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My Two Cents: An Interview with Bryce Barilla

What follows is my interview with Bryce Barilla, a YouTuber who reinvents Metallica songs. Check out his channel, here. I often analyze Bryce's work (which is superb), and you can read about that in my Two Cents compendium (which also has all of my interviews about metal remixers). 

Check out a similar interview with Ahdy Khairat, and another with State of Mercury. If you like our work (mine, Bryce's et al), you can find us on State of Mercury's Discord server!

Nick: Hi, I'm Nick van der Waard, aka "the two cents guy" on YouTube. On there, I comment on heavy metal remixes/remasters. This interview is for my blog, where I write about metal, but also horror, videogames, and sex in media.

Bryce, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Bryce: Yep, my name is Bryce Barilla (pronounced "Ba-Rill-Ya"). I joined the bandwagon of the Metallica Album Crossovers in 2017. Pretty much the guitar is my main instrument, followed along with drums and bass.

Nick: What are some of your influences that made you pick up the guitar? How long have you been playing?

Bryce: Back a few years ago in the mid of 2016, I decided to venture through other genres of music rather than listening to mainstream music. I had a copy of Rocksmith and a guitar which (were my sister's, just piled in the storage room). And that's where the journey began. 

A few months later, I started to learn songs from the band Metallica after they released their latest album, Hardwired... to Self-Destruct. For drums, I've started playing them back in 2017 in a Yamaha store every day until next year when the employees had to stop me from playing by putting up a 'do not play sign' in the store.

I learnt bass a few months ago when making "What If To Live is to Die was on Ride the Lightning?"

Nick: Do you like St. Anger or Lulu?

Bryce: I'd say St. Anger. One reason being that I rarely listen to one track off of Lulu at all (apart from the table meme). St. Anger had a very rough mix to it which made it very experimental for Metallica and it really worked for some songs. One thing I don't really like about it is James' new way of singing in the band, which changed when Load was released

Nick: Ah, yes. "I am the table!" never gets old.

Nick: Do you have a favorite Metallica riff? Guitar solo?

Bryce: If I were to pick, it would most definitely be the "Battery" main riff—a really aggressive galloping riff to start your day with when practicing. My favourite guitar solo, hands down, is for "Ride the Lightning," which is the most technical solo made from Kirk Hammett. Tons of scales and arpeggios, all harmonized together.

Nick: Interesting. Even more technical than his ...An Justice for All work?

Bryce: By the time you reach AJfA, you could soon realise that some of the solos, though all sick in my opinion, are slowly getting repetitive in terms of style. In 1984, it was a big thing since it was raw and power-hungry Metallica

Nick: Gotcha. That makes sense. RtL was a huge leap forward from Kill 'Em All, for sure.

Nick: What made you start to do “What if?” style videos on YouTube? Was there anyone who inspired you to try this particular activity, like State of Mercury, GuitarRazze or Creblestar?

Bryce: Firstly, it was Creblestar and GuitarRazze, the pioneers of the Metallica "what ifs." It really took off for them after Hardwired was released in 2016. It didn't really strike me until 2017 [when] I saw a video on how to replicate the guitar tone digitally. I got myself an audio interface and it took me a few weeks to set up and play with the 'Tallica classic tones. 

What really got me to start my reworks was—not a lot of people know this person—but Sludge Tracks (now known as Able Bodied Sailor). He did a "Master of Puppets on Ride the Lightning" video (now unlisted). In my head, I had the idea of doing the same thing since I had a 'better' tone. And that’s where the early reworks, which I would rather call it Tone crossovers since it's literally the same song, started for me

Nick: Do you and State of Mercury ever feel like you're in competition with each other? Is there anything about his work that inspires you to try harder?

Bryce: It might be only me feeling this, but [one of us] get a wave of adrenaline when the other uploads their work. When Mercury started to gain popularity in late 2019, it actually inspired me to push further with album crossovers. He was one of the re-workers who really pictured the band's playstyle and [then changed the style of Metallica songs] rather than playing the same exact track, just with a different tone.

Nick: Do you have a favorite video by State of Mercury [maybe "Lonely Monkey, Juice Evaporator"]?

Bryce: It has to be, "What If Nothing Else Matters Was On Master Of Puppets?" Being able to make one of the strongest ballad songs by Metallica into [a track] full of aggression is time-demanding and rewarding. You can really hear the inspired arrangement of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" fitted into that style, mixed with James' clean riffs in "Nothing Else Matters." You can even hear the little differences in the vocals, having layered harmonies, different keys, as well as the guitars with hidden harmonies on the solos (just like "Sanitarium"). These small changes really take the cake for a song rework. 

Nick: Yes! He absolutely killed that one. Some really difficult and inventive stuff going on, for sure.

Bryce: And his guitar tone and e-drums are also improving and will keep improving. 

Nick: Is there anything about your own content that you feel needs work or want to improve upon?

Bryce: After hearing Mercury's "Nothing Else Matters" on MoP, I realized what I was doing that many YouTubers were doing: I was remaking the same thing in a different tone, adding on existing riffs of songs and mashing them up together. 

I also was putting in Easter eggs that, while sometimes cool, wouldn't really make sense. For example, my video "What If To Live is to Die was on Ride the Lightning?" features the known bass riff from the YouTube video, "Cliff Burton's Last Song," an alternative bass and guitar riff [from the one actually heard on the original] "To Live Is to Die." 

This video was most likely fake and done by a fan since it sounded way to clean and there was no confirmation that it was originally recorded by the band before Cliff's death (as said by Andriy Vasylenko). That's when I realized that I needed to step into the band's shoes—to try and make riffs that would sound like what the band would've done if the song was recorded during those years. The only time I ever done that was my album crossover, "If Frantic was on And Justice for All," which I made up my own riffs (and even threw myself a sick breakdown inspired from "Harvester of Sorrow"). 

For this year, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone for Master of Puppets reworks.

Nick: I'd say "What If To Live is to Die was on Ride the Lightning?" was your best video to date!

Bryce: For sure. I agree on that as well.

Nick: Your audio production has gone way up with your last video. The mixing really sounds incredible. You mention getting help from a friend. It wasn't Ahdy Khairat was it?

Bryce: Nope, not him at all. His remixes and remasters are years of skill ahead of me, that's for sure. It's a close buddy of mine who has experience in metal mixing so I asked him if he could help me out with techniques on master mixing a song. Actually, before I asked him, I was already looking up ways to improve a mix and felt that it wasn't going to work out so I didn't bother trying it... until he told me that it was all correct and I should do that. 

Pretty much all the tips he gave me can be searched up on the internet, really. No fancy secrets or gimmicks were given out. My tip for mixing is having every instrument sound audible in the mix. None should should louder than the other, nor should it sound painful to hear.

Nick: The bass on "What If To Live is to Die was on Ride the Lightning?" sounds incredible. How did you get the tone to sound as good as it does?

Bryce: I'm not such an expert in bass tracking—that's one thing. But having a good bass tone can be easy (well apart from the wahs, though). I believe that I was playing around with the bass Impulse responses from Bgelais (a great guy who provides Metallica Impulse responses). One sounded very close to Cliff's RtL Tone when a tube screamer VST is added. After that, it's mostly EQs—to have the bass sound [that's] audible but not overpowering. I follow the rule of Ahdy Khairat after watching many of his videos: Have the bass sound as audible as the guitars, but don't let the bass sub frequencies take over the mix.

For the roaring bass wahs, it's pretty simple to replicate since there are lots of Cliff Burton tone videos out there. Grab yourself [an analog] fuzz pedal and a Morley POWER wah, play them on any amp, and have fun!

Nick: Do you think AJfA should have bass, or does it sound fine the way it was originally produced?

Bryce: Maybe for some, it sounds good as is. But after listening to other bands and then listen to AJfA, it just sounds off. Every song needs a bass to fill the missing frequencies, more so for AJfA. I'm waiting for the day someone mixing AJfA with bass well (Ahdy's remixes for AJfA back then can be intensively improved after his new releases).

Nick: Yeah, I think Ahdy commented on his video, "Metallica - Blackened (Remixed and Remastered)," that the STEM tracks just aren't available for the whole album. Maybe Lars will surrender them on his deathbed.

Nick: Burton, Newsted, or Trujillo?

Bryce: Burton, for his technique on classic Metallica, and the wahs; Newsted for his [adrenaline onstage], as well as his backup vocals; and Trujillo, for keeping up the tradition of Cliff (doesn't have to be perfectly replicated. That's what hardcore Metallica fans should understand). 

But if I have to pick one, it has to be Cliff Burton—for inspiring me to start learning bass in 2020. Some people also need to understand: Cliff couldn't use his ring finger, so he only uses two. Yet he's able to play above 200bpm as well as gallop the "Disposable Heroes" riff with two fingers back in 1986? Absolutely skilled and phenomenal for a guy who has 10,000 hours [of playtime on] bass.

Nick: Was there something wrong with his ring finger, or was that a personal choice? 

Bryce: I'm not entirely sure. Maybe I heard it wrong but it was on one of Andriy's videos where he explained that Cliff always had his ring finger wrapped in every time he played, and extended his pinky out far. Nevertheless, he never used both of those fingers to play with. It might be a personal style now that I think about it. 

Nick: Your channel is based mostly on Metallica songs. What made you decide to focus on Metallica in particular?

Bryce: It was the first band I listened heavily to (I don't particularly listen to lots of metal bands compared to other people). Metallica has such a distinctive style when it comes to their early albums. The first five had such different styles from each other that you are able to pinpoint the differences in each album. It's fun to play around the different styles with each crossover since it creates a new song.

At the same time, 'Tallica is one of those bands where you can learn the whole discography since it [really] is that simple to learn a song from them. But for me, that doesn't mean I'm going to just remake Metallica songs. [I eventually want to] mash up Slipknot's early works with their new songs; I've been heavily listening to Slipknot [as long as] Metallica, and I'm inspired by the drumming skills of Joey Jordison. [editor's note: I love Joey Jordison, but confess I was introduced to him by Josh Steffen doing a AJfA/Slipknot mashup.]

Nick: About drums: Are your drums sampled from the STEM tracks? Or do you find another way to recreate them in your music?

Bryce: Mercury's approach is, I think, is the long method of using original sample tracks from the drums and single-handedly placing all of them one by one. Hats off to him for doing such an insane task and still having the drums sound good. My approach is using Superior Drummer and selecting the best sounding snares and toms, etc, that sound as close to Lars' kit, then EQ-matching them as close as possible to the STEM tracks (with further mixing to sound good in the final mix). It won't have the closest sound, mind you, but in this day and age, it's all about balancing—what you have written down, and how close the instruments sound from the original.

Nick: Do you have a favorite Metallica album to try and emulate?

Bryce: My favourite would be MoP, as each instrument is, in my opinion, sounds the most audible in the mix; RtL had such a muddy drum which is hard to listen to; AJfA had no bass originally (and there's two types of people in the comments section, [those] who want bass and those who do not, and it always ends up ugly). Emulating is [a good first achievement], but making it sound better [is a good follow up; it ] makes the mix sound a lot better (and helps give me lasting experience in mixing real instruments).

Nick: Is there a Metallica album that, in your opinion, desperately needs to be played in another albums’ style to sound better than it currently does—apart from St. Anger?

Bryce: Has to be AJfA, as it has lots of other variants to play with. The empty bass just gives it a reason to try out other ways for other styles, be it with genre, bands, or other alternatives for crossover albums. But there will be a day where there's lots of styles on that album, so why not try other albums such as the Black Album (since it's a mainstream metal type and can be fitted with other sub-genres if anyone is willing to try that)?

Nick: You tend to remaster albums in the style of RtL, MoP, and AJfA. Is there a reason you haven't tried KEM, the Black Album, Load/Reload, etc?

Bryce: RtL, MoP, and AJfA are the albums I mostly jammed to back in the day. I'm also a very lazy person and I love to procrastinate, I'll admit, so I don't really experiment too much on styles like Load or KEM. I still have trouble playing various riffs on KEM as they're freakishly hard to play sometimes, and trying to capture the drum sound of KEM is weird, but it might be possible. For Load/Reload, I'm not such a big fan of the style of those albums so I don't really touch it. I might reach on the Black Album soon when I finish making the tones and drums.

Nick: The tempos for your reinventions vary depending on the album you’re trying to sound like. For example, "To Live is to Die" is normally a fairly slow song but you play it quite fast on your RtL version. The song lengths are roughly the same (10:01 vs 9:49). The riffs change as well. Your video "(Added Vocals) If Seek and Destroy was on And Justice for All" has a slower section that simply wasn't in the original song. The song lengths are roughly the same, but only because of the slower section you added to compensate for the increased tempo.

Why do you generally try to keep the song lengths about the same? Is there ever a case where you wouldn't?

Bryce: I never really take the song lengths into account, to be honest. But I like to keep a rule to have AJfA songs at least seven minutes long since, well, all songs on AJfA are long! I really only did AJfA album crossovers back then, so I never tried having a shorter song. But I'm sure this year when I do make some videos that they won't be so lengthy.

Nick: Is AJfA generally the hardest to try and recreate with different Metallica songs from other albums because of its complexity? Or can styling a song after RtL or MoP be just as challenging?

Bryce: To be honest, AJfA is actually the easiest to recreate. You'll soon find a pattern on the riffs such as, playing an F power chord most of the time and Lars' drums. RtL and MoP are a lot harder as their songs are all very experimental and all sound very different. But maybe with a lot of practicing, it'll be a lot easier to write riffs from those albums. 

But the hardest [are] the solos. Writing from scratch is not easy since you're very limited to what style you have on each album. I, in particular, only have a few years playing guitar so my solo reworks are not as refined as others.

Nick: At times, your solos sound like combinations or two or more taken from different albums/songs. If you had to give it a ratio, how much of the solo do you borrow, and how much do you come up with on your own?

Bryce: Most of the time, the ratio—of combining solos from existing songs [versus] creating my own—is about 60:40. In my songs, you can hear the solos just slightly changed from its original counterpart. Many people have pointed this out. Hopefully I can start to experiment more on making my own riffs and solos.

[editor's note: Bach's fugues were extremely difficult pieces of music [four independent voices of music, which, on piano, are played by a single person]. Future composers have imitated Bach's fugues too closely when writing their own. The end result isn't good; it sounds rote and lifeless, a cheap copy to a superior original. YouTuber Shred often talks about this phenomena in his own metal-meets-music theory videos.]

Nick: State of Mercury's biggest strengths are his riffs and solos. He seems really adept and producing new material within old songs without making it sound forced. I suppose it just takes practice.

Bryce: Of course, he has years of experience (more than 10 years) and he's able to use that on his reworks. He had a big win on his "What If Enter Sandman was on ...And Justice For All" video, which really started his YouTube work. Rarely does he take riffs from other albums and put it into a rework. Rather, he steps into the shoes of Metallica and pictures how they would make it. He does take inspiration in some songs, but he is able to change those riffs miraculously.

I don't see talent as a thing for musicians anymore. Rather it's more practice, skill and passion for music, and that's what makes State of Mercury top of the Metallica "what if?" [musicians].

Nick: For sure. I mean, talent and prodigies are a thing. But this isn't the Classical period, when the likes of Beethoven were forced by their fathers at a very young age to be the next Mozart, haha.

Nick: What's the hardest part of making these songs? The playing? The audio production? The compositions?

Bryce: The hardest part is the start. It's either you do it, or you don't. When you do do it, everything just flows naturally since you're in the gravity of the situation. But when you don't start anything at all, you're just left there, unsure of what to do next. Sometimes, playing takes a toll on me (especially for the bass nowadays). 

Audio production is a fun thing to play around with so I wouldn't say it'd be difficult. 

The compositions? Well, I'll see how it goes for me for this year when I step it up. Above all, the start of making something and doing it is still the hardest part of making these videos.

Nick: I feel the same way about writing and art—anything creative, really. Once you get going and have a skillset under your belt, it gets easier. Until then, it can really feel like a mountain to climb.

Bryce: For sure, man.

Nick: Have you ever considered collaborating with another channel—say, State of Mercury?

Bryce: I did have ideas on collaborating with State of Mercury, but of course, time constraints. I haven't any comments on anyone [else] collaborating with me yet, nor do I have any requests on collaborating with anymore, but hey, time will tell.

Nick: Do you have plans to make your own music? Are you currently in a band?

Bryce: I wouldn't mind making music on my own in the future, but it wouldn't only be metal. I'd like to experiment with indie clean stuff when I get the chance. I don't really like the idea of getting in a band. Most of the time, recording is cool and all, but in the long term, it's work and you need to get paid for that (which many bands don't).

Nick: Very cool! Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions for me, Bryce.

Bryce: No problem, my dude. Anytime.


About me: My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I primarily write reviews, Gothic analyses, and interviews. Because my main body of work is relatively vast, I've compiled it into a single compendium where I not only list my favorite works, I also summarize them. Check it out, here!

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