Riding Into the Void

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On the verge of potentially breaking out into the “mainstream” of metal, Pasadena, California’s Holy Grail seem to be doing all the right things. Their sophomore full-length album Ride the Void has been met with positive reviews and their popularity is growing each day. It seems as though before long, these “kids” from the West Coast will be a part of a core of younger bands leading the metal brigade into the next generation.

Holy Grail recently wrapped up their role as the opening band on the stacked Metal Alliance Tour featuring Anthrax, Exodus, High on Fire and Municipal Waste, where teethofthedive.com was able to catch their performance and speak with singer James Luna. Shortly after their set at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, we spoke with a pumped up Luna at the merchandise table. Read on to see what one of metal’s under-the-radar singers had to say about the show, the tour and how he and his bandmates had to fear for their lives (sort of) at one point:

Oftentimes a newer band when playing live isn’t as clean or tight as they are on their album(s). But with you guys, you sound as though you’ve been touring for decades. With how crisp and precise your set was, I’ll assume that you all practice as much as possible.

James Luna: Actually, I wish we did rehearse more because we’d be more comfortable (on stage). To be honest, we actually rehearsed the set once before yesterday, which was the first show of the tour. We thought we were a little rusty tonight, but if you say we sounded good, then I guess we’re doing something right (laughs).

Considering you guys are still a newer band and you’re all young dudes, do you still get nervous before you hit the stage?

I usually do but, I don’t know, I guess I kind of gotten used to it. It’s like this rush of energy and adrenaline and I think I associate that with nervousness.

Is there anything you do beforehand to calm your nerves a little bit?

I try and stretch and do some vocal warm-ups and if I have some time. I’ll try and do some yoga to calm myself down. It really depends on the day because I’m usually at the merch tables beforehand and if I get caught up with the merch, I’ll just run up and do the show.

Your voice was very clear tonight. Do you sometimes take extra precautions before the show, like drinking warm water, not talking as much, etc?

I try to do the warm water thing but they had cold water up onstage, which seemed to work just fine. I try and take every precaution as possible and lately I haven’t been drinking (alcohol), either, which has really been helping my voice. Before I used to get totally hammered, not know what was going on, singing the wrong lyrics, go into the wrong song. Yeah… it was awful.

Throughout the years, the overwhelming majority of the newer, younger bands would sound terrible live. You knew they needed a ton of practice. But recently I’ve noticed that a growing percentage of young, new bands sound terrific onstage. Why do you think this is? Is it the technology, the kids learning and playing at a much younger age than before?

I think a lot of the young kids are hungrier and more focused to the point where it kind of forces them into that level (of professionalism).

This is the Metal Alliance Tour with Anthrax and Exodus and a host of others. This has to be the pinnacle of your career up to this point, right?

I think associating our names with the bands on this tour is leaps and bounds from where we were before. I think it’s a great next step for us, absolutely.

Do you feel as though Holy Grail is ready for the next step, to headline a major tour across the country or even Europe?

(Laughs) I don’t think so. I think we’re far from there. I’ve seen a lot of friends in other bands try and do that and it’s rough out there. That’s why packages like this work out really well. I can see us doing like a 200-300 capacity room tour where we headline, but nothing this big (yet). We did one of those with Cauldron, our buddies from Toronto, with our last album and I think we’re going to do something like this for this album’s cycle.

Why do you think you’re not ready as a band for a major tour? Is it a lack of enough material or is it a confidence issue?

People just don’t know about us yet.

A tour such as this will certainly assist in getting you guys more exposure. Before this interview started, you guys were being swarmed by fans and you told me that you didn’t expect this kind of reaction. Has today so far been the best night in terms of fan reaction?

This was amazing. A lot of people had never heard of us before and after a couple of songs were really into it. A lot of them bought merch. It was great. Last night was similar, too. It was an awesome reaction.

When Holy Grail first came out, some critics claimed that you were nothing more than a ripoff of what was big in the ‘80s. When you read or heard these criticisms, did it bother you guys? Also, do you think you’ve gotten past that stuff and are now taken more seriously as a legitimate classic metal band?

I get what they’re saying but I try not to read too much press. Everybody has their own opinion and they try to put their own thing in it. Sometimes it’ll be totally contradictory to what they rate it. I think it was Decibel Magazine – maybe it was AllMusic – they gave us a pretty good rating but if you read the review, it sounds like they’re talking smack on us. It’s really funny.

Are you guys at the point to where you can read the crowd immediately whether they are into you or not? Obviously if you’re getting things thrown at you the crowd hates you, but what about a crowd that isn’t very lively? Those are probably the hardest crowds to read.

I’ve kind of gotten accustomed to not seeing if the audience is not into us or not. Subconsciously you just kind of know if they’re into you or not where the energy in the room picks up. But I kind of have gotten comfortable with just performing to the max. We’ve played a lot of bar shows where we’re just performing to the bar. We’ve just gotten used to playing where the crowd is not into us or they’re just “there.” We notice when the energy is there or isn’t, but we still try and give it 110% every time out no matter what. If the crowd is lifeless, it makes us go harder and crazier just to try and get something out of them. That’s usually how it works.

What was the worst show you guys have ever played?

Oh man… (thinks for a while). There was a show we played in Farmington, New Mexico and the club had just lost their liquor license. All these people showed up and were really pissed and they were booing us. They were so mad, were booing us and then it turned into this really weird night, but that’s a whole another conversation (laughs). That was probably the weirdest, worst show ever.

There are always hecklers and hooligans at every show. What is the worst thing that ever happened to you while onstage?

There’ve been times where I’ve eaten shit and fallen over onstage. Not with Holy Grail, but in a previous band where I got on this riser and then fell off. It was like a twelve-foot riser and I just fell right off it. I didn’t get knocked out but I certainly felt it. I think the band then went into a long guitar solo or something – I don’t remember all the details – and when I gathered myself, I went back onstage and finished the show.

Aside from playing in front of a packed house, what are the best perks about being on tour?

I think it depends on what level you’re at as a band.

At Holy Grail’s level; you guys.

It started to trickle in where fans would bring us gifts and stuff. I’m the only vegan in the band and some people have picked up on this and have brought me special vegan treats. In Seattle, there were these kids who really liked us and their mom drove them to the show. She actually baked us a Holy Grail cake with icing and our logo on it. It was phenomenal! Cool little things like that are the best. Just yesterday, somebody drew sketches of every band member and gave it to us. It was awesome.

When these fans bring you food, are you suspicious that it might be spiked with poisons or laxatives?

I guess that can happen (laughs) but I give people the benefit of the doubt.

What about the chicks? Is Holy Grail at the level where the girls are throwing themselves at you and trying to sneak onto your bus or van?

(Laughs) There are still a lot of dudes at our shows but once in a blue moon there are girls that will trickle in. But they’re not the bring-home-to-mom types, that’s for sure.

What is the craziest thing a fan has ever done to or for the band?

We played this show in Oklahoma City. Our tour was on the East Coast, at least it was starting there, and we played a couple of pickup shows along the way there. Well, they changed the venue at the last minute so we wound up playing at this brewery (laughs). It was called the Belle Isle Brewery. It’s kind of like a T.G.I.Friday’s place and we had to wait until the football game was over before we could start our set. The other band didn’t make it so we were the only band. The people who were watching the football game stayed and watched us but they actually went crazy and bought tons and tons of merch from us; more than we could ever imagine. They bought like 3,4,5 CDs each and a bunch of shirts. It was crazy. These guys were totally jazzed on the band and invited us to their house. This one guy was like, You guys should just stay at my house and I’m going to leave. I’ll just stay at a friend’s house! So we partied there and then he was like All right guys, I’m out of here! Just leave it unlocked. We were all like, What the hell is going on?! He didn’t care if we ate his fridge full of food or anything. So we stayed there but we were afraid that he was going to bring friends in the middle of the night and, like, slaughter us or something. It was totally bizarre.

Did you guys drink all his liquor and trash his house?

It was already pretty trashed, but we did drink all his liquor.

Have you guys been “rockstarred” by any of the bigger bands on this tour yet?

We’ve been lucky where everybody has been pretty awesome so far on this tour. It seems that in metal so far, everyone’s pretty grounded. There’s not a lot of egos that I’ve noticed.

Once this tour wraps up, what are the immediate plans of Holy Grail?

James Luna: We are waiting for a couple of things that aren’t confirmed yet so I really can’t say. But we do plan to get over to Europe in August or September. We got picked up by Nuclear Blast, which pretty much runs all of Europe in metal and they’re trying to get us over there and get the word out.


*It was recently announced that Holy Grail will headline a US tour from June 19 thru July 26; Anti-Mortem will act as the main support band.*




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