Interview: Billy Graziadei / Biohazard

24.11.2013

The best part of running this magazine is the interviews. The best part of doing interviews for this magazine, as surprising as it might be, is not a chance to meet musicians from the bands, that constitute my music world. The best part of doing these interviews, and eventually doing what I do here, is the chance to meet distinctive, creative, intelligent, insightful, strong or sensitive people, such as all of those musicians that I have had chance to talk to so far. Every interview is an encounter with different type of personality and I reflect on many of them even after the article has been a long time on the site and finished. Meeting with Billy Graziadei, guitarist/vocalist of legendary New York hardcore/metal/rap beast Biohazard before the band’s concert in Warsaw, was one of those meetings. Why? Because it is not that common to meet a person who is so real, honest and passionate. Just like his art.

Hi Billy, thank you for your time to do this interview. I would like to start with question about why you do what you do. Biohazard has been around for over 20 years now and in the case of bands, which have been going for that kind of period of time I often wonder what drives you to keep doing it for this long. I guess the obvious answer would be that this is your passion and you love what you do. That is for sure, but passion is one thing and everyday reality is the other. Even a few days ago you posted on Facebook that your bus had broken down and everybody on the bus was sick. So you’re here on tour somewhere in cold Europe, far away from your family, the bus broke down, people are sick. In such moments do you ask yourself sometimes “why do I actually do this?”.

I think in case of any band dealing with all the situations which happen over those 23 hours is difficult, but obviously it’s worth it for that one, one and half hour on stage. On some days those 23 hours are great, but on others you might get an e-mail from home or have other troubles that will totally bring your head down. But when I get on the stage, for the time when I’m there I forget about everything in my life, good and bad. I’m so into the moment that’s it’s almost like therapy. There were moments in my life when I would talk to therapists and went to see psychologists when growing as kid and dealing with certain issues, but playing live is free therapy. When you see all the people dancing, going to the pit, it gives you the release, allows you to escape from all this bullshit that plagues us. Problems at home, school, work, relationship, family. I think it transcends all the cultures and language barriers. I see it in the connection we have with the audience. It might not be on the first song, it might be the third or the last one, but when I look in people’s eyes I see this transformation, when everybody lets go all the shit that has been going on in their lives. Of course when we walk off the stage the problems are still there, but the high that I get off that is obviously worth it or I wouldn’t do it.

On another tip, when we started making music together we simply really liked jamming together. It was more fun playing in a rehearsal room than doing all the other things which were happening on the streets of New York, drugs, violence, crime, whatever. So the band and the music saved us over the years. Of course it has grown and changed a lot. At the beginning we were just kids who lived in New York and would go away from home once in a while. Then we became people who would basically live in a tour bus or van and would go home once in a while. But as the band has progressed and we have grown as people and artists, it has come full circle. There was time when the music industry changed a lot, people stopped buying cds and you couldn’t make a living off the music anymore, so we have ventured off into different ways of putting food on the table. Now it’s kind of similar to when we started. Before I didn’t know the music industry. All I knew was music and that was all I cared about. Now it’s not a job. I do other things to feed my family, so I’m here, because I want to be. But if you ask me is it difficult to miss talking to my son? Yes, but again, that one and a half hour, that moment, that special time that we get to spend here tonight in Warsaw or last night in Leipzig it’s worth it or we wouldn’t do it.

Billy Graziadei, Warsaw 04.11.2013

photo by Tomasz Pulsakowski

I think being a touring musician there is a big price to pay, especially in terms of family life. I remember last year on the occasion of Father’s Day Roadrunner Records asked a few well-known musicians how they balance family life with the sacrifices necessary to be in a rock band. In that article there was a great piece by Robb Flynn from Machine Head, who said that because of touring he missed out on so many important things in the life of his kids, like first teeth, first step, first words. And you know, these things are gone forever. There won’t be a second first step.

There’s an old saying “A true artist dies for his art”. In our case the part about dying is missing those things. It tears you apart inside, it kills you. But for me with doing what I do here I follow what’s inside my heart and that is a valuable lesson to my kids.

Let me get back to your first albums now, especially “Urban Discipline” and “State Of The World Address” era, during which Biohazard gained much success. You always stress in your interviews, that you were just kids from Brooklyn who loved music and cared only about it, so wasn’t everything that was happening after those two albums quite surreal to you? A few millions records sold, world tours, international recognition. I am not sure if it’s true, but it is said that Biohazard’s video clip to the song “Punishment” was the most played video in the history of legendary “Headbangers Balls” on MTV. How do you reflect on that time?

I can only speak for myself, but I remain proud of the fact, that I personally kept my feet on the ground.

How did you manage to do that?

Well at the beginning of the band there were only four people who would come to see us and listen to our music and those were our four girlfriends. Then there were 8 people in the room and to me it was already super cool. With Biohazard everything was about realistic goals. I used to play in a punk rock band and our goal was to play CBGB [legendary venue in New York]. That band broke up and then I did it with Biohazard. Then there was a record deal and then it was one thing after another. It was never about setting out to conquer the world, it was never about the business, it was never about trying to be something that we are not. Everything that was happening was natural, so for me it was easy to deal with.

I think music always includes a reflection of who as person an artist is and I guess that’s why many musicians say that an album is like a post-card from a given time in their lives. Biohazard so far has released 9 studio albums. Would you be able to reflect on who you were at the time of putting out a particular album? Do you also see that connection between life expressed in the music from a given period?

I think we are a product of all our experiences. Everyone we meet, everywhere we travel to, the things that we share with people in our life, good and bad. The records reflect that growth, as people, as artists, as a band. Even the titles represent that. From the first, self-titled record, which is basically self-committed. Calling it “Biohazard” shows that we didn’t know if we would live for the next day. That was Biohazard to us. It’s all we knew. We didn’t think of giving it a title. We didn’t know if we would be around the next year, let alone make a record together. Then “Urban Discipline” was called that way, because it was about the life we knew back then. The troubles of life we grew up in New York. Then as we started to tour for that record, and there was a lot of it, the next record was called “State Of The World Address” [it relates to “State of the Union Address” – an annual speech presented by the President of the United States to Congress reporting on the condition of the nation]. By knowing other people and countries we realized that things were global and that they were just as fucked in New York as in all the other cities in the world. There is this saying, that “life imitates art as art imitates life” and for us it was always about art imitating our life. It’s a mirror.

Let’s talk about ego now. I have an ego, you have an ego, everybody has it, but I think in terms of sharing a creativity, which definitely happens when making music together, there must a time when those egos clash. Somebody might have an idea, which is not really accepted by others etc. In your case I think you can also have a second perspective on that subject, because you not only play in a band, but also produce other bands. So you work with people who have created their music, and probably think it’s the best in the world, but then they come to you and must face your opinions or suggestions, which can also affect their egos. From your experience, how much ego is present in the process of shared creation?

When you wake up in the morning first thing you think is that I’m thirsty or I have to take a piss. We put ourselves first. We become less selfish when you have family, because then you need to take care of your baby first, before you start thinking about yourself. In music being less focused only on you can be achieved by the ability to hold your tongue and get along with others egos. I think that’s a secret to success. It makes it easier to be successful in whatever you want to do, write a song, make a band etc.

Having the experience I’ve had with Biohazard has made me a much better producer and believe me, I’ve seen every personality issue. I am an idea guy. When I work with other bands I’d kick out 50 ideas in like 10 minutes. As a producer I love bringing something better out of an artist, like with our tonight’s support band – Arhythmia. I’ve worked with them for almost a year. We worked together in studio, now I took them on tour and it’s great to see them where they were to where they are now.

As far as egos clashing within a band, I think the best art comes out of conflict. When two artists have an idea, both will fight for that idea. If you compromise, neither idea is met, so sometimes whoever is more passionate about the idea gets hurt, but it’s best for the song.

 
 
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