Interview with Karis of Grasshole
Melbourne band Grasshole have built a solid following in the US through college radio and are currently working on their first full length album Fuzz of Flavour to build on the foundation laid by their eponymous EP and follow up The Unification Proclamation. We chatted to guitarist Karis Hawkins as their East Coast tour was heating up.
Karis, thanks for making some time to talk to us.
Its fine mate, I’m just sitting in the airport trying to get a rental car. Classic. I’m going to have a cigarette. Fuck this.
So, the new single’s out, the new video’s out. Are you happy with how its all been received?
Yeah, look I think it’s a step up in terms of where we were before. We’ve had this long term battle plan. You know on the 2nd EP things were a bit more progressive. We’ve tried to strip that back a bit. Its probably a good cross representation of what we’re going for these days. So yeah, we’re all really loving it.
This track is pretty good yardstick for what to expect from the rest of the record then?
Yeah, its probably on the heavier end of the spectrum. We don’t mind if its got the heavier stoner groove, sometimes it’s a bit poppier or more melodic. It captures a bit more middle of the road and it’s a bit easier to wrap your ears around. So there’s a bit of a spectrum and that’s probably on the tougher end of it. But that’s sort of what we do live anyway. It’s a pretty balls-to-the-wall show.
Do you have a date for the album release yet?
We’re thinking mid-year. We’re just in that humble mixing and tweaking process, trying to get it all uniform but that’s the benchmark for what we want it all to sound like.
You were talking about the stoner groove being important to you. Having a look at the imagery and the names of some of the tracks, a person could be forgiven for throwing you into the stonerrock basket. But that isn’t quite what you do, at least not in the way I think of stoner anyway.
Yeah, I mean we do like to jump aroud a bit and we have the ADD personalities that mean we can’t sit for two minutes on the same riff, but we do like the grooves and the time changes. Like its got to be fun and exciting to play. That’s what we strive for from the outset, but its also got to be a little bit technical, so we can have a bit of fun with it and test ourselves as musos.
I remember reading somewhere that for a long time it was just the two of you, you and your dad. Is that right?
That’s correct. Old man’s on the drums and I’m rocking the guitar. We’ve been doing this for about 5 years now. Officially. We’ve always played though. I was raised on a good diet of early 90s rock, which is where those things come in. a bit of Green Day, some Pixies of course some really straight forward bands No FX. And some of the bit more progressive stuff, like Kyuss and we’re spoilt for choice.
Me n Dad obviously share the same musical tastes, and then we’ve got our new guy over from Sweden. He’s only joined us in the country about 10 or 11 weeks ago and we’ve played about 14 or 15 shows, so we’re on a pretty good wicket. We’re just trying to keep the momentum up.
I wanted to ask about the new guy Fredrick. He’s a Swedish bloke. The Swedes, I reckon have a unique sense of the psychedelic. Bands like Mother’s Cake and of course Truckfighters really being at the fucking forefront of that unique sound. Was that a sound you were particularly chasing? Or was it just a matter of him being around and you needing a guy?
We always wanted a bass player but we weren’t going to settle for second best. He was a friend of a friend and we were over there touring in Sweden and Spain. So after that I stayed on for about 6 months and we ended up getting drunk together every day for 6 months and having a laugh and we became like brothers, which is what you want. I mean the musicianship can always grow and develop with anyone but to have someone that you can actually rely on and do what he has done which is throw in a job, give up an apartment, leave three or four bands. We’ve gotta get him married so he can stay here a bit longer but it just seemed like the logical progression.
His background is actually funk and he’s a hugely more proficient musician than myself. And he’s incredible and even our songs, over the years we probably tried out between 10 and 15 bass players and none of them could cut it and there weren’t many who were prepared to have the patience to learn the sort of riffs that we were throwing around. Which is just second nature to us we’re on a different level as musicians with each other so if you can get someone to fit in with that both as a muso and as a brother.
I think that’s probably all the more important with a 3 piece, when the sound is so minimal and there is nowhere to hide you’ve got to be all thinking the same thing or it doesn’t work. Of course when it does work, it really fucking works. Nothing wails like a power trio.
It’s the holy trinity. And with the pedals we have we’re almost like part time tap dancers on stage. We’re really trying to get the tones right and we’re working on our stage show now and we’re having a ball. And we’re being really well received by a lot of venues which I’m really proud of. We were international before we were interstate which is unusual.
I wanted to ask you about that. I know that you guys really sort of made a name for yourselves on US College radio, which has always been a great way to get wide exposure, but has also been a notoriously difficult place for Australian acts to break into. What is it that you think resonated so well with those audiences?
I don’t know, obviously the west coast is notorious for that early 90s sound which is where me n Rick have our roots, especially me. A lot of our songwriting comes from that area, you Pixies, Mudhoney, a bunch of others. They’ve got that right attitude. To have that pop sensibility with such a heavy tone, not that I want to mention Nirvana because it’s too easy but it’s like writing a Beatles song with a couple of fuzz punk riffs it blows your arse out in the best way. And we’re all about that in a big way, especially when it comes to studio time. It’s almost like a Smashing Pumpkins attitude where you can take on all the harmonies that you want to and it always comes out really well. It’s just a learning process that we’re just trying ot get better and better at. It’s probably our biggest focus as a band, just to leave a legacy of beautiful songs but the fact that it was picked up on college radio we couldn’t have imagined that it would have the success that it did. The dude we were working with to make that happen was really surprised as well. He works with a lot of big bands over there but none of us saw it coming. So to get a couple of number ones on the scoreboard is pretty nice. It’s a validation that you’re on the right path.
I think it’s even more interesting, in talking about that early 90s sound, that you’ve managed to get that support. For a long time that was really the Subpop sound, but as you’d know they’ve really gone in a different direction for the last several years, so that one of the biggest proponents of the sound had sort of withdrawn its focus, and gone in a much more indie folk direction. So it is a little more difficult to find a home for that sound. But in a way I guess that’s also meant that there has kind of opened up an appetite for something other than the gentle folk melodies that were all over the airwaves for a while there.
Yeah , I agree. Even in the Melbourne scene over the last 10 years, you just couldn’t escape that 70s paisley revival. I’ve never used a wah-wah or cared too much about the colour. I just really like the idea of soft chorus loud verse; it just makes sense to me. As you know music goes in cycles so it’s great to see good hardworking bands like Violent Soho and a few others getting recognised for just getting out there and doing it. Its stil got the same energy and to see the success those boys have had over the last few years has really resonated with me. We’re pretty uncompromising on what we want and for those that get it, great, and for those that don’t well that’s for them. We just stick to our guns. We don’t try to cop out we just try to find that mix between the melodic and the heavy. I guess Queens of the Stone Age have really redefined that sound. They’ve managed to create that unique sound and play with really unique guitar tones. Baroness are also really good it it.
One of the other things that strikes me about cutting your teeth in the Melbourne scene is that because it is such a crowded space and because there are so many bands out there vying for spots on any bill, you’ve really got to have the chops. Otherwise you just tend to be drowned out by the bands that do.
Nah, you’re right and it gets really competitive, even between mates. I mean on any given night everyone is so spoiled for choice. In Melbourne you’ve got 50 to 100 good bands to go see. And in Melbourne we’ve been playing with some really good up and coming bands, which is good to see. You know when you’re seeing something special on stage and there are plenty of bands at the moment that are doing that. Then there are plenty that don’t want to push it and I respect that, they can do what they want, but it’s a pretty different to the one I want to be in.
What are you listening to the at moment yourself when you’re not working on Grasshole stuff?
I like listening to a lot of Biffy Clyro, they’re a band worth mentioning from Scotland. Especially in those first few albums, they were just so unconventional with their pop song writing. The musicianship is just amazing.
The last few years in Australia have marked the demise of the major rock festivals, Soundwave is gone, Big Day Out is gone. And there are other festivals that have come up to fill that space but they tend to be smaller, more niche or be built around particular sounds. What does that mean for a band like yours trying to make its name on the strength of its live shows and the opportunities you have to do that before bigger crowds?
I love Australia, but in terms of the per capita marker there is only really so far you can take it. We’re fortunate in that we’ve had the chance to travel a lot and been able to appreciate bands you’d never hear of. They’re playing to packed out venues in, wherever-pick a country in Europe and the crowds there are so pro bands. One of the highlights for us was signing records in Spain, like they don’t know that we’re just a couple of stoners from Melbourne. Which is what you want, for people to love what you do. Australia is a much harder thing to crack. Bands like You am I and Grinspoon which always seem to have been around and that’s great but at some point you want it to progress overseas. The dream would be six months on and six months off, always chasing summer.
Well thanks for making time to talk to us Karis, good luck with the rest of the tour and good luck with the release of the new record. We can’t wait to hear it once it’s done.
Grasshole’s remaining dates are:
Wednesday May 10th – The Bendigo Hotel, Melbourne, VIC
Tickets available at door | 18+ only
Friday May 12th – Sooki Lounge, Belgrave, VIC
Tickets available at door | 18+ only
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- Benjamin Smith