Romania is not known for spawning many great rock bands, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Byron has been rocking Romania for the last decade with their progressive rock. They conquered their homeland and have even written the music for a Romanian HBO tv-series, but they’re hungry for more. Their plan is to win over the rest of Europe too, but following that dream hasn’t been easy on the lads: “One would think that in a virtually borderless European society this would be easier, but we’ve found out the hard way that it’s not the case.”
Our readers have probably never heard of you, so can you tell a little about how the band started?
Dan Byron (vocals, flute and guitar) : ” byron (with a lowercase ‘b’, because of various reasons , one of them is to separate it from my nickname) was supposed to be my solo project, while I was a guitar and flute player in other bands. In the end it became a band in its own right, so I’ve quit everything else and focused on my baby. Right now, I think all four of us have found a suitable and welcome place for our creative output, at least musically.”
I see you have a lot of different musical influences and you all have different backgrounds musically. How did you manage to fit that all into one band and one sound?
Laszlo Demeter (bass): “You could say that byron is a melting pot of musical tastes. We as individuals listen to basically EVERY type of music out there, ranging from classical to djent, and that definitely contributes to the unique flavour of our sound. We’re all avid music listeners and love throwing in all kinds of ingredients in our ‘musical soup’. “ – Story continues below ⇓
I’ve spoken to various bands in different European countries who have the dream to go abroad with their bands and just kind of escape their country. Has that ever been a motivation for you?
6fingers (keyboard, guitar, vocals): “Every band out there wants to be heard internationally. It’s not a question of ‘escaping’ your country, but of increasing the fan base beyond what your country is capable to offer. We are after all a rather niche band, and there are only so many people willing to listen to us in Romania. One would think that in a virtually borderless European society this would be easier, but we’ve found out the hard way that it’s not the case.”
Laszlo Demeter: “I wouldn’t call it escaping, but sometimes music can indeed make it easier to sniff the air outside your country, so that dream is definitely a valid one. I would have never thought that we would play in India, for example. And yet we did and it was a mind blowing experience, at that.”
Is that why you sing in English?
6fingers: “Brexit or no Brexit, English is today’s lingua franca. If you want to be universally understood, you have to sing in English. However, there is an undeniable attraction to uncommon languages, which are perceived as exotic. Look at Sigur Ros. Nobody knows what the hell Jonsi is saying, but it’s so fucking mesmerizing! So, yeah, maybe we should try Romanian abroad after all. In fact, we have a few releases in Romanian and an album issued both in Romanian and English, 30 Seconds of Fame.”
But there are still a lot of people in Romania who don’t speak English, I can imagine.
6fingers: “Yes, but the vast majority of our target audience is English speaking and well educated. It’s not really a problem. We’re not sure if a complete switch to Romanian would mean a huge boost for us back home, but it would surely mean diminished chances abroad. After all, Romanian lyrics (just like French or Italian) sound, in our opinion, rather strange in rock music. Romanian words are rather long, contain many more syllables than their English counterparts and are hard to fit into the tight frame of the fast-paced rock metric. Also, rock music has always been deeply English. What would a French kozachok sound like? How about a German tarantella? Original, yeah, but… For these reasons, we can say it has been quite hard to create Romanian versions of our English songs on the above-mentioned album.” – Story continues below ⇓
So How important is it for you to play in other countries?
6fingers: “It’s vital. We may be a big fish in our small pond, but we just have to find out, don’t we? All joking aside, we need to expand. Romanian tours tend to get shorter. So, our next target has to be reaching international festivals, trying to patch up a small tour of central/western Europe.”
I hear a lot of complaints about the state of the music industry and how pop music and talent shows are so dominant right now. What state is the rock scene in Romania in? Is there any talent out there?
6fingers: “The problem with talent shows is that they tend to create cardboard idols. Everybody knows them, nobody would pay to see them in concert. Of course this is valid everywhere, Romania included. To have become a self-sustaining act in a market adverse to this kind of model is an adventure we’re very proud of.
There are other interesting rock bands in Romania. With our own resources we had this endeavor of seeking out and supporting young Romanian bands through a national yearly competition. We did four editions and discovered some amazing potential in the country’s high school garage bands. Unfortunately, many of them have died out since, high school is volatile like that, but some have stayed. We really want to find some proper support for the project and re-initiate it sometime, bigger and better.”
You guys seem the be doing alright. What separates you from other bands?
Laszlo Demeter: “I think perseverance is the key to everything. If you keep on doing what you do, you push on constantly, you will not remain unnoticed, or at least you will never stagnate.
That and a stubborn but well intended manager that keeps poking us with a stick to never stop doing what we love even if times are tough or the next project seems impossible to do.” – Story continues below ⇓
Has Romania joining the EU changed anything for you as musicians?
6fingers: ”Absolutely! Being able to go anywhere, no questions asked is a fantastic opportunity. For somebody who has known the rigors of a communist country completely cut off from the world until 1989 (we almost became North Korea, you know), free travel and free access to information are not things taken for granted.
Our latest album has been recorded in Ireland, mixed in Romania and mastered in the UK. That would have been unthinkable a few years ago. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate to easier access to the Western music scene. There are very few Romanian acts that are doing ok on the Western scene and virtually none in rock music.”
Has it changed anything for Romania in general?
6fingers: ”Of course. European development funds, infrastructure developments (but still not enough highways yet), closer scrutiny upon the ways in which this money is spent (we really seem to have a problem here, but I guess it’s an endemic one) are some of the changes.”
What changes would you still like to see in Romania and in Europe?
6fingers: “Exactly what we would like to see everywhere: less nationalism, more tolerance, more common sense. Thankfully, there is very little violence and no terrorism in Romania. This might change, as the country develops. To some extent, Romania is still plagued by rather medieval mentalities, even though it has developed tremendously since 1989. The large cities are quite modern, but there are still two distinct Romania’s: The big cities and the small towns/rural areas. They might very well be considered different planets. Being a niche group, we find it virtually impossible to find a fan base outside major cities. It’s still a big market with a lot of potential growth, but I don’t see it happening soon.”
I read in Dan’s bio He’d like to live in a more civilized Romania, what do you mean by that?
Dan Byron: “I’m afraid you’ll have to come here and see for yourself, although everybody will most probably play nice and prevent you to see the real world. We came out of communism only 27 years ago and a large number of our leaders still have that way of thinking. Should I tell you they rigged the last election? Yes, they did. It’s still possible, even though we are in the EU. Nobody actually cares about people, it’s all about numbers. If the numbers look good, everything is just fine.”
Final question, so let’s get back to the music. What have you been up to since the release of your last album in 2015?
Dan Byron: “2015 was a very tough year for us. We had two releases, the album and a DVD recorded with a military brass band and a choir. We decided to have a little break from recording and just enjoy touring. Right now we’re preparing our ten-year-anniversary with a national tour and maybe a celebratory release. We’ll see! I’m a pretty fast writer, and there’s already a lot of unreleased material in one form or another, so probably next year you’ll hear from us again with a new album.”
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byron live and unplugged in Transylvania from their live DVD