Fresh into the new year I was able to have a brief chat with Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon about what releasing an album in 2020 was like, a bit of history about the band, and what all live music fans are looking forward to – being together to experience music again.
MPN: How has the new year been for you so far?
Jackie Perez Gratz: It’s been good, and we’re only five days in, but I am hopeful for a better year. We’ll see. Last year wasn’t too bad, but it was definitely a stressful year. Looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel here.
MPN: Definitely. What was the recording process for you guys like? Were you able to record together, or did you guys have to do it separately?
JPG: We just missed the pandemic by a couple of weeks. We went into the studio to track at the end of January, and then we had a couple of February weekends where we went in and finished vocals and a couple of overdubs, and then the Bay Area was shut down the first or second week in March. After we tracked everything, we got to just mix and master all remotely. We didn’t have to go back into the studio. There was one line, I think my screaming line, in “The Lucky Ones” that I had to track in my bedroom and send to Jack [Shirley] to put on the album, and I’m glad we did because that ended up being the line that the title of the album comes from. It’s the only screaming vocals on that song, so if it sounded a little different, I’m at home on a different mic.
MPN: You guys really lucked out.
JPG: Yeah, we really did, and we had a lot of conversations about whether or not we wanted to put out the record during this time. We didn’t want to seem tone-deaf trying to promote music, but then at the same time we didn’t want to wait because we didn’t know, you know – people were saying, “wouldn’t you want to wait for things to be better?” Well, we don’t know when that’s going to be, so I’d rather not just sit on a record for years.
MPN: I feel like it’s really helpful for people to have new music. For example, Laura Marling released her album a few months early [to bring a sort of comfort to listeners]. I think it’s a good thing! I will say that I’m a sucker for lyrics, and I’m wondering if there’s any stories behind these songs?
JPG: A story, no. There’s definitely themes throughout the album, and most of the themes are just about the state of the world, the state of the environment, and how we’ve all played our part in not taking care of it as well as we should have, and the kind of trickle down effects of that. It’s just something that’s really been at the forefront of my mind the last couple years, especially with all of the wildfires happening, and honestly, just other natural disasters. You know, every natural disaster you read in the news is the “worst one” and it’s “unprecedented,” or it’s happening during the time of year when things like that normally don’t ever happen, or it’s the “biggest one of these!” It’s all a result of global warming.
MPN: I saw that you guys were putting the proceeds toward wildlife conservation. Is that what this album is geared toward?
JPG: Yeah. The album itself isn’t necessarily about animals and their habitat, and the effect of the environment crisis, but we love animals and they are, you know, aside from humans and humanity itself, which is mostly what the album is about – the kind of demise of humanity and our part in bringing this upon ourselves – the animals are affected equally, if not more than us. We just wanted the proceeds to go to something that was going to help protect them. We’ve already made one donation to the two non-profits that we’re wanting to help, and that was only a few weeks in, so I’m sure as we get more sales we’ll donate more.
MPN: That’s wonderful. Can I ask who did the album artwork?
JPG: Yeah. So there is a painter, he lives in L.A. now, but he’s from the Bay Area and that’s how we know him. His name is Kevin Earl Taylor, and he does a lot of really beautiful paintings that are thematically similar to what the album is about. That painting of the chrysalis is a painting he had already done; he didn’t do it specifically for our album. It’s a really huge, beautiful painting, and we were looking through his previous work and we knew that one was the one. It just kind of perfectly captures the little bit of hope and little bit of grossness, you know? And also it’s just very beautiful, and you know what is going to come out of that chrysalis. The painting is just gorgeous. I’m really happy it turned out so nice on the vinyl itself, just because it’s a large format, the twelve inch image, but the detail turned out really beautiful.
MPN: I think it’s a good choice. It really caught my attention. When did you start playing cello?
JPG: I started playing at a really young age; I want to say I was about seven? Seven and a half? Both of my parents are classical musicians; my mom is a violist, and my dad is a french horn player. My sister and I grew up backstage at orchestra rehearsals, or being dragged to orchestra performances, or hearing them play at home. My dad also was a conductor, so he would often sit on the sofa and air conduct a piece that he was working on while he was listening to it on the stereo. So, at a certain age, we just thought that’s what you did. You picked what instrument you wanted to play, and you played it! It’s hard for me to remember what I was thinking when I was that age, but something drew me to the cello. I’m hoping it wasn’t a totally arbitrary choice, but at this point it was so long ago. I don’t really remember why I chose the cello!
MPN: Did you know that you wanted to be a singer?
JPG: No! I always have been a singer, and I’ve always loved singing, but I never thought I would be a singer. I always feel like I don’t have a lot of things to say. I’m not a writer. I don’t write poems or lyrics or things like that. I know a lot of vocalists have books and books and books of journals and pages of thoughts and things that they feel like they want to get out. I’ve never been like that. My first band that I was in, Amber Asylum, I was never the singer in that, but I got to watch Kris [Force], my bandmate, craft these beautiful lyrics and work on her vocals, and, in a way, that was my first experience with a vocalist, even though I wasn’t doing any singing. When Grayceon formed, I didn’t want to be an instrumental band – I don’t know exactly why I was so adamant about it – and I was like, we have to have a singer! I kind of roped Max [Doyle] into singing with me for our first two albums, and at a certain point he decided “this isn’t for me. I don’t want to sing.” So, I’m carrying it on! I’ve been learning as I go. I mean, you can tell if you listen to my first album. The first Grayceon album compared to the last Grayceon album – you can see a pretty big difference in my skill and ability as both lyricist and singer, but it’s been a learning experience for sure.
MPN: That’s kind of surprising to hear, though, just because I feel like there’s a lot of grit and might on this one, and especially with the lyrics – that’s another thing that really drew me in. How did you guys come together as a band?
JPG: I was a big fan of a band called Walken, like Christopher Walken, and Max played guitar in that band, and Zach [Farwell] was actually the bass player in that band. They, Max and Zach, were big fans of Amber Asylum, so I would always go to Walken shows, and they would always go to Amber Asylum shows, and we became fast friends. I guess, I didn’t know this at the time, drums were Zach’s first instrument, and he and Max would always jam with Zach on drums and Max on guitar. They kept jamming and they had these riffs going, and they were like, “we should ask Jackie to be in a project and do something with all these riffs we’ve been playing.” And so they approached me one year and said they really wanted to do this project, so I told them to give me a recording. And it could have been anything, like just a tape from one of their jam sessions or whatever, but they went above and beyond and went and got their song tracked at a recording studio, and then a couple months later they brought me the CD. I really loved the music! I loved Walken, and I love them as people, and I love their playing and sort of unique abilities on their instruments. We just started jamming.
MPN: Are the three of you metalheads? Do you all have a background in loving metal or heavier music?
JPG: Yeah, I think we’re pretty much all metalheads, but we all really like other stuff, too. Zach loves Primus, and he loves all kinds of other bands that aren’t metal, but then I also like to listen to kind of more mellow stuff now, even though I really love metal and consider myself a metalhead, but it’s not necessarily what I put on to relax at home.
JPG: And now I have two daughters, too, and they’re listening to music that they like in the house, so there’s always a lot of different music going on here.
MPN: Do you find any influence in that?
JPG: I think so, yeah. They’re really into more pop-y stuff, but every once in a while there’ll be a song, and I can’t even tell you who the artist is, but there’ll be a song that speaks to me just on an emotional level, and I do think that I bring some of that into – I mean, maybe I don’t try to do it, but it probably subconsciously permeates into some of what I’m doing, especially if I’m writing lyrics for an album.
MPN: There are a lot of bands out there doing live streams. Do you guys have anything like that in the works?
JPG: Yeah… I don’t know. I haven’t personally been that interested in attending those as a fan of live music. I have seen a couple of streams that were just a band rehearsing, and so you can see them in their studio, sort of like seeing animals out in the wild, right? You can see their process, and get a little glimpse into how they work as a group, and their personalities, and how they work on music together. That, to me, is super interesting. So, I think if we did do something online like that, it would probably be closer to that. But, you know, Max is also a nurse. We’ve gone through some ups and downs of being able to really work together. There was a time where we thought things looked good, so we felt safe going into the practice space to rehearse together wearing masks with a big HEPA filter in there to play some of these songs. We got to the point where we were rehearsing every week and it was very short lived; it was only a month and a half. Now, we’re back on lockdown, and it really just kind of depends on what’s going on at the hospital. Max is a surgical nurse, but when the hospitals get really heavy with patients he gets moved over to the Covid patient care. Based on that, anytime the hospitals start to get really overwhelmed, then we end up stopping because we start feeling like it’s not really safe to hang out for long periods of time in an enclosed room. But, he got his first shot for the vaccine last week, so we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll be able to rehearse again soon.
MPN: I guess that brings me to my last question. What is something you’re looking forward to this year?
JPG: I’m very much looking forward to playing, to rehearsing. Playing a live show; I don’t know if that will ever happen. Playing a live show, playing with the boys, even writing – we’ve been working this album so much, but in a very remote way because all the tracking was done, but we haven’t written anything. Usually when Grayceon releases a record, we’ll have already written a few songs for the next album because there’s always that time delay of getting out of the studio and having it actually released into the world. We usually have practiced months and months, and have written months and months before the album comes out, so we’re usually already onto the next thing. That has not happened this year at all, so I’m definitely looking forward again to playing and writing some more.
MPN: For sure. I hope you get that.
JPG: Me too!