UTG INTERVIEW: Grumsling Discuss Their Titular Character, Current Releases

Grumsling

Grumsling‘s more than just a rock band from California’s Bay Area. The brother duo, consisting of Matt and D.J. Lowe, create music entirely based around a narrative involving a character they’ve named their band after. For the most part, The Grumsling dictates the way the band operates and when, but the creativity and sounds they manage to emit is all from the minds of the Lowe brothers and their revolving cast of guest musicians who contribute to it all.

We had the chance to speak with Matt Lowe about the project, The Grumsling, and how it all began. You can read through our in-depth conversation below to learn about the band’s history, their annual writing/recording schedule and what their story’s all about.

First off, can you tell me a bit about the band name, the story it involves and how it all comes together with the music?

Grumsling is the name of a character, a main player in the story this project has been created to tell. He is a reluctant herald of destruction, traveling throughout the universe, making stops at systems that are targeted for annihilation by his mother. While this sounds very dark (and to an extent it is), there is a part of the Grumsling that is curious and even lighthearted, and more than a bit mischievous, and as the eons pass, he struggles with understanding this aspect of his personality and how he came to be this way. There is a lot more to the story, but that’s a decent introduction to who the Grumsling is.

The name itself came about in an interesting way – in the very early stages of the project, while trying to come up with a name, I heard my son (3 years old at the time) say “Grumsling” (or at least that’s what I thought he was saying) a few nights in a row while taking a bath. It was always at the end of the bath – he would want to stay in the tub until the last bit of water started to go down the drain. As soon as the water was nearly all out of the tub, you could hear the sucking sound of the drain. At that point he went into a kind of panic and would yell for me to get him out of there right away…before he “turned into a Grumsling.” This happened for a few nights, and I asked him where he had heard that name. He didn’t really give me an answer, and my curiosity made me do a search for it, or at least what I thought he was saying. The only thing I could find online at the time was a reference to an obscure Hans Christian Andersen book, To Be or Not to Be, where it was used as a term of endearment by a character for her child. At that point I was hooked, and it took me about a week to sell the rest of the guys on the name.

To me the project is really about telling stories – some are tied directly to what I call the “long arc” story that directly involves the Grumsling and some of the other “main characters”…and others may only be partially or remotely connected to the “long arc” story, or just reference something from it. The music is a vehicle for helping tell stories; some songs are tied directly to the overall Grumsling story and some are not. During live performances, even songs that were written as standalone pieces are put into an order and played along with visual elements that help set a mood or advance a story line. While the music is very important to the project overall and to me personally, we really view it as a multi-media project.

How did you guys originally come together with a desire to start this band?

The story and concept-project idea of the Grumsling really comes from my warped view of reality and obsession with entertainment in general, and with telling stories. It’s not always an easy thing to verbalize (at least for me) and hasn’t been easy to get everyone else in the project to fully understand the extent of what I have in mind for it.

As far as starting the band for our existing released material, I suppose it goes back to late 2012. I have been in a handful of bands in the Bay Area since moving here in 2002, but after having twins in 2009 I took a step back from a couple of my music projects to focus on my family and other work obligations. In 2012 I felt like I was in a new phase with the kids being a little older and involved in preschool, and I had an itch to get back into playing and performing music. I played with a few random groups before getting linked up with Dominic Rodriguez (drummer). For a couple months we played with a guitar player and some other random musicians, and the two of us decided to start a new musical group together. He brought in his long-time friend, Carl Flynn (guitar), and I brought my brother D.J. (keys/synth). We started working on music together sometime around May 2013. Like most things, we all had our own reasons for wanting to start the band – but mine really has always been to tell stories.

And collectively, where would you say you guys have drawn influence for the sound and style you’ve taken on?

I would say our musical sound/style is really a blend of our individual musical tastes, which vary. Dominic’s influences are bands like Modest Mouse, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Portugal. The Man. Carl has a pretty broad range of musical influences, from post-punk stuff to things like James Blake and some flavors of EDM. D.J. has always been into improvisational/jam rock and jazz. I would say my main influences are Pink Floyd and Talking Heads.

For our style on our two released EPs, one thing that we really went for was a live sound. We recorded both of them on 1″ tape in live-studio sessions at House of Faith Records in Oakland, with minimal vocal overdubs, and mixed them all directly from the board. Neither touched ProTools or had any digital editing at all. We wanted these EPs to be raw, have our flaws in them, and sound like we did live at the time.

And for those who maybe haven’t heard Grumsling and would like an idea of what to expect, how would you describe what you guys sound like?

Our music is rock and roll…I would say it ranges from a retro ’70s groove feel to a more almost alt-rock feel. I’m trying to coin the phrase “new classic rock” for our sound.

Your last two EPs were both released on the same exact day of 2014 and 2015. Can you tell me about the significance behind that?

The Grumsling is a creature of darkness…or maybe more accurately he is absence or the void…

He demanded that we do our tracking on the darkest day of the year for each of our EPs, so in 2013 and 2014 we did our tracking on the winter solstice. He also set our releases for the day after the spring equinox – go figure. We just listen to him.

So with the story, is there a connecting theme or narrative between the two releases?

As far as the overall Grumsling story, the two EPs really only advance it in an abstract way (most of the tracks at least). There are some hints to a continued theme of ending relationships through both releases, some of which was actually unintentional.

As time passes our releases will become more and more story/theme-related.

Between the two EPs, were there any major differences in the way they were written or recorded?

Both EPs were recorded in the same exact way at the same studio (live tracking studio sessions to tape, mixed directly from the board, only vocal overdubs for harmonies/etc. and no digital manipulation).

Each member wrote some songs for these releases – we would bring songs to our lab/practice sessions and work on them for months before selecting the ones we wanted to record. A lot of the songs on our second release were in our repertoire even back in 2013 – to me both EPs fit together; the material came from the same time (mid-2013 mid-2014).

Besides the core members of the band, you have others who get involved as well right? What roles do these guests usually play?

We frequently have guest members come to our rehearsals and work on music with us. Some are friends or previous band mates, others are musicians we find and want to collaborate with, and some even have been other musicians who have rehearsal spots close to ours. Most often they sit in on some of our songs and we play some of theirs.

One of our plans, which will hopefully be ready sometime in 2016, is to have a monthly 15-minute “show” with a different guest musician each time. We will learn one of the guest’s songs, they will learn to play one of ours with us, and we will play one cover song together. Visually, our animation/visual show would tell a story that loosely goes along with the themes of the songs that are played live, interspersed with some video footage from the live musical performance.

When it comes to your live show, who all is involved in the performance?

As I write this, we’re currently a two person live show (D.J. and I). Very recently Carl and Dominic decided to leave Grumsling. We have electronic drums/beats and sound effects, D.J. sings and plays keyboards and synths, and I play guitar, some bass guitar, and sing as well. We have some guest musicians that we are getting ready to perform with us later this year/in early 2016.

I’m from the Bay Area myself, so I’m curious as to what some of your favorite venues are in the area, both to perform at or to see other acts play.

We have a lot of places we like to play in the Bay Area – we had a fun show at El Rio in San Francisco a few months ago, and we really enjoy playing at the Stork Club in Oakland. We also love playing at The Bistro in Hayward, a great intimate venue.

I love seeing shows at The New Parish in Oakland, and I’ve enjoyed a couple shows this year at the Awaken Café in Oakland as well. Hotel Utah in SF is also one of my favorite venues to play at or see other bands play.

As for the rest of the year, what does Grumsling have planned? Anything new material, tours, or something we haven’t talked about that you’d like to cover?

Musically, we’re currently working on another EP. We will be recording in December and releasing it in March 2016, just like our previous releases. In early 2016 we should have a couple more music videos released as we get ready to put out the EP. Later this year we will be publishing a handful of new short stories on our WordPress site, and continuing to work with some of our artist friends to further develop the visual aspect of our stories.

Feature image courtesy of Gary Malec Photography

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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