Following the release of their eponymous debut album to favourable reviews, Mark Hunt-Bryden spoke to drummer and founding member Elliott Cole (also of Desert Storm fame) about the genesis of new British Rock Powerhouse The Grand Mal, their writing and recording processes, their influences and the merits of retro formatting.
A stock question to get you started for those people out there who are unfamiliar with you. You’re the combination of two Oxford based bands (Desert Storm and Mother Corona). So how did The Grand Mal come about and would you class it as a side project or a going concern? As a follow up can you share any news on the other bands for us?
Elliot: When we first started the band it was initially going to be a side project because Mother Corona had just disbanded and Lee and Dave wanted something to keep them busy before starting My Diablo. The Grand Mal went on hiatus for a couple of years once they started playing live, but last year we all decided to get the band back together again with a slight line-up change.
This was because Lee left the band, so we decided to continue with just the one guitar (Ryan) and Dave went from playing bass and singing to just doing vocals. We then recruited Rob Glen (also from Mother Corona) on bass. Since writing the debut album together and seeing the cool response to it in the press, we have decided that this band is no longer just a side project.
So from filler to killer… (sorry…) How hard is it to logistically juggle all these projects or is there a carefully laid out plan to dedicate to each as I think I saw that Desert Storm is back in the studio. How can you keep the momentum going?
Yeah it can be very difficult at times actually, especially because we only get a certain amount of annual leave from our day jobs too. I also have to work every other weekend, which makes things hard at times as well. It involves a lot of planning to make things fall into place.
Yeah Desert Storm are back in the studio at the moment, we are currently reaching the final stages of tracking and then we will be moving onto the mixing and mastering stages.
One thing I will say about being in two bands is you notice how much more expensive everything seems. I never seem to be able to save much money as it always seems to go on band related things like studio time.
There’s a lot of influences going on in the music – some obvious, some not so. Where you conscious of any in particular the writing the material? Did you think you would write in a certain manner or did you decide to rip up the rule book and see where the pages fell?
For the writing procedure, it was very similar to our approach in Desert Storm where someone brings in a riff idea and then we just take it from there. Our songs are pretty much always based around a riff. Vocal melodies and lyrics usually come after the music is written.
Has the material evolved drastically with the line-up changes or has the concept of The Grand Mal’s music always been in line with the same vision that we can hear on the album?
I think the material has always been similar in style to what you hear on the album. Three of the songs were written with the original line up anyway (No Man’s Land, Pig In The Python, Black Spiral), and you can hear that they’re similar in sound to the rest of the record. Except maybe Pig In The Python actually….that one is a little different I guess.
We always had this vision to just do simple/groovy hard rock songs with big heavy guitar riffs and melodic vocals. This will be the approach we take when writing new music in the future too.
Despite some of these influences having an American flavouring the music sounds distinctly British in feel. Was that something you wanted to convey or did it just come naturally?
I think it just came naturally really. Dave is quite into his British Punk music so I think even though he gets the John Garcia/Billy Corgan comparisons, I think there is always a British edge to it coming through. That and the fact that he is actually British anyway – haha. We certainly don’t try to sound a particular way. We just like to write songs with massive riffs, huge grooves and cool vocals.
Your debut has some of the most natural sounding chemistry I have heard in quite some time. I assume this is partly due to both halves working in existing bands (as well as two of the members being brothers) but what has helped to make this such a seamless sounding experience?
Yeah I think it’s just like you say. Rob had also stepped in for Desert Storm a few times on bass as well, so me and Ryan knew that we were already tight with him before he joined The Grand Mal. We’ve all known each other for about 10 years or more as well so I think being mates helps a bit too in a way.
I imagine this will be a somewhat diplomatic answer; Was it always the ambition to work together because you were mates or were you drawn together because of the skills?
I think being mates was the main thing really. We knew we all liked the same bands and we knew we all got on well with each other. It just seemed to make sense to form a band. Me and my brother knew that the other guys were good musicians though as we were already fans of Mother Corona.
One of the things that struck me is this record sounds like you guys had a lot of fun making it. Was that the case and do you have any memorable moments from the process?
Oh absolutely. It was great fun. The songs just seemed to flow out of us which was cool. Sometimes when writing albums, some songs come easier than others but this one just all seemed really easy to write which was nice. Hopefully the next album can be written just as easily. We have already got quite a few ideas for new songs which is cool.
How important is it to tell stories in the lyrics of your songs? And are they taken from real life experiences or are some projected/exaggerated scenarios?
I think it is nice to have a mix of fantasy and also real life experiences when writing lyrics. I wrote one song on the album which is very personal to me. I suffer from epilepsy and it is all about the condition. I think when you are writing from life experiences, you can’t really go wrong with it.
You have a few live dates spread over the next few months but are there any more plans to expand on them into 2020 and beyond?
Elliot: Absolutely! We are currently taking bookings for the New Year and already have some big tour plans in the works.
And is that again based on the schedule of the other bands involved or will you record and sit on it?
Yeah it’s all down to time really. If we are busy with Desert Storm, then it will probably mean recording a new album with this band will have to be put on hold for a while. We fully intend to start writing and jamming new ideas for the next record soon though.
A controversial one perhaps: Your debut is available on cassette. Let’s be honest cassette was a marriage of convenience and portability in its heyday. In 2019 it’s a hipster fad.
Haha yeah it might be seen as a bit hipster I suppose. I personally don’t collect cassettes, but it is nice to have it released on that format too.
Definitely – the digital format seems to have brought about the death of attention. All the bands involved have put out full length albums. Is that important to you and is rock music the last true champion of the album format?
Yeah I think it is to be honest. I’ve always personally liked to collect albums on CD format. I have ever since I was 8 years old, so for me it is very important to continue making albums with the bands I am involved in. I get why some bands don’t though. Recording music is often very expensive and I think sometimes this is one of the reasons why bands (especially two pieces) decide to record EP’s, or just put out a few tracks at a time online. Another thing that makes it hard to put out albums is the manufacturing costs….especially as more and more bands nower days opt for self-releases. It just means musicians have extra costs to cover.
Financial considerations aside what is your preferred way of consuming music? Digitally, Physically? Headphones, Party or Live?
For me it is all about CD’s and live environments. I’ve collected CD’s since I was 8 years old and I always love checking out new bands live.
Fantasy question time: You are Metallica big and can command any tour rider you want. What’s on it?
One bottle of good quality Vodka
One Bottle of Bulleit Bourbon
One bottle of Coca Cola
A 24 crate of good quality lager
2 crates of still water
One bottle of Gin
One Bottle of Stroh
One bottle of tonic
Selection of Sandwiches
Fillet of Beef Wellington with Madeira jus, dauphinois potatoes and fine beans
Churros with chocolate dipping sauce
Fresh salad and fruit
Chicken and mushroom pot noodles
Shish and kofte kebabs with doner kebab meat, cheese, garlic mayonnaise and chilli sauce
Beds and showers
and the list goes on…
Many thanks to Elliot for taking the time to answer my questions, check out their album, out now APF Records, for an ass kicking slice of British Hard Rock that has ranked up there with some of the best releases I have had the pleasure of reviewing this year.
You can also find them carving yup the road on tour with Batallions and Barbarian Hermit in early 2020:
01/02/2020 – The Bread Shed, Manchester
06/02/2020 – Port Mahon, Oxford
07/02/2020 – Network, Sheffield
08/02/2020 – The Black Heart, London
Interviewed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden