James Hart of Burn Halo
James Hart spent more than ten years of his life fronting the metal/hardcore band 18 Visions. When that project came to an end Hart contemplated what was next for him and opted to make the album that he had long dreamed of making – an in your face, raw and dirty, rock and roll masterpiece. The only strange part is, he opted to do it as a solo project, without the support of a full band.
Employing the help of songwriter/producer Zac Malloy, Hart wrote and recorded an album that he was proud to stand behind, the only problem was, his label no longer was. What may have cause many to give up only fueled Hart’s fire and with some determination and the support of his management the album was released under the self-titled name “Burn Halo.”
Now the only thing missing was a band to bring the songs to life on stage. For Hart, the band had to be musicians who lived and breathed rock and roll and could believe in his music as much as he could. With what seems to be “mission accomplished” Hart and his newly formed band of Joey Roxx on lead guitar, Timmy Russell on drums, Aaron Baylor on bass and Brandon Lynn on rhythm guitar are currently touring their asses off on a co-headlining jaunt with fellow rockers Halestorm and The Veer Union. James recently took some time to talk to us about his past with 18 Visions and his future with Burn Halo.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | June 2009
So let’s start with some history for people. You were the front man for 18 Visions for a long time and then the band disbanded…you were with 18 Visions for over ten years right?
A little more than ten years but the first couple of years were kind of high school garage band type stuff. We had a pretty good run. We started off as a metal/hardcore band and evolved from record to record and we had a natural progression. We were always willing to bring in new ideas to our music and from record to record we finally evolved into a rock band that had some success at radio in 2006. It was just a struggle for us as a band mainly because by doing all these new things within the music we would lose half of our fan base from album to album because we were pushing the limits and it was really really tough. It took its toll on us and it was really hard for us to keep our current fan base and continue to build one at the same time. If we lost half of our fan base we would gain a quarter of it back with new fans, we couldn’t sustain 100 percent of our fans and add additional fans every time we put a record out so it was really hard for us as a band. Ultimately our last album on Epic didn’t meet up to the standards of the label, there were some things that went wrong internally with some of the decisions that were made and that all led up to our disbanding in 2007.
When you did disband and you started working on a new project you went at it from a solo perspective, why did you want to do it solo?
The main thing for me was that I had been in a band for so many years and part of the struggle for the last few years was making decisions and compromising musical ideas from a recording standpoint and writing songs. It was just really hard to get everybody on the same page all the time. We started off as a really youthful band willing to try new things and like I said do different things with our music and it was really carefree. When the major label got involved things got more serious and it was really tough. Everybody had their opinions and ideas on how things should go and how the songs should sound and how the record should collectively sound, what tours we should/shouldn’t take, where we should spend money and it was just a struggle. I felt like I wasn’t willing to go through that again by starting up a new band. I felt like I had the experience and knew the ins and outs of touring, the industry and it just made sense for me to do it on my own and get a group of guys together who believe in me and believe in my system.
You said that going into this you had a clear vision on making a “clear-cut rock ‘n’ roll record without any compromise” – which is a bit of a departure sound wise from what you were doing with 18 Visions, was this just an evolution for you or the kind of music you always wanted to make?
I was always pushing 18V to do things a little bit different, to bring in the commercial aspect of music that has universal appeal to it. I want to make a career out of it and I love great songs. To me most of the great songs that I hear have commercial appeal to them and I was just trying to push the band into doing something a little bit different so that we could sustain a career and do what we’ve been wanting to do all these years. It just didn’t work out that way. I’ve always been a big rock fan so when I had the opportunity to do this record on my own I jumped at it. I knew exactly the kind of record that I wanted to make and there was nobody telling me they didn’t like parts or questioning how they fit, I had total control. Not that I’m a control freak but it was nice not having someone tell me how a record should or shouldn’t sound.
You wrote a lot of the songs with Zac Maloy (formerly of The Nixons) and he also did some of the production, how did that relationship come to fruition?
Originally I was signed to Island Records before I was subsequently released from my contract with them back in early 2008. One of the A&R guys at Island who had signed me had Zac in mind as a songwriter. He sent me up to Tulsa, OK, I wrote a few songs with him, turned them in and that’s basically how I got my record deal. It was just great chemistry between us, I didn’t really know about his background or what he’d done with his career aside from being the front man for The Nixons and I think he had a song on the Daughtry record that I had heard. I didn’t know a whole lot about him at the time. I met him, sat down with him and talked about the kind of record that I wanted to make and my visions and ideas and we were able to accomplish that. We had a great chemistry writing music and I look forward to writing a few songs with him on records in the future.
You’ve also credited Zac with really pushing you in the studio and enabling you to get the most out of your voice, what do you think it was about his method that pushed you to that next level?
I think it was all about the vibe of the vocals. When I tracked vocals with 18 Visions, not to take anything away from any of those producers, I felt that I worked really well with our last producer Machine, who was great with me. But again, we made a totally different type of record production-wise than the type of record that I wanted to make with this new opportunity. I think that Zac was really able to get the idea of making a really raw rock album – stripped down vocals, not too many stacked layers, not too much going on, not too busy, and he was really able to get the most out of my vocal tones, my emotions, lyrics, everything all rolled into one. He was just great at pulling it all together.
You’ve said that while writing the songs that you wanted to become more of a story teller through your lyrics and to be very straightforward, do you feel like you’ve accomplished that throughout?
Absolutely, I really do. I feel like for the most part each song tells its own little story with maybe the exception of one or two that are just fun songs that are not so candy-coated with the message. I really wanted to have the listener latch on to what I was singing about with one listen, paint that picture of what the song was about and what I’m trying to get across. I feel like songs like “Too Late to Tell You Now,” “Here with Me,” “Saloon Song,” those songs they might be more mid-tempo ballad type songs but they have great stories to them. “Save Me” is a great picture of roaming through the darkness and turning around your direction in life and walking into the light, and I just think that every song has a message and a story that I think people can easily relate to and I find that so important when trying to sell a song to somebody.
Are there particular songs on the album that you’re more attached to on an emotional level than others?
I would probably say “Save Me,” “Here with Me,” and “Back to the Start” are the songs that are a little bit deeper for me. They hit home a little bit more than some of the other songs do. There are a couple of songs on the album that may sound like something that I may have been going through in my life but I actually stepped outside the box as a writer and wrote about something that one of my best friends was going through, I put myself in his shoes, and thought it would be a good way to get a song across in a different outlet.
I always wonder this about music that is written by one person and then the band is built around the music, is it hard to find the right people that will connect with something that they weren’t involved in creating?
Absolutely, you have to find people who really enjoy playing the songs and are really capable of playing the songs. Also looking to the next record, you have to look to people who would be capable of writing those types of songs with you in the future. You want guys that are committed, that are real players, real in the sense of like, I’ve met a couple of people along the way that were put in the same situation as some of my guys were. The band needed a guitar player so they hired a guy that normally just kind of wears gym shorts and a t-shirt and they put him on stage and he’s wearing a black trench coat, lipstick and a hat, and that’s not him. To him it’s just a job and I understand that but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted real rock guys, guys that were into the same stuff that I was into, into the music, and wanted to make an album like this one in the future.
So can you give us an introduction to the guys in the band?:
We’ve got Joey Roxx on lead guitar, Aaron Baylor on bass, Timmy Russell, on drums, and right now we have Brandon Lynn from Oklahoma on rhythm guitar. Timmy was playing drums in Bang Tango and Beautiful Creatures for awhile, but everyone else has done the local thing. Aaron and Brandon are from OK so they were working the country circuit for awhile. But for the most part this is everyone’s introduction to the wolves.
So when all was said and done and you had the record complete, the label kind of flaked on you and decided not to release it..but something pretty cool happened after that with your manager, do you want to tell me how that all fell into place?
My A&R guy was let go and it happens a lot in this industry, so there was no one at the label that wanted to step up and take over where he had left off with my record. I was also let go, but they gave me my album back, which was great, that was a nice gesture on their part. After months of digging around for a deal my managers came to the table with the idea of putting the record out himself through the Warner Music Group and using their promotion staff and radio department. They really loved the record and here we are today a couple months after the release and almost six full months after the single’s been dropped and we’re moving forward. We’re doing great, we’ve got great touring opportunities, and from an indie standpoint the record is doing phenomenal for its genre so I couldn’t complain.
Listening to the album, I’m reminded a lot of rock in the 80s and even some throwbacks to the 70s when rock was really at its purest form…were you inspired by those eras?
Absolutely, maybe not so much when we were writing the music beds for the songs, I think more of it came into effect when we were writing the guitar leads. I’m a big fan of guitar solos that just sing their own song within the song and you just don’t get a lot of that these days and I wanted to bring that into the song. I grew up listening to all eras of Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, Alice in Chains, STP, Skid Row, Soundgarden – all that stuff, that’s what I really grew up on. I wanted to make a modern rock album that had little hints of that stuff that’s been a favorite of mine for years.
Watch Burn Halo’s Video for “Dirty Little Girl”:
I’ve read a lot of reviews comparing the album to early GnR so you can’t really go wrong with that.
Wow, I don’t really read reviews, so thanks for bringing me the good news.
For people who may be being introduced to the band for the first time right now, what’s the message that you want the music to drive home to them as a whole?
Musically that we’re just out here on tour and we’re a pure rock band. So anyone who feels like they’re lacking a pure rock act in their lives musically we’re capable of filling that void. On stage its raw and pure, it’s definitely got its dangerous side to it which I think the rock scene has been missing for awhile now. It’s starting to come back now with Avenged Sevenfold and Buckcherry coming back around, it’s just not what it was. I want to try to bring that back – the in your face brand of rock and roll music, make sure it’s got an edge. I think for the most part any fan of rock music will definitely enjoy it.
You’re currently out on a co-headlining tour with Halestorm and The Veer Union….how’s it going thus far?
Basically we rotate spots every night and get the same amount of time to play. It’s definitely cool, three up and coming rock bands doing their own thing and finding early success, it’s great to see.
Check back soon for the full photo gallery of live shots from their performance at Pearl Street in Northampton, MA
For more info on Burn Halo visit their MySpace page.
Support rock and roll and check out this amazing tour with three promising rock acts:
Jun 20 2009 Crocodile Rock co-headline with HALESTORM & VEER UNION Allentown, Pennsylvania
Jun 21 2009 Tink’s (BURN HALO headline show) Scranton, Pennsylvania
Jun 22 2009 Recher Theatre co-headline with HALESTORM & VEER UNION Towson/Baltimore, Maryland
Jun 25 2009 Muskegon Summer Celebration – Heritage Park Landing with SAVING ABEL Muskeegon, Michigan
Jun 26 2009 Summerfest with SALIVA Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Jun 27 2009 Midland Theater (BURN HALO KQRC show) Kansas City, Missouri
Jun 28 2009 Riverside Ballroom co-headline with HALESTORM & VEER UNION Green Bay, Wisconsin
Jul 22 2009 Uncle Pleasant’s (BURN HALO headline show) Louisville, Kentucky
Jul 23 2009 The Handlebar (BURN HALO headline show) Greenville, South Carolina
Jul 24 2009 Hooligan’s (BURN HALO headline show) Jacksonville, North Carolina
Jul 25 2009 Halligan’s Restaurant & Bar (BURN HALO headline show) Charleston, South Carolina
Jul 28 2009 Exit/In (BURN HALO headline show) Nashville, Tennessee
Jul 31 2009 Scout Bar (BURN HALO headline show) Houston, Texas
Aug 1 2009 Scout Bar (BURN HALO headline show) Beaumont, Texas
Aug 2 2009 Scout Bar (BURN HALO headline show) ***FREE SHOW*** San Antonio, Texas