Your new CD 'Cenotes' is out now. Happy with the result? Or are there some details you like to change now that the record has entered the shops?
Completely thrilled. We think it's the best sounding, most fluid and approachable thing we've done yet. There are always little tweaks I'd like to make once I've heard the record a couple dozen of times. You know, like I should have sang a harmony there, or doubled that riff an octave lower, etc... But this is definitely the most satisfying album we've done. We wrote it quickly, recorded it quickly, and we can't wait to start the next one.
I must admit I never heard of you guys before but I am absolutely smitten by this new album, making me buy all the previous stuff wherever possible. So an introduction to your history might be in place…
Well, we were essentially a punk band based out of Sacramento, CA with the origin of the band going back to around 1998 when it was called, Koi. Over the years we started slowing our music down more and more, and experimented with weird low tunings, which inspired us to play even slower! The band's sound changed so much from it's original incarnation and progressive punk rock aesthetic, that we changed the name to Giant Squid in late 2001 I believe. We've had a ton of members come and go, but Bryan Beeson and I are the original founding members, and we've never stopped playing music together since before our senior year in high school, nearly 18 years ago. Our drummer Scotty has been in and out a bit since we picked him up during a year that we all lived in Austin, TX. And, he has since relocated from Eugene, Oregon to San Francisco, California, where the band has been based out of since 2007, to make his place in the band permanent. Jackie Perez Gratz has now been in the band for about five years now, longer than anyone other than Bryan and I. We've released five albums, two of which are essentially the same record, just rerecorded with different members. The first two albums, 'Metridium Field' and 'Monster in the Creek', we released ourselves, and then we got picked up by The End Records who released 'Metridium Fields' (the re-recorded version of 'Metridium Field'). Translation Loss Records put out our last two releases, 'The Ichthyologist' and 'Cenotes', which you have now discovered!
A question that bugs me: why call yourself Giant Squid? Who came up with that moniker and why?
I hope it doesn't bug you too much!! I came up with it around the time we were trying to separate ourselves from our original punk rock incarnation, as mentioned above. Our previous name, Koi, was the name of a fish, the ornamental Japanese carp we've all seen commonly in garden ponds. We wanted to keep it nautical in theme, like much of our music, so we played under the moniker, Namor, after the aquatic Marvel comics super hero. We released a two song EP under that name which were the first recorded versions of 'Ampullae of Lorenzini' and 'Revolution in the Water', later to be included on both versions of 'Metridium Fields'. But eventually we felt Marvel would come down on us for using the name of one of their trademarked characters, and so we went with Giant Squid. The name seems a little silly at first, but think of the animal, and how massive and aggressive it is, yet so fucking elusive we've only just gotten footage of a live one in the last couple years. Some more uninformed people think they're actually a mythical creature, like a Sasquatch! Plus, we truly wanted a name that didn't have to be explained. We were virtually unknown in those days, and constantly telling people about our band. Most people don't even know what a Koi is, let alone Namor!! So, Giant Squid needs no explanation and is easy to remember. Now that the band has really made a name for itself (no pun intended), I don't think people consider the moniker strange or comical any more than so many of the other band names out there.
I had a hard time describing your style in my review. I read somewhere that someone called it psychedelic sludge metal. How would you describe it? Who is it influenced by? Can you name a few bands and/or albums that have influenced you as an artist and where we could detect a bit of influence on this record?
I never know what to call it either, and we get asked this in every interview. The safest thing would be to call it heavy progressive rock, cause we might be metal in nature, but we're not a true metal band. We've said that since the beginning, and always will stand behind that statement. 'Cenotes' is the most metal material we've ever written, but metal bands don't write songs like 'Snakehead' or 'Dead Man Slough'. So, maybe then we're 'post metal', but I don't know what that means because you can't come after or be 'post' something that is not only still going strong, but is kind of stronger than ever, such as metal. I think we're progressive in terms of what that word actually means. We are progressing heavy music with every one of our releases. No body really sounds like us, there for we must be doing something fresh and new, thus pushing the genre forward. But we're not noodlely per se, or overly technical like most prog bands seem to feel they have to be, and we're WAY more emotional and exposed than most any of those bands. So, your guess is as good as mine!
As far as influences, that's equally as hard to nail down. All members of this band currently and in the past have had pretty drastically different backgrounds and tastes, and brought such preferences and experience to the table when writing with us. Probably why our music is so unique sounding, or so I've been told. There are always some common bands that kind of glue us together, but you'd be surprised. We're just as much about old Scorpions as we are The Subhumans. If anything, we're hardly ever influenced by anything truly new. I refer to some modern favorites like Black Heart Procession and Pleasure Forever a lot, and our local heroes like Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, Black Cobra, High on Fire, and Asunder. But, you could never tell someone that Giant Squid sounds like those bands, cause we certainly don't. So, all the influences we could mention would be so extremely limited, it's almost not worth mentioning.
Can you tell us some more about the where, when, how, and how long and all helping hands and contributions of 'Cenotes'?
I started writing riffs for 'Cenotes' in 2009 while attending art school in New Jersey. I kept recording everything, emailing to everyone else, and saving them for the next time I'd return to California and we'd get to practice. But rehearsals were always few and far between until I had fully moved back to California. Once home though, we got together as much as possible and crammed from around February 2011 to June that same year, essentially writing it all in four months with around two weekends of rehearsal a month. We knew we wanted to return to Seattle to record with Matt Bayles again, who engineered, mixed, and produced 'The Ichthyologist', and so we headed up there in June to make it happen. We had to schedule around my school semester ending, Matt's own hectic schedule, and the fact that Jackie and I were due to have a child in September, so we really didn't want to push the recording much further in the summer than it already was. She was very far along when we recorded 'Cenotes'!
One of the biggest differences between 'Cenotes' and 'The Ichthyologist' is the lack of guest appearances and over the top instrumentation. We wanted to keep it simple, partly because money and time forced us too, but also because we wanted to add to our live set a bunch more songs that came off on stage as they did on their album. Many songs from 'The Ichthyologist' inherently sound different live cause I recorded them with two guitars, lots of keyboards and banjo, and then add to that all the guest appearances. I think that's OK, and just the nature of making albums versus performing live, but we wanted to limit difference this time around.
About those collaborations, are there again collaborations on this new CD like with Anneke of The Gathering on 'The Ichthyologist'? How did all those contributions happen? Is it mere being bold and asking people? And who features in your hall of contributions?
Like I said above, no guests this time around on 'Cenotes'. All the people who appeared on 'The Ichthyologist' are good friends of ours, either from being in bands with us, like Lorraine Rath and Kris Force who are both from Amber Asylum, to Nate Perkins who played trumpet on our early albums with Koi. Anneke we became pals with after touring with the Gathering. And Karyn Crisis I started playing music with for a while after I moved to San Francisco, and so we became good friends. And of course, Cat Gratz is Jackie's sister!
Can you tell us if you experience any differences between the previous album 'The Ichthyologist' and 'Cenotes', music wise, recording wise and/or lyrically?
Other than what I've mentioned above, 'The Ichthyologis't is more of a sad and angry album, where I think 'Cenotes' is really triumphant sounding. Both are very adventurous and other wordly, but 'Cenotes' is much more a riff based, pounding assault, where the prior album lets a lot soak in over time. Obviously there are no real slow, haunting mellow songs on 'Cenotes' where half of 'The Ichthyologist' sets its mood up by use of such a musical crawl at times. 'Cenotes' is more the album you put on when you drank a bunch of coffee and you're about to go on a drive somewhere. 'The Ichthyologist' is more appropriate with wine and weed, and sitting back in a rickety old chair while wearing headphones. Does that make sense?
On the previous CD 'The Ichthyologist', the art was done by Sam Keith. How did that contact happen and why choose him? Are you a The Maxx fan?
I'm a massive child hood fan of Sam Kieth. I waited in line at a Sacramento comic shop when I was eleven to meet him and get his autograph, so yeah, needless to say, I'm a big fan of The Maxx, but also all the work he's done for Marvel and DC, and I learned about him through his work with ALIENS from Dark Horse. No one draws Wolverine like Sam though. We had a mutual connection in a local Sacramento film maker named Ryan Todd, who happened to be doing a film adaption of one of Sam's indie books called 'Ojo'. Ryan played 'Monster in the Creek' for Sam while he filmed him drawing a whale. Turns out he loved it and went out and bought the album himself at a local record store. He had been a fan ever since, and I always dreamed about having him do something for us. Years passed and I got back in touch with Ryan in hopes of making a video for 'Dead Man Slough'. We started talking about Sam again and one thing led to another. I still, to this day can't believe it all happened. Sam was such an amazing dude to work with. We are incredibly fortunate to have had him. And while I took a stab at the art this time around for 'Cenotes', I'd be too amazing to work with him again some day. We'll see!!
Judging by this cover you made yourself on 'Cenotes', one could say it is in the vein of Sam, do you agree on that and how does it feel to be compared to Sam?
I'm floored and honoured to be compared to him, and I'm sure a lot of his aesthetic crawls its way in to my fledgling work. As I kid, I'd just sit there and draw the Maxx and Wolverine over and over again, always perched on some stump or corner of a building, knees folded so tight, they looked like wings projecting out at their sides while their bulbous arms hung low like chunks of meat. I loved that shit that Sam did. The huge feet, the arms covered in fur, the realistically rendered, beautiful faces and crazy cartoony backgrounds. Sam Kieth is not just highly stylized, he's fucking genius, and on par with Bill Sienkiewicz and other masters.
Is releasing a new CD more than just music? I mean, you did the artwork, the music, etc… How do you judge the (artistic) essence of Giant Squid?
It's an incredible release from an unwavering urge to produce. There is no feeling like when your album is finally done, master and art work sent to the label and a couple weeks later you get it in your hand. It's unbelievable. Probably because it is such a strenuous process from the first concepts being talked about and noodled on the guitar, to finishing lyrics hours before you record them in the studio with a world class producer. The sense of accomplishment is enormous and terribly addicting. I always wish we could be way more prolific than we are, but we're definitely trying to ramp things up so we'll see what the future brings. The next album is already being discussed and riffs traded back and forth.
The best way to judge the essence of our art is how people respond to it. And, I'm not referring to the trolling haters. There are always going to be people who dislike us fiercely. That's the cost of being artistically brave and adventurous. But there are people who get it more than others, and that's always a good measurement of how certain elements of our sound or ideas relate to people. If we released an album that was across the board lackluster to people, then I'll know that we fell short. But luckily that hasn't happened yet, and I personally don't plan on it ever doing so. Each of our releases grows more and more upon the one before.
Reading your biography, it seems that you are not afraid to release your own records, like you did with the debut 'Metridium Fields' and the 'The Ichthyologist' CD… Is that DIY spirit the driving force behind this band? To get the music out whatever it takes?
Totally. When we finish our contract with Translation Loss, I'm sure we'll just start self releasing stuff again. We tend to make a lot more money that way, which is nice to finally do, and it's fun shipping out all the CDs around the world. It's very satisfying. Though, our local post office hates us. There are some great labels out there I wouldn't mind working with still, even if just for special releases or splits with their own bands. Hopefully some cool projects like that will happen in the future. And I'm sure we'll be associated and collaborating with Translation Loss for a good long time, even after Squid's time with them has expired. I think some bands are way too fixated on being on a label though, as if that's the ultimate goal of having a band! The point of a band should be to make as much great music as possible. If it's truly good, it will get in the hands of people eventually, as long as you're out there playing live and spreading the word. So much of what a label does can now be done by the band themselves from home. It's really just a matter of how much money do you want to invest in you PR and advertising.
'Cenotes' was released through Translation Lost Records. Are you satisfied with the works they did and will do?
Absolutely. Great label, great family orientated dudes. Real down to earth approach. They are not trying to sign rock-stars and make a million dollars. They just want to put out fantastic records that they believe in. Very happy we get to work with them.
And of course there is the vinyl release through Vega Vinyl! Are you a vinyl fan?
Well, Vega Vinyl released 'The Ichthyologist', but Translation Loss will be putting out 'Cenotes' on vinyl. And yes, very much a fan of the medium. It's the only way I buy music anymore. I have a beautiful vintage Marantz 2235B receiver and matching model 3100 turntable, both from the 70's, and Jackie and I combined have around five to six hundred records, maybe more. They fill up an entire closet.
Is Giant Squid a live band? Is it possible to create this vibe that is on the record as well on stage? Is playing live a heavy burden or a joy?
First and foremost a live band. We love performing as much as recording. But as mentioned before, they can both be two very different things. The same song can be very different whether heard on an album or on stage. That's the magic of it. We're all about the volume, the wall of tube amps, and sweat. I go crazy if I haven't played a gig in a while, and I know everyone else feels the same. I only wish we could do more of it. We're actually playing with Hammers of Misfortune in Oakland, CA on January 21st. We can't wait. We're huge fans and good friends with them.
Is the best yet to come by Giant Squid?
Wait till you hear the next shit.