Q&A with William Gruff

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Hi Matt!  I’m really enjoying all 6 songs on your band’s Binghamton EP which was released on October 12th.  Who is currently in the band and what do you each play?

I play acoustic guitar, Vince Federici plays electric guitar, Charlie Heim is the drummer, Will Tobin is keys, and Julia Adamy is on the bass. I sing lead and everyone does backing vocals.   

At your official website you aptly describe the songs as being “cowboy space tunes”.  Where does the inspiration for this sound ‘n’ vision come from?  Why the fascination with space?

I’m not entirely sure. I pretty obviously was listening to a lot of Bowie and Flaming Lips while writing these songs, and I finished a couple in a row that had these allusions to space, and just decided to roll with it, see where it led me. I also enjoy the juxtaposition of singing these starry songs while strumming something as grounded and organic as an acoustic guitar.  

Binghamton is not your debut.  You released a self-titled album in 2011 that sounds like Tom Waits and Nick Cave brawling and trawling through a Prohibition-era piano bar!  Binghamton is such a big and interesting change from that album.  What was the impetus behind the sonic overhaul? 

We went into the first record with a completely different mindset and line-up. There were six of us and we’d never all played as a band together. I wanted to make a record, so I rented out a studio for 10 days, filled it with my favorite musicians, and hit record, so that’s what you get when you listen to that. You get each person’s personality uninhibited, within the rough frame of a bunch of songs I’d written over the years. 

The impetus… I don’t know that there was one, I’m just in a different place in my life, and writing, what I hope, are stronger tunes with clearer vision.  

Binghamton is completely pleasing to the ear and the brainspace, from the thoughtful to brisk rhythms, complex and compelling interplay of guitars, contemplative, expressive, and yearning vocal leads, sweet harmonies, and cogent lyrics.  Are you the main song composer and lyricist of the band?

Yes, though the arrangements of the tunes are very much a group effort. And thank you!  

There are aural remnants of your first album on this EP, like in the occasional quicksilver tempo changes and certain old-time music styles.  What is your musical background?  Were your musical interests growing up typical of that time period or did you have an affinity for past eras?

Well, I actually met everyone in the band, except for Julia, at music school. I like a lot of music, old and new. We’ll do the High Fidelity top 5: right now it’s Bowie, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Dawes, and forever and always Tom Waits. Though right now I’m also really into that Wintersleep record Hello Hum which I just found a year late.    

What types of guitars are at the band’s command?  I’m particularly partial to the Western reverb vibe on the melancholic “It Feels Nice”. 

Vince is the man. I think he played a different guitar on just about every track. I think on that one he played his Fender Jag though. 

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I’m picking up organ notes on “We Are Not Clones” and “The Atmosphere of Mars” and some noisy knob-twiddling in the middle of “It Feels Nice”.  I can understand the incorporation of organ, but what was the reason for including that somewhat disconcerting passage of noise in “It Feels Nice”? 

I’ll tell you, we spent a lot of time on that section. With the feedback swells we were looking for a sound you could physically feel, and that would maybe make the listener a little uncomfortable.  

I’m captivated by your first single, “At The Bottom of The Ocean”.  It’s your epic and it’s awesome and it has a David Bowie-like feel (with a touch of Jeff Buckley’s expressiveness) to the increasing vocal intensity and song structure.  The last minute and a half is classic.  Can you give some details about the creation of and inspiration behind this song?

This tune is about the struggle with wondering if what you’re doing with your life is what actually is going to make you happiest in the end, and the temptation/dream of being able to just leave it all behind and start over. 

The recording of that bridge is some of the most fun I’ve had in a studio. We were just finding random things to throw around and hit. We even put a drill to the mic. I wanted the bridge to sound like the Tom Waits track “What’s He Building in There”.        

Your vocal delivery is also very different from the other songs on the EP, where you’re expressive to the point of pleading by the song’s end.  There’s one line, where you sing “…hoping to reach the galaxies afar…” where your inflection is in total David Bowie mode.  Was David Bowie, or maybe Freddie Mercury, an influence on your vocals for “At The Bottom of the Ocean”?

Yeah, you caught me.  Haha! But actually I did the full-on Bowie impression on the line “…looking like a JEWEL!”  

You’ve shot a music video for that single.  Is it available yet for viewing? 

At the Bottom of the Ocean” is up now at YouTube. 

You have some quietly incisive to visually-oriented lyrics, like “Life is your own / Experience it fully / We are not clones.” on “We Are Not Clones”, “It feels nice… / to be alone” on the deceptively titled “It Feels Nice”, and “At the bottom of the ocean / there are stars just like in the sky / I dive deeper, deeper / hoping to reach the galaxies afar.”  I’m especially connecting with the lyrics of “It Feels Nice” (“My latest path through life / has left me cold and unconnected / searching for meaning in this strife”.)  Was that song written during or after a difficult period in your life?

We’re getting deep now. I think I was trying to feel okay with certain mildly self-destructive tendencies I had for a minute. I say mildly because I didn’t exactly turn into Keith Moon. If you listen to the lyrics, throughout the record you’ll see a common thread there I think.        

On your YouTube profile you’ve posted an acoustic performance of a song titled “Calmly Sip Your Tea”, but it’s not on the new EP.  Will it make an appearance on a future release? 

Yeah, I mean, there are enough songs, just not enough dollars. We could have tried to do a full length this time around but didn’t want to have to release anything that would come off as half baked.  

Binghamton by William Gruff

Binghamton by William Gruff

What is the import of the title Binghamton?

On the way to the recording studio in Syracuse, Charlie’s car died in Binghamton, New York, at around 3am the night before we started recording. They got towed to a gas station, left the car there, and walked a few miles to a U-Haul they found on the map. The U-Haul opened at 7am and the only size they had was the biggest truck. So they grabbed that, drove back to Charlie’s car, loaded all the gear into the U-Haul, and drove the hour to Syracuse. They ended up rolling in right around 9am, grabbed a cup of coffee, and started a 12-hour recording session at 10am. And in honor of their trials we named the EP Binghamton 

So you have enough material to put out a new EP and you’re currently writing.  When can we expect the new EP – and/or new album? 

We definitely have enough material for another EP, just not the funds. As soon as we can save up enough to do it again, we will.  

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

http://www.williamgruffmusic.com/#!music/c1t44 

https://www.facebook.com/williamgruff