It seems like day two of Temples was all about Josh Graham. His old comrades in Neurosis were headlining, he’d already played a stunning set with Mike Gallagher’s MGR and a few of his current bandmates and slap-bang in the middle of the day was the unbridled fury of his mainstay, A Storm Of Light. Somehow, though, he managed to spare some time to talk about festivals, his design work and his own musical heritage.
Hi Josh, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us. How are you enjoying the festival so far?
Yeah, it’s awesome – really cool. The building is awesome, the bands are all great and I really feel like this is one of the best metal line-ups I’ve seen in quite some time. I’m super-impressed, and I know some of the people who are playing here, so that’s cool.
Have you managed to catch anyone who’s played yet?
Not really, I’ve been running around. I did a couple of interviews earlier, changed my guitar strings, set up the projector and ate for, like, fifteen minutes, then I came here but I’d like to see Conan, Tombs and Neurosis, of course.
That was a really great set with MGR earlier. I wasn’t expecting that, as I just thought it would have been Mike playing solo.
Yeah, we asked him to go on tour with us and because he’s played with us before, just playing solo, he asked us if he’d mind playing with him because he wanted to do some different stuff.
Is it more stressful or less playing with someone else’s project as opposed to just your own?
I guess it’s a different kind of stress, just making sure that we support him in a proper way and don’t fuck up the songs. The songs we play with him are set, or mostly set, but there are some parts that can change with every show so it’s pretty interesting. I’m definitely a little detached from that, versus A Storm Of Light, because that’s so much more hectic for me; guitar, singing, everything really, so this is nice. In some ways, I guess this is kind of relaxing.
How are you feeling about your set later today?
Good. Well, a little bit nervous, but hopefully everything will work out.
Do you have a different mindset going into a festival show as you would for a club show?
Yeah, you definitely have to be more on top of all the components. Because we have the visuals, the computer shit and, like, thirty minutes to set it all up, so there’s definitely much more responsibility.
Is there much of a change in the setlist, given that you might be playing to an audience that aren’t so familiar with you?
We’re actually keeping our set that we’ve been touring on for the past couple of weeks. We’re swapping out a couple of songs but we’re pretty happy with this as it’s the right set length, 45 minutes. Last night, we played a grindcore fest, Kin Hell Fest, and did clean-up at about 2 in the morning, so we definitely cut our set there. That was pretty weird.
Do you remember your first festival, as an attendee?
I don’t know… I mean, I went to weird festivals in the States but I don’t know if I’d even consider them festivals. Maybe White Zombie and Monster Magnet? That was in the late 90s, when I lived in Tennessee for, like, six months, but as far as Europe is concerned, I think it was Fury Fest with Neurosis. I feel like that was the first European festival I was at.
Am I right in thinking that you guys played at the Scion AV fest? What’s your take on that, as I know some artists had really good experiences with it but a lot of people are a bit iffy about the corporate aspect of it.
Ours was fine. I mean, I did quite a bit of work for them outside of the band, like poster designs and they actually let me design a car. It was an exterior, the wrap for one of their small cars, and then they had a show. I did one, The Melvins did one, and there was maybe three others, so that was pretty interesting. Our message is a bit more apocalyptic, against humanity and stuff, so I don’t think there was really any conflict in that respect. But for some other bands, like, I think maybe Converge had some problem with it. I remember Jake saying something along the lines of he’d rather drive a Jeep Cherokee or something, and not a Scion.
So is that the strangest design work you’ve done then?
Oh no, I’ve done all kinds of shit! I’m doing less and less of it now but my work is as a freelance designer for design firms and I’ve done shit from The Disney Channel to Subaru commercials and movie titles; I even designed a sports network, and I don’t watch sports. That was for the Texas Longhorns, an entire network, but I don’t enjoy that work at all. It’s good in some ways as it takes me out of my element and I’m forced to take control, to find a creative solution to something I don’t care about at all. It strengthens me to do something I don’t enjoy because I’m forced to think about different angles for the more corporate stuff, whereas obviously my own work is very far from that. It’s an interesting dichotomy. Sometimes, I learn from the kids working at the design firms because they listen to what’s on the radio and don’t know what metal is so I definitely get another side of the design aesthetic.
I was wondering what happened that made you cancel your Glasgow show?
Yeah, we knew that MGR was playing, and we knew that A Storm Of Light were playing, but we didn’t know until basically the day we got here that MGR was playing first, and that we had to be here at 11, so that was the first major issue. We would have had to drive for eight hours; leave London at 7 in the morning, drive to Glasgow, play, load out our equipment and leave at 2 or 3 in the morning to get here. Then we actually have to be at the airport to leave here at 5:30 tomorrow morning, our tour manager has to drive back to Prague, and it got a little too crazy. We didn’t want to risk getting in a car accident because he hadn’t slept, and we can’t legally drive the van that he’s in. It sucks because we really love playing there. I mean, my lineage is Scottish so I love it there. If I could just move to the Highlands, that would be pretty awesome.
You’ve been touring Nations To Flames for a while now. Has your outlook on the album changed much now that you’ve had a few months to get used to it?
I’m really happy with it. I feel like this is the first one that I’ve been really happy with. It’s a bit of a step out from what we’ve normally done but it’s more challenging and it’s definitely more fun to play. It’s all-consuming, so it’s like trying to keep up with it rather than a lot of our slower songs from earlier records, where it almost became tedious to play them, just because they’re so slow. You’re, like, “Ughh, when’s the next beat coming?” We keep going back and forth with some of the songs in our live set from the old record but I think that if we get to a point where there’s a lot of people and a regular tour, maybe we can mix and match a little bit more.
A bit of a standard question but if you had to curate a festival yourself, what bands would you have on the bill?
I don’t know. I listen to so much shit so it’d probably be super-disjointed. A girl asked me that earlier and I said Metallic, circa 1980s. Maybe Grinderman, Nick Cave, something like that? Swans, as they’re probably my favourite band. I always kind of blank on stuff like that.
So what have you been listening to at the moment?
Oranssi Pazuzu, and a band called Barn Owl. That stuff’s amazing. I’ve also been listening to Nortt. It’s this Norwegian guy; ambient black metal, in a way. Then the usual stuff: Meshuggah, old Metallica, the new Nick Cave record, Push The Sky Away – I really like that one. That’s what’s coming to mind right now.
One more thing I wanted to ask you – what’s your take on punk these days? Your new album is a lot faster, a lot punkier than your early stuff, plus Southern Lord has a great roster as far as it’s concerned.
I guess our influence is definitely older punk. The first stuff I got into was like The Vandals, Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag. My dad’s friend that he worked with, for two years, let me borrow all the Black Flag vinyl. He gave it to me in 1985, I had it for a couple of years, and then he took it back, and then I was sad. But it was awesome. It totally blew my mind, because it had everything, it was so cool. I still listen to Black Flag a lot, and Discharge. I think Discharge’s way of writing was definitely a big influence on me.
Were you more geared towards US punk than British?
It’s funny, because we were talking about that in the van. I totally missed Cro-mags. Everyone else in the band is from the east coast, I’m from the west coast, and when I thought about it I realised that pretty much everything I had back in junior high school was primarily west coast. It was all from southern California, except for bad Brains. It’s weird, so there was some stuff that I totally missed. But I have an older friend who’s totally into all that British punk so I had a bunch of that too.
Yeah, it was just recently that I got into stuff like Rudimentary Peni myself.
Yeah, they’re awesome. Did you hear that Chelsea Wolfe collection of covers?
That’s great, but for weirdness it’s not quite up there with Tori Amos’ cover of Raining Blood.
Oh my god, I haven’t heard that! That sounds amazing, I’ll have to check it out.
Nations To Flames is out now via Southern Lord and can be purchased from the label HERE.
Interviewed by: Dave Bowes