So, you like badass rock n roll bands, no frills, no bullshit? Well, I have the perfect band for you, Badass Band 76 is LA’s Black Belt KARATE.
I found BBK generally through social media, but it turned out that I knew of one of their members, guitarist Jason Mezilis via a previous Badass Band, Roman Candle Wars. When I interviewed RCW the guys could not say enough nice things about Jason. When I stumbled upon BBK I was stoked to see that he was a member of the band. BBK is a four piece comprised of lead vocalist Ryan Hanifl, bassist Harry Anthony Ostrem and drummer Ryan Brown. All of these guys are lifelong musicians. This is definitely apparent at their live show through not only their stage presence, but their ability to create an energy in the room that is insanely captivating. They really put on a true rock show.
Back when I met them in April they had just released their EP, “Volume 1”. It literally released on Itunes as we spoke that evening. Of the five songs on the EP, I would have to say standouts include “Servant”, “Push” and “Building Walls”. The one word that really sums up all of the instrumentals combined is heavy. Though each song offers different levels of ‘heaviness’ what you’re going to experience from BBK is deep, hard hitting rhythms, heavily distorted guitar, and crisp, smooth vocals that you can feel the emotion drip from. “Servant” is the perfectly balanced rock song, “Push” is the super distorted, angry track and “Building Walls” is a mellower, dreamier tune. These three tracks really showcase the versatility of BBK. As for lyrics, they’re well thought out but absolutely straight forward. Take “Building Walls” for example, “Spend your days just building walls, so you can hide in towers tall. Yeah. But someday all things turn to sand, hold this moment in your hand…” Listeners get the visual element of their metaphors but its not hidden behind all kinds of extra meaningless vocabulary, its to the point and is immediately relatable.
So, if you’re wondering why you can’t find any bands that play straight forward, solid rock n roll, you just haven’t been looking in the right places. BBK is your indie answer my friends.
Jason and Ryan were kind enough to hang with BBB for a while before a rehearsal one night, so read on to find out more about their ‘no frills rock n roll’, why its all about the drums, and why they don’t give their music away for free.
When and why did you start playing music?
Jason- I used to watch The Muppet Show when I was a kid, it was like a musical variety show. I remember we had a little black and white TV because I grew up in the 70’s. The only things I was allowed to watch were The Muppets and The Lawrence Welk show. I started piano after that.
Ryan- I was into rap music and then I got big into music when I was 19, kinda late. I started playing guitar.
What musicians do you admire?
Jason- Ryan admires me a lot. I am pretty fond of him. I like old Van Halen records. Which he will hate to see his name in print next to. Its okay, I hate all his favorite bands too.
Ryan- Aside from rap, my biggest influence as a kid was Elvis. I think that’s where maybe some of my musical interests started. When I was a little kid, my grandma was an Elvis nut and there were a lot of Elvis movies on whatever channel she watched. I remember being fascinated by that. I have listened to Elvis since then, I occasionally listen now, but its more nostalgic and creepy.
Jason- If you ask our bass player knows every obscure seventies musician you have never heard of. He completely worships Toto in a very serious way. Our drummer, Ryan, grew up on Rush and Frank Zappa records. He had two pillows when he was a kid that his mom embroidered for him, one said Rush and the other said Zappa. This week he recorded a song with Alex Lifeson from Rush, and within 48 hours got the gig drumming with Dweezil Zappa. He’s got his touring schedule for the next year.
Describe your show visually and musically for someone who has never been.
Jason- Well, we look good. We are still figuring it out, I dunno if we have played ten shows yet, we are really new.
Ryan- The thing is, there is a certain confidence in it because we have all been individually doing this for a long time. There’s definitely a sort of pro feel to it. It’s a great band whether you’re a fan of the music or not. You know, you’ll go out to see bands and you’re not there even to see such and such band, and they just blow you away. Now I just sound cocky.
Jason- Its okay, you’re the singer, you’re supposed to be.
Ryan- But I liken it to that. Its really just straight up rock n roll. There’s no frills. There isn’t really even a visual aspect. I think the only one visually that keeps anything going is our bass player, he is pretty charismatic. Jason doesn’t wear any shoes on stage, which is more a health hazard than anything. He’s got dirty feet.
Describe your creative process.
Jason- A lot of these songs Ryan and I put together before we found Harry and Ryan (drummer Ryan). By and large, we sort of demo stuff out and put it by those guys. They take it and make it come alive. We are starting to come up with more ideas now from jamming together. Inspirationally, for myself at least…the other day Ryan called me and we just wrote this really great song, it’s a set closer but its really long, like 10 minutes long. Its probably not gonna get played on the radio any time soon. But he called me and basically yelling at me like, “Dude we need a fucking catchy song that could play on the radio. Come up with something goddamn it!” So what I do is I think to myself, “If the radio came on right now, what would I want to hear and what would make me excited? Like, fuck this is cool, what’s this?” For me, more than sitting and playing with my instrument, its much less about that and more about there’s an energy coming through. At the end of the day you only have yourself to judge as a gauge of what is going to be good or not. So from a personal aspect, I like to create what I feel will be exciting. When I feel its 100% then I show it to these guys. Ryan is probably a lot more sort of melodically different than I am, he takes what I do and makes it sound different. Like somebody could come in and sing a very generic melody over these riffs I bring and it would work but it would not have that extra dimension. Ryan and I both share a very strong melodic sense, but he will typically try and find something that will grab you in a unique way. Our rhythm section, those guys are awesome. We throw them some challenging, progressive, whacky stuff and other people would bitch out and complain. These guys take it as a personal challenge to surmount this whacky shit.
Ryan- That’s the thing too, I think Jason and I both have an affinity for the late sixties/seventies drummers, like Ginger Baker and Keith Moon. Drummers that in a lot of ways, people would say today that they overplay. Its all about the drums. We encourage that, its exciting for us.
How did you all meet?
Ryan- I met Jason when I was 26/27 and I started singing so we have been making out ever since. We used to be in a band together called ‘Your Horrible Smile’ and it was similar to this, very much driven by Jason. We had that but then at the time we just butted heads too much, so we gave it a couple years off. Then we started making out again.
Jason- Yeah, we had a trial separation for about two and a half years.
Ryan- Then we started writing together again, we got together like once every six months. Then in January of last year we made a video even though we didn’t have a band year, we only had one song.
Jason- We had one song and we made a video for it, “Servant”. We got our buddy Keith to play drums in the video.
Ryan- But we recorded it with our friend, Paris Cronin, who is a great drummer, he just wasn’t interested in starting a band with us. So then we started looking for band mates.
Jason- The drummer, he used to play drums in a band called Owl, which is a band that I now play with when the singer isn’t on tour. The singer from that band plays bass for The Cult so he’s on tour a lot. When he is off we do some stuff. Ryan, our drummer, used to be the drummer in his band, Owl, and I became friends with him. Now it’s a weird thing that I am in the band and he is not. I’ve known him for over a decade.
Ryan- I had just met you about the same time. I wasn’t really friends with Ryan, still not. Just kidding, no seriously though, I don’t really like the guy.
Jason- Ryan is like the nicest human being ever, its ridiculous.
Ryan- He’s talking about the drummer.
Jason- Our bass player, well we had been auditioning guys. There were a couple nice guys and a couple horrible guys. The Craigslist audition thing here in LA is really just miss and miss.
Ryan- Long story short, we found Harry.
Jason- But we did not find him on Craigslist. I got sick of looking through Craigslist and so I asked a friend, a session guy, named Greg Coates. I knew he would know somebody. He said. “Well, I know this one guy Harry he’s kinda funny though.” It was like he was giving me this disclaimer. He’s a character.
Ryan- Harry was in this cover band that used to play every night at The Viper Room the last couple years called ‘The Lonely Drunks Club Band’. He knows like every big song that you’ve heard the last 30 years on the radio.
Jason- Yeah, they would play different covers every week.
Ryan- Harry has played with a lot of musicians in town. He is the youngest of the group but he is no different than all of us, he has been doing this for a long time and been in a lot of different bands. I think that’s what sets this band apart from your typical new band. We have been doing this for a while, in some ways we are veterans.
What can we expect from BBK the rest of this year?
Jason- More videos. We have to get some more videos done. The goal initially was to release every song as a single and have a video for each song. We got about halfway there, then figured we better put out an EP. I love making videos, its awesome, other than paying for it sucks. We have a great director, Tyler Jackson. He is one of those guys that you bring him an idea but he wants to elevate it like 5x more. Like, “Dude we can’t parachute in, what are you talking about?! No.” It would be cool for us to have a video for every song. Our bass player, Harry, has taken to writing comedy shorts for videos that we are going to put out. Its called ‘Black Belt Theatre Presents’. Imagine Masterpiece Theatre but with bad acting and two minutes long. We are really trying to approach this as many ways to keep entertaining and relevant. I don’t want this band to sit at that new band level. There will be some more singles. We do all our recording and production ourselves, so we are relatively in house. We are our own label and work with a distributor.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Jason- I would like people to have to buy music again, that would be cool.
Ryan- I don’t even think its specific to music but it’s the devaluation of artistic expression. There is no value in it, but there has never been any value in it, its just more apparent because more people are doing it now. Technology is great, and has accomplished great things for music. There are more avenues for independent music to get out there. I look at it as a positive thing. There is a lot more great music out there, but because there is more music out there it’s a lot harder for anyone who wants to seriously make a living as a musician.
Jason- By and large the music industry is a good place, you have a lot more control over your career but you have to work a thousand times harder to get it, which is fine if you’re not lazy. It’s exciting because it’s the most turmoil the industry has ever been in and its interesting to be at the center of it. One thing we have been very insistent upon as a band is that we don’t give our music away for free. Value is what you make it. If you give somebody something for free, how do they know its worth anything? I have a lot of friends in independent bands that are like, “Oh you have to give your music away for free.” Well, Muse doesn’t give their shit away for free. Then they say, “They’re a real band!” We’re a real band too. That’s the thing, this band can never be treated as less important than anything else anyone loves.
One song you never get tired of.
Ryan- I don’t know.
Jason- “Mean Street” by Van Halen, I don’t get tired of any Van Halen or The Police.
Best live show you’ve ever gone to.
Ryan- I just saw the best band I have ever seen in my life, I am not kidding about this. They were a Queen cover band, and played at the Canyon Club not too long ago. I’m not a huge Queen fan but this band was amazing and I have seen a lot of bands. I think they’re called Queen for a Day.
Jason- Oingo Boingo was consistently awesome. Probably the single best live show I ever saw was when Ozzy Osbourne toured for the No More Tears record, it was called No More Tours and they played smaller venues. I saw Ozzy at the Warfield with Zack Wylde, Randy Castillo on drums, Mike Inez on bass and there was this big Ozzy balloon out front. There was all this energy. That’s what it is always about for me. I always wanted to be on the other side of that equation. That show was just so fucking good. Ozzy was amazing, every player in the band was amazing.
Favorite things to do NOT musically related.
Ryan- Jason likes to cook.
Jason- Its funny, when you’re job is being an entertainer, and you’re going out and playing a show or rehearsing. I just like to be at home and watch a movie. I like gardening in my bathrobe.
Ryan- I just read a book I find interesting about the LA sewer system. I like architecture.
If you ran BBB, what is a band you would feature?
Jason- Sabrosa Purr, The Bixby Knolls
Ryan- Red Fang
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