Grayceon interview with Jackie Perez Gratz: "Why should the guitar have all the fun?"

06/09/2012 @ 11:54
Uniqueness is a rare asset nowadays. The San Francisco scene, where the thrash of Bay Area once flourished, is determined to prove the opposite, as in recent years has produced more than a few great bands. Among them is Grayceon, a trio consisting of cello, guitar and drums, or in other words by Jackie Perez Gratz, Max Doyle and Zack Farwell. contacted the Americans’ driving force, cello player / singer Jackie, wanting to know everything about the band’s amazing third album, "All We Destroy".

Hello from! Since we haven't had the opportunity to talk before and you're quite a new band for many of our readers, would you like to introduce yourselves to us?
Greetings from San Francisco! My name is Jackie Perez Gratz, I am the cellist/vocalist for Grayceon.

Your individual pasts seem so different. I mean, how can a member of the ethereal Amber Asylum get along with two guys from a Bay Area thrash band? Where did you find common ground, so to speak?
All three of us enjoy different kinds of music and we were fans of each other’s bands, which is how we met originally. They would come to Amber Asylum shows and I would go to Walken shows. We became fast friends.

GrayceonI really can't congratulate you enough for the beautiful "All We Destroy"! How are things for the band currently? What were the reactions from around the world?
Thank you so much! Things are going really well for us. We got a lot of positive feedback about the album from both press and fans. Profound Lore says its selling well and I am absolutely positive "All We Destroy" is reaching more people than our previous two albums. Grayceon went on our first European tour last year before the album release, so I don’t know how our international fans are enjoying the album, but we hope to make it back to Europe sometime soon.

You got a new record deal with Profound Lore recently, which is Amber Asylum's label as well. In which ways do you believe this will be better for you? What are the differences from your previous label so far?
Profound Lore has a following for the label itself, not just its bands. Chris Bruni has a real vision for his label, signing only the bands he truly believes contribute to that vision. This is great for Grayceon because not only will our fans buy the album, but fans of Profound Lore who have never heard of us before have been buying it as well. People trust Chris’ decisions about who he signs to his label. We are also big fans of many of the other bands on Profound Lore, so it is nice to relate to our label mates.

How do you approach the process of composing music as a whole?
We write in a very organic way that is comfortable for us. I give Max cello riffs and he gives me guitar riffs. We take that source and work on it separately by writing along to it or learning the riffs themselves or sometimes we’ll even make hybrids from the original or use them for inspiration to go off in tangents. Max is typically the one to put everything together and get a rough order for the riffs, but then the whole group has lots of input and ideas about the arrangements. The drums influence the mood and shape of the songs and the vocals inform the structure.

In your own words, how would you describe the sound of the band as well as the development you had since your debut album?
This is always the hardest question to answer! If professional music critics can’t put words to it, I’m sure I won’t do it justice either. The sound of the band is epic rock / metal guitar with folk and thrash melodies thrown in for good measure, aggressive yet delicate electric cello counterpoint, and unpredictably pummeling drums. Yeah? I don’t know if that truly captures it.

One thing I adore in your music is the brilliant use of cello. It just sounds so vibrant and participatory. Even though it 'disagrees' with the guitar most of the times, it never gives the impression of complex or outlandish. Is this planned in any way or does it just work out well?
The push and pull effect is intentional, but it’s just the way I like to write music. I never want the cello to simply accompany the guitar because why should the guitar have all the fun? Max and I both like to challenge ourselves and enjoy playing intricately and melodically. The end result is that we are both soloing most of the time and sometimes the two solos relate and sometimes they don’t. We just have fun with it and when we do sync up to play harmonies together or really punctuate a certain riff in unison, those moments stand out in the music.

Would you ever add more instruments, like bass guitar or keyboards?
We talked about adding bass at one point but it was my fault it never came to fruition. I got scared that the dynamic of the band would change too drastically and in retrospect I was probably right. I don’t think there is room for more melody than what Max and I already provide. So if we did add another instrument they would have to play very plain, simple stuff and that’s no fun. That’s not what we like to do, so I wouldn’t want to make someone else do it either. Also, at the time we were thinking about adding another member, I really tried to dissect our reasons behind wanting/needing this additional person and it came down to wanting more low end and harsher vocals. So, instead of adding a new member we worked on resolving those issues with what we already have.

GrayceonJackie, I've noticed a significant change regarding the vocals. Not only have you taken over the majority of them, you have also enriched your repertoire, which includes some -excellent I have to say- growling. I mean, even though Max's parts have been reduced, the vocal variety is bigger than ever. Was there much work on that?
I worked very hard on the vocals for "All We Destroy". They were pretty underdeveloped on the first two albums and the critics were always quick to point that out. I took the criticism very personally because I didn’t really know what I was doing vocally, I was just doing my best. Vocals were always the last thing we worked on. So, this time around I took a different approach and started working on the vocals simultaneously with the music composition. This was really eye opening because I noticed how much songs changed when vocals became an early influence. Around the same time Max bowed out of singing and didn’t want to perform vocals live anymore, so I just ran with it. I listened to a lot of my favorite albums and took special notice of the different vocal effects and tools that other people were using that I liked. Also, my work with Giant Squid had me screaming and the style seemed appropriate for the more aggressive material Grayceon was working on. So it all came together in that fashion, with me simply thinking about it more and having an overall vision for the vocals.

Since there are no lyrics on my copy of the album (you may take this as a complaint, hehe), could you tell us some things about them?
All of my lyrics come from my own personal life experiences, but I like to allow them space to breathe and take on double meanings if they wish. Our song ‘Shellmounds’ has been interpreted 3 or 4 different ways by the press and I don’t correct anyone because they are all right. It’s similar to visual art in that way. The artist usually has a specific meaning behind their creation, but the work is more thought provoking if the viewer (or listener) can relate to it personally.

Is there a unifying meaning that holds the album title and the lyrics together?
The album does not have a specific overall theme, but the general ideas behind the lyrics are dealing with feelings of anger and disappointment, and yet being able to look forward and find hope in new beginnings.

In "All We Destroy" all of the band's distinctive features are presented with even more extreme ways than in the previous albums. Weren't you ever afraid of the fact that your music is somewhat difficult to digest?
No. We don’t care if the music is hard to digest. Our goal is to have fun writing it and playing it. But I am surprised to hear you say that this album is harder to digest than our previous titles, because I usually hear the opposite!

Jackie, you are also a full-time member of Giant Squid since 2007. How big is your creative role there?
I have somewhat of a creative role, but not nearly as much as Grayceon. I contribute melodies for song writing, inspiration for vocals, and all of the string arrangements. But Aaron Gregory is at the helm most of the time and he is such an amazing song writer and story teller, I feel we are in good hands.

So, are there any news from Giant Squid's camp?
Yes! Giant Squid is preparing to go into the studio with producer Matt Bayles in June to record an EP, which will be released in September/October 2011 by Translation Loss. There is some talk of it coming out on vinyl as well. Also, Aaron and I are expecting our first child this coming September, so we are anxiously awaiting it’s arrival!

GrayceonThis is excellent news! Congratulations! Jackie, I always wanted to ask you about the song "Sounds Like Thunder" from Grayceon's debut album. Towards the end of the song, you sing the chorus of Scorpions' "Fly People Fly". Was this kind of a homage to them? Because I believe your sound emits a feeling similar to albums like "Fly To The Rainbow", it's melancholic by nature in the way that 70s Scorpions are, you know?
Yes, it was definitely a homage to them. ‘Sounds Like Thunder’ is similar thematically with "Fly People Fly" and the ending of our song just fit perfectly with their vocal line. It seemed a fitting way to pay homage to the band and "Fly To The Rainbow" is one of my all-time favorite Scorpions albums. Grayceon had also ‘borrowed’ a very iconic bass line from Fleetwood Mac’s "The Chain" in our song "Love Is" and when we started Grayceon I thought we would be doing more of that kind of ‘borrowing’, but we stopped there. We got distracted with writing our own music and less concerned with making other people’s music somehow fit in with it.

You have participated in albums of bands such as Neurosis, Today Is The Day, Agalloch and Cattle Decapitation, among others. What's the story behind each one of these collaborations? Which one of them stands out as your favorite?
I had a great time collaborating with each of these bands, so it's hard to choose a favorite. But I’ll give you a short synapses on each one. Neurosis were the work horses and always had me record the same part over and over and over and over again until they thought it was perfect. The irony is that I am an extremely consistent player, so I am positive I performed it exactly the same way the last take as I did the first take. I have to admire their desire to be perfectionists though because I am the same way with my own music! Today Is The Day was especially fun because I got to record in their Boston studio while I was living in NY for a brief period. There was a lot of sightseeing and clam chowder involved. But before that, when I met Steve Austin after a show in Manhattan, his head was gushing with blood because a mic hit him in the head. That’s when he asked me to be on their record. With Agalloch, I wrote and performed everything remotely at home, which didn’t bother me because that is how they work as a band most of the time anyways. The surprise in this collaboration was that the intro song ‘They Escaped the Weight of Darkness’ was never meant to be solo cello. I was supposed to write a melody to open the album and they were going to edit it down, incorporate it into the first song, and add piano or whatever instruments they wanted to it. Surprise! They liked the cello melody so much they left it as I wrote it, so it remains a long solo cello piece as its own track at the start of the album. I am honored, but I would have enjoyed hearing what they would have added to my melody. Cattle Decapitation was being recorded by my dear friend, Billy Anderson, in the Bay Area, so I got to record with the band while they were in the studio recording the album. They were actually living at the studio, recording, eating, sleeping, all in the same place. So, when I arrived everyone was wide eyed and bushy tailed and I could tell they were making magic happen. They gave me free range to write whatever I wanted and they didn’t have lots of guests appear on their albums before so I think they were nervous letting me do my own thing. But, when I showed up and performed what I had written they were so happy and excited to have it tracked for their album. I performed it a couple of times while Billy recorded it and that was that! Also, I recently recorded with Om for their upcoming album and I think I went into the studio 3-4 different times to get just the perfect feel and performance for what Al has in mind. He uses a lot of non musical terms to describe music, like ‘the riff is patient,’ I love that and had a great time collaborating with them!

GrayceonIt is obvious that Grayceon has an extremely wide range of musical influences. Could you name just a few of the most representative for us?
Metallica, Judas Priest, Ennio Morricone, Led Zeppelin, Primus, The Police, Dvorak, oh man I’m sure I’m not doing the list justice because the boys aren’t here! Gillian Welch, Pentagram, Peter Green, Scorpions. The list is long and broad...

Last year you visited Europe for a small tour together with your friends Jucifer, and also Darsombra. Have you got any similar plans for this year as well? Is there a chance for you to visit Greece this time?
We would absolutely love to visit Greece! I’m not sure we will make it to Europe any time before 2012 and even then... Giant Squid really wants to go to Europe, so they might be next in line. I hope that Grayceon makes it back soon, though, because we had such an amazing time there! I’ll try to make sure Greece gets on the itinerary next time.

As times get tougher and tougher for the record industry, it's understandable that the bands are mostly concentrating on touring, as this is the best way to earn a respectable income. Yet, I believe this is all for the best, I think a band should spend more time on the road. What do you think? Do you enjoy touring?
It is true, being on the road is one of the only ways to make decent money as a band. But it's a hard life. It’s actually not really a life at all. Some of my friends that tour 80-90% of the year come back pretty broken, tired, no home, no job. Of course, they just want to hit the road again because that’s all they have. I’m getting too old for it. As much as I like performing and traveling I also really enjoy sleeping in my own bed! And I am about to have a family of my own, so I don’t think that touring will be my highest priority this next year.

What is the best thing for you personally when you're touring for a long time, and what is the worst?
The best thing is being able to perform every night. I enjoy feeling that what I am doing is relevant and appreciated by others. It’s quite magical getting on stage every night for 30 days or more. And the band gets so tight- we are unstoppable after that many performances! The worst thing, for me, is the lack of ability to eat well and take care of myself physically and mentally. There is no alone time, which I thrive on. There is no exercise unless I really am adamant about finding a pool. There is no sleep! All of these are things I need to feel like a sane person. So, when I’m on tour I am temporarily insane.

What was your wildest dream when you first started the band? And what is it now, 6 years and 3 albums later?
I didn’t really have any expectations for the band when we started. We were having so much fun playing and writing I thought as long as we kept enjoying ourselves we would continue to create music together. And that is how it’s been ever since. We are still a very small band in the big scheme of things and I’m not sure our music will ever be easily digested by the majority of the population. So, we’re happy where we are at the moment.

GrayceonWhat does Grayceon really mean?
Jackie + Max + Zack.

Give us a list of five albums you’ve been listening to, lately.
Ah! I’ve been listening to quite an array lately: 6 Bach cello suites performed by Pablo Casals, the Nick Cave and Warren Ellis soundtrack for the movie "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford", Judas Priest’s "Sad Wings Of Destiny" (pretty much always on rotation), "Orphans" by Tom Waits, and UFO's "Phenomenon".

Well, that would be all from me. Thank you for your time! Is there anything else you would like to add? Perhaps a message you'd like to send to our readers?
Thank you for listening, Greece! We hope to meet you in person one day!