Graveltones Speak To SonicAbuse

To see the Graveltones on stage is like witnessing a two man blitzkrieg operation. Whether it be the devastating artillery of Mikey Sorbello’s pounding drums or the close-range strafing of Jimmy O’s stinging guitar work, the band are guaranteed to make the ears ring and the eyes water. Off-stage they are no less ebullient, and it’s hard not to think of Beavis and Butthead as the conversation flows deliriously between them. As passionate about music off-stage as they are about their performance on-stage, we had the opportunity to catch up with the diabolical duo at Leicester’s Soundhouse just prior to their giving a performance that damn-near brought the house down. It was an epic night with the band playing to a packed house and they were clearly in good spirits. We had the chance to chat about the recording of the band’s excellent second album ‘Love lies dying’ as well as the pressures of being an unsigned band and the joys of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) and just how they disposed of the money earned on a sync deal with Rimmel and the Irish Lottery…

Read on and meet The Graveltones…

interview

Photo: Jola Stiles

The first question, really, is a little bit about the development of the band. I know from interviews that you’ve done that you were introduced to Bob Dylan at an early age, but that also, before that, you were really into metal. Although in terms of genre there’s very little similarity, in terms of style and attitude there seems to be a lot of that metal spirit in your music and so I was wondering if you still listened to metal and if there were any elements you deliberately incorporated into your music?

Jimmy – Yeah… that’s a great question man! I wouldn’t say deliberately try and incorporate, but yeah I still love metal and when I was a fourteen year old kid, man, that was all I listened to, it was fantastic, you know Metallica’s ‘Kill ‘em all’, I loved all that kind of stuff. And everything from the artwork – like Megadeth covers were “oh my god!” you know? And, so all the kids around my area were into that stuff. But incorporating it into the music now, I guess it’s just what we listened to. I still do like metal and I’ve got this Jukebox at home. It’s an old, early-sixties 7” jukebox and what I want to do (it’s going to be my project over the next couple of months) is strip it down, put a big skull ‘n’ crossbones out of it, like the car in… what’s that film’s name?

Mikey – Death Proof?

Jimmy – Yeah, like in Death Proof – the skull ‘n’ bones on the bonnet of his car, I’m going to put that on the side, I’m going to fill it with old Sabbath, Metallica…. The old school stuff and just call it “the death machine”. It’s going to be epic, I can’t wait…

That’s going to send your next album into evil territory…

Jimmy: Yeah, when somebody comes over, they’re going to be like “fuck, what’s that man?” They’ll press the button and then “SEEK AND DESTROY!”

Mikey – Yeah! [Laughs]

Soundhouse 2016

Photo: Jola Stiles

The last record, you worked with Jaime Gomez Arellano from Ghost, a producer who’s noted for working primarily with metal, and particularly doom bands. What was the reason behind choosing him to work with? It seems like you’re a bit outside of his usual field…

Jimmy – Yeah, right?

Mikey – That was just… we just drank at the same place. We Just hung out, we were good friends, we really liked what he did…

Jimmy – He wanted to do the first album didn’t he?

Mikey – Yeah he did – he was actually a contender. I thought he was really good, he gets a good sound; a good drum sound; and I thought he was an up and coming dude…

Jimmy – We were already speaking to Charlie…

Mikey – Yeah, so we ended up going with Charlie whom we absolutely love and adore. We love what he did. But I remember the first day of going to the studio with Charlie…

Jimmy – Monnow Valley Studios…

Mikey – Yeah, we went to the tea room, looked down, there was like a sound engineering magazine with Jaime on the front cover and it was like “d’oh! What? This guy’s on the front cover… oh man!”

Jimmy – But he saw us play early on, didn’t he?

Mikey – He did…

Jimmy – and he always…

Mikey – He’s just a sweet dude and he was really interested in broadening his horizons and just trying something new and seeing how that would turn out. I love his work. It’s just very different. The first album we had Charlie Francis who has just got this beautiful musical ear – because he played piano on it and added a few extra instruments that were just beautiful, every time he just sat behind a piano and said “I think this might sound good…” and then ‘ding!’ and it was exactly what was needed. He didn’t add too much, but he just added a really nice ear. Whereas Jamie was like… he just had this zing. It was juts balls to the wall, just [imitates riff-tastic explosion]”Woargh!”

Jimmy – Amps to eleven…

Mikey – Yeah!

Jimmy – It was good! We didn’t want to recreate the first album…

Mikey – No…

Jimmy… and Jamie – we’d been friends with Jamie and by the time the second album came along we were much better friends with Jamie by then and it all just pieced together and he was like “Dudes, you’ve got to record with me – I’ve got to do this album!” So…

Mikey – It was just him being pushy really! [Laughs]

Jimmy – Yeah!!!

You funded the first album through the sale of an EP and, I think, a couple of singles…

Mikey – We did an EP and a single, yeah

…was that your way of maintaining creative independence throughout that process?

Jimmy – No, that was the only way we had. We had an EP and we got a support tour and we knew we were going to do the album, but we were (and still are) an unsigned band. So at the time we didn’t have any funding or any kind of people backing us, so were working in London and it was hard enough just paying rent, let alone trying to gig around for free most nights, paying for taxis and fuel and whatnot. So, we heard about Pledge and it just seemed like the right thing so we bought some stickers and basically said “hey, if you like this and want to hear more, then fund our album!” Pledge was just kicking off then, so we caught it at a really good time when people didn’t really know about it, and when they did they thought it was a really good idea, whereas now there are so many bands that have done it that people now sort of think “well, I can’t really pledge for everyone” whereas at the time a lot of people weren’t doing it.

Mikey – It was a good time to do it, it just made things happen.

Jimmy – It was just so we could record the album, basically, it wasn’t us sitting down [adopts angry indie purist voice] “we’re going to stay…” We didn’t have tickets on ourselves like that, we didn’t plan on staying independent, we weren’t planning on anything at that stage. We just wanted to record an album, it was that simple. We wanted to do an album, we were trying to figure out how and it was the only option we had.

Mikey – Pretty much, yeah.

Live at Soundhousse 2016

Photo: Jola Stiles

One of the things I liked about the EP, other than the music, was that it had really cool artwork by Oliver Christenson – and all of your records have really cool covers – how much do you like to be involved in the creation of that side of things?

Mikey – Oh, very, very involved. Very closely. Jimmy’s got an eye for detail… we like to call it “the eye for detail” [laughs]. The first EP… I was living with Oliver at the time, he was a tattoo artist, and I was just like “Dude we’re recording an EP, I would love for you to do some art…” and the next day, on the kitchen table, was this little thing and it was just like “Perfect! Yeah we’ll do that! Can you write the track titles as well? Yeah? Perfect!” We’ve chosen, just to keep the little theme, so every album he…

Jimmy … has a piece of art in there…

Mikey – Yeah,

Jimmy – which is cool! We also work really closely with a guy called Andy Townsend and he’s done.. He has his own company called Global Lounge, and we’ve worked with him from day one basically. He’s been our photographer and he basically does all the stuff that we could never do like CAD and Photoshop and all this stuff. He’s able to put all our artwork into the formats that they need to be in to send off to print. We had no idea how to do any of that and he’s done all that for us and he has a lot of input as well. We work really closely on how we put the album art together.

Mikey – Too much…

Jimmy – Yeah, we’ve got to let it go! [laughs]

From a more musical angle, one of the big challenges is trying to fill the space where a rhythm guitarist or bassist might normally be expected to play, so one of the things I was wondering, and this is really for you Mikey, is how, as a drummer, the space pushes you to try new things?

Mikey – That’s the beautiful thing about playing in a two-piece. You can listen to the spaces, you can start thinking… not like a drummer, but like a bass player or rhythm guitarist. Ultimately in my head I’m hearing a guitar doing something and then I have to think about how to translate it to a drum kit. Or a bass line that I want to hear doing something, so I’ll do a little tom part to fill the space. I basically just listen for the gaps that need filling… and the gaps that don’t need filling, you make sure you leave them… it’s that simple.

Live at The soundhouse 2016

Photo: Jola Stiles

Given how hellishly loud you are on stage…

Jimmy – what are you saying man?!? [general laughter]

…As a guitarist, do you go out in search of pedals and effects that allow you to create new sounsdscapes?

Jimmy – Yeah, absolutely man! My pedal board’s constantly changing and evolving as I pick up new gear and try it out. We’ve always kinda stuck with the original thing of “we don’t have a bass player, I need an octave pedal” and it needs to be fuzzy and that’s just how it came about.

But we’ve always stuck around that realm and then added different things and it’s got to a point where now we’re avidly searching for new sounds. Mikey’s just got a new synth that we’re adding into the set and we’re working some things out that we’re really excited about. I’ve got some new pedals that I’m really excited about using and just trying to… not change, but evolve the sound so that it keeps us interested and keeps everybody else interested at the same time because it’s one of those things. When you’re gigging all the time and you’re playing music, you’re always searching to better your sound or your songs or better the way that we are as a band. I think that’s always a process of the more you play together them more you get “hey man, we can do this!” Like Mikey getting a synth, that’s going to open up a whole new thing and it’ll change our song-writing to a degree and it’ll change… just things that, we didn’t know how we’re going to make it work, but we’re going to have a fun time trying. And I’m sure we’ll get some things out of it that’ll sound great.

You’ve got a unique perspective on the gear side of things because, I think, you made one guitar and you’re involved in selling and working on guitars, is that right?

Jimmy – Not so much making but, basically, I guess you’d call it bastardizing guitars…

Mikey – Frankenstein!

The Sonic Youth approach? Rip the guts out and put new stuff in?

Mikey – Yeah!

Jimmy – Well, I was an apprentice to a luthier when I was a teenager in a guitar workshop and, yeah, I’ve been selling guitars for almost a decade now, working in guitar shops and…

Mikey – Jimmy can sell a guitar to… a drummer! He’s incredible at selling guitars.

Jimmy – If you love something, you know… It’s not that I’m really geeky about that stuff, and it’s not that I try to be, I just find it really interesting. Just like you with drums…

Mikey – Yeah!

Jimmy – But it’s like with everything, it’s my passion, you know, so yeah – working in guitar shops and stuff like that, I’ve always been involved in fixing guitars and… I wouldn’t call myself a luthier or anything like that, but I know how to wire a guitar up and set it up… all the standard things…

Having that passion for creating music is something that really comes across in your records – it sounds like you’re having fun in the studio and that’s so important. Are there any bands in particular… I remember reading an interview where you were talking about using similar fuzz pedals to the stooges – bands that treated music as artare there any particular artists that fed into your performance and creativity?

Jimmy – Yeah – there’s loads. I don’t know. I’ve been listening to a lot of Roxy Music and Talking Heads lately, and we’ve been writing a lot of songs that we’ve been putting into the set that are almost a little bit…

Mikey – Jive-y?

Jimmy – Yeah! And yeah, you draw on whatever you’re listening to at the time and whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, it’s… When I write at home or whatever, if you’re working out how to play somebody else’s song, and you’re playing those chords through the afternoon and the next morning you pick up your guitar, your hands automatically go to those chords and then you might start jamming around, find a little pattern and that becomes part of the song you’re writing. I wouldn’t say there’s a particular band where we say “Yes, we want to sound like them!” because we’ve never said that, but I think just naturally you do pick up influences.

I’m aware we’re short on time so I just have one last question. Although you’re independent and unsigned (which is remarkable considering some of the tours you’ve done), one thing you did do was to get a sync deal with the Irish Lottery and Rimmel – Did that allow you to continue and get the second album made?

[Nervous laughter]

Mikey – [Screams unintelligibly]

Jimmy – Errrr…. No… We were so broke, man, in London. We were rubbing pennies to get to gigs, man, honestly. Then this sync deal came along and we got paid lots of money and I remember Mikey rang me up… and I remember that we had a gig like four days after we got paid that money… it hit our bank account and we were like “Fuck! This is… we’re musicians and we’ve been paid, and not just a little bit!”

Mikey – Yeah!

Jimmy – so probably, looking back… like complete idiots…

Mikey – [imitates discussion] “I’m going to get a taxi to the gig man…” “So am I…”

Jimmy – …instead of saving it, I said “hey man we’ve got this gig Saturday night, how are you getting there, are you busing it or…? I think the other drummer’s got his kit there if you wanna use it…” and he just said “fuck no, dude! I’m taking a taxi”. So that just opened the door and the next thing is we’d be at the gig going for the whiskey, so we’d get, you know, twelve year old whiskey and… we had fun!

Mikey – We just had a really good time.

Jimmy – We went to Australia on that money and we toured Australia and we had a good time.  

Mikey – A fantastic time.

Jimmy – We didn’t spent it all on alcohol or anything

Mikey – Not at all… although there were a few good nights I remember… vaguely…

Jimmy – We spent at least two and a half years playing four or five gigs a week, struggling and writing and carrying… just walking all that gear to the bus and you’ve got an amp and a pedal board and two guitars and whatever on the bus and everyone looking at you like some weirdo. And to just be able to go “you know what? We’re going to get a taxi this time,” it felt nice and I think we needed to do that, so… Looking back now we probably shouldn’t have.

Mikey – We could have done way better things with that money! We could have actually gone to the casino and put it on red… why didn’t we do that??? Next time…

Jimmy – Next time…

All live shots: Jola Stiles 

 

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