Babylon A.D. was one of the more underrated hard rock bands of the late 80s-early 90’s. Their first album was solid and hard-hitting, containing the hits Bang Go The Bells, Hammer Swings Down and Kid Goes Wild. They had the talent and potential to be as huge as contemporaries such as Poison and Warrant. Alas, given the whims of the music industry, it was not meant to be.
Since that time, there have been sporadic Babylon A.D. reunions. However, lead vocalist Derek Davis has also established himself as a solo artist in his own right. His latest release, Re-Volt, showcases not only his songwriting and singing, but also his skills as a talented multi-instrumentalist. On several songs on the album, Davis does everything–drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, and of course, vocals. He also has songwriting and playing help from Babylon A.D. band mates Danny De la Rosa, and Jamey and Eric Pacheco.
The one good thing about writing so many songs is that I got to pick and choose what I would want to listen to on an album
Davis says that there are both advantages and disadvantages to being a one-man-band, so to speak. One huge advantage is that you can record your songs exactly as your vision sees it, without having to rely on other musicians. Of course, this can work both ways–the burden of recording falls entirely on you. “That’s one of the reasons it takes so long to do. I was in the studio a hell of a lot of hours. Some of these songs I swear, I mixed ten different ways. I’ve got lots of variations of them. For example, the song Bad Man Cometh. I’ve got six or seven variations of that, and none of them have the rap version except for the very last one I did. That was kind of a fluke where my nephew, who’s a young kid about 18 years old, he’s a good rapper, and he’s getting a little following around the Bay Area. He showed me his rap to the song, and I thought it was pretty cool, so we laid it down, and I played it for a few people. Of course, there were hard-core rock n’ roll people who said ‘you can’t put a rap thing on a hard rock record’ and there was the opposite where people said ‘man, that is so cool putting the rap in there.’ So, I went with the rap version. Just to throw something different in there. Then there’s The Promise, and the acoustic, Spanish guitar stuff on Troubadour, that’s way out in left field too. The one good thing about writing so many songs is that I got to pick and choose what I would want to listen to on an album, instead of ‘ten rock songs and a ballad for MTV,’ the way we used to do it back in the old days. I was looking to expand and experiment.”
The Promise is a song with an interesting juxtaposition. The music is bright and airy, almost with a reggae or ska feel to it. Listen to the lyrics, however, and the tune is actually darker and much heavier. Without giving too much away, it’s about someone taking their last breath. Davis says it’s difficult for him to talk about without getting emotional. “I lost four people in my life in the last four years, and I had to say something. It was in me. I actually woke up one morning, I guess I was singing in my sleep, and I just ran to my studio and popped on my recorder. I do that a lot. My wife was like ‘what the hell are you doing, going into the studio at 5:30 in the morning?’ and I told her ‘I just wrote this song, check it out.’ And by the end of the day, it was done.”
Most of the other songs on the album will feel comfortable to fans of Babylon A.D. “I’ve been writing material for the last three years, and it just started coming together where it sounded like a Babylon kind of thing. I wrote four of the songs with Danny, and a couple with Eric. It took three years to write, and I probably had 25 songs to pick from, and when I wrote the song Re-Volt, along with American Jihad, I knew I had that revolutionary undercurrent of what’s going on in the world today. I just put it all together, sewed it up, and it sounds like what I’m doing right now. This is who I am.”
The final track on the Davis’ album is a reworking of Desperate, which was one of the classics on Babylon A.D.’s first record. “My thought at first was to re-record it, but release it as a Babylon A.D. song, like we did with Bang Go The Bells. [Note: Davis is referring to Bang Go The Bells, Redux 2010]. Make it the exact same song. Then, when I needed another song for my record, I decided to use Desperate. So I did that at the last second, but I’m still not sure if I should have done that or not, because I have so many other tunes that are good ballads.”
In addition to the advantages and disadvantages of recording yourself, being the head of your own record label also has its ups and downs. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Davis says. “When you’re doing everything yourself, you’re in control, and you do what you want, but it’s harder to get marketing and publicity, simply because you ARE doing everything yourself. I don’t have a lot of time. In the old days I just played music. I got up, played music, and went to sleep. I’ve got other responsibilities now. One thing I like is to just to be able to do whatever the hell I want, especially on the recording side. For example, Clive Davis [head of Arista Records when Babylon A.D. was signed to Arista] telling me ‘You must put Psychedelic Sex Reaction on this album, or else the record’s not going to come out.’ It’s like, I’m the Clive Davis now, so if someone doesn’t like the songs I choose, fuck it–too bad for them.”
To be a musician in charge of one’s own destiny…not too bad of a deal, all things considered.