Vocalist Lance Harvill Talks About New Band Arms Of The Sun
After just over a year in existence, the new hard rock act Arms of the Sun is finally preparing to release a debut album on March 29th. The group features names from across the musical spectrum, including front man Lance Harvill, Ben Bunker on guitar, and John Hebert on drums. Although he is no longer with the band, Rex Brown of Down and Pantera fame also contributed the bass recordings for the album.
Just prior to splitting with Rex Brown last month, the band's vocalist answered several questions about Arms of the Sun for Metalunderground. In the interview, Lance discusses writing music with Dimebag Darrell when he was younger, where the band's name came from, and his classic rock influences.
You can listen to Lance answer the questions in the audio player below, or read a transcription of the interview after the jump.
xFiruath: Fill me in on the history of Arms of the Sun. How long has the band been together and how do the members know each other?
Lance: Let me start out by saying that 21 years ago I met John Hebert, the drummer for Arms of the Sun. Being a budding songwriter it was helpful to have a drummer there that could get real drums down instead of having to use the drum machine all the time. As a songwriter, part of my inspiration comes from recording all the instruments and building the song on the spot so I can hear what it’s going to sound like. It always helped to have John because we could go into the studio and track his drums. Everything else was done at home because it kept money down. It was really cool to do it that way. John and I have been doing that for years. We’ve done less of the band thing together and more working like that in the song creation department. He did King Diamond for awhile, I think from 1998 to 2000, and I did a band called Cactus Jaw.
I met Dimebag back in 1987 when we were kids. He was 21 and I was 17. We always swapped guitar licks on the phone and call one another and had a good time. We just had a passion for guitar. Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen and all that. I guess the point of story is Pantera went off and did their thing and I didn’t see Dime until later on in 1996. I had a band called Cactus Jaw, and he was trying to help us out and get some things going. Him and Rita opened up a little bar called the Tattoo Bar in Fort Worth and our band Cactus Jaw was the first band to play there. We played the opening night and there was a bouncer who worked there, his name was Homer. He is the one who in 2009 kept trying to tell Rex, Rex wanted to get a band around home here where he could hang out and do some jamming, since he doesn’t live in New Orleans near the guys in Down. This guy hooked me and Rex up and when Rex met me he didn’t know I was a writer. He didn’t know that I had all these songs. He was just looking for a singer and I walked in his door and sprung over 200 songs on him and I was like “here’s where I am at.”
At the same time John and I were working with Ben. We had just met him at Christmas of 2008. So literally we had just been in a band with Ben for about six months when we met Rex in May of 2009. What happened was Rex gave some of my songs, we were playing some in the band we were in called Mourning the Imaginary, and those tunes became the ones that Rex sent to Terry Date. Terry had just been asked by Sony to do some work for film and television. Terry wanted the right material and when he heard this he lit up and he wanted to use those songs. We decided to take Ben, myself, John, and Rex down to a studio in Austin, Texas in November of 2009. We recorded with Terry Date and we did 13 tracks. Of the ones coming out on the new Arms of the Sun record, there’s nine songs that were used from that session. We did four later. The band’s been together, I think we told the press it was exactly a year ago this month, probably by the day, February the 3rd or 4th, somewhere around there that we even announced we had a band going on. So in all reality the band has really been functioning in public for about a year. Once we did that session together for the Terry Date movie deal, then we decided to keep a band, keep it together, keep it rolling. It sounded really good and we enjoyed hanging out together. We all live around here back home. So not only do we have a band together but we have good friendship. We hang out, we do barbecues, we watch games, we just hang out which is what a band should do. Until we get sick of each other, we’ll see how that goes. No, I’m just kidding. So John and I have known each other 21 years. We’ve known Ben for about 2 or 3 years and I guess Rex for about a year and a half. That’s that.
xFiruath: How would you describe the sound of Arms of the Sun to a potential fan who hadn’t heard your music?
Lance: You know that’s a tough one for me. When I was growing up, a child of the ‘70s, what struck me was melody, harmony, and as I started playing guitar as a 12 year old it was the heavy metal guitar crunch. Randy Rhoads, Ozzy. I kind of grew up from the song writing aspect on ELO, KISS, and The Beatles. Classic rock, that’s the stuff that I love that made me want to sing and play and even buy a guitar. When I did, Ozzy was happening, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden. I got into the metal stuff. Over time I realized that when I try to do metal, or when I try to scream, it’s really not my thing. Even though I knew Dimebag and all my friends were metal, and I loved metal, but whenever I wrote it just didn’t come out that way. I don’t know how to describe what we do. There’s melody and harmonies in it. The topics are about my life and the experiences I’ve gone through with relationships and loss. Losing my mother in 2005. Really it’s a journey of the mind of where I’ve been and what’s been going on in my life and how it’s affected me. Now they are in song form. When the guys heard it I guess they dug it, so here we are with the band. I’ll record the ideas, get it down, give it to the boys, and let them make of it what they will. It’s really hard to tell someone what we sound like. We get Alice in Chains a lot, but that’s not it. I like Alice in Chains, but their almost my age. I didn’t grow up with Alice in Chains. That’s now what affected me or made me want to write. I appreciate them, but a lot of people link hearing harmony with the dark riffs and stuff to the closest thing they can think of, which is Alice in Chains. Really it’s a lot deeper than that. It’s more music than that, being affected by many different types of music. Mainly music with feel and cool melodies, whether it’s classical music, Mozart, opera, Cecilia Bartoli, trippy ‘70s stuff with ELO or sad melodies from Elton John. Just many different things that roll into one thing.
xFiruath: Is there any particular meaning behind the band name?
Lance: For some reason I’m not very religious. I do believe that somehow we got here and it’s because of something. But I don’t know if it’s from these manmade things. I’m not going to believe something just because another human being told me so. I wanted to find something that relates to the one thing that does keep everything going in our little corner of the universe, and that’s the sun. I told Rex and the boys I really wanted to come up with a title for the band that incorporated something to do with the sun and life. Rex had been talking to the guy who works on our website and stuff like that. He had been working on some song titles and he actually had one that incorporated the name “sun.” We had been beating down “Blood Red Sun” and “Behind the Sun” and Justin came up with “Arms of the Sun.” We liked it, and now we only owe him $100,000 for it and as soon as we get it that will be great. Maybe we’ll make $300 bucks. I looked it up and of course I researched it a little bit and Arms of the Sun is the invisible pull, the gravity Sun has over all the planets and the rotation of everything. It’s also a way of describing the heat you feel on your back when you are outside in the sunlight. So there’s different ways, different things people can take from it. There’s also arms of the sun like “arms” being weapons. There’s many things you can turn this into. I just wanted something to do with the sun. The sun means life to me. So that’s where that comes from and you can make it of it you will. The guys seem to like that it was what keeps everything going. It’s special to this band it’s empowering.
xFiruath: It seems that Arms of the Sun lands more on the rock side than the metal side. What about your music appeals to the metal fan base?
Lance: That’s a tough call. We never came out trying to appeal to the metal fan base. It just so happens that these songs were already written. I am what I am, I’ve done what I’ve done, and our foot in the door came through Rex. Rex is metal. Pantera, to me, was the greatest heavy metal band of all time. I know you have Slayer and Metallica and everybody else, but when as you got going into metal and everybody jumped ship in the ‘90s, Pantera stayed with it. I’ve already respected them and I’ve known them. Mainly Dime and I were always friends. I never really hung out with Rex and the boys, they always seemed to have their own groups of friends and I was more in the Dime crowd. We’re going to get that, and that’s fine. Rex comes from Pantera, and that’s true. But the thing is, it’s a good question because I asked myself that question when Rex decided to play bass. How is this going to come across to people? Is this going to be good, or is it going to come across as a big mess? The deal is that if you get to know Rex, you realize he’s not a dude who walks around living, breathing metal. The guy has an education from when he was a kid just like everybody else, when he wanted to play music. It didn’t all come metal, it came from music. What melodies do to you, what good songwriting does to you. So when you get to know Rex and realize he’s into the Stones, Tom Petty, and really good musical bodies of work, if you follow Rex Brown and you follow how he feels about music, you’ll like this stuff. If you are just wanting to hear screaming and heavy metal, then turn the page and find something else. You’re going to get that, but a lot of the metal people have accepted this music.
Our roots are metal, everybody in the band comes from metal. John played from King Diamond, Ben was in Gryn, they were heavy as hell. I’ve been in metal bands, but I didn’t exactly sing with heavy metal. I guess that’s why people are linking it with Alice in Chains. You’ve got the crunch from the guitars, the heaviness of the drums and the bass, but the vocals are more singing rather than screaming. Trust me, I’ve tried screaming and I can‘t do it. If I could do it would be like Phil from Pantera. In my mind that’s what singing heavy metal sounds like. Once he did it, I was like “I better figure something else out.” Lo and behold it’s just singing like myself. There’s going to be a few people who don’t like it, but the metal people, they’re not stupid. They’re open to other things. If you just live and breathe metal, this is not your thing. But if you like metal and you like different things, this will be for you.
xFiruath: Where did you record the album and who did you work with?
Lance: It was at Willie Nelson’s recording studio in Austin, is where we did all the initial tracks, and Terry Date was the producer.
xFiruath: What do the lyrics deal with?
Lance: I’ve always tried to find that better half in my life. The queen to the castle. I put a lot into relationships, when I should have been putting more into the music. But it was from those relationships that the music thrived and were so real. The songs deal with different things, a lot of it is relationships, a lot of it is self-discovery, a lot of it is loss, losing people. Just the different things you go through in life. Even though it deals with the darker issues they seem to have a little hope somewhere in them, a little spark that maybe this will work out. So I like to inject those certain elements in the tunes. Definitely get to the story and try to explain what’s happened, but then also try to find a positive spin on it. So that basically sums it up. Whatever a human’s gone through in life, whatever I’ve gone through in my life, that’s what works out. It’s got to be kept real. Each song you are hearing on this record came from something. It is real and it came from a certain part of my life. When you are listening it’s true stuff.
xFiruath: How was your recent appearance at NAMM?
Lance: You know it was a lot of fun. People know who Rex is. The rest of the band, a few people recognized John. The main thing is that the band is so new. The appearance at NAMM was cool. Only certain people know this project is together. That was the whole point of going, to get it out there and shake hands and introduce the band. Luckily we’ve got some really cool companies behind us. Orange amps, Specter guitaris, Gibson guitars, and DW drums. Seymour Duncan pickups, we just got them going. A lot of good companies. Some of those we did signings at the NAMM show. Orange is very good to us, so is Dean Markley and EMG. Rex endorses EMG. Really cool companies out there and people taking care of us. NAMM was really productive for us.
xFiruath: How have your live shows been so far and do you have more tour dates lined up?
Lance: We’re working on the record and getting it out there. The record is finished, but we’re trying to get it out there. We’re trying to figure out if. A lot of bands are going their own route and doing it themselves. You’re lucky to tie down the right deal. That’s the thing, we’re trying to get the right deal right now. We’ve slowed down gigs because we’re real close to getting this thing out. We’re hopefully looking at the end of March or mid-April. We want to do this right. The live shows we’ve had so far have been around here and I think we ventured out to Oklahoma. They are mainly warm ups for us. The people who are really into, they are digging it, but it’s more for us to get prepared for the things to come. Yes, there will absolutely be more tour dates coming up.
xFiruath: Been to any good live shows lately or seen anything crazy at a concert?
Lance: You know the crazy stuff will come. The show’s we’ve played around here, everybody has been kind of tame. I went to KISS at the end of last year and Kings X also, that’s about it. I don’t get out much.
xFiruath: What bands or albums have you been listening to lately?
Lance: There’s times in the morning when I get up in the morning and put on Stern and listen to talk radio. There’s times when I listen to satellite radio and start with classic rock. If that’s not happening I’ll just move on up the chain to the heavy stuff. Just trying to find something on there, whether it’s from the past or something cool from today. I’m always looking out for new artists that are doing something cool, but it all depends. On my iPod I usually put it on shuffle and just let it play through anything from when I was a kid all the way up to whatever’s going on.
xFiruath: What’s on the horizon for the band?
Lance: Well, to be honest with you the industry is changing and everything is a lot different than it used to be, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we still like to put on our guitars and get out there and have a good time. Even when we were kids out doing it here in the clubs and having fun, that’s what it was all about. No matter how the business is changing or whether a million people hear this or a hundred, were just going to enjoy doing it.
xFiruath: Anything else you’d like to discuss?
Lance: Let me just say that we all come from heavy metal. We understand that you expect Rex to come out with the next Pantera record, but you’re not going to. You’re not going to top what’s already been done. It’s been done the right way, and that’s Pantera. But you can’t deny a musician of wanting to express himself in different ways. We’re not veering too far off from heavy metal, it’s just more hard rock and rock, but it’s just another thing.
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