Interview: The Gracious Few
Mon, 05 Jul 2010 15:47:30
The Gracious Few are a thankful bunch.
They're collectively thankful for their previous legacies with Candlebox [Kevin Martin (Vocals) and Sean Hennesy (Guitar)] and Live [Chad Taylor (Guitar), Chad Gracey (Drums) and Patrick Dahlheimer (Bass)], respectively, but they're even more thankful for the music they've created on their self-titled debut.
The Gracious Few showcases a musical fervor that's currently unmatched in today's climate. There are poignant and poetic tracks about rock 'n' roll itself—the gorgeously unforgettable "Sing"—and then there are down 'n' dirty anthems like "Honest Man" that breathe with blues urgency. This is the ultimate rock record from a group of fellas that know the genre inside and out.
The Gracious Few's Kevin Martin sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about building this band, what movie the record reminds him of and favorite from Candlebox and more.
How did you tap into this new energy?
Chad Taylor was really focused on the film side of things. When he got the phone call from Chad [Gracey] and Patrick [Dahlheimer] about getting this thing back together, I think he was reluctant. He was "not feeling" music, which is interesting because they say the first day they started jamming Chad said, "I've got some stuff I can bring to this." They had six songs after that. When I got the phone call from them that they were considering me for vocals, I thought, "This is one of the greatest phone calls I've ever received!" I've been doing Candlebox for so long, and I have a side project called The Hiwatts which I really enjoy. However, for me, music's become very stale. It's almost become my second love. Now that we've done The Gracious Few record, it's back to my first love, which is driving my wife up the wall [Laughs]. I remember when I got to the studio the first day. We weren't even going to rehearse; we just went down to see Pat's studio. I picked up a guitar, we started jamming and we wrote three songs in the first day and they're on the record now. They were "Silly Thing," "Sing" and "Nothing But Love." They were in their inception exactly how we wanted them to go. That being said, the feeling was, "God, I can't believe I'm actually going to feel that way again"—it was like when you start your first band. When Candlebox first started writing, the energy level and the excitement of playing shows was something new. People don't know the fucking songs, you play to 50 people and you don't care. It doesn't matter, and it's the greatest feeling in the world. The excitement comes from the hunger, and the hunger is what we were looking for. We were looking for that rock record that each of us always wanted to make. For Chad Taylor, he's been looking for this sound for a long time. You listen to "Lakini's Juice" from Live, it's heavy, but it's really the heaviest song they've written in my opinion. This is an album of great rock tracks in all sorts of directions. It comes from that hunger of wanting it really badly—I need something refreshing in my life—and digging for it.
As a lyricist, you've evolved immensely. The material feels genuinely introspective. Has the lyrical process changed for you?
To be perfectly honest with you, I went to the guys and said, "I don't want this responsibility 100 percent. I really want everyone to be involved in this." If we're going to be The Gracious Few, then we should be gracious with everything. That should include sharing in those emotions of songwriting. There are only so many times you can put your heart on your sleeve and you can only say things in so many fucking ways. When other people start to give you words, phrases or statements, it's immense. We were in the studio working, and Chad said, "Man, I feel like I'm in my harvest moon." I was like, "There's a fucking song!" "Tredecin" literally started with that. He just said it, and I started writing. I told the guys I was writing about the birth and death of a year. The death starts in the fall, and the rebirth is in the spring. I wanted to write it in the sense of 13 months because the song's in 13. The final rebirth is the end of the song with that line "I return a gilded man." That whole song was written about that concept, and everyone was contributing. For me, that was the most exciting part. I could go to them and say, "I'm stuck, and this is what I'm trying to say. I know you've got a way to say it." It made all the difference in the world, and it made it very easy for me to talk about things I've never talked about and I don't know the first thing about. For "Silly Thing," we were talking about our relationships and life and how you feel on every level. People think it sounds like a love song. It's really about music [Laughs]. It's about that extension of your soul and what the music gives you. As artists, we're the only ones that really understand that. Most people think it's a love song because they'd expect that. Even my wife was like, "Who's that about?" It's about what music does for me! It's a "Silly Thing." If you think about it, I wait my whole life for this one moment, this feeling of excitement, and then it goes away. I wait my whole life again for it. It's so fucking simple. It could be one guitar chord that makes me want to write a song.
Well, having everyone else's input probably allowed you to learn more about yourself as well.
A ton more!
Do you tend to read a lot while you're writing? Are you into poetry at all?
I fancy myself a poet, and I love poetry. Rainer Maria wrote a book called Letters to a Young Poet that affected me enormously as a young man and a lyricist. I really look for my emotion when I'm writing. There are times when I look at a piece of paper and go, "This is a fucking blank piece of white paper." There are other times I say, "Well, there's a lyric in there," and I go through the process of working it out in my mind. For me, to share that emotion is incredible. It's a great feeling, especially when people start singing lyrics back to you. It's fucking killer, man.
My favorite track was "Sing." Is there a story behind that one?
It's mine too! When I started jamming on that song in the studio, it felt like it wanted to sing itself. The song was writing itself right in front of me. The lyric, "the days into weeks into years" is the extension of time. "Hours to minutes to seconds" is the coming down—getting ready to go on stage. It's the nerves and excitement level you go through playing a show. That's what the song represents. It's about that extension of the soul and what singing does. I've been such a fan of so many great singers, and they always have a song about singing. I figured, "If they're great and they have a song about singing, maybe if I have a song about it, I'll be great." [Laughs] Hopefully, I'm putting a little bit of myself out there for the universe to take me to another level. I'm singing so much differently on this record. It's got different keys and melodies that are continuous, which I never did with Candlebox. I've never liked my voice, ever, but on this record I'm like, "Fuck it, I actually sound like a good singer" [Laughs].
This is a really diverse rock record.
There are all sorts of influences thrown into that fucking bucket. We knew that was what we wanted to do. Chad Taylor said it, "We cannot afford not to suck." That means you've got to put yourself out there. You don't know unless you absolutely suck. At that point, you can make the changes you need to make.
If you were to compare this record to a movie what would you compare it to?
Wow, that's a great question! I've never been asked that before [Laughs]. Woodstock, The Song Remains the Same, Easy Rider, Citizen Kane: just because there's so much darkness in some of these songs.
I can see Easy Rider and Citizen Kane.
Yeah, it moves that way, but there's a darkness to it. There's an undercurrent. There's a lot of pain in these songs from the guys. There's an ounce of betrayal in almost every single one, which is unfortunate that they're dealing with what they're dealing with as a band. A lot of these words are from them. That's the Citizen Kane side of things.
There's a palpable energy to this. The Gracious Few feels like a new fiery rock group.
Fucking A right! [Laughs] Thank you! We focused on that, and we were conscious of it. We knew we had to make it separate. We had to go where we never thought we would go as musicians and push ourselves to that point and make that record where people either said, "This fucking sucks" or "That's the greatest thing to come out in 2010!" Two years ago, Kings of Leon made an album that was fucking mind-blowing—even for their fans. Because of the Times was leading them there, but I don't think anybody expected "Sex On Fire" and "Use Somebody" to be these huge anthems. They didn't expect that from Kings of Leon. In every band, there's a great record. It doesn't mean there are going to be five records, but there's going to be one. If you're open to it, it will unfold itself right in front of you and make itself available in a heartbeat.
What records shaped you?
Otis Redding is one artist. "The Dock of the Bay" and anything Otis has done. I've got four different versions of his Greatest Hits records. He's my main inspiration as a singer. I approach songs thinking, "How would Otis sing this?" I think it's a little strange with the kind of music we're doing, but it's about his phrasing. I love R&B and soul. Marvin Gaye too. I always go back to Led Zeppelin III. That's one of my favorite records. It's just a beautiful album. I listen to a lot of punk rock. It gives me inspiration, and it makes me feel alive. I'm addicted to The Bronx. I'm always listening to The Clash. London Calling is a brilliant record. That's really what I go back to. Dead Confederate, Manchester Orchestra, Dead Weather, Raconteurs, White Stripes and Alberta Cross are also some of my favorites. I love a lot of that music. It feels hungry, angry, desperate and alive to me. It feels disillusioned and I love that.
Does Candlebox's "10,000 Horses" resonate with you in a certain way?
When I wrote that, I was literally sitting in traffic. Our rehearsal studio in Seattle was up on Capitol Hill, and I lived over in Lake Washington. I was in a little neighborhood called Laurelhurst which is by The University of Washington. There's basically one road way and a drawbridge that goes to Capitol Hill. I'm sitting in traffic, and I've got this big Suburban. I used to snowboard all the time, and all our friends would go up so I needed a car that a lot of people could fit in. So I'm sitting there fucking idling along, just creeping. The song just popped into my head. I feel like the saying, "I need ten-thousand fucking horsepower just to run over this traffic." Who doesn't want to barrel through traffic sometimes? People are swerving in and out thinking the other lane's faster. You're not going to get any faster. I started writing lyrics and Pete was like, "I wrote this song last night." He started playing the intro and the song simply unfolded. I love the solo section and how the song moves. When a song like "10,000 Horses" just happens and it's there when you walk into the studio, you don't fuck with it. It's one of my favorites as well. We don't play it very often live, we should probably play it more.
Have you heard The Gracious Few?