hypnotic bliss of a snake charmer with a penchant for heavier psychedelia,
instrumental collective Grails have quietly separated themselves from the
herd with a series of ultimately sublime releases.
After a couple of self-released records, they
were signed to Neurot Recordings
based on a demo submission alone, a rare
occurrence but one that clearly befits the band. Since
then, records have come out on Southern,
Important, and most recently, Temporary Residence Limited.
Be sure not to miss Take Refuge in Clean
Living, a dense and delicious effort that is my
favourite of the bunch.
2008's Take Refuge in Clean Living
1. First of all, what is the significance
of the name Grails?
A "grail" is of course just a reference to
some specific obsessive pursuit. But the other story is that we had a
short amount of time to decide on a name and that's the only one we all
2. Introduce each member of the band and
name something interesting about them.
Emil Amos - drums/guitar/whatever, favorite
Metallica record = Kill 'Em All William Slater - bass/piano/keys, doesn't
have a favorite Metallica record
Zak Riles - acoustic stringed instruments/elec
guitar, favorite Metallica record = Master of Puppets Alex Hall - guitar/samples, favorite
Metallica record = ...And Justice for All
3. One of the most striking features of
your releases is the musicianship exhibited on them. What are the musical
backgrounds of Grails' members?
Bill has some formal music training, the rest
of us were self-taught. But we all started off in the typical way, 13-14
years old with shitty guitars in our bedrooms, and a stack of tapes and
CD's regarded as divine scripture.
4. Perhaps in the most rudimentary sense,
a lot of Grails music could be described as psychedelic or meditative. But
what do you see as the ideal setting for your music? How do you envisage
people listening to your albums?
My favorite times to listen to music are
early in the morning (with coffee) or late late at night, the waking times
when the lines are blurred between the dream state and mundane daytime
consciousness. It's at these times, with active headphone-style listening,
that albums have absolutely changed my life. I can only hope that we've
created something that's actually worthy of that kind of listening.
5.How is it that an album can absolutely change
your life? Is there a particular album that has,
and how did it affect you?
I didn't mean for this to sound corny, it's
just something that belongs to the realm of universal experience. There's
really no further insight.
I think I listened to A Love Supreme
12 times in a row once after eating some really strong mushrooms...that's
a great record.
6. How did you
become connected with Temporary Residence Ltd?
We'd known Jeremy for a while through mutual
acquaintances. And he lived just up the street from us while he was living
in Portland. Eventually we had to stop flirting with each other and just
get down to it.
7. Which current
bands' music do you really respect? Are there any bands who you see as
People ask this all the time, and we usually
just point to our homies up in Seattle, folks keeping it super real in
bands like Earth, Master Musicians of Bukkake, Sun City Girls, Secret
Chiefs, Diminished Men, others.
8. Design is a
large part of Grails' albums. What inspires the cover art? What background
do you have in terms of visual art?
Again, no formal background in visual art,
just a lifelong obsession with album art. We've tried to view the artwork
as an opportunity for expression to be capitalized upon. The images are
totally essential for communicating the album's intent, shaping its
perception. I don't think we'd be doing ourselves (or anyone else) a favor
if the cover was just another painting of a bird, with 'untitled' songs,
When we were kids, we'd listen to records
alone in our rooms with headphones on, poring over every inch of the album
cover, reading every word of the liner notes. I think we've just tried to
honor that tradition.
2008's Doomsdayer's Holiday
9. There's an
interesting line between producing a statement of intent and creating a
work that can be interpreted freely, isn't there? It's
interesting that no music can be truly divorced of its context; no matter
what, the cover, or the first 10 seconds of the record, or the track
titles, (etc. etc.) all serve to prime the listener with regards to what
to expect. Only a complete amnesiac would be
able hear something and interpret it completely on their own terms.
On the other hand, more experimental and
freeform music is better able to isolate sound from concrete context. (This
is all my interpretation, of course). How do you
feel about Grails' music "standing on its own"?
Where does it stand? What
context do you intend to conjure up?
As an effective means of communication, any
art form is bound by a particular set of parameters....and like you said,
in the case of instrumental music, it's not difficult at all to isolate it
from its context. So the challenge isn't to create music intended to be
interpreted freely by the listener - this is an inevitability. The actual
challenge is creating a statement. And in order to do that, it becomes
necessary to use effectively all of the available tools, i.e. artwork and
packaging. And in a modern era that's trying desperately to strip music of
all context for easy consumption, there's something deeply satisfying
about being anachronistic in this regard. It's satisfying to create
something that will reward those that actually take the time to seek it
10. One of the
most intriguing aspects of your releases is their accessibility. Despite
being a far cry from cookie-cutter rock music, it is easy for just about
anyone to enjoy any one of your records. Have you found that your
music attracts a wide range of audiences?
Yeah, it seems to, and perhaps increasingly
so. I hope so, anyway! But even if that's true to some extent, it's still
a wide range within a narrow demographic. It's underground music, and it's
very comfortable with being underground music. It's not something that
will ever be of any use to a Maroon 5 fan.
11.What is your perspective on more
accessible/traditional "pop" music? Are there
bands that you admire that just play solid, infectious, straightahead pop?
can music be unoriginal or highly derivative and still be GOOD music?
It's beyond the issue of originality, it just
depends on the needs of the listener. As a listener, I want to be taught
something, I want to approach the music as a pupil, seeking knowledge or
insight or spiritual gain. And "straightahead" contemporary pop music just
doesn't offer me much in that regard.
12. What are your thoughts on the music
scene in Portland? How has Grails fit in?
Portland is a great place to live, but we've
never really been a part of the local music scene. We've kept our distance
from it almost by default, focusing our efforts on making records and
playing outside of Portland. The 'hometown hero' thing never appealed to
us, I guess.
strikes a fine balance between "traditional" songsmithery and more
experimental abstraction. Does this reflect the different backgrounds of
the band's members?
Yeah, that was certainly true at one time.
But I think it's kinda the opposite now, with a unified vision to explore
disparate musical territories. And I think that difference gives us more
14.It sounds as if,
despite the members' varying backgrounds, Grails
is a pretty cohesive lot. Would you say you're
more unified than the average band?
I really have no idea; this is the only
'band' I've been in.
15. The story of your serendipitous
demo-tape inauguration onto Neurot's roster is one for the ages. What's
A firm handshake and winning smile. Let 'em
know who's boss.
2003's The Burden of Hope
16. If Grails ever created a concept
album, what would the concept be?
I don't really get the distinction between
'concept album' and 'regular album'. I mean, of course I understand what
people mean when they use that term, but shouldn't every album have some
kind of concept? Isn't that the point, y'know? Probably just me. But since
'concept album' is usually just an attempt to excuse some silly amount of
pretence....no, I can't really see us making a "Tommy" record.
17.This brings up an interesting point, because for
a lot of bands, albums are collections of songs, often created
independently and then assembled (even haphazardly) out of what has been
recorded. Clearly Grails'
approach is more holistic. Along these lines,
how do your records come together? Are songs
created around a central theme? Are they
written/performed/recorded in sequence or at different points in time?
What accounts for the stylistic and conceptual
It's funny, after reading it again, it's
pretty clear that response has us eating lunch with the kids at the
Floyd/Zeppelin table in the cafeteria, y'know? The kids at the Ramones
table are totally cool, too, though....but I guess that's just our table.
Whatever stylistic/conceptual cohesion there
is with the Grails records comes from our recording style, which is to
work on multiple releases concurrently. We develop a large pool of
material and then have the freedom to flesh out each release with the
songs that seem to belong to it.
18. You get to create the full score for a
new film. Which director would you choose? Explain.
Kenneth Anger, directing a sequel to
Xanadu (starring Sasha Grey).
19. Alright, i'm
calling this right now. why Xanadu, and, most
importantly, why Sasha Grey?
The synergy of the thing couldn't be denied.
Sasha Grey is this generation's Olivia Newton John...iconic,
multi-talented, but with less optimism, more anal penetration.
20. So what is Grails' five year plan?
I have no idea. Our efforts have never been
dictated by some career path. I mean, it took this band 5 years to agree
to play a show east of Pac NW/California, so who knows?
2006's Black Tar Prophecies vol's 1, 2, & 3
conducted by Michael Tau
published May 16, 2009