In today’s music industry, not many people know what goes into making a band successful and the struggles a band can face. Many people believe that once a band gets signed to the big “RECORD DEAL” that all of their struggles are over, and the magical record label will make them famous and rich. Unfortunately, this is not the case, especially now. Usually, the struggle has only begun! Labels have no money anymore due to the illegal downloading plague because no one buys CDs, and this has directly resulted in little to no label support for most signed acts. Once you get beyond the lack of Milk & Honey in the promised land of a record deal, you still have to deal with any of the same struggles a garage band would – only it’s more public. Things like members quitting, health issues, recording problems, financial strain, members’ personal drama, and so on. Like many others, Halcyon Way, a progressive metal band from right here in Atlanta, has faced much adversity along their journey as a band.
Formed in 2001, the band began writing material and playing local shows like any other band starts out. After fits and spurts of progress, and a bunch of lineup changes, the original group began to solidify. A demo was recorded, Blind Eyes To The Sky, which showed a talented band in their infancy. On the heels of this release, the band began recording drum tracks for what was intended to be pre-production for a full length CD. However, the tracks came out better than expected, so the band decided to use them for the album.
Founding member Jon Bodan recorded the album in his home studio, but knew he was out of his depth when it came to mixing it and getting a solid final product. At that time, he was referred by a friend to James Murphy, formerly of Testament & Death, who had emerged over the past few years as one of the ‘go-to’ producers for up & coming metal bands. James agreed to mix & master the CD, but there were some problems with the tracks – specifically the rhythm guitars. James wanted “direct” signals so he could re-amp the guitars through the amp of his choosing, and as a result Jon had to re-record all of them. Once that was done and the project was again delivered to James, some tuning issues were discovered. Long story short, this required Jon to spend a week in Tampa with James and his studio assistant and fellow producer Chaz Najjar in order to re-re-record the guitars. Task completed, Jon returned to Atlanta and went on vacation. A couple of weeks later, he received a panicked call at midnight from Chaz: “Dude, the drive crashed and ate the sessions! I was able to recover about 55% of them but I have to come to Atlanta and we have to redo them!”
And so it was – for the 4th or 5th time Jon tracked the rhythm guitars. The project was delivered to James for mixdown, but by this point James had about 3 production jobs in front of Halcyon Way. So in the interest of time, James referred the project to the up & coming German producer, Lasse Lammert. Lasse mixed the album in record time to stellar results, and it was finally delivered to Nightmare Records for release….about 5 years after tracking started.
On November 28, 2008, A Manifesto for Domination is released, and it is reviewed by many as being a very well written & polished album. The band was universally hailed as having a lot of potential and having released a very solid debut record.
However, just a week after the highly successful CD Release Party for the album, vocalist Sean Shields contacts Jon stating that “we need to have lunch together”. During that meeting it comes out that Sean is getting married and relocating to Virginia. However, all parties wanted him to continue to be in the band, and so an agreement was reached to do that. Six months pass, and it became apparent that the situation was not going to remain tenable, and Sean left the band amidst a bitter breakup.
Again stopped in their tracks, with 90% of their next album already written and much of the drum recordings already finished, the band is forced to switch gears suddenly and find a new vocalist. However, this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill ‘get a new vocalist situation’; the new guy had to be able to throw down vocally along with any of the greats of metal, to be able to get along on a personal level with the rest of the band, AND be willing to work hard and be a partner – not a hired gun. AND, to make matters even more stressful, the songs for the album had already been demoed out by Sean – but he had demanded
that the band rewrite any lyrics he had written. AND…..the band had booked plane tickets for the legendary Pamela Moore (Queensryche) to fly to Atlanta and track new vocals. In 3 weeks. To demos that Sean had recorded, but couldn’t be kept.
A call was made to John Cheek at Nightmare Records to obtain a few guys’ phone numbers, and the conversation basically went like this: “Here’s those guys’ numbers, but THIS guy is the one you want. He’s gonna be your guy!” John was, of course, referring to Steve Braun of the Italian progressive metal band, Ashent. Steve lived right up the road in Nashville, and Ashent had been more/less relegated to being a studio band with the rare & occasional live show because Steve had to fly to Europe to perform. Steve did 2 albums with Ashent, but was looking for something more full-time. Jon, Ernie, and “Big” Mike, the band’s Tour Manager, took a weekend trip up to Nashville to meet Steve and do an audition. Steve also plays in a cover band, Burning Ground, in Nashville. After grilling out, seeing Steve throw down for a 3-hour rock cover set without a hitch, and auditioning to some of the band’s new material on tape, the deal was sealed in record time. Nine days later, Halcyon Way had their new singer.
At this point, Halcyon Way really had to start to make some headway with their music. At a record pace, Steve and Jon substantially re-write many of the songs that would end up on Building The Towers. Pamela flies to Atlanta and records her parts without a hitch. An epic photo shoot is done, which can be seen on the CD booklet and their website – and this marks the first time Steve even met Kris or Zane (the rhythm guitar player for HW at the time). The songs were completed in demo form and are far more polished than they were previously.
Lasse Lammert was flown to the US in January of 2010 to produce the new album. The drum tracks had already been recorded locally with Mike Froedge, and so the band simply holed up in Jon’s studio for a month and recorded 16 songs. The recording process went much more smoothly this time, and the material on the album is a massive leap forward for the band in terms of songwriting, polish, and heaviness. At this point, the band lands a UK tour with Fozzy, which increased their fan base & and brought the band a much higher profile and status. Halcyon Way was no more just a local Atlanta band, but a professional international act.
The Tour and recording processes completed in the Summer of 2010, and things are looking up for Halcyon Way. The band was immediately offered and booked a larger European Tour with the band Stuck Mojo for October/November of 2010. But right after the UK tour and while riding high, the guys lost rhythm guitarist Zane due to some personal & family reasons. Continuing to more forward, the band completes the mixdown process for Building The Towers, and the album is scheduled for worldwide release on October 12, 2010. A massive marketing campaign ensues, mostly paid by the band, who didn’t want to see the last 2 years’ hard work go to waste. With a big tour coming up, the band enlists a fill-in guitarist for the tour and focuses on moving ahead. The reviews for the album are amazing with people calling the band “The future of American progressive heavy metal”. The album was rated higher in Germany’s “Legacy” magazine than the newest releases by Death Angel, Soilwork, and Devin Townsend. The band is really starting to see the light at the end of tunnel.
At this point, tragedy strikes the band, as Jon Bodan is diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma a week before the release of Building The Towers, and 2 weeks before the tour is supposed to start. To put this in perspective…..say you’ve played golf your whole life, with the intention of going pro as soon as possible. You finally get the invitation to play on the PGA tour, and you break both your arms in a freak accident the week before.
Devastated, the band is forced to cancel the tour and Jon enters into aggressive treatments to fight off the cancer.
The band continues on, but with far less activity. A couple of spot dates are booked and played while Jon was in chemotherapy (he had to ask the Doctor first before he could he could perform). In the midst of this, the band still has no rhythm guitar player. HW goes thru many try outs and rhythm guitar players – hired guns for the band that ended up quitting or were told not to come back. Two VERY high-profile European tours were offered to the band, but had to be passed on. Two smaller US tours were also offered and passed up on during this difficult time.
Extremely frustrated, but determined not to give up the dream, the band decided to release the remaining material from the Building The Towers sessions as a short album entitled IndoctriNation. Again enlisting Lasse Lammert to do the mixdown, and Travis Smith to do the artwork, the album is released in October of 2011.
Around this time, after nearly a year of treatments culminating in a stem-cell transplant and a lengthy hospital stay, Jon found out that he was in full Remission, and the band returned to the live scene with a vengeance at the Atlanta Cancer Care Benefit Show, which raised $5000 for cancer patients. The band then headlined Pathfinder Metalfest III. These two shows were performed with Eric Roberts on rhythm guitar, who had been offered the permanent job with the band. However, these two shows were to be his only ones with HW as the transplanted NJ resident was forced to return home up north unexpectedly.
In the midst of this, HW’s management had been notified that Jon’s condition would allow him to tour again, and the band was offered a support slot on the European Delain/Trillium tour. Both female-fronted metal bands were well known in Europe, and the band jumped on the opportunity. However, they still had no rhythm guitar player! The search continues, but players keep choking.
Finally, an extremely enthusiastic Shawn Dirksen comes over for an audition. After a successful series of auditions and meetings, Shawn is offered the job as permanent rhythm guitarist. He accepted, and just in time to begin preparations for the European tour which begins in April of 2012.
After the upcoming tour, the band plans to begin the recording process for their 4th CD. It’s pretty safe to say that the album will be inspired and influenced by all of the adversity and difficulty they have endured and survived over the past couple of years.
So, as you can see being in a band isn’t easy on many levels. So why continue? Why deal with so much adversity? I asked Jon Bodan this question and he said, [quote]Because I have to play guitar, it’s who I am and it’s my passion. And even if no one else believes in what I’m doing, I will, so I continue. And if I’m going to do it at all, I am compelled to do it at a high level. Being in a garage band isn’t good enough anymore. It has to be real.[/quote]
Steve Braun also commented and said, “there is that small inner voice that keeps telling me that there are more people to reach with my music. I want to send a positive message. There is so much negativity in music and the world in general that I want to sing about positive things…songs that have meaning and a simple thread of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t get me wrong, I in no way wanna be preachy in my music but simply give some encouragement that things will get better and we will make it through.” Also, the end result is what they strive for…the music. If all that hard work ended up with something they weren’t passionate about, there wouldn’t be much point to it.
Being in a band is filled with heartbreak and frustration, but in the end it’s very rewarding. A great deal of passion and the ability not to give up in the face of difficulty is a major job requirement to be in a band in this day and age. Moving up from a simple garage band to a worldwide band is a challenge many bands never make it to, but Halcyon Way have beaten the odds in many ways over the years. They continue to press on. Check out this band at www.halcyonway.com