Grimwood are new to the Victoria music scene, but they made a big impression with their debut effort ‘For the Least of Us’.
The trio (Nick Sandor – percussion/vocals, Tim Personn – guitar/vocals, James McEwen – bass/vocals) exercise total democracy, with each member having equal creative input. There is no room for ego here. Furthermore, they are three genuinely nice guys. They are serious about their music but are easily moved to laughter.
How did Grimwood start out?
Nick and I got together after I posted an ad on Craigslist. We jammed a bit but we didn’t follow up on it. A couple of years later I ran into him at the Copper Owl and he was jamming with Tim. They invited me along. There was an immediate chemistry.
We started off jamming very loosely. Nick and I had already worked on a few things, but when James brought in the bass it really took on shape a lot more. The way the music evolved was through the jams that we had – working on them in the moment, recording them, then refining them and going back to them later.
We hunkered down for pretty much a year. At least 8 or 9 months we spent really hammering away at these songs. Nick records everything that we do. Every time we get to the jam space the computer’s on. Then we would trade back and forth with Dropbox and USB sticks. We’d listen to the recordings. After a while we realized we had about 10 songs. Then it was a matter of recording them and making an album.
I think they [the songs] came together because we did a show in September  for James’s birthday. It was our first show, so that put on a lot of pressure to make sure we had something. So it was motivation to put something together in a complete way.
How do you decide on what style you are going to play?
I don’t think we even decide that. We just set up our gear, tune up and then someone will start fiddling with something. Then someone else’s ears will perk up. A few minutes into it we’ll go full blast. Play with it, change it. We record everything we jam, then we review it and pick out the pieces we like.
The communication around our songs is more non-verbal at the beginning. We communicate in the moment, with the music. It’s only later that we’ll say, “Oh, that worked.” or “No, that didn’t work.”, but the initial impetus is musical in essence.
The styles that we play even surprise us. <laughs>
Yeah, one style that really brought us together is post-rock. Bands like Godspeed [You! Black Emperor]. That’s how we connected initially.
I remember when we first started jamming and something we had in mind was long sprawling, free-form jams. Like Can or other early German krautrock bands.
I don’t think we’ve ever spoken so much about a certain genre. It’s just sounds – sounds that we like. It has developed into something that is cohesively Grimwood. James, for example, has a very distinctive bass playing style that is very Grimwood and we’ve fed off that. Tim has a lot of loops and so on. We’ve always focused on how we’re playing rather than a certain style.
There is a certain feel of the ’70s in there, wouldn’t you say?
We all love the music of the ’70s. I’m from Germany, so that’s probably where the krautrock thing comes from.
I was raised by two metal-head parents in the ’80s. Judas Priest and that sort of thing. It’s just what we were born out of, I guess. It probably works in a subconscious way. It’s in the DNA.
Are there any bands that you would consider influences?
Personally I’m influenced by the approach that the indie band Grizzly Bear takes, in that all of their members are very equal. There is no one leader and they all bring ideas to the table to develop them on equal terms. We follow a very similar approach. There is no one writer and there is no one decider. It’s the way we jam as well. We see ourselves as a collective.
A big one for me is the post-rock styles of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I love the aesthetics of the really atmospheric sound. We did a lot of ‘found sounds’ on the recording. The album starts with a crazy cab ride that I was on. The end of the album too, actually. It was just this idea of piecing things like that together with the music to create a soundscape, rather than just a bunch of catchy-sounding songs.
Personally I like a lot of early ’90s like Pavement. Even sludgy stuff, like The Melvins, or nu metal. That’s one thing about our project – we have common influences but then we each have our own tastes, so it ends up as this eclectic sound. Very multi-dimensional in a lot of ways.
You recorded the album ‘live’ in a basement, correct?
<laughs> We rehearsed and recorded in the basement of a funeral home, where I work. Because we were some comfortable playing in that environment we decided that’s where we were going to record because that’s where all the ideas took form. So I worked with James’s roommate, Bryan Lilly. The two of us took the reins on doing the recording, although all of us had input in how we wanted to go about doing it. Everything was ‘live’ off the floor. We’d do a few takes and use the best take. There were a few overdubs here and there, but we really wanted to capture the ‘in the moment’ sound – to capture the energy we created together.
Even playing these songs live they are still evolving and changing in new ways. In this sense our songs are never trulycomplete, but part of an evolution. This is what made recording sodifficult. How could we capture the right moments, and would these moments accurately represent how we felt the songs were meant to be heard? We really had a great time recording. However, I think we also found ourselves extremely focused on the project knowing thatdecisions had to be made surrounding how these songs would sound recorded and distributed. Yet it was still a really relaxed process because we are that type of band. We really just want to enjoy ourselves and be creative, no pressure. In that sense we made a good combination of innovation and beer to carry us through the process.
I spent a few weeks in Germany with my family while the other band members were still mixing and recording field samples. Every morning the first thing I’d do after waking up was to download the newest mixes and respond with feedback. One day Nick told me they’d spent a windy night walking on opposite sides of streets in Victoria, recording the same bar sounds from different angles. I was stoked to hear the result. Unfortunately, the wind on the recordings turned out to have blotted out all the interesting sound overlap and phasings they’d heard. Still, when Nick sent me the new mix I realized that the very next day they had gone down to the beach and recorded the incoming waves as background for our track “Haunted By The Hush”. This is such a great example of the process that leads to Grimwood songs: we get fascinated by ideas, try them out, maybe even abandon them, and finally come up with something that turns out to be just perfect for the song in question.
Yeah, the field recordings were fun to do. Nick and I sat down on Dallas Road and got blasted by these insane winds while trying to capture the wave sounds on “Haunted by the Hush.” Another interesting thing was how the songs had changed from the initial jams to when we laid them down. We added different nuances and things in the studio that ended up sticking with the songs and forced us to almost relearn the songs a bit afterwards.
Also, there was a moment in the beginning of “Slapped Back to Reality” where we came up with the Zombies-esque ‘oooh, chicka, aaahh’ part and I kept laughing while trying to do it. We ended up keeping my laughter at the beginning of the track and I always thought that was great.
Tell us about a few of the songs.
“Free to Burn”:
This song is very much about the story or process of Grimwood. We often build our songs based on recorded improvisational sessions. “Free to Burn” was born out of two 15 minute jams. We were keen on the first part and made attempts to recreate it. As the song began to take on structure it evolved and in some ways is a very distant rendition of the original recording and in many ways is completely different. An improvisation on an improvisation in a sense.
More so, variations on a theme rather than a verse/chorus creation. The early version on this song was played on CFUV which would have been our first opportunity to be heard by others.
“For the Least of Us”:
The title track of the album is very much at the centre of Grimwood’s sound. It is about collaboration, contrast, and shared space. This track was one of the first songs that we approached through the recreation of previous jams. Breaking it apart, twisting it in new ways, all that type of stuff. As a band we really enjoy playing with our songs to decide which direction we want the
sound to go. When something felt right we kept it, if not we would cut it or twist it around some more.
“Handling of the Stars”:
This song started out as the melodic denouement of a long jam the rest of which we abandoned. This last part, however, with a hypnotic bass line and some sparkling guitar work on top, stayed with us. Returning to the groove, James fit a poem
he had recently written onto the guitar melody and suddenly we had a song. We wrote the heavy chorus with its atonal guitar lines to highlight the melody of the verses. In Grimwood we often like to play with dynamics to offset different parts of a song — “Handling of the Stars” is yet another example of this strategy. The long instrumental part that ends the song did not exist before we began recording the album. In fact, we played this song without the jam part at our first show at Solstice Cafe in September of 2014. Some weeks later James came up with the transition to a different key and a new chord progression and I added some guitar riffs to complement that. Then we faded in the field sample to round out the album. The transition to a major key at the end of this song gives the whole album a hopeful finish that nicely fits the sampled sounds of birds in the morning — the dawn of a new day.
“The Taller We Get… And Papa Smiles”:
This is probably one of the tracks I’m most proud of from the album. Again, born out of a jam, we came up with this groovy hook that stuck with us and really haunted us and forced us to come back to it. Somewhere along the way we decided to have a total meltdown in the middle section, because we all have a penchant for the insane. We had this other idea to have a very repetitive, Gregorian Chant-style vocal melody over it. We just couldn’t figure out what line we should repeat. Nick had titled a different jam “The Taller We Get… And Papa Smiles” which I thought was hilarious, and as a joke I sang that, and it fit perfectly.
“Obvious Flaws Of Kicking And Screaming”:
This was a song that Tim had brought to the band. I think he and Nick had been jamming it before I even joined. Tim came over to my place one night and was showing me this new riff he came up with, and it just clicked in our minds immediately that it needed to be the middle section for “Obvious Flaws.” Very Beatles-y vibe, which really brought out so much in that song.
What are your future plans? Where is Grimwood going?
For our first album we wanted our ideas to flow loosely, and authentically. I guess we try to commit to being egalitarian in that
sense. We want everyone in our band to play in a way they feel like playing or creating music. In that sense the plan for our first album was playing with all sorts of different ideas that could potentially be the sound of Grimwood. Now working on our new material we find ourselves already trying to recreate our sound in new ways. It is about growth, development, and an eagerness to evolve and challenge ourselves musically.
For the future, we’re really excited to start getting out in the scene more in Victoria, and hopefully in Vancouver as well. We’re
still writing all the time and have recently come up with some of our best material yet. We have some ideas kicking around for future releases, and new shows thankfully keep presenting themselves, which we’re very humbled and honoured by.
Nick: This summer we want to break into the Victoria community. Create some bonds with some of the other local bands and venues. Make some contacts and some friends. We might try and do some Vancouver shows or other shows, but for now we just want to see what’s around us before we expand and move forward.
Is there a band, an artist or a trend in music out there that
I think an interesting trend in music is the increased access our generation has for the ability to share and create music. This has
created and contributed so much to broadening the creative spectrum and the types of music people are exposed to, which can lead to many new and creative ideas across genre and style. With this in mind the boundaries of musical creation are nearly limitless. Everything from basement low fidelity folk records to production wizards of post-rock—everything seems become a melting pot of ideas, influence, and expression.
I’m really excited about, as always, some of the more noise/”experimental” music. It seems to be coming more into the forefront of people’s minds and being accepted a lot more, I think. Even in Victoria, there’s noise and drone shows/fests that happen
here, and I think that’s really amazing. I just love music that challenges you and even scares you a bit, which I think is a pretty
obvious influence on us as well.
Why the name Grimwood?
The answer to that question is in the depths of the funeral home…and some things are better left a mystery