Valhalla…the great hall where slain warriors dwell only if deemed worthy by the mighty Odin. Valhalla, an appropriately named venue with its Viking decor, is located in the college town of Muncie, Indiana, home of my alma mater Ball State University. Underneath the watchful eyes (or eye-sockets in this case) of skeletal warriors, I met with QBall and Zack of XFactor1. The great hall of Valhalla was a very appropriate place to meet with these warriors. Musical warriors to be exact. Battling to bring music back to the forefront of a music scene rife with the talentless hacks and others who have simply lost their way by putting aesthetics above the music. Fighting against those who have forgotten that music is supposed to be about emotion and attitude, not designer clothes and production trickery.
Beautifully straddling that fine line between hard rock and metal, Xfactor1 delivered a crushing set. Actually, I think they used that line more like a jump rope and those in attendance were enthralled by it. Standout songs for me were “Parasite” and their version of Rolling Stones classic “Paint It Black”. I have loved “Paint It Black” since I first heard it on the television show Tour of Duty so many years ago. Sorry Stones, from this point forward I will consider this XFactor1’s song. They truly gave it that edge it has been crying out for and owned it from start to finish.
Also on the bill were local bands Hell Came Home and Nukklhed. I really have to say something about the integrity of the guys of XFactor1. I was speaking with a member of Hell Came Home who told me that they had vehicle trouble while loading for the show. When they called the venue to let them know, the guys from XFactor1, who had arrived earlier, offered to go and help them to make sure they made the show. That my friends is a class act and something a lot of other bands would not have done.
Back to QBall and Zack, this is what went down when we met underneath those battle worn skeletons:
Tell us about the band.
QBall: We are from Columbus Ohio, we’ve been around since 2006. We have toured this area extensively, this is our first time in Muncie though. We just dropped a new CD called “Reboot The System” on Megaforce Records and are in a support tour for the single called “I Blame You”, which is an anti-suicide song that was influenced by a fan who lost his fiance. We are shooting a video for that next Friday and hoping to get it out by the holidays if the editing process goes quick enough. We’re basically what they call “America’s Blue Collar Band” and we’ve sold about 80,000 CD’s on our own before we were actually signed to a record label by following large scale tours all over the United States and meeting people in the parking lots, whether tailgating or partying, and getting that ten dollar bill off them for our CD. We’re out here to make relationships and friends with people to last a lifetime. We’re not worried about money, we’re not worried about glory, we’re not worried about fame. We’re more worried about our cry to arms, which is basically we’re here for the beer and the bitches.
Zack: The booze.
QBall: We’re the kind of guys who are very approachable. We feel music’s lost a lot of connection with the fans, which matters more than anything. That’s why we’re trying to bring back decadence in the form of some of the crazy stuff you used to see back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. That stuff’s pretty much extinct because of a world that is much too politically correct, the music scene is much too phony, and a generation that’s not willing to open up their mind to anything that doesn’t, in my opinion, involve entitlement. So we’re trying to let people know that it’s ok to let loose, it’s ok to get wild, and we stand for respecting people and accepting people the way they are but at the same time that goes both ways. We don’t pull punches, we’re not a band of pretense. We’re just a band that what you see is what you get, if you don’t like real then you’re not going to like us. And if you want somebody to kiss your ass and tell you what you want to hear then you might as well move on to the next band because that’s never been what we’re about. I think to some degree that has hurt us because we haven’t learned to play the game. Music should be about the music, the content and the material, not how good you look in make up and girl pants.
Zack: We take a grass roots approach at bridging that gap between the perception that we’re on another level from our fan base. We view all of our fans as strict peers and are very grateful and appreciative of everything that they bring to the table and are stoked that they allow us to do what we do and keep coming to our shows. We don’t so much build a fan base as we do friends.
QBall: This is an X Nation family for us, and that means a lot to us. If somebody is going to buy merchandise and someone is going to come to the shows, then they deserve that respect and gratitude for helping support our dream. So often, because we’ve toured and played with some of the biggest bands in the world, unfortunately what we see is the reverse of that. We see bands asking and actually getting five hundred bucks to get a picture and VIP shirt with somebody when it should be the other way around. Perception is everything in this business Brad, it really is, and unfortunately I do believe that because we haven’t walked around like our cocks are bigger than anyone else on the scene, I think that even the fan base, to some degree, hasn’t taken us as seriously as it would if I had walked around as more of a self important prick instead of saying “Hey, I’m Ricky, I’m glad to meet you” and we’re trying to change that. When music was great that’s what did happen. There were bands out on the corners handing out fliers. Now there’s a lot of these guys that are so anti-social and they’re so awkward and backwards when it comes to that ability to get with someone who wants to connect with them. A lot of times we do interviews, at times we’re obscene, we’re straightforward, and a lot of times people say that it’s refreshing breath of truth because people are so worried about political correctness, but you don’t start a goddamn revolution by kissing peoples asses and telling them what they want to hear. And that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to start a rock revolution and try to get rock music back to the forefront. We have a whole fucking United States of idiots listening to Nicki Minaj. I mean a whole fucking goddamn fucking country put this idiot that can barely spell her own fucking name at the top of the music charts and you have guys that have practiced their trade for years and are skilled musicians who can’t even feed their fucking families. You got someone getting ass implants and having fifteen producers work on her music and somehow that’s the top of the music heap, there’s something wrong with that. I’m all down with to each his own, but as far as I’m concerned those motherfuckers are the enemy of what I’m trying to do. That’s how I live my life, go do your thing, I’m not going to try to stop you but I’m sure not going to fucking encourage anyone I know to listen to that garbage. That’s what the song “Rise of the Rebellion” is about. Sheep who follow stuff just simply because someone told them it was cool. You got a voice of your own, you have a mind of your own and that’s what a lot of these kids need to be told. They get this shit shoved down their throat and think it’s cool to walk around with their hat sideways and their pants sagging and this fucking fad you’re going through right now, you’re going to feel like a fucking idiot when you look back at yourself a few years from now. After struggling this long there’s no sense in pulling punches about anything, it is the way it is. People love or hate us for it, they call us real, they call me honest. I’m the leader of this band, the voice of this band with my lyrics and most of the interviews I do. People are like, “whoa, I wasn’t ready for this”, well, then you want a lie and I’m not going to give you that. Sorry if I’m offending anybody about anything.
There’s not much that offends me. The suicide you talked about, you know, you are always hearing the negatives of metal, like when “Suicide Solution” was blamed for a fans suicide, but you never hear the positive. So, as an artist, how does it make you feel when a fan says that their fiance committed suicide and it was your music that got them through it?
QBall: Our music is about empowerment on all levels. Every CD we’ve ever done is about finding a way to rise above the things that happen to you, all the adversities that happen to you and to dig inside. For someone to get a hold of us and say it helped me get through a tough time by listening to some of your self reflecting lyrics, and that they liked the music, it’s huge for us. Again, I say this a lot, at this level it’s all you got. As a band we eat a lot of bologna, but that’s food for the soul to know you’ve touched somebody’s life. So it’s huge for us, it helps us keep going. It makes it worth it, because, quite frankly, everyone in this band loathes the music business because of how much pretense and phoniness there is that people don’t understand about the bands they worship. The bands you worship aren’t your friends when they charge you $50.00 for a T-shirt that they paid $4.99 for, they aren’t your friends when they charge you $200.00 to take a picture with them and then pat you on the back like a piece of cattle. I can charge fifteen bucks for a T-shirt, five for a CD and get down on my hands and knees and basically tell them how grateful I am they came to the show but they’ll cast me aside in five seconds if somebody famous walks by that they think they can get a picture with, for money, and that’s a sad situation. So to know you connect with someone who cares, as an artist, there’s nothing better. We’re hoping to film this video and we’re hoping to put it out for the holidays because it’s a generally depressing time for people and we’re hoping to form our own little rock intervention to let people know you can save somebody’s life by listening. That’s what this song is about. It’s about listening and accountability and if you do everything you can do, then you can’t do anymore. That’s basically what it’s about, a guy did everything he could do and it still happened. In the end he was angry at her enough to blame her, to put it on the other side because it’s a selfish situation to some degree too. Obviously people are ill, mentally, but it’s a selfish thing to do and leave people in pain. Both sides of the coin you can think about, you got to be there for somebody and they have to say “Hey, I can’t do this because of what I’ll leave in it’s wake.” That’s what this song is trying to wrap all up together so people realize it’s a full circle type situation. It’s not often talked about because suicide is such a painful thing, people kind of just sweep it under the rug and say it’s a shame so on, so forth. The best thing you can do is bring it to light and let people know they aren’t alone.
I’ve never been a big fan of cover songs, the first one I heard from you guys was “The Stroke”…
…and then off the new album “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and you guys absolutely knocked those out of the park.
QBall: Thank you, thank you…we took them very seriously.
You modernized them…
Zack: They’re re-imagined.
And they’re just as good as the classic versions.
QBall: Thank you.
So how do you guys choose what songs you are going to cover when you do those?
QBall: It varies. Awesome story about “Don’t You”. We used to sing that song on the way to gigs, you know, we’d get pissed at each other sometimes, we all got a million idiosyncrasies, he smokes (pointing to Zach), but he doesn’t smoke in the van anymore, thank God, because I don’t smoke. You got different things that he doesn’t like about me, but that one song before you get to the venue to let all that stuff go away, for was, was Simple Minds “Don’t You” because the song actually personifies the acceptance of people unconditionally from different walks of life. At least that’s the Breakfast Clubs version, which to me, is the way I think of that song, because that movie made that song so big. We used to sing that on our way there and everybody would be into it at the top of their lungs, but we never imagined it as a song that we’d sing for a cover. We always try to do one classic cover. We covered “Paint It Black”, we did that on our CD American Dream, and of course we did “The Stroke”…
“Paint It Black” is such a good song.
QBall: You haven’t heard ours? We did more of a metal version, when we were a little bit more on the metal side. So when we were getting ready to do this (Reboot The System), we were like what can we do that we can do well. That we can put our own stamp on it. And we talked about some other ones didn’t we? I think I wanted to do “Devil Inside” by INXS, which I thought would have been good for us, and Cody, our bassist, said no and complained enough that we said ok.
Zack: I wanted to do this one for a while and originally it was supposed to be much harder than it came out. This song didn’t really get put together until we were already in the studio where we started laying the tracks. We already had the core of it put together and up until we got to the studio it was intended to be harder than it came out. We started layering it and putting keyboards and stuff like that, harmonies, and it turned out a lot more “Land of Confusion” Disturbed, the way they imagined that Genesis song, more than it did more crunchy and hard than it had originally been planned. It came out the perfect way to accent this album in a marketable sense and also retain the style that we’ve maintained and progressed through the years. It turned out really well.
QBall: I think it maintained the original integrity of the song and we put our stamp on it and made it edgy enough to be considered modern rock. We took all the “la la la’s” and turned them into a guitar riff instead rather than, you know, we’re not a “la la la”, we’re not that kind of a band. Being able to say we’ll do that same harmony but with guitar gave it our own little stamp. I was really, really happy with how it came out and I can maybe see that being a single release for us. We’ve heard they are casting for Breakfast Club 2015, so we’d certainly like to be a part of that. That would be an awesome opportunity for us.
So what about influences? When I listen to this album sometimes I hear a little bit of Soil, and then somewhere else a little Five Finger Death Punch…
…all the way to Type O Negative, those Pete Steele style vocals.
QBall: A little bit of everything. What was really great about this CD was, it’s the first CD, we’ve dropped seven discs so far, this is the first CD where from the beginning to end the line up was the same. From the writing process all the way til that last goddamn note was played from the lead guitarist, was the same line up. That’s never happened for this band. Eight years since incarnation, it has never ever happened where the line up was the same from the time we said we are going to write a record, you know, wintertime, you’re underground, not a lot of touring going on, let’s write a record, that’s all we are going to do is write a record for three months. Then we went into the studio, cut a demo, listened to it for a while and then went back in six weeks later. It was the very first time we were able to maintain the same line up, and that for us was a frickin’ miracle. When you are at this level, you’re broke, you’re eating three junior bacon cheeseburgers a day is your per diem of food for the day, not every great musician that has a great ear, looks good, has great stage presence, is willing to get out here and take a chance on this, especially when you struggle for years. So to his credit, Zach is the newest member of the band, he’s been with us two years now, he had some soul searching to do. He had to say “I’m going to take a shot at it”, he hung in there with us, he knew it hard work was ahead, and because of that he was able to put his stamp and influence on every song. He actually even wrote the music to “All My Sins”, which was cool because generally in the past I’ve wrote seventy five percent of the music and the lyrics. This time it was much more of a cohesive effort with everybody. You could hear those influences and you’ll be like “those guys are all over the place” and that’s good because I think formulas suck. I understand people want to recognize Band A and Band B, I get that to some degree, but it’s hard to listen to a record from beginning to end anymore because it sounds like these guys move around a few chords on the progressions and maybe sing something a little different, but these guy are using the same kick drum sample, the same guitar sample as everybody, I call them the Theory of a Stone Sour Nickel. All these guys are putting this stuff together and the people have control over what is on the radio, you know the big boys, and I think it’s really tamed down, watered down the situation to where bands like Bobaflex, who we know pretty well, who have those very wide influences of Queen and people like that, those bands used to be celebrated. Now it’s like you better write me a record that sounds the same damn song from beginning to end or I don’t want anything to do with you. I think that’s a shame because it’s those colors that personify the emotion of the song in my opinion. That’s what we want to do. Again, you can’t start a revolution by playing shit safe. When I called everyone out on that first song “Rise of the Rebellion” my teenage son said “that’s fucking awesome”. I really believe the rock scene needs an enema. I really do. I think the people that need to be put on a pedestal are the people out in the crowd. That’s how we see things. If that makes us float away into obscurity then I will leave with my dignity intact. The sell out thing just isn’t going to happen. We’re not going to put on girl pants, or put on make up. We have a cohesive look on stage, we take what we do very seriously, but that does not mean I have to get my thirty something year old ass in something that don’t work for me, you know, it has to be real or it’s phony. Unfortunately, to some degree, a lot of fans out there will take phony over real, and it sucks. It’s very frustrating to know that my band is putting people on a pedestal when they are around us at the merch booth and when they walk away from another band’s merch booth where they paid twice as much for a shirt, twice as much for a CD, someone makes a crack about them being a fat ass or something like that. It bothers me to no end to know that that’s the real music business. My band, to some degree, has been ostracized for not playing the game, but I would rather die with who I am than live on my feet as someone phony. That’s the way I believe life should be. My band’s put out some pretty good records, we understand that they could be better with more money behind them and big name producers and so on so forth, but a lot of time it’s perception based. If somebody cool jumped out and said these guys are the greatest thing in the world, our stock would go through the roof overnight. Why? Because we’re going to play good tonight, you can’t go up there and hack, you have to be good.
You are now on Megaforce?
Has it just been for this album?
QBall: The last two.
Megaforce is legendary in the metal world. Do you think that being with them will allow you to continue to expand on further albums?
QBall: Sure. We have a really good relationship with those guys and the creative aspect of it. We got a real good deal because, as you know record deals aren’t what they used to be, there’s just not a lot of developmental money and stuff up front and we get to do a little bit more of what we want because we retained the rights to our music, that’s the only way we would sign, and because there wasn’t a lot of up front money we didn’t have to worry about them putting their hook in our mouth. So I’m not worried about those guys at all. They are behind us, they understand what we do.
Zack: Megaforce does a great job for us.
Any last words?
QBall: I would love for people to hit us up on Facebook and all the other social mediums. @XFactor1Official, hit us on Twitter. We’re coming to a club, pub or dive near you on this Rise of the Rebellion tour and we’re adding more dates in January. It means a lot to us to have people come out and show their appreciation for someone keeping it real and willing to struggle. Again, we’ve been doing this for eight years and we’ve tasted that verge of success, we’ve been on some of the Mayhem dates and Rock on the Range and we’ve been on tour with some well known bands that draw hundreds even thousands of people a night. We do our job, we just haven’t been able to break through. We would like to add some people to what we call X Nation and by giving us that “like” on Facebook and letting people know they care by buying the singles, or we have a store on our page where you can buy package deals and you can see how real we’re keeping it, you know, we’re giving people a CD and a signed poster and an armband and a shirt for $25.00 including shipping. So that sounds like a band that’s wanting more of your support than your money. That’s how we’re doing it. So I’m not too worried about what the rest of the music industry thinks of us because I know who they really are. It’s the fans that matter, they’re the ones who need to be put on a pedestal, and we’re the ones who are going to do it.
You know, when I looked you guys up on YouTube and watched some videos I knew I really wanted to come out and do this show. You didn’t sound like anyone else.
QBall: Thank you, that’s very important to us.
If you want to support a band that kicks ass with their music and still makes you feel more like family than just a fan and that you matter to them, this is your band. Be sure to check them out when you get time because the more you listen to them the more you will get hooked. The new album “Reboot the System” is incredibly strong and will resonate with fans of both hard rock and metal. I have been listening to it for about a week straight and discover something new in it’s depth each time through, definitely one of my favorites for 2014.