HALCYON WAY - "Nobody Has Ever Totally Known What To Make Of Us"
August 6, 2018, 6 months ago
Four years removed from their Billboard charting 2014 opus Conquer, Atlanta’s Halcyon Way are back with Bloody But Unbowed. Newly signed to Agonia Records, and with a finely tuned sound that combines the fest of influences from thrash, to prog and heavy metal, Halcyon Way are at their most prime point to make a true dent in the metal landscape.
Years spent touring the globe, performing alongside the likes of Saxon, Queensrÿche, Skid Row and Fozzy have primed them for giant steps in 2018 and beyond. Founding member and guitarist Jon Bodan caught up with BraveWords to talk hybrid influences, the road to the new record and tackling modern day issues in songwriting.
BraveWords: It’s been for years since Halcyon Way released Conquer. You’ve been fairly active touring since that time, but four years is a relatively long gap for you guys. What were some of the bigger contributing factors for the gap?
Jon Bodan: “Really what happened was when Conquer came out in 2014, we had been on the road a bunch and had done some touring. The album was done and hadn’t been released and we had done a bunch of touring leading up to it. We came back, got booked for something else, went around the next tour and it took forever. We didn’t really go into songwriting mode immediately. That was kind of what made it take longer, is we didn’t really do the back-to-back type tours like we do with records – they were more spread out.
“The other thing is we actually had the record completely finished around Halloween last year, and it just took a while to get a deal worked out. We signed with new management and a new record deal in February ... We were kind of frustrated, because having finished the album last fall, the tours we just did in Europe, we figured that would be a tour for Bloody But Unbowed. We thought for sure the record would be out by March, and it wasn’t. It turned out to be another Conquer tour, which is fine.”
BraveWords: You’ve had the chance to tour with some pretty huge names in recent years like Geoff Tate, Fozzy, Saxon, and Sabaton, to name a few. Do you find that hopping on these tours with more established artists is only helping grow your own fanbase?
Jon Bodan: “We think so. The environment being what it is in the music business, you’re not really making money on a record. A new album is sort of giving you the moral authority to go and do another round of touring, so you got new material to play with. We looked at it like we’re still relatively unknown, so no one is really going to care what record we’re touring on if they haven’t heard us before. It doesn’t matter because it’s all new. We looked at it like, are these tours worth our time and energy? Yeah they are, so let’s do them.”
BraveWords: Halcyon Way have always been something of an anomaly. A band with heavy instrumentation with clean, almost retro rock styled vocals. You’ve always been difficult to categorize or peg down.
Jon Bodan: “You know the funny thing is that has been a blessing and a curse for our whole career, because nobody has ever totally known what to make of us. When people talk about us and there’s a press release or whatever, it’s always progressive metal. That’s cool, because we broke out of that scene and that’s where we first planted the flag, but we got a lot heavier as time went on. We just look at ourselves as a modern metal band, and we just happen to have a clean singer. We’ve got all these influences from all over the places.
“When we go on the road we have to sort of tailor our setlists, to a degree, to the bands we’re out with. When we did the Europe tour with Saxon and Skid Row, that was very much a classic metal kind of crowd. A lot of the times the crowds would look at us like we had three heads no matter what we did with our setlist, because we’re so much heavier. We tried to play our lighter, for lack of a better word, material. We kind of chameleon to the bill that we’re on.”
BraveWords: Do you think it’s important for a metal band today to cross genres and cater to different tastes? Given the climate of the industry.
Jon Bodan: “You want to be able to appeal to more than one listener and be able to connect with those people. I’m sure there’s plenty of people out there who say they like their real heavy stuff more than their radio stuff. What we’re going for as a band is we just want to write great songs, and that’s really what it boils down to for us. If it takes a death metal part, a blast beat or a super tasty guitar harmony or whatever, that’s what we use. We never really go into it thinking we really need a heavy track here. It just sort of happens.”
BraveWords: Take us through the bands’ head-space during the songwriting process? What did you want this album to be, thematically?
Jon Bodan: “A lot of it, lyrically, is a bit of a reaction for what’s going on in the world these days. All the guys in our bands have wildly different politics. We’re not in any way going to say ‘this is what we think, by god, whatever!’ It’s not like that. We always want to make it where the listener can draw their own conclusions and ascribe their own meaning to what we’re talking about. Kind of generally speaking we were working with the whole idea, and the way I feel, is that we’re sort of being told this narrative by the media and wherever else you ascribe to, that there’s hatred and all these people are at each other’s throats. There’s some of that, but the people on the fringes or extremes of the side of things are getting a platform to talk about this stuff and the media blows it up like it’s an everyday thing. I don’t really believe that. I think if you go out and talk to people of any race, creed, colour, sex, religion or whatever, you’re going to get along with pretty much anybody. Unless they’re a dick.
“With the cover art, we wanted to have this idea that in spite of our freedom and dignity being assailed by all of these things they’re trying to sell us to get clicks and ad sales, the flower can represent a lot of things. It can represent goodness of self. That’s where I was coming from on what I wrote and I think all of the stuff kind of points in that direction.”
BraveWords: You mention the songwriting being a reaction to what’s going on in the world currently. Do you think there is somewhat of a responsibility for an artist to address the here and now in their work? Or should it be just music for music’s sake?
Jon Bodan: “I think it’s a fine line and I think every artist has to do what they think is right. If that means stand up and be very vocal about X or Y and that’s their thing then that’s cool. I think you just have to understand that with these issues there are going to be people that agree with you and don’t agree with you. If you’re going to stand up for whatever that might be, you have to be ready for some sort of fallout from it from the people that don’t agree, whether that means they don’t buy your stuff or don’t show up to your shows. I think you have to be true to yourself but also be mindful of that. My take, politics for example, I will talk about that stuff with my friends and people I’m close with, but I’m fairly private about it. I’m not going to come out and have a soapbox as a musician about it. What I believe might not be necessarily what anyone else believes and I don’t see any reason to turn people off from my music as a result of it. Music is an escape. People want to go to a show and have a good time and not necessarily be prophesized over some political view or some interest. They just want to go, bang their head, have a good time and sing along. I feel like there’s a time and place for everything and you have to be judicious on how you approach it.”
BraveWords: What do you see Bloody But Unbowed saying for Halcyon Way and where each of you are at in your lives in 2018?
Jon Bodan: “I think that certainly, musically, we threw a gauntlet down. Whenever we do a record it’s like how do we one-up the one we just did? Steve and I were very concerned, because we were very happy with Conquer. We had so many conversations about how to make a better record than Conquer. When we started sifting through the material, I had something like 27 songs demoed out in various stages. We had to sift through them and cut loose things that could have had a super cool riff or whatever. We really had to work hard to cut loose some material that wasn’t that good. Really what we did was we were meticulous about it. Is this a great song? Does it have great hooks or a compelling riff? Is it a bunch of filler before a big course or is it going somewhere? Some of this material came hard to us, because we knew we had something, it just wasn’t quite there.
“As far as what it says about us, one of the things we consciously decided is we were going to do what we wanted to do regardless and just make the music that we wanted to hear. That was part of it and part of it was that we would be heavy and do what we want to do. We’re just not going to worry about what the detractors think or whatever. This is us, our flag. Boom.”