Loyal Until Death
LOYAL UNTIL DEATH:
Greg Lebeau – vocals; Nakia Romero – guitars/vocals; Lance Martin – drums
Interview with Nakia Romero
Loyal Until Death. That’s a bold statement. It is honorable to be able to predict your bonds and values decades down the line. One listen to Remain Defiant and all will be convinced of this trio’s solidified convictions. Enmity is released with tsunami level impact. The dual vocal approach, heavy riffs and blistering drums secure that only the most vicious audience will relate. The Florida based band, which Nakia Romero, vocals/guitars, and Greg LeBeau, vocals, began in 2012, just added their new drummer, Lance Martin. Loyal Until Death brings their second full length, out now. The LP is a heavy, energetic, vital album.
The furious message starts with contempt. “Loyalty in anyone is extremely rare these days. People are really narcissistic these days.” That repulsion spawns the disgust in the opener, starting: “Remain! Defiant!” Fuck the law, fuck the system, fuck the church, fuck your religion.” As Romero’s growl continues, more superficial concepts are decried. As the album moves, the lyrics get deeper and more challenging. Each song has Greg LeBeau, with a screamier voice and condensed lyrical content, bandy with Romero’s lower vocals and succinct phrasing. Romero, handling guitars and bass along with vocals, as he did with their debut, Born of Violence, is a beast juggling his responsibilities well. This focused energy continually pushes and propels the frenetic pulse of Remain Defiant.
Fans of First Blood (especially), Hoods, Hatebreed, 100 Demons, Ramallah and Strife will find familiar ground. But coming from the South, metal definitely is an enormous influence. Romero cites death metal and Crowbar. Crowbar is also a visual inspiration. Romero tapped Eliran Kantor, who did Crowbar’s The Serpent Only Lies; and Hatebreed, Testament, Sodom, Hate Eternal. The Belgian artist paints vivid, saturated images of Roman war and decimated landscapes; illustrating emotion, gravity and depth not usually seen on a hardcore cover. Remain Defiant is on 1732 records, which Romero started just for this album. The transparent vinyl versions are a vibrant companion to the striking cover.
The music embedded in the wax is staggering as well. A continuous flow is present and captivating throughout the eleven tracks. Inspired by NYHC’s crushing weight mixed with bounce, Romero is proud of the organic and dynamic ability of the band to adapt the songs. - hutch
1. First, I love the art work. (on Born of Violence too) It’s cool to see atypical subject matter on a hardcore record. Tell me about the specific painting and why you chose it.
I have ALWAYS been a fan of actual album cover artwork. You know, real sick oil paintings and things like that. I would just stare at them for hours on end. I wanted to be sure the artwork was really eye-catching and profound for this record; something really special and memorable. I am a huge fan of the older dark Renaissance type oil paintings from long ago, as you can see from our previous releases album covers. I wanted it to be original only to us; not a copied picture from the internet. So, I started doing some research on album cover artists. We really started writing the record around 2015. I had seen the artwork for Hatebreed’s Concrete Confessional album which was done by Eliran Kantor (You can read my 2015 interview with Eliran here! – hutch) and I was like “Damn! That’s sick”. So, I went through his portfolio on his website and knew this was the guy. Then, time passed and we were getting closer to finishing the record. We were at the point where we had working titles and lyrics for most of the songs and the music was already recorded. Then, the artwork for Crowbar’s The Serpent Only Lies came out. I was like, “Holy fucking shit! This is the sickest album cover I've ever seen in my entire life!” I mean, it had the old Greek statue looking guy, the fleur de lis, the snake, and those color tones were out of this world. So, right then and there I (contacted) Eliran. That’s when we started communicating back and forth about our album artwork. I sent him some rough takes of most of the songs without the lyrics. It was just music. We didn't even have the vocals recorded yet. And I emailed him copies of lyrics. And once we set the definitive title as “Remain Defiant”, I sent that to him and kind of described what that meant and what the record was basically about and he took it from there. And the final result is it’s just one of the most amazing paintings I've ever seen. The color scheme that he used on there was a little different from his previous works. He stated that to me and he said he made it a point because he wanted it to really stand out. I mean if you look at the record you have the whole rainbow in there. It's an absolute beautiful piece. So, it was specially made for the record.
2. How have you – as a band, and personally - spent time in between albums?
Well, personally, we spend the time working our jobs like dogs. (Haha) As a band, we've spent the times between records at a warehouse that we used to have in Fort Lauderdale for about 5 or 6 years. Writing more songs and playing local shows. When Lance joined in 2014, we literally lived in that warehouse for 4 - 5 days a week hours and hours and hours at a time. Just jamming and writing riffs and parts of songs. We clicked so well. I mean it was like I could play three chords and he would play 4 different beats and we would have a song. I mean it was ridiculous how fast we were just churning out songs. Some were good, some were just there. Some didn't make it on the record and most of them did. We probably, between us wrote 40+ songs for this record. I think the hardest part was narrowing it down to 11. (Hahaha) But we chose the more aggressive, relentless, unforgivable, and punishing songs to put on this record as with the lyrics. It's a little tough now because I just moved to Franklin Tennessee, so we haven’t gotten together and jammed in a while like we used to.
3. How did recording do? Producer? Duration? Studio?
The recording process went very well. It was smooth and natural. It was our first time recording at Iceman Studios with Daniel Colombo. It was really amazing. We recorded pretty much live. I would play guitar standing in front of Lance, playing in his ear and he would just play. We basically just played 3 - 4 takes on all the songs and just went with the best take. Old school style. We wanted the more natural feel. We didn't want to play to a click track. We didn’t want the quantifying, robotic feel. We wanted the hardcore push/pull energy and emotions felt throughout the record. We recorded drums first and I think it took like a day and a half. We originally recorded thirteen songs and narrowed it down to eleven. And, then, I went in and recorded all the guitars and bass tracks. Then, we sat on that for a while because there were a few songs that we didn't have lyrics to. So, we had to write lyrics. We went back in about 6 or so months later and wrapped it up. There's actually a couple of songs that we're changed right on the spot live. The second track of the record “What Never Dies” which is kind of like the sing-along anthem. The original ending riff was really slow and heavy and sludgy. It sounded good, but to me it just kind of cut your legs out from under you coming from the chorus and to that break. So, I looked at Lance and I'm like “Man this song is so moving but you know, it just, your legs get cut out from under you at the end. We have to write a different riff. We have to write a fucking extreme, old school, fucking New York style sounding, fucking beatdown riff.” We ran through it a few times. The new riff was written right there. Then, we ran with like two or three takes of it and the rest is history. We also changed the ending riff to “The God To Your Repentance”. The original riff kind of almost sounded like the verse part. So, again, me and Lance are like “We got to change that riff”. I actually took an ending riff with the lead guitar parts from one of the songs that didn't make it on the record because I really always liked that riff. So, we played it a couple times to see how it would fit going into it and it fit good. We played like three or four takes of it and that was it. It was kind of weird at first going back listening to those songs and hearing different riffs at the end when you originally wrote it with other riffs. (Hahaha) Daniel really got some killer drum tones in the room that he set it up in. We then dialed in the guitars and bass tones and I mean the production on this record is just to me, it sounds incredible. I mean, we're really happy we went with him. It was very relaxing, easygoing, and we didn't feel rushed.
4. What is the Florida scene like these days?
The Florida scene is pretty damn good. For years South Florida has produced some incredible hardcore bands. Most of your influential early 90s bands like Strongarm, Tension, and Culture (huge fan of all three! – hutch). I mean they used to have killer shows there every weekend. Between metal and hardcore, there endless talent there. I mean Florida is the death metal capital of the world. So just a breeding ground for great bands from metal to hardcore. This day and age the music scenes definitely are different from back in the 90s and early 2000’s. But there's always going to be some kind of scenes in Florida because it just nonstop harvests musician. It's like a hatchery for bands. There’s always going to be something going on. You have Miami. You have Palm Beach. You got Orlando, Tallahassee, Jacksonville. You can literally do a week tour just in Florida with all the different cities and scenes. (hahaha)
5. Growing up, what bands got you fired up and influenced you?
It’s funny. Growing up I was the biggest KISS freak when I was like five or six years old. My mom bought me all the records. My sister used to dress me up like them on Halloween. My first concert was Kiss in 1979 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My mom brought me. I was like 5 or 6. I was always into music. Growing up in Louisiana, there’s always some Zydeco playing at the fair or on the weekends somewhere. My parents always had some kind of music on the radio. I used to go spend the weekend at my grandparents’ house out in the country where my two cousins used to live and they had a record player with some vinyl records. I must have been around 7 or 8. Something like that. They had Ozzy and Sabbath records. Some Skynard. They were a little older than me. Like teenagers. I would just sit there and listen to the records and stare at the album artwork. The one that really captured me was Black Sabbath Mob Rules. To this day it is my all-time favorite album. I think that album has definitely changed my life. I used to just play that record over and over and over again, ironically, and stare at the artwork. Once, we move to Florida. I started getting into band like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth. I was into skateboarding. So, I started getting into the punk and crossover bands like The Exploited, Misfits, and DRI, things like that. I really got into death metal once I heard Death’s Leprosy. Death was one of my favorite bands. Chuck Shculdiner was huge influence on me. Obituary. Massacre. All the good Florida death metal bands. And then my buddy gave me a cassette tape and that tape pointed me in the direction more of the street style hardcore. That tape was the first Biohazard. That's when I heard the mixture between hardcore and metal. I was playing guitar since I was 13. Heavily into Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and Sabbath. So, hearing that NYHC style for the first time was eye opening. The groove and aggression was undeniable. Then, through skateboarding and hanging out, I met Greg. We would go to his house and his sister was a little older. She had a bunch of Old School hardcore vinyl. He would play those records. That's when I first heard Agnostic Front and Judge. We would go to each others’ houses and all we would listen to would be either Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, or Biohazard. When Agnostic Front One Voice came out - it blew me away. Hearing Matt Henderson mixing those stylish leads over the music was amazing. That to me is their best record. It can't be matched. Then, from there, I got into Madball and most of the old New York style hardcore bands and the straight bands. Bands like Strife. Being from Louisiana. I have always been into Crowbar. They have been one of my all-time favorite bands ever since their first record. Loyal Until Death tunes in B standard basically because of Crowbar. I got that from just jamming along with Crowbar songs. So, that's also another band that has a huge influence on me and you can hear in some of the riffs. Especially, the last riff in “The Molding Of A Man”. As far as noticeable influences in the music writing, I would have to say that Crowbar, Agnostic Front, and Strife are the most prevalent.
6. What does rest of 2017 hold?
Now, that I live in Tennessee it's going to be a little tougher for us to get together. But, I'm communicating with a killer hardcore band from the UK who is supposed to do a US tour early next year. We're trying to see if maybe we could jump on that for 10 to 12 days and possibly follow them into Europe. I would like to book a small tour for the South East U.S. for this fall/winter to support the new record. I have started communications to try and put that together.
7. The digital is on Spotify. Have you gotten good feedback (album is sick!). And then vinyl is coming out 7/7. 150 gm virgin vinyl, limited colors. Did you guys or label push for this (or both)? Are you guys vinyl dudes?
Unbelievably, we have been getting more feedback than I ever expected. It's really starting to catch some traction. We've done a few different interviews with other magazines and there's a lot of sites out there that have reviewed the album. And so far all the reviews have been very positive. We knew it was going to be kind of a special record because of the focus that we took in the album, the songs, the lyrics, and the direction we took with the music as far as the emotional standpoint and just really putting everything into this. And it's really amazing to hear some of the comments that we get from the record. Hearing that from other people on the outside looking in really means a lot because it’s hard to look at it that way and judge and comment on your own creation because you've played the song hundreds of times and you’ve heard lyrics a million times. So, you know, I really respect and take to heart people's opinion when they hear it hitting them in the face for the first time. Because that's the way I do as a music lover and a fan of a ton of bands out there. When I hear their record for the first time hit me in the face and it's good, it's just an unbelievable feeling. As far as the vinyl, that was something that I brought up to the guys and I really pushed for. Because the label is my label that I started specifically for this record. So, I really pushed to get the vinyl and even though it's so fucking expensive to make these days. (hahaha) We decided to do it just to have it. Especially with the killer artwork and how good the recording came out I thought it was only fitting to just go the extra mile spend a few bucks and get some vinyl and some killer colors to offer to people that would appreciate it. And I’m glad I did. They are moving fast! I just started collecting vinyl again. When I was younger, I had bunch of records but just over the course of my life moving thousands of times you know, they got lost somewhere along the way. So, I started back collecting a couple years back. Greg has a killer collection that he inherited from his older sister passed away a couple years back. I'm talking priceless 7” pieces from the old school New York hardcore days that are probably irreplaceable. If I were him, I would take out an insurance policy on them. (hahaha)
8. Being a band in 2017 with Social media, merch sales dependent, and less big label support – more left to the band’s hustle. Would you agree? How is it compared to when you started?
Success this day and age definitely depends on how hard you grind and hustle. DIY can't be any truer of a statement. I mean it's hard enough trying to book your own shows and get on shows with other bands in other cities. It's not like the old days where you have a huge label behind you who has booking and promoter connections. But hardcore has always been about the harder paths of life you know, so. Definitely depending on how hard you hustle. Social media can definitely work into your favor. It's thousands of hours of ass-time sitting in front of the computer, but it's endless. There's endless possibilities. Through Facebook. Through online marketing. I mean if you have a great product and you market it the right way through social media, you never know. People could get behind it and next thing you know you’re somebody. It happens every day.
9. What does it mean to remain defiant in 2017? What can one do?
The title for us means that we haven’t changed throughout our life. We are all still the same mother fuckers that listen to the same music and are brothers to the same people since we met and started this shit in 1991. We don’t change with progression. We don’t participate in fads or trends. We fucking hate that shit and that’s what we write about. Our way of life and thinking in this day to younger kids is incomprehensible. We don’t buy into the social justice bullshit. We don’t need fucking safe spaces. We are grown men that can handle our fucking business anytime, anywhere, with anyone. We don’t call the fucking police. We don’t film crimes with our phones and post that shit on Fuckbook and try to snitch on a mother fucker. We mind our own fucking business. We carry a sense of pride and we don’t give a rats ass what people think of us. As far as what one can do to remain defiant, one first has to know what to defy.
10. How common or rare is Loyalty to find in others?
Loyalty in anyone is extremely rare these days. In family. In friends. People are really narcissistic these days. They think they’re the most important piece of shit on the planet. I’m fortunate to have some pretty solid brothers that I’ve known since high school. We’re all friends with the same group since back in the day. But I think the most important thing is to be true and loyal to yourself.