Kevin Byers has been part of the hardcore scene going back to the '90s. Beginning with xOutcastx in his native Ohio to his move to Florida to join as frontman of Morning Again, the guy has spent years dedicated to his love for this movement. A tattooist who is co-owner of Black Cloud Tattoo in Northridge, OH, Kevin is currently gearing up for some forthcoming live dates with Morning Again in 2019 in support of the group's recently released Survival Instinct EP.
I recently chatted with Kevin about his life, time in the hardcore community, and his current balancing act of tattooing, family, and Morning Again.
I always start these things off by getting some background on your upbringing.
I grew up in Newark, OH. It’s about 40 minutes from Columbus. It was a pretty small town. My parents were divorced and neither of them had much money. My mom worked a lot to try to and support us, so I ended up spending most of my time with my grandparents. They basically raised me.
In terms of the music you listened to as a kid, did you start off with heavy music, or did that come with time?
I was into rap before anything else. I got into break dancing and started a little dance crew with my friends called the Ultra Rock Crew [laughs]. We would break dance on the corners, at the swimming pool, at school and later at the teen club [laughs]. We were even dancing in the aisles of the theatre when we went to see Breakin' and Beat Street. Not long after that a few of us got into skateboarding and from there I found punk.
I would read the skate magazines and see ads for bands and search them out. I also had a friend in junior high that had an older brother who was really into punk, so he would bring tapes to school for me to listen to. Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, and Sex Pistols were the first bands that really got me into it all. As soon I heard those bands, I was hooked. After that, I dove head first into any punk band I could find.
What were some of the early shows you went to?
The first real show I saw was the Dead Milkmen with my friend's older sister, I was probably in the 8th grade. It was at the Newport Music Hall in Columbus. I ended up seeing so many rad bands because of her: Ramones, GBH, 7 Seconds, Broken Bones, and so many more. Most of the bigger shows I saw early on, were at the Newport.
Since you went on to become a tattoo artist, I imagine album art has always been something you paid extra attention to, even back when you were a teen.
Album artwork was everything back then. I would go to the record store and flip through the records and would sometimes pick something to buy based off of the front cover art. I’d take it home, put it on, read the lyrics, read the thank you section. I’d see what bands they thanked and then go see if I could find that band’s record at the store. That's how we heard about different bands before the internet. A lot of my first tattoos were my favorite band’s logos, so I definitely saw the connection early on. I drew a lot as a kid, but stopped after high school. Music and skateboarding took over my life. When I eventually got my apprenticeship to tattoo I basically had to reteach myself to properly draw again.
Last year I interviewed Damien Moyal, the original singer in Morning Again. This is what he had to say about his exit from the band: “It turned out that John had recruited Kevin [Byers] during our Dayton, OH show, and that while we continued touring, Kevin was making arrangements to move to Florida.” I wanted to get your take on how you came to be the singer of Morning Again.
Steve Looker and I were in a band called xOutcastx and we ended up playing our last show in Dayton, OH with Morning Again while they were on tour. Steve was leaving our band to play in Culture, so we were calling it quits. I ended up talking to John at the show for a while and he inquired about what I was planning on doing now that our band was done. I told him I was going to maybe start another band. He asked if I’d be interested in joining Morning Again. I thought he was asking me to play bass at first because that’s what I was doing in xOutcastx.
I didn't find out until a week later on the phone that he actually wanted me to sing. Of course I said yes. I loved their first EP and couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. I really didn’t even know John that well. I had only met him once or twice before that show ,but it didn’t stop me. I got a one way ticket, had 80 dollars cash and the rest of my life in a duffle bag and moved 1,500 miles away from everything I knew to see what would happen.
How did you develop your vocal style during that period? Did you have specific influences that helped shape your approach?
At the time I had no clue what I was doing, haha. John loved Iggy from Abnegation's voice, so I was trying my vocals in that sort of style with my take on it at first. I was constantly trying to find my sound, and really don't think I started to develop it until the end of the band in '98. I think the new 7” is the best representation of my vocal abilities
The first Morning Again record I remember hearing you on was the My Statement of Life in a Dying World EP. I listened to it again today and it still holds up.
We were just eager to keep releasing music. We were touring a lot at that point and wanted to constantly have new material. Those songs were just part of the natural progression of the band. We also felt we needed something very personal as far as the packaging was concerned. We teamed up with Sean from Immigrant Sun Records because we knew he would make that happen. He did a great job helping bring our vision to life to compliment those songs.
Were you guys exclusively playing on hardcore bills, or did you also do shows with straight-up metal bands?
South Florida had a very diverse scene when I moved there. You would have ska, emo, metal, hardcore bands all on the same bill. The kids all supported each other’s bands. It was definitely a cool time for music in South Florida. Overseas, it was mostly hardcore and the occasional actual metal band.
After releasing Martyr on Good Life Recordings in 1997, Morning Again signed on with Revelation Records the next year. How did the relationship with Revelation begin?
We were approached by someone who was doing A&R for Revelation at the time. We had many discussions and decided that was the best label going forward for the band. There were a handful of labels interested but Rev just felt right for us.
Revelation released As Tradition Dies Slowly in 1998. The first track on the album is “Stones,” and I think it might be my favorite Morning Again song.
When this song was written, we felt this was an important topic to discuss. There really wasn't much support or awareness at the time and it's something we as a band felt really strongly about. Our goal was never to alienate people. It was always to open discussion and awareness. That's what we wanted to do with this song and the response was very positive.
Did you ever blow your voice out on tour or in the studio?
I usually had no problems with my voice on tour. It wasn’t until I had a break in between playing shows that it would take a bit for me to find my sweet spot again. I had a bad experience in the studio during the As Tradition Dies Slowly recording, though. I was not feeling well and had a sore throat and could barely speak through most of it. Unfortunately, we were on a time and budget crunch and I did the best I could with what I had. You can definitely even hear my voice slowly burn out from the first to the last song on the record.
On Morning Again’s To Die a Bitter Death EP, you give special thanks to Immigrant Sun Records’ Sean Mallinson and say, “He is the only person in the world we ever dealt with that we feel has never taken advantage of us.” Is it safe to say that you had some bad dealings through your previous label agreements?
We definitely didn't have the best dealings with some of the labels we worked with to that point. I’d rather not drag anyone through the mud. Just wanted to highlight that Sean was always very honest and straight forward with us and we really appreciated working with him.
Why did Morning Again break up in 1999? Were you guys just burnt-out on each other, or did you all want to start new projects?
It was actually on our last Europe tour in 1998. I think the same thing happened to us that eventually happens to most bands on a streak. It just happened earlier for us. We were burnt out on touring and each other. It had been going pretty much nonstop since it started. We were starting a US tour to support the full-length and our van broke down on the way to the first show and we were so broke we couldn’t even finish it. I had recently moved home to take care of my newborn daughter, so I was now sort of disconnected from everything. John had started Eulogy and it was really taking off,. He also had just started Where Fear and Weapons Meet, so I’d imagine he was overwhelmed with his time, too. There were so many more factors in play, so its hard to pin it on just one, it just happened.
Did you move back to Ohio right after the band broke up?
I moved back to Ohio when my daughter was born. I would fly back and forth for tours and recordings. Shortly after moving back is when we disbanded.
You were briefly in a band called Dead Blue Sky, and you even sang on Reduced to a Whisper, their first release. I really like the two songs on that 7”.
I played bass and was an original member. I was only on the 7”, though. We only played a few shows together with that lineup before breaking up. Later they reformed with all new members. I still like that first 7”.
Tell me about the formation of your next band, Waking Kills the Dream.
We started Waking Kills the Dream in late 1999. It was a little bit after Dead Blue Sky had broken up. Initially, it was only Matt Tackett (Twelve Tribes) and I. When we started, we had no clue what the band would sound like. We just got together and started jamming riffs. Everyone had different musical backgrounds and that definitely came through in the music.
How much touring did Waking Kills the Dream end up doing, and what lead to the breakup?
We only did a few small weekend tours and a Euro tour. I enjoyed the band but it seemed like at the time we were not heavy enough for hardcore kids and too heavy for the pop punk/emo kids. Later, after we called it quits, that style of music really caught on. Go figure [laughs].
I love the new Morning Again EP, Survival Instinct. How did it come together and was it an easy or tough task to get everyone one the same page?
I think it started with Steve and John sending riffs back and forth to each other. We are geographically challenged now so the record was basically written over text and email. It was definitely a process for a while but once we got in the same room, everything came together and we were all surprisingly on the same page.
What’s the plan for Morning Again in terms of touring and/or playing one-offs?
I think the plan is to do as much as possible within our schedules. No touring but one off shows and festivals. So far in 2019, we are playing FYA Fest in Florida in January and Hellfest in France in June. Still working out the rest of the year.
When and how did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing in my early 20s with a shitty machine and a lot of very trusting/stupid friends [laughs]. I started, seriously, when I was 30. Pretty late in the game to start an apprenticeship, I suppose. I was pretty much done playing music at the time and was really tired of working in coffee shops. I was getting older and needed to do something I enjoyed that I could turn into a career and take care of my family. Luckily, tattooing has allowed me to give my kids a good life and has given me the freedom to do things in life that I love to do. I can still express myself through my art and travel and meet new people and see the world.
There are so many people from the hardcore world who tattoo. For example, Civ did all of my earlier tattoos. How often do you get customers who come in that find out about you through your musician work?
I have done a few Morning Again tattoos and have tattooed some people who were fans of the band. So, it happens on occasion but obviously not as much as it does for Civ [laughs]. Most people I tattoo don't know that side of me. When they find out about the old bands or hear me sing, they’re always shocked. They usually say something like “I can't believe that voice came out you.” I guess cause I’m usually quiet and laid back or just making jokes, so I get why they might be surprised.
We’re all familiar with some of the drawbacks of being in a hardcore band (losing your job to go on tour, bad shows, etc.), but what are some of the things about tattooing that drive you nuts?
About the only thing about tattooing I dislike is the inconsistency of business. I know some artists are consistently busy but I’m still making a name for myself, so I never really know what I’ll make week to week in some seasons. That's really my only complaint about it. Other than that, I love being able to take something from an idea to a sketch to a fully rendered tattoo. I love the process, I love the history of tattooing .I feel very lucky to have it in my life.
At one point, you had mentioned that you had been working on a new band called Veiled in Sorrow.
It’s indefinitely on the back burner [laughs[. The person who I wrote with for that is now concentrating on writing music for movies and full orchestra pieces.
Lastly, if you had to play one Morning Again song from the existing discography that best captures the band’s spirit to someone who has never heard you before, what would it be and why
If someone wants to hear the band I would usually play “Dictation of Beauty” or “Stones,: Musically, I think they are very powerful and lyrically I feel it covers important issues that still need to be addressed.