by Oana Vasiliu
Romanian fans of alternative music are sure to have a soft spot for byron Band. Since 2006 the band has released five studio albums and two live DVDs. Equally comfortable with loud amps or acoustic, they recently played a gig in a salt mine (100m down), just to show they mean business. They’ve composed the soundtrack for an HBO series and they’ve played live as far afield as India. Last year they recorded a concert performed at the National Theater in Cluj, Transylvania, together with both a military marching band and a students’ choir. But who is byron? OZB talked with some of the band.
Generally speaking, artists seeking total artistic freedom either self-produce or record for independent record labels. How are things now in terms of freedom of expression for byron?
Dan Byron: I really don’t know how things are with other bands and artists, I sometimes think we are pretty spoiled, for we followed our dream from the beginning and made no compromises; there were some record labels involved too, not all of them independent. I often say you need naivety and stubbornness to do this job, and I do mean it, but you also need a bit of luck, at least sometimes.
Can we still talk about underground music nowadays taking into consideration that everything is currently visible online?
Sergiu Mitrofan: Yes, because being underground doesn’t mean being super unknown anymore. I guess the line between underground and mainstream is a thin one, and a clear definition still eludes us. It’s not necessarily a question of visibility, there are names out there with millions of Youtube plays and very few concerts/ticket buyers. Alternative rock is still, in many ways, a Cinderella genre, and I’m not sure any Romanian alternative band can really be considered as having crossed the mainstream threshold. Of course, there are many levels of the underground, like Dante’s circles, and I’m happy to report that after 11 years of grind, at least we’ve got to deal with the superior demons 🙂
Social media nowadays
Now with the internet platforms and social media, it’s easy for you to get your music out there for people to listen to it. Is it better or worse for the alternative music genre? Why?
SM: Access to music is much easier, and to an extent even recording an album is easier. The much harder part is not getting lost in the ocean of new music. It’s also a pity that the album-oriented music is rapidly dying, alongside the CD. Music gets somewhat stripped in the process. The experience is different and, in my opinion, poorer. But we must keep up with the new paradigm if we are to survive.
Dan Byron is constantly blogging as a form of communication with byron’s public. The latest post regards the newest albums on the market and kind-of-a-review. What’s the public’s feedback on giving opinions on someone else’s music?
DB: In this era, it’s very hard to choose, you simply have too many options. I read some studies about music streaming listeners and most of them are often running in circles. We all need recommendations more than anything, this is why I decided to write about the latest albums that deserve attention. You can say my opinion is an “authorized” one because of my musical expertise, although I sometimes am too judgemental and make stupid assessments. Anyway, we’ll know for sure the value of contemporary albums in – let’s say – ten or twenty years. Now we are too involved. And to finally answer your question, my readers seem quite happy with my posts, they frequently fall in love with an album or another that I recommend.
What’s the best thing social media brought to byron?
A lot of friendships.
Brands over music
Worldwide (I might say) Red Bull is the new school of rock. Have brand partnerships destroyed counterculture? Or are they all that’s keeping it alive?
It depends on your perspective. Today, it’s close to impossible to organize a big, quality event, like a release concert, with no sponsorship (believe us, we’ve tried). So, one main challenge is finding brands that appeal to us, that we feel we have something in common with, and pitching them our ideas of how we might help each other. After all, we are a brand as well. The other challenge is persisting and not losing hope when it feels like all your proposals fall on deaf ears. It can be grinding, but the doors will open eventually. If you choose to be uncompromising in your values and you build a reciprocal relationship based on respect, it’s a win/win situation.
In your opinion, regarding the Romanian market, are brands willing to invest in alternative music bands and gigs? Can you give some examples?
There’s been a lot more openness in this direction lately, yes. Grolsch have been doing some great projects through their platform Experimentalist. Banca Transilvania and Pepsi both have their branded series of concerts where they promote underground/alternative acts. We developed several projects with HBO. It’s still seen as a “daring” thing to do, associating with the alternative scene, but thankfully things seem to be moving in the right direction.
In recent years, talent shows like X Factor or *insert country name* Got Talent have emerged worldwide. Is this a form of music school in Romania or just a TV-show?
SM: There is real talent on the shows, however I don’t think it helps the contestants very much. After all, there are very few of them we hear of afterwards, especially given the huge coverage they get while on the show (everybody and their dog seems to be watching them). But there seems to be a huge gap between the persons who watch these shows and the actual concert-goers. So, I would say, just a TV show. And quite a fake one.
Is radio still the key to success for musicians?
DB: Radio is still important after all these years. For decades now, everybody has had a radio in their cars. Think of the rush hour in any big city on this planet and you’ll have the big picture. Let’s say radio is not the only key, but it certainly is a vital aspect. As I said earlier, we all need recommendations of what new music to listen to, and it’s a gap that radio does fill to an extent.
Photo by Avalon
You’ve been in some gigs outside Romania. What’s the feedback? How do the foreigners review your music, especially the Romanian songs? What about those foreigners who attend your gigs in Romania?
DB: I guess the funniest of our experiences outside Romania was in Chennai, India. We understood quickly that if you want fame there you need two ingredients – distorted guitar and flute. I don’t know about the Romanian songs, when we play abroad we reduce their number to one, maybe two, but I guarantee you, you can sing in any language you want, Martian even, it doesn’t matter there. Distorted guitar and flute is what they love. They didn’t let us leave the building without two, maybe three encores.
How was the experience with the bilingual album, 30 Seconds of Fame? What was first? The Romanian or the English version?
SM: The album was recorded in English, but then we were willing to experiment with a Romanian version, so we translated and adapted the lyrics. While the music and orchestration are the same, the two discs are quite different, to our amazement, just because the language is different. There is a very distinct vibe to Romanian, and I think it helps a lot to sing a song in the language in which it has been created. The connection is more intimate, it just fits better.
Our magazine’s public is mostly international people. In few words, how can you describe the Romanian alternative music scene?
DB: A variation of what you already know, not so spicy or bitter as the original, but still pumping life through your veins. What do you want me to say? I’m a part of it! 🙂
What’s next for byron? What will 2018 bring for the band?
SM: We’ll be back with a new album, but this time we’re going to release several singles first. We’ll also try to play more gigs abroad, we are very interested in taking all this to the next level. It’s very hard for a band from Eastern Europe, but we’re willing to give it our best shot!
Cover photo credit: Anya Dimitrov