Interview: Biohazard's Billy Graziadei and Bobby Hambel Discuss Their New Album, 'Reborn In Defiance'
Biohazard's much-anticipated new album -- Reborn In Defiance -- is their first studio album since 2005's Means to An End.
But more importantly, it's the first Biohazard album in 18 years to feature the original lineup of Evan Seinfeld, Billy Graziadei, Bobby Hambel and Danny Schuler. The album was recorded before an amicable parting with Seinfeld, the band's bassist and co-vocalist.
Although Reborn In Defiance was released around the world last month, no U.S. release date is scheduled at this time. Fans can, however, check out several new songs on Biohazard's current East Coast U.S. tour (See a full schedule of dates below).
The combination of Seinfeld, Graziadei, Hambel and Schuler has always had a unique chemistry, and, as Graziadei puts it, “We stepped it up on Reborn in Defiance,” a hard-hitting album that taps into the band’s metalcore roots.
Guitar World spoke to guitarists Graziadei and Hambel about the making of the album and working with producer/engineer Toby Wright (Slayer, Metallica, Alice in Chains).
GUITAR WORLD: What was your favorite part about making this album?
GRAZIADEI: Reborn in Defiance captures what I love about the band in every aspect, musically and lyrically. We weren’t interested in making a blistering fast record or a crushing album. We focused on one song at a time and put together a group of songs we were satisfied with and proud of. When we were 100 percent psyched and happy with each song, we moved onto the next one. We worked hard on this album, around the clock for two or three months at our studio in LA. Most of it was written on our reunion tour so it had that live energy about it. We made this album because we wanted to not because we had to.
HAMBEL: I had left Biohazard for a long time, and when I rejoined and we went on the reunion tour, the tour ended up having such an overwhelmingly positive response from the crowds that we just kept touring. We didn’t expect that it would last that long, and after 20 years and coming back together again it kind of took on a life of its own. It was just the four of us going out and playing gigs. No album. No record company. We toured for a year and a half like that, and it really inspired us to get in the studio and make another record.
GRAZIADEI: What also helped was that we had taken some time apart from each other to grow a lot individually, so when we came back together we were all more mature and inspired to write new material.
What was it like working with Toby Wright?
GRAZIADEI: It was a great honor working with him. We became close friends with him and let him into the inner-circle of our creativity. We had never let anybody get that close to the band before. I think it was an intricate part of making Reborn in Defiance. As a guitar player and as a vocalist, Toby really pushed me to do better. He worked with us and helped us focus on the songs. [Toby was] always telling us, “C’mon, you can do better,” making us focus on the bigger picture.
HAMBEL: I got so much out of it and learned a lot working with Toby. He’s done some really good stuff that I admire and that I am a big fan of. So getting to work with him was exciting. And him being a regular cool kind of guy that I can get along with, hang out with, and consider him my friend was really easy. I remember dying to bend his ear at one point and I asked Toby a million questions like how he got these great drum sounds on one of his records and he was like, “Well…first of all, tune the fucking drums.” And that was it. I was expecting some big technological answer, a secret recipe, or some brilliant answer that went over my head. I thought that was great. Toby was really cool.
What kind of production was involved on the guitar tones for this record?
GRAZIADEI: When we were writing, we paid attention to one song at a time, and so while we were recording we took the same approach especially with guitar sounds. For the first time, we’re like, “Cool, I’m not gonna get just one guitar sound and use that for the whole album.” We took each song and started over and found a guitar sound that worked for that song, that vibe, that part, that idea. And it enhanced the songs but without having a cookie-cutter effect the way so many records do these days.
HAMBEL: The way Toby went about capturing guitar tones on this album was really awesome for me. The way I approach recording guitar will be completely along that line now. I don’t think I can go back to doing it a different way. Toby’s way is really organic. When I say that, I mean we started from scratch on each song. We took all our equipment and zeroed it out. We mixed and matched different heads with different cabinets, different microphones. The mic pre’s and EQ'ing we used in sculpting the sound were an important part for us too. We used a unique tone and approach for every song. It was dope. And Toby stepped it up to the next level. I’d be playing and Toby would change out stomp boxes and change their settings on the fly. And when it sounded good we kept it.
I noticed a lot of creativity on the new album. For instance, that piano part at the beginning and end of “Vows Of Redemption." Who played that?
GRAZIADEI: I did. The piano was my first instrument. That’s something I’ve dabbled in with Biohazard. That was actually the first time I had ever played piano in a song which was pretty cool.
HAMBEL: When I was in another band back in the day, Billy played the piano on some stuff. We’ve dabbled in stuff like that before here and there. Whether it was Billy playing parts on the piano, or I’d play some bits and pieces on the acoustic guitar. We sometimes did subtle things with the arrangements on earlier records. This time around when we wanted to do something melodic we let it have its own place, we really let it take on a life of its own. We didn’t just throw it onto the record. If the melody of a particular song required some different type of instrumentation we just ran with it, because we cared about what inspired us at the moment. We weren’t afraid to blend a lot of different elements.
So it must have been a shock for you guys when Evan called to let you know he quit?
GRAZIADEI: After we finished the record I was still working in the studio with Toby, just adding the finishing touches, when Evan called and dropped the bomb on us that he quit and didn’t want to do it anymore. It caught us in left field. It was a shock. It was a surprise. He made the decision and it was personal for him. With all due respect to Evan we will leave that as personal. He had his reasons, but for us, we wanted to continue and see the record come out and so we left it as it was.
HAMBEL: Yeah, it was a shock to me. The record had taken a long time to finish for a lot of reasons. Just life in general made it difficult to get Reborn in Defiance done. When we were finished mixing it that’s when he decided to leave. Looking back on it and all the experiences we’ve been through, I’ve said this in interviews before: The fact the four of us got back together after being apart for so long, going on tour was in itself something that we never thought would happen.
Then on top of that, we stayed together long enough to manage making an original lineup album. There are no guarantees in life, so there was no guarantee that the band was going to stay together. Evan wanted to leave. He must have really thought it out. With all due respect to him, we wanted to keep playing, and if Evan wanted to leave we just had to accept that. It’s unfortunate, but I’m grateful for the fact that we managed to keep it together long enough to tour and do an album.
And Scott Roberts will be filling in on bass?
GRAZIADEI: Yeah, Scott will be playing bass and covering vocals. I don’t look at Scott as replacing Evan. I mean, you can’t replace somebody like that. We did what we did with Evan and this is a new era for the band.
HAMBEL: Scott played guitar in the band during the period of time I was absent, and when I rejoined Biohazard Scott stepped up and wanted to be my guitar tech. It was great to have him, because not only can he play guitar but he knows all the material. That lead to like a couple times where Billy couldn’t make a show, and Scott stepped in and played Billy’s parts so that we could live up to our obligations to our promoters and not cancel any shows. And when Evan left at another point in the past, we had some shows scheduled in the U.K. so we called up Scott and asked him if he wanted to play bass. We know he knows our material. He’s got a feel for the band because he was in the band.
GRAZIADEI: Scott never misses a step. He played guitar on Means To An End and has been a permanent part of the Biohazard extended family ever since.
HAMBEL: Before we decided to bring Scott back into the band we got a lot of different advice from different people about what we should do. Everybody thought they knew what was best for the band. Like they were telling us to get a lead singer and a DJ -– get a keyboard player -– you should do this or do that. We wanted to keep it simple. We know Scott knows how to jam with us and he knows the songs. So we asked him if he wanted to jam with us again and he was like, “Hell, yeah.” We know he works hard and so he was perfect for this.
I heard that you’ll be co-headlining the Persistence Tour in Europe alongside Suicidal Tendencies. Are you looking forward to that?
GRAZIADEI: I am. I love them. I’ve loved them for a long time. They’re awesome. I’m looking forward to playing some dates over here in the US with them. Right now we have the dates scheduled in Europe before that happens.
HAMBEL: I am a big fan of Suicidal. We’ve played with them before. They are an awesome band who are into doing their own thing. That’s what’s cool about them.
You guys have kind of played by your own rules and I think a lot of people look up to that.
HAMBEL: Thank you. Sometimes being into your thing some people don’t get it. They don’t get that we’re doing something that we feel good about. We’re not interested in being the flavor of the week. We’re not interested in sounding like anybody else. For us it’s like, “What’s the point?”
GRAZIADEI: I think at the beginning of our career when we played with metal bands we weren’t metal enough. We were too hardcore. And then when playing to a hardcore audience we were too metal and not hardcore enough. So we never really had a home. I always looked at it like Biohazard were outcasts or misfits in the New York scene. We never seemed to fit in anywhere. We never became a clone-ish type of band, and because of that, what we created was a sound of our own that was hard to describe.
What is the writing process like for you: Does it get easier to come up with material as you guys play together?
GRAZIADEI: It’s never easy. For me our best work comes out of tension. When you compromise because of someone’s ego, or you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings -- you compromise. Compromise is usually the middle road to great ideas. So, yeah, there’s a lot of throwing guitars and arguments, but all of that pushes the envelope, pushes the line, and in the end we come out with something we’re proud of.
HAMBEL: We always like to test the stuff we come out with live and see what works and what kind of reaction we get before we record it. All of us write riffs, Danny included. Collectively we write stuff. We started out while we were on tour at sound check. I’d start playing something and Danny would be like, “Whoa, I like that.” And he’d start playing along. We’d compile riffs and then give them names after what’s happening at the moment so we don’t forget them. We would take them home and somebody might come up with an arrangement and a melody for some of them. We all contribute a bunch of stuff and throw it at the wall and see what sticks.
Is there anything you’d like to tell your guitar playing fans who are trying to make it out there?
GRAZIADEI: Learn as much as you can. Never stop learning and jamming with people. When it comes to writing, just throw that shit out there. What’s meant to be is going to come out of you naturally. Don’t try to over-analyze or worry about it. People tend to think they need to know all this theory perfectly. Theory doesn’t hurt, but that alone isn’t what makes you play well or write better songs.
HAMBEL: Don’t limit yourself or rely too much on technology. It’s brought us some great tools to use which is how it should be used. It shouldn’t be relied upon for being responsible for the genesis of your music. That’s something that should come from inside of you. The music should be basic - just you and your guitar. Remember that this is all about being in a live band with live music and live performances. A lot of bands are on Facebook and MySpace and that’s fine. You can reach the rest of the world with the internet, but you got to get out there and play.
Keep track of Biohazard on their Facebook page.
BIOHAZARD ON TOUR WITH MADBALL:
2/9 – Portland, ME @ Asylum
2/10 – Worcester, MA @ Te Palladium
2/11 – Poughkeepsie, NY @ The Chance
2/14 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Diesel
2/15 – Richmond, VA @ Kingdom
2/16 – Towson, MD @ Recher Theatre
2/17 – Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
2/18 – Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
Reborn In Defiance Track Listing:
02. Vengeance Is Mine
05. Killing Me
06. Countdown Doom
07. Come Alive
08. Vows Of Redemption
09. Waste Away
10. You Were Wrong
12. Never Give In
13. Season The Sky