Someone once said that reviewing, discussing or referencing a band by explicitly comparing it to other more established and already existing outfits is lazy journalism. Maybe – and if anyone knows lazy, it’s me! – but unless every band coming out of every basement from every corner of the planet is singular in its uniqueness and originality, then comparing one so-and-so to another so-and-so isn’t so much lazy as it is offering a frame of reference. It also doesn’t mean that just because a band sounds like someone else that they should automatically be branded with a metal scarlet letter as the peanut gallery hurls rotten tomatoes and rottener insults at them.
Kansas City’s Hyborian sound like early Baroness and Mastodon. This won’t come as any surprise to anyone who cares to give their latest release (Hyborian: Volume I which was released on March 17th) a whirl. You can look at the similarities a couple of different ways: first, the sonic comparisons are simple and obvious, but does the band do what they do well enough to warrant investigation? Second, if the bands from which that influence are being drawn have progressed beyond their early sounds and aren’t looking in the rear view any time soon, as it appears to be the case here, is it ok to embrace that which reminds us of said era? The answer to both questions, in my mind anyway, is ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’ Put another way, it doesn’t matter that Hyborian sound like someone else, they just sound good. It’s been said on numerous occasions that if the lot of us only listened those bands that were absolutely, untraceably original we’d all own about three albums, have a lot more time on our hands and way better hearing.
As mentioned above, Hyborian’s debut is available. A few weeks ago, my equally-uncaring-about-sonic-similarities colleague, Vince Bellino previewed it, giving website visitors a taste via the song “Maelstrom” (check it out here). Today, we’re airing out the video for lead-off track “As Above, So Below” (which has nothing to do with Forced Entry, as some of us were hoping!), an introductory interview and as rad a tour breakdown story as you’ll probably ever hear with guitarist/vocalist, Martin Bush.
Instead of the usual band history question, I’d rather ask you to relate what you would consider to be the highpoints, landmarks and accomplishments of the band’s relatively short existence?
Martin Bush: Signing with [Kansas City-based label] The Company and getting to put out our music on vinyl has definitely been awesome. We’ve also been able to share the stage with some of our favorite bands like Iron Reagan and Mutoid Man.
What was the original intent of the band upon forming and how much experience have you had in previous bands that you can compare to life in Hyborian?
We started this with the intent of it being a full-time gig, and while we are all industry vets, this is really the first time we have been in a group that has the exact same creative vision. We all know what we are going for sonically and are all on the same page.
There are undoubtedly influential strands of certain bands and sounds in your own music. Was this direction decided upon from the outset or just what came out during the creative process? How would you say the sound has progressed and is progressing as you’ve gone along?
We aren’t afraid to wear our influences on our sleeves, but the main goal of this band is to push ourselves. We always write just a little beyond what we are currently capable of, and each of us is always working to get better. Most of our creativity comes from that place of discomfort.
I don’t know how much travelling you’ve done as a band or individually or how much experience you have with other parts of the world and cultures, so this may be a backwards question, but how do you think Kansas City contributes to what you do?
If we lived in New York or LA we definitely wouldn’t have the resources we have. Cost of living here is pretty reasonable, so as a new band we were able to build our own studio/rehearsal space with only our modest incomes. The music scene here is surprisingly good, and it’s really a great home base to tour from.
Tell us about the trials and tribulations of building your own studio and recording yourselves in it.
It was actually great. It was a lot of work building it, but the recording process was awesome; way less stress than worrying about an hourly rate at a studio. We really felt like to make the record we wanted to make what we needed a place all our own to work out of. We are all fairly handy guys, and a lot of what makes this band what it is is our DIY ethos. Never pay someone else to do something when you can do it just as well or better yourself. Tracking in our own space meant we had all the time in the world to play around with sounds, mess with arrangements and really put together what we feel is a cohesive album as opposed to just a series of songs. We couldn’t have done that without racking up a seriously hefty bill at a studio. That being said, we had some great help once the tracking process was done. Once we had everything arranged and tracked we handed it over to Justin Mantooth at Westend Studios who worked his mixing magic, and then it went to Nick Zampiello at New Alliance East for mastering. Both of them did a fantastic job, and were really good at listening to what we wanted and turning our vision into reality.
How long did it take to write and record Volume I? Any interesting stories or unique escapades of high adventure along the way?
Four or five months? We tracked it all in about three weeks. In all honesty, it was a pretty standard recording process, just with a little more time to experiment and do weird stuff. We spent a lot of time doing stuff like mic-ing up a giant fan from an airport hanger and playing different parts of it to mimic battle sounds (“Blood for Blood”), making all the weird synth interludes, and hiding a bunch of hidden messages in the record.
Obviously, the moniker Hyborian lends itself to a certain topical/thematic assumption. Is the band as obsessed with Robert Howard in the same way a band like Ironsword is where every song has to do with something from the Howard realm, or was it just a cool name you were surprised hadn’t been taken?
I am, but for the rest of the band, probably the latter. Howard and his contemporaries actively encouraged other authors to write in their universes, and while we are creating our own mythology in that universe, we are kind of carrying that torch. I grew up reading a ton of sci-fi and fantasy, so that style of writing comes very naturally to him. When we were discussing where we wanted to go lyrically with this band, one of the things that came up was how low fantasy writers like Howard and Lovecraft would write these little vignettes of stories as opposed to fleshed out full novels. Their stories were like snapshots of a larger overarc-ing story. We liked that idea and felt like it would work really well for telling stories via songs. It just happened to work out that the Traveller’s stories from this album all occur in the ancient past, so naming the band Hyborian was a nod to the era that these stories come from (the Hyborian Age in Howard’s mythos is the time after the fall of Atlantis to the advent of the written word.)
Was it a given that the new album was going to be released by The Company? I’m presuming you’ve known them and what they’re about for a while. Was it easy to strike up a working relationship with the label?
Josh Wilkinson (owner of The Company) is really a driving force in the KC heavy scene. He approached us while we were writing the record and it was instantly apparent it was going to be a perfect fit.
All apologies to Dutch Pearce, but c’mon, are cassettes really necessary?
We look at them more as a way to sell mp3’s at a show. We stuff a download card in them, so even if you just buy the digital version of the record you still get to walk out of the show with something physical in your hand. Plus, there is just something nostalgic about a tape.
You recently returned from a week-and-a-half long run through the mid-west. How did it go and what’s the most awesome tour story that emerged from your time out?
It was a pretty fantastic trip, we got to play with some great bands (Power Trip, Iron Reagan, Telekinetic Yeti, Droids Attack and lots more), burned through a ton of merch, and just generally had a blast. The only hiccup was a little minor van trouble (we tour in a souped up ’83 Chevy G20) which led to us going to the most badass muffler shop I’ve ever been to. We had to get a whole new exhaust system put in, and we went to a place in Chicago that literally had the van on the lift and being welded on within 5 minutes of us walking through the door. They gave us beers for while we waited, and it was done before we could even finish them. I think they were called Value Plus? Badass dudes. All in all it was a fantastic first tour. Every show was solid, and we couldn’t be happier with how it went.