The Isle of Wight trio, Grade 2, recently signed to Hellcat Records, give Louder Than War an exclusive showing of their new video and talk to us about their new album, Graveyard Island, their influences and the highs of recording with one of their heroes.
Grade 2, the Isle of Wight punk trio formed in 2013, are back with their third album, Graveyard Island, a biting modern social commentary. Having been discovered by Lars Frederiksen of Rancid while on tour in Europe, the band finally found themselves signed to and being produced by Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong out in L.A. We caught up with Jack (vocals/guitar) and Sid (bass/vocals) to find out more.
LTW: Hi guys. Congratulations on the new record. It sounds great, and congrats on signing with Hellcat Records. Tell me, how did that come about?
Jack: Thank you! It came about shortly after we did a tour with Stomper 98 (German Oi!) in Europe a little while back. We shared a tour bus with them and Lars was their guitarist so we got to know each other really well during that tour. He took a liking to us and saw a lot of potential so he wanted to help us out. He showed our music to Tim to see if he was interested and turns out he was! Now here we are.
LTW: What was it like getting in the studio with one of your heroes? And do you have any specific highlights of the recording process?
Sid: It’s an experience we’re all going to remember for a lifetime. We’re all huge fans of Rancid (plus all the band’s projects; Transplants, Old Firm Casuals, Charger, etc.) so that anticipation to get into the studio was monumental. The album was a year in the making, we received the news in December of 2017 that we would be recording the album in L.A. with Tim and as you can imagine finding that out was unreal. Not only was it going to be our first-ever time going to the states, but as you say we were going to track an album with one of our heroes!
We recorded demos here on the Isle of Wight, sending them over in batches for everyone to check out to hear our writing style and the direction it was going. It was already a totally different experience to how we had worked before. As for specific highlights, I would say just having the opportunity to sit down with Tim for two weeks and watch how he works. The level of creativity, talent, and love for what he does is admirable.
LTW: I want to get into the record itself as it’s a great modern social commentary, both from the global and personal viewpoint. Let’s start with Tired Of It. Here we have the video exclusive.
You kick off the album with it and dive right into the concept of the constant invasion of privacy in our day to day lives. How do you see that it has affected us as a society and why was it important for you to write about?
Jack: We are so caught up in this new age of convenience and social media that no one seems to care about all of this private information we’re freely giving out to corporations as if it’s not important. The reason it’s so important to write and sing about is that it’s becoming more and more normalised through each generation. Most of our generation are aware of this issue but they don’t seem to care or do anything about it, and then the generation after us will be born into this way of living and to them it will seem totally normal. We need to do everything we can to remind people that this is not normal and it’s not okay.
LTW: The way we engage through the digital age has obviously affected our collective psyche and what we have come to both accept and expect. Ayn Rand stated that civilisation is the progress towards a society of privacy and that savages exist in public, ruled by the laws of their tribe. How do those ideas ring with you? Do we have to accept a loss of privacy to come together more as a collective society or are we setting up tribes to confront each other?
Jack: I don’t believe we have to sacrifice privacy to be a more collective society. To me, it seems the one and only reason for our loss of privacy is greed. Information is the most valuable resource in the world right now so any company that can farm data from their users most certainly will, with no consideration of whether it’s ethical or not.
‘Tribes’ to me suggests aggressiveness which I don’t think is the right way to put it. People by nature will always have their own groups and beliefs and that will never change, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and to what group they wish to be associated with.
LTW: The album title track, and the song Reality Is Calling, continue with the same No Future idea of the Sex Pistols and seems to come from your own experiences growing up on the Isle of Wight. How has growing up there affected your outlook on life and do you have a desire to escape it in any way?
Sid: We never want to sound too negative about where we’re from, every place has its downfalls and its positives. We’ll always take it in our stride living on the island, making the most of what we have available to us, as you’ll be able to hear on the track Dover Street. However, growing up and living on the Isle of Wight but also being fortunate enough to travel and see other towns/cities, you quickly realise that time has quite literally stood still here.
The general pace of life is so slow and there’s a real lack of career opportunity. So, if you’re a teenager or in your twenties, this is kind of the last place you’d want to be. I would say it has changed our outlook. If anything it makes us more determined to achieve higher so that we have the opportunity to eventually move and benefit ourselves.
LTW: There’s a misconception within the DIY punk community that ambition means selling out. Even though you’re now signed to an independent label, set up by someone who himself has stayed on an independent, I have already seen comments on some of your recent videos that you’re turning your back on the Oi! scene. How do you respond to that type of criticism? And considering that the Pistols, Ramones, Clash and Sham 69 were all signed to majors from the start, is the whole idea of selling out a hang up in the community that needs to be disregarded?
Sid: You can please some people some of the time, but you can’t please everyone all of the time. We’ve also seen some of the criticism, which we’re not surprised by. We were fully prepared for it all to come in. The band’s ethos and direction hasn’t changed in the slightest. The natural progression in songwriting is without a doubt prominent since our early records, but who wants to listen to a band that sounds the same on every single release?
I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to change the mindset of people – once they have a perception of you, that’s that. It’s never going to stop us from going out and doing what we’re doing.
LTW: You’re a band that is in no way scared of hard graft and touring. The track Murder Town on the album talks of the liberation of the road. What’s it like for you guys as a band on the road in terms of the venues you play, the people you meet?
Jack: The most interesting thing for me is definitely the people. When you cover such big distances in a short time you really get to appreciate the difference in cultures. Meeting new people every night is so much fun, not just culturally but just meeting new interesting characters. It is also an eye opener of how good-hearted most people are, at least within the punk scene. On our last US tour we stayed at random people’s houses in each city because we couldn’t afford hotels. Every single person who put us up (and pretty much everyone else at the shows for that matter) was so welcoming and generous and it really makes you think, if we can find people this kind in every city we visit, maybe people aren’t as bad as we make them out to be.
LTW: Most of the album deals with societal ills, but there are a couple of tracks that stand apart from that. Johnny Aggro, a character piece, and Bowling Green Lane, which is more about the personal experience than global, follow that British storytelling through song tradition that we’ve seen from The Beatles and The Kinks, through certain punk bands like The Monks, and on to the earlier stuff from Arctic Monkeys. Do you feel you fit into that tradition and how do you see the future of it?
Sid: I’ve always been a huge fan of songs that tell a story, whether it’s from personal experience or something totally fictional. It’s something I’ve definitely tried to bring into the mix throughout our songwriting especially on this album in particular. Alex Turner’s lyrics are some that I actually went back to during the time we were recording demos. The attention to detail is something I’ve always loved, for example “But this lad at her side drinking his Smirnoff Ice came and paid for her Tropical Reef”. It was never an intention to fit into that tradition, but it’s something we’ll definitely continue to do.
We had a conversation recently about the future of music in general and it’s looking better than ever, there are so many great new bands that are packing venues in the UK; The Interrupters, Amyl & The Sniffers, The Chats, Idles, Slaves, etc. It’s amazing to see it happening around us, long may it continue!
LTW: Definitely! What are your favourite tracks on the album and why?
Jack: J.S.A is actually one of my favourites. It may not be a track that stands out to most because it’s not particularly chorus-heavy or designed to be a ‘single’. But again, it’s got that classic British storytelling that Sid does so well. And to me, that is one of our biggest strengths as a band.
LTW: And finally, when can we see you out on the road and how do you see the next year for the band?
Jack: We’ll be back on the road in October touring the US on both the east and west coast. We also have more plans for the rest of the year that will be announced soon. You can check out the list of shows on our website.
Next year we hope to be on the road as much as possible and getting our name out there. We’ve been absolutely loving touring the US and we hope to carry on touring there as well as other new places. I see us keeping very busy if all goes well!
Good luck with it all and thanks for taking the time.
Grade 2’s new album, Graveyard Island, is released on Hellcat Records on the 11th of October. You can pre-order it here, and check out the previous video for the title track below.
Grade 2 have announced UK dates in support of their album, Graveyard Island
Interview by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.