Greys is a relatively new band, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the considerate amount of awesome shit they’ve already done. Drift is the band’s third EP of the band’s 3 year existence and it comes in the wake of a series of considerable tours over North America that the band was on in 2012. Toronto has always been a hotbed for musical talent, but it has been a while since we’ve heard such unique and compelling ferocity as displayed on Drift. Greys makes music that beats the shit out of you, but in so many different, fascinating ways that you find yourself returning to get totaled over and over again. When I got out of the hospital after listening to this EP for the first time, I immediately contacted singer/guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani (who I actually met in a bath house once), to do an interview with me about the Greys and the album. He got back to me almost immediately, and the results of this beautiful encounter are displayed below. The interview encounter, not the bath house encounter. Drift is out today and the record can be purchased here (http://kindoflikerecords.storenvy.com/)
1. The new record is HEAVY. Your previous efforts, Ultra Sorta and Easy Listening weren’t exactly Phil Collins but this thing feels completely balls out. What the hell happened to you guys?!
– It wasn’t really planned that we wanted to be particularly aggressive on this record. “Carjack” had been written almost immediately after we recorded Ultra Sorta, and the other two came together in between tours this past summer. There was another song that we’d recorded that we wrote at the same time as “Drag” and “Pill” that we decided to save for the full length which isn’t quite as chunky as those songs are. I’m not exactly sure why it came out as aggro as it did, but we don’t really think about that when we’re writing. We were definitely all pretty frustrated in regards to our personal lives, so I’m sure that was a contributing factor.
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2. Many of your sonic brethren (The Bronx, anything Froberg related) started out their careers with really intense, cutting edge music that tapered off into more accessible territory over the years. Yet your music seems to be getting heavier. Do you feel as though this is a reaction to the career arcs of these other bands?
– If it is moving in that direction then it definitely isn’t premeditated or planned in any way. I don’t really see us as moving in a unilateral direction like “heavier” or “softer.” I think it’s important for us to do what we feel is the best representation of us as people and a band at that specific moment in time. That’s what an album is, to me. It’s a snapshot of how you’re feeling at any given time. We just recorded a song for a split with our friends in Beliefs that sounds like early Sloan or Yo La Tengo. Another song we’re working on sounds like Pissed Jeans or something. Getting heavier or softer isn’t really much of a concern for us, it’s mainly just writing songs we like that matters.
3. Let’s talk gear for a moment because some of the guitar tones on this album are incredible. What were you guys recording with when you made this album?
– We’ve used the same gear for every recording we’ve done thus far, except that Cam switched heads for Drift. I’d like to keep what we use to ourselves, but I will say that none of it us custom made or anything. It’s all accessible gear that you could buy in a store or on Craigslist. Cam and I had a talk about that, how it’s more interesting for a band to be resourceful and use what they can get their hands on to the best of their ability, rather than have someone engineer something specifically for you. I think that’s part of creating art, is working with tools you’re more or less given. Put in effort to make your instrument work for you, and it’ll sound much more original and personalized than a custom made guitar or amp or whatever. Limitations are important to me. I play a Fender Mustang, if that helps answer your question.
4. Drift’s cover art reminds me a lot of Cave In’s Jupiter, and the last track on your EP “Pill”, sounds like something they could’ve written in their heyday. Do you think Cave In’s spaciness is something you find yourself more and more drawn to as you write?
– Cave In and more or less every Hydra Head band were a huge influence on me as a teenager. I never thought of it as a reference point for the artwork, but it is similar, and it gets across a similar vibe. Cave In, in particular, were a big influence on the writing of our earlier material. The ending of “Black Lodge” on our first EP definitely references them and Failure in a big way, and pretty much every guitar solo I ever play is just trying to be as monumental as the one in “Big Riff.” I don’t think they’ve really filtered into my guitar playing as much recently, but they definitely had an impact on how I played guitar starting when I was 15, hearing them for the first time. I got into bands like Sonic Youth, Unwound, and My Bloody Valentine from reading interviews with Stephen Brodsky when I was a kid, so they’ve definitely had an impact. As far as spaciness goes, I’ve always liked guitars that don’t sound like what guitars “should” sound like, and we’ve been moving more and more in that direction of late.
5. You guys have been together for 2 years now and you’re releasing your third EP. Whoa! Tell me how Greys came together and how you managed to generate enough chemistry to knock so much great music out so quickly.
– We’re all likeminded people who felt compelled to play this type of music, because, at the time, it wasn’t exactly popular in Toronto, or anywhere else. It seems like there are a lot of guitar-centric bands getting attention now, and that’s cool. As far as our chemistry goes, we just think the same way about how and why a band should exist. We operate in the most basic terms. We write songs, we record them, we press records, and then we tour. That is what bands do, as far as I’m concerned. Any “success” or “headway” we’ve had is due to us just writing music and then playing that music for people. I’ve realized recently that a lot of bands focus on too many extracurricular activities in regards to labels and promoters and managers and publicists and agents, and that stuff just seems to get in the way, to me. There are so many bands that just sit around and wait for other people to do their work for them. You’d be surprised how much faster things get done, and how much more rewarding it is, when you just take matters into your own hands. Why wait around for some booking agent to offer you a tour, or for a label to put out your record? Especially nowadays, when the industry has collapsed on itself. If you like playing music, just do it yourself. If you like making money, don’t play music.
6. How has your writing style changed over the years? Have you become more personal? Less personal? More abstract?
– In regards to the music, I think we’ve learned how to reconcile our noisy, angular tendencies with our love of riffs and hooks a little more gracefully. I feel like there was a massive jump in the quality of writing between our first and second EPs, and Drift seems to focus and hone what we learned with Easy Listening and make it more pointed and immediate. That said, as I mentioned earlier, it isn’t important for us to move in any one direction. It’s more important to move in every direction we feel compelled to go, but still make it cohesive in the context of that record. Lyrically, it’s always personal, and it’s generally pretty direct. I don’t like to be too obvious about what I’m talking about, but I do like to write songs that are about specific things. Being too abstract seems like a cop out to me. I learn a lot from guys like Chris Colohan and Jarvis Cocker. You don’t have to be literal all the time, but I don’t like to veil what I’m singing about, generally.
7. Last year you guys played shows all over the U.S. Who was the biggest partier on tour? Any ridiculous stories you want to share with our readers?
– We get asked this a lot and I always draw a blank. We’re all pretty docile dudes, most of the time. I think that’s why people like letting us stay at their place. We just go to bed immediately. Sometimes we make them dinner. But we always give great hand jobs.
8. Speaking of touring, the economic tribulations of a modern touring band have been well documented. How has it affected Greys specifically?
– We’re really lucky that we don’t have kids or families to support and that our jobs have allowed us to take extended periods of time off to tour, thus far. As far as the grand scheme of things goes, I think that ties into what I talked about before, with doing everything yourself. If you have a huge team of people doing everything for you, then they’re going to take all your money, and they’ll probably do a shittier job than you would because no one cares about your band as much as you, theoretically. Also, gas is fucking expensive. It sucks when you don’t have a guarantee, which we’ve pretty much never had, but we’ve actually done better and better with each consecutive tour. We came back with $30 extra dollars on our very first tour, which was huge for us. We all bought Wendy’s, if I remember correctly. I think we do okay because we try to make the band pay for itself, not for us individually. We all work jobs so that we can tour and pay rent while we’re gone. We don’t have per diems or anything like that, and we rarely stay in hotels, if ever. You learn how to be thrifty in every aspect of a band’s existence. Merch, planning drives, gas, van repairs, pressing records, artwork, posters. It all becomes second nature once you’ve been in a band for long enough. Some of us have moved in with our parents just to save money on rent. It isn’t easy, but you make it work because you have to.
9. I heard you destroyed one of your first guitars in the shoot for your latest music video. Was that at all cathartic or was it just an old piece of shit?
– I actually felt kind of bad because I showed my dad the video and his face looked pretty sad when I told him that it got smashed. He bought it for me when I was 12 or 13, for my birthday. It was a Squier Strat, a black one. I am going to keep a piece of it. Maybe I’ll give it to him.
10. How did you guys come together with Kind Of Like Records? How have they been treating you?
– A very nice man named Nick Woods, who plays in a band called Direct Hit!, helped us out a lot on our last tour by setting up some shows for us and really pushing the band. He showed the Drift EP to Lisa, who runs Kind Of Like, and she really dug it, so she offered to put it out. Our friends in Glocca Morra also put in a good word, I believe. She understood our work ethic and understood what we were going for. Up to this point, we haven’t really worked with other people very much because we’re pretty steadfastly a DIY band, so it was important to us that she understood where we were coming from and cared about what the band was doing. That’s way more important to us than just being on a hip label or something for the sake of impressing others or “getting ahead.”
11. Can we expect a full length from Greys anytime in the near future?
– We’re working on it now. Ideally, we’ll record it towards the end of the summer and have it out early next year.
12. The Toronto scene seems to be thriving lately. Are there any other local Toronto bands that people should be keeping their eye on as 2013 goes forward?
– There are so many great bands in this city right now that it’s ridiculous. I just saw Odonis Odonis and Rituals a couple nights ago and they were unreal. Absolutely Free are fantastic. Beliefs are probably going to blow up huge. TV Freaks are from Hamilton or Welland or something but they are easily one of my favourite bands right now, same with The Dirty Nil. Teenage Kicks are great. Fresh Snow are putting out a record that is really cool. I just heard Thighs recently and they are delightful. Cartoons fucking rule. White Ribs are technically from out west but they live here now, and they sound like The Locust filtered through Swans.