Lead singer /guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani and drummer Braeden Craig of Toronto’s uber loud-but-friendly Greys chat to Lisa Sookraj about their dynamic upcoming LP, If Anything, out June 17th on Buzz Records and Carpark.
LS: As someone who has heard the new album many times, I would say it sounds like you’ve organically made a progressive stride towards finding a strong sound for yourselves. It has a different feel in terms of pace and process. I’m wondering if this somehow reflects where the band is at now, like something like Drift did then? And if so, what’s changed for you personally or musically to alter your approach to recording and the kind of effect you wanted to create this time?
SJ: There was a year between when we recorded Drift and when we recorded If Anything, so there was a lot of growth. We knew what we sounded like then and just wanted to do it. Now it sounds kinda like we’ve figured out what we’re gonna sound like.
LS: You’ve referred to the new album as being a bit more ‘digestible’ and ‘dynamic’ of a listen, which I agree it is. What’s your favourite song on the release, and how it does it accomplish what you’d hoped for?
BC: The slow one, “Cold Soak”. That song’s really cool because it’s long and kinda droney. It’s nice to be able to make a song that’s weirder than the other ones but it still fits and doesn’t seem out of context on the album.
SJ: Yeah, there’s more space. An EP is like when you open a show, you have 20-30 minutes to play your best songs and get people’s attention. When you’re headlining you have more time. There’s more room to flex our muscles I guess.
BC: Or lack thereof (laughs).
LS: It seems like you pull from a lot of different genres and influences, including some of my favourite bands like Failure, Nirvana and Hot Snakes. You’ve suggested that some additional influences, like Sloan and Pavement, informed your sound this time around. Is this the result of a newer interest in these types of bands, or was it always there but not incorporated before?
SJ: Well there wasn’t really room on a 7″. It wouldn’t really make sense. That’s why that split we did with Beliefs was really cool. We always grew up listening to that kind of music, so it comes pretty naturally to us. It’s just a matter of picking which things you want to do at that current moment. There are songs that didn’t go on this album because they were too much of a digression. It’s just a matter of keeping it consistent and cohesive.
LS: What is it that you appreciate about the sound of those bands (like Sloan or Pavement) as opposed to the heavier influences?
BC: I couldn’t get into Pavement for a really long time. I kinda didn’t like the drums and I normally listen to music for that. But then one day I realized that the drums are awesome and an integral part of it. It’s just different than the drums in heavier bands like Hot Snakes, which are more in your face.
SJ: I think we really like pop songs too. I like heavy music but I don’t listen to it as much now, and the type of ‘heavy’ is more like Unwound or Sonic Youth or something more noisy and chaotic as opposed to something like Botch. But with Sloan and that stuff, it’s that there’s songs. That’s what I like about our band – it’s not just one sound repeated over and over again. Each song exists in its own space, and it’s more apparent on this one than the records we’ve done before.
LS: How do you feel about comparisons been drawn between you and other bands in Toronto scene, or in general?
SJ: That depends on the band (laughs).
BC: I was watching that Ginger Baker documentary yesterday and numerous times he gets mad at interviewers because they’re comparing his bands to other bands.
SJ: Well it’s true, but you have to see both sides. From the journalistic side, yes, you need a frame of reference. But from our side it’s fine, but it’s frustrating. I get it, we don’t lose sleep over it and make as much of a joke about it as we can. I don’t think you can say we sound exactly like Fugazi. Certainly not at this point. It’s just kind of a lazy comparison. The METZ thing makes sense. They’re the only other really loud, noisy punk band in Toronto. We also don’t sound anything like them and knowing those guys, I know we go at our bands completely differently. They don’t write the same way we do.
BC: It’s also flattering though. We may not always agree it’s accurate, but at the same time if someone thinks that, then that’s pretty cool.
I’m certainly not offended that we’re compared to METZ – that’s a compliment, they’re the best band in the city. If someone says Drive Like Jehu too, it’s like, fine, they basically taught me how to play guitar. I’m not gonna say, “Ah, well, actually…'” We could have it worse. Beliefs always get compared to the same three bands is strating for them.
BC: It’s not like someone’s comparing us to Blind Melon.
LS: You’ve said that Greys and other bands in Toronto formed as a reaction to a lack of good, intelligent heavy music. It seems to me like a great moment for this kind of thing, for musicians, younger listeners and people in their 30s or beyond that haven’t heard much like this in the past decade.
SJ: It’s cyclical in a way. Noisy guitar rock, hasn’t been very popular. A lot of nice sounding guitar music, kinda twinkly stuff, has been popular for a long time. Then bands like Speedy Ortiz and METZ and Room Runner do well and you’re like, oh wait, you can play guitars like that and it’s totally OK. That just wasn’t present for awhile, anywhere, but especially in Toronto. Broken Social Scene was really popular here, so that influenced a lot of bands, and rightfully so, they did a lot for the city.
There’s always been a music scene in Toronto with institutions like Wavelength and NXNE and other things. But right now, so many bands are getting written up in publications around the world. We try to talk about it as much as possible now because this scene wasn’t here a few years ago and might not be here in another few. That’s why we take what we do so seriously and why we’re so proud of it.
LS: That’s where my question was going actually. If this is a sort of special moment that is getting this international attention right now, does what might happen with your following or reception after concern you?
BC: I think it’s counterproductive to worry a bout that stuff. Because if that’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen.
LS: I think you just have to take advantage. A lot of bands that are talented don’t get the exposure as a result of timing or location etc.
BC: That kind of stuff is never lost on us. We always talk about how it’s like 90% luck, 10% talent. Some people can be amazing and work as hard as they can and still never get anywhere. Who’s to say why that happens, but it does.
SJ: You can’t really focus on it. Many of our favourite bands came out of Seattle, Olympia and Tacoma after grunge had already happened and there wasn’t that worldwide focus anymore. There are still great bands in Chicago and Seattle and those places that had big scenes. Even if there wasn’t attention, we would still be doing this, but we are absolutely grateful that people care right now, because we wouldn’t have the opportunities that we do.
LS: Having lived in Toronto your whole lives, what are some of the things you love about the city?
SJ: The food is really good. It’s safe, it’s clean. Everyone here is nice, for the most part. It’s cool. There’s lots of great record stores and bars. There’s never a time I’m coming home and like, “Oh, I have to go back to this place”. I’m stoked because I love it here. It’s like the perfect size and you don’t have to stay in one area because they’re all close together.
BC: You don’t have to go over bridges to get to other sides of it.
LS: Defining a band’s sound is never easy. Maybe the effect of their sound is a better way to put it. What do you think your fans take away from or relate to in your music?
SJ: Probably a headache.
BC: I feel people might like that the lyrics are good. They have topics and opinions and you can really take something away. The music is good too, but it’s important to have lyrics that make you think and you can relate to. For some of my favourite bands, at times I connect with the lyrics as much as anything else.
SJ: During NXNE we will probably be doing a lot of stuff as the record comes out right then.
BC: We have one tour booked right now. A month-long one in the States then another one there as well. There’s plans to go to Europe. Which is insane because none of us have ever been over there.
SJ: The goal is ideally we’ll be over there before the end of the year, so that’s pretty wild. Touring in general is always exciting and fun for us. We’re doing a bunch of dates with the Dirty Nil.
LS: If your band was an alchoholic drink, what would it be?
BC: Stiegl Radler.
SJ: Yeah that’s a good one. It’s kinda fruity and sweet. It’s delicious.
BC: But not that much alcohol. It’s like 2 %.
LS: If you could go back in time to see any band, who would it be and if applicable, when/where?
SJ: Seeing The Stones in ’71 or ’72 would probably be the best thing ever.
BC: I’d want to see Cream. Couldn’t care less about Eric Clapton, but Ginger Baker. Or him playing with Fela Kuti.
SJ: That’d be a pretty inventive trip. Probably a lot of the bands you think would be cool live wouldn’t be. Like Wire would probably be kinda boring and just stand there. Failure will also probably be pretty boring, though it’s going to sound great.
Interview by Lisa Sookraj, find her Louder Than War archive here.