A Chat With Grave Jones

Interview, Rock

Philosopher, university professor, novelist and rock star Grave Jones is by and large one of the most interesting names currently rising in the music sector. Having composed material for new album ‘Heartrage Hotel’ in Lebanon amidst one of the greatest financial crises’ the world has ever seen, we got chatting to this most extraordinary of musicians…

RR: What to you is the best rock album of all time and why?

GJ: Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction,” because  it’s a perfect fusion of everything I love about rock n’ roll. The record feels like the natural extension of some of my favourite artists that came before: the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith – but bigger, better, and meaner. It has that unmatched ‘fuck you’ attitude coupled with a lot of emotional and vulnerable moments. It has Axl’s unique, immediately recognizable scream that is a pure reflection of his pain and anger, and you have the genius combination of Slash and Izzy Stradlin on guitars: they’re individually such tasteful players, of course, but more importantly, I honestly can’t think of two other players with the same chemistry and who compliment each other as well. The rhythm section is just the cherry on top in that original Guns N’ Roses lineup. No wonder it’s a record that changed rock history forever.

RR: How did you first discover rock music?

GJ: I was 8 years old, hanging out in my older cousin’s bedroom while he was studying for his final exams. I heard something on the stereo and something in me just couldn’t resist the pull. I was too young to know the difference between a bass guitar, a lead guitar, or a rhythm guitar, I had no idea what “rock” and “distortion” was, but something in that sound resonated with me on a deep, visceral level. I immediately went to him and asked him what it was, and he took a piece of paper and wrote down: “Guns N Roses – Use Your Illusion.” I went to the nearest record store and bought the tapes. That was the moment I sold my soul.

RR: How would you describe the current state of rock/alternative music?

GJ: I think it’s very much alive, in spite of what people think. It’s just not mainstream anymore. But it’s always been an up and down thing, I guess. People have been saying “rock is dead” since the 70s when disco got big, but if anything it got even bigger later. However, I’m not sure to what extent the genre can keep growing, reinventing itself, and fusing with other genres, but above all I see rock music as an attitude and a sound that is relatable on a very specific, visceral level. So as long as you have angry, confused teenagers who are trying to find their place in the world, I don’t think rock is going anywhere.

RR: Who is your current favourite rock/alternative artist and why?

GJ: At the moment I’m listening a lot to Greta Van Fleet’s latest record “The Battle at Garden’s Gate.” They used to be very criticized for basically sounding like Led Zeppelin copycats, which is true, but then again these guys were like 19 or 20 years old when they put out their first couple records: how could you expect them to reinvent the genre at such a young age? But now they’re a tad older the difference is obvious. It sounds to me that underneath all those early influences they eventually found themselves, their own identity, and you can really hear in their fantastic last record. My favourite things about them are the arrangements and Josh’s impressive, almost effortless vocal abilities.

RR: Do you see the genre evolving in any particular way at the moment? For good or for bad?

GJ: I’m not sure I can see in one what way it’s going to evolve, but every few years you get a little rock revival with a little twist on the genre. I wasn’t a fan of the nu-metal trend in the late 2000s, but I loved the garage/disco rock revival in the mid 2000s lead by bands like the Strokes, then the whole electronic rock thing of the early 2010s. I’m not a big fan of the current rappers who are dabbling in the genre – like Post Malone or Machine Gun Kelly. On the other hand, the whole Hip Hop and RnB sound has been dominating the charts for over ten years now, and it’s starting to exhaust itself. Every genre that becomes mainstream eventually gets there, all the artists start sounding and looking pretty much the same, until something else comes on. I’m very curious to see what that is.

RR: How did the ‘Heaven Only Knows’ artwork come about? Any particular inspirations at all?

GJ: The cross in the artwork is a picture of a Mexican cross that was in an apartment in Paris around the time I happened to write the song. I recently noticed that I often intuitively find myself drawn to religious imagery, and this one felt appropriate for a title like ‘Heaven Only Knows.’ The artwork was made by artist Tulip Hazbar. She is the one who had done the artwork for ‘Smitheens,’ writing over a picture taken by photographer Walid Nehme and I wanted her to handwriting again on the cross of ‘Heaven Only Knows.’

RR: What would you describe the current political situation in Lebanon?

GJ: It’s not good at all. The country’s been pushed back 30 years in less than a year, almost overnight, and the freefall isn’t over yet. It’s a shame because only two years ago it was one of the coolest places in the world, every single person I know who’d ever visited had immediately fallen in love with the place and ended up either coming back regularly or moving there. 400,000 people have now left the country in the past year, it’s the biggest wave of migration since the start of the civil war in the mid 1970s. Politically, it’s a gridlock caused by a combination of an armed militia, foreign interference, greed, incompetence, and failed system that needs radical change. The situation is sad and infuriating. It’s no coincidence my upcoming record is called ‘Heartrage Hotel.’

RR: How difficult is it to make music in a financial crisis?

GJ: It can be extremely challenging, yes, because the financial crisis isn’t only affecting the purchasing power of individuals, it’s also affecting the country’s most basic infrastructure. With the incessant power cuts, the shortage of car fuel, and terrible internet, how can anyone expect to have the headspace to create anything, let alone to logistically make anything happen. Simple tasks like recording or meeting the band to rehearse become a challenge. I have friends in who work in a production who went to Turkey for a week end only to be able to have decent internet to be able to download and upload large files and be able to work. How ridiculous and sad is this?

RR: How would you predict the current situation in Lebanon will evolve over the next few years?

GJ: This is actually the most frustrating part about this whole situation: I don’t know. No one knows. And anyone who claims to know is either lying or delusional. There are so many elements at play, so many possible moves from proxy powers, upcoming elections, threats of violence… Really, anything is possible. But I have a hard time seeing how anything is going to get any better in the near future.

Grave’s latest single Heaven Only Knows is out now and available everywhere!

Connect With Grave Jones

A chat with City Weezle’s Simon Fleury

Alternative, Experimental, Folk, Interview, Metal, Prog, Rock

With a new record approaching close over the horizon, and numerous hungry fans to feed, we sat down with City Weezle frontman and founder, Simon Fleury; chatting everything from cabin fever to Japanese pentatonic scales!

AM: What would you say are the key differences between your debut record and the upcoming No.2?

SF: This album certainly has less Primus and Mr.Bungle influence. Even though we can still hear some Patton/Primus/Bungle colours in there. There are certainly more keyboard and piano sounds on this one thanks to the wizardry of Axel Steinbiss and CSL Parker; two excellent players/composers. CSL really encouraged me to get back on the City Weezle stuff and taught me free form improvisation which is super fun and it had been a long time since I’d done a lot of improv. For those things I’m very grateful and, of course, for his parts on the album..

It was so much fun working with Axel, he’s super zoned in and could just do anything. He composed some really cool key lines for the album and pulled really amazing takes out of the bag; all in his stride, He’s also one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, Germans not being funny is a post-war myth. We’ve just had a Hitler joke we put in our press kit published in a review of German Punk Magazine so I think the proof is in the pudding there ;).

This one was recorded in many different places over a much longer period of time whereas «Taboo» was recorded all in the same place in the space of about a year. I think this one is definitely less chaotic, intentionally so, ‘Cluedo’ is the final track on this album and it fulfils the role of the track that brings the crazy. Of course, there’s a bit of craziness in all our stuff in different ways.

She’s a Stomper’ is our most straightforward rock song and I really dig it. It’s got a very Melvinsy feel. We haven’t really released a straight hard-hitting rock song before and this is certainly a new feel to our catalogue. In any case these are eight new diverse tracks we’re 100% happy with and can get behind and I can’t wait to perform them live.

AM: What do you think you learnt as a musician from writing No.2?

SF: From an educational perspective, I learned to write string quartet lines and it’s given me a better vision of how to approach orchestration for other instruments in the future I’ll definitely be delving into that a bit more on certain tracks.

It’s also given me a second round of collaborating with guest musicians which was also really cool and I’m really grateful to everyone who put a little piece of their magic onto this album.

AM: Did you encounter any challenges while writing/recording No.2? How did you overcome them?

SF: Yes there were many barriers to making this album not least the distance between all the personnel. It’s certainly one of the reasons why it took so long. Mixing this album at distance with Gautier Serre (Igorrr) was a lot of bouncing mixes back and forth and that was definitely the hardest part from my perspective.

But I really want to thank Gautier and think it was worth it as he did a great job, he’s responsible for the album having a great quality of sound. There were obstacles and a lot of flights booked to record this one but as with anything worthwhile it took motivation and perseverance to overcome those obstacles and finally get to the result we wanted.

AM: How would you describe the most dominant emotions coming from No.2?

SF: I’d say like most of our music it has a theatrical energy and there are moments of mystery and emotion. The most personal and emotional song for me is “Even Weezles get the Blues”. It was a very alcohol-fueled part of my life where I’d just split with my GF when I wrote that track and was feeling the solitude of those emotions. So while it seems like a funny upbeat track it actually has a very deep meaning for me.

In a fun way, I guess it’s me singing about my problems back then, therefore the song title makes perfect sense.

AM: Do you have a general songwriting method that you stick to or does it come from within the moment?

SF: Well I have different methods of composing and I don’t like to stick to just one. Sometimes I’ll write mostly the music first and then only have one or two vocal hooks along the way while imagining what the vocals will sound like. Sometimes more recently I’ve been finding vocal ideas first and then just finding the music to suit the vocals and I think it works really well. Like ‘She’s a stomper’ was mainly written like that.

Igorrr has done some composition sections within our tracks on “Taboo”. Sometimes we’ll create things as a band in a rehearsal room and take each other’s ideas and develop them or alter them.

I have a method of composing I’m sure other bands like “The Ruins” use too maybe? It’s to record an improvisation and have the other instruments learn it and record over it.

I call it “Comprovising”! So you record an improv and the other instruments record over it in a structured manner. So it sounds tight enough to be written but comes from a completely spontaneous performance. We’ll certainly be fitting it in on future tracks.

AM: Do you have any interesting or funny stories from the recording process?

SF: We tracked the drums and guitars out in this lovely little cottage in a very remote area in the Nyre Valley in Co.Waterford, nearly Bally Macarby.

Many thanks to The Fabie Family and Henstep McGrath of “Crow Black Chicken” for letting us use the place for recording, it was a really nice little drum room in the upstairs of the little cottage called “Gypsies Cottage”out there you get a real old Ireland feel, it’s kinda like going back 50 years in time.

A pub with a shop attached to it and the people to match, it was really cool. So we were very isolated out there, no phone signal, no internet just the basic equipment I had and the tunes to be recorded. We recorded the drums in the space of two days out there with “Ai Uchida”, all credit to him he’s a great guy and an amazing drummer!

I went out there to track the guitars for “She’s a stomper” by myself and it was a completely different ball game. I started getting cabin fever as they call it. It was like the Shining except I didn’t even have my wife or kid! With no internet and no telephone connection, it felt really really weird. I stayed at it for about two days and then got super depressed, scrapped everything and came back to civilisation

But it was very fun tracking out there with the lads other than that whacky experience!

AM: Can you tell us what it was like to work with Gautier Serre a.k.a Igorrr on this project?

SF: When I decided to get making this album I hit him up straight away with the question, ‘Would you be game for mixing and mastering it?’ Cause he’d done our 1st LP “Taboo” and I think he did a great job.

Plus I trust his ear. He’s a guy who’s been making top quality albums since I met him so I trust him on that front. He knows how to balance things well and get really great sounds. So I was delighted when he agreed to do it. Even though we did all of this at distance bouncing things back and forth and I haven’t seen him in ages I’d still consider him a friend. He was always super supportive of us and even jumped in a van to drive us around Europe for the Taboo tour.

He threw in a few little sprinkles of sound on No.2 where he saw fit and I think it worked out really well that way.

AM: How was City Weezle originally formed?

SF: Initially, I met a really wicked prog guitarist, Sylvain Ducloux, AKA ”Cloux” in ATLA music school in Paris where I was taking courses and he made this really insane prog guitar album called “Full Fool” and he invited me to do some vocals on a few tracks.

That was my first time participating on a professional quality recording – up until then I’d just done my own demos on my 8 track where I’d play all the instruments for the most part. From those demos, I had a bunch of tracks that I wanted to make a fusion band with and I selected those tracks to make the 1st demo of CW with “Cloux” on guitar, Eric Carrere on drums and Maxime Gilbon on Bass.

Eric Was playing with Cloux at the time and he’d done drums on my Demos too. Max and I used to mess around playing covers of queens of the stone age and Primus with this other summer. I feel lucky that I’m still very close friends with those guys to this day. They’re great people and great musicians.

AM: How did music first enter your life? Do you have any standout memories?

SF: The first song I remember hearing as a kid is that “Dire Straits” track “Walk of life”; I must have been about four, it was on the radio and my mother was cutting celery. Every time I heard that song after that I would get the smell of celery and, vice versa, every time I’d get the smell of celery it’d bring that famous keyboard line of that song into my head. I only really started getting into music around age nine or 10 when I got into Nirvana.

Before then I’d had a few of those Now compilations. Discovering Nirvana was obviously a life-changing moment as it was for us all. Shorty after I got into Metallica and Alice in Chains, another pivotal moment was discovering Mr. Bungle Age 16; I’d discovered Zappa shorty before then.

There was also a legendary singer song writer named “Warwick Embury”. He wasn’t famous but he really should’ve been.. He was good friends with Donovan and had come from the really thriving music scene in the UK to live in Tipperary, Ireland.

I imagine he wanted to get away from the hustle-bustle of London and found solace in Tipp. English guy, real deal rock and roll legend who used to come round to our house and sing tunes and improvise lyrics and he was super fun and entertaining. He was a very fun, very cool guy, real heart and soul of the party. He wrote great songs and he was a massive influence on me too. Unfortunately he’s passed away now but he left a lot of great happy memories. His music lives on. I’d advise anyone to go and check out his stuff. Really great songs.

AM: I’ve seen that you’re a Francophile and also becoming fascinated by Japanese culture! Is this something that you think has ever leaked into your music or could do so in the future?

SF: Yes that’s 100% accurate I’ve always been into the french language and now I’m a fluent french speaker. I learned it from having lived over there for years. That’s where City Weezle was initially founded and I still have great friends over there.

Yes it’s worked its way into our music a bit. On our latest album No.2 on the 3rd track Maestro Mafioso, at the intro of the song I have some lyrics in french and I sing them with Pedral and Mina of “Vladimir Bozar ‘n’ ze Sheraf Orkestar” one of my favourite bands!

We also do a rock cover of a french pop song “l’amour a la plage” there’s a version of it on the “Lysergik tea party” EP; there’ll definitely be some more french stuff in future!

Yes, it’s only now I’m starting to learn some Japanese and am very fascinated by Japanese Culture. I feel very lucky to have two great Japanese members in the band and really looking forward to gigging over there with the lads and learning more about the culture. Musically I’ve only learned the Japanese minor pentatonic scale and I wrote a really cool sounding intro with it once – we might break that out of the bag and make it something hopefully. Look forward to learning and hearing more.

AM: How do you believe that City Weezle fits into the prog scene?

SF: We initially come from the underground scene in France where Igorrr, Pryapism Vladimir Bozar and all these bands were kind of our contemporary’s. I think our music is quite diverse and will remain so we can be appreciated by the open-minded members of many different types of audiences.

I could see us opening up for any band we’d cite as an influence and fitting the bill very well, I think we fit in many places; we’re a fun band and we put on a fun show! It should fit right in everywhere. (Probably not in all-metal show line up but we’ve done it before and didn’t get murdered by an axe-wielding maniac, but who knows? Maybe next time it’ll happen 😉

AM: What is the main mission statement of City Weezle?

SF: Our mission is to keep people entertained as fuck and bring this super fun music to as large an audience as possible in this lifetime all while sharing the love of the music we love and the influences we channel through our music.

I believe it was Frank Zappa who said “Music is the Best”.

Words by Alex Mace

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