Greys emerged from Toronto in 2014 when the city was gaining a reputation for a crop of distinctive rock bands. Media coverage made it seem like a bubble, but that's far from the truth: Greys have always moved forward, from their scrappy and ear-catching noise-rock debut If Anything into the more contemplative neo-grunge of their sophomore effort Outer Heaven.
Outer Heaven's sibling project Warm Shadow found the band at a crossroads. The raw and rapid recording sessions helped the band to take a few more tentative steps towards a completely new direction with the riveting use of samples and guitar blasts that build environments more than chords. The band fulfill this promise on their upcoming third studio album Age Hasn't Spoiled You, out May 10 on Carpark Records. It's the band's most adventurous and rousing album yet.
Today, The FADER premieres the project's first single "These Things Happen." The band's frontman Shehzaad Jiwani cited Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger" and The Chemical Brothers as inspirations in a press release for the record. And sure, you can hear traces of Madge's 1999 hit as well as possibly even "Let Forever Be," but Greys forgoes sheen with mountains of powerful, Spiritualized-style fuzzes for maximum immersion.
When I corresponded with Jiwani over email last week, he chalked the band's growth to feeling "so exhausted and uninspired by whatever guitar music I was hearing." He went on to describe the ways he pulled himself – and was pulled – from comfort zones while creating Age Hasn't Spoiled You.
The music of Greys has always been sensitive, and the sonic changes foreground this quality more than ever. What was going on in your life and with the band during the writing and recording?
Are we sensitive? Here I thought I was a mouthy jerk. In a word, I would say things have felt transitional. You get to a point in your life where you start reckoning with who you really are, where you come from, and what your place in this world even is. We put out two records in 2016 [Warm Shadow and Outer Heaven] and toured incessantly that entire year, and we took 2017 off because we’d been writing, recording, or touring nonstop since we started this band. Having that prolonged, post-tour comedown while simultaneously approaching the end of your 20s is a sobering and reflective time.
It coincided with the political and social climate decaying around us, which is a very peculiar experience to actually live through. Like, the last show we played in 2016 was literally a day or two before the election, and a year later there was talk of nuclear war. All this was happening while the DIY spaces we played at were shut down, bands we had toured with broke up, and the scene we grew up in kinda fragmented and splintered apart. Our city has been gentrified to the point of being unrecognizable and inaccessible to me. Lots of changes on every level. Listening back, I think this record is largely informed by that sense of instability, musically as well as lyrically. You can’t go back, but how do you know which way to push forward?
Tell me a bit about how the music came together. Did the increased experimentation on this record grow out of the sessions for Warm Shadow?
Personally, I was so exhausted and uninspired by whatever guitar music I was hearing. Other than a handful of artists, it just seemed like rock groups were content to rehash shit that had been done to death already. How many bands really need to sound like Weezer in 2019, you know? Our whole approach was to do the opposite of what we’d normally do, so we’d run our guitar feedback through samplers, drum machines through amps, try to stack drums on top so it was like the Bomb Squad producing a Sonic Youth track. We pulled from a lot of different places but I think it sounds like its own thing.
Warm Shadow was liberating for us because we realized as long as it was the four of us making noise in a room together, it would sound like Greys, even on the ambient tracks. I think people saw it as like an oddity when it came out, but it was our favourite thing we’d done because it is way more textured and experimental than our earlier stuff, and we tried to run with that even more. This record is a lot more focused and all the disparate sounds are more cohesive. I mean, we made Warm Shadow in three days, and we spent a year on the new one, so you can do the math. Plus, Colin [Gillespie, Greys bassist] and I both made solo records, I produced a few records for other bands, and Braeden [Craig, Greys drummer] was playing in other bands too, so we had a lot of creative experiences that helped us reconfigure what Greys had previously been about. It’s a noise rock band’s version of a psychedelic record.
Where’s the quote at the end of “These Things Happen” from?
It’s from a documentary I watched on the Black Panthers. They're so often painted as this terrorist organization but really they were a socialist community program at their core that simply didn't want to take any more shit from cops, and that's the place that woman is coming from in that sample. A lot of what I was watching and reading while this record came together kind of coincidentally had to do with the civil rights movement, that last era of American history where it seemed like people’s voices really did matter and could effect change, and also the rise of sexual liberation, broader use of drugs, and a wider overall sense of self-awareness. One song touches on mass shootings, police brutality, the threat of nuclear war, rapid gentrification, all the stuff you see on the news, and I inevitably was thinking back to the late 60s. I ended up pulling some lyrics from a James Baldwin quote to tie it all together. You can hear echoes of that era in the lyrics and the music. The times are so similar because, clearly, not enough has changed in 50 years.
What does the album’s title Age Hasn’t Spoiled You mean for you? Does it have any connection with your admiration for bands that record for years and stay interesting?
It isn’t so self-reflexive. For a lot of the lyrics on the album, I tried to make each line have multiple meanings or interpretations, and this title is an example of that. It can mean your actual age, but what I had in mind was more like your era or your generation. You aren’t a product of your time and you don’t have to let it define you. It also could mean my specific age bracket. It really feels like we are this middle kid generation, because we didn’t grow up with a stable workforce nor technology as an appendage, so it’s pretty easy to feel aimless and start asking a lot of questions about yourself and your surroundings. It’s understandable to feel jaded but you don’t have to acquiesce to that. Maybe you can break out of that if you want to. Colin said the lyrics felt deeply pessimistic, but I don’t know. I just tried to take a snapshot of where I felt things were at from my perspective. I don’t want to believe that I am doomed from birth, but maybe we are.
What’s one thing you’ve tried since the last album that’s changed your life considerably?
Let’s see, three years ago… Probably the pupusa and jerk chicken restaurants we ate at while we were recording. San Sivar and The Palms, baby. Catch a taste. No, I don’t know. Drugs, probably. Or rather my relationship with them. I had a pretty intense pain killer dependency in my mid-20s due to an autoimmune illness I have that causes me chronic pain, and once that started to level out a bit, we were on tour so often that it was easy for me to lean into that nihilistic zone where touring provides an excuse for substance abuse. I think addressing that and developing a more healthy, recreational relationship with drugs — particularly psychedelics — has eased my mental health a lot. I checked myself into the CAMH and got to learn some cognitive behavioural therapy techniques which helped me gain a lot of ground in that regard. That way you can at least begin to confront and reconcile the noise in your head. It’s a life-long burden, these issues we all have, but those are the cards you are dealt, and I want to try and make the best of it. Today, anyway. Who knows how I’ll feel tomorrow.
You once expressed interest in doing a covers album. What would be the tracklist?
This is my favourite question because I think about it all the time. I made a playlist of all the tunes we’ve covered over the years and want to keep doing them. But for the future, “Sexy Boy” by Air is in the works right now. “50 Ft Queenie” by PJ Harvey, “Pendulum” by Broadcast, “Helicopter Spies” by Swell Maps, “By The Time I Get To Arizona” by Public Enemy, “Man Next Door” by Massive Attack, “The Lord Is A Monkey” by the Butthole Surfers, “Setting Sun” by Chemical Brothers… It’s a big list.
I love this tweet where you compare Red Hot Chili Peppers albums to Final Fantasy games. Can you do the same thing with each Greys project and a different video game/piece of media, and explain your reasoning?
Honestly, it feels really great to be appreciated for my hard work on Twitter! That’s really a sequel to this tweet where I compare Nirvana albums to various American wars. Let me do my best here by comparing our records to my favourite movies featuring Adam Sandler.
If Anything = Airheads. Pretty scrappy, definitely going for a “thing” and not always landing but when it works, it works.
Repulsion EP = The Herlihy Boy sketch on SNL. Short and sweet, just the hits thanks!
Outer Heaven = Happy Gilmore. A bit more accessible than the earlier outings but still plenty of memorable curveballs for the real heads.
Warm Shadow = Dirty Work. Under appreciated in its day, but a nuanced and experimental approach that has stood the test of time.
Age Hasn’t Spoiled You = Billy Madison. Did you know this movie was directed by Tamra Davis, who is the wife of Mike D from the Beastie Boys? She wasn’t fucking around on this one, and neither were we.