BLESSED BY A BROKEN HEART: SHREDDING 4 CHRIST
One of the greatest tragedies since the Holocaust is the death of the shred guitar scene. As a kid, I worshipped at the altar of guitar heros like George Lynch, Michael Angelo, Vinnie Vincent, and Kane Roberts until Nirvana came along and made everybody forget that it’s cool to be able to actually play your instrument. While the world may have moved past the glory days of shred, there is one person who hasn’t: Shred Sean, best known as the guitarist for the Christian glamcore band Blessed By A Broken Heart.
I can’t think of a band that MetalSucks readers [Or writers. – Ed.] are more likely to hate at first glance, but you should give them a fair chance. In all seriousness, BBABH (and especially Sean) are one of the most authentic, dyed-in-the-wool metal bands you’ll find these days, despite getting no love from critics and elitists. Naturally, most of you are entry-level haters who will ignore their actual music and get butthurt because you don’t like the way they look (which is obviously tongue in cheek, not that that will keep you morons from getting angry), but I’m hoping that Blessed will start to get the credit they deserve as an extremely legit retro-metal band.
Thanks to Sean for keeping the spirit of shred alive, and keep your eyes peeled for a new Blessed album soon. True shredheads should read my earlier interview with Sean (where he seriously geeks out on shit like Paul Gilbert’s alternate picking technique and Jason Becker’s “unmatched sweep arpeggio skills”), and check out his solo material!
Official video for “Move Your Body,” my second-favorite BBABH song
Your background is a little different from the other guys in the band in that you’re pretty much an 80’s metal dude, not a hardcore/scene kid. Can you talk about that?
Metal is all I really know. The only scene bands I know are the ones I’ve toured with, and even then, I’ve already forgotten their songs. [laughs] Basically, they’d been looking for a shred guitarist, I found them on MySpace. I had just started to promote my shred stuff, back when people were still on MySpace, and I was amazed because I had gotten like 50 plays a day. I heard their music and I was like, “Wow, listen to all this screaming and stuff,” and saw that they were getting 3,000 or 4,000 plays a day, which put them at the top of charts at the time. I saw that they needed a new guitar player, I replied to them, got a message right back, and talked to Frank for the rest of the week. I drove up to Montreal from New York, and the rest is history — here I am now!
I joined in 2005, which is when the sound started going toward what’s on Pedal To The Metal. Actually, Blessed were one of the founders of that whole screamo/breakdown thing, they were one of the first bands to have that stupid haircut where the bangs fall over your eyes to one side.
This hilarious photoshoot was my first introduction to BBABH– and for whatever it’s worth, they certainly were among the first to do this look
Totally! I remember seeing pictures of them over five years ago, like 2003, when they were little kids. That was before anybody was doing “scene,” so we didn’t know what to make of i t– we were like, “Who are these little kids in Motley Crue shirts with MySpace hair?!”
That was them, like 8 years ago. They were one of the first to do it, and now obviously there are a ton of bands doing it, but they’d already moved on to this 80s thing. I think they were really ahead of the curve, and if Pedal To The Metal came out when it should have, a year or two earlier than when it did, it would have been even more ahead of the curve.
You joined in 2005, and your last album Pedal To The Metal dropped in 2008. How much of the songwriting did you do on it?
I wrote all of the guitar solos and a lot of the riffs. Some of those songs were written by Frank, the old drummer, before I was in the band. Now I’m doing more of the songwriting, but even then, when he came up with something, I’d change it up a little to make it sound like a guitar player was doing it — he was a good writer, but he had very basic, simple, good ideas and I would take it from there.
A little lesson on how to play Sean’s solo song “Unleash The Fury,” based on Yngwie’s legendary airplane outburst. Check out the lick at about :52, fucking bananas!
What’s the band up to these days?
We’re just finishing up the “Scream The Prayer” tour, and basically right after that all our focus is on the new record that we’ve been writing. I’m really exicited about it: I think the guitar playing is a lot better than the last record, the songs are much stronger, everything is way better. I’m really excited for it. It’s more “me.” Like I said before, the old drummer had a big hand in writing the songs on Pedal, but I feel like this one is much more my baby. I had a bigger role in terms of writing, the solos are better, and there’s a lot more going on melodically. There’s still tons of shredding, but there’s also some slower melodic stuff.
Most of the other bands on tour are in the breakdown/mosh4christ category. What have the reactions been like to BBABH, from either the other bands or the crowd?
The bands are really cool, even though what they’re doing is not really my thing. There’s us and Maylene [and the Sons of Disaster], and everybody else sounds, uh, quite similar to be honest. But with these mosh bands, there are some guys who can play a little bit. Every once in a while during the breakdown, they’ll throw a little sweep picking or something in there. There’s one or two guys on this tour who are getting pretty good at that, and when I’m practicing they’ll come over and cop some licks, that’s cool. They seem interested.
I have a different sound than those guys, too: I’m playing these old, retro Carvin guitars made of ash and maple that are really bright. I’m also playing an X100B, which is a reissue Carvin amp that’s the same one Jason Becker used on some of the Cacophony records, it’s like a lovechild between a Marshall and MkIV. On this tour, everybody else is playing 5150 amps with a Mesa/Boogie cab, and I find that it produces this kind of “stock breakdown” sound.
I think that sounds great for breakdowns, but if you play anything more than that, you can’t really hear a lot of the notes.
Yeah — it sounds great for what they’re doing, but I wouldn’t want to play on it. I like my sorta old school, hot-rodded Marshall kinda sound.
You guys have been working your asses off for a long time, but really haven’t gotten as big as I think you should have. I know you’ve been somewhat frustrated with how the band has gone so far, can you talk about that?
It’s been tough for us in America, we’ve found more success in Japan. To me, on paper Blessed should have been a lot more than this in America. It just never really never caught on as much as it should’ve, I don’t really know why. There’s probably a few different reasons for that — we had a lot of trouble with the last record we did. I don’t mean to talk shit about anybody, but we had a rough ride. I don’t want to get into too much detail because it will take forever and be really boring, but basically we didn’t sign something that Century Media wanted us to sign, and because of that they didn’t really promote the record at all in America. The European branch promoted it very well, but in America we weren’t really pushed at all because we wouldn’t sign this publishing deal, and that all ended up with them basically shelving us.
We’ve also never really been packaged properly on the road. Like this “Scream The Prayer” tour, some of these bands are really nice guys and they’re good at what they do, but it’s not really where we belong. We should be out with bands like Atreyu, Escape The Fate, Avenged Sevenfold, opening for an act like that. We’re a lot more similar to bands like that than the ones on this tour.
My favorite Blessed song, “What It Means To Be Young.” Could have been straight out of the Pretty Boy Floyd catalog, except that Sean is 100 times better at playing guitar.
So where IS the right place for bands like Blessed? I know even Atreyu has had their share of struggles.
I don’t know, it’s tough to say really. Like I could tell someone, “We’re kind of like Bon Jovi,” but we probably shouldn’t tour with Bon Jovi — although that would be sweet — because most of their fans wouldn’t really understand us. Especially with the transition they’re going through to basically Walmart pop-country, they wouldn’t really get the screaming mixed with retro-rock or whatever.
But yeah, we can’t really tour with any of our favorite retro bands, and the other side to that coin is that we don’t really do that well with the straight up hardcore crowd either. They just wanna mosh or hit people, and that’s not really where we thrive either. So I don’t know, that’s a good question. But I can tell you the “Scream The Prayer” tour is not really our tour, and I think we’d do better with Avenged Sevenfold or whatever. We’ve got some lighter stuff, they’ve got some heavier stuff, some guitar solos, and all that. I think we could even do well with, say, Trivium, especially with our newer stuff that has some cool metal riffs and solos that might cross over.
With Blessed, we really try to bring an arena show to a club-sized venue. We’ve got lasers and smoke machines, shred guitars, Tony does backflips, it’s a really cool show. The best show we ever played was at Loud Park in Japan, where we played to 50,000 people opening up for Priest and Megadeth. That’s the kind of environment we thrive in, a stadium show.
This song might as well be off of the second Nitro album– “U THINK UR SO TUFF, TAKE UR BEST SHOT!”
Have you thought about touring with straight up Christian pop bands like Family Force 5 or The Maine?
People have mentioned Family Force 5 to me before, but to tell you the truth, I don’t really listen to a lot of Christian music. I listen to old-school metal bands, shred guys, fusion, Dream Theater, but I was never really into much Christian stuff. But I’ve heard a couple of Family Force 5 songs, they’re like real fun, catchy pop stuff, right?
Yeah, like Miley Cyrus.
So maybe for songs like “Move Your Body,” it could work. Sometimes we do tailor our set based on who we’re playing with, because we have a lot of variation in our songs. Like between “Carry On” and “To Be Young,” there’s clearly a big difference, you know?
Only very advanced-level listeners can appreciate songs like “Mic Skillz 2,” especially the part where they steal riffs from “Beverly Hills Cop” and Final Fantasy 7 — genius!! (I’m not being sarcastic)
Personally, I wonder if what Blessed is doing is so innovative and cool that it’s over the heads of most kids. Have you considered that?
Well, sometimes I joke about how there are a lot of bands doing similar things to us that have made it a lot bigger than we have. A lot of these bands that have opened up for Blessed have went on to be huge. Like that band The Devil Wears Prada, they opened for us on our first tour. A Day To Remember opened for us in 2005, and they’ve exploded in the past couple years.
The Devil Wears Prada’s last album actually got up to #11 on Billboard, isn’t that crazy?
And good for them! I tried teaching those guys a guitar lesson once or twice, and uh, I don’t think it really worked out. [laughs] But they don’t need that stuff — look, they’re a thousand times bigger than us, so who’s laughing now? I always joke about that, like “Maybe if I broke both of my hands and didn’t pick up a guitar for three years, maybe we’d be successful.”
Demo of a new BBABH track, “Separate Ways.” I honestly think this sounds a whole lot like a heavier Bon Jovi!
But even though we haven’t lived up to what I think is our potential, I play this shred guitar stuff because I love it. I mean, I didn’t start shredding to get chicks, you know? Even though those bands are bigger than us, I wouldn’t be happy in The Devil Wears Prada. Yeah, it would be nice to have a loaded tour bus, make lots of money, and all that– that’s awesome, but at the end of the day, playing that music is not where I would want to be, you know?
You’ve done a lot of solo stuff lately, what’s up with that?
I’m trying to do this solo record, I have two songs done now and I’m going out to LA after this tour to do some more songs. It’s just totally gnarly, over-the-top shred stuff like what I do in Blessed By A Broken Heart in the 30 second solos, only for like 5 minutes straight.
Have you gotten any attention from guitar mags and that kind of thing?
Once again, no attention in America [laughs], but I’ve been in Japan’s Young Guitar. If you’re not familiar with it, that’s basically Guitar World, but because it’s from Japan, it’s way fucking cooler. They love shredders in Japan. I love that place, I love going there — they have all these great coffee drinks in machines, you can drink beer on the street, they’re like 10 steps ahead of us in technology, and they love shred! They love anything intricate. They’re on the cutting of electronics, of guitar, even pornography! [laughs]
But anyway, I should have a new column coming out in Ultimate Guitar. That’s about the only American press I’ve gotten, and I’m going to be doing some exclusive premieres of my instructional DVD for Pedal To The Metal on their site, so you should check those out. I might even just put the whole thing on there for free, just to try to generate some interest in America. It hasn’t really been happening so far, so maybe if I just put out a ton of free shit, it’ll come along?
Noted alt-celeb/tattooist and moderately-mannish Inland Empire native Kat Von D reps BBABH on the red carpet. Don’t get me wrong, she is famous so I would still hit it if for no other reason than it would be funny, but “that’s a man, baby!“
Do you have a background in theory?
I do know about theory, but not nearly as much as people think I do. I find that it’s split right down the middle: guys like Dimebag and Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, they can’t read a note but they’re awesome. Then there’s guys like Steve Vai and John Petrucci who are completely schooled, I’m somewhere in the middle.
See, I think of Dimebag and EVH as maybe not quite as good technically, but the other guys cant write a song to save their lives.
Well, I love Dream Theater, but yeah, it’s not for everybody. It’s not really radio-friendly, for sure. Even in the era of big hair and big guitars, Dream Theater wasn’t really radio material. I think the album Steve Vai did, “Slip Of The Tongue,” is way not as cool as the album John Sykes did. I don’t know if he’s cool or not, but he wrote the whole 1987 release for Whitesnake, then Coverdale axed him. I think he’s a better singer than Coverdale too, if you listen to the Blue Murder stuff.
Blue Murder’s legendary video for “Jelly Roll.” They just don’t make em like this anymore!!
But he doesn’t look like Fabio.
No, he totally looks like Fabio! He has blonde hair, blue eyes, and muscles! Check out the video for “Jelly Roll,” somewhere in the height of the chorus, he comes in riding a stallion in the field or whatever, then rain and lightning come in and he powerslides in, it’s amazing. So you have to retract your statement!
OK, I’m watching it now. Yeah, I was definitely wrong, he totally does look like Fabio. The drummer is amazing too, he looks like some greasy delivery truck driver from Queens.
He is from Queens, that’s Carmine Appice!
Aside from some questionable distressing techniques, BBABH has some of the best merch in the business!
PS lol @ the loser in this photo when he turns 27 and tries to get a real job– all those cool hand/neck tats that left him drowning in scene girl pussy at 21 will condemn him to working 3rd shift at 7-11 while all us corporate sellouts shake our heads in sympathy as we drive to work sipping our Starbucks and turning up the temperature on our heated leather seats
Like you said before, you were never Mr. Scene, what was it like for you to join the band and have to learn the rules of the scene?
Well, they were actually trying to break out of it a little bit, but we kept getting packaged that way again and again with scene bands. But I remember a couple months after I joined, I asked them what a breakdown was. Everybody was talking about them, like “Breakdowns, dude!” but I didn’t know what that was. So I asked them what a breakdown was, and I guess that was pretty funny to them that I didn’t know. That’s how much I was not into that whole thing.
I remember at Cornerstone like five years ago, I met someone — it might have been the singer for As I Lay Dying — and I didn’t know who they were. I was like, “Hey man, what’s up? Oh, you’re in a band? That’s cool, do you play shows and stuff?” and he was like “Yeah, we’re called As I Lay Dying,” and I’m like “Sweet, I’ll check you out.” That’s how much I knew about our whole scene.
Blessed’s 2008 EPK, in which they play a champagne-soaked showcase for Walmart (but naturally, they don’t actually DRINK any of the champagne)
And you still don’t really pay attention to those bands, which is why Blessed is so original and different.
Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard all of those bands now, but it’s just not really my thing. I don’t really have any desire to dive deeper into it.
I feel like kids are so fucking good at their instruments now, whether it’s guitar or drums — like every random 16 year old on YouTube can play insane sweep picking, and every little kid in a deathcore band can play blast beats and double bass that would have been jawdropping back in my day. What are your thoughts?
I hear where you’re going with that, but I don’t really think we’re any better — I mean, I still think the 80s bands were tighter. Drummers might have gotten better, but I don’t think guitar players have. I do see some guys now who can sweep pick, but ask yourself if there’s anyone out there who has the feel that George Lynch does. I don’t know a ton about drums — I can point out a good one to you, but it does seem like they’ve gotten a lot faster, because that’s gotten more popular. It’s just like with 80s guys, it’s not like they were genetically superior to have bigger hair or play guitar faster, it’s just that that’s what was cool, you know? With drummers, they came up with all this technique out there, so they know it — it’s like before Eddie Van Halen came along, nobody was tapping. Then after he came out, everybody could do it, so its the same with drummers now.
I guess it’s cool that some of the kids in breakdown bands are doing a little sweep picking, but if you compare it to 80s bands, it’s just very linear, scales going up and down. They’re in a box, whereas the way George Lynch played was all over the place. He had all those crazy bends, and awesome phrasing that’s missing from anything going on today. There’s still the usual thing of some guys who just suck, some who are awesome, and a bunch of people in the middle, but I don’t think guitarists have gotten any better.
Sean with progressive death metallers Into Eternity– check out that intro/solo! Don’t try this at home!
One of the things that bums me out about metal is that the fans can be super close-minded and hate on bands like Blessed for completely superficial reasons like the way you dress in your photos.
It sucks that some people are so close-minded. Some of those first shoots we did, we weren’t taking it seriously. It’s tongue in cheek, kind of a joke. We’ll always have that same Blessed gimmick, but I think we’re going to be a little more serious with the newer stuff, just because the song I’m writing are a lot more serious.
If you put a blindfold on them, played them the Blessed record and told them it was some obscure band from Japan, a lot of those metal nerds would probably love it — but then when you took off the blindfold, they’d instantly hate it. The music didn’t change, so they’re writing you off because of the way you look.
It does kinda suck; I think if you just listened to the album and didn’t know what we look like, some of the guys who hate on Blessed would probably really like it. If they would just start with a blank slate and actually listen to the album, it might be different than “I saw a picture of these guys, and my other metal friends said this band is fucking gay, so fuck these guys.” But that’s the internet, it’s totally cool for people to say whatever they want, so whatever.
Check out an exclusive BBABH lesson from Sean on Ultimate Guitar and add him on Myspace, Facebook and Twitter — and most importantly, buy “Pedal To The Metal” on iTunes and support the shred guitar movement!