Grifter were amongst the 1st bands I ever interviewed when I initially started The Sleeping Shaman back in early 2005, 3 years on and with the release of their ‘The High Unholy Mighty Rollin’ CDEP ready to hit the streets anytime now with their ‘ass kickin’, booty shakin’ whiskey rock’, I once again caught up with now long time friend Ollie to find out how things have been over the last 3 years and what we can expect from Grifter in the future.
Hello Ollie, how’s tricks? Good I hope and I must start off this interview with congratulating you on the birth of your daughter Imogen just over a month ago, so how you coping with the sleepless nights & dirty nappies?
Cheers Lee. I’m coping ok now, nappies are ok…after all, we all shit don’t we. Our bassist Phil has been through all this over the last year himself. We’re just waiting for our drummer Foz to produce some offspring then we can retire and let the kids take over!
I last interviewed you back in March 2005, so 3 years on, how are things with Grifter at the moment?
Not bad thanks. The last three years have been hectic, in that time we’ve had two marriages, two babies, lost two parents to cancer, three house moves and various changes of jobs. The fact that we’ve managed to keep a band going at all is remarkable let alone to achieve what we have done so far, especially as we’re now spread across three counties, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. We still love playing together, getting out and doing gigs and we’re writing stuff now that’s really exciting to us. Fortunately other people seem to like it as well which is a bonus.
Your ‘The High Unholy Mighty Rollin’ EP on Fury 76 Records has now finally been released with what seems like delay after delay, so firstly, how did you become involved with Fury 76?
I’ve known Scruff who founded the label for about 20 years since he was in Hellbastard (who have now reformed with a new line-up). Both Phil and I were in a band with him in the 90’s called Nero Circus who released an album on Italy’s Flying Records, at the time the home of Acrimony who we were good mates with. We lost touch for a while after that band broke up but slowly started to get back in touch. After Grifter did the Elephantine demo I sent him a copy not knowing he was doing a label and he got back to us offering us the chance to do an EP so we said yes as we had nothing else going on at the time.
I take it your happy that it’s now out, but why did it take so long to get released and what can people expect from Grifter on the 5 tracks featured?
The delays started over a year ago. The label had already paid in advance for the pressing of 5 releases…Our EP, Medamaki’s EP, Moodhoover’s EP, The Killing Cure’s EP and a compilation of international artists. Some of the bands on the compilation were really slow getting their stuff in and the pressing plant wouldn’t split the order so we initially had to wait for that to be sorted. When it was finally sorted out and they started pressing everything it turns out the covers were printed with incorrect barcodes so there followed months of going backwards and forwards trying to sort that out. Now it’s just waiting for the distributors…it’s been painful!!! As for what people can expect, it’s 5 tracks of kick ass Grifter style rock no more no less.
And what have the reviews/feedback been like and if people want to buy a copy, where can they get it?
It’s not actually been officially released in the shops yet as they’re still waiting for the official release date from the distributor Code 7 but it is on sale as downloads on Amazon and Emusic and is apparently on itunes…plus we’re selling it via our Myspace page (www.myspace.com/grifterrock) and at gigs. I think it’s also now up for sale at the label website www.fury76.com. As we’re still waiting for the final release it hasn’t been publicised too much yet though we have had a very good review at www.ninehertz.co.uk and the feedback I’ve had from people who have heard it has been absolutely fantastic. Once we have the official release date through then the publicity machine starts to role in earnest. The feedback we’ve had in general to the tracks we have on our Myspace page has been awesome, we’ve even had serious offers to go and play in Italy and Greece but at this time we aren’t really in a position to take them up as much as we’d love to due to work and family commitments and a lack of funding.
Where did the idea of the artwork come from, who did the actual design and is the character based on the alter ego’s of any of the members of Grifter?
I love the cover artwork!!! It manages to be rock and roll but with a sense of humour. It was done by a guy called Elliot Elam (www.elliotelam.com) who’s an incredible cartoonist with a wild imagination. He’s an old friend of Phil’s so Phil sent him some stuff and some photos of the band to give him an idea what we’re about and he kind of ran with that. A lot of people have asked if the guy on the cover is meant to be me but it actually isn’t, he’s just a composite kind of character, who we’ve christened Mikey the Cunt, that kind of sums up the idea of the band…he’s our Eddie!!!
The EP also features a video for the track ‘Sweat Like Horses’ so who’s idea was it to include a video onto the EP and also who filmed & edited it as they’ve done an excellent job of doing the difficult task of beat matching the footage to the music?
Fury 76 like to include extras on all their releases to provide better value for money to the punters which I think is great so really they asked us to do a video. Idea wise we decided not to try and do anything clever and keep it simple as we were on a budget. Bands who try to do concept pieces and make “expensive” looking videos with a tight budget ALWAYS fall on their arses and end up looking like cheap shit. We figured that what we do best is play rock and roll so we chose one of our most popular and ass kicking songs and decided on a simple performance video. We set up in our old rehearsal room as we normally do at practice and got my wife and her sister down with a couple of camcorders. We played the song through live four times as miming would have been shit, and that was it. We sent it up to our mate Jack who plays in Stubb and Stone Turner as he runs his own film company, Mindzap promotions, who edited it all together. We asked him to make it all grainy and old school looking to hide the fact it was done on cheap cameras and I’m pretty happy with the way it came out. We’ve known Jack for years and he’s into the band so we trusted him. The whole thing cost £20…the price of the rehearsal room!!! We have been talking about doing another video so we’ll see what we come up with next time.
Your also going to be releasing an EP with up and coming UK label Catacomb Records, how did this deal come about and when is the proposed release date?
We’re extremely chuffed about this as Catacomb are shaping up to be a great label who love this style of music, work very hard and are awesome people. The deal came about from when they advertised for bands to be on a compilation so we sent them the EP and they loved it. The compilation “The Sound of the Catacombs” came out in February and got some amazing reviews so we gave them some new recordings that we’d done when we played one of the album launch parties in Sheffield and after a couple of weeks we both came to the conclusion we’d like to work together so here we are. The EP is going to be called “The Simplicity of the Riff is Key” which sums up our approach that music should just rock!!! It’s set for an autumn release at the moment.
What tracks are likely to be featured and how do these differ from those on ‘The High Unholy…’ EP?
It will be markedly different from the first EP. That was a multi-tracked affair that we took a lot of time over the recording. For this one we decided to simplify the recording process and try to capture our live energy so we went into a local studio, set up our gear and blasted through all the songs live in one day. The only overdubs that were done were some backing vocals which we also kept raw by doing them in one take. We recorded 10 songs that day without really having any idea what we would do with them, then took them to mix at the studio where the first EP was recorded. It has a totally different vibe to the first EP, it’s a warts and all account of what we do, complete with mistakes but with a great energy…and fortunately a great sound!!! I think too many bands are precious about sounding perfect, it’s rock and roll for fucks sake, keep it raw!!! I personally love this recording as to me it’s how we should really sound. The tracks that are set to appear on the EP are Bean, I Jesus, Pendulum and The Voices…some of these are on our Myspace page. Some of the other tracks will hopefully be appearing at some point on a split EP with Stubb on Calculon Records when they find a drummer.
Onto your sound, last time we reflected on your influences, so this time lets talk about the equipment you use, is your guitar tone important and what gear/effects do you use to achieve your perfect sound?
The guitar tone is very important. As a band with a basic guitar, bass, drum, vocal set up it represents a quarter of the overall sound so it has to work with the other instruments. Phil has a huge, warm bass sound largely thanks to his Ampeg SVT head, 8×10 cab and Fender Jazz bass, so he covers the bottom end and thickness of the sound. You can literally feel it in the practice room when he kicks in and I love that. With that in mind I don’t need such a fat bottom end gain saturated sound. As a huge fan of 70’s rock I don’t really like the big “metal” guitar sounds, I tend to find they lack clarity and come across as weak so I go for something a bit cleaner. I normally use a Marshall DSL 50 head into a Marshall 4×12 but lately I’ve started using an old Marshall JMP 50 head from ‘77 or ’78 which only distorts when cranked right up but sounds lovely…fuzzy but with clarity and a nice mid range that cuts through. Guitar wise I’m a Les Paul man and have this hand made Japanese thing made by a very short lived company called Signature. It was some sort of limited run as a prototype but I can’t find any info on it. All I know it’s the most amazing guitar I’ve ever played!!! Pedal wise I keep it simple, just a Boss tuner, a Boss V-Wah and a Boss Super Overdrive to add sustain to solos. I hate over processed and over effected guitar sounds so I keep it as natural as possible, just strings and valves mainly. I have to say it does help that we have a drummer with a hell of a groove who hits like a bastard so we can play loud!!!
How are things on the live front? Is Plymouth as still as shit as you last reported for Heavy Music? And what about the rest of the country? Have Grifter managed to play many shows away from home since we last spoke?
We love playing live, it’s an awesome experience and when we’re really on it doesn’t matter if there are 5 people there or 500 we just love it. Plymouth is and will probably always remain a shit hole. To be honest Phil now lives in Taunton, I live near Exeter and Foz has moved to Torpoint in Cornwall so we have virtually no involvement or interest in the Plymouth scene. We hardly ever play there and more often than not turn down gigs there unless it’s something really cool we can’t pass up. The last gig we did there, a charity all dayer, was great though. With that in mind most of our shows are away from home, so far we’ve played Sheffield, Exeter, Torquay, London, Birmingham, Bristol, Bath, Hereford, Taunton and various places in Cornwall. We’re sorting out more gigs all the time and will pretty much go anywhere if they have a couple of power sockets, Guiness on tap and a few quid for petrol. We’re hoping to do more shows with Aluna, Domes of Silence, Iron Hearse, Gonga and anyone else we can blag some gigs with.
More of a personal question than about Grifter, name your top 3 albums of 2008 and your top 3 albums of all time?
Wow, that’s a hard one as I don’t tend to buy too much new music but the new Gonga album is incredible and I’m really getting into Meanderthal by Torche. As for the third, I think I’ll reserve judgement on that until I hear the Clutch live album that’s due out. Phil did play me a little bit of Harvey Milk which caught my interest so I’ll check that out and see if it sneaks in there. I do have to give honourable mentions to Aluna for their “Fall to Earth” EP and Sonic Lord for their “Trawling through Sludge” 7″, both on Catacomb that I was very impressed with. My top 3 albums of all time? Fuck I really don’t know. There’s so much music out there for different moods it’s hard to pin it down to 3. How about the first 6 Sabbath albums as one choice (I do have them on a box set so I can justify that), Led Zeppelin 2 and The Who live at Leeds (plus The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street, Motorhead No Sleep Til Hammersmith, AC/DC If You want Blood, ZZ Top Tres Hombres, Jane’s Addiction, Nothing Shocking, Slayer reign in Blood, Clutch self titled, Deep purple In Rock, St Vitus Heavier Than Thou…etc)
Besides the EP on Catacomb Records, what else does the rest of 2008 and on to 2009 hold for Grifter?
Lots hopefully! There’s the aforementioned split with Stubb if that happens, there has also been tentative talk of a split EP on Catacomb with Aluna featuring cover tunes but nothing definite yet and we’re also planning to do some rough demos of some new songs that we’re particularly psyched about so we’ll see how people react to them. Gig wise, we have an all dayer coming up at the Camden Underworld with Gentlemans Pistols, End of Level Boss and several other key players in the UK stoner/doom scene on August 2nd which we’re very excited about plus gigs in Exeter and Cheltenham with more being sorted at some point in Bristol, Bath, London, Hereford, hopefully Nottingham, hopefully Swansea blah blah blah. Basically anywhere that will have us! Please, give us a shout and give us loads of gigs…we’re clean and won’t leave a mess!!!!
Thanks Ollie for answering my questions and please use this space for any final words…
Cheers Lee, it’s good talking to you again. It was very cool to be there when The Sleeping Shaman was just getting off the ground and I’m extremely chuffed to see it flourish and turn into a very cool site. Keep up the good work. Cheers to everyone who has come to see us, bought a CD, checked out our Myspace and if you haven’t done any of that then may I suggest you do as you may be pleasantly surprised!!! May I also suggest you all dig back into the past and check out some cool old school bands like Captain Beyond, Mountain, Cactus, Sir Lord Baltimore, Grand Funk Railroad, Blue Oyster Cult, UFO, Budgie, May Blitz, Leafhound, Blackfoot, Montrose…etc. As Mick Jagger so rightly said “It’s only rock and roll but I like it”.
More info on Grifter at: www.grifterrock.co.uk
Scribed by: Lee Edwards