by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist –
From Kerrang! and Metal Hammer to Classic Rock and Fireworks, Night By Night are gaining enthusiastic reviews from every rock-oriented media outlet. With their unique, ‘80s-AOR-meets-contemporary-rock sound, this UK-based melodic rock act is on their way to conquer the world with their debut album NxN being just released. The band’s guitarist – and the current axeman of Sisters Of Mercy – Ben Christo caught up with Hardrock Haven to talk in detail about Night By Night, their inspirations and plans for the future.
Hardrock Haven: With so many enthusiastic reviews of your debut album, do you feel as if you were pioneering “a new wave of hard rock” with your music indeed?
Ben Christo: It’s been fantastic and incredibly rewarding to get this sort of feedback – especially for a debut album! The interesting – and quite cool – thing about these ‘new-wave’ plaudits is that we haven’t consciously strived to achieve them. The development of the sound has been pretty organic; simply a combination of all the things we like about rock, AOR and metal music.
For me, the key to the rock & metal music I love to listen to is emotional power. Be that through a compulsive riff, an uplifting chorus, an emotive melody or harmony, a persuasive lyric, effective key change or something in the song’s structure or arrangement, it’s gotta reach out, wrench me in and leave me momentarily breathless. That concept has always given me a barometer by which to measure if what we’re creating is something that I find either ‘stock’ or ‘special’ – does it have that ‘emotional power’? Of course, this is subjective, and what makes me feel this sense of musical excitement may not have the same effect on others. But NxN like to trust in this feeling when we write; we aren’t content until we hit upon it. It’s that moment when we look around the room and everyone is grinning at each other because we all feel it’s ‘right’. If this focus on emotional power is carving out a new sound, then that’s wonderful, because it’s real.
I remember once reading the words ‘just do what you love and the rest will eventually follow’ and I really think that’s true in all vocations. What we’ve done on this debut is what we love and so it’s sublime that both fans and press all over the world – and I’m talking as far flung as Brazil to Australia to Poland to Greece to Canada and beyond – are writing to us as and telling us how much they like our music! The accolade of a ‘new wave’ is incredibly complimentary and I am so excited that we’re getting this simply making the music we’ve always wanted to make.
Hardrock Haven: What do you think are the strongest points of NxN?
Ben Christo: Great question (laughs). In terms of strength, I think we are all passionate, experienced and dedicated musicians, something I feel that you can hear in the performances. Concurrently, there’s an authenticity to the writing and playing, because, as I said, everyone loves and believes in the music we are making. I hope that’s one of the elements that people are looking into; the ‘realness’ of it. I’m also pretty pleased with the lyrics, as I spent a lot of time on them. I wanted them to accurately convey my feelings in a way that gave me catharsis (and thus add to the work’s authenticity) but still retain an enigmatic quality that let the listener find his or her own meaning therein. I think these are two of the most important aspects of lyrics, particularly in rock and alternative music – the writer’s authentic expression which then leads to the listener’s unique emotional response.
On a more literal level, there are some great performances from the guys; Henry’s soaring vocals, Tom’s blistering leads, Damien’s explosive fills and Jon’s well thought-out bass lines (and I love his backing vocals, he has such a unique tone which has a really nice classic rock, Paul Rogers edge).
Hardrock Haven: The band’s unique style is a combination of modern sound and ‘80s melodic rock influences. What are your main inspirations music-wise?
Ben Christo: How’s about this – here are 10 bands that have influenced me across the years and why I like them: Sevendust (power, aggression, authenticity, soul); Strangeways (melody, harmony, song-writing sophistication and musicianship); AC/DC (unequivocal, addictive, unites people, truthful, rocking); Boysetsfire (meaningful, authentic, powerful, lyrically sophisticated); The Cure (addictive, unique voice, sonically cinematic, ethereal, great pop sensibilities, lyrically enigmatic); Def Leppard (anthemic, melodic, nice key changes, thought-out vocal harmonies); The Cult (soulful, inimitable, persuasive, swaggering, enigmatic); Judas Priest (melodically sophisticated yet compulsively simple, powerful, rousing, aggressive, cinematic and hugely charismatic); Strung Out (catchy, melodic, incredible musicianship, authentic); Nik Kershaw (heartstopping key changes and modulations, inventive and a truly inimitable sound).
Hardrock Haven: The lyrics are also somewhat sophisticated as for the genre. What does inspire you to write – the world outside, or whatever happens in your personal life?
Ben Christo: Thank you for saying so. I guess that the lyrics reflect less of our melodic rock influences and more of the modern, alt rock and metal we like; bands like Thrice, BSF and Manic Street Preachers; all of whom that have penned lyrics that have stopped me in my tracks to pore over the lyrics!
For me, it’s always got to be personal; I can only write with authenticity that which I have felt – even with the songs that aren’t sung from the ‘first person’. For example, “Holding Onto Holding On”, documents the respective struggles of a separate male and female, but the imagery and concepts therein are all derived from things I’ve experienced in some way at some time, even if that’s something I’ve felt through the empathy of someone else plight. For example, the lines: “Barricaded the door/in silhouette/he woke the dead again/through the hours beneath/stuttered like grief/he couldn’t face the light”combine literal and metaphorical imagery that resonates with me, although I’ve never actually experienced that ‘scenario’ as such. Elsewhere, the lyrics are intensely autobiographical, as in “The Moment”: “Hit the lights/I’ll try to write you down tonight/Can’t define/beyond the exit sign.”
This documents events, places, a person, thoughts and feelings that I experienced first-hand, although they aren’t constructed here in a ‘linear’ fashion; they are snapshots of a myriad of moments that occurred during a certain episode of my life which shift back and forth across time and location.
Hardrock Haven: Are there any stories behind the songs (or recording them!) you’d like to share with our readers?
Ben Christo: “Never Die Again” almost wasn’t on the record. We were due to go into the studio, but only had nine songs (there are ten on the album) and ‘some ideas’ for a 10th that weren’t up to scratch. We begrudgingly resigned to the idea of a 9-track album, when a schedule mix-up at the studio meant our session was postponed by a week. We were suddenly blessed with an extra 7 days! We knuckled-down and spent an intense week writing “Never Die Again”. I remember battling to complete the lyrics at about 4:13AM before we went into the studio, not to mention myself, Damien and Jonny agonizing over the arrangement (“how long should this section of silence be?”), just hours before we were due to lay down the drums! It turned out to be one of our favourite songs on the album, with a lyric that I’m really proud of. The pressure pushed us – we HAD to produce the goods, there was no choice. As a consequence, there’s a definite theme of ‘triumph over adversity’ to the song that I think is audible both in the way we wrote it and performed on the recording. “Never Die Again” pushed us to the edge of our abilities – you’ll hear furious drum fills from Damien, searing shred from Tom and emotive vocals from Henry that move all over the spectrum. It’s like everyone went the extra mile on this one, which is very much what the song is about.
With “Time to Escape”, we decided to adopt the methodology of legendary songwriter Desmond Child. Come up with a title first and from then on, every aspect of the songwriting has to be related to that title. In this way, everything is ‘relevant’ from the offset and anything that isn’t congruent to the title is dropped. It was a really exciting and focused way of working. The title itself was by using the technique of opening a random book at a random page and using the first words you see. The book was Generation X by Douglas Coupland. I’d like to use this ‘title-first’ technique a lot more on album 2.
Hardrock Haven: The album’s producer Romesh Dodangoda (Funeral For A Friend and Bullet For My Valentine) may not be a well-known name in melodic rock circles. Please tell us about this collaboration and the influence that he exerted over the album.
Ben Christo: We wanted choruses and 3-part vocal harmonies that captured our love for ‘80s and melodic rock – but we didn’t want to simply emulate our heroes and make a record that sounded like, say, Dokken or Dare in 1988. What would be the point? That’s already been done – and done very well, I might add – by Dokken and Dare! We wanted to take our heritage and thrust it into 2014 by combining it with the sounds of the 21st century that we love and we knew that Romesh, with his hard-hitting and upfront, modern production would be instrumental in doing this. He really delivered.
Hardrock Haven: A few months ago you played dates with Europe and also, in the past, you supported the likes of Y&T or The Quireboys. Which of these has been the most important moment to you?
Ben Christo: Y&T was really significant, because they hand-picked us to be their support. They didn’t need an opening act, as they have a very strong, loyal and significant UK following (which I attribute to the fact that they always deliver live). Singer, Dave, also made a habit of praising us to the audience during their set, remarks like “great to see a young band who can all really sing and who do it all for real”. That was incredible for me – this is a band I used to listen to when I was doing my paper round – and here they are, endorsing us to halls of 1,500 people every night! It was especially significant because he picked up on one of the things we most pride ourselves on – the live vocal harmonies.
Hardrock Haven: Is there anyone else you’d like to share the stage with in the future?
Ben Christo: Supporting the likes of Alter Bridge, Shinedown and Hinder would be hugely beneficial in expanding our fan-base. On a personal level, getting to support Def Leppard would be incredible, because they are the band that first made me want to play guitar and write music!
Hardrock Haven: Alongside your tenure Night By Night, you’re also a guitarist in the cult rock band Sisters Of Mercy. Are there any difficulties arising from the fact of both activities being parallel?
Ben Christo: The Sisters’ activities are occasional, spaced-out and scheduled at least 6 months in advance, so there has very rarely been a clash.
Hardrock Haven: Yet about Sisters Of Mercy – since quite a few years, the band remains a touring outfit only. Is this tendency going to continue, or are there any recording sessions in the pipeline?
Ben Christo: There’re no plans to NOT make a new record. Although, it’s been about 21 years since the last recording, so it may be fair to assume that nothing new is going to happen any time soon. But I wouldn’t be overtly surprised if Eldritch claimed he wanted to record an album … tomorrow. You can’t second-guess him.
Hardrock Haven: What are your other plans for the near future? Any touring in the pipeline again?
Ben Christo: We have two album launch shows in the UK on the week of the release – 17.7 at the London Borderline and 18.7 at the Bolton Railway Venue. We want to be on the road as much as possible as we need to promote the album; our issue at the moment is that we don´t have a live agent to continuously coordinate our gigs – an incredibly important role. Saying that, we are in the procces of confirming shows for Sept/Oct in the UK and Europe (Poland, Czech Repubic and possibly Germany). We want to shoot a second video to release around the same time of those dates, just trying to decide which track.
Hardrock Haven: Thank you for the interview! Maybe you’d like to add something in the end…?
Ben Christo: Thanks for reading! If you like Night by Night and believe in what we are doing, please spread the word about us, tell your friends, request our music from club and radio DJs, write to ‘zines and press about us, join in the community and generally support rock music – because that’s the best way that we can all keep this going. Stay connected with us by joining our newsletter at www.nxnofficial.com.