Interview date

September 2006


Yann G


Hi James, thanks a lot for accepting this interview for the french metal webzine http://www.auxportesdumetal.com/.

You're very welcome.

Since "Anthem", we haven't heard much of you in France. What have you done since 2002 ?

I've been keeping busy with my guitar company Byrd Guitars, but I've recorded some things for other projects. I did some tribute tracks for Lion Music. I produced and performed on the Uli Jon Roth track "Still so many lives away" for their release Beyond Inspiration - A Tribute To Uli Jon Roth, I contributed guitar solos to "Burning of the Midnite Lamp" The Spirit Lives On Vol.2 - A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix, and I produced and performed on an independent tribute album called Secondhand Smoke - A Tribute To Frank Marino (2005 Wildmess Records) where I contributed the track "The World Anthem". But you are right, I haven't released an album under my own name since 2002. A lot of factors contributed to that; first, I had a serious back injury, and was on heavy pain medication while I was recording Anthem. I couldn't even walk for several months. It was really hard to produce the album, and when I was finished, I just felt burned out, and had a long physical recovery to face. So I took some time off, and then in 2004, my Father who I was extremely close to, passed away after fighting for his life for 3 months in the hospital. I just didn't have the focus and desire required to do an album, so I concentrated on other things, and played on the projects I mentioned. But now I'm finally writing music again and will start recording a new album in the coming months.

You seem to be involved in guitar conception. Can you please tell us more about your "Avianti Byrd Guitars".
Are you the only conceptor of this guitar ?

Yes. After years of playing and endorsing guitars by Ibanez, Kramer, Fender, and ESP, I designed and patented my own guitar. It's a combination of things which I have liked over the years, and some new innovations. The Guitar is called the Super Avianti (R) Balance Compensated Wing (R). It's a unique off-set 'V' shape with many special features. The guitars can be seen and also custom ordered by the public at http://www.byrdguitars.com.

For which musical style do you think these guitars are designed to play?

First and foremost, they're really the ultimate design for the advanced neoclassical rock guitarist. But they're also fantastic for blues, or even country music because the tone is very pure and bell like.

Do you plan a new James Byrd's Atlantis Rising release ? If yes, when ? In which style ?

I'm going to hedge a bit and say probably. I will try to impart as many of my stylistic elements as possible. I learn new things in terms of approach with each album, what I like, and what I decide not to do a second time. I think Anthem was too keyboard dominated, and dry sounding, so I will try to attain a more organic and guitar dominated sound. But albums are like paintings, and unless you paint by numbers (which many people do actually) you just don't know what the picture is going to convey until it's finished.

With Joe Stump and Yngwie Malmsteen, you've been one of the icons of neo-classical metal guitar in the 90s. All those guitar-heroes keep a very faithful audience. What do you think of the evolution of guitarists who played neo-classical in the 90s ?

You know, it seems I'd be qualified to have an informed opinion, but really, I don't know much about what anyone else has been up to. I listen to classical music, old Deep Purple, UFO, Jimi Hendrix and D'Jango for inspiration, and really couldn't tell you much about anyone beyond 1982. I just do my thing.

Don't you think that your so long absence can be a risk ? Aren't you afraid that metal audience could forget you after such a long time ?

I hadn't really thought about it until you asked. It really goes to motivations. I don't make records so people won't forget me, I make them because there is something inside me that needs to come out through music. Of course no one wishes to be forgotten about, but let's face it, I've never been a household name, I'm just a guy who loves music and guitar who has a cult following. I'm amazed at how many people there are who not only haven't forgotten Fifth Angel, but who are still huge fans. For me, it's like a snap shot in time, but for them, it's music which was important in their lives, and still is.

You're used to play on a lot of tributes to guitarists : Jason Becker, Jimi Hendrix, Uli Jon Roth ... Did you have fun ?

Absolutely! It's really refreshing to play on something else for a change. I don't have to worry about all the things that go along with producing an album and I can just play and relax.

On which tributes would you dream to play as a special guest and why ?

I'd be up for a Deep Purple tribute. Blackmore is one of my favorite guitarists of all time.

On your website, we can see pics of you with Yngwie Malmsteen during G3Tour backstage. What do you think of Satriani & Vai's choice to have chosen Yngwie as the third player ?

Honestly I think they were brave because he steals the show, no question. I don't think either of those guys remotely compare to him as players.

Would you love to be a member of G3 for a tour in the future ?

I have degenerative arthritis in my spine and tendon problems in my left hand that preclude my touring. I had my tendons surgically unsheathed in 1989 because my hand had completely frozen, and thank God it works again, but I can't play more than ten minutes without having to take a break and icing it down. People who always wonder why I don't tour anymore, well this has been partly why. I really don't like talking about it so I haven't, but I get asked so often, maybe this will clear it up. And really, I'm fine with that. I love recording and playing in the studio, and would rather grow old gracefully as a guitarist than live the life of a gypsy. And it works out better economically and artistically because touring is so distracting from writing and recording, and also very expensive unless you're selling out large venues.

How do you judge the guitar scene today in 2006 ?

Well, I could be wrong because as I said, I don't really keep up much on it, but it seems to me that rock music in general, is going nowhere. I've seen a few new bands who seem to be flying the early 90's metal banner with some competent guitar playing, but it seems almost sad in a way because it's just coming across as "retro". It's a hard feeling to explain because as someone who was a part of the original progressive rock/guitar virtuoso movement in the eighties and nineties, it's nice to see the style embraced, but it's also kind of disheartening to see it so "stuck" for lack of a better term. I think this kind of applies to rock in general; once grunge came and went, the music seems to just be "stuck" without progressing in any way that I personally get excited about. Maybe that's what getting older really means. I mean you know you're getting older when the equipment you bought brand new, is now fetching collectors prices on Ebay as "vintage". So perhaps I can not be objective, but it seems to me that a great "flowering" took place in music during the late 1960's and 1970's where everything seemed innovative and fresh to the ear. I do not see that in rock today; I see a lot of mediocre bands, and then some bands going back to the past who play better, but aren't doing anything new.

Which bands and which kind of music do you listen to every day ?

I listen to what I listened to as a kid; Deep Purple, Hendrix, even Elton John, or I listen to classical music, or old jazz. There are a few newer bands I enjoy like Green Day, but that's just music to drive to in the car, not something I'd ever sit down and intently listen to as a musician. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy them, but it's not artistically inspiring. I think there's a price to be paid for being a musician in terms of music appreciation; you lose the ability to just like something without analyzing it; it's like you can't step away anymore.

Can you please tell us about your future projects : DVD recording ? Guitar clinics ? ...

Well, as I said, I'm finally ready to begin making a new album, and the direction and people are going to be coming together in the next couple of weeks. I'd love to get involved in producing a video eventually.

Will we have an opportunity to see you in France for a concert or a master class ?

No, probably not.

Would have some words for the readers of the webzine and more generally for the french guitar-hero apprentices ?

To the players, play in tune, and to the fans, just "thank you": I appreciate your support over the years and I'll try to make you a great album.

Thanks a lot for having taken time for this interview !

Thank you.