The hunger to play live music has lead some musicians playing in more than one act to let their creative juices flow, gain fans for their other projects as well as the chance to play to different audiences and venues. One band that has members with impressive underground histories are the mighty Grave Lines from London and Brighton. I got a chance to speak to Matt, Oli and Jake from the band in the lead up to Desertfest where we get to talk about the band’s history, London, their albums, Desertfest and the stoner scene as well as their upcoming releases.
Jack: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you?
Matt (Bass): Terrible thanks. Life is pain, people are awful, misery is real. But spring is here and we like a nice drink in the sunshine so it’s not all shit.
Jack: Grave Lines members are made up of current and former members of various bands including Dead Existence, Sea Bastard, Throne, Dysteria, War Wolf and Casual Nun. How did you all meet? Did you all meet each other at gigs?
Matt: We met behind the bikesheds, smoking crack and worshiping the downfall of humankind. Joking of course. Jake and I met in the gutter aeons ago, drinking a tinnie outside of some show or other, who remembers? I joined Dead Existence not too long after. Oli played in a rad doom band called Jovian around the same time but who promptly broke up, but then we reclaimed his soul once Sea Bastard reared its beastly bonce and through Dead Existence etc we became sound mates. Julia we met out and about a number of years back too when she was with Throne, and we all got on over pints and heavy fackin music. So basically we all know each other because of alcohol and riffs, lifesblood.
Jack: When did you decide to combine forces to form a band?
Oli (Guitar): Dead Existence had reached its conclusion soon after War Wolf, which I was playing in before. Matt and Jake asked me to play in something new with them and after years of friendship and playing with each others bands, I didn’t hesitate, it felt like a natural progression.
I’m very picky about drummers, but when we met with Julia for a jam it was obvious that we’d made our pack very quickly and had chosen very well.
Jack: As members with such a rich history of other bands it has caused you to be dubbed a super group. How do you feel about this tag?
Jake (Vocals): I think there’s a certain amount of arrogance needed to describe yourself as a supergroup. Most bands we play with are made up of members of other great bands that have preceded them so it’s maybe a bit of an irrelevant tag. We wouldn’t use it to describe ourselves but obviously it’s a complement if someone describes us in that way so we aren’t going to complain.
Jack: I think of your sound as post-sludge. What are the musical influences of Grave Lines?
Oli: When we got together, we didn’t have a game plan or a genre in mind, we just wanted to play music together and I think it is that approach which has made clear that our influences are far and wide. We like everything from Noothgrush to Bauhaus, Saint Vitus to Throbbing Gristle, Burning Witch to Celtic Frost and Neurosis to The Pet Shop Boys. So we’ve come back to doom through goth and more broader styles with more sensitivity to nuance and drift of mood than ever before.
Jack: Has being from London and Brighton had any influence over the band?
Matt: Massively for me, and I think subconcsiouly ANY musician or artist or person from said areas will undoubtedly have the city as an overiding influence in almost everything they do. Most of us choose to live here because of an affinity to the place. The epochs of historical content that are involved with this patch of land which we reside have most definitely left a residue on the cognitive disposition of those that spend time here. It’s impossible not to both be in awe of what has occurred here, as well as simultaneously be frightful and outraged at what the psychopathic money makers are doing to the legacy of that history. I dunno about you but I don’t wanna live in a glass fucking city, or worse a plastic clad one! I think London in general has an unfairly bad rap amongst people trying to make some sort of stupid fucking statement against what they perceive to be some kind of institutional enemy. I hear people complain about London specifically all the time, and I think that can often stem from them rocking up here and expecting to be entertained like it’s some kind of fucking circus. That’s not the way to get on in this city.
London is a blank canvas to some extent. You have the opportunity to do ANYTHING here, unstiffled by the constraints of archaic, un-liberated or closed off viewpoints and dogmas, and also to ignore all that has gone on here that has been fundamentally against the hierarchy is simply ludicrous anyway. The old Samuel Johnson inspired adage “anyone who is bored of London is bored of life” always rings true to me. Rather than blaming your surroundings here you can be unconstrained, and use the endless opportunities around to make the city work for you. London is malleable, which is one of the reasons I find an affinity with it. Although so is it’s legacy, and we must be mindful to stand up to the developers to retain the foundations of what has made this such a place so rich with creativity and unparalleled inspiration, a head trip paradise… I suppose there may be an element of contradiction there, but I give zero fucks. The world is a confusing place, and London is a microcosm. Embrace it and hate it all at once. It’s beautiful.
Jack: Your debut album Welcome to Nothing came out last year, are you happy with the response it got?
Matt: Yeah man, it seems there are some melancholy people out there! These are sad times, so it’s cathartic when anyone kindly latches on and wallows with us in our misery vibes. United in sorrow! To some extent we purposely stayed behind closed doors until the album was ready to go so that we could come straight out with material that we could stand behind. No offence to any band that goes down the demo route / drumming up support through internet pages before they have music out etc, but that just wasn’t for us initially, and I think it leant towards more impact once the album and the band were ready to unleash.
Jack: Is there a theme to the album?
Jake: Lyrically the main theme across the album is around our species tendency to be the cause of our own misery. We perpetuate our own demise. Like the self fulfilling prophecy that left cronus cast from his throne by his own children. The human is a self destructive creature and ultimately it’s our own ignorance that often kills us. The failings within the human condition are something I come back to a lot with lyrics. there’s a lot to explore there. A lot of intensity and a heavy dose of sorrow and tragedy which all resonates deeply with this music. The album title was lifted from lyrics to the song “extinction pill” which as a song follows those themes in a more literal sense.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Oli: We worked with Greg Chandler for the first time in Birmingham. It was very important to us to record live and as a whole band. We had the bass amp down one end of a corridor and the guitar at the other end. And Matt and I faced into Julia in the drum room. We needed to get the ebb and flow of our live performance on the recording and Greg facilitated that remarkably. We’re so pleased with the results and especially his mixing on the vocals that we’ll be recording the next record with him. It was also amazing to have Paul “Win” Winstanley produce the record as he is someone I trust whole heartedly. We really have grown together with heavy music.
Jack: What’s it like working with Black Reaper Records?
Jake: Black Reaper Records is Oli’s DIY label [that] he runs with a mate so it was really a case of the easiest way for us to put the first album out without pissing about dealing with anyone outside of the band. This left us able to get ‘Welcome To Nothing’ out there as soon as we were ready so it worked out nicely for that first release.
Jack: How was it to support Ufomammut last year?
Matt: Ufomammut are a great fucking band, and top people. I’ve watched them go from strength to strength over the last decade or so, and they smashed it that night too. But honestly playing ANY show at the Underworld is always a favourite for us. It’s been our home from home for a large number of years and the venue team there are just the best people, so it always just feels… right somehow.
Jack: This year you played a few shows with Oathbreaker and Svalbard, how did they go?
Jake: They were really good. The Underworld as Matt said is always a joy to play and pretty much feels like home turf. The Brighton show at The Haunt was just a really good gig for us, great crowd and a really solid venue. Oathbreaker were great to watch too as we’ve been really digging their new album. You can really see what a well oiled machine they are at the moment, they’ve really got their shit together. We spent a fair few hours out drinking with them after the gigs as well which was good fun. They are good guys!
Jack: You’re playing Desertfest this year, what are you most looking forward to about Desertfest?
Matt: Booze, mates, new faces, good vibes, Zombi in the Black Heart, Bongzilla back in Lahndan for the first time in 14 years, similarly with Scissorfight back at The Underworld once again, all things to look forward to. Plus we have a special occasion to throw into the mix too so I doubt we’ll be particularly sober! It’s always a raucous time, and being a new band it’s a rad platform to get our shtick out to some folks who may not have heard us before, so we’re stoked on that.
Jack: Do you think genre specific festivals like Desertfest are the future of festivals?
Jake: I think the music industry has changed and we are running out of these big arena sized headliners. It’s getting pretty tired having Iron Maiden and Metallica and the like headline everything. Having more of these small niche festivals rather than a few big ones is definitely preferable to me. It makes room for more interesting billing and allows space for the smaller lesser known bands that deserve the stage. With these smaller festivals there are always more discoveries to be made rather than watching the same predictable bands for the 15th time.
Jack: Are stoner/sludge/doom getting more popular or is the scene just more connected thanks to the internet and places like Desertfest?
Matt: Yeah I guess the internet must’ve played a part. I hate the fucking internet at the best of times, but I suppose it’s undeinabley been a viable way to spread information and get people out to events, and hearing bands and the such. The problem is that connection can be useful, but so is discovery. One of my personal issues with the internet is it being the plate upon which everyone is served a dose of neatly packaged and targeted consumerism, for lack of a better word. Personal musical discovery was so important to our development as young people into mid-aged musicians, so I can’t fathom being solely reliant on such a whimsical entity, and I hope/urge that the youth of today don’t put too much faith into the subversive and manipulative, make-believe chambers of cyberspace. Holding on to something tangible serves a purpose to root you as a human to the earth. Too much reliance upon the common opinion heralded by the fictional caves of social media can leave you as a shallow and empty disposable shell if you’re not careful to match your information and entertainment intake with some proper grounding. Seriously, simply getting out and watching bands live can be the most important thing. Not sitting in your padded chair in suburbia being your own fucking dungeon master.
I think that’s where smaller independent festivals are becoming more and more important in the current climate of “being told” what to enjoy. Getting out there, putting your stupid smart phone away, wandering around and catching bands you’ve never heard of and that you know nothing about might just be one of the most liberating things you can do, and it’s what can REALLY bring people together, rather than the perceived notion of “what’s cool right now”, or the current fad. Stoner / sludge / doom, as with a vast array of other underground forms of music and expression, are rooted in something that runs deeper with the inner being than what the internet tells you is popular right now. Although you might see more vintage doom shirts skulking through the streets these days, I wonder once the fanfare passes on if we’ll see a slink back deeper into the underground, or whether, hopefully, there is a longer lasting affect on the psyche of the populous and heavy music can continue it’s just deserves with a strong and expanding fanbase, who are willing to not just hark to the glories of olde, but to push forward into new and uncharted territory and create a lasting, ever morphing movement of it’s own.
Jack: Grave Lines are very active on the live schedule, is it hard to find time for the band with day jobs and the other projects?
Oli: We all work full time jobs and have at least another band on the go. For me, music is a form of alchemy, it turns negativity into something of worth. I feel like I’d be lost without it and because of that I’m more than happy to spend all of my time on it, working on riffs and jamming with my favourite people. It means we are busy people, but also very satisfied.
Jack: What are your plans post Desertfest?
Oli: It’s going to be knuckling down and learning the feeling of the new record ready to record it, we’re nearly there with mapping out the stories. Once we’ve done that we’ll be up in Brum to record and after that we’ll be ready for more shows. We’re playing Mammothfest in Brighton and we’ll look into touring with more friends towards the end of the year.
Jack: Finally, do you prefer playing with bands of your ilk or on a mixed line up?
Jake: I think that completely depends on the bands in question. Some gigs are mismatched to the point that it kills the vibe and just doesn’t work but at the same time nobody wants to sit through four bands that sound exactly the same. I’m definitely a fan of mixing things up in general. I think a lot of people get really caught up on these imagine boundaries for things. which is why you can quite often get a lot of resistance within heavy music if you try and mix in elements that aren’t usually associated with it. People get really set in their ways with what they expect to hear but I think there is always a danger of letting things stagnate with that attitude. Some people expect to see a lineup of only brutal death metal bands, or a lineup of only classic doom bands, or old school black metal or whatever else you can think of but they are probably the same boring cunts that want to listen the same ten Iron Maiden songs every time they step into a rock bar. Mix it up I say!