From The Ground Up, An Interview With The Gracious Few
On Tuesday, September 28th, The Gracious Few came to Boston to play at The Paradise. “No Live, no Candlebox, we are The Gracious Few” Kevin Martin told the crowd during the set. This show was not about nostalgia, it was about new and exciting music from a band of seasoned rockers.
The band played for nearly an hour, then set up for their “Front Porch Session” and played a bunch of rootsy blues inspired tunes, and even a stripped down version of “Honest Man” from their new album. It was very cool to see Chad Taylor playing slide guitar on a Dobro. The Boston crowd was also treated to an extra surprise when Dana Colley, formally of Morphine, sat in with his baritone saxophone. It was a truly surreal once-in-a-lifetime moment.
After The Gracious Few closed the night with more rock tunes, they stayed long after their set to speak with fans and sign autographs for all who waited. Everyone, including the guys who work with the band, had nothing but great things to say about them. We even overheard some of the techs commenting about how the shows keep getting better and better. It was definitely one of the best shows we’ve been to in a long time.
Prior to the performance, Keven Martin sat down to speak with us about the new band, new album, and tour. Chad Taylor even jumped into the conversation briefly.
Type 3 Media: Did Chad Taylor find an answer to his question about why the fuck did he start another rock band?
Kevin Martin: I think he did. I think that’s a question we’ve all been asking ourselves. You get to a point in you life when you think that you can make music and sit back, relax and enjoy it. It is what it is, and it’s easy come easy go. You play the shows, you go home for a while, and you make another record. It’s different when you start a new band. The great thing about starting a new band, even though it is from the ground up, there’s that excitement, and you re-acclimate yourself to what it is you love about the art-form itself, and enjoying that process of becoming a group. It’s hard work, but the great thing about it is that hour-and-a-half to two hours that we play every night. As exhausting as it is, it’s so refreshing compared to what we’ve been doing for that past twenty years. It’s not that we don’t like Candlebox or Live, it’s just you get stuck in a rut and this is our mistress. It’s kind of like The Gracious Few is our mistress, and she’s a sexy kind of beast, and we’re really enjoying it. I think yes, he’s found his answer. He’s having a mistress now and her name is The Gracious Few.
There’s Chad Taylor. You might as well ask him if he’s found what he’s looking for.
Chad Taylor: No comment (laughs).
T3M: What was the biggest challenge putting this album together and how did you overcome it?
KM: Scheduling. The music was easy, the relationship is easy, and the process of recording the record in the studio was easy. Scheduling between Chad Gracey, living in Orange County and just about to have a baby with his wife Dinah, Sean and I living in Los Angeles touring with Candlebox last summer, Chad and Patrick being in Pennsylvania having their other projects with Aurora Films; we had to figure out how to schedule time to get together to write. The first series of writing we did was in Pennsylvania, and we had to reschedule it three times around Chad Gracey’s schedule, Chad Taylor’s schedule, and my schedule with Candlebox. That finally came together and we had ten days, and we wrote ten songs in that ten days. I had to go back out with Candlebox for two more weeks and those guys had to go do some stuff with Aurora Films and their film “Another Harvest Moon.” Chad Gracey and his wife were very close to having a baby so we did the next writing session in California at the end of September. In twelve days we wrote another ten songs, then we figured we had enough material to start making a record. We sent it off to Jerry [Harrison] and he scheduled us to start recording in November to December. That would be the only obstacle we had; scheduling time.
Now we all go to Pennsylvania for rehearsals because it’s just so easy. It’s such a great rehearsal studio. If you’ve seen the new video, that is our rehearsal studio. It’s fucking awesome. That’s why we all come up to Pennsylvania.
T3M: How does the final result, the album, compare with your expectations going into the project?
KM: Supersedes. This record is fuckin’ slammin’. This is the kind of record I always wanted. I always wanted to listen to this record. I don’t know if you [Chad Taylor] feel the same way.
CT: It’s my favorite album.
KM: I listen to this thing two or three times a day.
CT: It’s the only album of my entire career that I can actually put on and press play and get into. I think that comes from the diversity of the songwriters. Each guy contributed to the songwriting process. You don’t feel like your always listening to the same exact voice. It changes the perspective a lot. That’s something pretty rare in a band.
I like the story about “What’s Wrong,” when his [Martin's] wife calls him and is like…
KM: Yeah, she’s in tears saying “what are you trying to tell me?” I’m like “Babe, it’s just a song. We all wrote the song.”
KM: Yes. It’s all of us. These are things that every relationship has had. I actually wrote parts of the lyrics for a friend who was going through a major relationship problem. I said “well hey, try this on her.” My wife’s always used to me singing about what I sing about. And to hear songs on this record, she’s like “who’s ‘Silly Thing’ about?” It’s not about anybody. Do you think that Jay-Z gets upset with Beyoncé because she’s talking about some crazy lover?
CT: I got ninety-nine problems…
KM: …but a bitch ain’t one.
T3M: How have the fans been reacting during the tour so far?
KM: I think it’s great. They’re going to be the ones that break The Gracious Few. This little tour we’re doing… I remember these shows when I was growing up. I saw Tool in Seattle when there were thirty people at the Rock Candy. Thirty people when they came through with Opiate. I have the shirt, and I have the ticket. I can say that. And look at Tool now, they’re enormous. It’s these people, that are seeing these early-on shows, when you start talking about a show and how affected you were by it. You don’t want to leave the venue afterward because you want to talk to the artist and tell them how special the moment was. It’s the same emotion for us. That moment we’re sharing with you up on the stage is exactly the same as the experience you’re having with us. We’re giving you something new and you’re absorbing it, and hopefully it’s affecting you in a positive way. I think that’s what happening. I think the people that see us into December are going to be the ones that turn The Gracious Few into probably the biggest band of 2011. I say that with a grain of salt. It’s a hope, because we have an outlook as a band that is positive.
T3M: Do you draw energy from the fans in the crowd?
KM: I draw energy from the music. But what I do find in the fans, is excitement. There’s an expectation that an audience member has when they come to a show. I don’t know what that expectation is. I know what mine are when I go to see Dead Weather, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, or Kings of Leon. I know what my expectation is for that show because I am a performer. I want to be entertained, and I want to know that song means everything to you. It doesn’t mean that you got to run around like a fucking chicken with your head cut off. I just want to now that what I’m hearing on the record is the same thing you were feeling onstage. That’s my expectation.
So what I pull from an audience, is that excitement. You can see in someone’s eyes when they’ve connected. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments I’ve seen people go “this isn’t what I want.” Those are the ones you have to tune out when you’re as naked as we are onstage. We’re playing thirteen songs that no one knows. They’ve only had these for three months, for three of them, and two weeks for the other ten. So I have to be able to make that audience member understand the reason these songs are the way they are is that’s exactly how we felt. That’s what we wanted to write, that how we wanted them to come out, and that’s why they’re as loud, aggressive, beautiful, sad and sweet as they are. I’m a passionate person and won’t sit back on my hands. That audience is inspiration.
T3M: Some musicians who gained popularity during the 90′s but are no longer with us include Shannon Hoon, Kurt Cobain, and Layne Staley. How did you survive?
KM: I’m not a junkie. I knew Layne when I was sixteen or seventeen. I used to work with Susan Silver, who was the manager of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. I got to know Chris [Cornell] and Layne, and even Andy Wood, who was probably my biggest inspiration in the Seattle music scene as a front-man. I got to know all these musicians through Susan. Layne was one of the guys that I got to know really well and ended up becoming pretty good friends with. There came a point in my life where I knew that I needed to quit the direction I was heading because it was going to kill me. Certain people have that switch, certain people don’t. I was able to turn it off. Layne, Kurt, and Shannon unfortunately did not have that ability. I don’t know if it’s an insecurity issue, or an environmental issue, or a “I hate my job, I hate my Mom, I hate my life” issue. I don’t know what it is. I just know that some people can’t turn it off. I quit doing drugs and focused on my life. I really found solace in poetry and I found inspiration in music. It was able to keep me going in the direction I needed to go. I use that inspiration all the time. I quit smoking cigarettes five years ago. I want to enjoy this moment, because when I’m dead I’m not going to be able to. I always wanted to be right where I’m at right now. I’m in a fucking rock and roll band, and that’s the greatest thing in the world.
T3M: What’s your impression of where the music business is headed.
KM: The indie scene is amazing. College radio is fucking ground-breaking. It’s envelope pushing. It’s the foundation of music today. Bands like Arcade Fire, Dead Weather, Against Me!… let me just pull out my iPod, because I only listen to indies… Alexandre Desplat, All Time Low, Band of Horses, Cage the Elephant, The Hold Steady. That part of the music business is perfect. The mainstream side of the business is in the shits. It’s because there are too many Linkin Parks, too many Nickelbacks, too many Buckcherrys, too many Shinedowns. That’s not to say they’re not good bands at all. There’s just too many copycats. I call it the sugar cookie syndrome. Mainstream media, reality television, is all sugar cookies. The alternative market, alternative television, whether it’s Comedy Central or whatnot, they push the envelope and give you something different every single day. That’s how alternative music is. The beauty of it is that it’s there for the taking. Mainstream has to stop trying to replicate a band. They have to say no, we don’t need to hear that song again. I’ve heard “Crazy Bitch” fifteen times by fifteen different bands. Do I need to know about somebody else fucking in the backseat of a car? AC/DC talked about that thirty years ago. Why are you trying to write that song. There’s more important shit out there. My opinion of mainstream music is that it’s absolutely fucked, and it’s going right in the toilet where it deserves to be. Is that harsh?
T3M: A lot of bands go into the studio and it sounds like they push a button to sound like the latest band du jour. I love the way your new album is produced.
KM: It’s organic. We’ve been doing this for shit for twenty-five years. There are three songs that didn’t make this record that I wrote for other musicians. They were pop songs. We all decided that we don’t want to do that. I happened to deliver some music to the guys and said “this is my collection of stuff. Because I’m not going to be able to see you for a while, go through it and see if you like anything.” Chad was like “what’s this song you wrote with Daughtry?” I go “it’s just a pop song,” then he said “it’s pretty cool.” But the more that we listed to it, we realized that wasn’t The Gracious Few. One of the problems with mainstream is that there are so many songwriters writing songs for other songwriters that they all write the same song. They put one little twist on it, but it’s still the same song. Then they go to Bob Marlette and he produces the way he does. Or they go to Randy Staub. And it is a button. It’s these inputs on the drums, these samples on the drums, these vocals presets, and here’s your mix. Who the fuck wants to do that? Rick Rubin is the only guy doing bands right now that don’t sound like anybody else. Even then, they’re still guilty of trying to write fifteen hit songs on a record. Don’t try to write hit songs. Hit songs are hit songs because they become hits.
T3M: You guys post a lot on Facebook. Did it take a while to get used to that type of interaction with fans?
KM: No. I don’t think for me. Candlebox was in a different world than Live. Those guys were able to just go out and tour and play shows whenever they wanted. They didn’t have to keep a digital face. With Candlebox, we started to rebuild our career in 2006. We knew that this medium was very important for reconnecting. For Chad and myself going on Facebook, that’s just a daily thing. Chad Gracey is awesome at it, and that’s great because he’s keeping the face of The Gracious Few in the public, and he’s keeping us up there all the time. It’s very beneficial to the career of the band. It’s not something that was difficult for me but it was a little bit of an alteration for them. “What do you mean I’ve got to blog and post?”
T3M: It’s been well received.
KM: We made this decision now too with the tour, we’ve cut ticket prices across the board. Every single show is going to be ten dollars. Our agents talked us into this twenty/twenty-two dollar tour. It’s not what we wanted to do, but you get pushed and pushed. Eventually, even though you want to say no, you say yes. We collectively made a decision yesterday while we were camping outside of Albany to cut the tickets to ten bucks. Anybody who has already bought a ticket gets a free T-shirt. Anybody who hasn’t, come down to the box office and pay ten dollars. We write songs about the “Honest Man” and the difficulty of life and the struggles and betrayal, people are trying to put food on the table. A ten dollar ticket is the same price as a movie. So come see us play. If you like it, buy a CD, buy a T-shirt, go tell somebody about it. At least you can afford to come to the show. If you’ve got twenty bucks and your friend doesn’t have any, then buy your friend a ticket.
T3M: What’s the funniest or strangest thing that you’ve read about yourself on the Web?
KM: That I’m not me. If I post stuff, people don’t think I’m me. The other thing is when you get in a discussion with somebody, or an argument over your lyrics. Somebody was arguing with me about my lyrics. I wrote the fucking song, and I know what I wrote about.
T3M: Is The Gracious Few a long-term project?
KM: We’re releasing an acoustic EP in February, and then another record will come out next summer.
T3M: I heard something about swamp songs.
KM: The songs are based on Delta blues and Swamp blues. You’ll see tonight. We call it the front porch sessions. We’re not playing all those songs. We’re only playing one of the songs from the EP. We’re all loving this moment so much that we don’t want to go back to our wives. This mistress is a good mistress. Candlebox paid my rent, but I’ve saved up to pay my rent for a little while. I think the other guys are in the same position. So let’s have some fun.
T3M: Who caught the biggest fish while you guys were camping?
KM: I think Pat did. He caught a little five pound largemouth bass. It wasn’t big, but it was five pounds. There were some big-assed carp in there but they weren’t going after anything.
T3M: Do you do anything to prep your voice prior to a show or is it just naturally awesome?
KM: I’ve been known to sing along to music on the bus. What I do to get it ready for a show is during soundcheck in the afternoon, we’ll do three or four songs and I’ll work my voice through that. I know when it’s working the right way, and if I feel it’s not doing what I need it to I’ll make adjustments. I don’t believe in the whole warm-up stuff. I’ve done it before, but it didn’t do anything for me.
T3M: Any closing thoughts?
KM: Thanks for letting The Gracious Few talk to you. Listen to The Gracious Few, it’s good stuff.