INTERVIEW: Eric Harris of Gygax

Combining a love of Thin Lizzy-style rock ‘n’ roll and an equally strong affection for role-playing games such as “Dungeons & Dragons,” Gygax (named for D&D creator Gary Gygax) is about as much pure fun as can be found in music today. But it’s not just about a gimmick. With a lineup featuring former and current members of Gypsyhawk, Skeletonwitch, Sorcerer, Huntress, Warbringer, Mantic Ritual, Pentagram and more, this is an act that is as serious about its music as it is about the gaming table. On March 16, the Ventura, California-based band, led by former Gypsyhawk vocalist/bassist Eric Harris, will unleash its second album, appropriately titled “2nd Edition,” following its 2016 debut, “Critical Hits,” via Creator-Destructor Records. On March 8, Gygax will hit the road for a short run of West Coast shows leading up to the record’s release. Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with Harris before the start of that adventure to discuss the new album and more.

LIVE METAL: I love the whole concept of this band, Gygax. I see the artwork and it takes me back to when I was a kid and playing D&D. I was wondering how it came about for you. When Gypsyhawk came to an end, did you know right away what you were going to do next?

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Eric Harris of Gygac

ERIC HARRIS: Not really. I had an idea. I know that when Gypsyhawk was on its last legs, we were doing a tour with Alestorm, and I had been writing songs that were, lyrically, based on fantasy, medieval stuff, which is something I’d always been interested in, even as a kid. And then, when we did that tour with Alestorm, I noticed how niche it was, that a lot of people responded to it. I was thinking this is something not a lot of people are gonna get, and I was kind of wrong about that. When that happened with Gypsyhawk on that Alestorm tour, I knew I wanted to do something like that.

I recall a conversation that I had with a friend of mine from Los Angeles named Martin De Pedro. We were out one day at lunch, and he was like, “Man, we should start a band called Gygax, like a heavy metal band and write about ‘Dungeons & Dragons.’” At the time, it was just a passing idea, and then something about it just stuck in my mind. I was like, “That’s a fucking brilliant idea. I want to try that.” So we just decided to do it. It just seemed like something that was fun. Music and games are a huge part of my interests, so I figured, why not? I can combine the two. Fuck it, let’s see what happens.

So are you a big gamer?

When I was growing up, I was really interested in “Dungeons & Dragons” and stuff like that, but that stuff was kind of restricted to me because of growing up in a dysfunctional, Christian kind of family. I always wanted to play D&D and stuff like that during that time, that whole craze about D&D being the devil’s spawn. That was kind of going on through the media, so my parents, naive that they are, decided that was a good idea to withhold that kind of game from me. On the playground, we’d make up RPGs of our own. So it was always a very important part of my life.

After you put Gygax together, you had a record deal pretty quickly. Did you expect things to take off that fast?

Not really, man. That was the cool thing about it. I knew that Ben (Murray) from Creator-Destructor would be down to put it out, because we’ve been friends for such a long time. He’s just been a solid, solid friend of mine, and I think that I’m really fortunate, the fact that he has his own label and is interested enough in my music to want to put it out.

So I knew that we could put it out, but I didn’t—I think that was the beauty of the first album, is that we all were just like it, “Fuck it.” We just threw our hands up in the air, and we were like, “We’re just going to play music, and we’re just gonna record this. That’s it. We don’t have any expectations at all.” I think that state of mind, somehow there was some sort of alchemy to it. It turned out way better than we thought, and we were really excited about what we did. So yeah, man, it was definitely an unexpected thing. We just wanted to play music that we liked.

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The new album, “2nd Edition,” comes out on March 16. Did you have any specific goals for this album, or was it to just kind of continue what you were just talking about?

I don’t think we have any big goals. I want to go to Europe to tour, but the complications of being able to tangibly do that—that’s a long way off. That’s really the only goal we have. I know that Bryant (Throckmorton), the guitar player—he’s been with me since Gypsyhawk—he and I were talking about what we wanted to do, and we kind of decided that we wanted to do the first three albums with this and kind of see where it goes. We’re just floating down the river.

On the first song on the album, “Dice Throwers & Rock ‘n’ Rollers,” you say, “Dice throwers and rock ‘n’ rollers, we need you more than ever now.” Why do you think we need them more than ever right now?

I don’t know. I guess because we decided to do more than we had initially decided to do with the band. It’s just more of a call to arms: If you’re into this, and you wanna party, come with us. We’re headed there.

Are you tied into the larger gaming community these days?

In town, there are gaming communities. I’m kind of a shut-in socially, so I don’t go out too much. I have a few friends in town where we live that we’ll play “Magic: The Gathering,” or we’ll play the tabletop D&D campaigns, like “Wrath of Ashardalon,” “Castle Ravenloft” and stuff like that. But as far as a bigger campaign group, between work and my personal life, I really haven’t been able to get into it. But I’ve been wanting to get back into it.

I was just wondering what kind of reaction your band has gotten from those kinds of people. Have you heard from anybody?

Yeah, there’s been a handful of experiences where we went out and somebody was like, “Hey, are you the guys from Gygax?” We’re like, “Yeah,” and they’re like, “Dude, I don’t ever listen to this kind of music, but I saw you play at a comic shop, and it was fucking awesome.” Things like that are very exciting.

That’s my goal, to kind of bridge the divide between what’s seemingly, cliched, quote-en-quote, “nerdy” and the rock ‘n’ roll scene, and bring them together. I know that there’s a lot of kids that might play those games. Growing up being into the RPG elements, that was always a very huge part of my life, and then when I heard music for the first time and started getting into it, that was also deeply as big a part of my life. So for me, it was like if we do this, we might have the capability to attract kids who don’t know about this stuff or don’t know that they might have an interest in rock ‘n’ roll.

Yeah, that’s definitely something that’s crossed my mind. It’s funny, because the initial idea was just a spark, and then we did the first album, and all the songs are a mix of different topics. We have a song from “Magic: The Gathering” about Liliana Vess and a song from a book series. I knew that I wanted to keep the fantasy RPG aspect wide open, but I didn’t want to necessarily pigeonhole ourselves just doing D&D. I don’t want to be synonymous with just that. I just more wanted to be a beacon for anything that you’re into. We’re not even limited to the medieval side of it. I’ve definitely thought about writing a sci-fi campaign album that’s based on one of the “Futurescape” kind of RPGs.

Musically, obviously when you listen to your songs, you can hear the strong Thin Lizzy influence. How big of an influence are they on you, and what are some of the other influences for this band?

Oh, man. Thin Lizzy is clearly a huge, huge influence on me. I remember the first time I heard them. One of my friends, Pete Kyrou, turned me on to them. It’s such a cliched thing, but it literally changed my whole outlook on what that was, and it made me lust after finding everything I could about the band. It carried me through a lot of my life. It was really important to me.

Bryant is a huge, huge Black Sabbath fan, and of course, I like Black Sabbath. So they’ve been an influence, as well. Then clearly, Deep Purple—I feel like this is all the standard stuff that influences us. But there are other bands that influence me currently. The Hellacopters is one. We’re real big into them. There’s a band called American Sharks that’s current. They’ve done some stuff that’s just made me want to get out and write and do things. So we’re all over the place. If we hear something that’s really good, and we haven’t heard it before, we’ll just look into it. It’s not really thought out, just kind of felt out.

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Coming up in March, you’ve got a week, week and a half West Coast tour. What can fans expect to see from Gygax on that?

Well, we’re going to be finally showcasing our new keyboardist, who was on the album but wasn’t really featured as a prominent member up until now. We just got him in. His name’s Ian Martin, and he plays a druid in the band. We played with him before, and it’s so much fun. We’re really excited to get that out there, because I think a lot of people are just expecting the four members, whereas now they’re gonna get the five members.

Actually, we’re headed to practice tomorrow to kind of start gearing up for everything, so I’m pretty sure ideas are gonna start flying around the room then. We definitely want to make it fun, and we want to include all the attendees in the show as much as possible—just make sure they have a fun time and it’s not just them seeing another band.

Any plans for more tour dates after that, maybe come out east?

No immediate plans, but of course, we want to tour as much as we can. It’s just we’ve reached an age where it’s like the feasible probability of us actually doing that and still maintaining our personal lives—it’s hard to juggle. So we’re just waiting for things to come along that we can take that aren’t such huge risks that would put us out, because we have a balance to maintain. But yeah, we absolutely want to come out to the East Coast, we want to go to Canada, we want to go everywhere. We want to tour a lot, but we’re just taking what we can get right now.

Well, I’m in Maryland—East Coast—so if you do come out this way, I’ll definitely be there. I think this band’s a whole lot of fun. I think that’s all the questions I have right now. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Just check out the new album when it drops. Now that Decibel is premiering “Pure Hearts,” and Nerdist still has “Lascivious Underdark” up if anybody wants to listen to it. If you see us at a show and want to hang out, just say hi and let’s talk.

LINKS:
www.facebook.com/GygaxGuild
www.gygaxguild.bandcamp.com
www.twitter.com/gygaxguild
www.instagram.com/gygaxguild
www.creator-destructor.com
www.facebook.com/creatordestructorrecords
www.twitter.com/CD_Records
www.creator-destructor.bandcamp.com

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