2013 has been a marvellous year for heavy metal. Seldom have we been flooded by such a quantity of great releases, and it looks like an impossible task to create a personal top ten list as the year draws to an end. One thing is certain though, the self titled debut from Borrowed Time out of Detroit, Michigan is certain to figure. Hell, I am sure it will be in my top three. You can read my full review of the album somewhere else on this site, so let’s just keep it short and simple here: This album rules! I contacted singer J. Priest to get the full story on the band, and why not start with the beginning… What kind of philosophy was the foundation for the band when it was formed by Mike Tuff and yourself back in late 2009? One of the first, if not the first song, you recorded was the mighty “Black Car” by Acid. I guess this tune to a certain degree reflects what Borrowed Time is about?
– Well, it didn’t really get off the ground then. The band actually started when we began working on the demo. Acid reflects a lot of what Borrowed Time is about and still does, the song “Black Car” might seem like a simplistic headbanger, but has a real dark undertone to it and is of course a classic. In my opinion we played it too fast, which worked for “Necropolis” (The Manilla Road-cover the band later recoded), but didn’t really serve “Black Car”. Also, the name Borrowed Time was somewhat decided on, but not finalized back then, as well as no finished original songs. Also, Sean was involved on drums here as well, preempting the fact that it really began with the demo.
The first recording line up consisted of yourself along with David Ruiz and Sean Cyriis. J. Priest confirms it was pretty much the mutual interest in heavy metal that brought them togheter.
– That and essentially the desire to make the same sort of epic and doomy heavy metal that we love from both masters of the genre and our contemporaries.
Borrowed Time has been through a lot of line up changes already, and what makes it even more confusing is that at least a couple of members has left the band to return again later. Why all these changes?
– After the demo David left the state to pursue a law degree and Sean had academic obligations. It was only going to be that demo, but after the power metal band I was in broke up, I brought together the rhythm section of Danny and Dennis with Mike and then David’s brother Victor for a live version of Borrowed Time.
Has it been important for you to try to keep a stable lineup, or have you looked to freshen up the band with some new input now and then?
-“Freshening up” is never the goal, I mean, you do this for the first time and try for more than three years, things can get rocky. Especially in a desperate economy like here in Michigan post-2008. We’ve had people come back and work with us, it’s really just a matter of whose available. Everyone has jobs and is struggling or can’t just up and leave for several weeks. However, we make it so.
Is it correct that, apart from yourself, your current lineup consists of Matt Preston, Mark Kuro and Justin Henry?
– Mark played on the record, but live we’ve actually been having Derek of Demon Bitch and Isenblast, who toured with us on the west coast.
Why should we believe that this lineup will last when there have been so many ins and outs in the past?
– I mean, I suppose you shouldn’t, I certainly don’t believe in absolutes; nowadays with the way music is, anything can happen. As a younger fan, I used to be a lot less sympathetic to bands with member changes, but it was pretty much set to be that way since the lineup disbanded after the first demo. I mean, I’m lucky to have worked with so many great people.
Has it been challenging for yourself to keep a steady hand on the wheel and continue in the same direction even with all these changes in the lineup?
– My hand doesn’t move, and it’s been a confrontation starter… We have pretty much never cancelled gigs or reneged on any promises as far as material. We would have fucked up several times if these changes had not taken place. I scrapped an entire recording session because it sounded clunky and lazy, and the people that had been arranged, in no part by me, to record us were a bunch of “yes” men. I hate smoke blowers. I would much rather have a really mean motherfucker who will drag you through the dirt for results. After that debacle, I found an engineer we could try to record “Black Olympia” with and we’ve been working with Ryan ever since. He is not mean though, both a nice guy and a sharp critical ear.
As already metioned, the band did a cover version of “Necropolis” on the demo. J.Priest doesn’t disagree that it was this version that lead to the many comparisons with Manilla Road, a reference that is still mentioned in reviews.
– Perhaps a bit, but it’s not like we aren’t flattered. I mean, getting any attention for Borrowed Time is something we’re grateful for, because we make this music to serve an ideal rather than a market.
After this interview was conducted, the band has also announced a recording of the killer speed metal-anthem “Bound To Be Free”, originally done by Savage Grace on their awesome debut “Master Of Disguise” back in 1985. The track will feature on the official Keep It True Tribute Album, released at next year’s edition of the festival. In the meantime you can check out Borrowed Time’s version here:
Starting with “Arcane Metal Arts” and also including both tracks on the “Fog In The Valley”-single as well as the track from the split with Wytch Hazel, there is a clear progression when it comes to the sound and production, but do you feel that there is possible to see a development in the songwriting through this material? Are the single tracks written in the same period as the ones on the new album? What I like about the single tracks is that they show different aspects about the band, “Fog In The Valley” is quite obscure sounding, but at the same time, really melodic and catchy tune, “Midnight Tygers” is a rocker while “Black Olympia” is a strange, epic tune. Do you deliberately use single releases for tracks that you don’t feel fits that well with the album format?
– We did a single because we had only made three songs since the demo. However, “Dawn For The Glory Rider” was in the live set as well as “Libertine”, by the end of 2011. “Black Olympia” was a very warmed over song, David came back to do several leads on it and Matt Preston made his debut with Borrowed Time on the track, adding both solos and some really atmospheric passages. We were striving for quality and for each person involved to lend their personality as much as possible; dire band needs dire sound.
Apart from being the title of the first demo, it seems that you are using “Arcane Metal Arts” almost like a slogan. What is the meaning behind these words to you personally, and why do you feel it suits Borrowed Time?
– Well, I wouldn’t be caught dead saying stupid stuff like how my band will “Take over the world,” nor do I believe in or try to construct any sort of self-serving philosophies, so it’s there as basically just a term denoting what you’re going to get. Which is a band that is trying to make weird, obscure sounding metal that doesn’t rip off bands like Adramelch, Pagan Altar or Manilla Road, but you can tell we listen to them.
Having followed Borrowed Time pretty much from the start, I really appreciate that the new album contains unreleased material only. So many bands include re-recordings of demo songs and tracks from 7 inches, and since most of the time I have everything released in the past, I find that really disappointing. What were your own motives for including new material only on “Borrowed Time”?
– Purity. And I mean, letting members who have had a part not feel what they had a hand in is being perverted or changed for any sort of personal gain in the current band. I mean, not going to lie, we’ve had our spats, but there’s no point in reflecting on it. Drama is for the local hometown heroes.
In the promo sheet you are quoted as saying: “In many ways…we’ve been off the wall and out of control since the beginning”. Do you refer to the recording situation, song writing or the general ideology behind the band here?
– We just used to be a band with a trashed rehearsal space, slamming beers and whiskey, VHS cases, dead cables and guitar string packets strewn about the floor. I mean, there’s a reason we recorded this album from October 2012 and May 2013 and finished it, whereas post-demo it took us like two years to just barely write five songs.
Is “Borrowed Time” the result of a more controlled process?
– Controlled process? No, we just got more efficient and less indulgent.
Comparing this new songs to the material on the EP, which I know you used as a standard, where do you see the improvement? Which aspects from the EP did you want to bring along to your first full length release?
– Um, there are definitely elements. I see immense improvement in the rhythm section. I know it seems like we’ve changed personnel so much, but most of us always see each other around at shows, we all do different projects and are active. Mark and Sam both tightened up our sound and added a punk dynamic which stymied off any blatant Maidenisms. We also were intending on saturating the mix with full sounding guitars reflecting the aesthetic of the first demo. The kicking tantrum of the rhythm section just thunders forth those guitar parts. I mean, the song “Libertine” was inspired by a winter day on Belle Isle with Mark in Detroit, we watched the film “Flesh + Blood” with a group of people later, Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to that Paul Verhoeven madhouse figured in prominently. It was appropriate that we ended up working together here, his band Anguish has been a standard bearer for true rocking sounds, the same goes for Sam and his band Demon Bitch.
In the past you seem to have shared songwriting responsibilities with one other members. Is this one of the reasons why the material you come up with is quite diverse? Is the songwriting on “Borrowed Time” also shared? If so, I guess it’s Matt Preston doing the rest of the tunes. How do you feel your songs complement each other? What is the most remarkable difference between your songs and what is the common factor?
– Well, the album became a real collaborative process between Matt, Victor and I on every track. One person would bring a long-form structural idea which would then get built on, pretty simplistic really. It was pretty much the same on previous recordings, just less focus between members at once and resources the more you go back. I feel like Matt really elevated the material with not just songwriting, but a stylistic contribution. It meshes with Victor’s epic Omen/Juggernaut riffs quite originally.
The diversity is also strong on the album, take two of the songs towards the end, “Pygmalion” is very melodic and almost laidback, though with an explosive middle part, while “A Titan’s Chain” is a real fast, almost thrashy one. Which two songs on the album do you think are most different from each other?
– Probably those two, actually. Haha!
The tentative title for the new album was “Libertine”. Why did you settle for the more safe and boring “Borrowed Time” in the end?
– Because it felt more appropriate. There was another album out with the exact same title, I believe by the soprano singer (Liv Kristine) from Theatre of Tragedy? I didn’t want any confusion. Not to mention, we felt this was pretty definitive, also appropriate to self-title a debut record.
Bands often mentioned other acts that have influenced them musically, but seldom speaks about bands in the same way when it comes to the lyrics. Are there one or more bands that have had a strong influence on the lyrics in Borrowed Time, or do you mainly get the inspiration from somewhere else?
– It’s a tapestry of stuff, all kinds of musical artists, prose and poetry influence my lyrics. It’s all articulated through actual experiences and how those words might come to describe them, or how an external symbol, be it a band, a song, a piece of art, might magnetically attract the right words and meter.
When you record an album like this, sounding so inspired and original, do you absorb enough music just by recording, or do you still have to listen to heavy metal all the time to get in the right mood. If so, which albums did you listen to while recording this album?
– We listen to metal all the time. I was jamming a lot of Mayfair, Warlord, Mindless Sinner, and also some non-metal stuff like Ultravox, Roxy Music, some classic proto stuff like Trapeze and Spooky Tooth…Matt was really digging Golden Earring and Camel, along with Metal Church, Fates Warning and Traitor’s Gate. Victor was busy collecting more expensive and rare vinyl than both of us combined at an accelerated rate, it’s frightening!
“Borrowed Time is meant to be a real heavy metal act every day”, is also quoted from the press release. Do you think the music profits from this philosophy? How does being in this band influence the other parts of your life?
– Profit isn’t the word I would use. I mean, when we did the album, Matt and I were living together and he was just weaving alchemy in his own separate quarters. I would practice my parts and we would demo together, this was a weekly thing, and always practice daily. Victor would come in and bring barbarous victory to the table with Matt’s wizardry, while I issued a few edicts and seer scrolls.
I mentioned in my review of the album (90/100 pts) that your seem to be influenced by some rather obscure acts, and I loved the live cover version you did of Danger Zones wonderful “I’m Waiting For You”. Do you think this is the best one on their EP, or was it simply a song you felt suited Borrowed Time?
– Oh, no “Dragon’s Lair” for sure. Or maybe “Land Of Ancient Bones.” And yeah, the quirky aspect of “I’m Waiting For You” served us well, you definitely got it. Haha! That EP is so fucking cool.
The Danger Zone-EP is a 200 dollars vinyl, and have never been released on CD. Are you one of the guys that need to have stuff like this on physical format, or are you able to enjoy the music just as much from for instance YouTube? If you are a collector, what was your last big catch?
– Yeah, I have only had a burn of that one, my last big catch was probably the weird Japanese version of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (Mayhem) on blue vinyl. Before that probably Salem’s Wych and their “Betrayer Of Kings” original vinyl in a cheap bin at a resale store.
Let’s talk about your performance at KIT last year, did it live up to the expectations you had from before? With a playing time of 45 minutes, you simply had to present some unheard material, but what is your general thought on performing brand new material that no one has heard before at a festival like this?
– You know, it’s funny you bring that up, because several people who didn’t know us told me they thought the new songs we played were better than the others. We got a variety of responses, actually, I mean, I’m grateful if just one song is enjoyed.
You have already performed with quite a few legends. I am talking about the likes of Accept, Diamond Head and Saxon. Which of these veteran bands have impressed you most with regards to the live performance? In general, do these kind of bands treat an up and coming act like Borrowed Time with respect?
– We don’t go fishing for accolades or respect, especially not from giants of the sound. Saxon and Diamond Head were both really nice to us! We didn’t meet Accept, other great bands we’ve met were Manilla Road, Brocas Helm, Omen, Jack Starr’s Burning Starr, Shok Paris, Winterhawk, Holocaust, Raven, Virgin Steele, OZ…