A Sunday Conversation with Grifter

They’re called Grifter, but they were almost called Simon’s Fuck Hammer. Let’s hope they use that title somewhere down the line, it’s too good to throw out. Grifter are your new favorite heavy rock trio from Plymouth, England. They play it loud, proud, lean and mean. Fans of Cactus, Humble Pie, ZZ Top, Clutch and Firebird will love these guys. They boogie hard, have a great sense of humor and are fueled by Döner kebabs (aka “death wrapped in pitta bread”). Guitarist/shooter Ollie was nice enough to sit through a rigorous Ripple questioning. Check out Grifter at www.myspace.com/grifterrock.

What made you decide to record the new EP completely live in the studio? How many takes before you nailed a master?

The plan really was to just demo up a bunch of songs we had without really having any idea what to do with them. We'd kind of done the whole multi-tracking thing on the first EP so decided to just go in and nail everything live. We're a three piece, that's how the songs were written and that's how they sound best, plus we wanted to get that energy and vibe you get from playing live. It turns out that the recordings came out better than we expected so decided to approach Catacomb records about a release...and they said yes!!! As for takes...some of the tunes were nailed pretty quickly in one or two takes but some were a nightmare. If you listen to "I Jesus" about 3 seconds after the track finishes there's a huge exhalation of breath then a stream of profanity!!! We tried that track so many times and each time I screwed up the middle bit. On the final take I got past the middle bit but there was a telepathic air in the room that said "fuck up now and we kill you!!!" The swearing was the pure relief at nailing it...but we did get a pretty charged take so it was worth it in the end.

What kind of gear did you use in the studio? Was it different from your live set up?

Foz used his normal kit and Phil had his Ampeg SVT blazing away in one room as he likes to stand in front of it and feel his clothing move. The only difference for me is that I usually use one half stack...a Marshall DSL 50...but on this I knew I wanted a stereo pan on the guitars so I borrowed a second cab and split my signal into the DSL and into an old 1978 Marshall JMP50 head cranked right up then mic'd them both. In the mix the JMP sounded so sweet I'm hoping to use it for the next recording. We generally have pretty good gear so no need to change much...plus we wanted to sound like Grifter so we kept the gear pretty straight. We may play with things a little on the next recording.

I like the title of the EP – The Simplicity Of The Riff Is Key. Did the other guys try and title it Simplicity Of The Beat Is Key or Simplicity Of The Bass Line Is Key?

That'd never happen. Ideally Foz would be in a prog band and Phil would play jazz funk so for them the more complicated the better!!!! Hahaha!!! Nah, I think that was a phrase that one of us came up with at rehearsal...possibly Foz...and it stuck. All of us like the power of a simple riff and a good straight ahead hammering beat!!!

You have released a couple of EP’s. What appeals to you about the format other than it’s cheaper to record fewer songs?

I do like EPs, they don't outstay their welcome and it's good to give people a taster of the band to tease them. For the first EP, High Unholy Mighty Rollin in 2008 on Fury 76 Records they only offered us the chance to do an EP...which was fine as they were a new label and we didn't want to blow all our songs on an album not knowing if they'd do a good job for us. Turns out we were right as there wasn't a whole lot of promotion done!!! So that wasn't our choice to do an EP. For the new EP Catacomb had the full 10 songs from the live session and asked if we'd like to do an album but we figured we'd rather pick the four best songs and do another EP rather than maybe use some versions of songs where we felt we may be able to do better versions down the line. Now though we have a killer selection of songs and feel we're ready to go in and lay down an album. We've done our apprenticeship, time for the real deal!!!

How did you come up with the band name? Were you aware of the Memphis band The Grifters from the 1990’s? Or Jim Thompson’s book The Grifters (1963) or the movie they made from it in 1990?

I'd seen the film but never heard of the band to be honest. The name actually came from our drummer (again!!!). When we were kids we used to have a really popular push bike called a Grifter, kind of like a BMX but better, and Foz was a real big fan of them so one day he suggested it. Up to that point we'd come up with a few names...Greedo, Teet and Simon's Fuck Hammer but Grifter just struck a chord. I don't think any of us were really aware of it being used as a term for a con man...but that's also pretty cool I guess.

For someone who’s never heard Grifter before, how would you describe it to them?

Someone asked Phil right before a gig what sort of music we play and he just replied "rock and roll". That's what it all boils down to. We all dig the blues, we all dig Sabbath, we all dig AC/DC, we all dig Clutch but we all have disparate tastes. I'm a huge 70's freak and I love doom, Phil loves some weird angular stuff, Foz loves old school ska and reggae. Between us we listen to most stuff but it distills in us as heavy, blues based, boozed up rock and roll!!!

Grifter formed in 2003. How has the band evolved since then (musically, lyrically, songwriting, etc)?

When we started we actually had a different singer who lasted two months before I took over the vocals...that's truly when the band were born. In the early days our songs were longer, more overtly complex in structure and there was more of a doom element but I think we kind of gravitated to the more rocking and grooved up side of things as it has more soul and more of a vibe for us. Our progression has been pretty natural. The fact that we play songs in our set that are five years old and sit right alongside our newer stuff pretty much says that we've hit our stride now and are running with it. It's worked for AC/DC for over 35 years!!!

Drummer Foz is credited with van driving on your myspace page. Does he resent not being able to drink after shows? Is everyone else a good band mate and take a turn behind the wheel?

Foz has a matt black van called the Swollen Goat which he has fully equipped for us as a tour van to carry the gear and sleep in. He loves the van and won't let any of the rest of us drive it...and we've offered. Foz actually seems cool with doing the driving. That's not to say he doesn't let off steam a little when we play a home town gig or someone else drives like on the recent tour, but he still keeps himself together to play the gig. Plus he smokes weed anyway!!!!

What’s the crowd like at your shows? Does anyone under 40 understand your music?

Over here it's hard work to get anyone into any gig. Weedeater only pulled about 50 people in our de facto home town of Plymouth!!! I have to say though we seem to do ok, crowds may not be huge stadium fillers but they're small and appreciative. We seem to get folks from across the board...and we even get young chicks dancing which is awesome. Most folk may not be so aware of our musical heritage but we seriously kick it live so people either dig the aggression we have live, the grooves or the sense of humour. We're there to have fun and we want everyone else to join in so we get them shouting, clapping and get them involved...with us you get a rock and roll show, not musical therapy!!!

You toured earlier this year with the Sun Gods In Exile from Maine. Did they complain all the time about the lack of good maple syrup in the UK?

Oh those guys were too awesome for words. We loved them and were gutted when the tour ended. We actually wanted to find a way to legally adopt them as brothers!!!. They didn't complain about the lack of maple syrup...not after we introduced them to Döner kebabs (spiced mushed up and reformed lamb served in a pitta bread with salad, chili and garlic sauce...they can only be eaten when drunk!!!). Tony did complain about the lack of iced Bud though.

How did that tour come about? Was it a good time? Would you do it again?

I believe they got in touch with a buddy of ours, Jack from the band Stubb who also runs a multi media project called Mindzap. Jack immediately thought both bands would make a cool pairing and set to work arranging it. He'd never organised a tour before but he pulled it together with a little help from myself and the guys from Alunah who played a few of the dates with us. Would we do it again? In a heartbeat...it was the most fun ever. In fact the plan is to head over when we've saved the air fares and hit the States to do some shows down the East Coast with them.

You and bassist Phil are both parents. How difficult is it to find the time to be in a band on top of work and family life? How thrilled are your spouses to be married to guys with such an expensive and time consuming hobby?

Good question. We have had to make some sacrifices. We have to keep some of our holiday from work free for family stuff and we have to keep certain dates free like kids' birthdays and stuff like that so we have to be a little more selective over the gigs we do play but other than that it's all pretty easy and cool. We love our families to bits but we have a real need to do this. This is our release, our time and without it we start crawling up the walls, getting really angsty and agitated. This is where we let off steam. Fortunately Phil and I both have awesome wives and Foz has an awesome girlfriend that all love an support the band and understand that it's better for everyone for us to do this and be happy than not and be fucking evil to live with. It also helps that we're such close friends and all the ladies get on so well as well, it's kind of like a weird family. At the end of the day some guys go off on fishing trips for a weekend, go snow boarding, banging hookers in Vegas...this is our hobby just the same so they're cool with it. At least we don't bang hookers in Vegas!!! (We haven't been to Vegas yet though!!!)

What was the first music that really excited you? And how long after that did you pick up an instrument?

For me growing up my house was always full of music and my dad had a really diverse and awesome taste in music. He's a massive Rolling Stones fan and loves the old school blues guys so Sunday mornings and in the car he'd always be playing this amazing stuff that seeped into me I suppose. He'd also play old school 60's ska like Prince Buster and 70's soul. His record collection is incredible!!! I guess then my earliest stuff would have been the Stones then maybe The Police and Adam and the Ants when I was around 10. It was all guitar based from the start then one day I saw a Status Quo concert on the TV when I was 12 and was hooked. My dad bought me an album next, then it was a slippery slope into heavier and heavier stuff but I've never lost the love for the Stones or the blues. I probably picked up a guitar around 10 as well as my teacher at school played and started a guitar club. My dad had an old acoustic so I went along...haven't looked back since.

Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? Favorite albums?

For me, ever since I first heard the opening chords of "Neon Knights" from Sabbath's Live Evil album when I was 13 it's been Sabbath. They're pretty much the pinnacle for me. The rest of my influences? I'd say AC/DC, Motorhead, The Who, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Clutch, Aerosmith, Mountain, Cactus, Humble Pie...you get the picture. Favourite albums? The first 6 Sabbath albums, any AC/DC album with Bon Scott, Overkill and No Sleep Til Hammersmith by Motorhead, Live At Leeds and Who's Next by The Who, Nothing's Shocking by Jane's Addiction, Exile On Main Street by the Stones, Clutch's self titled, Humble Pie Rocking the Filmore...the list could go on forever.

How’s your hearing these days?


What current bands do you find inspiring?

The Sun Gods in Exile album kicks my ass...and even my wife and dad love it. Stone Axe are just an incredible band...so organic and natural...they sound like a band even though Tony Reed does it all himself virtually. That is one awesomely talented dude. We have some very cool bands over here in the UK...Domes of Silence play pretty awesome stoner, like QOTSA on steroids with attitude. Suns of Thunder are amazing from Wales. Medamaki from Evesham are one of the best live bands I've seen on the underground circuit but the laziest bunch of fuckers going!!! Most of what I listen to is pretty old so most of the current bands I dig sound pretty old. Mighty High are pretty good too I guess ;-)

How do you feel about people posting your music for free on blogs?

I would prefer it if they bought the CDs as it's that revenue that keeps us able to get out and gig and record but I'd prefer it even more if people just heard us so I can't complain. I'm just as happy of someone gets in touch to say they like the band from hearing it on a blog as on a CD...let's just say I'd rather 1000 people heard it for free than 100 people paid for it!!!

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your personal format of choice?

I'm old school, I love vinyl. The buzz I used to get as a kid from searching for an album, sometimes for weeks, then finding it...or finding an old second hand copy of some obscure 70s thing...it was a magical feeling that you don't get nowadays. That said, I'm on the move a lot, drive a 90 minute round trip to work, listen to music at work on my headphones...etc so digital may not be my preferred choice but it's the most convenient. (I hang my head in shame!!!)

Ever had any good Spinal Tap moments on stage?

A combination of beer and rocking out has seen Phil fall off stage a couple of time. He's never gone ass over tit and always stayed upright and playing but it's been a close call. Numerous times I've made myself dizzy from banging the head too much...never lost it though!!! I nearly fell through the stage at one gig as I didn't realise the section of stage at the front was little more than a box...still held it together though. There have been a lot of nearly moments. I have learned I can't drink wine before playing though...one time I did I forgot a bunch of stuff and introduced one song we'd just played as the next song!!! Guinness or Jack Daniels all the way for me now!!!

What’s next for Grifter?

We're constantly on the lookout for gigs...it's a full time job getting gigs, promoting the band, etc. The next plan is to record a bunch of tracks for the album and a few extra tracks for other stuff (an exciting vinyl proposition that I'm sure will be made known in the fullness of time!!!). Then we'll hopefully get a cool label to put the album out for us. As I said we also aim to hit the States with Sun Gods in Exile at some point and we'd like to get over to Europe if we can...maybe France or Italy...or Germany...or anywhere really!!! We're just going to keep plugging away, writing, playing live wherever we can and getting our music out there wherever and however we can.

Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Anything you’d like to add?

Cheers Woody for taking the time to come up with some really cool questions and a big thanks to Ripple Music for the support, it's very much appreciated. Come check out our stuff, drop us a line, say hi, buy a CD, download some tunes, come to a gig, offer us a gig, offer us a record deal, buy us a drink (Guinness all round...cheers!!!). Check out the bands I mentioned before and...be good to each other!!!