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Byfist’s Nacho Vara: “The passing of my friends, Dave Lee, David Wayne, Vikk & Jeska Real kept me motivated to get our music recorded and to release an album in memory of them”

Interview with Nacho Vara from Byfist
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 16 October 2020, 12:21 PM

For the sake, and in the honors, of those who passed away to the other side revamping an old flame. It is never easy to lose a friend, a mentor, a brother from another mother, however, remembering them is the key, along with all the special moments shared. Byfist, the US Heavy / Power Metal act, has been there since the 80s, yet due to bad luck, things didn’t work out as they potentially should. Nonetheless, it was never forsaken, and in light of occurrences, it came back to haunt a Metal scene that isn’t what it used to be. Guitarist Nacho Vara, who also played with the legendary David Wayne (R.I.P.) in Reverend, unchained the binds from Byfirst and returned with it to a new era. Signing with Pure Steel Records, and releasing their debut, “In The End”, with a strong lineup, it is only the beginning. Steinmetal had a talk with Vara regarding the early end, new beginning, the lineup, lyricism and musical content.

Hello Nacho, it is simply a pleasure to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have you been doing sir?

Hello Lior. I'm doing well, thanks for asking. Hope you’re doing well also!

I have been seeing a lot of reports coming in from the US regarding the pandemic situation going on and it doesn’t look too well. Are you worried about what has been going on? Do you see any end to this madness that has been overrunning the country?

We are doing our part by wearing face coverings, washing our hands often and practicing social distancing. It's sad to see the division that seems to be going on with this virus. I hope that we’re able to get a grip on this pandemic and try to get back to a more normal life and start playing METAL again!

First time that I came to notice the Byfist name, yet along with my first impression of the band and its music, I also noticed that you have been part of the last career phase of the ultimate David Wayne (R.I.P) (ex-Metal Church / ex-Reverend) before he passed away fifteen years ago. What would you say is your most prized memory of that amazing vocalist?

I would have to say that it was when we had our very first Reverend gig in April 2002 at The White Rabbit Club in San Antonio, Texas. We didn’t have a bassist yet and David Wayne was getting nervous as the date was slowly closing in. Dave Lee & I went to our past bandmate and friend, Pete Perez’ (Riot, Leatherwolf, Spastic Inc.) home and asked if he wanted to jam with us. He gladly accepted. David Wayne was so excited and relieved when we told him that Pete was going to play with us. It was great to see D.W. having fun, as I’d never seen him laugh and joke around as much as he did that whole week and especially the night of the gig! You can check out the video of that show on youtube at Reverend (live) on Robbs MetalWorks 2002.

I was also amazed to know that Byfist has actually been since the late 80s, yet other than releasing various singles and EPs, it had no full length releases. Gladly that changed. Any reasons why that debut album never came around until this year? What were the band’s weak points that didn’t quite help it to exist back in the day?

It’s truly a very long story for these two questions, but I’ll condense it as best I can. We released a single, “Love Will Find A Way / Hourglass” in August 1987, then the EP, “You Should Have Known” in April 1988, both recorded at Blue Cat Studios with Joe Trevino engineering. We recorded our last EP, “Adrenaline” in August 1989 @ Silvercloud studios in Burbank, California with Joe Floyd(Warrior) and Sean Kenise both engineering and David Wayne producing.

Around that same time Byfist was approached by MCA Records. After some negotiating we received a great recording contract. However, behind our back, our manager partnered with an attorney from L.A. and attempted to get even more money. Therefore, MCA revoked the deal, thus ruining our chances with a major label. Soon after this, the band unfortunately started to implode from within and along with poor management and bad decisions the band decided to fold with many unfulfilled dreams in June 1991.

After a 9 year break, Byfist reunited in 2000. Early in 2002 David Wayne asked Dave Lee and I to join his band Reverend. We spent more time with Reverend than Byfist up until D.W.’s passing in 2005. After D.W.’s death we continued playing as Reverend to honor the wishes of D.W. to keep his memory and music alive. We continued with both Reverend and Byfist up until lead guitarist Dave Lee’s untimely death in Oct. 2010.

Backtrack to early 2009. Our former vocalist Vikk Real made a guest appearance with us, which started conversations of his rejoining Byfist with his wife Jeska’s encouragement. Conversations increased in mid-2010 and we were making plans to welcome him back into the band when tragically, Jeska passed away from a motorcycle accident. To honor her wish, Vikk did rejoin Byfist and we did a few benefit shows for Jeska. Then, a little over 2 months later, Dave Lee suddenly passed away. We just lost Jeska, now we lost Dave! This was tragic and very heartbreaking for us. After Dave passed away, Vikk and I enlisted help from several friends to honor upcoming shows and did a couple more benefit shows for Jeska and the Lee Family. Vikk and I leaned on each other for a few months, and finally decided to start writing again. In late June 2011 we had a show in Houston, Texas, which would be my last with Vikk for just a week later, sadly, almost a year after Jeska’s death, we got the heartbreaking news that Vikk was also in a tragic accident and passed away.

After losing so many people I loved, I took some time to grieve and reflect on things. In October 2012, I decided to form Byfist again in memory and to honor Dave Lee, Vikk & Jeska Real, and David Wayne. So with help from a previous drummer and bassist, we recruited lead guitarist Ernie B. and things started to look up. Vocalist Raul “Diablo” Garcia joined in March 2013, bassist, Stony Grantham in January 2016, and drummer, Scott Palmer in August 2016. Byfist was a complete band again and in between rehearsing and playing gigs we recorded the songs for the album. In the summer of 2017, we met Bob Mitchell when we opened for Savior from Anger in Houston, Texas. At that time, Bob was their vocalist and also the U.S. rep for Pure Steel. We gave him a demo to listen to, and shortly after that, we were in negotiations with Pure Steel Records.

Now you can understand why it took so long to record our first full length album, but we are extremely pleased with it. These guys in the band are great, and I feel that if Dave, Vikk, Jeska, and David Wayne could speak to us, they’d be proud and honored to call them family.

With the band’s comeback at the beginning of the millennium, things slowly started clicking, and even if took you some time to do so, especially with the untimely departing of your partner, Davey Lee (R.I.P), you nailed it with an awesome lineup that soon recorded the debut, which was no compilation, but fresh material, “In The End”. How does it feel to finally have this album under your bullet belt? What has been keeping you motivated all this time?

Thank you for complimenting on our current line-up Lior! It's a great feeling for sure! It's taken a long time to get to this point and I'm fortunate to have crossed paths with my current band mates! The passing of my friends, Dave Lee, David Wayne, Vikk & Jeska Real kept me motivated to get our music recorded and to release an album in memory of them

Signing with the German Pure Steel Records was no less than a brilliant move, especially since it is a kind of label that is a solid platform for old school Metal. Other than being old school driven, what aspects in a label are important to you for Byfist that you found in Pure Steel Records?

The ability for world-wide distribution, ability to get radio airplay, and a label that truly supports the metal style of music we present. Our bassist Stony also plays in Shadowkeep from England and they are on Pure Steel as well and they had nothing but great things to say about Pure Steel.

The title “In The End”, along with the artwork, which I think that pretty much tells the story, it appeared to me like a sort of a rising phoenix, as if you finally did it and made this release happen after all these years of hardships. Does these two elements symbolize that sense of release or is it something different entirely?

That was kind of the direction I was leaning towards, but the funny thing is that “In The End” was the title I wanted to use for the album before we even started recording, but then I decided to change it to “Exordium” as in an introduction to a new beginning kind of like the rising phoenix you mentioned. It wasn’t until I thought the artwork we were going to use for the cover reminded me more of the last line of the chorus for In the End, "Judgement by fire, in the end", so I decided to change it back.

What are the general viewpoints, main messages that are bestowed in “In The End”? What are the chief relations between the lyrical themes and real life that you felt important to emphasize?

Although some of the songs do relate to death in some form, there's also a message to watch out for those who lie to manipulate or steal from you. All these topics do happen in real life so be kind to others, steer clear of negativity, beware of the overuse of alcohol and drug use and play your METAL loudly!

Listening to Byfist strengthened my fandom for Metal Church, Reverend and US Metal in general. Too bad most of that old Metal is no more in favor of Modern Metal, American made. Since Byfist is pretty much continuing a legacy of once an old Metal scene that had much of an impact, how do you see the band’s musical integration in the nowadays rather demanding scene for technical aspects and trends?

When we have opened for national acts, there have been a few rock stars that tell us it’s refreshing to have a band such as Byfist that play the same style of metal versus all the modern day metal bands that promoters have open up for us all over the place! There are also many fans that have never seen us before, telling us that it's so cool to hear a band such as Byfist that continues with the same old school heavy metal style as bands from past with high vocals and crunchy riffing rhythms instead of like todays mostly down tuned slower music with so much guitar effects instead of straight forward power metal.

Since it has been years since Byfist emerged, how do you observe the band’s musical development on “In The End”, and of course as yours as a now mature songwriter?

From the beginning we were always a metal band but as the years passed it seemed as though we started writing heavier songs. I've always liked to write this way and I guess I haven't strayed from this songwriting style!

Nearly Seven years ago, you had the chance to recruit a new vocalist, named Raul Garcia. Now, this guy is the bang, as I have yet to listen to a vocalist that has that fine Wayne vocal pattern. Other than that, he is quite powerful at the helm and highly dominant. Where did you find this guy in the first place? So you practically found yourself a sort of David Wayne right?

Back in the '80's, Raul and Ernie B, were bandmates in south Texas' Rio Grande Valley and in Hollywood, California. In March 2013 Ernie told me he knew of a first class vocalist that might be interested in auditioning, so Raul came over and he fit right in and we had our first gig with him the following month at a 4-20 fest here in San Antonio. Raul evolved into the vocal style of David Wayne since we were covering Scattered Wits from Reverend. When recording, we kept telling him to let the spirit of David Wayne engulf you, to get him inspired! Raul gave it his all and I’m sure he’ll be humbled at the great things you have to say about him.

How do you find Garcia’s impact on “In The End”?

Diablo is a true professional and he was instrumental in continuing to keep the songs in the same vein as our late vocalist Vikk Real did on our Adrenaline EP, with the high vocals. He also added lyrics to begin Ship of Illusion, added some great melodies to compliment other songs and got me to use other words for some lines in some of the lyrics to make it fit better!

I believe that one of the album’s toughest songs, in terms of both music and lyrical content, is “With This Needle I Thee Wed”. From what I could tell, with pretty much logic guiding me, is that it is about drug addiction and the tribulation surrounding the escape from it. Furthermore, the musical aspects of this song made it a heavy epic. What is your take on this song and its creation? How does it impact you?

It's like you said, the song is about intravenous drug addiction and how one is married to it. I remember being on a west coast tour with Reverend back in the summer of 2002. We were in Huntington beach, California and Dave Lee started playing the opening riffs and I told him, “That’s it, that's it Dave, that’s the beginning to With This Needle I Thee Wed"! After the tour we finished writing the rest of the music. We sent it to David Wayne and drummer Todd Stotz(Reverend, All the Hellbound) and bassist Jay Wegener(Reverend, Byfist, Heir Apparent) to give it a listen and D.W. called us one day while Dave and I were rehearsing and sang the chorus to us, (As I sit here on the side of my bed, with this needle I thee wed). I have good memories of the songwriting sessions and it took some time to finish this song as D.W. was in Seattle, Washington and D.L. & I were here in San Antonio, Texas. I actually spoke and gathered as much information with someone struggling with this kind of addiction.

As a sucker for heavy rhythm guitar riffs, I was laid to waste by “Epitaph”. However, its lead guitar section also left a scorched Earth. What do you make of this kind of frenziness, toughness, and punch on this song? Do you believe that the current Metal scene lacks this form of straightforwardness?

Man! I really love your description of Epitaph! I remember writing the intro riffs and verse parts of Epitaph in Dave Lee's kitchen, and D.L. came up with the riff for the chorus. For the riffs with the spoken part before the lead and for the lead I was trying to imagine what it would sound like in an old steam powered steel manufacturing plant of the industrial age when the shafts start turning gears, pulleys, and conveyor belts slowly then build up speed and came up with those riffs. I'm glad you enjoy the riffing! I don't see many new bands that are playing straight forward old school metal like back in the day that’s for sure.

If Davey could have listened to “In The End”, what do you think he would have commented about it?

I think Dave would have been very pleased and he would have come up with some great comments. I can hear him now saying things like this album makes me want to shave my head, drink a few of those crazy beers you bring me, strap on my Jackson brick wall guitar, crank up my Marshall and jam along! Those powerful crunchy power metal guitar riffs, thunderous drumming like the hooves of a thousand demons pounding in hell, punchy badass bass lines that kill, vocals with intense highs that can probably break glass and like a screaming banshee that can make ears bleed! These songs will definitely drive true metal fans of the glorious ‘80’s into frenzied head banging maniacs!

Any particular plans to promote “In The End” outside of the media, like attempting to go live perhaps online playing a set?

We have talked about that and we’ll see if we can get that going, but with this pandemic and the fact that we are all about 1 ½ hours away from each other, we haven’t even had a chance to get together since our last show with Stryper back in February of this year! A few months ago we were trying to get together on line from each of our homes but either the internet speed was to slow or we didn’t have the right audio interface or the software wasn’t working right for us and of course the latency, but hopefully we can work this out and try to play a set online if and when we can get all these bugs worked out. Damn! I can’t believe I haven’t seen my bandmates for almost 8 months! It’s time to jam!

Nacho, I can’t thank you enough for the time for this interview. It was great to have this chat and with hopes that soon enough will have the chance to demolish several stages. Cheers and thanks for the awesome album.

Thank you for your interest in Byfist and we do hope we can tear up some stages soon! We thank you for the privilege of your time to take a listen to the album and we are humbled that you enjoyed it! Long live Metal! Nacho Vara



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