GOD FORBID – A Few Good Men
Studio full-length Equilibrium – the sixth to be issued by East Brunswick, New Jersey melodic thrash metal outfit God Forbid – marks the first not to feature the musical relationship of the brothers Coyle, the departure of Dallas having been officially confirmed on March 31st, 2009. From July 10th until August 16th God Forbid toured the United States as part of the Mayhem Festival line-up, performing on the Jägermeister Stage. The live debut of rhythm guitarist Matt Wicklund (ex-Himsa) as a God Forbid member occurred on these dates.
“We just tried to keep things moving forward,” explains Byron Davis, lead vocalist and co-founder of God Forbid. “The whole idea of the band just kept growing. It’s an extension of where we left off with Earthsblood, keeping it melodic, thrashy, groovy, with singing parts, with heavy parts, and intense with something to say. It’s just a growth between individuals, and the unit as a whole.
“Since the last album we got a new rhythm guitar player, Matt Wicklund. Matt was very enthusiastic about being in a new project, playing with us, writing music, and wanting to continue doing music. He wrote half of the material for the record. He brought excitement and youth… I guess not youth, but he brought back the feeling of why we started doing music in the beginning. He brought a more at peace vibe than what the vibe had later became, a vibe of having fun, enjoying each other’s company, and playing live music together again.
“The atmosphere recording Equilibrium was really laid-back, man. Every time you record a record it’s a different vibe when you go in there, and fortunately for me each vibe when it comes to recording has gotten better. I was very comfortable in the studio working with the people I was working with; there wasn’t really any negativity growing in the studio this time, as opposed to previous times where it would turn into arguments over certain things while we were recording. That didn’t happen this time around, It was like a new day, a new vibe. A renewal of remembering why we do it, and loving why we’re there.
“Matt writes like Doc writes, and they both share the same types of influences. Matt writes a lot of catchy riffs, and knows how to assemble them in a manner that makes it possible for people to hear and understand so to speak. I just feel that the music that Matt wrote was progressive in the sense that it was forward thinking. He wrote some really great songs as well as Doc. He loves to write music, so he brought that passion to the table when he came and joined the band. Some of the stuff that he wrote you might think Doc wrote, but Tricky actually wrote them. That’s what I call Matt: I call Matt Tricky. He’s just infused with us though if you will. It’s like an updated version of God Forbid, version 2.0 so to speak.
“The album is amazing; I really can’t say enough about this album because the album is by far the best album we’ve written to date. We say that with every record, but it’s always true. We always try to one-up ourselves, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to do that. I’m very proud of this record and the people involved in the making of this record. I also look forward to getting out and playing songs off of this record, having people hear it, and seeing what they think.”
February 2009’s Earthsblood was the last of a quartet of God Forbid studio albums to be issued by Century Media, the others being Determination (April 2001), Gone Forever (February 2004), and IV: Constitution Of Treason (September 2005). Victory Records was revealed to be the assortment’s new label home on August 8th, 2011. “Our contract ended with Century Media, and we were free agents,” the frontman clarifies. “We had been with Century Media for over ten years. I don’t really wanna talk about that because Century Media was a good label, but we just didn’t progress forward with them in the sense that… I love Century Media, and the people at Century Media are great and they do what they can. We’ll just leave it at that.
“I think the vision that Victory has is what we need as far as being willing to go forward and try to break ground. They like what they heard, and they want other people to hear it and give people a chance to take it all in. I really don’t like talking about labels man because you say something, it’s taken out of context, and then the whole shit gets totally fucked up. There are some good labels out there, and there are some bad labels. The fact that Victory has a vast assortment of bands, bands that do well, and the genres that they may or may not be in speak volumes about the label itself. It speaks volumes about the work ethic, and the ideal of bringing new music from new bands as well as older bands back into the forefront of the industry.”
Mark Lewis produced much of Equilibrium, Jason Suecof overseeing the tracking of vocals. Audiohammer Studios in Sanford, Florida played host. “Audiohammer is a great studio – we recorded IV: Constitution Of Treason there,” Byron notes. “Mark Lewis is an insane engineer / producer; he’s very meticulous, and he’s one of the best out there right now. You’ve seen his catalogue; he’s done The Black Dahlia Murder, and DevilDriver. The list goes on and on, and that’s why Doc wanted to work with Mark. The same with Jason Suecof; he’s worked with All That Remains, he’s worked with us, he’s worked with Trivium.
“Mark and Jason are both fully efficient engineers and producers, but I personally wanted to work with Jason on my vocals because I knew we could be in a situation together where we were in a room and I could explain what I was trying to get. I knew that he would understand completely. It’s like having the right part for the right thing; if you’re working on a car let’s say, you need a certain sized wrench to loosen this bolt over here and another wrench for this bolt over there. It’s having the best tools for the job, and from past experiences I knew that Jason and I could work well together and be productive.
“Working with him was pretty cool. Me and Jason had worked together on IV: Constitution Of Treason like I said, so we’ve been in a situation where we’ve worked together. It’s just like working with a friend who necessarily just wanted to get the best out of us. It’s all about honesty; especially in this business, if you can’t have honest people around you then you really don’t know where you stand. Him being the person that he is and me being who I am, that brutal honesty worked out very well. The one thing you want when you get a producer is someone who is involved in the sense that even though they’re your songs, they take pride in your songs and they want to help make the songs the best they can be. There was really never any feeling that he didn’t care. Jason is a really good guy; he’s a really talented producer / engineer and a musician, so he understands the whole spectrum of the whole thing.
“These dudes are top notch though, and that’s what they do man. They don’t do it for money; they do it because they love what they do, so that makes it even better. Those cats at Audiohammer we’ve known for a long time, so to be able to get back in a room with them was like magic.”
In selecting Audiohammer for hosting duties, God Forbid sought a certain sound. “We just wanted a proper representation of who we are as people and the music that we write, and what we love to do,” the singer relates. “God Forbid is a representation of the working class of America, the ones who grind it out no matter whether success comes or not. We follow our dreams, and we stick to our morals and beliefs insofar as what we want to accomplish with ourselves independently as well as a unit. We’re the unheard, the unspoken, the ones in the background that people seem to forget about and don’t realise that overall the bigger picture wouldn’t be possible without the worker bees. God Forbid are basically the worker bees, that’s what we are. That’s what God Forbid is; that drive, that determination, that focus. That ability to move forward, and not let things get in your way or people get in your way.
“God Forbid is a groundbreaking band. Visually when you look at us you wouldn’t think that we all share common interests, but we do and I think that’s the best thing about our band. We each bring our different flavours to the table, and are able and willing to work together and make it mould together in a form that is viable for anyone.”
Members of the aforementioned American working class have participated in the Occupy Wall Street protest movement which began on September 17th, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, New York, highlighting the growing income inequality in the United States between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the country’s population. “I think those activities are what made our country,” Byron reckons. “That’s what made America, the fight against tyranny. I think that illustrates what is important to Americans as a whole, what the values or lack of values have become to the extent that when people see something that they’re not really feeling they’re not willing to sit back and take it on the chin.
“They’re willing to stand up for what they believe in and fight for what they think is right, certainly in this day and age where there are so many people that are empowered that make decisions for people. To judge a country as a whole by its leaders isn’t right, but it’s done anyway because there is just a lack of understanding about what’s really going on. A lot of people have been glazed over in the sense that they’re immune to the reality of what is really happening around them, and they’re just content with their day-to-day life.”
The global population in general arguably read newspapers and listen to televised news without asking questions of said coverage, taking what is being said at face value. “I think a lot of people do that,” the co-founder agrees. “America is so vast, and there’s so much that you can have at a whim that people have just become desensitised. I mean, certain things take precedent over really pressing issues as far as the news goes. You hear about a kid on the news whose mother abandons them and puts them in a dumpster, but Lindsay Lohan going back into rehab might be the top story. I think people’s idea of importance has drifted away from what’s really important.”
Swedish producer Jens Bogren mixed Equilibrium, having previously worked with such acts as Opeth, Amon Amarth, Paradise Lost, and Katatonia. “Jens is great,” Byron exclaims. “He’s worked with Katatonia, Opeth, and Paradise Lost in the past, and those are some of the bands that we like and listen to. We heard what he did with them and we were like ‘Let’s give it a shot and see what he comes up with,’ and that was Earthsblood. His mix was amazing. He is definitely very good at his craft as well, so it made sense. The machine ain’t broke, you know what I’m saying? Don’t fiddle with it.”
Fellow musicians would benefit from listening to such advice. “The music business I have to say is one of the most confusing yet interesting businesses in the whole world,” the vocalist comments. “On the one hand it’s full of creative people, but on the other hand it’s full of a bunch of number crunchers. It’s the only industry that I’ve seen throughout my life where if you fuck up, you can still retain your job. There’s not a lot of places where if you fuck up you can still keep your job, and the music industry just seems to be one of those places. It’s a catch-22. You have to really, really mess up in order to lose your job, and even if you do mess up like that and you lose your job there’s always someone to pick you up and put you in another position. It’s very contradictory to real life in that manner.”
The music industry is arguably less patient nowadays than it used to be. Artists were seemingly allowed more time to grow in the past, whereas nowadays certain quarters in the music industry want immediate results. “Right now in this day and age, music just seems to be…,” Byron begins. “I don’t really wanna say that there’s not a thought process behind people writing music. Each time you take nothing and make something out of it you’re being creative, but I just think that because of video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero and things like that it just makes it more viable for people to try to explore, especially with the ability to have home studios. Now it’s so easy to have a home studio; you can get a home studio for like $200 and just work with it until you’re happy with something, as opposed to back when having a home studio you had to be well off to have one.
“I think just with the availability of technology, people are able to abuse technology in any form or fashion that they deem in terms of what’s best for them. You’re here today, gone tomorrow. Artists nowadays are basically like throwaways. It’s just like how back in the day everyone had a fountain pen; the fountain pen went away, and then they started making disposable pens. You write and use it until it’s dead, and then you throw it away and get a new one. I think that’s part of what the industry has become along with the downloading aspect of it.
“There’s not so much that the record companies can make now because of downloading. Whether you’re for it or against it, the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day the person who really suffers from the downloading is the actual artist. Like most things, that always trickles down. The artist is always the last one to get paid, so it’s ‘We’ll invest X amount of dollars in you and if you make this back in full you’ll get this, but if you don’t then fuck it. We’ve got four other bands who are young and willing to replace you, and they won’t cost us a cent.’ That’s basically what the world is in a nutshell. You try not to think about those things, but that is the reality of the situation. You have to be very diligent with your beliefs and what you find important to make what you want a reality.”
Vocally speaking, the frontman feels he “just went for it on this record. I always go for it, but there was just the feeling of wanting to grow. Like I said, we never try to write the same record twice. We don’t do that, but always keep growing and expanding. I think that’s what kind of sets this band apart, that it’s so unpredictable. You never know what to expect when we get together because we don’t set any limitations or boundaries on ourselves – we just go for it. We can do it, and it makes sense. We feel comfortable with it, it works for us, and we do it. As long as the five of us are happy first, that’s all that really matters. I can honestly say that out of all the records, everyone is completely and 100% happy with what they did on this record and look forward to continuing this path onto the next one in the future.”
God Forbid’s writing methods have inevitably evolved with technological advances. “In the earlier days we’d use a four-track,” Byron remembers. “Since technology has progressed though it’s made it possible for us to be wherever we are, write, be able to send it to each other, take this or take that, rearrange it so to speak, and hear what it will sound like beforehand if it was rearranged. I just think that with time, the more tools available to you the better you can proceed to move forward.
“As far as the writing process it’s still the same; we’ll have demos, and then we’ll get in a space. We’ll play them together, and if they don’t feel right we’ll sit there, tweak it, and change it until it feels right. From there we’ll practice it for a little while, and then we’ll sit on it and see how it feels two or three weeks later after the changes were made. We then decide whether or not we still like the changes. or wanna move forward and change it to something else. It’s a 100% creative environment though and I think that’s very important, that it stays creative throughout the whole process. Once it becomes predictable, there’s no real creativity.”
Equilibrium’s title is naturally lifted from the album track of the same name. “I heard the song a few times, and I would listen to the song constantly every day back and forth to work,” the singer recalls. “Then it just hit me. I came up with this line ‘We lose equilibrium / Why must I feel this way?’ which is basically losing yourself within yourself, like trying to retain balance and understand that you’re a part of something bigger. You’re not necessarily the thing itself but a part of the machinery, so it’s just trying to find out how you fit into this huge picture as opposed to being a team player instead of an individual. It’s cool to have individuals, but things work better when it’s a group effort as opposed to one person trying to dictate or control all avenues of everything around you. It’s just trying to find balance, and be happy living in the skin that you’re in.”
Penning lyrics can be a collaborative effort for God Forbid. “In the past there have been some collaborations,” Byron confirms. “Doc and I would write together, Doc would write some lyrics, I would write some lyrics, and Dallas when he was in the band would write some lyrics. We all write; even Corey (Pierce, drums) has written lyrics in the past, so it’s a group effort. One guy might have an idea and he’ll run with it, and then another guy might have an idea and he’ll run with it. Sometimes we feed off of each other; God Forbid is not one person, but five people. On certain things we handle it together. I’m not gonna sit here and say I wrote all of the lyrics because I didn’t write all of the lyrics. Doc wrote some, and I wrote some. I think a lot of that depends on the song when we’re writing it and on how each person feels about the song as to lyrical direction and where it goes from there.
“There’s so many lyrics on Equililbrium though – I don’t want to sit here and recite lyrics to you. There’s other lyrics like in ‘Where We Come From’ for example which refers to things like seeing the world how I see it, and living life instead of viewing life. The frame you could say is the TV and the lyric is about viewing it that way as opposed to actually living life with no frame around you, and just being there in the moment and trying to exist in this moment right now. This time, this place. I find it difficult to explain my lyrics because it’s like trying to explain how I think, and that’s almost impossible because everyone thinks their own way.
“I express myself through my lyrics, and what I say. Now how you interpret my lyrics is based on your own life experiences and what you’ve been through, so for me to sit here and try to explain to you what they mean totally invalidates that. Music is the art, and art is like a picture; when you see it, you interpret it through your eyes. It’s the same thing with music; when you hear it, you interpret it through your ears. I think it’s unfair of me to try to explain to you exactly what I said when I wrote it because it was written out of passion and from a spot deep down that I felt was important to be voiced.”
Performance footage for the music video ‘Where We Come From’ was filmed on February 24th at Dingbatz in Clifton, New Jersey with director Tommy Jones (All Shall Perish / Kataklysm). “We were on the phone with Victory,” the co-founder discloses. “They were like ‘We wanna do a video.’ We were like ‘Alright, that sounds cool,’ so they basically flew out two dudes to film us the next day literally. We had an idea showing the reality of the passion of the band and the music. ‘Where We Come From’ basically shows five individuals in their daily lives coming together and playing a show at the end of it all. It’s all based off of actual facts – there’s no glitz and glamour. I’m not gonna sit here and say that I’m living off of music because I’m not. I need to support myself with having a job and there’s nothing wrong with that, but by the same token I feel that I should be able to make a living off of my music. It doesn’t need to be extensive, but moderate enough so that I can do this and live off of it.
“Like I said, the way the industry is it’s nearly impossible unless you already have money or you grow to be able to do what you do for a living and enjoy it. We’ve been doing this for 16 years and still work jobs when we have to, so it’s obviously not about the money for us. We still love writing music and we still love playing and entertaining, so that’s what we do no matter what it takes. There’s not a lot of bands that can say that. We’ve been around a long time; we’ve seen a lot of bands come, we’ve seen a lot of bands go, and we’ve seen a lot of bands grow. It is what it is man. We’re not upset about it. We deal with it, but we just want people to see the reality of the situation and either help us or hurt us. Some people might be offended by the fact that we’re doing these things but then there’s other people that see yeah that yeah, they’re just like us. They follow their passions and their heart, and they do what they do because they love it. That’s I think the crowning jewel of that video.
“I’ve seen the video a few times and I love that video, but at the same time I have seen how certain people view you and think that it’s all rosy and it’s not all rosy. Getting back to reality TV, it paints this image that everything is glamorous. Real life is not glamorous. You can’t walk around with a camera 24 hours a day, and portray reality. That is not real for everyone. Some people are in a position where they can live luxuriously, and some people aren’t. It’s not about that; it’s about doing what you feel is good for you, and enjoying what you do. I think that is why I say God Forbid is a working man’s band. We represent middle America who just want to pursue their dreams. Everything that is promised to you in the declaration of independence – in the constitution – those are the ideals that we shoot for along with other Americans who just get lumped in with the powers that be.”
Brazilian artist Gustavo Sazes (Arch Enemy / Firewind / Manowar) designed the artwork for Equilibrium, having done the same for Earthsblood. “Once again, if the machine ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Byron reminds. “He’s a great artist, and painted an excellent vision as far as artwork goes. He did the Earthsblood album; we love what he did, and we wanted to recruit him for Equilibrium. I basically told him ‘We want you to go with your vision.’ I sent him a couple of demo tracks and then I sent him the lyrics to the songs, and his artwork is just basically based off of the running themes of the music. He took what he heard and read, and he put it into artform.”
Equilibrium was released on March 26th, 2012 through Victory Records.
Interview published in March 2012. All photographs by Clay Patrick McBride.
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