Gama Bomb Talk Thrash Fashion, 
George Fucking Orwell, and a Comic Book-Inspired Concept Record

Categories: Q&As
Earache Records
Gama Bomb is hell-bent on having fun. The band from Newry, Ireland, happily bangs out frenetic '80s-style thrash while tapping into their geeky side without a care. The pop culture worship of "We Respect You" off Tales from the Grave (available as a free download at  Earache Records) effectively communicates the idea that these guys are probably awesome to hang out with.

Philly Byrne's warped, speedy preacher shout pays tribute to a few filmmakers (like Richard Donner and John Carpenter) and a cavalcade of actors, including Steve Guttenberg, Christophers Lee, Lloyd, and Walken, Bill Paxton, Kurt Russell, and Michael Biehn. (The latter gets the best shout-out: "Here's looking at you, Michael Biehn/When we go drinking, we shout about you/Outlining your career, pumping my fist/Aliens is amazing, it's true.")
All of Tales is gushing with a similar kind of personality; bassist Joe McGuigan has described the record as a "thrash comic book." In keeping with this freewheeling sensibility, Byrne called for an unexpected interview at 8:30 p.m. last Sunday after playing a sparsely attended show in Amarillo, Texas, with Evile and Bonded by Blood.

The three bands will bring the same tour to Chain Reaction in Anaheim this Sunday, Dec. 12. (Intruder, enRot, and Madrost will also be on the bill.)

Admittedly, Byrne had a bit to drink before this conversation, but he remained entertainingly incisive. Although this transcription strives for accuracy, forgive us if it isn't 100 percent accurate; Byrne's brogue moves at the speed of your average NASCAR driver.

The vocalist dished on costume changes, punk, and the band's style.

OC Weekly (Reyan Ali): In Gama Bomb's early days, you used to dress up in various costumes and covered the Ninja Turtles theme. Things seemed a lot jokier. Why'd the shift in dynamic happen?

Philly Byrne: We've been together since 2002 so those were very gradual. We stopped doing the costumes after a while because we couldn't be bothered.

At the start, I had short Tintin hair. At the time, I wouldn't have admitted it, but the costumes were a way of appearing more committed to the idea of the band. Dressing up was my way of saying, 'We don't take ourselves seriously, but we're quite metal.' I still dress up, but not in the same way. Before every show, I put on a pair of skintight black jeans, a pair of high tops, a black T-shirt with no sleeves on it, and a Washington Redskins jacket. I'm still dressing up; I'm just dressing up as myself.

We may not do covers now, but we're a much more gimmicky and interactive and theatrical band than we ever were. It just doesn't extend to make-up and tights, that's all. 

Did you dress up as anything besides a chef and a pirate?
Yeah, I had a lab coat. The lab coat was the classic one. Among the 20 people who remember us from that time, it was a lab coat with bloody handprints all over. It had studs on the collar and drawings of different symbols all over it. It was my madman jacket. I'd dress up as a cardinal as well; I had a full costume.

I was a chef: I had the proper checkered trousers and the hat and everything. I only ever did that once or twice. I still have the lab coat in my wardrobe and I imagine if there was ever the appropriate time, I might actually bring it out on tour with me.

In a review of a Gama Bomb show, a writer mentioned that the band looks like it stepped out of a time machine, with the jeans, the long hair, and the vintage T-shirts.

Do you purposely try and emulate '80s thrash fashion or is that just how you happen to dress?

It's pretty much how we dress, but whenever it comes time to do the gig, you have to dress in a way functional to the music. Generally, that's going to be a T-shirt that's loose with no neck and no sleeves so you can sweat it out. You're armed when you're wearing tight jeans. I'll generally be wearing high tops anyway.

I suppose in a way, we are the typical dressed thrash band, but that's what we look like. When you see Luke [Graham, guitarist] offstage, he is wearing denim cutoffs with studs and patches on it. When you see Joe offstage, he is wearing a baseball cap with a Ninja Turtles logo on it. I suppose we can always reassure ourselves that we were into this sort of thing before it became popular. There weren't skater kids dressed up like thrashers or whatever else. We were pretty much the only people doing it where we came from.

Vocals-wise, you don't do straight metal screams, but you don't really sing either. How would you characterize your style?
I'd probably say, wobbly, whingy. [Laughs] We were talking about this tonight. On our first album, which we made, like, five years ago, I'd just kind of roar. I'd make this Lemmy-ish barking noise. The screams never sounded right. The singing was always too hoarse. It took a long time to develop into anything approaching a real singing style. [Now,] whenever it comes time to deliver a high note or a scream, I always make sure that those get delivered.

The rest of the time, it's a combination of pronouncing things razor sharp--a big thing that Dio, Bobby Blitz [of Overkill], and all my favorite singers do. Their pronunciation of things was unbelievably spot-on. When it came time to sing whatever insane lyrics I've written, I always find it valuable to enunciate well. Other singers mumble and grumble through a set, whereas I'm just talking with a very loud voice. I never thought I was in any way a good singer until I heard people hating the way that I sang.

People who sound unbelievably generic never get pointed out as a problem with a band. In metal, that's actually a bonus point most times. As soon as you have your own personality, someone will hate you for it and that's how you know you've got one. 

I'm happy with the way I'm singing these days. On this tour particularly, I've done the best singing in my life. Everything's there. Plus, I stole Bobby Blitz's moves. [Laughs] We've toured with Overkill twice and I've stolen every move and note he's ever held, so in the long run, I'm just going to be a mixture between Bobby Blitz and Joey Ramone.

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