Hailing from the green state of Washington, Black Breath combines the peanut butter crunch of classic Entombed with chocolatey hardcore power to form one of the most addicting sound profiles around. I first heard them with the release of 2010’s Heavy Breathing, which was a furious mess of pulsing drums, volatile and prolonged screams, and abrasive Boss HM-2 guitar tone antics. The band obviously summons old Swedish death metal as an influence on their sound, but the driving force behind their attack is pure good old hardcore punk.
Black Breath released Sentenced To Life in 2012, and continued to sharpen their intensity and focus, stripping the more “metal” parts of their groove into concrete blasts which hit like a logging truck. As a live act, they are known for chaotic and bloody shows, as the band and audience seem intent on exorcising every single last demon throughout songs played with maximum efficiency. They know how to keep a song and crowd moving, keeping the frantic pace while dropping occasional slower parts that by all rights should come with some sort of hazard warning. When they came through Salem, Oregon last week, we sat down with drummer Jamie Byrum to discuss memorable concerts, their hometown, and growing up with music.
Matt Schmahl: How is the tour going so far?
Jamie Byrum: It’s going great so far, we’re two weeks into it, gonna be in Seattle tomorrow, which is our home town. We get to hang out with friends and family for a day, and then we get back out on the road again for a month.
Matt: Can you talk a bit about how Black Breath started, and the musical environment you were in?
Jamie: We grew up in Bellingham, which is in Washington up by the Canadian border. It’s not really a metal city so much, it’s more of a stoner, derelict hippie type town. There’s lots of people into rock music, lots of garage shows and hippie jam bands, but no one was really doing the aggressive hardcore/metal stuff too much. People listened to it of course, but we were kind of the first to start actually playing it there.
I started playing when I was like 4 or so. My Dad gave me a guitar when I was a little kid. It’s actually one of my first memories. Ever since then I’ve basically just been doing it my whole life. I got into the more angry stuff just from being pissed off and hating everybody, you know? I mean I’m a little less pissed off and all that but I still like listening to it, and playing it of course. It’s the type of music that takes time to get good at, to learn your instrument, so why bother stopping? We weren’t always playing this kind of shit. I wasn’t always playing metal drums, I was always more of a metal guitar player who played in punk bands, so our background in that led into what Black Breath turned into.
Matt: How often do you still practice, both as a group and individually?
Jamie: We still have group practice before we record or tour, but other than that it’s not a regimented type thing. We’re not doing it on specific days or anything, we just do it when everything comes together. If we have an album to make or a tour to go on, we’ll be playing a shitload and practicing on our own a lot, but other than that we really don’t play at all. Same goes for me individually. I never practice anymore unless it’s for a tour or for recording, maybe if I’m writing something that I have in my head that I haven’t played enough yet, that kind of thing. Once you do it long enough it’s like muscle memory. You can warm up for a few minutes and you’ll be right back where you were.
Matt: What makes a good show for you? What about a bad one?
Jamie: A good show for me is not too terribly big, but totally packed with people losing their fucking minds. Jumping all over shit, no security, just kinda dangerous and fucked up. The type of gig where you know something could go wrong but it hasn’t yet, and everyone knows it and is waiting for it but still going crazy… An insane, packed environment is always best for shows… The worst shows are the ones in venues that hold 500 people, and there’s 35 people there with their arms folded, and the staff are a bunch of dick heads. It’s terrible. It should be in a smaller place if you can’t pull that many people. We might not be having a good time in places like that, but we still aren’t gonna be dicks about it or anything and keep it to ourselves. There’s no reason to ruin some kids night who lives in the middle of nowhere just because the venue or the promoter or whatever sucks. I mean we have people who will drive like 4 hours to see us, they have to take time off work and all that, why ruin the night? You have to suck it up and just do it, maybe for that one person there who might be digging it.
Matt: Can you describe a time that a show has been stopped for craziness?
Jamie: We had this buddy of ours who was gonna play guitar for us but didn’t end up working out. The second time we met him, he was pretty wild and freaking out, because he was the only metal head going to these shows we played in Indianapolis, which were full of hardcore punk kids. His eyes are popping out and he’s choking this kid covered in blood, so we had to stop the set. He was like “Who the fuck hit me?” Everyone was like “What the fuck did you expect, it was a hard ass part!” (Laughter). He just had no clue what to expect when we started playing. It ended up being fine, he still got his nose broken though. (More laughter). We had to stop once because the circuit breaker caught fire once, and a multitude of other reasons, but it doesn’t happen a lot.
Matt: What advice do you have for newer bands starting out in extreme music?
Jamie: Go listen to the classics. Don’t buy your gear from Guitar Center. Don’t trigger your drums. Listen to Black Sabbath.
Matt: What is in the future for Black Breath?
Jamie: We have an album coming out in September, so we’ll be out supporting that for the known future….
We want to thank Jamie for taking the time to speak with us!
Catch them now with Goatwhore, Ringworm, and Theories!
(Written by Matt Schmahl | Photos by Alyssa Herrman)