Interview And Gig Review
Crauford Arms, Milton Keynes
21st August 2014
Liz Medhurst: Photos by Dutch Michaels
The Graveltones have made a name for themselves over the last year, with debut album 'Don't Wait Down' and a series of gigs where the duo display energy and sparks that are off the scale.
The passionate, almost deconstructed original heavy blues rock is one of the most genuinely exciting and pulse-quickening experiences around, a portal to a kind of elemental magic that is completely exhilarating.
Tonight's opening date of this leg of the tour was chock full of this energy and passion as the audience were completely won over by the connection and commitment to just going for it and showing why rock and roll is the most exciting of genres.
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We joined guitarist and vocalist Jimmy O and drummer Mikey Sorbello backstage before their set for a catch up and an update of how things are in Graveltones-world. As you would expect these are two of the funniest, most creative and all round top people you could hope to meet.
As Mikey was warming up one of his tambourines, I asked Jimmy what we could expect from this leg of the tour.
Jimmy: "We've been working out lots of new tracks on the road in Germany so we have lots new for you tonight, but still in a Graveltones style."
Is there a theme for the tour, have you given it a name?
Jimmy: "We got asked to name the tour and we thought it's a little bit early to start naming tours so we thought long and hard and called it "The 2014 UK Tour". I think after the tour we'll probably have a name for it..."
Mikey: "It might be bad karma, well not karma exactly, but you know, naming things too early..."
Jimmy: "... you should really name a tour after it's done."
Mikey (to Jimmy): "Is that what happened with you after you were born? Did your parents name you a couple of weeks after they worked out who you were?"
Jimmy: "They did actually, yeah, whatever I responded to."
Mikey: "I think that's the way to do it actually, why give him a name before he pops out, see what he responds to - 'Hey Geoffrey! Nah, he doesn't like that... Paul! Nah he doesn't like that... Rosie-May! It don't suit him, he is definitely a Siobhan Mary-May Jane, or a Suzy Q'..."
Jimmy: "So to answer your question, no we haven't got a name for the tour."
Does just having the two of you in the band producing this amazing full-on sound put more pressure on you, as if one of you is feeling under the weather then you've still got to bring it out there's no falling back on other band members?
Jimmy: "We have a very strict diet (gesturing to the remains of the jerk chicken), we are pretty much seasoned alcoholics. On the road we find what works for us is drinking excessively and eating very little. It seems to keep the viruses and the flus and things away and we hope that in about five years or so we are going to stop ageing and we are going to be pickled, it might work, I have a good feeling about this"
Mikey: "That's our fitness regime too, we've never been sick, or if we have we just play through it."
When you are on stage do you have any expectations or do you feed on what's out there in the moment and see what happens?
Mikey: "I think the idea is if you go out with well we're going to do this, play this set list like this it loses a little bit of magic. We're going to keep it pretty open and then play a different show every night I guess."
Jimmy: "We work on the mood, we write a set list and then gauge it on stage and change it around to fit how we feel the audience is reacting to it, that's the way to do it, the songs are there and we shout 'em out at each other on the night."
Mikey: "It goes - What? What's that song? WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR!! WHAT!!! That's what usually happens. We'll learn Morse code one day. Three hops to the left, two the right, I'm sure that was 'Catch Me On The Fly'."
So after the UK it's France, Germany and other European countries – how do find those gigs?
Jimmy: "We love them, it's been fantastic actually, We are doing a lot of territories that we didn't cover last tour, last time we played Switzerland with supporting bands and this next tour will be Netherlands which we've never played, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, France, a lot of shows in Germany. Red Bull's getting behind us in Austria and they're giving us their tour bus with a stage in it so we're going to drive through the town playing rock and roll on top of the bus. There's a little ladder to get to it, that's something we haven't done before."
Jimmy, how many guitar pedals do you use, I've seen that board and counted at least twelve at Camden earlier this year?
Jimmy: "Yeah well I built that board and then I had to deconstruct it cos we flew for a couple of shows in Europe and so I had to break it down to a small one. I did that three or four times where I'd come back and rebuild it and then I got so distraught by doing that constantly so I just use a real small one now, so I think I've got like six pedals, a real change. I miss that pedal board though."
Mikey: "Get it back, we've got a van now, we can get in there."
Does your writing come from a measured approach or just experimenting with sounds, tunings etc?
Jimmy: "It's kind of whatever's around and left over, and a lot of experimentation. We've just been writing in Frankfurt, as we had a fortnight off there and just wrote a bunch of songs. We had an acoustic guitar lying around so I was using open D and a few different tunings - you pick it up and you start writing and if it's in that tuning then that's what comes out. It's not premeditated like we have to write a song in this way, and 99% of my songs are standard tuning."
When you record, do you try to capture the same energy as the gigs, do you track live?
Jimmy: "We try to get the energy which means doing it live sometimes."
Mikey: "The studio is a funny thing, sometimes you can put more energy in and microphones pick up less energy. So this time were going to really concentrate on getting that balance of performance to energy captured, something we've been playing around with."
Where will you be recording?
Jimmy: "In Wales, it's a new little studio which we'll keep under wraps for now."
Mikey: "Wales – the homeland of Jimmy – it's his heritage, he'll be channelling the ancestors."
Jimmy: "And all the sheep..."
Mikey: "Jimmy can actually shear sheep like a demon."
Jimmy: "I can. When I first moved here I worked on a farm in Wales. I thought the first place I'm gonna go is Wales and meet my family from over there who I'd never met, so I did and got a job working on a farm shearing sheep and that was awesome, and very hard work. It was a great experience to be up in the valleys there, I almost decided not to come back to London, I thought about basing myself here for a few years just living and working on a farm, but I went back to London and met Mikey - but I could have still been shearing sheep now."
Mikey: "I destroyed all your dreams! I'm sorry, I feel real bad now"
From here, we drifted into the most surreal and hilarious ten minutes starting with a conversation about smart animals and taking in anecdotes about possums, bats, catfish, Bowen mangoes and how kookaburras and Bratwurst can't co-exist. It is impossible to make sense of this in words, maybe I'll release the tapes one day. Probably not.
Anyway. The new album?
Jimmy: "Yes it will be out next year, hopefully before the summer, we'll see, but we'll get some tracks out before then."
Can we expect more videos too? 'Forget About The Trouble' was great, loved the storyline in that.
Jimmy: "That was really awkward for me to get that scene and find out that I had to rock up in a really cool Merc..."
Mikey: "We had some fights about that, I always have to look like an abusive husband and he gets to be the cool one."
Jimmy: "Hey buddy, I didn't write the script or the plot, I was just like, Oh you want Mikey to be the abusive husband and you want me to rock up in a sweet ass Merc..."
Mikey: "That was real hard for me - I watched Chopper for a week straight to get that role right, I really method acted it and night after night I practised and I got my angry on."
Jimmy: "There's a little scene if you look at the video, just after he smashes the chair, there's a cushion coming through towards him and the eye signals and the way he moves his head – very Marlon Brando, spot on, high quality acting."
Mikey: "The 'What's In The Beard?' is the next step so we're hoping the feature film of it will be released 2016/17, we're pushing for either Scorcese or Tarantino, we don't know who's going to do it."
Ah yes, the beard. Is this something that is literally going to grow and grow? It's looking very well lubed today.
(This is not as kinky as it sounds, it's relevant to today's episode of 'What's In The Beard?'. Watch it below if you don't believe me!)
Mikey: "That's always been my plan, it's a slow grower though. It's very curly so the longer it gets the shorter it gets, but we plan to go from espressos to cappuccinos, maybe to a Venti or an Aeropress. It needs to get bigger before I start getting grander, until I'm pulling out a fully grown Rottweiler."
Who had the beard first?
Jimmy: "When we met we both didn't have a beard."
Mikey: "Correct, but Jimmy had a sweet as pencil mo and it was amazing, like Clark Gable. The first time I met Jimmy and his pencil mo, you know those pictures that you see when people have three sets of eyes going up and you can't focus, it was like that between his moustache and his eyebrows, I was like, fuck I can't focus, it was mesmerising."
Jimmy: "Yes that was my voodoo to go 'you will play drums for me, you will play drums for me, watch the moustache, no watch the eyebrows, no the moustache, no the eyebrows, you will play the drums...'"
Mikey: "I'm still under that spell!"
Jimmy: "So it was very shortly after that we've both been rocking beards, but he took it four steps too far."
Talking of being under a spell, that was exactly what happened later on in the venue when the boys took the stage.
The set list was exactly as they said – see what happens in the moment and change it up. The written list had 27 songs on it, of which less than half actually made it out there.
We were treated to a couple of the new songs, along with the old favourites, Jimmy telling the audience that their final names may immortalise where they were written – Kirsten's House, Kirsten's Bathroom maybe.
The connection between the guys is so strong, the songs appeared to take on a life of their own with Jimmy's almost acrobatic stage moves and vocals pulled out of his soul, and Mikey getting the drum fever and lifting us all to another plane. We all sang happy birthday to Mikey as it was his birthday back over in Australia so the celebrations could start now.
The Crauford Arms is a small venue but it made no difference to the intensity of the performance and the audience – gratifyingly predominantly on the younger side - were enthralled. This is a band that deserve to be huge.
As the dying strains of 'Boom Boom' rang out and the crowd called out for more, it unfortunately wasn't to be due to the strict venue curfew, but everybody wanted more. I can't remember enjoying myself so much on a Thursday night in a long time.
Go and see The Graveltones, abandon yourself to the magic and have a bloody good time.