Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Interview: Betrayed

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I suppose that's true to a point. In hardcore however, most of today's bands attach themselves to the legs of their influences like frisky little Jack Russells and just hump the shit out of them with no shame whatsoever. The lack of originality in this scene over the past few years saddens me. Sounds, riffs, lyrics, logos, fashions, you name it -- stolen and tweaked by newer bands, creating a much weaker version than the original. At times this scene almost seems like it's paint by numbers hardcore.

And then a band like Betrayed comes along with such an inspired sound and message, done so well, that it makes so many other bands in this scene just look silly. There is absolutely no denying that Betrayed draws heavily from the influence of Dag Nasty. You can hear Todd Jones invoking the essence of Brian Baker in every lick he plays on the bands debut EP, "Addiction." The difference between this band and the sea of cloned bands in today's scene is that Betrayed has embraced a style, rather than bastardized it.

The band is fronted by Aram Arslanian, who has absolutely nailed the lyrical style necessary to pull off the blend of melody and power that Betrayed blasts out. His lyrics are positive, inspiring, and real, to the point that I'm jealous I didn't think of them before he did.

The hardcore rumor mill has been churning. Story had it that Aram wanted a word with me over one of the meanest record reviews I had ever written. His other band, Champion, was the recipient of the, um, the red carpet treatment in issue one (volume III) of my Fuck You Fanzine. It's been three years. I wonder if he's still mad...

Okay Aram. Despite the fact that there are thousands of miles of red states seperating us, I can still feel the death rays shooting out of your eyes and blasting me in the face through my computer screen here in Washington DC. Do you want to clear the air? Hug it out?

Aram: Actually since I live in Canada not only do we have thousands of miles of red states between us, we also have an international border. Heavy. As for hate, come on, we have different approaches to Hardcore, see things through different eyes, but that's not a reason for me to dislike you. I definitely disagree with the way you get some of your ideas out there, but I think in essence we agree on alot of things.

I'm glad you feel that way, because the way the hardcore rumor mill works, I was hearing a much different story. At the time I reviewed Count Our Numbers, the record review policy for my zine was "I either love it or hate it, nothing inbetween." It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as it turned out the problem with that philosphy was that I got lost in either nurturing or nuking bands, and didn't offer a lot that the band or the kid buying the record could walk away with. For what it's worth, I bummed out enough people that I took a hard look at what I was doing, decided I wasn't really that mean at the core, and stopped doing Fuck You Fanzine all together.

Betrayed has drawn a lot of comparissons to Dag Nasty. Throughout the years, many bands have tried to duplicate that style and have failed miserably. What I find refreshing about Betrayed is that while I can definitely hear the influences in the music, absolutely nothing is bastardized and the record stands completely on it's own. I don't think of it as Dag Nasty Jr. Unlike Dag Nasty, you have the gift of hindsight...well Dag Nasty's hindsight. They released Can I Say which is a classic, and then followed it up with Wig Out, which is not. Even with Smalley in the band, I don't think Wig Out would have been half the record Can I Say turned out to be. Now that you have a great debut record under your belt, are you giving any thought to how Betrayed can "progess" in it's sound, without falling into the same pitfalls that bands like 7 Seconds, Uniform Choice, and Dag Nasty had all fallen into once they started messing around with the idea of melodic hardcore?

Aram: Again that's a place where we differ. "Wig Out" is a great record The guitars are seriously unreal; I can see where you might start thinking shitty when we get to "Field Day" (although it has some solid jams) but "Wig Out" is a awesome in my opinion. BUT with that said, yeah I do agree that many bands fell into that trap of "developing their sound", especially Uniform Choice. The 2nd record was a huge let down not just because the songs sucked, but because they were trying to radically alter what they sounded like and what their band was about (DN "Field Day" falls into this to, but again it has some songs I love on it although its just a different band). If you're not feeling it anymore break up and start a new band and don't shit on the people who love your band and the legacy you've created by keeping the name.

Honestly though I don't think we're taking any lessons from those bands. Yeah you can use them as a lesson in what not to do, but we started this band with really specific goals and ideas in mind -- solid friends playing in a real hardcore band with real lyrics. We wouldn't move away from that because we'd be getting away from the main ideas of the band so we don't need other bands to point that out to us, we just wouldn't do it because that's not who we are. On a personal level I have zero interest in "developing as a musician" or anything like that. I mean its really important to me to always try to step up with every new effort; I want each record I have a part in to be better than the last BUT not at the sake of what the band is about. I guess the idea for me is to develop, but not to change what and who I am and what I'm a part of.

Finally, I back every 7 Seconds record ever. Some I like less than others, but they all come from the heart and not many bands can say that.

Todd: I'd have to say some of the guitar work has a huge Brian Baker influence. With any band I've done, I've always tried to take various influences and also put my own style in the music. I don't want to rip off anything to the T; I don't want to sound exactly like any certain band. As far as progression, we're not interested in changing our sound, just trying to write music that is better than our last record. We want to make a strong follow up full length to the EP. One thing I'm not going to worry about, is pleasing anybody with the music we write. What matters the most, is that if we like it. For the next record, our influences are going to stay the same, but I'm going to put more effort into the songs so hopefully they'll come out a little better. I doubt we'll ever do anything radically different. I like Wig Out At Denko's. I think there's better guitar stuff on Wig Out than I do Can I Say, although I do think Can I Say is a stronger album as a whole.

It's not that I don't like Wig Out -- I do. I just don't think of it as a classic. Can I Say is a classic from start to finish, where as I'd rather put my nose to Brian Baker's crack and breathe in his exhaust than listen to "When I Move" or "The God Father" a second more than I have to. As for Field Day, I still catch shit from my friends for listing that record as one of my guilty pleasures.

I wouldn't expect that you guys would be looking to "progress" or change your sound after only releasing an EP. I suppose my point is that melodic hardcore is one of those fires that a lot of bands burn themselves playing with. It's seems like it's really easy to go from "Walk Together, Rock Together" to, say "Praise," if you catch my drift.

Todd, with you in California and Aram in Canada, how did this record get put together? What was the process from the second you wrote the first note to the moment you mixed the last song?

Todd: Pretty simple process. I bought an eMac because Macintosh makes this really awsome program called Garage Band. It's basically a really really simple recording program that any dolt can learn in 10 minutes. I started writing riffs, recording them into Garage Band with drums and everything, and then making mp3 out of the songs and sending them to Aram over the internet. He would listen to the songs and tell me if it was good or not and we would go from there. After a song was done, we'd move on to the next song. When I flew up to Seattle to record, we made small changes to all the songs, mainly with drum fills and drum patterns, but for the most part, all the song transitions and parts stayed the same. It was really simple.

Aram: For me the way the music came together was one of the best things about this record, Todd and I kicked around ideas about what we wanted to do and about what we felt was important to preserve, or to bring back to light. To much important hardcore is being lost behind "mosh parts" and "hype bands" and I for one am fucking over it; I don't give a fuck about how "sick" a band is or how many dunks you have... not interested at all because that shit takes away from all the amazing, meaningful, records out there from both the past and present. I think we both wanted to try to focus on, and pay our respects to, some of the biggest influences in our lives in terms of music and ideals so when Todd would come up with somes or ideas we'd talk about it on the phone, and then I'd check out the files he send me and kick around some more ideas about it. The whole thing was easy in a sense because we were on the exact same page about everything, because we were focused on what we wanted this record to be. It was awesome.

Aram, who are you talking to in "A Light In the Dark?" It sounds like it's specifically aimed at one person.

Aram: That song is definately aimed at one person, a good friend of mine and Todd's who was really struggling under the weight of a depression. Todd called me up and asked that I get in touch with this friend of ours because something was wrong.. when I called him we talked for a while about what was going on and I said what I could to help him deal with what he was going through. When I got home that night I just felt powerless because here I had this friend who was struggling with so much and I knew that the only person he could really look to to help him pull through was himself. I sat down that night and wrote the song saying, "I know that I can't solve this for you, but I'm there for you until you can find your own way through". I wont name names for the sake of our friend, btu I will say that this song definately addresses depression and my belief the only way to make it through is not by relying on counseling, or prescription drugs, but by finding the reasons to live within yourself. I'm not saying that there is no value to clinical methods, because there are, but people need to stop relying completely on outside sources to solve their problems and start finding their own answers.

What is one quirky thing about each of you that nobody knows about?

Todd: I don't know I'm kind of open about my quirks. I'm really shy and anti social. Not a good mix. I don't like meeting new people.

Aram: I hate talking to people I don't know on the phone and having to ask them for anything. I mean I have no problem asking anything of friends, family, and people I've met face to face but I go way out of my way to avoid having to call someone I don't know and ask them for anything... this includes the following: ording pizza, activating credit cards, calling my health insurence, asking directions, asking buisness hours, ordering plane ticktes, etc. I am a weirdo.

At what point will Betrayed be touring? You've both been on the road quite a bit. What city/scene is tops on the list for each of you? What city/scene could you care less if you ever drove through it again?

Todd: Right now I have a job that I like and a nice place to live. I'm not just yet willing to sacrifice that to go on tour. Maybe someday. My favorite scenes and cities to play shows at are: Seattle, San Francisco, Montreal, Arnheim. Houston is rad. Scenes/Cities that I don't care about to ever play at again: Anywhere gang members go to hardcore shows.

Aram: We'll be doing some short tours this summer and fall and then see what happens when we record our LP this winter. I think we'd all like to try to tour with this band, but it needs to be right and not forced. I love playing Boston, San Diego, Seattle, San Fran, Montreal, and New York and could never set foot in Milwalkee again and die happy.

Between the both of you, there is Betrayed, Champion, Snake Eyes and Internal Affairs. If each of you had to choose one band, and one band only, which choice would each of you make?

Todd: I'm currently doing Snake Eyes, Internal Affairs, and Betrayed. Snake Eyes started out as a fun project between some friends of mine. We had and still have no agenda as far as what style songs we're going to write, we have no pressure or stress to ever really do anything - Snake Eyes strictly exists to have fun and make some cool hardcore music. I joined Internal Affairs because I want to be in a band with one of my best friends, Corey Williams. Internal Affairs is more or less Corey's band - other members help out with things, some more so than others, but it's pretty much been Corey from the begining. He writes the majority of the songs and he does all the back end stuff like setting up shows/printing merch etc etc. I'm just along for the ride and to have another reason to hang out with Corey more often. Betrayed is the band that I'd have to choose. The style we're playing is something I've never really done before so it's the most interesting to me at this time. Out of any band I've ever done, Betrayed is the most gratifying music I've ever had a part in creating.

Aram: Hahaha hard question, honestly right now I would choose Betrayed because I've been in Champion for about 5 years and we've had the chance to accomplish most the goals that we set with the band. That doesn't mean that I feel Champion's run its course, not by a long shot, we have new goals and new things that we need to accomplish before we call it a day; what it means is that if Champion was to end today I'd be satisfied with the things we'd been able to do but with Betrayed, everything is just starting to open up for us and I want to put time into that. I'm stoked on the musical direction, the chance to get some things off my chest, and most importantly the chance to play with some of my best friends. I see Champion as my foundation and nothing shakes that, but Betrayed is something I need to see through because I have some things to say and I now I have the chance to get them out there.

Betrayed's debut EP "Addiction" is available at Bridge 9 Records.

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