INTERVIEW: TONY ASTA of Battlecross - August 2015

August 07, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Thrash metal still churns out great bands and rules a lot of metal heads music collections.  Here in the Detroit area, we are proud to claim one of the best thrash bands around as our own - Battlecross.  These five rockers took themselves to task and are delivering a disc full of ten scorching tracks to the masses in two weeks.  This weekend they are playing a huge metal festival in Montreal and then returning home to prepare for some CD release shows and then a big tour with GWAR and Butcher Babies.  In the mean time, we were able to pin down guitarist and co-founding member Tony Asta for a brief chat.

Toddstar:  Tony, let me thank you for taking time out for us, we appreciate it.

Tony: No problem. Are you from Michigan?

Toddstar: I am.

Tony: Killer. I noticed the 810 area code.  Represent.

Toddstar: You're on the Eastside, right?

Tony: I was and then I moved out to Canton, so I still have the same number from when I lived in Warren.

Toddstar: Like you said, we've got to represent Motor City, right?

Tony: That's right.

Toddstar: Cool.  Well, let's talk about it everything going on Battlecross, you guys have so much going on this summer. Let's talk about what’s coming up.  You guys have a new album coming out in about two weeks, Rise To Power. What can you tell us about the process of putting this disc together?

Tony: Well, the way we write is we start with me, Hiran and Don, we're the guitar players. We'll write some riffs that are inspiring to us and we'll just kinda write a song around that and collaborate. Get the meat and potatoes and Don will mix it all together.  We'll either come together and jam and try to get some stuff out and do a mix of that and also maybe just programming  there. Some drums just to have something to go with the parts. Get a little bit of a demo vibe going. Then just work it from there, listen to it a lot and work on it and get the main structures figured out and then by the time we get into the studio, which we went to Auto Hammer Studios again, as we did with War Of Will, and this around we got to work one on one with Jason Suecof, who's a great producer. We also worked with Mark Lewis again, and he really helped find some great tones for the guitars and bass and drums and everything like that. He also did the mixing and the mastering of the album. Just having those two guys, you know, working with them, and just having them push us to be the best we can in the studio and really giving us some good ideas and some things that we could make better. I think it came out better than we could've dreamed of. We're really happy with the way it came out. This is kinda the gist of it, it’s a little more involved than that, but that's kinda how it came together.

Toddstar: Sure. How different was it going into the studio again after the success of War Of Will? I mean, so many bands, they hit that sophomore slump, but you guys seem to hit a real good stride. What was it like going in knowing that you had that behind you and you could just move on now?

Tony: Actually, I think our attitudes were a little more easy going about it this time around, because, for me personally, I didn't feel like there was the same pressure on the band like there was for putting out a second album. I think putting out Rise To Power was a little more open and free. We could just not be so tight on what we wanted to do. I think this time around I felt more open to flow, you know what I mean? I think that the majority of the band felt that way, but then there's also the essence too, where we definitely want to step it up, we definitely don't want to make the same album twice. I think we just really approached the writing and working in the studio was that mentality that we don't want to do the same thing twice, but yet, we're going to do what we love and play what we want to hear and write the songs that we want to hear. That has always been our attitude walking in. We're going to play what we want to play, but that changes from year to year. We get other influences, we feel differently, we're in different parts of our lives, and I think that that helps. Letting it be open and letting it be expressive in that way, because you know, music in an art form, and it is an expression and I think letting it be free and letting it blossom in the way that we allow it to do is healthy for us and that's kinda what we do, so.

Toddstar: Very cool. This thing is 10 songs of straight ahead thrash rock 'n' roll. Looking back over the songs, are there any songs that you can remember that were impossible to complete for whatever reason. You guys couldn't get the vocals, the lyrics right to match the track or you just couldn't get that guitar riff right. Are there any songs that just fought you guys tooth and nail?

Tony: Yeah, I think the hardest song was the song called "Shackles," which is track 9. Actually, the way we recorded the guitar was, the songs that I wrote the majority of I would record and the songs that Hiran wrote the majority of he would record. "Shackles" happened to be one of Hiran's songs and it was the last song that he was working on, that we had to record, being the last song. He should've never had it be a hard song because then it's just a pain. He just kinda walked into thinking, "I'll just blast through it". He had some problems with the guitar and the intonation and there are some riffs that are played in a lot of different spots on the neck. It was really a pain in the ass for him. I think just having those technical difficulties just really prepped some of the frustration in during the process. I have to say the majority, 99% of the time we were in there, it was very relaxed, very chill and very focused. The stress level compared to every other experience we've ever had in the studio was cut in half this time around, big time. Even with stuff like that, the technique difficulties and whatever else may happen. I think this time around was very productive and very easy going and just kind of, not automatic, but just confident and ready for it. It's just one of those things where as you grow and you become more confident. You become more like you know what you want to do and I think that this record really embodies that confidence and that strength of the music. All those things aside, that may be a little stumble or whatever else, you know, we just work through it and make it happen.

Toddstar: That's a good insight. Through the music, I mean, did you guys take a different sound on this than your last two albums? Like you said, you're constantly evolving and growing. How much has your tour life affected the sound of Battlecross? You guys have had some big tours, whether it was Trespass America, playing Orion or Mayhem.

Tony: I think it has had an influence, big time. I couldn't point out anything specifically, but I do know that for me touring with bands like, In Flames or Killswitch Engage, they do have an influence because they're great bands and they have that melody that I like. It inspires me, so I think those are the kinds of things that I bring to the table. If you were to ask Hiran, Gumby or some of the other guys they would have their own interpretation of what they were inspired by from other things, or maybe the same, I don't know. I think definitely jamming with bands and being on tour and hearing them night after night definitely has an influence and an impact on me and the band. I think those are just things that help you grow and they're things that you learn. There are those shared experiences that you live with and we're very fortunately to have those experiences. To answer your question, I think that touring with some bands definitely has some musical influence and it's great.

Toddstar: Cool. Well, speaking of touring, you guys have a big show coming up here this weekend. You guys are playing Heavy Montreal.

Tony: Yes sir. We'll be on the Blabbermouth stage on Saturday the 8th, and we will be on at 7:45.

Toddstar: You guys also have some CD release shows coming up, including one in Westland, Michigan, at The Token Lounge on the 21st.

Tony: The day of the actual release.

Toddstar: What's it like? You can play all these big stages. Like you're going to play Heavy Montreal, you've played Orion. What's it like to play a hometown show like that?

Tony: It's awesome, dude. They're the best shows. I mean playing in our hometown is unreal. I'm always very happy, sometimes surprised you know. Really good feelings when we come home and play a hometown show, because of the people that come out that have been supporting us since day one and it may be that some people haven't seen us in a couple years. They come out, just to hang out and they're there for the cause and they're there to support and it's just great. It's a great reunion of all that. Good positive vibes all around. We love playing hometown shows. Unfortunately we can't play Detroit super often because, why would you go see a band if you just saw them? So we have to keep it spread out. So that way it is special and exclusive. We decided, that we haven't played Detroit in a few months, let's schedule this thing to be a few months after the last time we were here. Which was with Crowbar; we played at The Shelter. So, we were like let’s do this thing at The Token, it's a hometown venue. Me, Ron and the guys we've been going to The Token for almost two decades, just seeing bands or playing shows. It's definitely our hometown venue from my point of view. I'll tell you what if you ask Kyle, he'll tell you The Machine Shop because he's from up that way. He's from Flint. So you know, we kind of have two hometown venues. I definitely can say I've been going to The Token a lot more; obviously it's right down the street. We love that place, we love John Anton and all those guys. Everybody who knows that place, we're all just a community, we're a family. It's a great thing and we're very fortunate to be a part of that.

Toddstar: Sure. I get it. Then you ramp up for a big tour with GWAR. Musically you see the connection, but physically you guys are going to have to bring your A game to really...

Tony: Oh yeah.

Toddstar: What's it like for you guys to be able to sign on for a tour with a band like GWAR?

Tony: Oh man, it's awesome. We actually we did do a few shows. We did a short 3 or 4 day stint with GWAR a year or two ago. It was amazing. I'll tell you what, GWAR fans are hard to win over, but I had a pretty good feeling by the end of our set that it was going good. I'm pretty confident that this run will be a good time and I'm not really worried about the occasional fan that will scream GWAR right in your face as you're about to go on kinda thing. It' expected, you know, it's totally cool. We welcome that, but like I said, we're just going to do our thing and we're going to go out there and try our hardest to own that stage and put our best show every night. Also Butcher Babies are on that too, they're a great band and I'm sure they're going to throw down. It's a good solid package. We're very pumped to kick that thing off.

Toddstar: It would have been great to see a Detroit date on that tour.

Tony: Yeah, right? I don't know, I don't know... we'll see. I know there isn't anything yet, but I'll cross my fingers.

Toddstar: All that said, looking back twelve years ago you were one of the co-founders of the band back in 2003.  When you guys decided let's do this, let's move forward, di you ever imagine that you'd be playing stages with some of your contemporaries and some of your idols? Having kids come up to you and say, "Oh my god, I love you guys". Did you ever think that you'd still be doing it and still be reaching for that dream?

Tony: Well, back then the struggle was real. The hardest thing about staring this whole thing was finding the right members to start a band. If you think of it in that way, you really put it in perspective. For us to think logically one day we're going to go on tour with GWAR or one day we're going to play a show with Metallica or whatever, that'd be totally out of the question. I think of course that's always been a dream. Thinking of my 19 year old self or however old I was then, of course that is something I would want to do. Thinking logically at the time, was like, holy fuck we don't have a drummer or whatever else was the problem, or we can't find a show to get on or the bassist called in sick for practice and now were not ready or something. Something would always happen. There would always be some kind of excuse or something we would have tackle or climb over something to find a way to even make the first step. Working our asses off to save up money to go in the studio to record a three song demo, you know what I mean? And then buying a van. This list goes on of things you have to do just to like make a show and make an impression and then let the audience walk away with something. It's like all this just to get to that point was a hard thing to do. It's not that it gets any easier, but once you have a solid foundation, you've got a great band of musicians, we're all friends. We all trust and love each other. Then you focus on your music, and then other things come after that. If you try to put it perspective between then and now, the only thing I can say is that we'd always try to do the next thing. Always try to climb that ladder. So, if we would accomplish one thing; okay, what's next? Let's try to do the next thing. Let's record an album. How do we get there? We need more songs. Okay, let's write more songs, but they have to be good. It's like, you just have to approach it like that and put your music first. So, I would have never dreamed in a million years that I would be able to do the things that were doing. It's not that I didn't have the faith, it’s just more realistically, how many bands get to do these things? You got to have your ducks in a row. We worked hard and we got lucky. The work never stops. That's the best way I can answer that.

Toddstar: Perfect. I know you're busy, so let's close with this, you've done the self-release thing with Push Pull Destroy, and you've found your label with Metal Blade. You've put out your debut release, then you went out with your sophomore effort, which got you a number 2 and put on the top 200 on Billboard, and now you've passed that sophomore slump like we talked about. You're getting ready to release your third album. You've played huge stages with huge bands. What's next, what's that next plateau, what's that next thing to you that says, "We're really making it"?

Tony: Definitely playing place we have never been is one of them. We've done North America in circles, we've done parts of Canada, and we’ve done parts of Europe and little parts of South America. We want to just do it all. If we want to go and play anywhere people want us to be and there are fans that have reached out that wanted us to play their town. I just talked to a guy that is dying to have us in India. Well, hell, let's go to India, but it's not that easy. Things got to be in order. I'd definitely say that's one of the biggest goals on this cycle to definitely that across, where we've never been before and just go to those places and do our best to plant that seed and return to others and do our best to deliver every night. From our perspective it's definitely "the albums done, now it's time to go and fuckin play that shit." That's definitely a goal right there.

Toddstar: Cool. Thank you so much for taking the time, we wish you well traveling out to Montreal and with the album release on the 21st of August - Rise To Power on Metal Blade Records.

Tony: I appreciate the interview.

Toddstar: All right brother, we'll talk to you soon.

Tony: All right see you around.

 

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