Tuesday, January 23, 2018

An Interview with They Grieve

While traveling down a Bandcamp wormhole, I discovered Ottawa's They Grieve, and was sucked in by their three song debut, I Made My Sacrifice Accordingly - a surprisingly nuanced and dynamic take on sludge metal. Since info about the band is sparse at best, I reached out to them to find out more; the duo of Gary Thibert and Deniz Guvenc were kind enough to take turns in answering my questions.

Dreams of Consciousness: Please introduce They Grieve - who are you, where are you based, and how would you describe the music you make?

Deniz: First of all, thank you very much for the interview. We are a two-piece drone/gloom band from Ottawa, Canada.

Gary: We try to incorporate ambient, drone, doom and post-metal influences with a bit of the unapologetic nu-metal reference for posterity.

DoC: What was the genesis of They Grieve? How would you say the music relates to your previous bands Alaskan and Stay Here, and how does it differ?

D: When we started They Grieve, both Alaskan and Stay Here were on their last legs. We had played in a few other projects together over the years, but we really wanted to focus on writing together. They Grieve started out as a format to experiment with forms and processes that were new to both of us. Both Alaskan and Stay Here were also slow, heavy, and melodic. With They Grieve, we wanted to incorporate more drone, noise, and electronic elements, and pull in more influences from the books and films we were consuming.

G: It was definitely an escape from what we were used to as far as writing processes. It's a very different experience creating with another song writer.

D: We are also both really invested in collaborating as much as possible. At the time, we were a little bit tired of the usual "here's a riff, play a beat" scenario. We spend about as much time talking about music as we do jamming, so a lot of our musical ideas come from our conversations. For better or for worse, I guess.

G: Most likely for the worse.

DoC: At the end of 2016 you released your first EP, I Made My Sacrifice Accordingly. Where was it recorded? What were your intentions, and how do you feel about the finished result?

D: We recorded this EP ourselves at our jam space in Ottawa. Gary did most of the technical work, including mixing, while I basically just contributed pickiness about tones. Because the space was not soundproofed, we had to wait until the other bands in the building finished jamming for the night—so almost all of the tracking was done during overnight sessions.

G: The recording process was a learning experience. I've known the basics for quite some time but wanted to use this project to help hone my skills. Just another excuse for starting the band! I was pretty satisfied with the outcome. I feel like the next few tracks we release will show a growth in both writing and production.

D: The songs on this EP were the first three we wrote, and they all came together really quickly. I think that we're happy with the result, but at the same time, we see it as only the first stage of our work. We tried to strike a balance between straight up riffs and drone-oriented parts, but we both feel like we have a lot of room to improve. With our new material, we're trying to blend our influences together more naturally.

DoC: The EP was mastered by Topon Das from Fuck the Facts, who also recorded most of Alaskan's discography. How did you meet Topon and what would you say he brings to your sound? 

G: I've known Topon for years. Alaskan always had an amazing experience working with Topon at Apt #2. It was only natural to have him involved with this. I wanted to try my hand with the tracking and mixing so it was an obvious choice to have Topon tackle the mastering. We have some other friends who do awesome work, which we would love to work with in the future. It'll be tough breaking that working relationship with Topon but I'm sure we'll be back to see him eventually. As far as what he adds to our sound well…. Let's just say the result is better than what we gave him to work with.

D: A lot better. Also Topon is the nicest dude ever.

G: Very awesome to work with.

DoC: They Grieve is a duo, with both members handling several instruments as well as vocals. Why did you choose to keep the line-up to two people? What are the advantages of writing and performing as a two-piece, and what are the challenges?

D: Near the beginning, we did briefly discuss adding another member. But, honestly, the decision to keep it a two-piece was an easy one to make. Limiting our resources really helps us focus our writing—when we want to have more complicated parts, we have to push ourselves to get more creative, which is an important aspect of this band for both of us. And because we're both poor and work multiple jobs, it's just easier to balance the schedules of two people rather than three or four. Making decisions is also streamlined because we're pretty much on the same page about everything already. We even both love blasting Life is Peachy in the van.

G: The songs wouldn't have come together the way they did if we had more members. Transitions and layering parts came from trying to make the band sound and feel like more than 2 people. I'm sure we look real full of ourselves on stage though.

D: The biggest challenge is probably setting up and tearing down. That probably sounds lazy, but we're getting old, and grumpy, and we use too much gear. We do it to ourselves but we complain anyway.

G: Deniz is constantly threatening to switch to a drum pad and abandon his kit entirely.

DoC: They Grieve has been playing shows fairly regularly. How important is the live experience for you? How would you describe the difference between your music live and on record?

D: Playing live has always been really important to us individually, and it's been a really unique experience with this project in particular. It's both difficult and rewarding. There's definitely been a learning curve, and I've had to improve as a drummer to keep up with Gary. Apparently I create a bit of ridiculous spectacle trying to do all this shit at the same time while still playing as energetically as possible. I still mess up, and I break at least one thing every show. Last time it was a key off my synth.

In terms of the difference between the recordings and our live performance, I feel like our live set has more energy. But everything on the EP is played live, so all of the layering and lead parts are done through live looping or triggering samples. We're a lot more comfortable now than when we started, but we take this comfort as inspiration to keep pushing into more difficult terrain. We're interested in finding new ways to translate the atmosphere of our music into a live setting so that we can cultivate a coherent, multi-faceted experience. We want to experiment more with visuals in the near future.

On a more personal note, playing live has given both of us the opportunity to work through our own demons. Gary has a lot of anxiety in social settings, and I can't keep things organized to save my life. Every time we get on stage, it kind of feels like a bit of a battle against ourselves. I think we're pretty critical of ourselves, and we always have a post-set debrief. There's probably some kind of repressed masochism involved in the whole thing.

G: It is definitely very cathartic. I've always found performing to be very freeing and therapeutic for myself. In They Grieve I feel we need to be a lot more focused and communicative with each other while on stage. We have experimented with some visuals in the past but got a little lazy. We seem to have gotten a second wind on that front and have some new ideas.

DoC: Tell me about your home city of Ottawa - how would you describe the music scene there? How is it different from the scenes in other Canadian cities, like Toronto or Vancouver? Would you say your location affects the music you make? Why or why not?

D: Ottawa is interesting because it's sort of in between a small town and big city. A lot of scenes really thrive here, and a few have been flying somewhat under the radar, steadily, for years. We're not really involved in it, but the garage/punk scene is huge. More up our alley, our friends at General Assembly and the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa and Outaouais have been doing amazing things for a few years now. Slower heavy music is not too common here, but the bands who do it are serious powerhouses.

I think Ottawa differs from other cities mostly because of its size. Scenes tend to cross-contaminate, and folks usually don't shy away from having mixed bills. There's also recently been a push toward greater inclusivity, accessibility, and political awareness in the scene generally. I think this has mostly come from younger people—specifically queer and trans folks and women of colour, who have been educating promoters and venues, providing security and resources, and setting up their own events, blogs, and radio shows. This has had a really great effect on the scene, as evidenced by an increased diversity of music, musicians, audiences, and events. We're lucky to be a part of it in whatever small way we can.

G: The political and environmental landscape most likely have some influence on our music. Someone recently told me that Ottawa is one of the most extreme weather capitals in the world. It can be damn cold in the winter months (-40 or worse with the wind chill) and stupid hot in the summer (+40 with the humidity). Whether or not that is true, I can't help but feel that has some kind of impact on our writing. I also can't help but love some sad heavy shit.

DoC: What's in the future for They Grieve?

D: We'll be re-releasing our EP on CD soon through a wonderful label, which will include one new track. Details to come! We're also finishing up recording a cover, which I think we'll release online in some form or another. We're currently writing a full-length album and hope to record it at the end of the summer.

We have a few one-off shows booked so far. The first show of the year for us is a local fundraiser for anti-fascist activists to help cover some of their bullshit legal fees. In early February, we're playing in Ottawa again with our good friends in Greber, who are releasing a new album—check it out! [I received a promo for the Greber album, and can confirm it's pretty awesome - Dreams of Corroboration.] In mid-February, we're doing a weekend in Montreal and Sherbrooke. And in March, we have something in the works for a droney, doomy fest in Ottawa.

G: Keep an eye out for some new merch as well! And hopefully we will get around to putting our music on Spotify and other streaming sites.

They Grieve on Facebook

They Grieve on Bandcamp

They Grieve on Instagram 

Dwyer Records (record label/distro run by Gary Thibert)