Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Folks Behind the Music - Spotlight on Seth Grennan - Heavy Planet

Today's spotlight on one of the many talented crew over at Heavy Planet

Start at the beginning, how did you get started with this crazy idea of writing about music?

I stumbled upon a Brooklyn sludge/doom band called Archon. I can’t recall exactly what introduced me to them, but a google search produced a link to a stoner blog called Heavy Planet. I began pairing coffee with “New Bands To Burn One To” every morning before I got my bearings at work. Whether it was doom-metal, psychedelia, stoner-rock, or anything that flattened my chest like a steel-toed boot, I was into nearly every sound the site was pushing. What really impressed me was how much sweat went into the writers’ posts, usually promoting unsigned or unknown bands that deserved a larger audience.

I sent a gushing, school-girl email to the site’s writers letting them know how much I appreciated what they were doing. Reg, HP’s administrator, decided to take a chance on an unknown kid and asked that I submit a review of whatever I wanted. I remembered Orange Goblin’s “Coup de Grace” being generally panned, despite how fun I thought the album was. I wrote it up, sent it to Reg, and he invited me to the Planet.

We're all the product of our musical past. What's your musical history?

My parents still have home movies of me dancing in the living room with my dad. Whether it was Mountain, Little Feat, or The Allman Brothers, I was into the drawn-out jammy shit. “Fat Man In The Bathtub” still sounds pretty cool, and the beginning of “Mississippi Queen” still shakes me.
Ah, but fifth grade was rough for me. I joined the school band and figured playing saxophone would get me laid. It didn’t. Years later, in high school, I figured buying a Fender Stratocaster would turn me into the next Ritchie Blackmore. Well, fuck. I took lessons and played like hell, but it never took off for me. I decided expanding my collection of albums would be a better use of my time and money.

First album you ever bought?

Pearl Jam’s “Ten” was the first album I remember purchasing myself. I think I’d been given an Amy Grant tape for Christmas one year, but please don’t accuse me of paying my own money for that. I do remember having Faith No More’s “The Real Thing” on cassette, but I can now admit that a friend left it at my house and I never spoke up. Why would I have, right?

First musical epiphany moment?

Near summer’s end between 8th grade and my freshman year of high school, I accompanied a friend and his dad on a mini road trip to his former hometown. After spending an entire day inside his family’s van, we stopped at a mall to eat. I tore directly into Sam Goody or whatever corporate-whore distributor was there at the time. Among the new releases was the live recording of Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance.

I’d heard Hendrix a thousand times before, but when I got home and listened to this I was simply stunned. I needed every Hendrix release, every studio recording, every live recording. Shit, I ordered every available Hendrix t-shirt from that shitty Rockabilia rip-off catalog.

It drives my wife absolutely insane, but my wardrobe’s tattered crown jewel is the black Hendrix shirt you’ve all seen a million times. Y’know, the one where he’s burning his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival. Holes and pit stains, who gives a shit?

First album that terrified the hell out of you?

I was involved with Boy Scouts of America as a kid, and we always took these weekend camping trips to Jamborees and events. On one such trip, this kid Gary had brought with him a cassette of Anthrax’s EP “Attack of the Killer B’s.” Holy shit, that was awesome! I can’t recall what it replaced in my Sony Walkman, but it was probably something I never went back to. I was maybe 10 or 11 and I remember thinking “Our troop leader wouldn’t like us listening to this.” And that album cover was sick. The band wore all black and had their faces covered. I remember being scared to death of bees as a kid, and the cover had a swarm of hundreds. The entire experience made my skin crawl in a way I’d never felt. I didn’t realize until much later that “Bring the Noise” was a Public Enemy song. Still don’t care.

What's the last album to grab you by the throat and insist you listen?

Primitive Man from Denver released “Scorn” earlier this year, giving me a thick dose of what I’d call calculated violence. From start to finish, this album had me feeling like I’d been clubbed and wrangled. I’m partial to malevolent sludge and noise metal, but this band is downright sadistic. Despite all its abuse, the album has yet to be dethroned in my litany of the year’s best releases.

What do you see happening in the music scene today, good and bad?

I really like that bands are going back to vinyl formats. Some are even putting out cassettes, which is so fun and nostalgic. There are more independently released albums, which is made easier by digital formats. I was pretty opposed to iTunes and digital .99 single-servings, but bands can turn to sites like Bandcamp or Soundcloud and reach a broader audience without worrying about a record deal.
What I don’t like is rap. I still don’t like media force-feeding listeners Puddle of Creedelback horseshit. But I gotta say the Nickelback backlash has been fun. I don’t like “singles” as opposed to full albums. And what the fuck is Hot Topic all about? These bands have the stupidest names, all their t-shirts are painted fluorescent, and the people who work there think they know “metal.” Please. Screamo is not metal.

With so many music sites, how would you describe what you do? What's your unique take on the music and writing?

I’ll admit to allowing my reviews and write-ups to get formulaic at times. Whether it works or not, I try to inject some humor into my feature, whether it’s in the form of booze or drugs or sex. “Sunday Sludge” doesn’t always offer the most light-hearted sounds, however.

The most important thing for me is providing not just a description, but a VISUAL concept. Most of the albums I choose to write-up have something in them that puts an IMAGE in my mind. I do my best to provide that same image to anyone who has yet to hear the album.

Illegal free downloads on your site. Yes or no, and why?

I don’t make the call here, but as a huge proponent of buying local, supporting unsigned artists, and basically shoving a middle finger up the asses of corporations, I could never justify downloading something without the artist’s knowledge and blessing. If I like a band, I’ll support them. Jerry Garcia said music should be free, but that’s just not realistic. That being said, so many generous bands offer their tunes with a “name your price” option that listeners don’t need to be sneaky about it. But if it’s something you truly enjoy, kick in a couple bucks. Don’t be a dick.

What's been your all time greatest "Find"? That band you "discovered" before anyone else and started the word spreading?

I was stoked when I learned Karma to Burn was gonna tag-along with Truckfighters for their tour in spring 2012. A few days prior to their Chicago stop, I learned Karma to Burn pulled from the show. I was bummed, man. Yeah, I was going for Truckfighters and knew they’d tear it up, but Karma to Burn made it a sick bill.

I hung around the merch booth and spoke with Truckfighters’ touring peddler, asking about Karma to Burn and who would replace them. He strongly assured me I wouldn’t miss Karma to Burn because The Midnight Ghost Train was just absolutely mind-blowing. Christ, that was an understatement. They remain the greatest live band I’ve ever seen. Last year’s “Buffalo” was my choice for album of the year and I’ve seen them live four times in the span of 17 months.

I don’t take credit for “discovering” them by any means, but I shared my thoughts with other Heavy Planet writers and the band seems to have them by the balls. I’ve turned more than a few friends on to The Midnight Ghost Train and I hope the world pays attention.

If you could write a 1,000 word essay on one song, which one would it be, and why? What makes that song so important?

I use way too many descriptors when I write, and keeping things concise is where I struggle. I suppose my 1,000 words would be used to break the tie between “Whitewater” and “Space Cadet,” both from the EPIC “Welcome to Sky Valley” by Kyuss. I’d do no justice to either song, however, and I believe “Whitewater” has more varied tempos and a wider array of tangible elements. So in the end, I’ll go with that.

The song’s relevance lies in its undying status (as I see it) as the best song on the best album by the best stoner rock band ever. It rolls like a storm and then drowns the listener in swirling guitars and Reeder’s tight-threaded bass perfectly combines with Bjork’s  deliberate and devastating cymbal crashes. By the time Garcia’s vocals come in, you’re already floored. The lyrics are sparse but bittersweet and powerful. Every element works here, better than any other song I’ve ever heard. Without “Whitewater,” Kyuss still dominates the stoner encyclopedia and “Welcome to Sky Valley” still remains my all-time favorite album. But with it… whew… there aren’t enough words.

Give us three bands that we need to keep our eyes out for.

The ambient, one-man drone act of Claymation is crafting some pretty awesome, expansive SOUNDS. Not just songs or albums, but sounds. Check it out.

If you’re not yet familiar with Portland’s Rabbits, do yourself a favor and either look them up or stab yourself in the ear with a rusty spike. Both options have the same outcome.

And out of Denver is a malicious and fuzzy doom-metal band called In The Company Of Serpents. Super-tasty stuff. They’ve got new a new release coming soon and I’m pretty stoked about it.

Tell us about your personal music collection. Vinyl? CD? What's your prized possession?

My CD collection is loaded with 90’s alternative and grunge; Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Mudhoney… My formative years, I suppose. But I also always dug the heavy stuff, with a rabid taste for anything Type O Negative touched. I dove back into the catalogs of 80’s thrash and swept up all I could. You might call me a newcomer to some heavy pioneers, but I still love visiting used music stores and walking out with Blue Cheer or Napalm Death under my arm. So my collection is ever-expanding.

I do have to say the romance of vinyl has captured me, draining my checking account and testing the limits of shelving units. The geek in me always wants those “limited” releases, even though everything is gonna be re-pressed at some point. And those test-pressings are as limited as things get. Semi-obscure and violent as hell, I cherish my test-pressing of Fistula’s “Northern Aggression.” I recently obtained a test-press of Sourvein’s “Imperial Bastard” as well. The fuckers even signed it. God, I love this shit.

What makes it all worthwhile for you?

There’s no money, the audience is unjustifiably small, and my wife and kids truly can’t stand Sunn O))) or Pentagram. But sitting at my desk at an unreasonable hour, digging for the right word to provide a visual outline of what I’m hearing is rewarding on its own. When a band uses my words to push their releases is when I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. The give-and-give becomes a give-and-take, and the tight-knit stoner/doom/sludge community is unbelievably welcoming and thankful. It’s incredible that I’ve been allowed to be a part of it.

How would your life be different if you weren't writing about music?

I’d probably still be stuck in 1994, to tell you the truth. I’d still be wearing holes in my jeans and listening to nothing but Tad.

Ever been threatened by a band or a ravenous fan?

One Heavy Planet reader attacked a post, stating blogs that don’t offer free music are shit. Whatever, dude. You’re missing the point if you came to Heavy Planet looking for nothing but free shit. He won’t be missed. And I got kicked in the face at a Pantera show in 1998, but I’m sure that doesn’t count.

In the end, what would you like to have accomplished, or be remembered for?

I’d like to think I helped someone else discover their new favorite band. Or perhaps more importantly, I’d like to think I helped a band broaden their fan-base, even if only by one person.

Many people may not realize the hours you devote to what you do for little or no pay. Is there a day job? If so, how do you find the balance?

I work as a Juvenile Probation Officer in one America’s most depressing cities. It can be tedious and thankless, and working for years with a particular kid can realistically screech to halt when he’s the victim or perpetrator of another senseless murder.

There’s a lot of desk time, so as I document a youth’s progress or compute monthly statistics, I’m generally streaming some form of doom metal or stoner rock. My coworkers can tolerate the slow or jammy passages much easier than Amoebic Dysentery or Dying Fetus.

What's next? Any new projects?

There have been some enthusiastic discussions on brewing a Heavy Planet beer, though whether this is something that could realistically get off the ground remains in question. I think Reg touched on this. The HP writers have discovered that we not only share a passion for fuzzy tones, but also for frothy heads.

I started a novel two years ago. I wrote three pages before I started writing for Heavy Planet. I’m still stuck on page 4.

Finally, other than the music, what's your other burning passion?

I have three adorable yet absolutely insane sons and a smokin’ hot wife with a sick sense of humor. I love the chaos our home provides, and we love trips away from it. Oh, and craft beers. Y’know, the dark ones. The heavy ones. The ones brewed in tiny towns in Maine or Oregon or Michigan.


Zac said...

Such a great interview! Seth is a killer awesome guy! Keep up the great work!

Trash Boat said...


If not for my Heavy Planet Brethren, I'd be lost! Continual inspiration from all of you!

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