BABYLON A.D. – “It’s Not Like We’re Trying To Re-Invent The Wheel”

May 22, 2024, a month ago

By Aaron Small

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BABYLON A.D. – “It’s Not Like We’re Trying To Re-Invent The Wheel”

Musically, lyrically, the harmonies, the solos, the hooks, everything about Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day really harkens back to the beginning of Babylon A.D. and their self-titled debut album from 1989. Available now via Perris Records, Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day is Babylon A.D.’s fifth studio album, and it successfully achieves the difficult task of simultaneously being vintage and fresh, without sounding dated. Vocalist Derek Davis shares the secret recipe.

“In the back of my brain, that’s what I was hoping everybody would think. It’s always been in us. That’s just the way we write. When I’m co-writing, especially with (guitarists) John Matthews or Ron Freschi, those guys come up with the same kind of licks they did 30 years ago. It’s not like we’re trying to re-invent the wheel or change the band’s sound; we’re just trying to improve on it.”

It’s crazy to think that the self-titled debut album from Babylon A.D. is now 35 years old. Yet these new songs that comprise Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day fit perfectly beside those classics such as “Bang Go The Bells” and “The Kid Goes Wild”. Was it a detailed, dedicated effort to create these new tunes?

“No, not at all man,” answers Derek. “I wrote four of the tracks myself without the guys. So, they’re my guitar riffs. Basically me 100%. Then I showed the guys how to play the songs. I went through quite a bit of different types of musical albums the last few years. I did a couple blues albums; I did a solo album. But I still write in the same type of vein. When I’m thinking about Babylon A.D. as I’m writing songs, I’ll kind of put them in a box. ‘This one could be a Babylon A.D. song.’ Then I’ll write another different song, ‘Nah, that wouldn’t work for Babylon A.D., but it could go for my solo album.’ I never sit there and consciously just write for one thing, but if it happens to go in that box, then that’s where it’s going to go. When Ron and John write material, they’re still writing from the same type of ideas that they’ve always had. The same type of guitar riff, it’s just them.”

“Face Of God”, “Sometimes Love Is Hell”, “Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day”, and “White Hot Bullet” are the four songs that Derek wrote on his own. “They’re all pretty different, but they sound like Babylon A.D.,” comments the singer. “Plus, when you get the guys playing, and they’ve got their guitar riffs, the way they play. Cause I give them the demos with me playing, and it sounds good. But now we’ve got to make this heavy. Let’s get some squeals out of your guitars and make it sound a little tougher, or whatever fits the song. They have their guitar tone; my guitar tone is a little bit different than theirs, but they have the Babylon A.D. sound.”

“Sometimes Love Is Hell” is quite the statement. Unfortunately, the majority of listeners can identify with that. Derek reveals his inspiration behind the title and lyrics. “I was just sitting down, watching TV. I do that a lot. I’ve got the old grandpa reclining chair that I watch a lot of movies in. I was just fiddling on my guitar like I usually do while I’m watching. Pretty soon it was like, that’s a pretty cool riff. That’s a pretty cool melody. I sat it down and came back the next night, pretty soon I’m singing ‘Sometimes love is hell.’ So, with the title, okay, what’s this song about? Then you search your ideas in your mind, how it’s going to translate. And of course everybody’s felt like that before. I’ve had heartbreak and things like that. Those kinds of songs aren’t that hard to nail down because everybody’s felt that way before. If you experience that, it’s not too hard to put your expressions of how you felt on the page. Now, I will tell you though. After I wrote that song, if you read the lyrics, it sounds like it’s a big breakup type of thing. My wife’s all, ‘Did you write that about us?’ I’m like, honey, I swear, I didn’t write this about you She’s saying, ‘Yes, you did.’ Cause I write a lot of songs about her. ‘Well then where did you get the idea?’ You know this has happened to me before too. I don’t have to just put it in nowadays, this moment. It’s not about you. ‘Are you sure it’s not about me?’ So, I got in a little trouble. She’s still looking at me cross-eyed on that one. That was pretty funny.”

Without being aggressive, “Face Of God” sinks its claws into you. “That’s my favorite song,” reveals Derek. “It’s pretty deep. There’s a lot of people that have already told me crazy sh*t that’s happened to them, just break down crying. Somehow it touches them, something happened in their life spiritually. Obviously, there’s something universal about it.”

Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day is an expression pretty much everybody has heard and is familiar with. The full phrase is, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one.” “Ha ha, I didn’t know that. I could have used that,” chuckles Derek. The originator of this quote is John Heywood (1497 – 1580). He was an English writer who served as a royal servant to Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. According to the history books, Heywood’s quote was an adage attesting to the need for time to create great things. Along those lines, how long did it take Babylon A.D. to create this exhilarating new album? And where did you come up with that title?

“I had the music for the song, and it was actually titled something different. I’ve had that song in my pocket for about a year and a half. I just never really liked the original title. I liked the melody that I had, but I really didn’t like the title of the song. And I didn’t really like some of the lyrics I had. I thought, man, I can come up with better stuff than that. But the music was cool. It was like, I know I can make this song better. I’d already demoed it, and I sat down after not listening to it for about six months, so it was like starting with a fresh plate; but all music. So, I played the music back a few times, and it just popped in my head what the song was about. Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day – that’s my title! A lot of times I’ll go with the title first. Then I’ll write lyrics around that. But I kind of had the storyline for what it was about, but then when I caught Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, because I had the line, ‘The Gladiators walked before you.’ I had that in the other song… and there it is. You know what to keep and what to throw away. I watch a lot of movies, I always have. I’ve always felt that when you write a song, I like to create a mini movie, where you’re following the story. That’s what I do, I write a lot of stories. Something that either happened to me or happened to people that I know. I write a lot about some of my friends, because maybe it didn’t happen to me, but I watched them go through it. I’m like, okay yeah, I’m going to tell that story. Sometimes they’ll find out, or they’ll know. ‘Is that song about me, man?’ Yeah, it is.”

“Back to what you were asking about the album, how long it took. We had some of these songs, maybe three or four of them, in the can, demoed anyways, probably about three or four years ago – when Covid hit. We’d already been practicing and were trying to figure out what songs we were going to do on the next album. We were going to make an album in 2020. Then Covid hit and things fell apart. Life kind of got in the way. So, then when we got serious about making this album, it was a combination of songs we’d already wrote, three or four, and the rest were new songs. Songs I had written that weren’t in the original batch of demos. We had about 20 songs to choose from. We’ve got some really good ones we didn’t put on this album. But it’s like, sh*t, we’ve already got a lot of good songs for the next album. It was hard to pick out which ones to do. We could have done a double album.”

That stands to reason there won’t be another six-year gap between albums, like there was between Revelation Highway, which came out in 2017, and Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day, released in 2024. “Absolutely not. This next one’s going to be coming out, I’d say a year and a half from now probably. I think we’ll be going into the studio in October of this year, we’re already planning on that.”

The album cover for Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day depicts David, the masterpiece marble statue created by Italian artist Michelangelo. Yet, David is blowing a bubble from chewing gum. “Well, I kind of had it in my head to find a statue of David, or something about Rome,” admits Derek. “I had all these ideas, what would fit the best? I can’t remember exactly, but I stumbled across it somehow, and I bought it. I bought a bunch of different stuff that had to do with Rome online. I just thought that was the coolest image. I had that cover, and I had about four other covers that I sent the guys. We thought we might call it White Hot Bullet at one time, so we had an artistic album cover made with that. Then it was obvious, Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day. This is the one. We all have a say, we have a five-man vote.”

The first single from the new album, “Wrecking Machine”, presents an interesting dichotomy as the title and artwork refers to ancient history, but the video for “Wrecking Machine” presents everything that’s ultra-modern. There’s artificial intelligence, robots, science fiction, computer coding. Talk about putting two polar opposites together. “When I’m writing a song, like I said, the songs are like a miniature movie in my mind. So, that’s my script. The song was about a lost girl that was basically like an AI robot. I heard that over and over again on the financial news channels. ‘AI is taking over the world, blah, blah.’ But, this’ll make a great song.” What’s your opinion on AI? “I think it’s kind of scary. To be honest with you, once the genie’s out of the bottle, you can’t stick it back. Who’s going to control that? Pretty soon we’ll be living like The Terminator or something. They’re already using drones for all the wars. It’s going to get pretty freaking scary in the next 30 years, or maybe faster.”

The title of the final song on the album, “Super Beast”, immediately brings Rob Zombie to mind as the video for his song “Superbeast”, from his debut solo album Hellbilly Deluxe, has been viewed over 33 million times on YouTube. However, “Super Beast” by Babylon A.D. is an instrumental song. “I didn’t know he had a song called ‘Superbeast’,” states Derek. “I’m going to have to check that out. That’s weird I didn’t know that. His ‘Dragula’ song is really cool. If we had known that, we wouldn’t have used that title, cause it was made up at the last moment actually. For the longest time we just called it ‘The Jam Song’, cause everybody’s just jamming, really. Somebody said something about super and a beast - ‘Super Beast’, that sounds pretty cool. That’s how that title came about.”

In fact, Derek didn’t try to write lyrics for “Super Beast”. “We had all the songs written, and we were demoing the songs. Then Ron said, ‘Check it out, I have this cool riff.’ About an hour later, they were all just jamming it. I was listening to it, and it was like, ‘I can’t write any lyrics over that. I just don’t hear anything.’ Ron said, ‘Well, I want to keep this an instrumental anyways. I’ve always wanted to do an instrumental on an album, and we never got to do that.’ Ok, sounds good to me. Let’s put it as the last song on the album. Probably two hours later we demoed the song, then we went in the recording studio. It was still pretty fresh.”

On the live front, Babylon A.D. currently has seven shows booked between June and September. Should fans expect a traditional 30-date tour across America at some point? “Now that people are talking about the record, dates are coming through. We’re getting offers all over the place to play. We’re just working with the booking agent to set stuff up. Talking to them, we tried to explain, ‘We don’t really want to do what we used to do where you’re on the road for 30 frickin days straight.’ Unless the album blew up and took off. Like, ‘Oh my god, it is 1989 again!’ But nowadays, it’s a lot easier to be weekend warriors. Play at choice places, or maybe go out two or three weeks at a time, every once in a while.”

“Everybody in the band is a pretty good showman. We don’t just stand around; we put on a fricking show. You know, our new drummer, Dylan Soto, the cat’s only 23 years old. He’s a musical genius! He plays guitar just as good as he plays drums. He writes songs himself and sings too. So, we have a plethora of different types of musical ideas that we can go with in the future. He co-wrote one of the songs on the album, and the guy’s always showing me new ideas. So, I have a good palette to write from for the next album, even though we have, like I said, probably at least half of it already written. We can just keep going with this cause Ron writes, John writes, Dylan writes, I write. It’s not like you only have one or two guys trying to come up with ten or eleven songs per album. We’re also writing with Danny De La Rosa, who was in the band forever as a guitar player. Him and I are working on a project right now, and we’ve got some really cool songs. That’s going to be coming out, probably between these two albums.”

Dylan is a needle in the haystack as there’s not a lot of 23-year-old guys that are into hair metal. “It’s very, very strange. When you talk to him, you would never think he’s that young. If you met him, you’d think he’s like 37, cause he knows all kinds of sh*t about music. He can tell you sh*t about Jimi Hendrix. His whole life has been involved and engulfed in music. Sort of like a basketball player that practices eight hours a day, seven days a week. The kid’s training is impeccable. It’s good to play with him cause he’s got good melody ideas too. You’ve got another guy that’s adding to the sauce. The way Dylan came about was, Ron was jamming with some guys. And the guys said, ‘There’s this kid,’ he was probably about 19 at the time. ‘There’s this kid you should go see play at this fair down the street.’ So, Ron went and watched him, and he was blown away! Ron called me and told me all about him. This was a couple years ago. Then when it came time to put the band together, Ron called him up – he never talked to him before. He just called him and said, ‘My name’s Ron Freschi,’ and it was the funniest thing dude. Dylan goes, ‘Ron Freschi from Babylon A.D.?’ Ron goes, ‘Yeah, do you know who I am?’ ‘Oh sh*t yeah, I love Babylon A.D.!’ Ron was like, ‘Really? Alright, well do you want to come and audition for us?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah! Of course I do!’ As it goes, Dylan’s mom and dad were big Babylon A.D. fans. So, when he was like six years old, he was playing songs like ‘Bang Go The Bells’ and ‘Hammer Swings Down’ on his drum kit. It’s just destiny, man. That’s what it is.”

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