Black Belt Karate's Harry and Jason Talk the Martial Arts of Music Making


Black Belt KARATE are swaggering, melodic alt / high-energy, prog indie rock from Southern California.
The band has been doing their thing for a while now, playing showcases, touring, releasing music the works! Bassist Harry Ostrem and guitarist/producer Jason Achilles Mezilis discusses the band's progress and plans.


1. What type of band are you?

Harry:  At a rudimentary level, Black Belt Karate is a rock band.  This being said, the sound of BBK is very unique considering the low tuning of the guitars (C#, F#, B, and E) and the attention to melodic vocals and harmony.  I like to think of the band’s sound as beautiful vocal layers over a grimy, muddy, distorted foundation.

Jason:  There’s a lot of deliberate thought and structure (and sometimes pretty difficult musicianship), but we try and make sure it’s all delivered in a very honest, simple form.  Murderous rhythm section, amazing vocals.  Pretty damn good band to be in.

2. Please tell us about the history of your band and its members.

Harry:  Everyone has been playing their instruments for years and brings to BBK a diverse range of experiences.  Jason and Ryan Hanifl (singer) are accomplished producers, as well as former band mates in Your Horrible Smile.  I have been in LA for 10 years doing music, and have and still play in a large number of bands/projects including The Shrill and Dizzy Reed’s (of Guns N’ Roses) solo band.  Ryan Brown (drums) is most notably a member of Zappa Plays Zappa who also teaches at Musician’s Institute.  He is also one of LA’s most in demand session drummers.

Jason:  Harry had this incredible mustache when he first joined the band.  Not one of those ironic hipster facial caterpillars, I mean a real honest-to-goodness for reals 1972 US tour bus mustache.  For a while it was gone, then back again en force.  Lately it seems to have taken a long-term sabbatical.  You can watch our music videos for a chronological visual history of this elusive “fifth bandmate”.  No signs as to its possible return.

3. Why did you want this band to be called Black Belt KARATE? Does the name reference to actual Karate or is it just a name?

Harry:  The main reason for choosing Black Belt KARATE is because Foghat, Ted Nugent, Men Without Hats, and Party of The Rich were already taken.

4. How would you describe your style? Which bands influenced your music?

Harry:  As described above, BBK has a unique blend of sensitive vocal harmony and an abrasive low-end guitar sound.  There are also a lot of time signature changes in many of our songs, but never at the expense of taking the listener out of the listening experience.  We try to write pop-based rocks songs with a progressive punk attitude.  The arrangements are not simple, and the energy is direct, intense, and honest.  All good bands, from Zeppelin and Rush to Radiohead and Queens of The Stone Age, have had an influence on this band.  We are such musicians at heart, that there are too many influences to count.  

Jason:  “abrasive” guitar is a kind way to put it…I've also heard “the sound that makes guitar purists cringe”, and my personal favorite…”your guitar sounds like two cement mixers fighting with each other”.

5. What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)

Harry:  I wouldn't know since my two efforts of trying to help with lyrics were met with extreme resistance from our singer.  I think our songs have something to do with a mountain, crying, serving others, saving the best for last, and applying ointment to lessen the degree of Rigamortis on dead bodies.

Jason:  Harry is trying to be funny.  Those are all song titles from our 2013 EP  (look it up on iTunes).  Harry you really shouldn't be Building Walls between us and our audience…it may Push them away.

6. Do you write your own songs? (Discuss the songwriting process in detail.)

Harry:  Jason and Ryan Hanifl are the primary song-writers in the band, and work out most songs in a demo-format before bringing it to the band.  This being said, Ryan Brown and I have complete freedom to write our own parts, and offer whatever suggestions we may have for the songs in general.  We also record many jams during rehearsal, which Jason later turns into demo ideas.  I think our song writing system is quite healthy, considering the fact that everyone has roles to play and is respected in that role.  I do plan on writing a few demos this summer for the band, and Jason will be forced to listen to them and shower me with praise and laud for my musical genius.

7. What have you released so far and how were your releases received by the public/media?

Harry:  I just wish Rolling Stone would leave us alone.  I get tired of their incessant demand for interviews and photo sessions.  We have tried to release as much content on a consistent basis as possible.   Besides our one 5 song EP, we have only released singles and accompanying music videos.  The band has even ventured into comedy and released a few comedy sketches to promote the band on YouTube.  People seem to really dig what we are doing; especially in England / the UK.  I think the most important thing to do to get the right types of attention from the media is to stick around.  So many great bands break-up before they have a chance to be discovered.  Most of our listeners probably don’t know of us yet, but hopefully they will in the future.

Jason:  That last sentence was really funny.

8. How about new music, what do you have in the works?

Jason:  This year (2014) we are releasing a new single every month, complete with cover art for each by the very talented David Urbanic…all through our digital distributor…and will continue on through the rest of this year.  It’s a bit of an experiment in this new modern era of digital content delivery, and so far seems to be going really well.  There will also be some videos along the way, we just met with the director (Tyler Jackson) of our first 3 videos and he’s on board for our next single “Transformer”, which will be out on iTunes & Amazon on Tuesday June 24th.

9. Do you play live as well? How's your live activity so far?

Jason:  We do, yes…we've played all the club circuit in LA and surrounding areas, as well as some pretty cool larger bills with bands like The Offspring, NOFX, Truckfighters, Valient Thorr…as well as shows with local bands we really love like The Janks.  And BBK is happy to say we just signed on with Odds On Agency for future bookings, so there will certainly be lots more good stuff to come very soon.

10. What plans do you have for the future as a band?

Harry:  If all goes well, our goal of starting 50 new orphanages for homeless children around the world will be realized.   That is what Millard Fillmore would have wanted; that is our only hope.

Jason:  First person to name which president Millard Fillmore was (without using the damn internet) gets a free CD.  Seriously!

11. What should labels/zines/promoters know about your band? Why should they be interested in it?

Photo By: Carlo Alberto Orecchia
Harry:  This is a tricky question, since an honest answer could come across as a vain attempt to be recognized.  However, I think labels and the press should know about our band for two main reasons.  First, the band is comprised of 4 very good musicians who have been honing their skills for a long time.  Lastly, the music is truly unique and enjoyable.  I wouldn't have accepted an audition invite from Jason had I not recognized the strong quality of the song-writing and melodies when I first heard the preliminary tracks.  I believed in the music then, and I still believe in it 1.5 years later.  It’s good shit that deserves a larger platform of exposure.    

Jason:  Goddamn right.

12. Where can we listen to your band and where can we buy your stuff?

Jason:  iTunes is best.  Amazon is good.  Just search Black Belt KARATE.  Spotify, Pandora, all that stuff.  If you want a hard copy of the EP, we've got a merch store on our website at www.BBKofficial.com.

13. Anything else you'd like to say or would like to add?

Harry:  I ate an entire pizza this afternoon and I am still very thin.

Jason:  Harry moves around a lot on stage.

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