Interview conducted by Joshua. Published on 1/22/2012.
New York City has long been a breeding ground for heavy music. Bands like Agnostic Front, Leeway, Crumbsuckers and Cro-Mags all get credited for fusing NYC's hardcore and heavy metal genres while the Bronx bombers of Anthrax get heaps of crossover credit, not only for their contributions with S.O.D.'s pivotal Speak English or Die, but also for their integration of hip hop and metal with the songs "I'm The Man" and the Public Enemy mashup "Bring the Noise." Biohazard didn't invent the styles, but they took the ball and ran with it, from their Brooklyn based "Rat Piss" rehearsal studio to platinum status with the influential albums Urban Discipline and major label standout State Of The World Address. Following those high watermarks was 15-plus years of turmoil that saw a rotating guitarist position, lukewarm album responses, and one full-on band break up. Cut to the present and Biohazard is back, albeit without founding member, bassist, and mouthpiece Evan Seinfeld who left after the completion of the band's newest effort Reborn in Defiance. Despite another setback, guitarist/vocalist Billy Graziadei is optimistic and proud of his band's latest opus. He talked with Joshua from Lambgoat to discuss the ups, downs and shades of grey that is Biohazard.
Thanks for taking the time Billy. It seems like it's been a few chaotic years for you.
The past few years have been pretty fuckin' crazy. We went through a lot. The thing about Biohazard is, we're constantly having our back thrown against the wall, and we're in a situation where we're like, "Holy shit, how the fuck are we going to get out of this?" But we come out swinging and we come out ahead. I've always looked at it as, it doesn't matter how many times you get knocked down, it's getting back up that matters.
For those out of the loop, can you bring everyone up to speed on the past few years of Biohazard?
In 2003 we were making a record that ended up being called Means To An End. The band was pretty much broken up by then. That record didn't come out until 2005. We never toured it. The band was pretty much over. We all went our separate ways, did separate things, different bands. Then I got the phone call one day from Danny our drummer. He said, "You're never gonna believe this. Bobby [Hambel, guitar] and Evan had dinner in Manhattan last night." I was like, "Get the fuck outta here!"
We never thought the two of those guys would ever be in the same room together again. But they did, and that was the beginning of us getting back together. We hung out and became friends again. Then started jamming and that turned into a reunion tour. We didn't think it was gonna last two weeks let alone three years. But we kept doing it and it wasn't broken. We just kept letting it flow and had a great time doing it. We toured around the world a couple times, hitting a couple places we hadn't hit in years. Then it was just natural, we started sharing musical ideas. The album is a culmination of that time. We went in the studio with producer Toby Wright and spent a long time working on the record, writing at the same time as touring, which I think played a big hand in the way the album came across. We focused a lot on the songs and being Biohazard NOW. Where we are now is a result of where we've been, logically.
Having a chance to be away from Biohazard, we grew as musicians and as people. Being back together, the core of the band, it's like the foundation was there and we grew on that foundation. Then that whole thing took another turn when we finished the record. Evan was going through some pretty heavy personal stuff and he called us up and said that he couldn't do the band anymore. It threw us for a spin. But we decided to not quit and here we are.
Reborn in Defiance feels much more melodic than previous efforts. Was that by design, or just what happened when you guys were writing?
I think that this record is the perfect cross section of everything that I love about Biohazard, from the groove, to the fast, to the aggressive to the melodic, to the slower stuff. It's all elements of the band we've touched on in the past. I think people forget songs like "Tears of Blood" or "Justified Violence" or "Wrong Side of the Tracks" or "Pride" or "Each Day." They remember "Shades of Grey" and they remember "Punishment." To me [new] songs like "Vengeance Is Mine" have that kind of vibe or "Come Alive" or even "Reborn." "Reborn" for example has a bridge that's really melodic, but the riffs remind me of, for example, "Tales From The Hardside" or "Urban Discipline" style mixed with "Tears of Blood."
We never sat down and planned out a record. We just let it happen naturally. Some bands, when they find something that works they stick to the same kind of formula. And that's cool, because some of those bands I fuckin' love, but for me as an artist, we don't want to write the same songs. There are certain influences that are always there, a certain vibe in the room when we're playing a riff and we all look at each other and we're like "Yeah! That's it right there." There's a ceratin Biohazard "Thing." But we didn't wanna go back and rewrite Urban Discipline or State Of The World Address. I think that's what people like about the band.
I remember back in the day, we never had a niche that we fit into. We would play with metal bands that we looked up to when we first started, but we weren't "metal" enough. We were too hardcore or whatever. Then we would play with hardcore bands, who we also looked up to and loved, and we were too metal and we weren't "hardcore" enough or whatever. So we never really fit in anywhere. We were the outcasts. What we ended up doing was kind of creating our own type of style, our own thing. It was hard to put your finger on what we were other than, it's just Biohazard.
I think the people who like the band are the people who are more open-minded, like "I love metal. I love thrash. I love hardcore. I love punk rock." Some people have a little bit of hip hop that they're into also. It's the melding of all those influences. That is Biohazard.
Is it freeing as a musician to not have to play within one certain box of a genre?
Every time someone tried to classify us we did our best to smash that mold. I always said that if I owned a record store it wouldn't be divided into categories or even alphabetical order. You never know. If you confine yourself to boundaries and classifications you're gonna limit yourself in a lot of ways. So with Biohazard, during Means To An End and towards the end before we split up, I felt like I achieved everything I wanted to do with Biohazard. I wanted to move on to something else. And I did with Suicide City and Endrah. Now I even play with this band Blood for Blood from Boston.
Being back with Biohazard reignited what's alive in me. And it's something that I can't deny. I grew up with punk rock and metal and hardcore and I love it all. It's the mix of all our personalities that brought the best out of all of us. Getting back together really ignited that animal inside of me and I thought, "You know what? This is what I do and this is who I am. And this is what I love." Yes, I love Suicide City and I love so many other projects I have going on, but playing with the [Biohazard] guys I thought maybe it wasn't over. I fell back in love with what I was doing and felt, "Shit, this is fuckin' awesome." I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we had never gotten back together with Bobby And that was one thing, when we split up, that I wish we would've done. So being back together as the four original guys was something that juiced me up and got me ready to go.
You're obviously very passionate about Reborn in Defiance being the four original members, but is it a little bittersweet now that Evan has left?
I'm not gonna bullshit ya. I was bummed when he quit. I was fuckin' pissed. I felt let down. But he made a personal choice, Evan did. I have no ill vibes for him. I wish him well. That's life. All of our lives are filled with ups and downs and you just gotta roll with the punches and go with it. We made the decision to continue. I wanted to see the record come to light and finish it. A lot of people ask, "He's not in the band, so are you gonna re-record the record?" But I look at Reborn in Defiance as the last record we made as Biohazard. Now it's a new era. It's been almost a year ago that he quit. So for me it's old news but I know for a lot of people it's like, "What? Evan's not in the band anymore?" Judging by all the response that we've gotten, we made the right decision. People wanted us to continue and wanted to see what we can do now. It's a different thing. Our boy Scott Roberts is playing bass and he rocks. We did some touring, did China, did some dates in Europe. I'm just looking forward to going back on tour. We got [the Persistence tour with] Suicidal Tendencies coming up and we're going out with Madball, then we'll be out pretty much for the rest of the year.
You were holding open auditions for a new singer at one point. Is that still the plan?
Nothing's set in stone. With our history it's hard to make plans. Shit can change at the drop of a dime. Tomorrow you and I could be having a different conversation about a different band or the band could be over. We did have open auditions. Some people sent us tapes, well not tapes, now it's done all over the Web. We had some great submissions and some really talented guys. It's still open. If some dude just happened to step up like, "I'm the man!" and it works then it's a different story. But we get along with Scott. He's been in the band before. He toured the last two records and he's a great bass player. We never knew he played bass. And he sings great. The thing with the band, as much as I look forward going to Australia, we can't have an Australian singer in Biohazard. It pretty much has to be somebody from New York, somebody from our scene and someone we get along with. When we split ways with Bobby we went through a lot of different guitar players because we just couldn't find the right dude. Nobody really fit with us. You spend more time with your band than you do your girl. So you really gotta get along. You gotta have a lot of similar interests and a lot of mutual respect. So it's great with Scott and we're looking forward to keeping it together like this.
What's the set list looking like? Is Bobby going to have to learn songs that he didn't play on originally?
Well the band is the band. Bobby respects that we did have a career after he left. Right now we've been in the studio practicing all the new stuff. It's always a tough decision before you go one tour. What songs do you play? We all wanna play our fair share of new songs that we're psyched about. But there's songs that we've never played that I've always wanted to play. All of us go back and forth. Bobby has his ideas, Danny his, and I have mine. Then I put up a poll on Facebook and see what people wanna hear. So it's a matter of going through those different lists and finding something that kicks ass enough so we're all psyched.
You recently struck a deal with Revolver Magazine and the smartphone app Repudo to give Reborn in Defiance away for free. How did that happen? [editor's note: the album's free release in the U.S. was later cancelled for unspecified reasons]
People have been supporting Biohazard for a long time. They've stuck by us. I look at this as a way of saying, "Thanks for your support. Here ya go." They say if you find a job that you like then you'll never have to work another day in your life. For me, we started Biohazard and we were struggling a long time, eating people's leftover pizza at the pizza parlor. Then you start to make enough money so that you can pay your rent, then pay for a car payment or something. It becomes like a job. When the band split up in 2003, I was like, "what?" I thought Biohazard was gonna last forever. But nothing lasts forever. The world is constantly changing. I was forced to realize the harsh reality that I had to find other ways of making a living. I got different jobs. I opened up a recording studio and put my energy there. What I created for myself was such that I couldn't depend on music to pay my bills and keep food on my table. So I feel like it's almost full circle in a way.
When we started we didn't make any money. We didn't do it for the money. We did it for the love of music. There's not much money to make in music these days anyways, but we're here because we wanna be here, not because we have to be here. So the mindset is it's a way to say thank you. The technology is there and there's a lot of cool benefits, using the internet to your advantage instead of looking at it as people stealing your stuff. Back when we started I would've been like, "What? Why would you give a record away?" But life changes. Gotta roll with it.
When you were selling a million albums were you living the rockstar lifestyle?
Dude, I'm a punk rock hardcore kid. I never felt like I was a rockstar. I never lived that flashy life. I'm proud to always have my feet on the ground. The fame and all that shit never got to my head. I always thought, if you remember where you come from you remain who you are no matter what you deal with. I was always surprised when there was more than four people that liked us. I remember the first four people that liked us were our girlfriends in Brooklyn, and we always doubted that they liked us anyways. They were our girlfriends; they had to like us. All that shit, it is what it is. MTV happened and liked the videos we were doing. Beavis and Butthead happened to like us. We had a lot of influences from Agnostic Front and Cro-Mags to Iron Maiden and Celtic Frost to Carnivore and then Run DMC and Sugar Hill Gang and fuckin' Public Enemy. All those influences came out in our music.
We didn't sit down and predetermine a formula that would make us a little bit different than other bands. It was all just natural. When bands like Limp Bizkit came along and commercialized it and became huge I thought, "God Bless 'em. Do your thing." I'm proud of everything we've done and the opportunities we've had, from playing in front of 20 people at L'amour to opening for Slayer. All the ups and downs and all around I had a great time and I'm looking forward to a lot more in 2012 and onward.
What's your relationship with Evan now and have you spoken since he quit the band?
We were brothers for years. We always called ourselves brothers from different mothers. I have nothing bad to say about the dude and I wish him well. I've spoken to him a couple times since he split and I hope he's happy doing what he wants to do.
I happened to check out the 1988 Biohazard video for "Panic Attack" the other day. You guys were so young. When was the last time you watched it and do you smile or cringe when you see it?
I smile of course. Lots of good times growing up in New York. We were into some crazy shit back then and that video is filled with some great memories of the past for us and every time I watch it I remember those times. Drugs and partying almost split the band up and destroyed us. We all got our shit together and poured ourselves into making music together instead of doing drugs, smoking fuckin' angel dust or whatever. But it was pretty wild and pretty crazy. That video, we were pretty heavy into doing what we were doing that was more destructive than helping ourselves. But every once in a while someone will post it on my Facebook and I still watch it. I don't cringe. Like I said before, I'm proud of everything that I've done. Where I've been and what I've done has made me who I am today.