’s emails and send them stuff. When you get stuff, it’s because you signed up for it. Our whole thing is, bands have to do what they need to do to market themselves now. Labels can only do so much to promote a band, and sometimes it takes the band’s extra initiative to get out there and promote the record. I mean, we have a record to promote, so we have to promote as much as we can to take that initial step to get out there and do that. So it is what it is, and if you don’t like it, don’t follow it. That’s my whole thing.

It got people talking about you, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

[Laughs] Yeah, exactly.

Battlecross vocalist Kyle "Gumby" Gunther at Pop's on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Battlecross vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther at Pop’s on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
What else has changed, or what have you learned in your experiences since we last talked two years ago, in terms of music, touring, promotion, the business, places you’ve been, or people you’ve met?

You know, there’s so much that goes on. The business, I’ve learned – and, you know, you kind of know it [already] – but it’s very cutthroat. There’s so many bands, so much competition, that… you’re very much out for yourself. That’s what I’ve kind of got the feeling of. The industry is very much for themselves. [With] bands, definitely the comradery is there on tour and things like that. But overall, each band is out there to push their own career. When it comes down to it, what I always liked about the metal scene and being a part of music in general, was the sort of family feeling of being around other bands. And it’s still there, and it always is, and it will be. But I’ve definitely learned that you’ve just got to look out for yourself in this industry. As much as sometimes you don’t want to do something, that you might feel like might be a slight toward somebody else, it’s sort of like, you’ve got to do what’s best for yourself. And that’s, unfortunately the nature of the business. Overall, I just think the business is ugly, and sometimes it kind of makes you jaded a little bit. However, the opportunities that we’ve had and feeling fortunate to be able to do this, and most people don’t get to do this kind of thing, it does make you appreciate what you have and what we’re able to do. And I’m thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had, and all I know is that, to me, it’s just a continuous onward, upward climb. And that’s just how the industry is. People think you get signed and it’s easy from there, and it’s not; it’s harder, in my opinion. I love what I do and I’m thankful that I get to do this, and all I can say is it’s an awesome experience being a part of this and being a part of the industry and all that. We still try to do things the right way, our thing is, we always want to do what’s right. We don’t ever want to be a band that’s known to do something shady or do business shady. Even if sometimes things can be done that way, we don’t want to be falling into that slump. To us, our motto is, “To always do the right thing and do things professionally, and be professionals.” And that’s definitely what I’ve learned, is be professional as possible out on the road.

I know that Battlecross played on GWAR’s GWAR-B-Q in 2013. Is there a difference between playing a destination date with a band like GWAR versus touring with them?

It’s a little different, because the first time we did GWAR-B-Q was really the first time we got to meet GWAR. And honestly, we really didn’t get to meet much of them. It was kind of, they showed up, and we [didn’t] know them at the time. I think the only [member] I met that day was Brad [Roberts aka “Jizmak Da Gusha,” drums/percussion, 1989 – present], because he was the one who started taking care of the bands settling [in]. But, I mean, the festival was great, man. It was really fun and the whole experience was awesome, I’m so glad we got to do it. Then after that, we got to do three dates with GWAR – that was those New Year’s Eve/holiday shows that they did – and that was awesome! You think, “Oh, only three days.” Iron Reagan was on it too, and they know Iron Reagan, so you sort of show up [and] feel like the new guys, nobody knows us. And man, they were just so welcoming. And Dave [Brockie aka “Oderus Urungus” {died 2014} guitars 1984 – 1986, vocals 1986 – 2014] was just the most welcoming, humble dude. And I’m thankful that I at least got to spend three days before he passed. Within three days of being with the band, I felt like we had been with them for a month. That’s how Dave made it feel – all the guys. The experience of doing a one-off thing is kind of like, “Hey! …See ya!” Whereas a tour, you sort of start to build up friendship and sort of become family. So this time around, it’s cool. We’re getting to spend more time with them. We’re all busy, we’re all doing our thing, but it’s just cool that we get to be a part of this. Especially Don [Slater, bass 2008 – present]. Don’s like, the biggest GWAR fan. He’s actually getting a really cool experience, he’s been helping GWAR backstage with the “spew” and help with the costumes. So he’s like [on] cloud nine right now, so it’s awesome, man. And all the guys are just so cool, and all the shows are really fun. And we get to do this again in October and November.

Battlecross bassist Don Slater at Pop's on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Battlecross bassist Don Slater at Pop’s on September 11, 2015 [photo by Nick Licata]
Battlecross also toured with Butcher Babies in 2013 on the Mayhem Festival. What’s it like to tour with them again now in a different kind of setting, or is there even a difference?

I don’t think it’s really that different. The only thing that’s different [is] I feel like we’re probably a little closer this time. [On] Mayhem, you get acquainted, and when you see each other again, it’s like family. So once you already know somebody, when you tour with them again, it makes it easier to connect those friendships again. When you start out a tour and you don’t know anybody, it takes a few days to get to know people. On Mayhem, there were so many bands, we’re riding around with Huntress, they’ve got their own thing, you get acquainted a little bit, but you don’t really get to know them that well until you’re sort of deep into the tour. But I feel like this time, we’re closer, in a sense because we’re now seeing each other all the time. Its awesome man, it’s cool to be on a tour with great bands and great people. That’s what makes a tour sometimes, the people’s attitudes and when you’re touring with good people. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be easy, and it’s going to be relaxed.

What’s next for Battlecross? Do you have any future plans that you can share with us right now?

All I can say right now is that we’ve got more dates with GWAR, and Born Of Osiris is going to be on that, and that’s through October and November. We’re doing Knotfest in October, which is going to be killer, I’m excited for that. Other than that, I’m sure more stuff is coming up. I don’t have anything to announce yet, so we’re sort of still waiting to see what’s coming up. Definitely more touring, we’ve got to push this record.

Battlecross’ third full-length album, Rise To Power, is out now on Metal Blade Records. The band will continue to tour North America supporting GWAR on their 30th Anniversary Tour along with Born Of Osiris throughout October and November 2015, including a set at Slipknot’s “Knotfest” in San Bernardino, California. Check out the rest of Nick’s photos from the evening here. Special thanks to Jon Freeman for setting up the interview!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Natalie Glenn says:

    BATTLECROSS has created something special with rise to power. Has an old school feel without seeming like something you’ve heard a million times. Still excited to get up and listen to it in its entirety while I have my morning coffee. Not many bands can get a cd played from start to finish without having to skip at least a few songs…with rise to power I’m skipping back to hear stuff again. Great guys…great music…if you have a limited budget make room for rise to power on your list to buy…you will not be disappointed!


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