Q&A with Grave Babies

Photo Credit: Angel Ceballos

Photo Credit: Angel Ceballos

Hiya Danny!  Your new album Crusher is out in late February and it’s your debut for the Sub Pop sub-division Hardly Art.  You’ve previously released a cassette/vinyl album, a 7” single, and an EP on other labels.  How did you end up with Hardly Art?

Hardly Art put out our last release which was our EP and the 7″ (“Pleasures”) before that as well… I got in touch with Hardly Art after we’d done a few tours and I wanted a label that could reach further than our previous label (Skrot Up) who was based out of Denmark and had very limited distribution at the time. The idea was always to tour more and constantly reach further than Seattle, to get out of town and tour as much as possible, so the band needed to have records be more available. Hardly Art was local which was great and we even knew Ruben from him working at the record shop down the street from us for a while so it was pretty cool to be able to meet up with friends locally and come up with plans for the band and be in close communication like that. 

You’ve been mistakenly labeled many a time as a Goth band because of your consistently morbid, macabre song titles (“Eating Babies” and “Death March” come to mind, and “Mourning Heir” is just plain brilliant.) and cover art – oh, and there’s your band name too.  In reality, however, you churn out lo-fi garage-pop/rock and have a DIY punk outlook and image.  What is the purpose of this dichotomy? 

For me, the purpose of any good art is to really engage the person that’s observing it to the point at which they don’t need to understand it so much as to be so mystified by it to an extent that they continue to follow it almost out of pure curiosity even… If you gave away all your secrets it would no longer be magic…

All of your recordings are treated with a gritty patina of slightly warped distortion that gives your songs a vintage vibe.  How do you achieve this sound? 

There’s a lot of “lo-fi” in the recording technique itself, I’m pretty limited with the gear I have and the environment I use (my basement, a Mac book, 2 different mics, 1 guitar amp, direct in the drum machine and synths on occasion). Part of the process is recording some of the sounds a lot hotter than others depending on what range they take over in the mix and then the mixing process itself gives way to keeping everything in balance so the desired textures appear and don’t get in the way of other aspects of the recording. When I’m mixing I tend to only turn things up. If the drums are overpowering the guitars, I’ll double track the guitars and turn them up, instead of balancing the two. It’s more of a pile of sound than a soundscape. Double tracking and hard panning is big in all my recordings as well, 4 to 8 vocal tracks on every Grave Babies song has been standard from the beginning of the project.

When I first heard your tunes, I thought they sounded like The Ramones played at half speed with the vinyl starting to melt, minus Joey Ramone’s distinct nasal whine.  Am I way off base in referencing The Ramones or is that band that inspires you?

Screwed Ramones, yeah I can see that… I get inspired by my imagination really for the most part. There’s been a number of times where I’ve not been very familiar with a band and I’ve only seen a picture of them and I’ll just imagine what they sound like and write a song like that but when I give that band a better listen they have nothing to do with what I imagined them to be. It’s very disappointing to live that way so I just stick with my imagination most of the time. The Ramones stuck to simple structures and simple concepts though and I appreciate that ethos. It’s impossible to be sincere with art these days but I can’t imagine having understood that 40 years ago.

Speaking of seminal bands, you’ve professed a profound admiration for Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails.  How have those bands impacted your sound?  Just for fun, what are your Top 3 Songs by each band?  For Nirvana, mine are “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Lounge Act”, and “Territorial Pissings”.  For NIN, mine are “The Perfect Drug”, “Head Like A Hole”, and “March Of The Pigs”.

Nirvana taught me to be loud as fuck and Nine Inch Nails taught me to be loud as fuck with a drum machine. My favorite Nirvana record is Bleach and In Utero isn’t too far off, very different records though.  Nirvana: “Negative Creep,” “Milk It,” “Endless Nameless” (probably the best song on Nevermind).

NIN: “March of the Pigs” is great… I still can’t believe how good Closer is still to this day… “Head Like a Hole” is great… “Terrible Lie” is good… I think for me it was just an endless parade of new concepts for me that I got from NIN when I was like 11 that blew me away…

Photo Credit: Angel Ceballos

Photo Credit: Angel Ceballos

All apologies for applying the overused term “angst”, which entered the pop culture lexicon with the advent of Nirvana, to describe your vocals, but would you consider this an apt description?

 Let me Google that…hmm…no…I feel pretty confident about my world view. I wouldn’t say there’s any anxiety involved in the art. It’s mostly a very confident pointing of fingers at those I feel are responsible for the world’s problems and those who are too ignorant to figure it out. I understand there are complexities to the human condition but I’m not going to allow the natural processes of humanity to cause me any anxiety.

Moving on to specific songs on Crusher, “Slaughter” has a lighter synth line and wistful vocals that are buried a bit too deep for total comprehension (I can make out the words “I lost it.”)  What’s the subject of the song and does the title fit the lyrics?

“Slaughter” is about school shootings, I was imagining Columbine, but it’s applicable to all mass shootings really or to people who try and vainly snatch power from others because of their own insecurities. It’s pathetic how much people can’t deal with their own problems in our society and have to lash out at others.

“SLAUGHTER”

shots rang

panic

my thoughts?

Dramatic

is this what we do today?

 

your god allowed this

soak then in your piss

i lost it

i lost it

 

your god allowed this

pain’s his iron fist

i lost it

i lost it

 

your god allowed this

death’s his blessed kiss

i lost it

i lost it

On a related note, are your lyrics available anywhere?

 The Gothdammit EP had them on the back cover and Crusher will have them on the insert of the vinyl version.

 “Count Cuts” is a clear winner with its grimy distortion, softer vocals punctuated by emotive howls, and a solid bass line.  This song and “Slaughter” seem to show a tipping of the balance towards melody instead of noise.  Is this the direction you want to continue in in the future?

I like to write both ways or in as many ways as possible. I try and challenge myself to write in many ways. I appreciate art and artists that don’t just stick to one style and are capable of being versatile and that’s what I aspire to do.

What guitar(s) do you use to create your distinctive wiry, ringing ‘n’ scraping sound?

I play a Fender Mustang that’s been routed past all its electronics to the neck pick-up only… so it’s pretty “crummy” sounding.  When recording and mixing though I add a lot of high end to brighten things up and to keep them above the bass lines, etc… Part of that ringing ‘n’ scraping is strumming and having the mics pretty hot, just an SM57.

Grave Babies - Gothdammit! EP

Grave Babies – Gothdammit! EP

Uhhh, I’m not even going to comment on the Crusher album cover.  I’ll just feast my eyes instead on the beautifully gloomy artwork for your snarkily titled Gothdammit! EP.  Who did that cover?

Sara Jahn is the artist that painted that cover. It’s hanging in the Hardly Art office now. It’s about a 1.5 foot by 3 foot portrait of that “deer baby”, so what you can’t see is the body basically. Very, very well done. She’s an art student at the University of Illinois, living in Champaign, IL. My brother pointed it out to me, hanging in the coffee shop she works at while I was in Illinois visiting my family.

Speaking of the Gothdammit! EP, can you go into why you’re taking the piss out of the Goth genre?  I mean, your song “Skeletal Shades” is a little bit Goth, don’t you think, with the dirge-like vocals and doom ‘n’ gloom sound?

Haha…Well…I try and take a piss on anything really. No one should ever be too happy with themselves or something they enjoy so it’s only right to keep yourself in check if you’re trying to create things that other people will take relatively seriously.

Lastly, can you please list your official site(s)?

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grave-Babies/194986180531506

http://www.myspace.com/gravebabies#!

https://soundcloud.com/#gravebabies