Fueled by the lead single, “Tear it Down,” Burn Halo’s new album Up From the Ashes has been making a serious dent in hard rock charts everywhere. The album combines an in-your-face attitude coupled with familiarity that sits comfortably in your rock sensibilities. Once you meet ringleader, James Hart, however, you learn that Burn Halo couldn’t operate any other way.
I arrived at Dirtfest 2011 in Birch Run, Michigan a few ticks past noon. Burn Halo had a one o’something set on the main stage, so I positioned myself right up front. As 3 Pill Morning was tearing down, Hart was helping the band move their heavy gear off stage as he helped Burn Halo get their gear on stage. He then proceed to do sound check for all the mics, get bottled water for ready for all the band members, then rock out an explosive set that left the audience in dizzying, slack-jawed bliss.
As the set ended, I made my way to Burn Halo’s merch booth to find—you guessed it—James Hart. He had finished the set and sprinted to the merch booth to peddle CDs, shirts and posters. Winded and dripping sweat, he signed autographs and posed for pictures with anybody and everybody. When he asked if he could go change his shirt before our interview, I said, “Of course.” It was the least I could do for the hardest working man in rock ‘n’ roll.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Since you left 18 Visions, it seems like it’s been a whirlwind of activity up to this point. Has it really been as chaotic as it seems from the outside?
James Hart (JH): Yes. Totally! It’s a different day in the music industry. A band at our level can’t really shell out money to have all these people working for us, when we can do it ourselves and put in the extra blood, sweat and tears. Sure, it’s tough and it’s draining, but this is our job. It’s what we do for a living. It’s how we pay our bills at home. It’s what makes it okay for us to leave our families behind. If we are not able to support them or chip in, then we are not able to do this at our age. We’re not 19 years old anymore and living with our parents. It’s tough on the band, but we feel it’s necessary to do those things.
BRB: There are a lot of differences between the way the first album was written and record versus the second one. Walk us through that.
JH: The biggest difference is that there were more songwriters on this album. The five of us came together and worked through all the songs. Aaron (Boehler, bass), Joey (Cunha, guitar), Brandon (Lynn, guitar) and I wrote mostly all of the music and that was the most important thing for us. We wanted to write this record as a band. There were only two songwriters on the last album. We brought in a third here and there for some riffs. So that is the main difference in the approach.
I wish that on the last album, I would have brought in a guitar player like Niel (Tiemann, former guitar player who currently tours with David Cook) a lot sooner. I think the tracks would have turned out more aggressive than they did. I think that’s why this album is so different. You have guys like Brandon, Joey and Aaron always writing riffs. They are guitar players and bass players; that’s way they do. They spend hours just playing and writing riffs. That was really important for us this time. We were able to hone in on their skills as both musicians and writers. In the end, we feel like we came out with great album.
BRB: To add to that, one of the things I found most notable on Up From the Ashes was the overall breadth and balance of what you cover. From these big riffs to sing-along choruses, it’s all done well and balanced well. Was it a conscious decision to do that? Or is that something that just comes organically from the way you guys write songs?
JH: Actually, everything came really naturally for us, or at least everything you hear on the album did. Some of the stuff we were writing early on felt a little forced. We were writing more along the lines of what you heard on the last record. That sound, though, just wasn’t them as musicians and writers. They could write that stuff, but you could tell they were having to force the direction.
So, we flipped the script. We played for ourselves and did what we wanted to do. We channeled our influences and our desires as musicians, which led to the album that you hear in Up From the Ashes. The music became a really organic, steady flow of songwriting from that point on.
BRB: Let’s pick a song to go through. How about “Dakota”?
JH: Brandon wrote the music for that song a couple of years ago. He brought it to the table in the early stages of the writing and that song was the one that really steered us in the direction of doing what we wanted.
He was in a band for few months and they were called Dakota. So we kept that name for the song before there were lyrics or anything. In fact, it was the only working title we kept. That song is really important in relation to the whole album. It was the one that convinced us it would be better to tap into our individual influences and write the album we wanted to write.
Lyrically, it’s a song about despair and depression. It’s about somebody who is lost and can’t find their way out of their own black hole. And they continue to neglect the help and support of the people who love them. You know, somebody who is really lost.
BRB: What are some of the songs you really look forward to playing live?
JH: I love the energy of “Tear it Down” as well as “Dakota.” It’s mainly the songs that have more of an aggressive feel to them. There are a couple of songs we have not played live yet, such that last track on the album, “Shine,” which I love. Another one is “Give Me a Sign,” which is another great one we look forward to getting into later this year and early next year.
With that, our interview came to a close. It was far from the last time we would see Hart during the day. As the concert rolled on into the night, Hart and other members of Burn Halo could be seen hawking CDs from the front of the stage between other bands’ sets. It’s par for the course for Hart, who has learned to take nothing for granted in the current music scene.
As the night wound down and we said goodbye to Egypt Central, Stealing Betty and some of the other bands we hung out out with, I noticed a glow coming from the front seat of Burn Halo’s van. A closer look revealed Hart, still working, updating the band’s Facebook page before heading off to the next show… to do it all over again.