Interviews

GRAYCEON’S JACKIE PEREZ GRATZ TALKS TO METALSUCKS ABOUT THE CELLO, OTHER STUFF

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Grayceon‘s recent Profound Lore release, All We Destroy, is an album that’s more that worthy of your attention: cellist (!!!)/vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz (who’s also a member of Giant Squid, and has played with Agalloch, Om, and a bunch of other killer bands), finger-pickin’ guitarist Max Doyle, and a drummer Zack Farwell have created an album that’s as haunting and emotional as it is heavy. The top-notch songcraft, combined with Perez Gratz’s ghostly vocals and elegiac cello playing, ensure that there is truly no other band that sounds like Grayceon in the modern metal scene. And that fact increasingly seems to be a miracle.

Grayceon are playing three shows at SXSW this week — you can get all the details here — so now seemed like an ideal time to e-mail Perez Gratz some irritating questions. Luckily for us, she seems to have a good sense of humor.

After the jump, read all of Perez Gratz’s thoughts on the cello, the songwriting process for Grayceon, the cello, the lyrical themes of All We Destroy, the cello, Revolver‘s “Hottest Chicks in Metal” issue, the cello, the ukulele, and the cello.

The cello is obviously not a common instrument in metal. What made you interested in exploring that instrument’s place in extreme music? What do you feel the cello brings to metal?

Cello is not an obvious choice for a metal band, but after having studied only classical for so long, I decided to marry the music that I was listening to with the music I was playing. The decade I spent working with Amber Asylum was the perfect bridge for this exploration, and with Grayceon the idea was executed to its fullest potential.  Cello brings to metal a new range of melodic styles that guitar instruments cannot replicate. Technically, there are many things that the guitar can do that the cello cannot, but the same goes for the other way around. Since Grayceon has both cello and guitar, we can take advantage of both instruments’ unique offerings.

How much shit have you taken over the years because “the cello isn’t metal”?

Luckily I haven’t gotten much shit ,and maybe that’s because cello is slowly becoming a trend in metal music these days. I do get a lot of weary looks when I load into clubs with the instrumen,t but after I get to prove my point on stage, nobody says anything to me about cello not being metal.

Seriously, is there ANY metal band that couldn’t benefit from a little cello?

Jeesh, I hope so! Cello isn’t for everyone, like Iron Maiden for example. Cello would just muck up the brilliance of the dueling guitar riffs. And how would people know how to air-cello? That would look ridiculous, although I did see it once — quite fantastic, really.

What is the songwriting process like in Grayceon? Do Max Doyle and yourself actually coordinate the interplay between your cello and his guitar, or do you just feel it out while jamming?

We mainly feel it out while jamming, let it come naturally. When we arrange songs as a whole group, there will sometimes be suggestions from any one of us to highlight an instrument, leave space for another instrument, or harmonize in unison for the sake of the song, but nothing more than that. We tend to leave each other alone when it comes to writing our individual parts since we are already trying to make our own parts challenging and fun for ourselves. And, honestly, there is so much going on it’s hard for Max and I to pay too much attention to what the other person is doing! That’s not to say we aren’t listening to each other, but it’s more of an organic process in finding the right place for our respective instruments within the song.

I’ve never seen Grayceon live. Seriously, how does it work? Is it at all possible to headbang with a cello in your hands?

Max is mainly in charge of the head-banging department, but I have been known to get my head into it on occasion. I’m always curious to hear that some people prefer our live performance and some people prefer the recordings. We sound pretty much the same live, as we don’t add many special effects or layering to our recordings, but I was recently told from one fan that it was too much for him to watch us live. He couldn’t decide which one of us to focus on since we were all going off.  Personally, that would make it more fun for me to watch, because bands that just stand there and do nothing are a complete snoozefest. But that’s just my opinion. You’ll have to make it out to a Grayceon show and decide for yourself!

Cosmo Lee at Invisible Oranges recently referred to you as “the cellist of choice for metal’s underground.” But, uh… is there any competition for that title?

Funny, there are probably a lot more technically advanced cellists out there who could get the job done, but I get the gigs because the bands are friends of mine and fans of my work. I rarely record on an album for complete strangers; I just don’t have the time. Also, I’m being hired to write, because most of these bands want cello but they don’t know how it could/should fit in with their music. With me, they know what they’re getting because they are familiar with my writing style and they trust that I am going to interpret their songs closer to their intentions than a session musician. This is how I prefer to do it, and it becomes much more of a collaboration. There are always the exceptions, of course. Like with Om, they pre-wrote all the cello parts before I came in, so I was more of a means to an end for them. But it doesn’t bother me because I know Al Cisneros and it makes sense that he would want to work this way.

Are you really furious that most of my interview questions have now been about the cello?

No, I’d be more furious if they were all about the ukulele.

What are the lyrical themes of All We Destroy, and what inspired you to write about those themes? It seems like emotional warfare keeps coming up – or am I reading too much into that and should I maybe consider (even more) therapy?

Aah, you nailed it on the head, really. Emotional warfare is what most of the album’s themes touch on. Writing music is a form of my own personal therapy, and I get to work out a lot of inner demons over the course of writing lyrics for an album. The fragile heartbreak I had over the time we wrote This Grand Show finally reared its ugly head and left me angry and jaded and constantly second guessing new love entering my life. And there you have All We Destroy. I still consider myself to be a novice lyricist, so I haven’t tried to write about anything fictional yet. My own stories and experiences carry me through.

How do you feel Grayceon have evolved since the release of This Grand Show?

Grayceon has evolved in a very natural way, finding new ideas that inspire us and working on them, discarding old tricks or riff ideas that we got bored of, taking feedback from the previous release and trying to make something better. Personally, I wanted this album to be heavier vocally just because I could and it was different. I had learned to scream with Giant Squid and was having fun doing it, so that was a logical direction to take. Also, Max pretty much vetoed singing anymore, so I had to do something to change it up from previous releases wherein we were both singing in unison all the time.

Finally: The phone rings. Revolver wants you to appear in the latest edition of their annual “Hottest Chicks in Metal” issue. Your reaction is…?

“Sure, if you stop calling me a chick!” And I think I would request to have my cello in the photo, because most of the pics that end up in that issue look more like they belong in Playboy instead of a music magazine.

-AR

 

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