The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

RON FRESCHI

of BABYLON A.D. and SYRYM

talks to Mark Rockpit


all images courtesy Syrym.com

 

I have always been a fan of the band Babylon A.D. who always seemed to be a cut above most of their contemporaries in the song-writing stakes; and who over a brief period in the late eighties and early nineties produced some really fine hard rock albums and some great songs. Like most bands they fell victim to prevailing fashions and the fickle music industry and for a while drifted out of view. They resurfaced with a different sound with ‘American Blitzkrieg’ in 2000; an album that was sadly overlooked but well worth investigating. A few years later a collection ‘In the Beginning’ seemed to wrap things up and gave fans a chance to fill in the gaps.

 

Then in 2008 came Syrym, with Ron on guitar along with fellow Babylon A.D. founding member and drummer Jamie Pacheco, Jeffrey Winslow behind the microphone, and Rich Talley on bass. For fans of hard rock that pays its dues to the seventies and eighties yet sounds remarkably fresh and exciting, you would do well to check out the debut album by Syrym. The music industry may have sold its soul (if it ever had one) to every latest fad that looks like making some green but for the millions out there who love the sound of crunching guitars, great lyrics and a great voice you really won’t hear much better.

 

The Rockpit.net got the chance to catch up with Ron from Syrym recently and here is what happened. But first a little back story…

 

I had been feeling that this interview was doomed never to happen! I had been speaking with Ron online for two months. The first time we arranged to catch up I had to cancel at the last minute and then my US trip intervened. When I got back home, I had an accident on the freeway when someone clipped me as they merged! I messaged Ron and apologised (again!).

 

As I dial in I wonder if anything else will go wrong! When he picks up we talk about the accident and I reassure him all is well! He’s been in the studio at his home in Tracy CA (where the Syrum CD was recorded) working on a session with a local band and is looking forward to enjoying the Labor Day holiday tomorrow.

 

Ron grew up in the East Bay area of San Francisco where Babylon formed before moving out there. We talk about Australia and find out he has relatives in Adelaide and wants to head out ‘down under’ one day. I tell him that the West Coast of Australia is like California without the people. The conversation turns to Babylon A.D. and to Syrym.

 

Mark: I see you played as Babylon A.D. on August 7th at the Kevin Carlson benefit concert. I wondered how that went?

 

Ron: It was really, really great to see everybody. There were hundreds of people there and many, many people from the early East Bay scene back in the late seventies, early eighties when I was a kid. It was pretty amazing that that not only the Babylon guys were there; but also to see Kevin, who is doing really well in his fight with the brain cancer thing. He got up and played and I remember seeing him way back even before he was in Aldo Nova. He was one of the first people from that area to really move on and do something other than just play the local club scene. This was in the early eighties back in the real early days of MTV. You know they played that song…

 

Ron starts to hum the refrain, and I find myself wracking my memory…

 

Ron: ‘Life is a fantasy’! He got up and played that with Derek and Jamie from Babylon and another bas and keyboard player and it was really, really cool! Leonard Haze was there too, the original drummer from Y&T and just a lot of old faces came out of the woodwork to play the show. It was one of the best shows we’ve played in a long time. It was one of the only shows I played in a long time with those guys! But you know we still talk and play every once in a while when we have an event or when someone asks us. It’s still something we all love.

 

Mark: I heard a while ago that you had been offered a deal to play one of those eighties revival festivals that have cropped up over the last few years?

 

Ron: I believe we were but I think they contacted Derek; and I really don’t know the details. For me it has nothing to do with money; I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if we got paid; and we had all agreed that if we were asked we would play. But I think if you get asked the promoter has to do certain basic things like fly your gear out and provide transport to the show, and I don’t think that was the case. It’s not cheap to get a band together and transport all the gear and guitars and whatever other equipment, you know. It’s not a drop in the bucket. Well it was my understanding that there was no money for that.

 

Mark: It’s sad really that these things happen and the fans lose out on seeing a band like Babylon that doesn’t come around often these days.

 

Mark: I loved the “Bang Go the Bells Redux” version that you mixed up. That was really cool. What has the response been like?

 

Ron: I think people have been enjoying a different take on the original. It was fun to have another reason to get together again and get back in the studio and jam. These days Derek has a studio, Danny has a studio, I have mine and we all still screw around! Now it’s just fun to be at the helm because when you are younger some of that is taken away from you because you are just a dumb kid, but now we aren’t dumb kids anymore and with all our experience we can sit down and make some serious music with our own gear! It doesn’t take a multi million dollar studio these days to make great stuff, and you have the luxury of time, which you didn’t use to have. You can get the sound you want and work on the songs you want.

 

 

Mark: It’s amazing what even bedroom bands can do these days! I remember reading a story that the Syrym thing came around because you found a USB recording device in Best Buy!

 

Ron Laughs!

 

Ron: Well that’s kinda where it started! You know I had been recording in my bedroom or at the practice studio since I was like thirteen years old, in those days with the old two-tracks. So it wasn’t like I was new to recording; and the whole digital recording thing has been around a while now. It is true though, one day I walked in and picked up a USB device, plugged it in and then said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna need more stuff!’

 

Laughs

 

Ron: Because that’s only one tiny piece of this huge recording puzzle that are today’s studios!

 

Mark: So you got that, got hooked and a few thousand dollar later!

 

Ron: You know that’s exactly right! When I built this studio, which is bigger and better than my first I got more equipment, and now it’s grown into exactly everything I need.

 

Ron: You are right though everyone can go buy these things, the hardware, the computer, the software, whether it be freeware or Protools… but there are a lot of other pieces to fit, and a lot of technology involved. I’m lucky in that I have the benefit of an electronic engineering degree that I got during the time I was playing with ‘The Persuaders’ (The band that grew into Babylon A.D.). So I had a good technological base which helps me now when it comes to figuring out all the wiring configurations and the software itself. Because it’s the software these days that produces and masters the music you listen to today is really sophisticated stuff.

 

Ron: On the other hand a lot of people would die to get their hands on an old two-track machine, like we used to use, but those kind of things are hard to find. And it would take an age to find a studio that still uses tapes. Because everyone these days has the computer, with the speakers and a guitar and a USB device; but that’s not all it takes to make great sounding music. It took me a long time to do that Syrym thing!

 

Mark: Talking of the Syrym CD two of my favourite tracks are ‘While America Sleeps’ and ‘Torn in Two’. When I spoke to Jeffrey (Winslow, singer with Syrym) a little while ago he told me that ‘While America Sleeps’ was actually a song that didn’t make Babylon’s ‘Nothing Sacred’ album.

 

Ron: That is absolutely correct. In fact in between the first album and ‘Nothing Sacred’ we were writing material in between trips out on the road. We played a show at a festival in Arizona with Hurricane and Y&T and we played that song there and we were sure it would be on the album. Well I’m not sure who made the call but it didn’t make the final cut. I had always felt really strongly about that song, not only the music, but also the lyrical content, which Derek has a real way with. Even though I’m a guitar player when you hear a song, especially from that era that has semi-meaningful lyrics you actually turn your head a little and listen to it!

 

Ron: Some of the songs that came from that era, and we are no different, were the same old clichés. And after a while it was the same old crap and I got tired of listening to songs just about girls and screwing and this that and the other over and over again. I mean you could almost say that some of that clichéd shit was what lead to the demise of that era of sound. People wanted a bit more meaningful content in their music and then ‘whamo’ what comes in in ’92?

 

Mark: I hear what you are saying. I still love that music, but I take your point. People always look to blame the labels and the latest fad but it’s an interesting point. Maybe the fact that there were so many bands out there trying to do the same thing saturated the market. But still to me Babylon A.D. stood out for the music and the sound.

 

Mark: In hindsight some of the videos did start to look the same and were a little low on ideas. The video for ‘Hammer comes Down’ always looked like someone had just looked at the title and said right here we go ‘girls and hammers’. It was almost like; oh it’s a video it has to have girls in it and a few more clichés for good measure! It worried me!

 

Laughs

 

Ron: Yeah me too! The girls, the hammers and the Dobermans! You know when you are the band in the equation; let’s just say that some of the decisions are made for you and out of your control!

 

 

Mark: Going back to the early days, being signed by Clive Davis must have been a great thrill for you!

 

Ron: Believe me the day that Clive came in to that showcase In LA; and this is not a bullshit story; when he stood up and clapped his hands after not saying a word all set and said ‘Welcome to Arista guys’ it was one of the happiest days of my entire life. And I will remember it to this day. I have no ill feelings or memories about Arista and what they tried to do for us. They bent over backwards.

 

Ron: For ‘Nothing Sacred’ we maybe had to fight a little to get our content, I mean we didn’t win with ‘While America Sleeps’ but they liked ‘Redemption’ which I wrote with Derek.

 

Mark: My favourite songs from that album were always ‘Redemption’ and ‘Slave Your Body’ and it was just by chance today when I was listening to the album that I realised that you wrote those two.

 

Ron: Yeah, I wrote those two and I wrote many other songs during that era. I was one of ‘The Persuaders’ and we had developed the sound (that became Babylon A.D.). We got signed with my friend John (who also played at that gig in August). Well during the making of that first record some things happened in the studio and the decision was made that he needed to leave the band. So I played both rhythms on that whole record with Simon, and then my other great friend Danny came in and he played some great leads and his song-writing also came into the mix too. So when you listen to Nothing Sacred’ you, whether you knew it or not, picked out two songs where you may have heard a different influence to the rest of the record.

 

Mark: To me it’s really clear now! I loved those two, but I had never even realised until this morning that was the reason!

 

Laughs

 

Ron: Danny and every guitar player has their sound, so to speak, and I always had that heavier riffage, not so much the blues; though I love the blues: but I always loved a big riff! Whatever it was: whether it was Zeppelin, or Van Halen, AC/DC or Y&T, Dokken, Ratt or any of these bands if it had a good guitar riff I loved song! I grew up as a teenager listening to ‘Van Halen I’ which to me is one of the best albums ever! I always wrote the heavier guitar riffs.

 

Mark: To me the Syrym album is the natural successor to that first Babylon A.D. album; it has that heavier, crunchier guitar sound to it.

 

Ron: Yeah, all of those songs came out of either old ideas that I either demoed for Derek or the record company and which never came together as a song or a few that actually came about while we were recording. I’d play them and Jeff would be like ‘what’s that’ or I would be tooling around in the studio working on different sounds and a lot of times when I wasn’t concentrating on writing, just screwing around I would just record it the later come back and go ‘holy shit’ that’s pretty good.

 

Mark: Jeffrey said that ‘Torn in Two’ was like that where you came in with a riff and the rest happened in the studio, where the melodies and the lyrics got written.

 

Ron: ‘Torn’ I have an interesting story. That riff was written by me and is a whole different song on a Persuaders demo tape that I can’t even find! No one has heard it! With that I was just screwing around and Jeff said ‘What’s that?’ and we built a whole other song around it. There’s another, “Thirty and Dirty” one of the trashier songs Jeff wrote, that too was just a riff I had been playing around with and it just happened by accident.

 

Mark: Like all the best songs do.

 

Mark: You made a video for the song “Ugly on the Inside” which is cool and up on the Syrym site. How hard is it to make the decision to make a video these days as a new band wit limited funds? It’s got to be a pretty expensive exercise?

 

Ron: Did Jeff tell you what happened with that? I think it goes back to the technology at your fingertips and who you know. It all came together because Jeff knew someone in videography and also someone who had a great location. People all chipped in and helped. My son even filmed a lot of drums when Jamey was playing. Like the Syrym disc it’s all done out of our own pockets. We took our cam, and there was no rush. At this stage in the game I do it all for the pure satisfaction.

 

Ron: Like I had to make the Syrym album because I had all these riffs bottled away that had to see the light of day. I couldn’t care less if I made a red cent! When you are a kid of thirteen (which was when I started playing), and going to gigs I couldn’t imagine that one day I would be on stage. I saw Van Halen and Black Sabbath at the Oakland Coliseum; Frampton and Lynyrd Sknyrd at the Day on the Green. All I wanted was to play, I had these aspirations to be on that stage and money and all that bullshit was never part of the equation.

 

Mark: It’s all about having people listen! When I hear a band like Syrym I just want other people to hear what I hear and enjoy it like I do, and if selling records means the band will make another record I want to make sure people hear it. I love spreading the word. I loved American Blitzkrieg too, even though it had a different sound.

 

Ron: I wasn’t 100% happy satisfied with that sound.

 

Mark: But I heard it was done on a really small budget?

 

Ron: This was back in the late 90’s when the technology was a little more expensive and even though Derek did a great job, we just didn’t have quite enough money to do it right.

 

Ron: As far as the Syrym stuff I’m thankful to guys like you for helping spread the word. Yeah we’ve sat and asked ourselves why this isn’t exposed to more people, but you know some things never change. When it comes to promoting music it still takes millions of dollars to take a band out of nowhere and give them the press and the tours and the videos, whatever it takes to break a band. These days the game has changed dramatically.

 

 

Mark: As far as Syrym is concerned what are your plans?

 

Ron: It would be great to do another record with Jeff and go out and do some dates. But sometimes it’s harder done than said. These days we all have our own lives and responsibilities and even though it would be great to get out there because that’s a part of me, it’s hard. It’s great to have the support of people like yourself but if you don’t have the backing of a company these days it’s just a lot harder. I think Jeff did a fantastic job when we released it with our home-grown campaign of Myspace and You tube and contacting various media outlets to get it out there. And we got coverage but when you want to get to that next level when you are playing the type of music that may not be considered mainstream it’s just hard.

 

Ron: And I also think that because of the web you have a dilution of music. Right now I could go to My space and in a matter of minutes find ten bands that all sound more or less the same and maybe one of those bands is amazing but they are in anonymity competing with the rest and they may not ever make it out.

 

Mark: I think that’s a great point Ron, and one not a lot of people make. Because it is a lot easier to get up on the web there are just so many bands that are struggling to be heard and you have to wade through so much randomness and volume to find something really good. But who has the time? There’s no incentive to go and search for anything and if you do find something really cool you look and they have had maybe 5000 hits, no-one else knows them and you can’t see them live because they are on the other side of the planet! It must be really frustrating for young bands to even try to make an impact these days. They will never take that next step. You do as you say need that push from a label or a backer to make an impact.

 

Ron: Oh I agree completely.

 

Mark: The fact that you are making music because you love it though must give you an amazing feeing of satisfaction, to create a piece of art, something you are happy with, even if the situation around it is frustrating?

 

Ron: Yeah, absolutely and that is why the Syrym record took me such a long time because I kept mixing and mixing, because I would always compare it to things and sounds that I liked, not trying to emulate them, but just because I wanted it to sound good. I mean like we’ve said anyone can go out there buy some stuff and record it but if you don’t know what you are doing, or don’t have the skills, or don’t take the time you will end up with a piece of shit. If you spend the extra time to study sound, old school recording techniques and you study your art you can make a good recording anywhere. On the flip-side you don’t have to be a good musician to be a good producer. You just have to love music and have a good knowledge.

 

Mark: It’s like anything you need to work with it.

 

Mark: Going back to Babylon A.D. for a moment what is you overwhelming memory of the band?

 

Ron: Oh man, there are too many memories! The playing live, I guess and being on the road. That and the day I got signed. One gig that especially comes to mind is playing in Chicago in an indoor arena with Warrant and Winger. It was a place that was about the same size as the arena I had seen Van Halen and Sabbath when I was twelve years old so I finally felt that I had achieved what I set out to do: which was to be a good enough guitar player (after hours and hours of practice) to deserve to be on that stage. Then it just occurred to me that I had achieved something that I had always wanted, whatever it was, my 15 minutes, it’s hard to explain!

 

Mark: It just hit you at that moment! You realised that something had clicked.

 

Ron: Yeah, I was up there having fun like any other gig. But walking up those stairs to get on that stage was when it hit me and I thought ‘Wow, it finally came true’. And I tell that to my son to this day. No matter what you do as a career let it be something you enjoy doing. I’m lucky that whether in music or engineering that I have enjoyed what I’m doing. I can’t say that about every day; and whoever tells you that they enjoy every single day is a liar! But for the most part going to work and learning and growing I’m happy, and now that is what I want for my son. If you enjoy it it’s not a job. And if musicians can make a living playing music then they are very lucky.

 

Mark: So as far as Babylon A.D. is concerned then it sounds like you are at a place where you are all still in contact, but there are no real definite plans. Though if an offer for a festival or something came up then you would be up for it?

 

Ron: Yes if an offer came up we would do it if the timing was right and we didn’t have to pay out of pocket. Believe me if I was a millionaire I would be on the road again. We are all still good friends and we get together when we can, whether it’s a birthday party or whatever it’s all about the music. We are still 20 year olds as far as I am concerned!

 

Laughs

 

Mark: The last two questions we ask everyone and it’s always interesting to hear the responses. The first is if you could have been involved in the creation of any song or piece of music what would it have been?

 

Ron: That’s an easy one for me. When we were recording ‘Nothing Sacred’ at Sunset Sound I actually got to go into the studio where they recorded ‘Van Halen I’. I went I thee and I took some pictures. And if I could have been there and even just seen that happen I think it would have been amazing. Eddie is just one of the greatest guitar players of all time and even though there are so many great records that would be mine.

 

Mark: Do you get a chance to listen to a lot of music these days?

 

Ron: I love a lot of different kinds of music. There’s a lot of great music that I hear but with the dilution thing, I can’t always put a name to the songs. When we drove up to the mountains we were listening to the radio, one of the dying number of hard rock stations and there was this band playing. Hellyeah, great band, I can’t remember the song!

 

Mark: Good band, we interviewed them a short while ago. Pretty heavy but it’s very good.

 

Ron: It’s different and I think that’s why I like it, it’s heavy but they sound great. I still crank up the heavy hard rock stations but bands like that stick out. Otherwise I have a wide variety I listen to from weird new age stuff to jazz guitar. But I also have pre-programmed stations that churn out Scorpions and AC/DC, Skynyrd, Van Halen, Zeppelin because every time I hear it, it takes me back.

 

Mark: The final question is an easy one. What is the meaning of life?

 

Ron: The meaning to life… I think is to grow and learn, and to try to become better than you were the previous day. It’s not only about yourself either, at this point in my life anyway, it’s also about taking care of the people you love, helping people, taking care of your family and enjoying every day and every moment.

 

Mark: Tans Ron, I knew you would have a great answer. To me chatting to you has been a great privilege I loved Babylon A.D. since I was at school so it was really great to catch up. Thank you again for your time.

 

Ron: That’s cool! I don’t have to go anywhere tomorrow so we could talk all night!

 

Mark: Keep us up to date with what you do with either Babylon A.D. or Syrym we’d love to let people know what you are up to.

 

Ron: I will! I saw you got my name up on the site. I knew when I saw it there that I was going to be getting a call.

 

Laughs

 

Mark: I put it up because I knew that nothing was going to stop me this time! Thanks for talking to the Rockpit Ron, have a good Labor Day.


Mark Rockpit

September 2010

 

Thanks: Many thanks to Ron for taking the time out of his day to speak with us and to Jeff from Syrym for putting me in touch. Jeffrey’s interview will be up shortly.

Ron’s links:

Syrym website: http://www.syrym.com/
To buy the Syrym CD go to: http://www.syrym.com/syrym-news.html