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 energy.

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 band.

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 now.

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 trees?

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 the songs.

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 across America.

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 anything more.

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 Halo?

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!

Return to DaBelly

© 2009   DaBelly Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.