Biohazard Guitarist Bobby Hambel Discusses "Reborn In Defiance"
Band Photo: Biohazard (?)
Biohazard reunited in 2008 with the line-up that arguably performed the best albums the band has written to date, including the self-titled debut, “Urban Discipline,” and “State Of The World Address.” They went on several tours to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary, and even found some time to get back in the studio and record a new record, “Reborn In Defiance.” While it was important for fans to hear music from the core group of musicians who made some of the most reveled hardcore records of the ‘90s, the reunion was also an opportunity for four guys to come together after over a decade apart and hash out their difference. I spoke to guitarist Bobby Hambel about his return to the band, bassist/vocalist Evan Seinfeld’s departure, and his excitement of Black Sabbath going back out on tour.
I want to go back to 2008, when you rejoined the band. What was it like for you to be back in the band after so many years gone?
It was a big thing in my life, man. It really meant a lot to me. It was a difficult decision at first, but with the support of family and close friends, and my own desire to make things right in my life, I decided, ‘Yeah. Let me give it a shot. Let me try to get back with these guys.’ I was really dealing with a lot of bad feelings for years because of the way I left and the way things went down. I personally felt like I let down a lot of people, fans that supported us and each other. I felt like we deserved better than that, and I deserved better than that. So instead of holding on to this separation and this wall that was between them and all, it was finally time to break that down, bury the hatchet, and embrace each other as friends again first. That was really the most important thing to me, regaining our friendship.
Once you rejoined the band, did you find that rebuilding that friendship between you and all the band members took time to form?
It’s a different kind of relationship, as opposed to other relationships, be it an ex-girlfriend or an ex-husband or an ex-boss or an old buddy from high school. This is really different. We hadn’t been in a room together in 12 years. I had spoken to Danny (Schuler) a couple of times briefly over the past couple of years, and the other guys I still hadn’t spoken to. We got on the phone with each other, had conversations here and there, but finally met up after 12 years of not playing together. I went down to a studio in Manhattan and there we were, the four of us in a room together for the first time in over a decade. We just started jamming. It felt a little strange that night. It was all good though. Within 10 minutes, we were laughing and talking and hanging out. We actually only played five songs, and the rest of the night we spent bullshitting and talking, just getting to know each other again.
The next time we would be in a room together, without any rehearsals or anything, was in Australia on stage opening for Korn with no soundcheck (laughs). There I am, I’ve only rehearsed five songs with them one time each in 12 years, and we’re halfway around the world on stage. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ I haven’t played these songs on the setlist in over a decade with these guys. I haven’t even rehearsed them really. A lot of it just came back on stage. From that first show, we looked at each other and we were smiling. Billy (Graziadei) and I ran into each other, like we did back in the old days. Things like that started happening and remembering all the tight, little intricate things we used to do on stage just started coming back.
We were a band again right there. I jumped right back in there, I did what I had to do, and it felt like it was back in the old days. We had the crowd down thereyelling, ‘Welcome back Bobby,’ and for the old songs and saying, ‘Come back with a new record.’ We didn’t expect that. Then we went on tour. We did a reunion tour in Europe, and that was basically the reason why I came back in the band; to do this reunion tour for the 20th anniversary and let it be a way to bury the hatchet and become friends again. No record company, no nothing; just four guys getting on stage and playing songs again out of respect for what we started in the past.
At what point did the band feel comfortable enough to actually start writing material for a new album?
We were on stage, doing soundcheck out there on tour, and as I was checking my guitar rig, Danny’s messing with the kick drum. I just start playing this riff. Danny says, ‘Play that again.’ I started playing it and he starts playing along with a beat. He was like, ‘I like that. I got some more riffs too.’ After the show, he looked at me and went, ‘We should do a record.’ The combination of him hearing some riffs that I was messing with and me hearing some riffs they were messing with, plus the crowd...it became part of the show where we would ask, ‘You want us to come back with a new record?’ just to see the response. Every night, it was overwhelming. Every time we walked off stage, it was, ‘Yeah, we have to do a new record.’
When it came to writing the songs, was it very similar to the approach you guys took when you were involved with the first three records?
I think it was very much like the old times, because we were on tour when we were deciding all this stuff. We actually wrote a couple of songs and did them live. One song, in particular, has different YouTube versions in the different stages of creation when we were writing it. We wrote the song and played it live and watched it on YouTube; some kid recorded it with his phone. We would go, ‘Okay, I like it, but let’s add a part here or let’s change the arrangement.’ We would go out, change it, and go back on stage. They would record it and it would go right on YouTube. We would go home and watch it and put the song together based on the response from the crowd.
That’s how “Urban Discipline” and “State Of The World Address” was done. We used to test the stuff out on the crowd. It was important. You never really know how a part feels until you play it in front of an audience. You have an idea, but it’s always great to get real-life feed-back. We had a little bit of that going. We had a few jams here and there where we tested out some riffs, but the other aspect of it was, just like the old days, we were four guys who locked themselves in a room and said, ‘That’s it. Turn on the recorder. Let’s start jamming.’
That’s what we did and this is what we came up with. We knew we needed a producer. We wanted an outside set of ears. Someone we respected and someone who knew us and really believed in us. We found a great guy, Toby Wright. It was awesome working with that dude. He would come down and sit in the room with us for hours while we would come up with stuff or argue about stuff. He was right there through it all. He was a big part of us keeping it together and putting it together.
What is interesting about “Reborn in Defiance” is that there are sides to the band that you haven’t seen much of before, like “You Were Wrong” and “Season The Sky.” When in the songwriting process did these ideas start to form?
If you go back and listen to some of the stuff we did together - I’m talking about Biohazard’s first three albums - there were a lot of elements on those records of some different stuff. Whether it’s Billy laying out a couple bars of piano here and there, or the intro to the song “Failed Territory,” which we used as an intro tape live for so long, that was something I had composed and brought it into Billy and he was like, ‘I really like that. I want to do it as a duet with a piano and maybe add some elements.’ We were all like, ‘Yeah, let’s bring this thing to life.’ What started out originally as a guitar piece in my head, these guys were open to letting me bring it in and broaden the arrangement with more instrumentation. It sounded good, so we were like, ‘Why not stick it on the record?’ So we did.
One of the reasons we did it back then was because back in those days, people all the time told you, ‘You can’t do that. You’re supposed to be a hardcore band.’ We go, ‘Oh, that means we’re going to fucking do it.’ That’s what makes us who we are. There was never any question. One minute I was playing this really heavy, thrash metal-like guitar riff, and I turn around and bust out “Season The Sky.” The band wasn’t judgmental at all. They weren’t like, ‘Oh, you can’t do both.’ We welcomed everybody’s musical ideas.
Danny came in the studio with “You Were Wrong.” I listened the melody and said, ‘This melody is awesome. I really like those melodies a lot.’ Once it comes into what we call the meat grinder, whatever ideas you bring in are pushed through the meat grinder that’s all of us and everybody’s creative output. When it comes out the other side, it’s not what it was going in. That’s why we call it the meat grinder. Once everything goes through the meat grinder and everybody gets to put their touches on it, we take each other’s ideas to a different level that we would have never done on our own or without each other.
Do you see this album as one that could have happened after “State Of The World Address” or do you see it as a new direction or rebirth for the band?
It is a rebirth for the band, that’s why it’s called “Rebirth In Defiance,” first of all. It is also the next step after “State Of The World Address” to us, in a lot of ways. There’s something about the way the four of us work together and everything. Of course, for me, it is the next step after “State Of The World Address,” but for those guys, I’ve heard them comment on that too. I can’t speak for them, but it’s definitely the same direction Biohazard has always gone in, which is express yourself now for the moment and put it down the way you should feel it go down and not question it.
Who knows what the next one is going to sound like. We all like the fact that there is some of the heaviest and hardest things that Biohazard has ever done on this record, and there’s also some of the softer, more melodic things that Biohazard has ever done. It’s jammed together and it all flows together because it came from the same place at the same time. They deserve to be on the same album. We’re not afraid to blend different styles together; we never were.
Are there any songs from the new album that you are excited to play live?
I want to play “Countdown Doom,” “Reborn,” “Vengeance Is Mine,” and “Waste Away.” I want to play all of it, really. For what we do, coming from the type of scene we come from and the type of shows we put on, some material is more geared towards the pit and the higher energy stuff. I wouldn’t say we’re going to run right out and do “Season The Sky” live next week, but I’m not saying we won’t some day.
With Evan Seinfeld gone from the band, have you guys found a permanent bass player?
We got a great thing going on with a really good friend of ours, Scott Roberts. It’s really a natural and simple thing. It’s not like this big, over-blown dramatic thing. We were like, ‘Yo, Scott. Get over here,’ and he was like, ‘Give me a bass. Let’s go play.’ Scott was the last guitar player in the band when I was gone. I knew Scott from way back in the day, when I was in Biohazard and we toured with his band Spudmonsters. Scott joined Biohazard a few years ago, and when we got back together for the reunion tour, Scott stepped up and said, ‘I’ll come out and be Bobby’s guitar tech. I’ll roadie and tech for the band to get you guys out there.’ That’s what kind of guy he is. So I’m on stage and he's tuning my guitar and I’m playing back in Biohazard and he’s the old guitar player for Biohazard.
It was great because one day, Billy’s wife was having a baby and Billy couldn’t make two shows. Scott jumped out and did all of Billy’s parts and he was singing Billy’s parts. When Evan had left the band, it was a really sudden thing; we didn’t see it coming. We had three shows scheduled overseas and we were like, ‘What are we going to do? We’re pretty much obligated to do these shows. We made a deal that we would come out and preform.’ Scott said, ‘Okay, give me a bass.’ He filled in on the bass for those three shows.
When we got back home, we realized that Scott Roberts has filled in for everyone in the band except for Danny. We were thinking about who to get to come in and we were like, ‘Scott’s right here. He’s one of us. He knows how to play the music like us.’ He’s like one of us. It was just a real natural thing to let a guy like Scott come in and play. We’re honored to play with him. He’s totally down with us and he’s got our back.
We were thinking about bringing in another singer and having a frontman-type singer, but because of the time constraints and chaos, we never got around to doing it. I said, ‘Let’s not even worry about that right now. We did this album as a four-piece. Let’s go out and play it as a four-piece.’ We had some great people step up and offer to sing for Biohazard, and we were blown away and very grateful and flattered for how many people stepped up and said, ‘I would love to help out on vocals.’ It was so great to see the support. I think we’re going to keep it basic with the first right-hand man we have, the closest to us, which is Scott Roberts. He’s a great musician and he knows our shit back and forth. We’re going to stick to the meat and potatoes, basic Biohazard thing, and just go out and tour.
You mentioned that Evan left suddenly. When it was reported about him leaving, there were people who thought the band was done. Do you think the whole situation between yourselves and Evan was overblown?
Yeah. Some people have nothing better to do and there are people out there who just love to see a train wreck. People love to pour fuel on the fire and instigate. I didn’t really pay attention to it all. I know there was a lot of stuff being said, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m sitting here, tuning my guitar and practicing and getting ready to go out and fucking play. I don’t know what the hell they are talking about (laughs).
It was a shock to us. It was a shock to a lot of people, I guess. The bottom line is that we are four grown man, and the fact we put the band together, and me and Evan looked at each other in the eye and fucking shook hands and hugged and said, ‘All the past is behind us. We’re fucking friends again,’ that is all that matters. We did that and we went out and toured around the whole world for a year and a half. Then we made a record together, after 12 years of being almost enemies and not being in each other’s lives. That was fucking awesome. Who could ask for more? The fact is that we’re grown men and we have different lives. We have different responsibilities and obligations in our own lives. The fact that one of us couldn’t stick around any longer is not really that surprising. It’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising. There were no guarantees this was going to last forever.
What kind of touring does the band look to do in support of this album?
We’re going to Europe with Suicidal Tendencies for the Persistence tour and then we do headlining dates in the U.K. Then we come back here and we tour with Madball and Sworn Enemy for a few weeks, and then we go to Australia to do the big Soundwave festival, which is going to be a great experience because there are so many amazing bands we get to watch and play with and hang out with. It’s a rolling festival all over Australia, which is great. We come back, take about a week off, and they’re talking about South America. We’re going back to Europe in the summer; full-blown United States tour; Asia is on the map. All over man. It’s about globetrotting with this band. There’s no territory that Biohazard would not try to get to. It takes a long time to do that, so we’re all looking at each other like, ‘You got a year and a half? Because that’s what it’s going to take.’
If you tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
Black Sabbath, all original members.
You might be able to see that now, with all the members reuniting.
I know. I’ve very excited about that. As soon as I heard that shit man, I turned 14 right away (laughs). To me, that would be ultimate, because of all the great musicians who influenced me in my lifetime, those guys are still here and they’re actually coming back to do a record. I’m like, ‘Oh my God. That's fucking beautiful.’
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