Starting Over New with Burn Halo
By Dave Schwartz
Burn Halo is a new band that you may
have already heard. Although their self-titled debut has just
dropped, their single, "Dirty Little Girl," has been all over the
radio for weeks. The band has been out touring since February and
theyíre likely to be coming to a venue near you.
When singer James Hart called me on a Saturday afternoon in
April, I learned firsthand what a ball of energy he is. Itís not
surprising that the single is running up the charts. But what is
surprising is the story about how the new Burn Halo album is the
record that almost wasnít.
DB: So how are you doing today? You sound like your full of
JH: I am, I am. Iím awake. I have a couple cups of coffee in me.
Iím good to go right now, you know?
DB: Youíre calling in from the East Coast?
JH: Yeah, weíre down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida right now.
DB: Thatís a great place to be this time of year.
JH: Itís a little humid, but itís all right. It beats the weather
that weíve been in over the past couple months, thatís for sure.
DB: Well letís get started. First of all, congratulations on your
debut record, "Burn Halo." What can you tell me about the album?
JH: Iíll start off with the making of the record and how
everything kind of came about. I was in a band for a long time
called 18 Visions. That band broke up in April of 2007 and about two
weeks after our last couple shows I went out to Tulsa, Oklahoma to
demo some songs with a guy named Zak Maloy. Heís a songwriter and
was the frontman for a '90s rock band called The Nixons. I submitted
those four songs to Island Records and was given a record deal. From
May until October I was traveling to Tulsa once a month for about a
week at a time. Over that time, Zak and I compiled 18-20 songs. So
we went into the studio with a great lineup of musicians.
Now at first I wasnít sure if this project was going to be
marketed as a proper band or if I was going to roll out as a solo
artist. Originally, I was just going to do the solo record thing,
just kind of do things on my own. But the more the record came
together, and with the guys I had playing on this album, Daniel
Adair from Nickleback, Chris Chaney from Jane's Addiction, Neil
Tiemann was in the Midwest Kings and is now with David Cook, and
Synyster Gates from Avenged Sevenfold, it felt like a band made
album, even though those guys didnít do any of the writing. So we
recorded the record and about a week before we went into do the mix,
my A/R guy was let go. Ultimately a month or so later I was also let
go from the label. With my head cheerleader gone Island didnít want
to move forward with me.
So from there it really took a few months to figure out what was
going to happen with this record and if it was going to come out and
on what label. I went through a lot of bumps in the road, a lot of
almosts with getting the record out on several majors. For whatever
reasons it just didnít happen. Eventually I came to the conclusion
that it would be best, given the guys that played on the record and
my history isnít like that of Chris Cornell or somebody who can
really sell records on their own, that I would do this thing as a
Once I did that and solidified the band, everything just started
coming together a little bit quicker. We got a record deal through
the Independent Label group at Warner Music. They love the songs and
believe in the album and thatís kind of where weíre at. They really
wanted to put the record out. They really wanted to push this thing
at radio. So here we are a few months later. Weíve got a couple
great tours under our belt. Weíre steadily climbing the charts at
Rock Radio and the album finally out and I couldnít be happier right
DB: Wow, looks like youíve touched on 90 percent of my questions
already, but itís OK. There are a few highlights that I would like
to discuss and Iím sure weíll find more to talk about along the way.
JH: Oh, Iím sorry, usually I just try to elaborate, I wanted to
get in everything I needed to say.
DB: No, itís not a problem, Iíve still got a few things we can
discuss. You mentioned working with Zak Maloy and writing the
record. He also went on to produce it, didnít he?
JH: Yeah, he did. It was his first, well at the time it was his
first major label experience. I still view this as a major label
album in the sense that weíve got the Warner Music Group backing
us and I see this album sometime in the near future getting
upstreamed to, say, Atlantic or Warner or Roadrunner, so this was
his first real big record. I went with him because I spent so much
time writing the songs with him and felt that the songs were pretty
much ready to go. I didnít need a producer to come in from the
outside and tweak things around or get me to rewrite some parts. I
didnít want to ruin the chemistry that I created with Zak. I didnít
want to just go in and tweak the structure of the song because I
felt, and Zak felt and my manager felt that these songs were ready
to go. There were a couple of A-List producers that were brought up
but it just didnít make sense.
I really like Zak as a person and I liked writing songs with
him, what he had to offer and what he brought to the table. So I
felt way more comfortable giving him this record to produce than I
did even with an A-Lister because you never know what an A-Lister is
going to want. You donít know if heís going to want to go in there
and put their stamp on the songs and tweak things around. I really
didnít feel happy about all that and Iím really happy that I made
the decision to go with Zak.
DB: Thatís exactly where I was going with this. The question I
was getting at is do you feel that his closeness to the music
contributed to bringing the songs to life as first envisioned?
Youíve already answered that question, how about the opposite-- were
there ever times when the closeness to the music led to any
problems? You know, kind of like not seeing the forest for the
JH: No, not at all. When I first met Zak, obviously we got
together and met before we ever sat down to write. So we met in L.A.
and I explained the type of record that I wanted to make, where I
wanted to take the music, how I wanted to market the songs and where
I wanted this record to live in terms of where I wanted it to start
out in radio. He saw eye-to-eye with me on every single aspect.
At times you would think that because youíre so close with
somebody and youíre working together hands-on every single day that
it could get a little rough or we would not really vibe on the same
ideas, but that wasnít the case at all. Sometimes he had ideas that
he wanted me to try that I wouldnít feel too sure about. But Iím the
type of person that is always going to try something before I shoot
it down musically. There is no reason not too, especially with the
amount of time we had.
So we would try things and sometimes they would work out,
something they wouldnít. Thatís just the beauty of creating songs
with somebody and being able to bounce ideas off of each other. And
I will say this about a bigger A-List producer or somebody that
coming into a record, that didnít write on the record. Those
producers are great, for example, if I wouldíve written this album
with 18 Visions and we had three different songwriters on each
song, it would definitely be a good idea to have a producer to help
push the song in the right direction, to trim the fat. Someone who
has a professional opinion whoís willing to sit there and dissect
the song without the writers opinions getting in the way. Zak knew
exactly what we wanted to do from day one and he knew how to
accomplish the task.
DB: And as you know, clearly the bottom line, the music is the
most important part of the process. Hopefully everyone gets their
input but in the end, the finished song is what is more important.
Youíve already touched on your association with Island Records and
your release from the label. How did this all work for you? Iíve
heard of so many bands that do an album and because of the business
of music, the record gets tied up legally and never gets released.
JH: Umm, I think the bottom line here, it was just unique
circumstances. I had gone in July or August of 2007, after I had a
few songs under my belt. I was asked to come in and play a few
songs. So I went to offices and played a couple of the songs
acoustically. I think the radio promotion staff really loved the
potential on the record. So I think that, given the unique
circumstances, they werenít quite sure if they were going to move
forward with release or me after my A/R guy was let go. It was
literally a week before we went in to mix. They couldíve pulled the
plug. They were spending more and more money on a project that was
potentially up in the air. It just said to me that they had faith in
But by January or February of 2008 they made the decision that
moving forward with me was not going to be a viable option. It just
surprises me that they would let something like this go, especially
given the amount of money they put into it. The fact that they were
cool with the whole situation, my A/R guy being let go, they gave me
the record back for what I think was a very, very minimal price.
DB: In the end it must be very satisfying to watch your single,
"Dirty Little Girl," climb the charts and be picked up by stations
JH: Itís great because there is no history on this band. I had
some success with Rock Radio with my last band, 18 Visions, but not
enough for program directors to sit up and say, "This is the guy
from 18 Visions so Iím going to play this." But if the song werenít
a good song it wouldnít matter what band I was in. I do realize that
Burn Halo is starting from scratch and nobody knows who we are, but
here we are, a couple weeks after the record has been release and
weíre in the mid-20s on the Rock Radio charts, I couldnít ask for
DB: You mentioned earlier that youíve had a little help from your
friends on this record. Youíve already mentioned the names, I wonít
rehash this, Iím sure you know who they were. Was this a case of the
stars aligning and everybody having some time available to you? How
did this all work?
JH: I gave Zak a list of drummers that I wanted to work on the
record; Daniel Adair was on the top of that list. Iím a big
Nickelback fan of their music and songwriting. Iím also a big fan of
their production and how the drums sound. I just love that their
drums are always so big and massive sounding and I just wanted that
on the record. With Chris Chaney, he was doing a lot of studio work
and he was available. Heís done records for my manager in the past
so we called. With Synyster Gates, they were right in the middle of
their cycle, out touring and stuff, but because were so close in
where we live to each other it was easy for him to come down to the
studio. Heís been a good friend for a long time. It was just good to
have solid musicians come in and want to help out with the record.
DB: I understand exactly what youíre talking about. I was lucky
enough to catch you, Burn Halo that is, on tour with Black Tide and
Escape the Faith back in early February. It was something like the
second show of the tour. I was surprised at how tight the band was
and how good you sounded particularly considering you had only
really been a band for several months. It was impressive to see how
comfortable everyone seemed on stage with each other.
JH: Wow, thanks. I mean we didnít spend a ton of time rehearsing.
I gave these songs to several of the guys early on and said that I
wanted them to be a part of this when we tour and be a part of the
writing process when we make our next album. I handed them the songs
and they really sat down and did their homework.
We are spread out as far as where we live. Our new drummer Timmy
lives in Phoenix. Our bass player Aaron lives in Tulsa and out two
guitar players, Joey and Allen, are living in Sacramento. So it was
one of those things where I gave people homework and asked that they
study those songs. We got together for about a week before the tour
just to get the songs down and hash out any little problems. We
didnít need two months in a room. And to be honest, the chemistry on
stage is something that either you have or you donít. You either
have that persona or you donít and I saw it in everyone I signed up
to play. I think everyone is blown away to learn that weíve only
been a band for about six months and only been playing shows for
about two months.
DB: As youíve said, it really does show. It really does look like
youíve been a band for a couple of years. Itís impressive. You spent
about 10 years with your first band, 18 Visions and Iím sure, like
with any band, youíve seen your share of ups and downs, were there
any lessons learned from the first band that you folded into Burn
JH: The first thing I learned was about the industry and how the
labels work. Sometimes being on a major label is a big roll of the
dice with your career and thatís kind of what it was with us, we
were rolling the dice. We knew what we wanted, but the label didnít
know what we wanted. They didnít know what to do with us. They
didnít know how to market us. Things just kind of got messed up on
the interior and it just lead to the dismantling of the band. We had
run our course at that time.
The other thing I learned was that, at my age, I wasnít willing
to start a band and give up an equal share of my ideas or decision
making. I felt like that was another thing that was an uphill battle
for me and some of the other guys in 18 Visions. The decision
making, should we take this tour or what should we do with this
song, we had a clash of ideas and it was really hard to get everyone
on the same page and when you donít have everyone on the same page
people tend to be unhappy.
I also learned a lot about running a band as a business and how
to be financially successful. Being in a band and trying to keep the
creative side of it, I knew that we had to run this thing as a
business to be successful. If you want music as a career, you have
to have all the components in line.
Itís easy for anyone who meets James Hart or sees Burn Halo live
to know that this is a young band with an old soul. Theyíre just
starting out and theyíve already weathered storms that wouldíve sunk
many bands. The music is tight and moving up the charts. I have
expectations of this band and Iím sure it wonít be long before
youíll find them on the pages of DaBelly talking about their third
or fourth album.
I want to thank James Hart for taking time from his day and
making this interview possible. And I want to wish the best of luck
to Burn Halo-- weíll see you when you come to our town again!