Perseverance – that would be the word that best describes the band Byfist. Numerous problems that this band faced during their 30-year long career did not sway them in their mission – making good heavy metal. On September 25th, their debut “In the end” was released via Pure Steel Records. We talked with Nacho Vara, the guitarist of the band.
Byfist was formed way back in 1987. Could you tell us something about beginnings?
In the early to mid 80’s, Davey Lee and I were well known in the San Antonio Texas metal scene with our respective bands; Dave in Sabre Sabatazh and I was in Séance (S.A. TX – Not to be confused with the band Séance from Sweden – An). In around May or June of 87, I left Séance and joined Dave’s band. Soon after joining forces, the band name changed to Byfist. We released a single, “Love Will Find A Way / Hourglass” in August 1987, then the EP, “You Should Have Known” in April 1988, both recorded at Blue Cat Studios in San Antonio, Texas with Joe Trevino engineering. We recorded our last EP, “Adrenaline” in August 1989 at Silvercloud Studios in Burbank, California with Joe Floyd(Warrior) and Sean Kenise engineering. We also had a few of our songs on compilation albums to peek interest. Our first live show was in Nov ’87 and we received great reviews from the local press. In fact, after that one show we got our first big break to open up for the Michael Schenker Group in Jan ’88 which led the way for us to be able to open for many national touring acts that came through Texas such as Fates Warning, Reverend, Savatage, Trouble, Killer Dwarfs, Kings X, Man O War, Helstar, Frank Marino, Danzig, Powermad, Drive, and many more. We met David Wayne sometime in late 1988 or early 1989 through our manager, who was also a promoter and brought Metal Church to San Antonio a few years earlier. Long story short, our manager asked D.W. if he would like to come to San Antonio and hang out with Byfist. D.W. visited a few times and would hang out at our rehearsals and stay at Dave Lee’s home. D.W. invited us to his home in Los Angeles in order to record our Adrenaline EP in the summer of ’89. Around that same time Byfist was approached by MCA Records. After some negotiating we received a great recording contract. However, behind our back, our manager partnered with an attorney from L.A. and attempted to get even more money. Therefore, MCA revoked on the deal, thus ruining our chances with a major label.
What made you guys play metal music?
One of my older cousins would play 70’s hard rock albums at home and 8 track tapes when he drove us to school. That style of music just stuck with me. Dave Lee & I both liked hard rock/heavy metal so we got along great when we would get together to write new material. It’s just something that’s deeply imbedded in our souls!
Which bands and artists influenced you in those early days?
My influences were Black Sabbath, Budgie, Rush, Triumph, Judas Priest, Scorpions, UFO, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, BTO, Montrose, Kiss, Rainbow, Aerosmith, Riot, Ted Nugent, Saxon, Michael Schenker Group, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Accept, Thin Lizzy, ZZ Top, Queen, Def Leppard, Nazareth, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Styx, Legs Diamond and believe it or not, Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
In the period between 1987-1991. you released demos/EPs. What kind of reception were they get from the fans and the underground press?
We received rave reviews from the underground press at that time and our local fan base kept growing really well.
How often did you play live shows in that time?
We would play as often as we could back then. I remember Dave Lee telling me that he didn’t care where we played, whether it was in backyards, graduations, weddings, bar mitzvahs, seedy bars, small clubs, big clubs, theaters, high schools, colleges, flea markets, parks, outdoor drive in theaters, on a flatbed trailer, etc…”Let’s just go out and play so we can be seen and heard”!
In 1991 you decided to stop all activities with the band. What was the reason for that decision?
The band found itself beginning to disintegrate and because of poor management and bad decisions, we broke up with many unfulfilled dreams and broken promises.
What do you think of the metal scene today and the metal scene in the time when you started the band?
When we first started out in the 80’s, the crowds at local venues (bars or arena shows) were more our age at that time, which were teens and 20 somethings. From what I see, I feel 80’s metal is more universal today than ever before. The crowds now consist of kids as young as 10 wearing Iron Maiden, Judas Priest (etc) t-shirts, to adults in their 60’s rocking out! Remember, these 60-ish crowds were the 20 somethings from the 80’s!
In 2000 you decided to start over again? Who got to this idea? What was the motivation for your comeback?
Sometime in 2000, Dave Lee and his wife came over and asked if I’d like to get Byfist back together to record a full length album and a live recording, which we never got to do the first time around. I told him it would be cool if we could get the same lineup we had in 1991. We got a hold of everyone and they were all available and anxious to get back together. We also added a third guitarist to fill my place for live shows just in case I couldn’t make it since I was in another band called Igniter for the past couple of years at the time, but that band ended shortly after Byfist reunited. So we stayed with three guitarists up until a little after Dave Lee and I joined Reverend.
Could you tell us what was happening after your reunion? What was the reason for waiting too long for your debut?
We played a lot of gigs up until Dave and I joined Reverend in 2002, thus slowing down Byfist. The last time we saw D.W., he asked that
if anything happened to him, to keep his music and memory alive and keep Reverend going. When D.W. passed away in 2005, we honored his wish and continued as Reverend, with occasional Byfist shows. In 2008 Byfist signed a deal with American Indy label Metal Ages Records to release a compilation CD of all our previous recordings but Metal Ages went under and passed the deal on to Rock It Up Records in Germany to manufacture and distribute. We continued with both Reverend and Byfist up until Dave Lee’s untimely death in Oct. 2010.
A little more history: as early as 2009, our former vocalist Vikk Real did a show with us which started conversations of his rejoining Byfist with his wife Jeska’s encouragement. We knew her for years and she was a really great friend. Conversations increased in mid 2010 and we were making plans to welcome him back into the band when tragically, Jeska passed away from a motorcycle accident. To honor her wish, Vikk did rejoin Byfist and we did a few benefit shows for Jeska. Then, a little over 2 months later, Dave suddenly passed away. This was tragic and very heartbreaking for us. After Dave passed away, Vikk and I enlisted help from several friends to honor upcoming shows and did a couple more benefit shows for Jeska and the Lee Family. Vikk and I leaned on each other for a few months, and finally decided to start writing again. In late June 2011 we had a show in Houston, Texas, which would be my last with Vikk for just a week later, sadly, almost a year after Jeska’s death, we got the heartbreaking news that Vikk was also in a tragic accident and passed away. After losing so many people I loved, I took some time to grieve and reflect on things. In October 2012, I decided to form Byfist again to honor Dave, Vikk, Jeska and David Wayne. So with help from a previous drummer and bassist and new lead guitarist Ernie B., things started looking up. Vocalist Raul “Diablo” Garcia joined in March 2013, bassist, Stony Grantham in January 2016, and then drummer, Scott Palmer in August 2016. Byfist was a complete band again and in between rehearsing and playing gigs we recorded the songs for the album. In the summer of 2017, we met Bob Mitchell when we opened for Savior from Anger in Houston, Texas. At that time, Bob was their vocalist and also the U.S. rep for Pure Steel. We gave him a demo to listen to, and shortly after that, we were in negotiations with Pure Steel Records. Now you can understand why it took so long to record our first full length album, but we are extremely pleased with it. These guys in the band are great, and I feel that if Dave, Vikk, Jeska, and David Wayne could speak to us, they’d be proud and honored to call them family.
Your first full length album “In the end” will be released on September 25th via Pure Steel Records. Tell us please details about the songs, lyrics, cover, recordings etc. By whom were the music and the lyrics written? What are all the lyrics about?
The cover and artwork in CD booklet is by Augusto Peixoto.
Universal Metal – Music & Lyrics – Nacho Vara
This describes how heavy metal music brings people from all over the world and from all walks of life together. Attending concerts with fists and metal horns in the air, united as they listen and watch their favorite bands perform, getting possessed by the driving rhythms.
In the End – Music – Dave Lee, Nacho Vara / Lyrics – Nacho Vara
This is about a Conman who puts on a front. He’s a great friend to all with his wit and charm, but all along is planning to steal from you. He truly is the scum of the earth, gaining your trust, then boom! He has stolen your valuables and flees without a trace, like a thief in the night! But Karma’s a bitch!
Unconscious Suicide – Music & Lyrics – Nacho Vara
Blinded by alcoholism, this person drinks to the point of losing control of his mind, blacking out and not caring for his life anymore. His body seizes and is dying. Without intervention, death from his drinking will surely take him to his grave.
Guaranteed Death – Music & Lyrics – Nacho Vara
There’s no guarantee what you’ll be dealt in life, regardless if you live by the golden rule and treat others well or if you’re evil and treat others badly, but the only thing that is certain is that we’re all guaranteed death!
With This Needle I Thee Wed – Music – Dave Lee, Nacho Vara
Lyrics – David Wayne, Nacho Vara
A person who was once respected is seduced and delves into the dark world of intravenous drugs. Soon it’s all he thinks about. The needle is his only love. With arms full of tracks and scars, he’s writhing in pain and needs another fix. The needle will never divorce him and he remembers the vow he took years earlier as the needle ingresses into him for the first time, “As I sit here on the side of my bed, with this needle I thee wed”.
Ship of Illusion –Music – Dave Lee, Nacho Vara
Lyrics – Raul Garcia, Nacho Vara
A man falls in love with a woman, but unbeknownst to him, she is a sociopath who pulls him deep into her spell of believing he is the only one she could ever love. Then all of a sudden, for no reason she tells him to stay away from her. This maelstrom continues for quite some time, but then he finally sees that it was all an illusion. She has fooled him like many others before, but he now realizes she was so full of lies and deceit, so he lets her go, forever.
Epitaph – Music – Dave Lee, Nacho Vara / Lyrics – Nacho Vara
We’ve all gone to funerals, and cemeteries are full of tombstones that have all sorts of inscriptions on them. Will you write your own Epitaph or will someone else write one for you? What will it say?
Did you re-record some old songs or are only brand new ones on the album?
The song Guaranteed Death is the only one that has been rerecorded. It was released on the Preserving the Past compilation CD as a bonus track. I wanted to record it again because it wasn’t supposed to be on that CD as I was still working on the ending for the song.
You are coming from the city of San Antonio which is considered the capital of heavy metal in the United States. Could you tell us about the current position of metal in your city and in Texas?
Our heyday was definitely in the 80’s, so it’s not like it used to be. However in the past couple of years a couple of museums held events to celebrate our heavy metal history by honoring those who were instrumental in putting San Antonio on the map. For the months of March & April 2018, South Texas Museum Of Popular Culture (Texpop), displayed memorabilia from local DJ’s, promoters, and international bands such as Rush, Triumph, Judas Priest, just to name a few, as well as regional metal bands hailing from the greater San Antonio, Austin and Houston areas such as Helstar, Watchtower, S.A. Slayer, Juggernaut, Byfist, Syrus, Militia, Wyzard, Séance (S.A. TX, also my band) and many more. They even had photos from an L.A. Slayer vs S.A. Slayer concert in the mix. Musicians, Jason McMaster, (Dangerous Toys, Ignitor, Evil United, Broken Teeth, Watchtower) Bobby Jarzombek, (Fates Warning, Halford, Riot, Sebastian Bach, Spastic Ink, Juggernaut), James Rivera, (Helstar, Shadowkeep) and other local musicians and bands performed.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures also had a couple of events. The first was in October 2018 where a panel of local DJ’s, promoters and music scene personalities recounted San Antonio’s place in the heavy metal landscape between the late ‘70’s and early 90’s.
At the second event in June 2019, both museums (mentioned above) worked together to display memorabilia from local heavy metal bands from that same era. Questions were answered by a panel of musicians, which included Bobby Jarzombek, Don Van Stavern (Riot V, Pit Bull Daycare, S.A. Slayer), Larry Barragan (Helstar, Santa Oscuridad), Buster Grant (Wyzard), Al Berlanga (Syrus), and myself (Byfist, Reverend, David Wayne’s Metal Church, Séance (SA TX)). Robb Chavez of Robb’s Metal Works hosted the event and was instrumental in putting this together. Byfist had the privilege of being the first heavy metal band to perform in this museum since its inception at the 1968 World’s Fair in San Antonio. We played a couple of Byfist songs, and along with special guests James Rivera, Larry Barragan, Bobby Jarzombek, and Don Van Stavern, Byfist performed one song from each of their respective bands of that era.
The same night, local club Fitzgeralds Bar & Live Music Venue hosted a release party for the book “A View from The Pit”, written by Juan Herrera, which is a history of bands from the south central Texas region of the same era. The club also hosted a concert where metal bands Byfist, Séance (S.A. TX), Syrus, and many others performed.
All these events I mentioned had an incredible turn out, and it was nice to share many stories and reminisce about the good old days.
So, though the Heavy Metal scene may not be as prominent as its heyday, I do believe that Heavy Metal is still alive and well in San Antonio, Texas. I am honored and humbled that my band mates and I from both Byfist and Séance (S.A. TX), were included in this book and invited to participate at both museum events.
Next question is difficult due to all this corona thing. What are your future plans?
We are going to start rehearsing soon to begin recording the next album and to be ready to go out and play live again! We’d love to go to Europe and play some Festivals, South America, Japan, U.S.A., Canada, Australia, or anywhere we are invited!
Nacho, thank you a lot for your time! I wish you all the best! Hope to see you live some time.
Byfist hopes to see you soon! The pleasure was all mine and I thank you for the privilege of your time to get your questions together and for the release of this interview.