Byzantine: Chris “OJ” Ojeda Interview By Metal Mark!


Byzantine: Chris “OJ” Ojeda Interview By Metal Mark!

Last week it was revealed that Byzantine would be releasing “To Release is To Resolve” on April 7th, and it immediately got the whole metal world excited. After five years of silence, they returned in 2013 with a crushing self-titled album, and now in 2015, we have another new record coming our way. Just by the sound of the first released track, “A Curious Lot,” it’s pretty obvious that we are in for another special record from this incredible band. Knowing their previous material, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Earlier this week I got to speak with Chris “OJ” Ojeda about the upcoming release, the fans’ dedication, lessons learned and much more! Enjoy the chat below and be sure to pre-order “To Release is To Resolve” right now!

Metal Mark: OJ, many thanks for taking out the time today. How’s everything with you?

OJ: All is well my friend. Just got home from work about an hour ago, and just cracked open my second beer, so I can’t complain. How’s everything on your end?

MM: I’m doing well. I actually just cracked open my second beer too, so we are on the same page here!

OJ: Excellent! Sounds like we are synched souls right now (laughs).

MM: Definitely! We can talk about drinking all night long, but the real reason we are here is about this new record! First, let’s go back to 2013 when you guys returned with that self-titled album. What were the expectations going into it after being absent from the scene for five years?

OJ: That was a hard one to make to be honest. Going into it, we had absolutely no expectations. During those five years of being Dads and working jobs, to creating what I thought at the time was our best record was definitely a challenge for us, but I think we definitely pulled it off. Now we’re facing the task of following up that record, with people actually watching, so I’m extra excited to see what people think about the new stuff, because the response to the last one was so overwhelming.

MM: Did you already have in mind that you were going to write this new album for 2015, or did that response in 2013 kind of push you in that direction?

OJ: It was part of the plan for sure. With the self-titled album, we just wanted to do it for fun, and make it a true DIY thing. We did it all ourselves, and by doing that I realized that this was something I didn’t want to just do on the weekends ya know. I really missed being a professional musician, along with my regular job. A lot of people don’t get the second chance to make a first impression, and I felt like that was what we were given, so I told the guys that we need to take this as far as possible this time around. So once that clicked, I knew there would be another album for sure. It’s what I love, and that time away from it made me realize that, so in a weird way, it was worth taking a break. Now the passion is there like never before.

MM: You mentioned the “do it yourself” approach. Was that the reasoning behind the PledgeMusic campaign for this new record?

OJ: Definitely. The Kickstarter campaign we did before went really well, and once word got out about us doing this new record, Pledge Music hit us up, and we thought it was a great match. It’s been amazing to watch it grow honestly. We’ve had double the amount of pledgers, a ton of exposure from it, and the money that was raised has helped us a ton with getting the new record done. The campaign covered about half of the cost, which is super helpful, and my girlfriend and I are covering the rest with credit cards ya know.

MM: That’s a hell of a girlfriend you got there!

OJ: Dude I know! Usually if you mention writing a new album, that’s when they leave, but not this girl. She’s down to help out in anyway possible, so it’s incredible to have that support ya know.

MM: Making records isn’t cheap, so any help is wanted right?

OJ: That’s the truth my friend. To compete with the larger metal bands, you really have to spend some money on it. One of the things I realized, now as an older musician, is that you can’t just put an album out there and hope fans grab onto it. It’s not like that anymore. The last album we did got amazing reviews, but we really didn’t spend much money on it, so that hindered us from touring or doing everything else that we really should have. So with this album, we are all in, and going as big as possible.

MM: That’s good to hear! It was also good to hear a new song, because “A Curious Lot” is just awesome. Was there any special reason behind releasing that song first?

OJ: To be honest, we released that song because it’s the most straight forward song we got on the album. “Signal Path” was the first single we released for the last album, and that was the complete opposite of everything on that album, so with this new record we really wanted to give the fans something they can grasp onto right away. “A Curious Lot” is a straight up the pipe song, so hopefully fans of both metal and hard rock dig it, but I’m sure Byzantine fans know that the rest of the album will feature tracks that will be more familiar to them. Take them down the rabbit hole as they say (laughs). Honestly, we have some massive songs on this record too. Whether it’s eight or ten minutes long, there’s a lot of diversity on it, so I think it has something for new and old fans to enjoy, which is what we wanted.

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MM: I know it’s a difficult question to answer, but is there a certain track that you are most excited for fans to hear?

OJ: Honestly, that’s not that hard to answer. The second track, “Justinian Code,” is a little over eight minutes long, and everyone in the band pretty much said it’s the best song I’ve ever written. With that said, I’m extremely excited to hear the response from the fans on that track, and hope they feel the same way. It’s one of those songs that after you wrote it, you just sit there with a smile on your face, so that’s one I’m especially proud of for sure. Plus, it’s one that we will have to play live (laughs). We just have to. I think when people hear it, it’s going to be one of the most desired tracks for the live show, so we are already throwing that in the set list.

MM: Well speaking of live shows, you’ve announced a few dates later on this year, but will there be more extensive touring after the album’s release?

OJ: That’s definitely the plan. We just signed with a new booking company recently, so we are putting our name in on several tours, and hopefully someone will grab us, and get us out there this year. We have about five or six shows next month, and then after the album drops, we are hoping to get everywhere anywhere. The problem with us, to be honest, is we all have day jobs ya know. So what we are trying to do is go out for like a week or two at a time, and that will keep us relevant, as well as allow us to pay our mortgages, and whatever else for our families. As much as I love being a professional musician, family is always number one, so if we can find a mix between the two, that’s what we are looking to do.

MM: Last year I caught you guys here at Webster Hall with IKILLYA, Thy Will Be Done and Black Crown Initiate, and the fans went absolutely nuts for you guys, so there’s definitely a fan base to play for in my opinion.

OJ: Man that show kicked ass. We were touring with the guys in IKILLYA and Thy Will Be Done, so I knew they were great, but that was my first chance seeing Black Crown Initiate live, and they were super impressive. It was pretty intense following those bands, but that’s part of the fun ya know.

I’ll tell ya something else too. I just put in a $75 check to the City Of New York for a parking ticket we got that night (laughs). I couldn’t believe it. It was the CMJ showcase, so bands were everywhere, yet they still managed to give us a ticket. I guess that’s New York though (laughs).

MM: From what I hear, you weren’t the only ones that left the showcase with parking tickets.

OJ: I bet not! There were bands everywhere, so I guess the parking police had a field day. They probably got a bonus just because of metal musicians, so you’re welcome (laughs).

MM: You gotta love it. Looking back at that show though, I was so overwhelmed by the response to your set. I’ve only seen you guys once before in Atlanta, but to see the response up here was something else. As a fan of you guys, that’s amazing to see, but how inspiring is that for you to look out and see that, especially after the career you’ve had?

OJ: Oh man, it’s hard to put into words my friend. When you go into New York, you better go hard. There are so many shows in that city, basically one every night, and bands bring it every time. You just have to. If you don’t bring it, they will let you know right away (laughs). So we knew that we had to throw down hard, and it was one of my favorite shows ever. I remember all the press people there, the circle pits, and even that one kid who was hanging upside down from the pipe on the ceiling (laughs). It was insane man. I also remember looking over at Wolfe during the set, and saying “I think we are going to do okay this year.” It was that kind of night, so that’s cool you were there to witness it as well.

MM: It was one hell of a night for sure. I’ll let you get ready for the rest of your night, but for the last question, I have to say that you seem more excited than ever. You’ve obviously had a hell of a career so far, but is it fair to say that you’re more ecstatic right now than ever?

OJ: Mark, I’ll be completely honest with you, because it’s who I am. Yes, I’ve never been this excited before, but I’ve also never been this scared before. When we put out our first album in 2004, I was like 29 years old, and it was awesome. Now I just turned 40, and to be able to say I have this band, I’m going to put all my money into it, and here we go, is pretty intimidating. At the same time, I’m so excited to be a part of this band right now. I really feel that the band is hitting our stride right now. We’ve seen bands that we came up with in the scene go away recently, like Shadows Fall and Chimaira, and to be able to say that we are still doing it, and getting bigger as each day goes by is a blessing. There’s no other way to put it. We are blessed, but make no mistake about it, we don’t take it for granted. We are putting everything into it, so let’s make this year something special.

MM: OJ, it was a pleasure to talk to you, and best of luck with the new record. If you get back to NYC anytime soon, I’ll definitely buy you a beer.

OJ: That’s what I like to hear. Thanks so much for the support. Cheers my friend!