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!
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