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Interview - Ben Christo (Night By Night)

Interview with Ben Christo from Night By Night
by YngwieViking at 30 July 2014, 11:01 PM

Probably one of the recent discoveries in melodic Hard Rock, itching the paths of Metal, the UK boys of NIGHT BY NIGHT are possibly the next thing in the scene, and beyond their locality. YngwieViking talked with Ben Christo of the band due to the celebration of their new release and recent signing.

Hi Ben , First Many thanks for taking some of your precious time to answer to my questions and congratulations !!! I think that “NxN” is a winning debut release, It was for me a real pleasure from start to finish…What will be your words to describe it?

I’m really pleased you’re excited about the record! To describe ‘NxN’: Take the heavyweight riffs of Alterbridge and Sevendust and mix ‘em with the big choruses and vocal harmonies of classic Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. We think that if you like hard rock with lots of intensity, melody and meaning, you’ll love this album. It’ll make you dance, it’ll make you smile… and it also might make you think. Above all, this record has real passion; all five of us really, really care about the music we make and what it means – both to us and to you who will hear it. The music and words have been painstakingly written, we have pushed ourselves to play and sing at our very best and the production and mix has been scrutinized to the finest detail. You’ll get 10 NxN anthems, each with its own special identity, sound and meaning. Maybe it’ll be like 10 episodes of your favourite TV show!

Could you first tell us about you, your background as a musician ,… your past or recent involvements in other bands and projects ! I want to know everything… , Go !

I started playing guitar when I was 10, shortly after seeing the first 2 concerts of my life within a week – Judas Priest and AC/DC. I’d been a fan of rock since I was about 4, but this was the turning point – I was so inspired by these concerts that Iknew that I had to play rock guitar! My first ‘live’ performance was about a year later when I performed at a school talent show. Inspired by the classic scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly plays a rocked-up rendition of Johnny B Goode, I aimed to do the same – complete with stand-alone, 2-handed tapping section at the end! My backing band was… well, me – as I played along to the rhythm guitar parton a tape machine, which I’d recorded the day before.I was really serious about my playing – I remember seeing an older group of pupils at the same show doing a version of Livin’ on a Prayer and scoffing to myself “They simplified the guitar solo too much!”

That said, rather than aiming to be a shredding lead guitarist, I found myself drawn to the whole notion of songwriting and, between the ages of 11 and 15,  wrote over 100 songs, each getting more and more layered. I started with 3-chord AC/DC rip-offs (titles likeThe Devil’s Flaming Hoof and Devil and Damnation (which sounded exactly like ‘DC’sEvil Walks)), using a primitive multi-tracking system. Wanna make an album with no budget? Here’s how to do it:

Step 1 – Take a basic tape recorder with an inbuilt microphone and ‘recording’ function. We’ll call this ‘Machine 1’. Hit ‘record’ and then perform the rhythm guitar, lead vocal and drums (either a tambourine or the drum loop button on a Casio keyboard – both activated by your foot!) – all at the same time. Presto, your main ‘tracks’ are committed to tape on Machine 1.

Step 2 – Get a second tape recorder, also with an inbuilt microphone and ‘record’ function (I’d secretly borrow my dad’s). We’ll call this ‘Machine 2’. Set up Machine 2 opposite Machine 1 and place yourself and your trusty guitar in between the two. Hit ‘record’ on Machine 2, press ‘play’ on Machine 1 and then play the lead guitar parts and sing the backing vocals along with the music you’ve already recorded on Machine 1. And there you have it: a very low quality and completely unmixable master recording! All you have to do then is design the album artwork (best time to do this is secretly at the back of the room during a mathematics class).

After the initial AC/DC emulations, I’d say my next compositions sounded like a combination of Judas Priest’s Turbo album meets The Cult’s output from ’85 – ’91. It was all about big chorus vocal melodies with Billy Duffy style lead motifs playing underneath them. I think I tried to rip off Wild Hearted Son about 27 times; and each attempt was either a blatant copy or just… not even a quarter as good. I still rate that Cult song as a very, very fine piece of soulful hard rock.

By 14, thanks to my uncle-in-law allowing me access to his 8-track and drum machine on the occasional Sunday afternoon, my compositions now had simple bass guitar, varying drum patterns, layered vocal harmonies and even keyboard parts! Titles had become slightly more sophisticated, be it prog (Butterfly Wheel, An Enchanted Deck)grunge/alt rock-infused (In the Garden, Potion of Charm), teen-angst-ridded (Sorrow, Criticize), pseudo-metal (Trooper, The Last Zone)or simply utter rip-offs of The Cult (Sister Rain). I still have some of these recordings and am quite proud of them, especially as each song’s entire instrumentation and vocals would be recorded in 2 hours (my uncle only let me use his stuff for a limited amount of time).

The same year, I joined a school band (Balanced State) with three 6th-formers (age 17)… and a science teacher! The influences were rather conflicting; I liked old stuff by Judas Priest and The Cult, the others were into Rage Against the Machine, Primus and the Chilli Peppers, but, with most school bands, it’s just about getting out and playing SOMETHING.We entered a Battle of the Bands (the heats were filmed for regional TV). We made it the finals, where we performed live against 5 other bands – and WON. I will never forgetthe elation and euphoria I felt at the moment that our name was announced, the roar of the crowd, the feeling of achievement. That was it; from then on I was certain of what I wanted to do with my life. The group disbanded as the older members went off to university, so, aged 16, I teamed up with my uncle (who was 24) and his girlfriend (22) and a local drummer to form a punk-pop quartet called Disrupt – juggernaut riffs and epic choruses; essentially we wanted to create a sonic version of a Tank Girl comic. It was my first go at singing live vocal harmonies in a band and I really, really enjoyed it. We played a fair few gigs in the south-west and recorded about 10 tracks. After 3 years, we disbanded as my uncle and his GF’s lives became more complicated with work and family commitments.

Around the same time I started jamming with some new friends at college. In particular, I bonded with a punk kid called Toby. Where I was always quite an introverted, polite and thoughtful musician, he was raucous, crass, opinionated… and incredibly talented. His first band had scored Kerrang!magazine’s Single of the Week not once but twice, when they’d been just 15. In Toby I saw the kind of ambition, belief and confidence that I felt about my own course as a musician. He was also incredibly charismatic and funny, he had this ‘star’ quality that I was attracted to; he was the sort of person who had something to say. Although I held dearly to my melodic roots of Def Leppard, Damn Yankees, Bon Jovi, my tastes had developed into heavier styles; Therapy?, The Offspring, Papa Roach, Sevendust, Rob Zombie, Clawfinger, Fear Factory… so even if Toby’s love of superfast SoCal punk (NOFX, Strung Out, AFI etc) took me into new territories, the terrain wasn’t totally sonically unfamiliar. With another mutual friend, Tom, (who worshipped at the temples of Stuck Mojo, Strife and Downset)we formed AKO, which we tagged as ‘brutal, melodic hardcore’. The combination of Tom’s metal groove riffs, my love for ‘80s melodies, vocal harmonies and guitar solos and Toby’s exuberant,volatile and powerful presence was a winning formula and we picked up steam quickly. Signed by a local label, we released our debut Find Yourselfand received 4/5 in Kerrang! and 8/10 in Metal Hammer. Before we knew it, we were selling out the local venues, playing shows to 400 kids a night – it was crazy! We secured some excellent support slots (AFI, Avenged Sevenfold, Alkaline Trio, Stonesour) both in and outside our hometown and found ourselves playing to 1k – 2K crowds of new fans. It was a tough path, but it was all picking up. We recorded a couple of well-received of EPs, were starting to play to small but packed-out venues outside our hometown and even recorded a live session at the BBC Maida Vale studios for Radio 1… but, somehow, things went awry. A combination of people being unable to commit to the touring schedule, plus a war of egos between myself and Toby (and I was largely to blame for a lot of this as I was getting way too self-important and trying to take over the band rather than simply know my place in the ‘machine’). The last thing we did was play at South By West Festival in Texas, USA. It was a weird, incapacitated version of the band that hit the stage that night it Austin –a freshman bass player and we were missing a guitarist (the other guy just didn’t show up to the airport - but that’s another story!) and it showed. We played a lackluster set, our manager quit and I realized that I had to start over. My passion was as strong as it had ever been, it was just that the band was getting to a place where it all just seemed to be stress, arguments and disappointment. I don’t know. Sometimes I look back and wish we’d stuck it out, cos I think we had a big chance. But, I guess things went the way they did because we just didn’t share thepassion for the same thing anymore. I composed and recorded a couple of melodic metal demos and moved to London to form a band, using this material as a blueprint to attract other musicians. It wasn’t long after that I got head-hunted for The Sisters of Mercy !

Can tell us about your time with the legendary Cold Wave band THE SISTERS OF MERCY ?
Being part of The Sisters of Mercy has been an wonderful experience for me, as I have made some fantastic friends in the band and crew, played to some huge sized audiences and travelled all over the globe. I was also interested in the band before I joined, so becoming a part of its history was a real honour.

Now tell us: why did we have to wait six long years to finally have a this first album? What happened ?

There were 3 main factors: getting the right lead singer, change of management and getting funding to make the album.

As you might not know, the original incarnation of the band had myself on lead vocals. Even though we recorded some tracks as a 4-piece and did a load of touring, we eventually felt that we needed a dedicated singer at the front, someone who’d strived to be a vocalist their whole life (whereas I’d always aspired to be a guitarist and a song-writer); someone who’s vocal ability could match the ambition we had for our material. The Dan Rossall years, 2011 – 2012, were absolutely essential in establishing who we are. Things didn’t work out with him for the long run, so we found Henry - which brings us up to date. We also had shifts in the position of the drummer and the guitarist, which caused more initial delays, not to mention changes in management (which related to the lengthy pursuit for the funding to make the record).

I would guess that many famous bands had delays, difficulties and line-up shifts during the formative years leading up to the release of their debut, but the public didn’t see it. When a band’s first album is out, it cements the line-up and no-one questions what happened before. As I’ve said, to release this record, we’ve had a few line-up and management changes and sometimes that’s what it takes to find the right chemistry. There are so many factors that have to align for people to work well in a band together - musical vision, playing style and writing techniques are just one side of it. Availability, work schedules, location, relationship/family commitments – all of these can potentially make or break a band that is only generating enough revenue to sustain the costs of running itself. If you’ve been in an originals band, you’ll know about this! It starts great – drinks in a pub, getting excited about a future of big shows and creative and commercial success. But the reality – endless evenings practicing in a basement or expensive rehearsal studio, carrying amps and drums through the rain, playing gigs to nobody, having to miss out on family parties or celebrations, the money spent on gear and travel, the numerous disappointments… they all take their toll. It boils down to how much emotional investment and belief a member has in their band. I still believe that Yoda was right when he said “There is only ‘do’ or ‘do not’…there is no ‘try’.” It’s just finding those other people who really want to ‘DO’ – no matter what.

We wanted this record to be RIGHT and that meant working with the right people – both musicians and management, especially management who are as passionate about the music as the band. It’s taken a while, but we think we’ve found this chemistry with each other and with Sun Hill.

In my review for your superb first album, I wrote that “NxN” reveals a personality pretty close to DEF LEPPARD or DANGER DANGER. In the same review, I also state that the sounds of the band, while remaining very familiar, seems to be  more natural , more organic than your contenders.  Whilst  keeping a lot of lush arrangements, it still sounds sophisticated and professional:What do you think of those comments?

I appreciate these observations. We wanted a big, clear production with a heavy, modern and sophisticated sound; that’s why we went to Romesh Dodangoda and John Mitchell respectively. Rom gave us the cutting edge and heavy production of bands like The Blackout and Attack! Attack!, whilst John focused on drawing out the subtleties of the 3 part vocal harmonies and intertwining guitar lines. The ‘organic’ quality, I think, comes largely from the fact that we feel we put a lot of our personality and soul into the performances and we all have invested in rock music our entire lives. It’s not a fad or new interest, it’s part of who we are. This was fortified by the talent of Henry as a vocalist; there was very, very little ‘fixing’ of his vocal performances, whereas a lot of bands these days rely on ‘tuning’ and ‘time-stretching’ the vocal to make it sound ‘perfect’ – although, like CGI in a movie, these effects ‘date’ very quickly.

As an old die-hard fan of the genre , the  album was for me refreshing , it holds a strong traditional spirit and a really positive feel !…It seems that “NxN” could reveal the band , are you in the same positive mood concerning those  expectations ?

If the PR is done right for this album, then I think we have a big chance. I believe we have some great performances, memorable choruses and thought-out lyrics and we’ve discovered that our music appeals to 3 generations of rock fans – from the older folk who like the ‘80s influences we have (‘cause they were there the first time around) to the younger 18 – 25 demographic who just enjoy the big guitars and big choruses and the energy we exude. I am very positive and hopeful, I just think we have to keep going!

Could you tell us more about the internal story about the name of the band?

I was scouring my music collection, examining lyrics and scanning song titles for inspiration (the shortlist included ‘Scream to a Sigh’, ‘The Brink’ and ‘Out of Silence’), when I clocked the song title Night by Night by not just one, but two bands (Dokken and Steely Dan). It just stuck, not only because of its alliteration and visual symmetry but also due to what it meant and how it reflected a lot of our songs’ meanings: whereas the ‘day-by-day’ experiences are often preoccupied with the mundane, it’s those that occur after dark that are more emotionally, dramatically and sexually charged. The ‘night-by-night’ happenings are those of high contrast and meaning; - from the chaotic night-life of clubs and bars, drunken camaraderie and intoxicated ambition to darkened rooms, destructive desire and isolation. From early tracksHere I Am and Seasonsto songs from debut like Holding Onto Holding On, The Momentand If Only, there’s an exploration of the social and personal nature of the night: thoughts and emotions synonymous with such imagery

Can you introduce to us the new line up? Especially as you are with Jonny Thornton the only original member?

Henry Rundell: lead vocals
Ben Christo: guitars, backing vocals
Jonny Thornton: bass, backing vocals
Tom Daniel: guitars
Damien Diablo: drums

And even you can be considered as the leader, the mastermind or the driving force behind it, do you see the things like that?

It started that way in 2008, but it soon after developed into an equal partnership between myself and Jonny as the active writing duo and decision-makers. Now, everyone has an important part to play in the band’s progress and management , with Damien handling a lot of the online activity and Tom controlling the website, designing the merch and running the store.

Tell why did you quit singing lead vocals?

I always aspired to be a guitarist and a song-writer, but not a lead vocalist. I thought my voice had a good texture of ‘realness’ to it (as I write the most of the words and thus felt and could really express them), but my lack of vocal range and confidence as a lead singer and fromtman was holding the band back in its aspirations. I think that sometimes, to be a lead singer in ‘big’ rock music, you have to have certain sort of personality and character. I could do an adequate job, but we always wanted to be more much than just adequate. When I was the frontman, I felt very nervous and self-conscious about my voice. When I stepped back and became the guitarist, everything became more enjoyable and natural – I could throw myself into the playing whilst still getting a chance to sing (through the vocal harmonies). We knew we needed a vocalist who’d always wanted to be a vocalist, not just someone who was only doing it because there was no-one else who would!

Indeed your new vocalist Henry Rundell, possesses a great voice somewhere between Jeff Keith from TESLA and Ted Poley… Do you agree ?

I see the similarities, although Henry would not be familiar with either of these singers – he much prefers the likes of Alice in Chains and Led Zeppelin and is probably the only member of the band who doesn’t have much of an interest in ’80s rock!

What do you feel about of the state of the market in 2014? What is your opinion concerning digital downloading legal and illegal?

It’s a struggle in many ways because the basic ‘product’ that we sell (the album, the music) is no longer valued as a commodity, so it means that bands have to find other revenue streams to finance their activities. I think it’s more that the industry is in a state of transition and will stabilize in a few years once musicians figure out how to consistently make money out of music. People will always need music, so it’s just a question of how to still make a wage from that need.

Ben, please tell us the story behind the ethereal voices section in your epic track Siren, I heard you had a special guest on the recording session for this song ?

Yes, the very talented Michal Akrabi. We really wanted different textures to that song, so having a female voice was great in facilitating this. I engineered these vocals at a later date, and it was a lot of fun tracking up the harmony parts, as she is so damn talented that we had time to experiment. I love the way they now sound on the record and this is one of my favourite songs.

Tell us what we have to expect from your side in the future to come ?

I’d like us to release album 2 in 2015; really keep the momentum and excitement going. We already have some great ideas for how we want it to sound and some of the demos are very promising.

Do you plan on touring intensively to promote the new album?

We want to tour as much as possible, which relies on securing a live agent – something we haven’t yet achieved and is the missing piece of the picture. So, if there are any live agents reading this, get in touch. We are hard-workers and believe in what we do.

Were you happy with your opening slot for the tour with mighty EUROPE ?

It was a dream come true – to support a band of that size that we’d all grown up listening to was amazing! The guys were really nice – Ian, the drummer, introduced himself straight away on the first day and even joined us for dinner a few times. I think one of the reasons for their longevity is not only that they are awesome musicians and writers but also that they are gracious and humble. To tour with those guys was incredible and something that the band had aspired to do from the beginning. It was a real milestone for us.

Tell us about your experience playing the Download FEST ?

It was a great little set and, I hope, got our foot in the door for playing in 2015. It’s a fantastic festival and we tried to do as much press as we could.

What is the last CD you have purchased ?

Strangeways’ Native Sonsand Sevendust’s Black Out the Sun. The former was a lucky find; I’d not heard them before, just stumbled across them as a ‘suggestion’ on Spotify. Fantastic musicianship, well thought-out songs, nice production, great vocals. Listen after listen, it really keeps on giving. The latter is the most recent offering from one of my favourite bands, who just seem to be getting better and better with every album. Powerhouse drums, huge riffs and incredibly soulful vocals from the outrageously talented Lajon Witherspoon.  I think you can hear the influence both of these kinds of bands have had on the NxN style.

Please let us know your AOR  TOP 5 ?

Can I have songs rather than albums? I can I have 6?!? In no order:

Strangeways – Empty Streets
Harem Scarem – Sentimental Blvd.
FM – Bad Luck
Michael Bolton – Don’t Tell Me It’s Over
Work of Art – The Great Fall
Fredericksen Denander  - Left With Nothing

Please let us know your All time TOP 10 ?

Please can I have 13?!?

Boysetsfire – After the Eulogy
Sevendust – Cold Day Memory
Therapy? – Troublegum
Strung Out – Exile in Oblivion
Curve – Cuckoo
AC/DC – For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)
Def Leppard – High ‘n’ Dry
The Cult – Sonic Temple
Judas Priest – Turbo
Rush – Power Windows
The Cure – Disintegration
The Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go
Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees

Now it's time for the Chinese portrait aka Le questionnaire de Bernard Pivot , which is inspired by Marcel Proust but This questionnaire is probably more familiar to English audiences as the one that journalist James Lipton asks at the end of  the TV show "Inside the Actors Studio."

What is your favorite word?
Tryst

What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Artistic Authenticity

What turns you off ?

Xenophobia, racism, violence, homophobia, cruelty to animals.

What’s your favorite curse word ?

Brigand! I know that sounds odd, but I much prefer hearing the old-school curses that folk used to use in the past; stuff like ‘blighter’, ‘cad’, ‘bounder’ etc. That said, ‘fuck’ is pretty versatile.

What’s sound or noise do you love ?

The sound of rain outside on a dark night – when you’re inside!

What’s sound or noise do you hate?

Badly Synthesized brass instruments

If not Yourself , who would like to be?

A successful rock musician in the early ‘80s, just to see what it was like to live in that world!

What’s the profession you would not like to do?

9-5 in a call-centre – I know, because I’ve done that job in the past!

Who would like to see on a new bank note?

Probably my brother, Danny Chivers, because he is an environmental activist who is genuinely, intelligently, selflessly and progressively making a difference for all of us.

If you reincarnated as some other plant or animal , what would it be?

A Siamese cat

If God exists , what you like to hear him say at the gates of Heaven?

“You created music that made people happy, inspired them and made a positive difference to their lives.”

I wish you the best of luck with the new album and on the musical path ahead. Anything else you want to share with the Metal-Temple’s readers out there?

If you like Night by Night and believe in what we are doing, please spread the word about us, tell your friends, request our music from club and radio DJs, write to ‘zines and press about us, join in the community and generally support rock music - because that’s the best way that we can all keep this going.

Also: stay connected with us by joining our newsletter at www.nxnofficial.com

And follow and share our activities at:

Facebook.com/nightbynightuk
Twitter: @nightxnight



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