How long has Grouch been active so far, and what inspired you to start? How long beforehand were you interested in playing music?
Grouch had its genesis late in 2017 as a series of rough ideas and a premise for the writing: the birth of my son. In terms of really getting active I would say the middle of 2018 was when the real outpouring of material started and my being very picky about arrangement coupled with time constraints meant that I have taken a lot of time to allow the ideas to gestate, be worked around and just jammed and adjusted repeatedly. I have played in bands for years as a bass player and started recording my own stuff during that time. Just slowly taught myself to record and mix and create strong sounds. I do have a ton of stuff around the place under another moniker; really wildly varied tunes of which I am proud to wildly varying degrees! I was originally a guitarist but one of my best friends is an exquisite guitarist so I moved to bass for that band and just stayed with it. It really is a great instrument to better understand rhythm, melody and arrangement by sitting at a critical juncture of all those things.
Talk to the readers about your recently released singles and what inspired them.
There are different origins to those two singles. “Your Soul is Mine” is the first single for Grouch and leads off the entire concept: parenthood as the inspiration for death metal. I’m not naive enough to believe it’s never been done before but it was a spark of inspiration that happened shortly after the birth of my son. With little time to express myself musically, my time under the headphones quickly reverted to the music that is nearest and dearest to my heart. It also came immediately for me which was perfect given the lack of sleep, time constraints and general stress levels. A whole flood of musical ideas came quickly and have been captured. Lyric writing followed after the whole parenthood thing hit me. The truth is babies are filthy little things that suck your life dry in so many ways. “Your Soul is Mine” seemed the perfect lead single; it’s first person baby and the honest truth is that little kid owns me. My mix engineer had no idea that was the lyrical thrust, which I loved hearing. After a zillion listens working on it I told him the inspiration and to listen again. He’s an older guy with multiple kids so the zillion and first listen was huge for him!
“Face Down Ass Up” is a cover of an arguably disgraceful hip hop song by 2 Live Crew, the first group to ever be stamped with the “Parental Advisory” stickers back in the day. It’s a bit of fun, tongue in cheek (horrendous pun intended) and the closest to pornogrind I’ll ever go. The reason it happened was being in the car with a mate who loves his old hip hop, and having him discover I had a certain text to voice interface on the Bluetooth. We giggled as he sent increasingly crude texts and the voice read them out. It culminated in him sort of paraphrasing that song which was pretty hilarious. About the third listen I said “that would be killer if it kicked into a brutal version right when the voice stops”. I just couldn’t shake the inspiration and for better or worse it happened. It honestly was only ever meant to be a joke but it seemed to click with people and a quick follow up was worth a crack (pun unintended but you get the idea how this rubbish happens!). The song is pretty decent I reckon; hoping others feel the same.
The same guy answered my call out for name suggestions for the project. My son’s name is Oscar and my mate really quickly suggested Grouch. So Ezra if you ever read this you really are the fucking man, as you’ve advertised many times in the past.
Is Grouch a full band or a solo project? On your Bandcamp page you mentioned live shows wouldn’t be possible in the near future. Would this change at any time if the situation allowed?
At this stage Grouch is entirely a solo project. My son being the source of inspiration makes it extremely important to me to be the originator of at least the first wave of material. Beyond that I can say that the temptation has already been strong to play with at least a drummer to allow the songs to breathe in a live setting. Maybe gain some spontaneity? All my musical life I’ve been a big proponent of writing with a band and letting the push-pull naturally bring things to a creative space but I knew what I wanted this to be so I’ve owned it. As someone who is deeply addicted to the live performance drug I would say that all things going well I’d love to take this to the stage if the stars align.
You mentioned your two singles have been aired on several independent radio stations and are available on most streaming platforms. What stations have aired them and where can people hear the streaming releases? Do you shop the singles to net radio stations?
We’ve had some great support from High Hopes: Radio Metal in France, The Bile Lab on Lofty 88.9 in Adelaide, Australia, The Autopsy Report in the UK, Last Exit For the Lost out of Ithaca NY, USA, Radio Roach, The House of Pain Castledown FM UK and Steel Plaza Podcast on Spotify to name a bunch. “Your Soul is Mine” was sent out to a whole range of people but “Face Down” hasn’t yet. I’m just getting in the groove of reaching out and trying to let the music speak for itself when that happens. Playing live isn’t an option in the immediate future so the online community is where I exist. The streaming releases are on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, I Heart Radio, Deezer... distributed to almost everyone I think, so people can go to their fave fountain and drink away.
Was it easy for you to cross over death metal with hip hop in “Face Down”? Metal and rap have been crossed over since the 80s and 90s; in what ways does your crossover explore it differently?
I love Anthrax/Public Enemy, the “Judgement Night” soundtrack and so on but the idea of crossover is a bit dated in some ways. “Face Down” really wasn’t a cross over but rather a straight ahead blast using the lyrics of the original. The intro and chorus use a facsimile of the melody samples that 2 Live Crew used, just switching them to minor. Like I said it was done for kicks which I like to think has brought an honesty and immediacy to the track. I guess 2 Live Crew were sometimes known as porn rap so the pornogrind thing does match up nicely; maybe it is a crossover in that sense. All that said I’m totally up for working with Hip Hop/Rap guys if they’re down. It would be great to make nasty shit people haven’t heard before, I do feel that is a tough ask though - easy to sound forced or silly.
In what ways do you consider crossover between metal and rap dated? What would come of a collaboration with a rap artist?
I guess the idea of crossover as a stated intention is dated to me. Most modern music is fusion in some form or another, and I feel that to name it and approach it in a pointed way is kind of ancient history. At the time when those great crossovers happened they were ground-breaking due to the divisions between genres and sub-cultures being quite pronounced. With the way music is consumed and created these days, I think young kids in particular have such a great swathe of stuff in their musical vocabulary that fusion just happens organically. Hip Hop is a really good example of an art form that was so removed in the past and is now a solid part of plenty of kids' consumption. Metal is always a bit removed but the logic extends to it also. I think there is the risk of collaboration with a rap artist coming off a bit naff or pretentious... although with the right artist it could work. I'd almost jettison guitars and let the vocals speak for the death metal side of it... go with some aggressive electronica perhaps. Man your questions get me thinking! It would need to feel organic and not forced - that would be tough but would be a ton of fun to try.
In the 1980s and 1990s the term “crossover” was much simpler. Today it encompasses many different meanings. Do you think the term’s usage is overdone?
I think it is the 80s and 90s meaning of the term crossover that fits my definition and feels dead to me. In terms of different meanings - I am probably not the person to make comment as I perhaps don't understand what they might be! But to me crossover connotes a collision of genres that hadn't done so before or weren't seen to be compatible. I feel like these days there is a degree of fusion in almost everything and I would be more turned on by elements being used in clever ways to create fresh styles rather than a more overt collision so yeah I think the term's usage is overdone, or at least doesn't present with same relevance or resonance - god I hope that made sense!
Do you plan to shop “Face Down” to net stations at some point? What stations would air it given its subject matter?
“Face Down” will be sent out very soon and I think there are a number of stations who would be happy to play it. I would be lying if I said I wasn't cringing a little given the lyrics and the fact they don't transpose at all well to 2019 to say the least. Recording it was hilarious fun; "double team with a friend of mine..." DAMN it who will be in front and I'm behind? Satan! Of course it should be Satan! I thoroughly understand not everyone will share my sense of humour on this one but it is tongue in cheek and filthy in the best possible spirit... which is something that can be said for most death metal, grindcore, pornogrind, goregrind etc. There is an implicit sense of humour and cartoonishness to so much of it and that is part of what has shaped me.
Does social media and streaming help you reach more listeners than releasing material on CD or vinyl? How much has your listenership grown since you started streaming your work?
Social media and streaming are by necessity the way it is for me right now. A couple of the sites I am on would at least start to pay for the “Face Down” cover license! Tough to say with the listenership thing; it’s ticking along but I’d love to be reaching more people. I’d say when everything is down and it’s album time I will explore physical copies, and short run vinyl will be something I do out of love for the project and to give to my son. This thing is a deep labour of love so it’s all good.
Does being a solo musician give you more creative freedom when you write and compose? If you decided for Grouch to be a full band at some point, what would you look for in musicians?
That is a double edged sword in my experience, though to be fair the same can be said for writing with others. There have been moments (as I alluded to earlier) where jumping in with one or two people to see where the songs went based on the energy in the room was really tempting. But part of keeping it solo is it really tests me as a composer and arranger, particularly when it comes to drums. I have released other solo stuff in the past, but it has been a long time and I feel like I have evolved a hell of a lot as a musician since then. That means being better equipped but also that I set much higher standards for myself in all facets which I sincerely hope shows in the material thus far.
For better or worse I have always played with people I know, so I would be likely to seek out a few crew that I have history with. I would want them to celebrate in the spirit of what this is rather than come in as just a player; they could really revel in the parts and take them where they wanted. It would be pretty likely that I would predominantly be the vocalist and front man in a live setting. When I close my eyes and imagine a show, it is walking out as a musical build up intro concludes and unleashing a massive roar going into the first song. I would say it would be tough not to jump on the guitar a whole lot. Given that I have always been the bass player in bands, that all brings with it some fresh challenges that inspire and scare the absolute shit out of me... but that's the best way to be!
What about performing live attracts you the most? What sort of spontaneity would you want to have in a live show?
The spontaneity I would want in a live show is inherent my approach to playing. Have people I trust, learn the songs and structures, then have that beautiful non-verbal communication where you can step outside of the structures and have a ton of fun either improvising upon or embellishing what's there. That seat of your pants feel is a fucking narcotic; the further you push each other and the closer you get to crashing and burning, the more intense the thrill when you pull it off and have the audience stay with you. Creating that fluid, human interaction between musicians and crowd is absolutely awesome to be a part of for all concerned I feel.
What is it like for you to balance a family life with a recording career? How often are you able to find time to write and record music? Is your family accepting of you putting time into it?
Balancing family life is tough in the sense that time is short. Then there’s study and work to contend with. To be honest I wonder what the actual fuck I did with my time before the tiny man was born! Less time means more urgency and more shit getting done; when I’m idle I just become sedentary so I’m just trying to keep moving. My wife is really great but creative pursuits can obviously push things as we are fifty/fifty parents. Inspiration strikes when it strikes but the hard work of arranging and recording a track is the real struggle time wise. That stuff takes energy and commitment and when you’re dead tired and drained it’s tough to plow into. Not sure about other musicians but for me the creativity is easy when it flows but really shaping those ideas is intense. My wife is the most wonderful mother and human being. I know I give her the shits and I’m incredibly thankful to whatever power exists for having her in my life.
I’ll graduate at the end of next year; for god’s sake kids do that study shit when you’re young; which means more time for recording and playing. Honestly I would go insane without musical output, it’s just always been there in my life and has morphed into a form that continues to suit the current context. Life context is fairly fluid so the creative output will continue to adjust and with any luck the daydreams of taking to the stage as Grouch and laying waste to an audience with some fully formed material right from the get go will become a reality.
Are you taking music or writing classes where you attend school? If so, are they contributing to your work for Grouch?
My degree is in accounting so in terms of bringing anything to my writing that would be a fairly solid "fuck no!" That said, any pursuit in life that involves exercising your brain and/or body and improves you as a human being will bring intangible benefits to the other things you do. Hopefully it doesn't sound stupid saying so, but that whole self-improvement mindset can be a good thing (it can also drive me insane as I struggle to see things as complete or good enough). To qualify that, those improvements or pursuits can be literally anything and need only make sense to yourself. Whatever the hell it is that you dig or is meaningful to you, just jump in and do it for the sake of it and the fact it makes your brain do things. Hell even doing nothing and just thinking is an accomplishment in this wired up world. People get their joy out of such a wide array of stuff. Stick the middle finger to "thou shalt" and do the shit that makes you happy.
Do you think your idea of doing what makes you happy is reflected in your work? If so, how would you say it does?
Humour and fun is a big part of the joy I find in death metal and extreme music in general. Throughout my youth I quickly escalated to the most intense, darkest and extreme forms I could find, and whilst those things were coping mechanisms at times, for the most part I just found (and continue to find) so much joy in the purity of expression. Writing believably happy material is hard. Writing believably sad material is hard. Writing believably angry or intense music is hard. Art is about expression and authenticity and I think that can shine through anywhere. It is near impossible for me to appraise my own material with any objectivity but when I listened back to “Your Soul is Mine” in the early stages I smiled to myself... pure happiness, pure joy... and that was because I honestly heard authenticity. I guess I was most afraid of my efforts not sounding authentic and I bash on myself a hell of a lot through the process of making music so to have more than relief at that stage was an awesome feeling. This is a tribute to my son so it has to be the best I can make it - having that in my head means that the little wins are truly joyous. There are plenty of articles these days espousing the way extreme music makes its fans feel and I am guessing your readership will join me in saying "duh!"
How much does sincerity lack in popular music these days? Do people who have heard your material have a sense of the genuineness of your music?
A real minefield to comment on sincerity in music because you can get another person's motivations so wrong sometimes! I will start by saying I honestly hope the genuineness of what Grouch is about is shining through. I love death metal with all my heart. Not exclusively mind you. I do have a broad scope of musical loves in that sense, and I am bringing to life stuff that bangs around in my head ceaselessly each day. I can never know what another thinks but some of the feedback has been nice, particularly about the vocals which is obviously a naked expression. Having the opportunity to make a comment here I will say that when I realized the stuff was sounding "legit" I knew it would be fine. In the end all else is not for me to say. I am loving making it, some folks have been digging it, and if that's all this is then I am a happy camper. I guess the genuineness question would then revolve around if Grouch was consciously changed to allow for more listeners, more income, blah blah... It is pretty hard to argue that isn't happening in pop music both now and in the past, but as I believe the singer from The Dandy Warhols once put it "you've got to write your own record... or the kids will know it's bullshit". I think there is definitely something in that.
Do you have unreleased material you composed as a guitarist you would like to release someday?
I have unreleased stuff of course. I think most musicians would, but they all function in different ways: Reactions to life’s stimulus, test runs at sounds or production ideas, or just plain bumbling around. There is everything from guitar driven stuff to electronica, a short film score... even a string quartet piece. I think I am already saying too much. Grouch is where I am at 100%; that's the focus totally. Other things have been the exploration and I am very much back home.
What kind of an impact do you want Grouch to have on underground music? Or in the end are you simply doing your own thing and seeing who will pick up on it?
I guess the impact I’d like to have is to grow my audience significantly but all the while be known as an artist who consistently shares the work of others. Constantly enriching listeners with a ton of the great stuff that is out there as well my own is pretty important to me. In a sense it is always a case of just doing one’s own thing and enjoying expression in and of itself.