Hungarians in the world: Byron Nemeth
I like discovering tiny, underground, mostly demo acts from the 80’s. This was the case with this interview: as I started gathering informations about Chicago based Mayhem, at the same time I tumbled on other Mayhems as well. One of them were the Cleveland based outfit and one of the members, to my biggest surprise, is Hungarian. Anything else was told by Byron Nemeth.
Byron, before we cover your musical career, please, tell a little bit about yourself and about your family roots to our readers! How and when did your parents get to know each other? What made your father leaving Hungary? Was his goal to move to Cleveland or did it happen at a venture? Were you already born in the States? Do you come from a big family? What sort of kid were you growing up?
The family story of my parents is truly a wonderful story! My father (Paul Nemeth) was part of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters that had to leave Hungary when the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956. When he left Hungary in ‘56 he ended up landing in Cleveland, Ohio as part of a relocation process put in place by the United States. Why Cleveland was chosen the city for Freedom Fighters to come to I am not sure but that’s where he landed. Once in Cleveland he learns English, restarts his education, finishes college and becomes an engineer. During this whole process he always stayed a huge fan of football (soccer as it’s called in the USA) and during these years he went with his friends to a World Cup Game in Mexico (Mexico City) as a soccer fan.
During this visit to the World Cup Game in Mexico he met my mother (Maria Nemeth) purely by chance. She was there also as fan and had come up from Quito, Ecuador (South America) with her friends to see this same World Cup Game, too. So father gets to know my mom at this World Cup Game, falls madly in love with her and after the game is over follows her back down to Quito. Once both of them were back in Quito that’s when I happened and was when I was born in Quito. At about 10 years old is when my father brought the whole family to the USA so we all moved to Cleveland and that’s how I ended up in Cleveland. 🙂 I am the only child, no brother and no sisters, a have a few cousins in Miami, Florida.
Do you still remember, how and when did you discover Hard Rock/Heavy Metal?
My parents introduced me to Elvis Presley and The Beatles, from that point forward I discovered everyone else like KISS, Van Halen, Ozzy and all of the early greats of Heavy Metal.
What were your impressions about it? What did you find so exciting in this music?
Knowing that I could play guitar to it and that it would be my lifelong career!!!
Did you prefer well known, popular, established acts or were you rather into the underground stuffs? At which point did you start turning into the underground, by the way?
I have always listened to every level of music, very aware of the underground and everything that is popular, I have always listed to everything and still do thru today.
How did you end up becoming musician? Did your choice fall right away on the guitars?
Immediately. I have been playing guitar for a lifetime, I stared playing guitar when I was 5 years old. At first just playing just for fun as a young child and when I turned 16 it became serious technical study that is still in place today with guitar as a lifelong passion.
What were your influences as a whole?
Guitar wise Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Jimmy Page and then Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Michael Schenker plus many others.
Were you self taught or did you regularly take lessons? Were you a diligent type of dude to learn playing on guitars?
I had 3 great guitar teachers in college and still to this day practice hours a day.
Do you play other instruments as well?
I play piano, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar and mandolin. I am also an engineer and producer in Pro Tools and Logic. I also produce music for other artists in the studio and advise on music business ideas and ways to move them forward.
When and how did you start entrenching yourself in Cleveland’s metal scene?
I started Sacred Heart and released The Vision cassette EP.
Were Breaker, Purgatory, Mistreater, Destructor, Black Death, Cerberus, Jagged Edge, Sacred Few, Shok Paris, Sorcerer etc. the first bands that managed to put the city on the map of Heavy Metal?
This is exactly correct.
Would you say that Bill Peters (Auburn Records) played also an important role shaping up the Cleveland’s scene? Did the Cleveland Metal compilation help a lot those bands that were featured on it?
Bill is the guy that made it all happen for the original metal bands in Cleveland in the 80’s.
Was the early Cleveland metal scene a traditional Heavy Metal one?
Generally speaking yes, but there were many bands that played many great styles of metal.
Were all of the bands different from each other and just sounded completely different from each other? Did everybody just have their own unique sound?
Everyone sounded unique, unbelievably great music scene in Cleveland in the 80’s.
Was it a kind of camaraderie among the bands back then?
All the bands got along great and helped each other.
How about the club scene? What were the venues that started supporting the metal scene?
Big 3 places were: Pop Shop, Cleveland Agora and Phantasy Night Club & Theater.
Do you think that Cleveland has a long history of ambitious local metal bands since the 70’s?
Yes, most defiantly started in the 70’s with very early bands like the James Gang (with Joe Walsh) that we’re more Hard Rock, remember these 70’s bands where a generation before us metal bands in the 80’s. There were a lot of great early Hard Rock bands in the 70’s that paved the way for the younger metal bands of the 80’s but I would label the 70’s era more “Hard Rock” or even just “Rock ’n Roll”, the real Metal Band sound was in the 80’s era for sure.
Did Destructor’s rougher edge reflect the resolutely working-class vibe of Cleveland and Ohio in general?
I think all the metal bands reflected the working class vibe in Cleveland.
Did in the wake of metal’s commercial and creative peak in the 1980’s Cleveland become one of the epicenters of the musical movement or did the city have a very tiny local metal scene at that time, a pretty fertile one?
In the Mid-West Cleveland was the epicenter for sure for metal. Only thing that could rival it would be the Los Angeles metal scene happening at that same time in the 80’s.
How about hardcore/punk? Were you familiar with Dead Boys, that were among the first wave of punk bands and were known as one of the rowdiest and most violent punk groups of the era?
Yes, very familiar with the Dead Boys. I was not a big fan of the punk scene, but I was very aware of what they were doing. Remember the Dead Boys were really a 70’s area band.
From what I know, you appeared in the ranks of Mayhem, that was formed in 1983 and is notable for being the first band of you and singer Dave Kirtner, is that correct?
Yes. We did a 2 song demo in 1985 that was only put out as a hand made demo cassette. It never got an “official pressing” because the band morphed into Sacred Heart within one year. These Mayhem demos are extremely rare and have gone for thousands of dollars on eBay.
Other members of the band were Brian McIntyre on drums, Matt Suveges on bass and Mike Kilbane on guitars. How did you get together exactly?
I hand picked all the members. I went to high school with Brian, knew Dave from the neighborhood, Matt we found thru an ad in the local scene magazine and Mike had a great reputation as a guitarist. We were going for that Iron Maiden 2 guitar attack.
Prior to Mayhem Brian McIntyre was already in Wicked Lester. Were you familiar with this outfit?
Yes, I knew the guys in Wicked Lester quite well. They asked me to join but I told I could not because I was starting Mayhem and then Sacred Heart for really famous in the Mid-West/East Coast scene.
It seems, Matt had Hungarian roots as well, hasn’t he?
I really don’t know, possibly. We never talked about it in detail, have not spoken to Matt in years.
Who came up the moniker with? Were you aware of the existence of the Portland, Chicago or the Liverpool (New York) based outfits with the same name?
I did not aware of “other Mayhems” at all, there was no internet at the time and it seems like a really cool name for the band at the time.
By the way, was the underground scene in its infancy around this time?
Yes, just getting roaring, like I mentioned in the last set of question the 70’s Hard Rock scene was peaking and the 80’s scene was coming roaring in with us longer guys in Cleveland. Super great time to be in the Mid-West for sure.
How about your rehearsals? Did you aspire to write originals or were you mostly jamming on covers?
None of my bands were ever “cover bands”, all of my bands have always been “original bands”, it’s all about the art form of music with original compositions. Originals are the only thing that lasts forever and that is especially true now that we have the internet and all the digital platforms to catalog all the original music that we do as artists. Sure we might play a single cover song here and there for fun or at the end of a concert but the main focus was to be an original band for sure with all my bands.
Were you the part of that new metal approach that took place during the early 80’s with the tape trading circuit, fanzines? What did cause this new metal movement at that time?
Yes, for sure. The demand was caused by the age of the audience and their desire to hear all this new metal. The young audience created the demand and it was fueled by early (pre-corporate) radio that was really good (FYI: post-corporate radio was horrible) and very early MTV that was playing really great videos in its first 10 years of running on TV.
How much did you play live at this point? Did you manage to do headliner shows or were you mostly opening act for bigger names?
Both, we did headline shows and we opened for many acts. Remember Mayhem had a very short span, about 1 year, it morphed into Sacred Heart which lasted about 4 years. Sacred Heart did a lot of shows and became famous, Mayhem was a cool band fo sure but it was very short lived time wise.
Mayhem was mentioned regularly in local publications Pounding Metal and The Iron Planet…
Correct, Mayhem and Sacred Heart were darlings of the press! LOL!!!
After the demo the band broke up, what kind of reasons did lead to it? Were there any musical or personal differences among you?
Just different musical tastes. That’s it, Mayhem set the stage for Sacred Heart which became more famous.
Do you think that at the mid 80’s the Cleveland metal scene started getting stronger with newer acts such as Rotterdam, Decimation, Terror, Domestic Crisis, Torment, The Spudmonsters, Chemikill, Attaxe, Real Steel, Rebellious Angel etc.?
You and Brian went on to found Sacred Heart and Dave went on to found Point After (which also included such notable players as Calvin Burgess, Mike Tucker, Jack Kilcoyne and Mike Hanzel, but never did any known recordings). Was the band’s name inspired by Dio’s third full-length record?
Yes, the name Sacred Heart was inspired by Dio’s 3rd album.
Would you name Sacred Heart as the logical continuation of Mayhem?
Do you still remember, how the offer to have a spot on the Heavy Artillery compilation happened? Did it somewhat help to attract the fans’ attention to the band?
Bill Peters came to the Sacred Heart rehearsal spot and offered us a one song recording contract for Heavy Artillery. Happened just like that, it was magic. Next thing I knew we were at Beachwood Recording Studios tracking Time after Time.
How about the further bands such as Mercury, Amon-Ra, Images of Eden etc., that you were involved in?
This is best answered if you please read all of my bio: https://www.byronnemeth.com/bio/
In the mid 1990’s after years of working on the metal scene of Cleveland you began studying jazz and classical music at the Cleveland State University and a few years later you decided to start a solo career. Does it mean that you wanted to deepen your musical horizon to explore your own style?
I want to do both kinds of music (much like Steve Vai) I have done and will continue to do: A.) Vocal Hard Rock & Heavy Metal. This has cool hooks in the songwriting with catchy vocal melodies and slightly shorter songs with unique solos. This is geared to the wider audience of Hard Rock that needs to hear music with vocals. B.) Instrumental Rock. This is the guitar virtuoso music that is geared really for the musicians in the audience. These songs can have any length and really can be any rock style with variations that dip into jazz, blues, classical, prog, really any influence since this is written for the musician community.
In your opinion, did you become a well known artist in the music industry?
Yes, and it was done by never giving up.
How do you view your career as a whole? Are you satisfied with it?
Stellar, it continues to Skyrocket around the world and I am constantly getting offers from bands to join or tour with them or do guest guitar spots plus the streaming number are getting really high. I am very thankful to have a real career in the music business.
Byron, thank you for the interview! What are your closing words for our readers?
Thank you for the interview, David! I look forward to meeting you when I come to tour Europe in 2021. Prost!!!!!!