The Gravel Pit – Silver Gorilla – Interview

The Gravel Pit

Silver Gorilla (Q Division)
An interview with Jed Parish, Ed Valauskas, Pete Caldes, Lucky Jackson
by Katy Shea
Photos by Jessica Gelt

In Bed with The Gravel Pit

“Well in these bad, boring days/We need a bolt of light…” sings Jed Parish in the second song (named, aptly, “Bolt of Light”) off the band’s third record, Silver Gorilla (Q Division). Three years in the making and released in the wake of The Gravel Pit‘s most extensive tour to date, the band has undoubtedly brought that much needed jolt of luminous hard rock/pop not only to Boston’s live music scene, where they returned to two consecutive sold out shows, accolades and praise from both scenesters and long time fans, but also to Boston radio, where their single, “Favorite,” can be heard daily and should (with any luck) soon grace airwaves across the country.

Originally based in New Haven, CT, The Gravel Pit’s unique and unerringly powerful sound, explosive, sweaty, unforgettable live performances, and consistent presentation of smooth and crystalline pop/rock melodies has made them a local staple, prompting one writer to ascribe to them the honor of “bringing the Boston sound to Boston.”

Silver Gorilla is a more mature record for the quartet, showcasing the band’s ability to skate gracefully through genres as diverse as R&B/soul and pure Farfisa-fueled pop while still maintaining the sense of continuity and quality that makes them rock. Each member’s effect on the other contributing to a sound that is the result of true and seamless collaboration. The Gravel Pit are a band who rock hard but resist falling into rock’n’roll clichés or imitative commercial formulas.

Because the music is really what’s important here, I’d like to start with an important question – Who gets the most girls?
Ed, Pete, Lucky: (Silence)

Jed: Um… Mike Gent (from the Figgs).

How about from The Gravel Pit?
All: No comment.

OK, OK, so y’all just came back from tour, what were the crowds like?
Ed: No comment.

Jed: I’m not answering that question either.

Ed: No, seriously, Texas was the major show (SXSW) where a lot of people knew us, I mean, were there to see us.

Jed: L.A. was pretty good, too. I think there were some fairly serious fans in Chicago, too, and Kansas City.

How do old fans react to your new album? It’s so different from Gravel Pit Manifesto in terms of content, rhythm, and feel. It’s a more intense, varied record.
Jed: I think we’ve always, especially live, sort of had the hills and valleys of “rock song, rock song, weird song, slow song,” but I don’t think in most of the cities people really knew the new album enough to notice too much or be disappointed or anything.

Some bands stay on tour for, like, 10 years, and that affects the sound of a band, the contents of their songs… I mean, look at Journey…
Everyone: (chuckles)

How would you compare this tour to your prior tour experiences?
Jed: This was the best tour by a mile.

Ed: We’ve gone on some two week tours that took us to Florida and ruined our lives (everyone laughs). I thought this was the longest we’d ever been out, but it actually wasn’t.

Jed: The only thing that really happened in our live show is that we got better…

Lucky: I think we went out with sort of low expectations.

Ed, Pete, Jed: Yeah (nodding).

The Gravel Pit Manifesto had a lot of pretty succinct themes, both musically and lyrically, which makes it very consistent, and steady – there’s not a lot of divergence from “Love sucks, my girlfriend’s a bitch, I’m alone in the world…”
Ed: That makes sense. Like Jed said, as we get better as a live band, it’s a natural progression in the studio. We wouldn’t want to make the same record twice.

The lyrical shift you ascribe that to just playing out so much?
Pete: Yes.

Pete, as the drummer, what’s your take on the lyrics?
Pete: Yeah, the lyrics. There’s lots of words, and they rhyme…

Jed: You see, the end of one word will have the same sound as the end of another word – like bat and cat – y’know, and we really try to use that.

Pete: Yeah (smiles sheepishly).

Seriously though, what bands would you compare yourselves to? I’ve heard people say everything from TMBG (They Might Be Giants) to The Kinks – who do you think of as your peers?
Jed: I like to consider us as in a category with bands who are actually bands, not just a songwriter with three chumps. Four people with a style, creating a sound…

As opposed to one songwriter acting as dictator.
Jed: Yeah. I mean, not even necessarily dictatorial, but maybe the people are unimaginative and don’t have a style, or the songs are written in a way that they can’t really do much with them. The Figgs are like us in that they are really a band.

Who else?
Jed: Liz Phair.

Lucky: (laughs) You just said you liked bands who were bands?

Jed: Yeah, well, that was one thing… Well, I was gonna say Elliot Smith, too.

Everyone: (laughs)

Ed: I agree with that angle entirely. I can’t really think of any current bands that are on the same level…

Jed: “Flagpole Sittah” (by Harvey Danger) is probably the closest sonic thing on the radio to us… But I’d rather die than have those lyrics. The way he sings makes me want to slap him in the face, but that’s probably why they’re on the radio. I think it’s an abomination and I can’t deal with that.

Lucky: We did some shows with Nada Surf… They’re a great band. I love their new album, but it didn’t come out. They got dropped.

I’ve heard people compare the Gravel Pit to Cake, minus the quirkiness they’ve cultivated as a part of their image.
Jed: (starts singing) Those people are dumb, those guys think they’re funny, we’re actually funny…

Ed: I think they’re sort of quirky for quirky’s sake. I mean, they seem like really smart guys, but I think they try too hard.

Jed: Definitely. They seem like college students, which is one thing I like about our band…

Pete, will you please shut up and let someone else talk?
Pete: (starts to drool)

Jed: Well, then there’s this one really messed up guy in our band. He dropped out in sixth grade.

So that helps you to escape the “college-looking guys in a band” stigma.
Pete: Ughhhhh…

Jed: To me, Cake is a band like Too Much Joy. I haven’t heard a lot from them besides their hit so I’m not a huge expert, but I don’t get a sense of a lot of real emotion there – as opposed to… (long pause) us. Musically, a good example of us acting like a band is when we we made “When Will our Bucket Come Up Dry.” I’d based it around a Motown groove, “How Sweet It Is” by Marvin Gaye, and, like, forty other Motown songs with that same groove. When I wrote the progression, it ended up sounding more pop. Lucky added this sort of Johnny Cash thing that makes it sound almost country. Then, when we recorded it, we we tried to pick up the chorus, so we kept bass drum and snare – which is what the Beatles’ did on Rubber Soul – until the chorus where Pete added more percussion. We ended up with this Beatles/country/R&B/pop song, as opposed to what I had written originally as sort of a punk rock pop song.

Which would have been maybe more imitative, as far as the Motown influence.
Jed: Right, everyone, myself included, added something to make it a Gravel Pit song. As opposed to the Lenny Kravitz school where you write Curtis Mayfield songs, Curtis Mayfield lyrics, Curtis Mayfield production, sing like Curtis Mayfield, and then call it “Super Flyer.” What we do is collaborate, adding lots of different things to the stew so that the resulting sound is less direct, musically.

That’s interesting in terms of your image, too. With the Farfisa, the Chamberlain, the clothes, and some of the themes, people use the term “retro,” which doesn’t make sense because you have a very contemporary sound. But if “contemporary” is Matchbox 20, I guess you don’t want that.
Jed: Yeah, well…

Lucky: I don’t know, I guess we’re pretty retro in that the bands we listen to are old bands.

Who do you listen to that affect the guitar parts you write?
Lucky: (pauses) The Scorpions.

I know the only band you guys listen to is Warrant. But only their early stuff…
Lucky: I just try to sound like Rudy Schenker as much as possible.

Who else?
Lucky: (blank look)

OK, fine, I’m not going to make you say it. But y’know you wanna say it…
Lucky: Who?

Randy Rhoads! Duh?!?
Jed: (deadpan) I want to make all our songs sound different, like Randy Rhoads did.

Ed: This guy in Vegas told us that our songs sounded too much the same and we needed to mix it up a little more, try to rock harder. “All of Randy Rhoads’ songs were different sounding,” he said to me.

Jed: I never heard that quote! That’s brilliant. (musing imitatively) “I think I’ll use the same exact distortion on every song.”

Like Mike Ness?
Ed: There it is. Mike Ness, back to haunt us again.

Where does he come up with all those different melodies?
Jed: (ignoring me) I would like to feel more like Stereolab than a band that “rocks” like us. I mean, they couldn’t rock if they tried, but they listen to good old stuff, they bring something new to the table, they make albums instead of CDs full of singles – it’s memorable.

Ed: I’ve asked people why we haven’t really broken yet. Industry people have told me that they listen to The Gravel Pit in their cars, with their wives or their husbands or whatever, and it’s the only band they can agree that they both really like.

You’re finally getting recognized for this record: you’re opening for Cheap Trick, Silver Gorilla has been reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, and now you’re finally getting reviewed in Lollipop. Are you excited about what will come next?
Ed: It’s such a fickle business, we try not to get our hopes up too much. People like us, they like our record, but we can’t get too excited about anything. You never know what’s going to happen.

Jed: I think we’re “sensible” about putting out catchy singles and playing shows… I mean, I don’t want to give the NRBQ interview – we could get signed in two weeks, who knows? I guess it comes down to the fact that I’d rather be the Velvet Underground than Boyz2Men. On the list of rich, famous, and great, being great is the primary goal.
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