With their second full length album tucked well and truly under their belt, 'Return Of The Bearded Brethren', I caught up with Ollie Stygall, vocalist and guitarist of UK heavy rock trio Grifter to chat about, amongst other things, the new album.
Ollie, thanks for taking the time to chat with MetalTalk.
"Cheers Jools. As the late great Bob Hoskins once said, 'it's good to talk', and talking Metal seems as good a subject as any!"
Your second album, the rather excellent 'Return Of The Bearded Brethren', has just been unleashed on the unsuspecting public. How well has it been received and has it surpassed your expectations?
"It's officially released in America on August 12th and the rest of the world on the 18th so we haven't had the full impact of it yet but the reviews that we have had so far have been extremely positive which is a huge relief. We also had a week long pre-release sale for the die hards and the general opinion from those that have bought it seems to be that we've topped the first album by a long way.
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"It is nerve wracking when you put out a new release as you can never fully judge how people are going to respond, especially for a band like us that doesn't really sit comfortably in any particular scene. We all have a lot of confidence in this album but until you start hearing back from people it could all go horribly wrong!
"You tend to feel so close to what you do as a musician that getting a bad review is a bit like being told your child is ugly or retarded... fortunately people seem to unanimously be telling us our baby is beautiful and bouncing... so far!"
Musically the band has progressed a great deal since the self titled debut release. How do you see this progression?
"Well, the first album kind of came about by accident. We were offered the chance to do the 'Heavy Ripples' split double 7" by Ripple Music with Stone Axe, Mighty High and Sun Gods In Exile and we figured if we had to record something we'd just record everything we had that hadn't been released and figure out what to do with it later.
"As it turns out Ripple offered to release an album, literally when we'd finished the first day of recording, so it suddenly became an album. At the time it was basically us clearing house and getting everything down on tape so that was a collection of songs that had been written over a long period of time and a long period of our development as a band.
"This time round we'd had one album that had been a critical success so that put the pressure on, but also we knew that we were specifically writing for an album. I think this made us more focussed as we were aware of making an album that had a level of diversity that would keep the listeners' interest. We really put an emphasis into making sure the songs were the best they could be... we're very self critical and edit ourselves a lot to make sure we don't labour the point and keep things nice and concise (unlike my replies to interview questions!).
"We made sure the songs had good, memorable riffs, melodies and structures more so than we have in the past. I also think we were a lot more comfortable in the studio this time; we felt far more confident in the songs and our playing and it was our second time working with Rich Robinson so we knew how it was going to work before we went in. It was all recorded ridiculously quickly; all instruments in two days, all lead vocals in about three hours and all backing vocals in about two hours. I think that's also been a factor in keeping the album sound lively and not over worked."
The art work brought a smile to my face; it certainly epitomises the Grifter sense of humour and there have been a lot of positive comments about it. Who created it and is it based on anyone specific?
"When we came up with the album title it obviously had to have a beard somewhere on the cover. We did originally find a great piece of artwork but were denied permission to use it so had to look elsewhere. As luck would have it there was a chap at my work called Jamie Campbell who was working part time as a tattooist (he's since left my work to go full time). I'd seen some stuff he'd done and knew he was good so chanced my arm and asked if he fancied doing it and he said yes.
"It turns out he likes the heavy stuff anyway and loved our stuff so it was a match made in heaven. We showed him the original piece of art we had in mind and asked him to bear that in mind but do what he wanted... and the final result is magnificent, even better than we could have hoped for. I'm now planning to go to Jamie for some tattoo work.
"I don't think Jamie based it on anyone specific, at least I fucking hope he didn't base it on me as most people seem to think!!!! The character is actually a progression of the cartoon character that appeared on the 'High Unholy Mighty Rollin'' EP cover called Mikey The Cunt. If you look carefully you can see little nods to our past on there with the tattoo that refers to 'Good Day For Bad News' from the first album, though our drummer Foz thought is was a tribute to the band Bad News!"
Lyrically the album covers a broad spectrum of topics, including the obligatory "Guinness ode", 'Black Gold'. Is the task of the lyric writing a combined band effort or is just one band member responsible?
"I pretty much write all the lyrics as I'm the one who does the singing. It's not really a case that the other guys are excluded, it's more that as I come up with the melody lines I start slotting lyrics in to fit that then form those into themes and ideas for a song.
"Sometimes I'll have an idea for a subject and then shoe horn lyrics in to fit the music based on that. Sometimes the guys will suggest a line and we'll make that fit. Phil also has a habit of completely mishearing what I sing as we write stuff and sometimes what he thinks he's heard is better... or funnier than what I've written so it'll go in.
"Foz comes out with all the backing vocals so sometimes he'll work them around the words that are there or come up with lines to fit with what I'm singing. I'm generally careful, as I'm representing the band as a whole, not to impose my views on things that the other guys may not agree with, and if I can make them laugh then I know I'm on to a winner! If Phil had to write the lyrics I don't think we'd ever be able to release any of it!!!"
Who inspires Grifter musically or otherwise?
"We're all older guys and we've seen a lot of trends come and go... and played through a few of them... so we've kind of got to the point where our range of influences are pretty vast between the three of us so that, matched up with our complete lack of interest in being part of any scene, gives us a lot of freedom. Ultimately I think we influence ourselves when we get in a room and are pretty much given over to the power of the riff as well as making sure we hit a mighty groove... or rock like f**k!!!
"We know how we want to sound and know what kind of things get us moving so that's what we work to. We all listen to a ton of stuff from 70s rock, 80s Metal, thrash, grunge, hardcore punk, blues, ska, reggae, hip hop, indie, some modern stuff... etc. Bands we tend to agree on are Black Sabbath, Clutch, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Motorhead but the list could also include Status Quo, Mountain, Dead Kennedys, Jane's Addiction, Mudhoney, Metallica and loads of bands.
"Outside of music influence comes from all over the place, comedy, films, weird news stories, weird people, random phrases we hear, stupid conversations, an insular disregard of the outside world, beer... the usual."
Last year saw Grifter hitting the festivals. What tour plans do you have for 2014?
"Yeah, last year was great, in fact we had a good couple of years after the first album came out. In 2012 we played the first Desertfest, headlining the Black Heart stage one night and managed to fill the place despite overlapping with Orange Goblin on another stage, we toured with Orange Goblin as special guests and played the first Freak Valley Festival in Germany.
"Last year we did Bloodstock and Hard Rock Hell. Bloodstock was a complete blag. Somehow we'd ended up on their radar so I dropped Vicky the organiser a message asking if we could play and within ten minutes I was on the phone to her sorting it all out. We played the Sophie Lancaster stage which was particularly awesome. We were a bit of a wild card there as we don't think of ourselves as so much of a Metal band and more as a heavy rock and roll band so we didn't think we'd go down that well, but we played to a full tent on the Sunday lunch time and got an amazing reaction.
"This year has been a bit quieter as some family issues cropped up that put a hole in the middle of the year and we had to cancel some gigs but with the release of the album we're starting to get back into it. We play Hard Rock Hell again this year alongside bands such as W.A.S.P, Blue Oyster Cult, Michael Schenker, Diamond Head, Y&T etc.
"We'll hopefully be able to make up some of the gigs we had to cancel later this year and I think we'll be looking to do a lot more stuff next year, maybe a UK tour and definitely aiming to get back over to Europe, maybe to try and jump on some of the festivals going on over there and do some club gigs as we have various promoters willing to help us out, which is nice."
Expanding on that question, given the choice, is there anyone you would really love to do a tour with and why?
"At our level if you get offered something good you'd pretty much jump on it... unless we got offered a tour with Stryper or some shit like that!!! If we could pick and choose... well there would be plenty of options.
"We had a real blast playing with Orange Goblin and would love to go out with those guys at any time. We have a history with them going back to 1996 on and off and get on with them like a house on fire so that would be fun again.
"Clutch would be another one. They are definitely one band we all agree on and between us have seen countless times so the chance to get to play to their crowd, who I think would love us, as well as getting to see Clutch for free every night would be a bit of a dream.
"Black Spiders would also be a cool one. They're a great rock and roll band. We played with a band a few years ago called Dirty Blood that featured Ozzy and Pete from Black Spiders so we got chatting with them and they really seemed to like us, in fact I'm still in touch with Ozzy so who knows. It would be good to break out of the stoner rock thing a bit more often.
"Black Sabbath would also be an obvious one. As a band they mean more to me than any other band on the planet personally and musically so, even though they're knocking on a bit, it would be a huge thrill to play a) to a Sabbath crowd and b) to a massive crowd.
"Similarly Motorhead, ZZ Top and AC/DC before they all die. I think we'd be a good fit and it would be nice to play with our heroes.
"This list, however, could be exhaustive if I were to continue."
Any final comments?
"Firstly, thanks Jools for the interview, and also for the fantastic review of the album that MetalTalk published. It truly means a lot when something you've poured so much energy and heart into is so well received and regarded.
"Secondly, don't forget, the album is released worldwide on August 18th through Ripple Music (http://www.ripple-music.com) so please keep an eye out for that, check out our video for 'Princess Leia' on Youtube and hook up with us on Facebook where you can find all the up to date news on the band, links to download some of the older stuff and chat with us should you so wish.
"If you see us at a gig feel free to come and say hi and give us a hug. We're friendly chaps and we will always accept the offer of a pint!