They have conquered their home state of Texas and have made a true name for themselves in the metalcore scene across America. Ballista spoke to Faultline to reavel how their musical minds have united to formulate the current vision of their music and how this resonates in their lastest and excellent EP C.O.T.C. The band are extensive people in every way and collaborate to truly bring their art to life and be a driving force in modern metalcore. Ballista are an excellent band in everyway. The members oepned up in this interview to show exactly why Bllista are a band you listening to in 2020.
River Elliott – Vocals
Jonathan Bary – Guitar
Reser Walker- Guitar
Robert Dominguez – Drums
Aaron Locklear – Bass
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BallistaCOTC/
Do you feel it is difficult for bands to grow these days due to such a huge amount of bands creating music? Or does the internet and D.I.Y attitudes open more doors for bands?
River: I think the over-saturation does make it a little more difficult to be noticed, but at the same time I think that pushes some people to try harder to stick out and create honest and original music. The D.I.Y. scene helps push this a lot because bands need to impress the people around them more, as opposed to on the internet where anyone can make music and put it out.
Jonathan: I feel like it’s more or less the same with the relevance of social media and how that can make or break a band, today you can communicate with connections via email or twitter etc. back in the day people had to SEE your band play or HEAR your demo, and there was no Spotify then.
Robert: I feel like DIY for sure has opened more doors for people. Cause it just people from everywhere networking and all making moves on our own. It’s just gotten to a point where people started to notice DIY bands out of curiosity, so I feel like that’s what’s helped us a lot, cause we do everything ourselves.
Aaron: I feel like in this day and age, starting a band has never been easier but never been harder. If you start a band to “get big,” then you have already failed. Bands that believe in their message and believe in the music they write will find always find an audience, and DIY crowds/venues have only amplified that.
Do you feel genres generally create boundaries in the modern age or does it allow bands to get too out of their depth early on and can it make targeting a demographic easier?
River: On one hand the boundaries that genres and subgenres create can make their respective demographics seem more exclusive to a certain sound, but on the other hand if a band is targeting those specific markets it can help them gain exposure to the people that are most likely to enjoy their music. At the end of the day though it always comes down to what the consumer wants to hear and what the band wants to make.
Jonathan: You can’t have music without genres, simply because if the music is what it is, it’s going to be thrown in with a genre, which is difficult for guys that play tech-death or porno grind, but certain sounds sell better and that’s just how it is, we try to find the best way to fit in with our genre and try and find ways to be the best collective we can possibly be.
What was a pivotal moment for the band? When was the moment the band become a true priority and energy and passion were injected even more into the music you guys were pushing?
River: For me, it was probably March of 2018. We played a weekend run in south Texas with Kublai Khan. I had been friends with Matt for a few years but we got to meet and spend some time with the rest of the band over those couple days. Kublai Khan are local legends in the Dallas scene and I had always looked up to them so getting to spend time with them and having them hype us up after our sets was really special to me. And then once Robert and Reser joined as permanent members after filling in for awhile it was go time.
Jonathan: When Robert started playing drums for us and reser started playing guitar.
Robert: I was a fill-in when I joined, so the music was already there. But when I got asked to help write stuff and record parts, I was really into it, and a little after that I joined full time and took it more seriously cause it was a fun environment with these guys and I love the vibes my boys give off.
What was the inspiration to form the band in the first place and how did everyone meet and share a creative vision?
River: I’ve always just written lyrics to vent about things I’m feeling, whether they get used in a song or not. A very close friend of mine opened up to me about her past experiences with sexual assault and rape and I just couldn’t shake the anger that it filled me with to hear about that so I wrote a song about it. At the time I was playing bass in UnityTX so I was just kind of sitting on them, but eventually, I just felt like I needed to DO something with them instead of reading them over and over again for no reason. I reached out to Jonathan to start the band and help me write the instrumentals and here we are. We’ve had a few lineup changes do to personal conflicts but the whole band stands beside people that have had to experience sexual violence as well as standing up to bigotry of any kind.
What records inspired you growing up and what albums of the past decade have been standout releases for you guys?
River: My biggest inspiration has always been Slipknot. From the in-your-face aggression sonically to the way Corey writes lyrics poetically while also relatable and completely honest. I wouldn’t be anywhere without discovering Slipknot as a kid. From the last decade some releases that are big to me that I always go back to are Incendiary’s “Cost of Living,” Letlive.’s “Fake History,” and Deafheaven’s “Sunbather” and “New Bermuda.”
Jonathan: Everything Metallica has ever put out for me, they did what they wanted how they wanted and that’s within the same vein of Ballista creative cache
Reser: A lot of different albums have inspired me but if I had to choose for Ballista I’d say Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes has been my biggest inspiration. Alice In Chains has been my favorite band for a while and they continue to inspire me whether it be Ballista or other projects. I don’t really listen to a lot of modern music so I can’t really say any album has really inspired me this past decade, it’s mostly music from the 80s and 90s. Sepultura’s Arise, Meshuggah’s Contradictions Collapse, and Linkin Park’s Meteora just to name a few. There is one modern album that I have to mention and was a huge inspiration for me a few years back and resurfaced when writing C.O.T.C. The album Strangers Only by My Ticket Home. The alternative metal sound they achieved always stood out to me and trying to mesh that with Machine Head I feel was what inspired our recent writing.
Robert: Records that made me wanna do music, in general, is EVERY UNDEROATH RECORD, The Poison by BFMV, and Count Your Blessings BMTH. But with older stuff, I think Anything by Iron Maiden, Die Young Tx, Slayer, Ratt, and ALL 80’s pop are my favorite to jam growing up and now.
What is your songwriting process like and how has this changed over time?
River: Originally the process was: I write the lyrics, Jonathan writes the instrumentals, we fit it together, then we teach it to everyone else. But since Robert and Reser joined the band we’ve had a much more collaborative process. Everyone tries to help each other flesh out their ideas and fine-tune parts of the songs until we’re all happy with them.
Jonathan: First it was just me writing riffs or taking riffs that river played on her guitar and just making songs, now it’s a way more collective process, which gets all of our personal flavors in the songs that we write
Reser: Our songwriting process at least to me is usually Jonathan comes to practice with a riff or even a whole song and me, him and Robert work on it until we feel it’s complete. Either adding to it, changing it, or whatever it takes. Sometimes we come with nothing and just play around till someone plays a cool riff. There’s really no solid writing process it’s just what we feel and what happens in the moment. But I gotta give a lot of credit to Jonathan because he’s the riff master. Sometimes I’ll get something out and I and him will work on it or build around it, but he’s mostly responsible for the songwriting. It’s changed a lot since I joined the Ballista Train. I’ve definitely had more input with this release and brought a lot more to songwriting and Ballista as a whole. Also, Robert deserves a lot of credit for what he does for the songs. His drum parts are some of the best I’ve ever heard and I could not imagine us having anyone else. He adds a lot to them and makes the guitars hit harder. Most of the time when writing we play the riff and whatever he does then and there is what we go with.
Robert: The writing process has always been kind of the same (since I joined). We just get together and start playing stuff until something sounds cool, and then we’ll go off of that. Which I love cause I feel like we always hash out the coolest shit like that.
How open is your lyrical content? Are the lyrics to your songs an element of your music you use to truly vent your emotions and how important is lyrical to you as listeners of music?
River: I write my lyrics as honestly and as personal as possible. Even if some of the specific words I use can come across as abstract, they always come from a place of real emotion to me. All of my favorite bands, while I like them instrumentally, also strike a chord with me emotionally because I feel a connection with the lyrics in some way, which is what I hope to accomplish with my own lyrics. I want to be as personal as possible but still, leave room for anyone hearing them that’s dealing with a similar situation to me to have that kind of resonance.
Jonathan: The lyrics are definitely a crucial part of our music, we wouldn’t be making music in this band if not for the content of the lyrics
What was the local scene when you started to go to shows in your youth? What venues and shows stand out as the fondest memories of a past time?
River: I knew very little about the local scene when I first started going. The first local show that I attended was a battle of the bands that Milad Parsa’s (Lost In Separation) old band was playing that he invited me to and I remember falling in love with the scene instantly. I remember being anti-social at first because everyone else at shows had been going longer than me so I just assumed they thought I was some loser. But over time I made plenty of friends and found my place. The majority of my close friends now I’ve gotten through the local scene and I really don’t know what I would be doing now or even if I would still be alive to be completely honest.
Robert: I knew nothing about the local scene when I started going to shows. But it was so cool whether I’d go alone or with someone. I loved the energy instantly! And my favorite venue would have to be The Door in Dallas. I went to my first show there, and since That day I made it a goal to play there eventually cause that was the spot for the whole scene! Eventually, I played a handful of shows there and had the best memories and made some of the coolest friends I still have today.
Aaron: We had some amazing local venues when I was growing up. I remember my first band playing our only show at a place called Eisenberg’s skatepark, which a few years later got demolished to build luxury apartments. It was a fucking bummer for sure, some of the most iconic shows that I remember to this day happened at that place. Other than that, I remember seeing Power Trip and Title Fight play at a pretty small club venue in Dallas called Club Dada, absolutely insane.
How do you measure success in the band?
River: Well there’s “success” in the sense that you’re being able to survive financially off of your music and your consistently, which is definitely somewhere I hope to get one day, but I think TRUE success just comes from making a connection with the people you play music in front of or listen to your songs and having a genuinely good time while doing it. We’ve played plenty of shows where only 6 people come out or the kids that don’t like our shit are all outside smoking but as long as someone in that room is vibing with us I consider it a success.
Jonathan: Success to me is two things; when people connect with what you’re trying to interpret in your songs, and obviously selling records and playing consistently on the road.
Aaron: If you are a band that believes in your music and message, you are successful no matter what. Once you ask yourself “will people like this” or “will people like that” while writing, you’ve failed big time.
If you could tour five countries with any two bands what would they be and why?
River: Slipknot, Gojira, and I’m adding Babymetal. I 100% unironically love Babymetal and getting to tour with them would be an amazing experience. I’d want to go to Japan, Germany, Canada, Australia, and anywhere in Africa.
Jonathan: ‘Tallica, slipknot, Gojira, Machine Head, Trivium would be my choice and we would play Anywhere but Texas.
Reser: Canada, Spain, UK, Japan, Brazil. The bands I’d wanna go with, Alice In Chains of course and I don’t know probably Smashing Pumpkins. We don’t fit with them at all but I just love them a lot and would love to see them every night. Also, those countries are beautiful and who wouldn’t wanna go there?
Robert: Virtue(Austin, Tx) cause they’re talented and so fun to tour with. Genuine people. Jesus Piece, cause they fucking rip. And If we ever could, Underoath cause that would be so insane being on a tour flyer with them.
Finally, tell us about your latest release “C.O.T.C”
River: The term “C.O.T.C” started as an inside joke in the band after we rediscovered the old WWF promo of Macho Man Randy Savage (RIP) calling himself the cream of the crop. Soon after that, we started calling ourselves the “cream of the crop” as well and it eventually just turned into part of the “culture” of our band. But eventually, at least for me, it became more than just a funny catchphrase and I started applying a different meaning to it. To me “C.O.T.C” is a mindset that revolves around simply being yourself. Do whatever YOU want to do and whatever makes YOU happy. Who cares what other people think of what you’re doing? Don’t let other peoples negativity bring you down because “fuck you, I’m doing myself and I’m putting my all into it.” At the end of the day, just be yourself as best as you can, and as violently as possible. That’s how I feel we function as a band, and how we approached the creation of this release.
Reser: C.O.T.C. is what we’ve been working on and wanting for a while. It’s the sound we’ve been wanting to do. It’s completely different from how it originally was going to sound and I couldn’t be happier with this direction. There are of course somethings I wish I did differently but I’m still very happy about what we did and how it came out. We experimented with a lot of things like tuning, amps, and ideas for what we wanted. We are the Cream Of The Crop.
Interview by Rob Kent