XS ROCK: Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows or announcements?
Byron: We just released our debut EP Black Sky in October on Bandcamp and played a great EP release show in our hometown Columbia, SC, great crowd and fantastic response. This month we played a fun Halloween show with Appalachian Death Trap and played live on the local college radio show The Columbia Beet. In December we’ll start shopping for a label to put out the full record.
XS ROCK: How long has the band been together?
Byron: The band formed in 2018 with Gina Ercolini on drums, Kevin Jennings on bass and vocals, and myself on guitar and vocals. We started out wanting to crossover doom metal and stoner rock with more of a sludgy sound. As we started to write songs they came out with bits and pieces of all of these but were distinctly metal, combining a 90s-00s songwriting vibe with a much heavier attitude.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for starting or being in a band?
Byron: The three of us started a Motorhead cover band not long after Lemmy died, mostly for fun and as a tribute to Lemmy and his songs. We had a blast playing a few shows and enjoyed playing together, so we decided we should do our own project and started MNRVA.
XS ROCK: What is your music background?
Byron: I started playing guitar at 15. Studied privately and some in college. But I started playing in bands almost right away and just kept going. Mostly I went to the DIY school of metal. Lots of old school playing influences from jazz and prog to thrash and doom. I listen to a ton of other stuff including electronica and experimental sound art, but the metal background is what filters into MNRVA.
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys?
Byron: Our overall vibe or mood is pretty downtrodden. Some songs convey intensity, while other songs are more somber and droning. Some parts are catchy or hooky, and most of our songs rhythmically work with a mid-tempo swing. Each of these things grabs listeners’ attention in different ways and we try to balance those out and play them off of one another.
XS ROCK: What are your immediate music career goals? (Next 1 to 3 years.)
Byron: Short term we’re just interested in finding a label to put the record out and then start playing more shows. I would love to get in on some festivals, especially some Doom Fests—Hammer of Doom, Maryland Doom Fest. The latest Muddy Roots Music Festival lineup is pretty amazing.
XS ROCK: What are your long-term career goals?
Byron: LOL, let’s see if we’re all still here 3 years + from now.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
Byron: Playing live is fun, and recording is stressful, but writing music is what gives me the most satisfaction. It appeals to my obsessive nature. I really like fitting riffs together, arranging song structures, creating little hooks and choruses, and coming up with little melodic guitar parts.
XS ROCK: What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
Byron: Kevin and I both write lyrics and share vocal duties, but he’s been doing more of the lyrics lately. He’s definitely working more of stoner rock, psychedelic, horror vibe. His songs are really narrative-driven. They always tell a story but not necessarily very directly or literally. They play on ambiguity. My lyrics are generally a little more direct and misanthropic.
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road? If so, please fill us in.
Byron: Nothing outrageous. Most bands these days are down to business and focused on playing shows and getting to the next stop.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
Byron: Nothing strange. An autograph or a pic. Maybe Kevin and Gina have some stories they aren’t telling me about.
XS ROCK: Were your parents supportive of your aspirations to play in a rock band?
Byron: Ya, in their own way. They tended to let me run with whatever I was interested in at any given time. Probably because they figured there was no stopping me anyway, but I appreciated the freedom. My dad got me the first real guitar that I still have and play. After that, I was off and running.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
Byron: On Not the One Kevin and I trade off vocal lines in the verses and it works super well live. The song also has a heavy groove on the ending chorus where we trade-off as well. It’s fun to play and always goes over well. No Solution is full-on sludge metal. I always blow my voice out on that one which is fun. Lately, we’ve been saving that one for last.
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
Byron: When we started we wanted to do something sludgy and mid-slow tempo, so we started out with a few covers of Melvins, Witchthroat Serpent, and Bereft (WI) and then jumped right into working on our own songs. So these three bands directly shaped our sound. Older doom acts like Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus influenced me a lot, and I really dig Chelsea Wolfe’s album Hiss Spun, which is great sonically and also has some nice songwriting. I listen to a lot of Mastodon as well and their vocal approach really influences the way Kevin and I share vocal duties and play off of each other, which gives us a wider range of vocal textures to work into the songs.
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
Byron: In terms of bigger bands, playing a tour with Electric Wizard and Monolord would be great. As for more underground bands, a tour with Hot Ram and Void King would be pretty fun. I love both of those bands.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Byron: We got up and running fast. Started in summer 2018, wrote a full set of songs, and then recorded in the spring of 2019. That’s pretty quick. We worked really hard and pulled it off.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
Byron: If I weren’t playing music I’d love to have a music-related business—live venue, record label, or booking-promotions. I’ve thought about doing some of those things many times over the years. Maybe someday. I do occasionally set up and promote shows in Columbia, but that’s not a regular money-making venture.
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
Byron: I play two Gibson L6s, one a ’71 and the other a ’79. I also use a ’79 Marshall 50watt. Together with just about any fuzz pedal you can get a solid sound for the type of music we do. Pedal-wise I use an MXR Super Badass Variac Fuzz on the ’79 and a Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Overdrive for the ’71. The one is a little fuzzier, the other a little more punchy. I like keeping sounds pretty straight ahead. Nothing too complicated. I just bought an ESP LTD Les Paul-style sunburst. Looking forward to seeing how that works in.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
Byron: We live in Columbia, SC, which is the state capital. There is a really good local scene here in the city. It’s a network of smaller genre-specific scenes across 4-5 venues and we tend to stay connected to those both in terms of playing and attending shows. Each scene is tightknit and overall make Columbia and a nice place to play music. It’s easy to get out and get involved in the scene. Our regional scene around the Southeastern part of the US is great. Most tours come through the region either in major cities like Atlanta, GA, and Charlotte, NC, or smaller cities like Charleston, SC, and Asheville, NC. As far as the global metal scene, I think it has had a pretty recognizable resurgence. There are tons of bands around in every genre and sub-genre. This is nothing but a good thing.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
Byron: Gina and I are both professors. Our professor’s friends are surprised we play metal. Our metal friends are surprised we’re professors.
XS ROCK: If someone had never heard you before, how would you describe your sound?
Byron: Lately, I’ve been characterizing what we do as “doom fuzz.” We are a bit darker than a lot of stoner rock bands even though we are definitely influenced by that stuff. Some of our songs swerve really close to sludge metal, but I can’t say that all of our songs do. “Doom fuzz” kind of cuts down the middle of stoner, doom, and sludge and gets close to our overall sound. We don’t edit ourselves too much when we write. We tend to write songs as they come, so we’re letting our sound evolve naturally.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
Byron: Thanks for the interview. Definitely pop over to Bandcamp to check out the EP and throw us a like on Facebook. Hopefully, we’ll have a full record soon for folks to check out in 2020.