Q&A: Grails Descants on Doomy and Divergent Recording Sessions

Photo credit: Jean-Marc Luneau
Photo credit: Jean-Marc Luneau

With cinematic soundscapes, engaging Indian melodies, film-noir mystique, 1960s psychedelia, and crushing heaviness, Grails is an instrumental rarity.

The Portland band’s latest album, Doomsdayer’s Holiday, is an exceptional work that offers a stark contrast to its predecessor, Take Refuge in Clean Living. Online editor Scott Morrow catches up with guitarist/drummer and cofounder Emil Amos to discuss this stylistic difference.

Grails: “Reincarnation Blues”
Grails: \”Reincarnation Blues\”

What do you credit for the difference in style between Take Refuge in Clean Living and Doomsdayer’s Holiday? Was there an inspiration for making Doomsdayer’s Holiday so heavy?

Both records were part of the same recording sessions. As time went on, they just seperated from one another. The predominant quality of the Doomsdayer material was that it was sonically very immediate and quick paced, and the songs had a similar visceral power.

We approached the Take Refuge material with more dread because the mixes were really crowded and confused. We decided to begin the long process of mixing Take Refuge first, over a year ago, and save the Doomsdayer material for the second release because it seemed like a stronger note to end on.

The heaviness of Doomsdayer’s is just the album being sonically congruent with its own basic aesthetic concept, and that was somewhat unplanned. The albums seem to want to be themselves. For us, it becomes a matter of observing them and hearing them over and over again until their natures become obvious.

“I think Grails doesn’t sound that academic in the end — because everything is based on a gut-level love for music. It’s inadvertently referential. It just asks the listener to have an open mind.”

How did having engineers with ties to Sunn O))), Earth, and Faust affect the creative process?

Those are really good bands, but we only worked with Randall Dunn and Steve Lobdell/Jake Hall because we are comfortable with them and their abilities. Randall’s equipment and his sense of how to use it is pretty unparalleled. He has an initial professional sense but does whatever he wants to do with the equipment spontaneously, following more of how a songwriter would record a band instead of just a cold hired hand.

What types of worldly influences are inherent in Grails? How important is stylistic fusion to the band’s sound?

The stylistic fusion is everything…and not just in a post-modern sense but in an instinctual, immediate way. For example, I think you could say that Circle and Pharaoh Overlord from Finland are stylized/fusion bands…but to me, I just hear an extreme love for all music coming through.

That’s why I think Grails doesn’t sound that academic in the end — because everything is based on a gut-level love for music. It’s inadvertently referential. It just asks the listener to have an open mind.

When seen on a molecular level, a digital ’80s-style snare keeping a beat is only just one thing: boring. But if you coat it with a sample of the audio of Jayne Mansfield’s skull getting ripped off, drop a sick [Errol] Flabba Holt dub-style bass line on it, and then drop the beat away to reveal battling Turkish guitars…then you’ve got something, if it’s catchy and your head is bobbing.

You’re all busy enough with other projects. How has Grails been so productive over the past two years? Is it important to the band to release material with little downtime?

As a rule, we generally work on two records at once. This allows us to challenge and expand the definition of both records and really take a pick-axe to the material. It is important to us to always keep working, but we work on several different kinds of projects in different venues under different names.

We’ve produced this amount of stuff because we’ve been working off a burst of energy that started back around Black Tar Prophecies. Doomsdayer’s Holiday finally caps off the material we’ve had lying in this one pile. Now it’s really time to decide what we want to do from here.

– Scott Morrow

Grails: www.grailsongs.com
Temporary Residence Limited: www.temporaryresidence.com

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