The End Records has unleashed some impressive debut albums from some cutting edge progressive, avant-garde, and metal bands in recent memory. Groups such as unexpecT, Frantic Bleep, Estradasphere, and Head Control System, are just a few that come to mind when you think of all this label brings to the table. Another such act that is gaining plenty of recognition these days is the monster ensemble from Astin, Texas, Giant Squid. Their brand new album, Metridium Fields, is a brazen mix of thunderous doom, 70's influenced prog-rock, flower-power era psychedelia, and avant-garde jazz. It's unique, it's epic sounding, it's almost indescribable, but most importantly, in a musical world of copycats and commerciality, it's fresh. Giant Squid lead singer/guitarist Aaron Gregory took some time out of the band's busy touring schedule to talk with Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo about the new album, the live circuit, line-up changes, and all things Giant Squid.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: The band has created one of the most unique listening experiences of the year with Metridium Fields. How has reaction been from fans and media so far?
Aaron Gregory: Very surprising to us since the reaction has been so overwhelmingly positive with critics. We expected a lot of "new" band thrashing, and there has been a tiny bit of that, but the majority of the reviews we're receiving are full of praise. It's been very rewarding to us to see so many people understanding the album, and getting excited by it still in today's current musical atmosphere, because all of these songs are rather old to us now, with it being a whole re-release and all. We also never expected such embracement from the prog-rock scene, which has been great! It's always interesting to see how different critics analyze the music, and how vast, or very limited a critic's musical references can be. I mean, I can't believe how many people keep comparing us to System of a Down! Not that we mind much, I just think its funny cause it is a pretty far off comparison.
SoT: That is strange actually, as I don't hear that at all. There's elements of doom metal, psychedelia, prog rock, and a little jazz on the album. With all that variety, I'm curious as to what styles of music the band listens to in their spare time, and what your influences are?
Aaron: The jazz elements on Metridium Fields are definitely the influence of our drummer at the time of the recording, Mike Conroy, and his brother who played trumpet throughout the record, Tim. Both these guys have never listened to a moment of "doom metal" or "stoner rock" in their life, other than what I had force fed them. But, they grew up listening to hard bebop, blue note era jazz, endless amounts of dance music, and lots of dub reggae. Being in a rock band was a whole new ball game to them.
Aurielle (Aaron's wife, and co-singer/guitarist in the band) and I have lots of similar taste when it comes to guitar rock. We both love very heavy, fuzzy stuff common in the doom/stoner vein, which is where both our guitar tones are inspired by, but also lots of heavy indie music such as Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Pleasure Forever, that sort of thing. All of us, Aurielle especially, are massive Beatles fans. That, in addition to Bryan Beeson (bass) and I growing up on a steady diet of prog punk like Subhumans and Dead Kennedys, is where some of the more progressive elements are most likely coming from. But in all seriousness, we listen to everything under the sun, and are influenced by it all country, folk, hardcore, punk, electronic, dance, post-rock, metal. You name it, it's in our iPods.
SoT: Can you talk a little bit about the history of the band and how you came together?
Aaron: It's rather complicated and boring, but I'll try. You have to remember that when I say Metridium Field (singular), I mean the first record, and Metridium Fields (plural), I mean the second re-recorded version we just now released. With that out of the way, here we go
We were all from Sacramento, California before we relocated to Austin, Texas. Back in Sacramento, Bryan and I had been playing in one constantly mutating version or another of this band since mid-high school, over eleven years ago. Mike, our drummer on Metridium Fields had been in and out of this project over the years since then as well. Same with the original guitar player, Bill, who stayed on till after we finished the first version of Metridium Field. Aurielle joined solely as a keyboard player and second vocalists over five years ago when we called ourselves, Koi. Back then we were very progressive punk rock. But with Aurielle in, we just started getting slower and heavier. We changed the name a couple more times, due mostly to people claiming our existing name ideas for themselves, until we decided on Giant Squid in 2001, which seemed appropriate since we had always had these aquatic themed songs and band names.
People just kept coming and going so much from the band though, that we had to evolve constantly to keep it alive, which I think made us all better players, and a stronger band today. Once Bill, the guitar player, had quit, we tried out a multitude of others on guitar, but nothing seemed to fit. So, Aurielle took over on guitar and we found another keyboard player, Andy, who was a real genius at coming up with bizarre, dancy keyboard parts. It really changed the feel from what we had done previously on the first Metridium Field. We recorded an EP, Monster In The Creek, with him, and also Mike back on drums after years of being apart from us. We released a very small amount, about 400, of these ourselves. It was absolutely unique from anything we had done before.
At this point The End caught wind of Metridium Field and approached us. We decided to go with them, and move the whole band to Austin to take advantage of the prosperous music scene there. But when we moved to Austin, Andy couldn't come along. We went on to re-record Metridium Fields for The End Records without him, and Aurielle had to revisit all her keyboard parts again, in addition to playing all new guitar parts loosely based around what Bill had originally laid down before.
Mike convinced his brother Tim, who played trumpet on this new record, to move out here and become our full time keyboard player. Unfortunately after recently making it through two exhausting tours with us, both Conroys decided to part. We immediately snatched up an existing two-piece band in town called, Ghetto Princess very glamy, bubblegum metal whom we had really enjoyed seeing several times around Austin. These guys were originally from Portland, Oregon, so we all bonded immediately upon meeting them the first time since we were all transplants to this town. So Kim Freeman and Scott Sutton, on keyboards and drums respectively, have been working out famously with us since then. We all are set to tour for the first time together at the end of November, 2006.
SoT: What led Giant Squid to The End Records?
Aaron: Billy Anderson, who produced Metridium Field (and engineered Metridium Fields), passed on our material to Crisis, who's record he had just completed for The End Records. Afzaal, their guitar player, really enjoyed it, and passed it on to someone at The End offices when they came through. That person dug it as well, enough to pass it on to the owner, who, believe it or not, liked it enough to track us down and sign us. Aurielle had been a huge Crisis fan since she was a kid, so to hear that they were fans of Giant Squid, and directly responsible for getting our record in to the hands of The End, was just way too cool. It's ironic cause we had all been rocking their record since Billy gave it to us when we were recording with him the first time. We owe Billy and Afzaal a lot of thanks for making it happen.
We really didn't identify with many of the bands on the label, at least at first, but their attitude towards the creative process was what convinced us. They just want you to push the envelope as hard as you can on each record. Total creative freedom to the band! They were so positive and supportive; we knew this was the perfect label for us. I'm so excited about all the bands they are singing now. We're big fans now of many of the groups on The End's roster.
SoT: A few of us at Sea of Tranquility had the opportunity to catch you on tour with unexptecT and The Gathering earlier this year. How did that go for you?
Aaron: Boy, that tour was a trial by fire for us, as well as Unexpect. It was our first tour with Giant Squid, and we had just moved to Austin just over a month before. Like I said earlier, we had lost Andy, our prior keyboard player, in the move from California, and so we convinced our friend and producer of Metridium Fields, Jason Rufuss Sewell, who also just moved to Austin, to play with us on the tour. Tim came along just to experience it all and play his trumpet parts, so we had quite a motley crew of a band going out there.
The hardest part was just keeping up with the Gathering. They could only play a handful of dates in the US, and it had to start at SXSW in Austin, and end in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, all in less than a week. Grueling drives with little or no sleep. Playing SXSW one night and having to be in Atlanta, GA the next night for a gig? Didn't happen. After the first couple of gigs, The Gathering took a liking to our colorful amps and wanted to use them for all the shows, which meant we had to be at each club by 2:00 in the afternoon for their sound check. Unlike them who had a small bus and driver, we had to drive ourselves, so we couldn't just take off after a gig and drive straight there non-stop. Playing Virginia one night and having to be in Boston the next day at 2:00 were some good times in deed. At some point we had to sleep, but we were rarely able too. We made it through though, and got to watch the Gathering play amazingly every night. What an inspiration those guys were! Very kind souls who really took us under their wing that tour. We were honored to be out there with them, and I know it will happen again for sure.
The greatest part of it all was falling in love with unexpecT. Those guys are just the greatest. We partied way too hard with them and we really helped each other out in getting through that tour. We were both the underdogs on the bill and so we were constantly pushing each other and inspiring each other every night. Fantastic band and fantastic people.
SoT: The band has done a really good job of layering different vocal styles on the album-how important is it to the music of Giant Squid to have that varied vocal attack?
Aaron: We'll our vocals are what very much set's us apart from many other bands. There is so much music out there where the vocals take a back seat to everything else, almost as if the band just didn't know what to do with them, so they sprinkle some screaming and hollering over bits of the music and that's it. Our favorite bands are very vocal heavy bands. That's what makes music the most emotional and endearing to me is the vocals. Giant Squid is very melodic, and could get away on some level with less singing, but we wouldn't be able to get across what it is we are trying to convey. We are a very cinematic band, full of imagery and stories. Some of this can be conveyed through instrumentation, but the imagery couldn't be fully realized without the story verbally being told. Aurielle and I are both very capable of lots of vocal variety, and so we try to utilize that to the best of our ability and at the right times, like you would any other instrument in your arsenal.
SoT: The title track is a pretty epic piece of music with lots of different moods to it-how hard was it to create that song?
Aaron: That was probably the easiest song to create on the record. We had the basic blueprint from the first version on Metridium Field. It's basically two parts all together, each with it's own set of layers that we just kept adding spontaneously. When it came time for the guest appearances of Tim and Andy, we basically just told them where to start in the song, and let them go as long as they wish. It was all very natural and organic. Then we filled in the holes with experimenting in postproduction. The interesting thing is that all three engineers that worked on the record contributed heavily to that song at different times and places. First with Billy in the actual studio in Sacramento throwing out ideas for guitar, like reversing leads and what not. Then, with Robert Cheek who recorded both Tim and Andy on that song, at his own home studio in Sacramento, helping guide them on what to lay down. And last, with Jason in Austin who recorded all the vocals, and manipulated them in the postproduction and mixing stage, adding ambience and textures. It's probably my favorite track on the whole record for that reason because it's so representative of the whole process of making that album.
SoT: What songs seem to go over best live?
Aaron: "Ampullae of Lorenzini" is always very powerful live, and seems to be a crowd favorite. It comes across well in a live setting cause the riffs are so big and spacious. "Neonate" is kind of our token opener and is a real aggressive way to capture everyone's attention. It's dynamic enough though to lure people in that may not be very keen to heavy music. People always go off for the end of "Versus the Siren", which is the big "battle" part as we call it. Lots of progressive number crunching in the finale of that song. When Tim was playing the Trumpet solo live after that big explosion, I think people really got enthralled, and didn't know what to expect next.
SoT: Your music appeals to both the metal and prog audience-do you feel subsequent releases will continue to bridge the gap between both genres?
Aaron: We honestly never thought our music was technical enough for either genre to get too excited about. It's been a big surprise. We always thought the more indie-rock/ doom-rock audiences would dig it more, so we are really happy to see it reaching across so many musical preferences. I can definitely promise that the next album is going to mix it up a bunch with lots of variety in pace and mood. We're dying to release some fresh material.
SoT: If you were going to explain the music of Giant Squid to a new listener, how would you do that in one sentence?
Aaron: Organic, heavy rock music, that is as brutally honest and sincere as it is epic and emotionally moving.
(Click here to read our review of Metridium Fields)