Halcyon Way ranks with the more exciting bands to hit the scene in recent years. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, the group has released two albums on Nightmare Records, with its debut A Manifesto For Domination coming out in 2008 and sophomore effort Building The Towers two years later. Both albums highlight the unique manner in which Halcyon Way combines aspects of various forms of metal, including power, thrash, melodic and progressive. Angelic Warlord had the recent opportunity to conduct an online interview with founding member Jon Bodan, who goes into detail regarding the bands history, its most recent release Building The Towers and future plans as well.
I would like start by talking about the background to HALCYON WAY. When did you develop the vision for HALCYON WAY? And what inspired you to start the band?
Hey Andy, thanks a lot for the great review of Building The Towers, and the opportunity to speak with you about HW. Basically, the band has been around for about 10 years at this point, if you can believe that. I had been in another band called FINAL JUDGEMENT when I was 15, 16 years old and we did an album and some cool stuff, but I was still in high school and pretty much got the parental ultimatum to either "play metal or go to school". Knowing that I'd never make a living doing FJ, the choice was pretty easy to make, so I left the band and did college, started a career, etc. A few years later, having gotten married, established in my career, and having never stopped playing guitar anyway, I got the itch to start a new band and HW is what became of it. At that point, I really wanted to play some challenging stuff, heavy but with great vocals and interesting to play and listen to. I kinda was trying to end up somewhere between BELIEVER, QUEENSRYCHE and IN FLAMES at that point – proggy, catchy hooks, but really heavy. So I got a group of guys together, we more/less had a revolving door for a while, but ended up with what became the lineup on A Manifesto For Domination.
How did you come up with the name HALCYON WAY? Does it have any special meaning?
We get that question a lot, "is it a drug reference"? "is it a bird"? Haha, the truth is way more pedestrian, literally. There was a street down the road from the house I used to live in where we rehearsed that I would drive by all the time. When we were looking for a band name, it kept sticking in my head so I finally looked it up in the dictionary and realized that "Halcyon" meant "peace or tranquility". So we thought it was cool, kind of ironic that we were this raging metal band, and so we grabbed it.
I would also like to know more about your musical background. Who were your musical influences while growing up? Also, what guitarists inspired you?
I've had a lot of influences I think, most all or rock or metal, but I think they're pretty broad. I really learned a lot about playing guitar by wearing out the tab book for And Justice For All by METALLICA; a lot of the guitar harmony ideas I use came from that initially. I really loved TESTAMENT and Alex Skolnick coming up, QUEENSRYCHE are a massive influence on me. Weapons Of Our Warfare and Stay Of Execution by DELIVERANCE made big impressions on me too. In the 90's I got into FATES WARNING & DREAM THEATER so that's where the prog thing started seeping in. I've also been a huge fan of KING’S X, GALACTIC COWBOYS, ATOMIC OPERA for a million years, so that's a big part of the vocal harmony emphasis for me since day one. Tasty players like Marc Bonilla or Steve Stevens that could say a lot with a simple lick and not feel forced to shred to get their point across. After that, I got into IN FLAMES, SOILWORK, DEVILDRIVER, CHIMAIRA , and bands like that. And I've taken lessons off and on for years from a pretty renowned jazz/R&B session guy. So I think that what I've done over time is stayed pretty true to my original roots, but I listen to a lot of types of metal and whatever sticks with me gets subsumed into my style.
HALCYON WAY is renowned for how it combines both thrash and progressive metal elements while emphasizing melodic based songwriting. How did the band evolve over the years musically and develop its unique sound?
For me, the biggest thing is that every song be a great song, that is by far first & foremost when we write and put together material. That was always a big focus, and what's really changed over the years is kind of the dynamics in the band as we write. We have different people in the band now, and everyone puts their stamp on things. A lot of the times the writing will start with a hook that I came up with, because I write to choruses most of the time. Then I'll piece together some riffs and etc, then we get into the same room and hash it out. Sometimes it's a little more organic where we jam riffs, and then it ends up a song. Sometimes it's the opposite, with ideas getting emails back & forth, dropped into ProTools, and then they get hashed out in rehearsal. So it's really dependent on the song and the situation.
I write tons of techy riffs, I try to make a section of a song that someone might usually just "chug" and turn it into a more interesting part, but one that doesn't take away from the vocal melody or anything else going on. Ernie's really great at taking a section that might normally be a "caveman" beat and he can turn it into something really unique that pushes the song or section ahead. Kris is a beast on the bass and does a ton of wild tapping licks and comes from a black metal background, so he's got another totally different element that he brings in, and he tears it up on the death/black vocals. Steve has a fantastic sense of melody and harmony, and he comes from an old school AOR background – so basically you have these guys thrashing it up and then you have someone bringing in these fat catchy melodies over it.
But for sure, the song comes first, then the frills and prog elements. We bring that stuff in if, and only if, we think it will make the song great. The hooks are the biggest focus, and we want every track to live in your head forever.
What led to vocalist Steve Braun joining HALCYON WAY?
This was a bit of a long story, but basically what happened was that our original singer Sean relocated from Atlanta to Virginia right after A Manifesto For Domination dropped. He moved because he got married, and of course we were all supportive of this and we all agreed that he would stay in the band and we would simply adapt to the circumstances for rehearsals, shows, etc. However, due to various things that came up over the next 6-8 months it became an untenable situation for everyone and so we mutually agreed to split. It wasn't an easy break at the time, but fences have been mended so we'll leave it at that.
However, the timing of this was REALLY bad. In retrospect, we don't know how Building The Towers got made, it was really providential that we pulled it off to be honest. It took us a LONG time to get A Manifesto For Domination out – due to lineup changes, and the like, but long story short we had about 70% of Building The Towers written when AMFD was released.
So we started tracking drums for BTT in early 2009 (AMFD was released in November of 2008). By the time Sean left the band around August of 2009, we had tracked most all of the drums, and not only that we had booked time with Pamela Moore to fly to Atlanta to do a week of studio work with us, as well as the photo shoot you see in the CD booklet. This was all scheduled for September….and we had no singer now! Not only that, but Sean did not want us to use any lyrics that he had written for the album, so we had to significantly rewrite quite a bit of material.
So here's what happened – my buddy Glen and I were driving from Atlanta to Fort Worth TX to see the GALACTIC COWBOYS reunion tour they put on a while back – we're going down I-20 West and I get an email from Sean on my blackberry, pre-dawn, stating his intentions. As soon as it was late enough to call, I rang up Lance King and John Cheek at Nightmare Records and asked for a couple of guys' numbers – I got them, but John says to me "Jon, listen – this guy Steve is in Nashville right down the street from Atlanta. He's singing for a band in Italy called ASHENT but it's a project band and he wants to play & tour. This is your guy, call him up."
So I did, was driving around Texas following the GALACTIC COWBOYS for a few days like a groupie, haha, and checking Steve's voice out on MySpace and stuff. Talked a little bit via email as well. At first, I was a little nervous because his vibe vocally was so much different than Sean's, but we decided to meet up and see what happened. So the following weekend, a few of us drove up to Nashville to meet up with Steve and see him play in his cover band. The dude did 2+ hours of hard rock covers and didn't break a sweat, so the next day we demoed out some of the material. Headed home, did a conference call with the guys that couldn't make the drive, and Steve was in the band 9 days after Sean left.
Two weeks later, he's down in Atlanta and the first time he met Kris and Zane was at the photo shoot at the airport with Pamela. It was just an amazing experience, the way the whole thing worked out. Could absolutely not have worked out better, man.
Last year HALCYON WAY released its sophomore album Building The Towers. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a bit more about Building The Towers, specifically the writing and recording process.
Well, a lot of the process you got some insight into just now, but we really went nuts writing material. And all of it was solid. We ended up killing 2-3 songs before we tracked the drums for them, but we did 15 originals and one cover. Figuring out a track listing for the CD was absolutely brutal because all the songs were so strong. We had been writing and writing, like I said, during the whole time we were trying to get AMFD released, the mix process really drug out on that so we were just chomping at the bit.
So once we had the material down, we began tracking the drums at Open Sky Studio here in Atlanta, Mike Froedge (who just joined Black Label Society as their new drummer) was the engineer for those sessions. That was really a good setup because it's a nice facility, and Ernie really benefited from having a monster drummer behind the board for his sessions. That whole thing was a lot of fun, very relaxed environment.
As the drums were being done, I was taking the session’s home to my ProTools studio and I began laying down scratch guitar parts, working out the programming, demoing out the vocals with Sean and then later Steve, and so on. Basically beginning the polishing of the material and getting us all prepped for the final tracking.
Once the drums were completely finished in late 2009, we shipped the drive and scratch stuff to Lasse Lammert in Germany, who mixed AMFD and did a great job. He's a killer producer and easy to work with so we brought him on to helm the whole release this time. In January 2010, we flew Lasse to Atlanta and he stayed with my wife and I for close to a month, and we just lived & breathed the album that whole time. Of course we did all the final tracking during this time - Lasse was really good at bringing out the nuances in the material, working with the arrangements and cutting out some of the fat, and basically just keeping us on track. We had also made a commitment to the record that we would spare no expense or effort to get the best sound we could, so we rented boutique mics, got a choir, used a grand piano and strings instead of programmed stuff, and so on. Then, after he gained a bunch of weight eating American fast food and drinking Guinness here, he flew back home with the drive and mixed the record.
What are your feelings about Building The Towers? Are you happy with the way the album turned out? And how has the response been so far?
We think it completely destroys AMFD in every way, and that's an album I'm proud of. Everything we wanted to do with it, we were able to do and pull off. So we're very, very happy with it. The response so far in press as been amazing, we've gotten some album of the month awards, been in the running for album of 2010 awards, and gotten some great reviews in mags like BW/BK, Legacy, Aardschok! And so on. The material slays live, because we come across as a very heavy band, with all that sort of energy, but with all these big hooks and vocal harmonies that we do organically on stage. So it's done well, the first pressing sold out very quickly and we had to do another one. We're very excited about it, and I can personally still listen to it regularly which I think says a lot.
What are your favorite songs off Building The Towers and why?
It's hard to say – my personal favorites are probably "Rise To Revise", "Death Of A Dream", and "Building The Towers", but it's like picking your favorite child. Rise, for example has that great hook, but the riffs in it are just blistering. That song literally came to me in the car, no guitar in hand, but I promise you that when I got home I had it all laid out, lyrics and all. "Death Of A Dream" has that great King's X moment in the pre-chorus, and I absolutely love the riffs in it, and what Steve did in the verses vocally. "Building The Towers" is just a journey musically. Big drum intro, grinding riff, massive vocal harmony, then the verse breaks down into this bizarre funky thing, then it gets heavier again, then big catchy chorus, then it gets even HEAVIER….resolves into the hook. Profit!
What is the meaning behind the title Building TheTowers? Also, is there a common theme or concept running throughout the album?
Building The Towers is basically a loose-concept album, so to speak. Conceptually, the material is about the suffocation of the American dream. It's not a partisan statement, it's not anything but an observation on how apathetic the average citizen is about what's going on in our society, and so it's opened the doors for politicians and other unsavory sorts to build their own Towers Of Babel, so to speak. They're filling in the vacuum that our inaction creates. Basically it's like this….if you have a freedom or a right, but you ignore it and let it be abused, at the beginning it hurts and you feel it, but then American Idol comes on and you forget about it….but the government doesn't forget – they see it as an open door to usurp power, then it's a little more, a little more, and before you know it you have an RFID chip that can track your every movement should they flip the switch to do so.
With that in mind, we spent a lot of time thinking about the art, what we wanted to do with it, and how we wanted these ideas to be like Easter eggs. There are quite a few on the cover if you look for them, and we thought that the whole package needed to be really special and consistent, with rewards for those who looked hard enough. Speaking of, Travis Smith is an amazing artist and guy to work with – I thought he would have killed us by the time it was done, but it was all good, haha!
What was a little funny in some reviews is that the lyrics, which we actually were a little nervous about, because political ideas can really divide an audience, got totally overlooked for the most part. One reviewer thought that "Icon Of Resolution" was a really spiritual, Christian song – but it was simply about the Statue Of Liberty being an Icon for the idea that our country was founded on the idea of individual freedom. So that was kinda interesting, but everyone will get out of it what they do, and that's cool.
How much importance do you place on lyrical content when writing a HALCYON WAY song? And where do you get your subject matters from?
Lyrics are very important, because you can't have a good song without a good lyric. The inspiration can come from anywhere though, it can be societal like BTT, it could be experiences like what I'm dealing with health-wise, it could be relationships, anything. For it to make the cut, it simply has to be quality, not corny, and singable. We don't mind having a dark slant on things at times, but we're also not interested in being a depressing or evil band in any way. Just heavy and thought provoking, hopefully.
How does your faith affect your musical life?
I can't speak for everyone in HW, because we all have different faiths and such, but personally I think that your worldview as an artist is going to show through to some degree in your art. I used to think that it was more of a deal where if you were a Christian and in a band, you had to be in a "Christian Band" but I'm just not that way any more, and haven't been for a long time. So really the extent of it affecting what HW does is fairly negligible as we all have respect for where everyone else is. Something really preachy isn't gonna make it, even if one of us wanted it to….and on the other end something really offensive wouldn't either. We've had a couple of small things that we had to compromise on internally here & there, but really we're focused on being a strong team and writing really great material, and we have pretty much no conflict on this sort of thing. It's a good working environment because we all try to listen to each other and work as a team.
What led to HALCYON WAY signing with Nightmare Records?
We had been on Lance King's radar for a while through the ProgPower USA scene, because one of our first big shows was the Showcase in 2004 at that festival. It was a horrible show for us, haha, we were terrible that night, but we were very guerilla with marketing to the crowd the whole weekend and getting to know everyone there, and we got the name out in a pretty big way. At that point, we had a demo but that was it. So over the next couple of years we worked on AMFD, and had a bunch of lineup changes, which really hurt our momentum. By a twist of fate, in 2007 when Vanden Plas couldn't make it into the US for their appearance at ProgPower, we got the nod on 5 hours' notice and pulled it off well, and that really cemented our name around that scene. But when we had the record done, we shopped it around and working with Lance was the best fit for us. Prior to signing the deal, he had sponsored a stage at Rocklahoma in 2008, and had a last minute cancellation, so on about 2 weeks' notice we drove to Tulsa, OK and played for him there. We had grown a ton as a live act, and tore it up, and I think that sealed the deal really. He had missed us at PP in 2007 actually, just knew of it by reputation if I recall correctly, even though he was there.
What is in the future for HALCYON WAY? Have you started work on the third album? And when do you anticipate it being released? Any specific songs you can talk about?
The sky's the limit, man! We are willing and ready to push this as far as it can go, and we are hungry to do so. We think our best days are ahead of us, and we're very optimistic. We haven't specifically started the writing process for the 3rd album, but we're all writing things in our spare time and we plan to get formal with it this Fall. However, I did mention above that we recorded a LOT of material for BTT, and it didn't end up on the cutting room floor. That will be seeing the light of day before the end of 2011 for sure, and we're very excited about it. Any of those songs could have been a centerpiece for BTT, but when we put it together for running time & flow, they ended up not making it. So that will be announced very soon. And we'll do it up right like we always do!
We also have the entire Building The Towers album in the authoring process for it to go on RockBand for Xbox 360, and that should start seeing the light of day in Summer 2011.
After this is all done, we're going to get back into the writing mode for the third album and our intention at this point is to have the 3rd full length out in 2012 if all goes well.
Does HALCYON WAY have any touring plans? And if you had your choice, what bands would you like to tour with?
DEFINITELY, this is a daily & weekly focus. We did a short UK tour with FOZZY in May of 2010, and were scheduled to do a full 3-week European tour with STUCK MOJO in October-November 2010 right after BTT dropped. However, on October 6, 2010 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 non-Hodgkins lymphoma and for that reason we were forced to pull out of the tour, which was to start only 2 weeks later. We've been offered 3 other tours since that we've had to pass on due to my treatment regimen but expect to be back to that later this year, and we plan to pick up where we left off. We would love to go out with FOZZY or STUCK MOJO again, those are great guys and we get along very well with them. I would be shocked if at some point that didn't happen. Besides those guys, really any hard rock or metal band that we fit with stylistically would be cool – QUEENSRYCHE, NEVERMORE if they were to do anything, SOILWORK, SCAR SYMMETRY, SYMPHONY X, KAMELOT, bands like that. Intromental Management have been really great about getting opportunities in front of us, and a couple of the ones we had to pass on were truly heartbreaking. If tour opportunities arise for us to take advantage of later this year, we'll put off the next record as long as we need to, we very much do not see ourselves as a project band – playing live is where we get it done.
You mention being diagnosed with Stage 2 non-Hodgkins lymphoma. How are you doing health wise now? And what advise would you give Angelic Warlord readers who are facing a similar diagnosis?
So far, so good. As you can imagine, the whole diagnosis was a major shock to my wife and I. We were absolutely floored and surprised, because I have always been in pretty good health and proactive about doing things like physicals and such. Basically, to give you a long story short here, we were fortunate in that we found the cancer at an early stage – and I can definitely say that if you're a person that hates the doctor, you need to get over that – because routine checkups and being in-tune with how you feel are the same as maintaining a car. If you don't do them, your body (or car) will break down. So don't be macho! Some of these things can manifest in advanced stages with NO pain, and no symptoms whatsoever until things are progressed.
Since we found it early on, we were also able to really get on the treatments because for about a week I was still planning on going on that tour. Our docs were very aggressive in getting me lined up for certain procedures that you have to do to get the ball rolling for chemo and the like, and we did 5-6 weeks of work in 10 days to get me on the road. Some logistics for the tour arose which were as much of the reason for us pulling out as me being sick, but I won't bore you with the details.
I went through 2 rounds of chemo and got a clear PET scan which means "remission" in December 2010, and continued my regimen. Did 2 more rounds, and had one tiny spot on the next scan. No matter how small, when that happens, they call it "refractory" and they change the routine up significantly. Instead of moving onto a month of radiation as we had expected, I was switched to a harsher version of chemo and did 2 more rounds of this. Did a new PET scan and it was again clear in March 2011, but that's only phase one. When it goes "refractory", they immediately put you onto the track where you do the chemo to get into remission again, then they do a Stem Cell or Bone Marrow transplant. Mine required a Stem Cell transplant, and I actually had that on May 20 of this year, they call that "Day Zero". It most likely will not require any hospitalization or anything but I am on quarantine at my home and the doc for the next couple of months as my immune system reboots. After 100 days, they rescan you and make sure that it's still gone – and if so, you are put on a maintenance and observation routine. If something is still there, they continue to treat you with other methods. So what I'm going through is fairly similar to what Nergal from Behemoth and Nick from Redemption have endured. Needless to say, we hope that by day 100 everything is still 100% clear as it is now, and then I can move on with life. Although the time away from work and such has allowed me to write a lot of new music and such, I can think of a better way to accomplish that, you know?
As far as advice for someone in a similar boat, you must stay positive! You must do what the doctors tell you to do, but don't take no for an answer if you don't understand the process. Know what you're doing, and be sure to keep your friends and family close by. Ask for help from friends and family if you need to, and treat your caretaker right. And if you don't think you're getting the best treatment, get other opinions and do NOT mess around with it. You're there to get better, not to make friends.
I would like to close by thanking you for honoring Angelic Warlord with this interview. Do you have any last words you would like to offer our readers?
Well, first off, thanks again for the great & detailed review of Building The Towers, it is very gratifying to see someone spend that much time analyzing your art and I really appreciate it deeply. For the readers out there, please find us on Facebook, Reverbnation, MySpace, Twitter, and etc and keep up with us there, and say hello as well – we're very approachable and will reply to you. Also spread the word about HW, and get your friends to pick up the CD!