Interview with Jay of Harm's Way 2014

by Bradley Smith


Your Blinded EP came out awhile back on Deathwish Inc.  I was curious to know how you felt about it and how you feel it represents Harm's Way?  How is it a progression from the earlier periods of the band both musically and ideologically?


Collectively, we feel really good about Blinded. Actually, weíre extremely proud of it. Especially considering how quickly we had to write the material in order to meet a release deadline for the European summer tour last year, we wrote it under less than ideal circumstances, and the result was something we were very happy with, despite all that.


The easy answer is I think itís a natural progression from previous material, but the tough answer is ďa natural progression towards (or away from) what?Ē Everyone in HW listens to and is influenced by a lot of different music from a lot of different genres. With this release we really wanted to try and show that a bit more. IE, weíre all big fans of Godflesh. Certain elements of that started to come through a little in previous releases, but with Blinded, we really wanted to display some influence you would not normally think of when you think of HW and just try and expand on our sound a little bit.


At the same time, we all like quite a bit of Death Metal, and of course our roots are still in Hardcore. Blinded was an attempt to expand on our sound a bit but while remaining true to what we know we already are. Isolation was a tough act to follow, and we knew that going into writing for Blinded. I think the approach worked well for us.


Ideologically, I canít speak towards specifics because James writes the lyrics, so the content is all his. But his lyrical content has always been from a very personal and bleak perspective, expressing whatever anger he is feeling or dealing with at that moment in his life. That hasnít changed with Blinded, but I do think heís becoming more in tune with how he goes about expressing it. And to me, the end result continues to improve with each release because of this.


One thing that is immediately clear when listening to Harm's Way is that musically you are different than the average hardcore band.  I hear a lot of Death metal riffing in your style, especially references to Boltthrower and Swedish death metal.  As an insider, how do you view Harm's Way's style and what do you feel are some of the biggest influences on your songwriting?


LOL, well, I think I partially answered that in question #1. I think itís safe to say that every member in HW likes a lot of Death Metal, to one degree or another. Thatís not a secret we try to hide from.


Itís also not like weíre the first group of Hardcore kids to be influenced by or listen to Death Metal, but Iíd like to think HW is a little unique in the sense that weíve embraced it to a point that itís progressively helped mold HW from its early days to what you hear now. Infusing extreme music such as Death Metal and Black Metal riffs while trying to keep traditional Hardcore structure in mind is not as easy as you think. But we enjoy doing it, and I think the outcome is what makes us what we are today.


As far as our biggest influences, it really depends on the song weíre working on I guess. For Blinded, I think a lot of influence came from bands like Celtic Frost, Triptykon, Disma... And as mentioned before, some Godflesh as well. Believe it or not, even a little Deftones too. Bands like Sepultura, Bolt Thrower and Entombed are always on our playlists of course. I mean, there are thousands of bands that influence us as musicians, but those are some names that come to the top of my head.


You did a video for Mind Control off of Blinded.  How did that come together and what was the intent behind the video?  What message is being conveyed by the imagery such as the old man in the barn with the sinister monk, and the ruined house, etc?  What about the pond and the old man's immersion in it?


Well, Jake (DW) approached us shortly after he had the recording for Blinded in his hand about doing a video. We felt Mind Control seemed like the ďsingleĒ (if you will), because it just hits you in the face and never lets up. Itís of those songs that as youíre writing a record you realize ďthis is the direction this is goingĒ, so that song always stood out for us during the sessions for Blinded.


Jake utilized previous resources in the form of Max Moore  a film student who has done some video work for other DW releases such as Converge, Touche Amore, Code Orange Kids, Coliseum (among many other respectable pieces of work). Max is from down south, so he and an assistant drove up to the Chicago area on a weekend and we shot the band footage in some woods behind Chris and Boís middle school in the suburbs LOL. It was hell carrying all that equipment into the middle of the woods, but we had a blast.


The narrative was based on an idea Chris had, and we sort of tweaked little bits and pieces of the idea the closer we got to shooting it, but we shot our idea over to Max and he ran with it. The result is what you see, which is pretty much exactly how we visualized it, although Maxís work exceeded our expectations. Not that we had any doubts, we just have little experience making music videos as a whole, so we had no measuring stick. (I had made a video with one of my previous bands Holy Roman Empire, but not on a professional level such as this).


As far as the message behind itÖ HW likes to leave a lot for interpretation. This is not an excuse for coming up with a bunch of shit that looks or sounds cool but has no actually meaning either. This is simply the same approach the lyrical content and previous album artwork etc has always taken as well.


We did discuss amongst ourselves what all this visual content meant to us when the idea for the video was in process, but Iíd rather leave the details ambiguous and for the viewer/listener to try and find meaning in it for themselvesÖ or attempt to guess what ours are.


Harm's Way have continued to use some very unorthodox cover art for their releases, especially Blinded, No Gods No Masters 7", and Isolation.  How do you go about choosing a piece to use and how important are aesthetics to Harm's Way overall?  I mean do you invest a lot of attention and detail when it comes to the visual side of your creative output?


Well, once again, I think I answered part of this in the previous questionÖ Iíd like to think that this approach to things is also what makes Harmís Way a little more unique in the Hardcore genre.


The cover for Blinded is no different than the previous examples I gave. There is definitely a general idea behind the meaning of it that we discussed within ourselves. (Most of the visual ideas are born of Jamesís lyrical content). Similar to the approach to the video, this was based on an idea Chris brought to the table, we discussed, tweaked, and we shot our concept over to Florian, and he ran with it. We were particularly happy with this result, because at first glance, itís difficult to tell whatís going on there. This only lends itself more to the ambiguous nature of things we prefer.


Aesthetics are important in the sense that we of course donít want things to look like garbage. But like I said before, we donít just make things that have no meaning because they look cool. We have ideas, we put them in the hands of people we trust, and filter the results so we put out a product we are happy with. So, yeah, Iíd say thereís a lot of attention to detail in that respect.


I see you have another band going right now called Black X.  Can you tell me a bit about it?  You don't get a much more Straight Edge name than Black X?


LOL, what can I tell you about Black XÖ Well, Iím originally from Buffalo NY where I cut my teenage teeth playing in several oldschool sXe bands such as Halfmast and Plagued With Rage in the mid 90ís before moving to Chicago. I still retain a lot of friendships with those guys, and the majority of them are also still sXe. Black X was born out of a joke idea to do a 30+ sXe band with our friend Mark (who is black) singing, so the joke was also a play on words meant as an inside joke.


One thing led to another and the joke became a reality. Our initial idea was to sound like a downtuned Chain Of Strength. We started exchanging long distance riffs and practice recordings and Garageband files etc, and now we have a 6 song demo and a couple shows under our belt. Itís a lot of fun, and itís more for ourselves and our old, long standing friendships with one another and celebrating where we came from than anything else. We hope to record a 7Ē next. The demo is up on


One more funny nugget on Black X is the demo was recorded in Buffalo by John Angelo who recorded the new Gwar record just before doing the Black X demo (minus my guitar and all backup vox), and he left to do live sound full time for Gwar after our session. So, the Black X demo was squeezed in between his obligations to Gwar LOL.


We then recorded my guitar and backups here in Chicago with Andy Nelson (guitarist for Weekend Nachos) at Bricktop Studio. Andy of course has done every Harmís Way record. So, thereís a lot of interesting pedigree with the Black X demo.    


Your other guitarist, Bo, said something interesting in an interview, that touring internationally was selfish.  He said something along the lines that, sure you are there to play, but you are more interested in seeing another culture?  Do you agree?  And what do you try to inject into your performance, what sort of reaction do you try to get from the audience?  And back to the culture issue, what do you think are some of the most interesting places you have visited and why?


Yeah, it is an interesting predicament to be in when touring internationally. As you relayed, youíre there to play and entertain an audience that is (hopefully) eager to see you and have you on their soil. But at the same time, you are so stoked to be in their country and see some new sights that you canít wait get to the next city and see what it has to offer. If nothing else, it makes for a lot of fun regardless of what youíre doing on a given day, and I think itís easy to also use that energy as fuel for your show that night too. In general, youíre just pumped to be there.


Australia was freaking gorgeous. Man, what a beautiful country. For a bunch of Hardcore kids from the Midwest, it was like being on another planet. Every single plant and animal was something completely foreign to us, down to the smallest little detail. I remember at one point we were freaking out about some wildly colored birds walking around this park just outside the Sydney Opera House, and joking how we probably looked like idiots to the locals because these birds were probably the equivalent of a dirty ass grey pigeon youíd see walking under the train stops of downtown Chicago. But to us, every blade of grass on the ground was completely alien.


One of the first things I noticed was that you have a Life Love Regret Tattoo on your arm.  Since Unbroken meant so much to me I was curious to hear what sort of impact they had on you?  And how was it that you managed to form a band with Dave of Unbroken?  What was it like to be in a band with a member whose music mean to much to you?  How did that motivate you?


Dave is from the Midwest. He is a St. Louis native, who ended up in Cali, I believe due to his military travels. Anyways, post Unbroken he was back in St. Louis which is not terribly far from Chicago. Coincidently, the drummer for my band at the time (Extinction) was friends with Dave. He and Dave were talking about doing something that was sort of Swing Kids, late Unbroken ish. Jason (now drummer for Sweet Cobra) approached me about the project (now known as Stabbed By Words) being that I basically schooled myself on guitar by playing Life Love Regret repeatedly in my room as an angry teenager and I had that unique style in my blood. (Nugget for Stabbed By Words; the cover artwork was done by Aaron Turner from Isis).


Back then, I was star struck with Dave. Pretty funny, because now heís just one of my friends LOL. Makes you realize everyone really does just put their pants on one leg at a time.


Unbroken is one of (if not the single most) meaningful and important Hardcore band to ever come across my path. But, then again, I think for most of us that grew up in the 90ís and were fans of Unbroken, this seems to be pretty standard. So, I donít think Iím very special in that regard. I just happened to be fortunate enough to land in a band with someone I grew up idolizing, and motivated enough to still be around and active in bands all these years later that people like you occasionally get to notice a glimpse of influence from an important era in Hardcore and gives me the chance to bring what I can into the current era.


And I donít mean that in an egotistical way. I truly believe in the importance of being a role model and being an example to the next generation. Maybe itís the father in me (I have a teenage daughter), but I love that I have the opportunity to be here today with these younger kids and do my thing. Itís very important to me, and Unbroken and my relationship with Dave did that for me.


The Olympics are going on right now and it has brought into focus once again the issue of gay rights.  What do you feel about the current climate in the US on the issue of gay rights and especially gay marriage?  Do you view this as a civil rights issue like the fight for racial and gender equality?  Do you think the religious right is fighting a losing battle in trying to prevent gay marriage?


Well, thatís a tough question. For reasons that are quite obvious, and some reasons that are not quite so obvious. I feel like I personally have different emotions on a case by case basis, rather than stating ďIím left wing/right wing, and I feel this wayĒ and then make some broad statement. I think people tend to do that, but thatís just human nature.


I can however say that I personally have no problems with a gay couple getting married. It doesnít mean the freaking world is coming to an end, although people seem to act that way when it happens. There are certainly far worse things in the world that are happening that we could be concentrating our energy on. Whatís the old saying? ďMake love, not warĒÖ my point is, I feel like we sometimes unnecessarily make a battle out of something. Itís not like these people are out there bombing buildings. Weíre fighting a war over something rooted in love, whether you choose to accept the definition of that love or not, thatís what is happening, therefore yeah, I guess you could say I think itís a losing battle for the religious right.


Living in Chicago, you see a lot of diversity. Iíve had gay neighbors, gay friends, gay co-workersÖ If you walk down the street and go shopping or into a restaurant, chances are youíre going to be associating with the gay community as they live their lives and work their day jobs just like anyone else. Iíve never had any issues with that, and I have no right as far as Iím concerned to tell them they should or shouldnít act a certain way. Itís not my lifestyle choice or whatever, but it doesnít mean that I canít just get along with them as we coexist on this planet together. Iíve got more important things to be concerned about, thatís for sure. I wish the rest of the world could feel that way sometimes on some of these issues.


I have taken note of the overtly anti-religious stance that Harm's Way has taken through the visual and sonic mediums.  How do you feel about the current Religious assault on scientific thought in this country?  And what are your thoughts on the infiltration of religion in the political community, mainly in the Republican/Tea party?


This topic is always fun. Inherently, youíre just going to piss someone off. Not that I blame you for asking. I mean, we put it out there LOL. So, it is what it is.


We talk about this sometimes internally as a band, especially with the heightened sense of things politically in this country (as you mentioned). We have to be conscious of the message we are (or are not) sending to people. But at the same time, when youíre younger and you start a band, youíre not thinking about those things. Youíre just angry, pissed off, have a statement to make, so you make some shirts or whatever with pentagrams on them. Now the band is older, has some notches on the belt etc, and youíre forced to evaluate the choices of such statements going forward rather than just doing it and laughing about it later.


Iím not implying HW regrets anything or has falsely represented itself. I just think you evaluate things differently when youíre younger than when your band is touring all over the globe.


Everyone in HW has varying degrees of opinions on religion; the result is the images etc youíre referring to. Itís not like anyone in the band is actually Satanic or something, but we all have our opinions and as an artist you express that through your medium. Thatís nothing groundbreaking. This is an extreme example, but Slayer was doing this 30 years ago. Iím not saying weíre Slayer. But you get the pointÖ


I recently had a conversation with my daughter about the entire topic of Creationism vs. Darwinism, and how this is becoming more and more of a debate. It was interesting to see a teenagerís perspective on it because of the way public school has to approach the subject. James could probably give a lot of insight on this because heís actually a substitute teacher (ironically sometimes at my daughterís school LOL), but I think itís funny that there are so many scientifically proven facts (not even theories), yet some of this is even still up for debate. Iím all for not drawing a line in the sand against the unknown, but to argue against straight up scientific fact seems absurd to me.


Me personally, I feel itís all something beyond human comprehension and weíre not yet meant to understand some of the mysteries of the universe yet. We try to quantify it or justify our own existence with organized religion and made up stories of manís origins. Thatís fine, I understand there are also some social structure and moral benefits to a lot of this, but to tell me with a straight face that my kid is going to hell because I didnít dip her in a pool of water in the name of some guy that claimed to be the son of all creation over 2000 years agoÖ this is just laughable. Iím a good person with a steadfast moral code. I donít need religion to justify where Iíll go when Iím dust.


So what are some of your Future Plans as a musician and for Harm's Way as a whole?  Where do you see Harm's Way developing in the future?


All of us have several projects going on. HW is our main focus, but James and I are working on an industrial project called Manimals. I already told you about Black X of course. I also have a ďsoloĒ project Iíve been working on for a long time now that looks like is finally going to get released called Atonement Theory. For fans of Jesu, Isis, Godflesh and Neurosis.


Bo and Chris are in Wolfnote (along with former HW bassist Dave) and you should also check that out because theyíre really good. For fans of Alkaline Trio & early AFI.


Harmís Way is doing a couple short East Coast trips this spring, where I think we hit Toronto, Toledo, Dearborn M.I., and Rochester at the end of March. Keystone Hardcore Jam fest in Philly with 100 Demons etc coming up next weekend then a longer tour this summer for most of July, but not sure exactly where that hits yet.


As I mentioned before, weíre currently writing for our next full length with Deathwish, but weíre not sure when thatís going to be out yet. Look for that in late summer or fall of 2014 Iím guessing. Thereís also loose talk of doing a split 7Ē on DW, possibly with Code Orange Kids, so weíll see if that comes to fruition.


Expect the unexpected, in addition to what youíve come to expect from HW. We enjoy pushing things to new areas while remaining extremely heavy.


Thanks for the interview Jay, I truly appreciate it.  Leave us with any final thoughts and impart your wisdom on how we live to loathe!


Thanks for the interest. Check out the projects I mentioned, check out our current EP ďBlindedĒ on Deathwish, and look for us on the upcoming tours I mentioned. And of course, keep an eye out for new HW brutality on Deathwish as well, and weíll see you in the pit.