This Grand Show is Eternal

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With their second album, the aptly titled This Grand Show, Grayceon have once again delivered a stunning, sumptous opus of cello flocked, introspective and progressive music that defies categorization. And having communicated with cello player and vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz in the past, and found her to an absolutely delightful individual, I thought I’d ask a few question via email about the new album, her other projects and other more amorous endeavors…

So, how does the cello player for Amber Asylum hook up with two guys from crossover/skate band Walken to form Grayceon?
I remember going to see Walken for the first time like it was yesterday- I was completely blown away. They are such good musicians and they were obviously having a fabulous time playing and they are such characters- that crew! And the music they were playing was really fresh sounding to me, which was a surprise because I can be an old curmudgeon music snob when it gets right down to it. So, they definitely made an impression on me and I became fast friends with all of them. Not long after we met, Max and Zack started jamming with Zack on drums (he played bass in Walken at that time) on riffs that were too ‘out there’ for Walken. Both fans of Amber Asylum, they schemed to get me to jam with them and when I said yes, the rest is history.

What does Grayceon mean?
Jackie+Zack+Max=love.

With you being in Amber Asylum and Giant Squid, how are you able to prioritize those three bands?
I officially quit Amber Asylum about two years ago to concentrate on Grayceon. We were very quiet about my leaving because our 5th album was just released and I wrote a significant part of the new material. So, I have really only been juggling two bands full-time. Subsequently, Kris has created a new line-up for Amber Asylum, but we had dinner the other night and talked briefly about me playing cello on their newest album, so… we’ll see what happens. We collaborated for almost a decade so it would be a known quantity having me play. One can’t make musical connections like that with new people over night.

Prioritizing Grayceon and Giant Squid has been pretty easy thus far. Both bands have been writing and recording this past year with some small-ish tours here and there, but nothing major. I think both bands want to get out on the road more and specifically travel/perform abroad, but it has been difficult coordinating it to a level of execution and figuring out the finances just depresses us! I am sure that once bigger tours start happening it will be a bit more difficult. Grayceon really needs to meet and play and write every week. It keeps us excited and motivated. If Giant Squid ever went on a long tour that dynamic would sadly be interrupted. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

How do you have time for all these bands as well as helping out in numerous other projects?
I don’t have any time! I also have a 45 hr/wk job to top it off! No really, I have to say ‘no’ to a lot of propositions, some I would have really loved to accept, but I just don’t have the time for everything. I find myself only saying ‘yes’ to the albums I have to be on and I usually do it for free. My usual weekly schedule is to work M-F, rehearse 2-3 weeknights after work, and every other weekend play a local show or have one long weekend-day rehearsal. Sprinkled in there is some time to swim, go to shows, and write cello/vocal parts. Oh, and there’s always time to watch Battle Star Galactica, too! Um… I’m often pooped.

More importantly how are you able to get into a particular mindset and compartmentalize the writing of music and lyrics for these radically different yet artistically similar and challenging bands?
I write all the lyrics and vocal melodies for Grayceon, but the vocal content is a pretty small amount compared to most bands; whereas, Aaron Gregory writes 100% of the lyrical content for Giant Squid and there is a lot of singing in that band. And Giant Squid has such conceptual narrative needs that I don’t want to muck it up! On cello, I have to come up with 1/3 of the wow factor in Grayceon. Max and Zack each do their respective 1/3, so as long as I can keep up with them we’re as good as gold; whereas in Giant Squid, I am only 1 of several voices (two guitars, keyboards, bass, trumpet, banjo, etc.) so I can relax a little bit more and not worry so much about being in the spotlight all the time. There are many moments when Giant Squid reminds me of Amber Asylum in the way that I can almost meditate while playing the songs and can really be in the moment. I can’t relax so much with Grayceon because I am so busy accessing my memory banks! So, having different roles in each project is the way I like to work. If I did exactly the same thing in each band, why be in two?

Grayceon is on Vendlus Records, Giant Squid is on The End Records and Amber Asylum is on Profound Lore Records. All three labels are considered relatively elite within their respective fields and certainly cater to the more avant-garde styles of metal-what has your experience been like with these highly artistic labels?
I love working with small labels, but it has its pros and cons, as does working with any label. The End is the biggest label of the three you mentioned, but I have also worked with Relapse Records (Amber Asylum albums 2-4). Bigger labels have bigger agendas and if you don’t agree with their agenda you can get really bummed out as a musician. But, they have great distribution, amazing visibility, and usually more money to spend on you, so it can be worth it. The smaller more boutique labels, like Vendlus and Profound Lore can give you the 1-on-1 attention and respect that is priceless for a musician. And you might actually even see royalties someday! But, smaller labels don’t reach as many people and as quickly, so it’s a pay off. I’ve been trying to predict the future of label’s roles in the music industry, but I haven’t come up with any answers. Giant Squid plans on self-releasing our next album, or at least the first thousand copies. We’ll see how that goes…

You’ve performed and recorded with such artists as Steve Von Till (Neurosis), Jarboe, Steve Austin (Today is the Day), John Cobbett (Ludicra, Hammers of Misfortune) and such. Has working with such a wide variety of music helped you write and perform in Grayceon and your other bands?
No, not so much. I never get too absorbed in another’s project that it seeps into my own. When collaborating with other bands I try to bring some of my own style into their music, although I am definitely inspired by what some of the aforementioned musicians contribute to the music scene in general. I wouldn’t play with them if their music wasn’t inspiring. On the other hand, having the connections and associations with them has helped Grayceon’s visibility I think. And that is worth something, for sure!

Any plans to have guest musicians appear on future Grayceon efforts?
That is undecided. We like the trio form of the group, so we will most likely stay with that, but never say ‘never.’

As beautiful as your self tilted debut was, your new album This Grand Show seems even more layered, personal and introspective. How did you approach song writing for This Grand Show after the critical acclaim of the debut?
The debut was a collection of every song we had written as a group thus far (with exception to Love Is, which was actually the first song we ever wrote). We were a new band and didn’t really think about what we were doing, we just did it. This Grand Show had a little bit more deliberation while we were making it. We decided early on we wanted to write the songs in the order they would appear on the album. This would allow us to create a whole CD experience and have a longer narrative to weave throughout the album. The only tricky thing was Love Is which didn’t make the cut on the debut album. So, we strategically placed the song to work as a dream or a flashback in the story line, which essentially is what it is. Because of the more positive and hopeful vibe of the song, and the slightly different writing style used, it stands out as ‘different’ on the album, which was an added bonus.

Does a 21 minute song like “Sleep” (which incidentally does put me to sleep) get planned as a 21-minute song or does it just happen?
Goodness, is that a good thing? I hope so! Every once in awhile, when we are writing, there will be a series of riffs that we just can’t stop writing to and riffing off of. Some how, collectively, these riffs tell us it’s not finished yet. It organically grows and grows because we won’t stop adding to it and we just take it where it will. Without sounding hippy dippy, I dare say that the length is decided by the song itself.

The random spurts of thrash that surface in tracks like “Song For Your” and on the new album, ‘Still the Desert”, the final moments of “Love (is a dream)” and closer “This Grand Show is Eternal”-are those elements that you go into a song deciding that a certain song needs this sudden shift or a natural occurrence? How do you decide when such a shift is appropriate within otherwise eloquent and exquisite music?
Oh we’re just playing around! We never over think it. Every song is better with a little thrash thrown in for good measure, don’t you think? “This Grand Show Is Eternal” was planned out, because we wanted the last song on our album to be like one of last songs on an early Metallica album. The working title for that song was actually ‘Metallica’ for a long time.

Does/will Grayceon tour? And more importantly will you ever come to Missouri?
There was a US tour to support our debut and it was very successful, aside from my purse being stolen from stage at one of our last shows. I hope we get to go out again in the New Year and if we do we will definitely come to Missouri! Unfortunately, we lost our booking agent this past year due to him returning to school, so we have been a little bit behind in the touring department. All our focus has been on finishing and promoting the album, so… this is why we need someone else to do it for us! Any takers please contact us asap!

Are you married?
Nope.

If not, will you marry me?
Ah! The true intentions behind your interview have been revealed! Thank you, I am flattered. I have received several marriage proposals after performances, but never after an interview! I’ll pencil you in, but like I said, there are a few names already ahead of you! Thanks for the interview, Erik. It was a pleasure, as always.

Damn. Oh well. Anyway check out Grayceon at http://www.grayceon.com.

Comments

  1. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Don’t worry Erik – half of San Francisco has a crush on her…


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