Portland’s Grails bring joy to my world. Since 2003 they have released 8 albums, including four volumes of ‘Black Tar Prophecies’ and have toured Europe extensively. They even have a member of Om amongst them. Their latest album “Deep Politics” is a record deep in atmosphere and Morricone-esqe stylings bringing with it a feeling of post-apocalyptic-rock. Alex Hall speaks to Jason Stoll.
1. Can you tell us how Grails came together?
Emil and I were introduced by a mutual friend in 2000 in order to play a brief set at a kind of mixed media art show. But it was surprisingly well-received and went from being a one-off thing to a recording project and the rest of the guys were recruited to help in the studio. And then the recordings were well-received, so it became an actual band, and here we are somehow in 2011…
2. Has the band developed in the way you expected?
The only constant in the band has been a lack of expectations. For as prolific and active as the band has been, we’ve never had anything resembling a “career” path. After completion of a record, we honestly have no idea what the next one will sound like. Or when the next tour will be once we’re back home. This attitude has certainly not benefitted the band, when it comes to things like success in the marketplace, but I guess the notion of careerism in rock music has just never settled well with me.
3.You seem to have moved from a post-rock perspective to a Morricone-esqe soundtrack style – Do you think being instrumental has helped this?
Sure, it’s probably easier to absorb as an influence the music of someone like Morricone when your band isn’t built around one person telling stories. But I guess I’ve never thought there was anything very remarkable, or even inherently interesting, about playing instrumental music. Instrumental forms have had a huge place in popular music from the very beginning.
4. How does Emil’s involvement in Om / Holy Suns impact on Grails? Especially with Om being quite high-profile. Has this worked for or against the band?
It’s worked out fine so far, since Emil’s been willing to way overextend himself in order to make it all work. We’ve benefited from his suffering, I’m sure.
5. How is Temporary Residence as a label compared to say Important Records or Neurot Recordings?
Each label has its own way of operating, and we’ve taken that into account when it comes to finding homes for releases. In the last several years, Temporary Residence has been a better fit for the “proper” albums, with Important better suited for the more idiosyncratic stuff. In general, we’ve been incredibly lucky with the labels that we’ve had the opportunity to work with. This band has never had a bad label experience. How many people can say that? The folks behind all of the labels we’ve worked with are some of our best friends in the world.
6. Are there going to be Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 5, 6, 7, etc?
Yeah, Vol. 5 will be out later in the year, and we’re going to pull 4,5,&6 together on a cd to make a complete album, just like with Vol’s 1,2,3. The cd will be next year. But then that’s it, promise.
7. There seems to be an occult leaning to your music – is this a fair comment and if so what is your interest in this?
It’s mostly an escapist device, a backdoor to altered states or spiritual realms. We make music to escape the more mundane aspects of our own lives; why write a song that sounds like a trip to the grocery store?
The Silver Apples tour was kinda weird. We were billed as the headliners for all but one of the shows and it just felt a bit awkward. Simeon is a wonderful guy and was very gracious about it, but I swore that you could catch tiny glimpses of his despair over the situation. His is a sad story – a totally seminal figure in the history of electronic music, supremely fucked over for decades by the recording industry, finding himself doing support for our band 45 years into his career? That’s a tear-jerker of a documentary, right there. But like I said, he was very very cool and even jammed with us at the end of our set on a few of the nights. There’s a live recording that’s not bad of us playing together in NYC that’s floating around on the internet somewhere.
9. Are your live shows still expanded with Randell Dunn?
No, that was just for one tour. We have a couple of ace musician friends that are playing with us now, filling out the frequencies with synths/keys, lap steel, melodica, percussion, other stuff…..The band has honestly never sounded better live. It’d be great to bring this lineup to Europe soon..
10. What are the high and low point of being Grails?
There’s really not very many low points. It’s easy enough on certain days to get bummed out by ‘lazy journalists’ or by the more shallow or satanic aspects of today’s musical culture….but other than that, we feel very privileged to do what we do. We get to make whatever kind of records we want and still have amazing label support and an audience of active listeners to whom the music means a great deal. I don’t know what else we could ask for.
11. When are you back over to Europe?
Not really sure…Like always, we have a limited amount of time that we can devote to touring and we’re focusing on playing in the US this year. So it won’t be until next year at the earliest.
12. Future plans?
The band exists to make records, so as long as Grails exists, that’s what we’ll be doing…