check out Toronto punks Greys (stream their new EP)
by Andrew Sacher
Greys (photo by Jesse Crowe)
Toronto noise punks Greys formed about two years ago when singer/guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani teamed up with high school pal Cam Graham (guitar) and began playing the type of abrasive guitar-based rock they grew up on. They eventually brought in drummer Braeden Craig and bassist Colin Gillespie, and turned Greys into the four-piece touring force that they are. They surfaced with the Ultra Sorta EP in 2011, followed by the Easy Listening EP in 2012, and they’re about to drop their heaviest release yet, the Drift EP, on February 12 via their new home, Kind of Like Records. It was recorded by Josh Korody (of Beliefs) at Toronto studio Candle Recording (Owen Pallett, Austra, Doldrums, and more). That EP is making its premiere in this post, and you can stream it in its entirety below.
An easy comparison to make for Greys is their Toronto neighbors METZ (who’re touring), but like that band, Greys have reached back to the noise rock-meets-post hardcore of early ’90s bands like Drive Like Jehu, The Jesus Lizard, Unsane… the list goes on. You’ll also hear elements of My War-era Black Flag sludge, Seattle scene grunge, and straight-ahead fast punk. Plus, the band are working on a full length right now and according to Shehzaad, one of the songs they’re working on “sounds like early Sloan, or Guided by Voices, or Pavement.”
Greys might look to the past for influence, but not without a wink in their eye. “Hey, we’re late to the party,” they shout on “Drag,” with the sort of post-modern notion that nothing’s really original anyway. And they do this while playing with the kind of urgency where nothing in the world matters for two and a half minutes except playing the hell out of their songs. The guitars are thick, the drums pound away in fury, and Shehzaad shouts with a burning passion as he delivers lines like, “We have no marching song to overthrow our leadership/We have no teenage anthem to make ourselves feel like shit,” on “Drag,” which itself could end up making a pretty good case for being either of those things. “Drag” is the EP’s second track, and it’s sandwiched between the fast-paced opener “Carjack” and the notably longer closing track, “Pill,” a song about medical issues which opens with a discordant swagger and ends with the band literally sounding like they’re drowning and screaming out for help.
Greys don’t have a tour booked at the moment, but they’re expected to head to the US and stop in Manhattan and Brooklyn this March, so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, I just spoke to Shehzaad about the making of the EP, the Toronto scene that they come from, and a pretty crazy experience the band had the last time they played NYC. You can head below to read that interview and listen to a stream of the Drift EP.
Greys – “Carjack”
Greys – “Drag”
Greys – “Pill”
BV: The Drift EP sounds like the heaviest thing you’ve done compared to your other two releases. Was that intentional?
Shehzaad Jiwani: You know, people have been asking that and I kind of wonder about it myself. It definitely is the heaviest thing we’ve done. It didn’t seem like a huge change for us, it just kinda came naturally. But looking back on the context of it, we recorded those songs immediately after coming back from months of being on the road. We were all pretty burnt out and frustrated with a lot of things, we were all broke. We pretty much immediately went into the studio to record it and I think that that just kind of shows we were all going through different things in our lives. It was a great time recording it, but it’s just a pissed off few songs, you know? (laughs) We were just having a rough time, I don’t know if it’s intentional. It is kinda weird because we’re working on a full length right now and I don’t think it’s really gonna be heavier than that. So yeah I’m not really sure why it turned out that way, other than I guess that’s just kind of how the songs were written, we were in a darker place (laughs). Without sounding too emotional about it, but yeah some of those songs — “Pill,” in particular, is kind of written about some medical problems that I’ve had and having had to go to different hospitals and stuff like that. And just kind of the frustration of not being healthy, and that kind of extends itself to a number of different issues that we like to talk about. It wasn’t a conscious thing at all, I’m not really sure why it turned out that way.
BV: You said you had just gotten back from a lot of touring. The songs do sound pretty raw, and I imagine they sound pretty similar live. It kinda just sounds like you guys got in there and played, and that’s what you sound like as a band. But that said, are there any cool studio tricks that went into the EP?
SJ: No, we try to stay away from that generally. My favorite music is music that sounds the same that it does live. Like it’s cool to do like a Sgt. Peppers-y thing and make it really interesting, and that’s kind of its own work of art. But what really appeals to me is a group of guys in a room making music, and that’s the type of music that I wanna make, and that is what we’re doing right now. So no, there wasn’t really any studio trickery. We were really only in there for a total of like 20 hours, and we were really only recording for like 15 of those hours. We tend to goof off a lot (laughs), and we get along really well with our friend Josh [Korody, of Beliefs], who recorded it. And it was just down the street from all of our houses so it was pretty relaxed, it was actually a really cool environment, in a new studio in the west end of Toronto (Candle Recording). It was really by the seat of our pants that we did it. Like I said, the songs were written, so we just went in there and played it. Like I don’t even think we did more than two takes of anything. That’s the only quote-unquote trick that I’d say we used. People seem to be really impressed when you tell them it was just four guys in a room making music. Like they’re surprised that just a group of people can still make songs, you know? Like that’s kind of what we wanna get across. We are just a group of guys (laughs), we’re just a rock band, and we just write songs. And that’s all we’re really interested in.
BV: Awesome. So the EP’s coming out on Kind of Like Records, and it’s your first release with them. How’s working with them been?
SJ: It’s been really cool. Lisa [Garelick]’s been really great — essentially since the first time I spoke to her, she’s expressed that she’s a big fan of the band and understands what we’re trying to do and gets where we’re coming from. That was really important to us because we are the kind of band that has always done everything ourselves, so for someone to help us out with anything or work with us in any capacity, we want to know that they understand where we’re coming from. It’s more about them understanding who we are as a band, rather than being on like a cool label, you know what i mean. A big part of is that friends of ours — and we love our friend’s bands — Glocca Morra are on the label and we really love them. Another band — Direct Hit! — Nick [Woods] from that band kind of sang our praises to Lisa and she got in touch with us. So it was very much a natural thing and that’s how we like to do everything, as organically as possible. And yeah, it’s been really cool. Lisa’s great, the label’s great, it does a lot of really cool stuff, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it goes.
BV: So what’s the live show scene like in Toronto?
SJ: It’s amazing, I really love it here. Actually a friend of mine was just saying to me that her New Year’s resolution is to go to more local shows this year, and like you have such an ample opportunity to do that in Toronto. Like literally just last weekend there were three days in a row where there were so many great bands playing. I feel like every night a great local band plays somewhere in the city, whether it’s at a cool bar or an art space or something like that. And I think people are starting to notice that, which is really neat. I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud to be from here, and to be part of such a supportive scene, filled with bands that are widely varied. Just the other day, a band called Beliefs played with a band called Odonis Odonis, and I don’t think those bands really sound anything alike. And they played with Ben Cook from Fucked Up’s band, Young Governor, who are like a pop band. None of those bands sound alike, but they’re all great, you know? That was one of the best bills I’ve seen in a long time of just bands from Toronto. It’s always really varied and I think that’s also kind of Toronto’s calling card. We play with so many different bands all the time and I love all of them. There’s rarely a local Toronto band that I don’t like, I don’t even know if there really is one that exists. I’m very proud to be from here.
And the cool thing is it’s not competitive. It’s really positive and it’s really supportive. I know that the biggest supporters of our band are people in other bands from here and I think that’s really cool and really important. I’ve never felt any sort of competition or ill will towards any other band, and I know that that goes on in other scenes and it can be really petty sometimes, but I’ve personally never encountered that. I think that’s the coolest thing the world.
BV: That sounds awesome. What are some other good Toronto bands we should know about?
SJ: Oh man, there’s a ton! There’s a band called Rituals, who are cool. They’re sort of like a dark shoegazey punk thing. Beliefs are really cool. I like Odonis Odonis a lot. The Great Bloomers are fantastic… I’m just trying to think of who I saw recently. You know, you obviously have METZ, who are getting worldwide critical acclaim, which is really cool to see. Teenanger are fucking awesome, they’re like one of the best bands in the city as well. There’s a bunch of really cool stuff. There’s a band from Hamilton called The Dirty Nil, who are really great, they’re from just outside of Toronto. I think The Soupcans are from here, they’re really good. Shit yeah I could go on forever. Oh, Absolutely Free, I think are great. And Fresh Snow is really really cool. Both those bands have kind of a krautrock thing going on. Absolutely Free is a bit more mathy. They used to be a band called DD/MM/YYY. Fresh Snow is actually a group of guys that work at the record store that I work at. They’re pretty krautrocky, pretty noisy, they have a lot of cool audio/visual stuff going on.
BV: What record store do you work at?
SJ: Sonic Boom. I think it’s the biggest record store in Canada. It’s actually where they shot that Scott Pilgrim movie. That’s kind of its claim to fame.
BV: What’s it like working there?
SJ: I worked at a record store since I was 16 and I was always think I’m over it (laughs), but it’s really cool. I don’t know what else I would do, you know? I like music and it’s really cool to be surrounded by it all the time, and always be taught new things by new people just coming in and talking to you, and working with so many people who like so much different music. I like to think that our store is one of the best stores in the city, but Toronto is a really great city for record shopping too. It’s another way that we’re really supportive (laughs). We always encourage people to go to the record stores in the city. I love it, we have shows there all the time, and all different fans of music come into our store. I love it, it’s really cool. I’m really happy living in Toronto right now, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else to be honest.
BV: You guys have toured a lot, have you been to NYC?
SJ: Yeah, we’ve been to New York twice. We’ve been to Brooklyn once and Manhattan once. I think a lot of bands have memorably awful and traumatic experiences playing in New York. I mean we love NYC, but it’s kind of a big world class city, so it’s kind of intimidating. I guess every band has this idea that playing there is this big thing. And I’m sure, just as our band has, every band has had an awful show there. I forget what the name of the club was, but we played in Manhattan last year and it was a really fucked up bill. I don’t know who put it on, but we did not belong on a bill like that. It was some weird country punk band, and some terrible gothy new wave band, and then we went on to a half empty room who I guess was pretty much on their way out, and we just kind of decided to turn all of our amps all the way up, and just make as much noise as possible, while still playing our songs. It ended up with… I think our bass player was just lying on the ground and I think we were playing the songs at half speed. I was standing on a table rubbing my guitar on the ceiling and screaming into the pickups. Only two people remained, but those people ended up buying all of our stuff (laughs). So I think it was worth it just for that. And actually, one of those people ended up being from Toronto, which was really funny. But yeah, that’s pretty much been our New York experience.
BV: Was the Brooklyn show any different?
SJ: The Brooklyn show was funny because a bunch of our friends from Toronto were in town actually so we ended up just playing to a room full of our friends, and then going out and getting kicked out of several bars after that. Both of them have been pretty funny, so I’m looking forward to playing like an actual show there at some point in the near future.
BV: Do you have plans yet to come back?
SJ: Yeah, we’re still waiting on a couple of the dates, but I believe in March we’re playing at Cake Shop, and we’re doing a Brooklyn show, I don’t know exactly where though.