Gama Bomb: ‘Music Should Be Free’

IIn the digital age, many artists have experimented with different forms of distribution. Radiohead’s seventh studio album for instance, namely ‘In Rainbows’, was released in October 2007 as a digital download where customers could order the full length for whatever price they felt reasonable. Nine Inch Nails, on the other hand, released thirty-six track instrumental album ‘Ghosts I-IV’ free as a digital download in March 2008, following up that release two months later with ‘The Slip’. Less commercially popular artists, however, are also indulging in such experimentation. Irish thrash act Gama Bomb, a stalwart amongst thrash’s revival with the likes of Evile, Bonded By Blood, and Municipal Waste amongst others, made third album ‘Tales From the Grave In Space’ freely available to download through, the official website for Gama Bomb’s record label Earache.

“It happened very organically” says Gama Bomb frontman Philly Byrne of how the decision came to be. “One night, me and Joe (McGuigan) our bassist were having a bit of a chat, sitting about in his house with a cup of tea. We started saying “Yeah, we’re gonna make another album“, and “We’re gonna make an album a year for a wee while. There was an album last year. We’ll make one this year. It’ll be more consistent, like the way bands used to be in the eighties“. Releasing albums frequently is dying off a lot, so that was the first thing that we thought, that we would make one. Then we said “What if we give it away for free?“. I don’t really remember who said it first. We talked to the rest of the lads, and they said “Yeah, that’s a good idea“. We played a show in London, and Digby Pearson, who runs Earache Records, came along to the show. We spoke to him, and he said “Yeah, so you guys are talking about an album?“. We said “Yeah, yeah. We want to give it away for free“, and he just said “Yeah, good idea” (laughs), which was surprising.”

Given Earache Records‘ penchant for off the wall decisions though, the most notable being the release of 1987 Napalm Death album ‘Scum‘, was Pearson‘s reaction that much of a surprise?

“He has a history of doing things his way I suppose. It’s not that alarming, really. They were waiting for a band who were willing to do it for some time, and obviously with the changing trends and all these things in music consumption, and music trends, it’s actually quite a smart move for them to make. So yeah, it came about really organically, and it’s just a reflection of how we’ve been listening to music. I’ve been downloading music for ages now, and I’m not paying for any of it. I don’t think you should have to either. You should pay for gigs, you should pay for T-shirts, and for I don’t know, thermal flasks with logos on them or whatever other rubbish you want, but music should be free. That’s why the album is.”

More cynical quarters might simply dismiss Gama Bomb‘s decision to issue ‘Tales From the Grave In Space‘ as a ploy to encourage more concert ticket sales, though Byrne stresses this wasn’t a factor in the group’s decision.

Gama Bomb promo photo

Gama Bomb promo photo

“T-shirts and gig sales, the money side, weren’t really what motivated us. Obviously, money does smooth the way and you keep doing what you’re doing for longer. If there was no money, you’d be back home in a month. The Earache stance on it was that if we made our CD available in the traditional way, it’d only sell X thousand number of copies, and that’d only generate this much of a return. If we took a gamble though, and said “This is for free“, it might generate more interest, and make more of a return in the long term. Our interest in giving it away for free was to draw people in, to get more fans, and to get our songs out there so that we could play bigger gigs, play better tours, meet more people, play more shows, and have more fans. That’s the be all, and end all – just to enjoy the music with other people really. I think it is actually working right now. The first day the album was on release, we got six thousand downloads from the Earache site, and that’s a significant number. Yeah, I think it’s working – our shows are better attended and everything already.”

As mentioned, embracing newer methods of distribution is something commonly associated with Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. In reality however, Gama Bomb have little in common with either, finances being the major difference. Surely digitally distributing ‘Tales From the Grave In Space‘ must’ve been a riskier decision by comparison?

“There’s two big differences. One, they’re not on a record label and we are, and two, they’re all fucking minted. There’s five million people who are insanely into Radiohead, me included, who want to have the album, whether it be for free, or paying a quid or whatever (laughs). That’s the difference. There is a bigger risk involved, because we’re on a label, and it’s some guy’s money we’re spending. But then again, it may be the best use of that money, rather than just another CD. It’s worth the risk.”

To digitally distribute ‘Tales From the Grave In Space‘, Earache Records has partnered with RapidShare, one of the world’s largest file-hosting websites.

“We’re delighted with RapidShare” Philly enthuses. “RapidShare are our friends in downloading; if you want to get an album, just go onto RapidShare, and get your link. We’re very happy to partner with RapidShare, because as I say, we’re very familiar with their service. It’s a goodwill gesture, and that’s what the album is all about. There’s other people who are making that gesture too. In December, Metal Hammer are gonna give away our album for free as a CD, which has never been done before to my knowledge. They’re paying to print up all the CDs – they’re printing an X number, thousands of pounds worth, and giving it away for nothing, because they understand the gesture is worth making. It’s really cool to see that.”

In the United Kingdom, the subject of illegal downloading has been a hotly debated topic. In August 2009, Lord Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, proposed introducing legislation that would see those who persistently and illegally download copyrighted content having their broadband connection cut. Unsurprisingly, Philly doesn’t share Mandelson’s views.


“I think that’s nonsense. They just need to devise a better system. I don’t think cutting off people’s broadband is gonna work, and here’s the other thing as well. If people start cutting off broadband because of downloading, I’ll just start a company that sells broadband where you don’t get cut off for downloading, and then I’ll be really rich. If I didn’t do it, some wee man would, and he’d be really rich. There’s always a way around these things, and that’s the other thing as well. The internet is like a pocket full of holes; you think you’re gonna put something into it, and someone’s gonna catch it whenever it comes out the other end. Thinking you can stop people downloading is just a fantasy. When is he fucking looking for a DJ Shadow album (laughs)? When’s he gonna go looking for an obscure thrash metal EP from Belgium in the eighties? When is he not gonna be sure about the new Amy Winehouse album, and will want to hear it first? He’s literally out of touch, and doesn’t consume in the way that people do now.”

One musician who came out in support of Mandelson was popstar Lily Allen, who echoed the man’s proposals to disconnect illegal downloaders. Responding, Philly airs his feelings on Allen, and doesn’t mince his words.

“Lily Allen grew up in that Notting Hill, Britpop society with her dad. She was literally taken to Alton Towers by people like Damon Albarn (Blur vocalist) on the strength of CD sales or whatever, so her whole life has been funded by “Vindaloo” (1998 song by Fat Les, fronted by father Keith) and fucking “Country House” (1995 UK chart topping Blur song which features father Keith in its music video), and whatever other songs. She’s a major label artist; they’re coached, and talked into saying what they say. I’m just saying maybe you got an A&R guy and somebody with a big chart with a load of numbers on it, going “Here’s the amount of money we can make in a month” or whatever. No wonder she’s got pound signs in her eyes, running around going “For flip sake, stop downloading“. She can see the imaginary nirvana of cash that she’s supposed to be reaching, and she can’t reach it, but the truth is, she can easily do that and already has. She’s just looking at the other alternatives. It’s just that all those labels have their fingers in their ears.”

Gama Bomb promo photo

Gama Bomb promo photo

And will Gama Bomb release its future albums through RapidShare?

“I don’t see any reason to go back on this plan. I’d also like to try something else, to be honest, because that’s what a career is. You make calls, you make projects, and it’s not just music as the whole thing. I like the idea of doing a whole load of singles, and then Joe’s talking about doing two EPs. Other different ways of distributing our stuff are really interesting, so yeah, we will look at it. I would be disappointed if we just did another CD after this, and I don’t think I’d settle for that. There’s definitely gonna be more of this kinda thing, because to be fair, by the time we do another thing, this is how the world’s gonna be. The doors are coming down now, and the music business is starting to re-solidify after years of being in a blender. I’m sure by the time we get our heads together to make another album in a year or two years, it’ll probably be how things are done anyway.”

Slightly tempted to download ‘Tales From the Grave In Space‘, especially since it’s legally available? If you’re not wholly tempted, and need further reasons to take the plunge, then Philly happily supplies those reasons in abundance.

“The album is eighties thrash metal, eighties thrash speed metal, very much in the vein of Megadeth and stuff. It draws on all the best points of that, condensed down with a bit of the musical retrospect you get when you’re a younger person listening to music from back in the day. It’s that, and it’s themed around fifties and sixties horror, and sci-fi compilations, things like ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales From the Crypt’. The whole artwork (designed by Jeff Jordan), and all the themes and stories on the album, reflect that. It’s an album of stories, really, and of course there’s one to two songs on it that don’t stick to that theme, but that’s just what happens when you make a record. It’s really fast, really, really fast, with a lot of riffs, a lot of screaming vocals, bass and drums, and penny dreadful horror stories for people who are too old to enjoy that sort of thing, but still do (laughs).”

Of course, not all are enamoured by digital downloading, with many still purchasing compact discs. In fact, several mourn the steady decline, if not extinction, of the vinyl record. Thrash metal lovers who harbour such feelings have no reason to feel sad then, since ‘Tales From the Grave In Space‘ will still experience a release via more traditional formats in February 2010.

“We’ll have it out on CD, vinyl, and in a box set” confirms Philly. “It’s coming with an EP as well that we recorded separately from the album, an EP of all new songs. That gives you a bit of an incentive to buy the album.”

Robert Gray is a freelance interviewer, whose interview series “Hit The Lights” can be viewed exclusively at If you wish to contact Robert, you can email him at