The Bend Before the Break (Revelation)
An interview with guitarists/vocalists Joe Grillo and Ed McNamara over coffee in Allston rock city.
by Tim Den
Who does your booking?
Joe: We do.
Ed: Locally, we do. We’ve worked with a couple of people as far as nationals and long weekends.
But you haven’t been picked up by an agent?
Joe: We’re talking to somebody right now, but he’s not a “booking agent” like the ones you usually think of. Because we play venues of a smaller scale – not big clubs with high guarantees – he’s someone more like us who happens to have some contacts and just calls up to book shows because we don’t have the time to do it.
So there’s none of that “I’ll pick you up but only if you can make me money” attitude?
Joe: No. It’s more like a grassroots thing. He’s doing it because he loves to do it; the same reason why we’re playing music.
How are you guys doing in terms of booking? When you guys call up and say “Garrison wants to do a show…”
Ed: (joking) People jump all over that. They’re like “what do you need?”
Joe: (laughs) Cocaine…
Ed: Then we pull out a huge list. “All the Jell-o we can eat… no, just pure gelatin.”
No brown M&Ms, of course.
Joe: No brown M&MS.
Ed: Do you know what gelatin is really made of?
Joe: What? Cow bones, right?
Ed: No, you’d think it’s cow bones, but that’s tame. My friend Leslie went on this tour of a gelatin factory, and all they saw was blood, guts, and skins. Pig skins, cow skins: skins. They put all this stuff in a big vat. They boil the fuck out of it, treat it with all these chemicals until it binds the fat in certain ingredients and rises up to be this foamy mass.
Joe: Well, that’s the glue that holds the cells together.
Ed: She said it was so dirty. She never ate Jell-o again. It’s skins, dude.
Are you both vegetarian?
Joe and Ed: Yes.
Ed: For me, being vegetarian is not a political choice. There’s stuff that comes with it, like finding out more about how being a vegetarian uses up less of the Earth’s resources, which is cool. It’s an added bonus. But I don’t eat meat because – it was a very gradual thing – it just made me sick. It didn’t sit with my stomach.
Joe: I was really ill for a while in high school, around tenth grade. For about a year and a half I didn’t know what it was. My diet consisted of lettuce and dried toast. I learned to not go back to eating meat.
How old are you?
Ed: Old enough to know better.
Ed: You’re gonna have to pretend.
C’mon, cough it up.
Joe: That’s why people compare us to The Get Up Kids.
Ed: Why, because we’re young?
Joe: No, because you drop their lyrics, pal.
Ed: (stumbling) What? That’s… that’s not… that’s a well-worn saying! That’s not just their lyrics! I don’t even listen to them.
People compare you to The Get Up Kids?
Joe and Ed: All the time.
That’s fucked up.
Joe: Yeah. It’s weird.
Ed: I’m glad someone thinks so.
So anyway… How old are you?
Ed: I’m… do I really have to say my age?
Yes, now come on!
Ed: Uh… I’m 18. Ha ha.
Ed: I want to be 18.
Hey, I read the bio alright!
Joe: He’s 25.
Ed: You’re such an asshole.
Ed: Can you put that I’m 21? Then everyone will think I’m 21. Okay, at least that I just turned 25.
Okay. I’ll put you just turned 25.
Joe: Just turned 25 six months ago.
Ed: (ignoring Joe) C’mon, I’ll by you a drink…
The bio says you grew up together. Where are you from?
Ed: We grew up in a suburb of Worcester called Shrewsbury. I used to be able to walk up the street from my house, get on a bus, and be in Worcester in fifteen minutes. Once I discovered that, that’s what I did.
Joe: Yeah. The Mecca of Worcester.
Joe, when did you move to New Hampshire?
Joe: I moved to New Hampshire for school, so I lived up there for four years during school and a year after to work and hang out.
When did you both move to Boston?
Ed: He moved here little over two years ago. I’ve been here a year and a half.
How do you like it?
Ed: I think Boston’s great. I mean, I lived in Worcester for five years. I think it’s important for people, while they’re young, to move every five years or so if there’s nothing keeping you. It’s good for your brain. You receive so much more input for your brain.
Joe: Just a lot more perspective on life. You get more challenges by not being lazy and not being like “okay, this is my group of friends” and “this is where I work.” You’re not stuck in routine.
Ed: From doing The Space (an all-ages venue in Worcester that Ed helped found) I knew a lot of people from Boston, just from booking shows. I’ve been coming to Boston since I was a little kid because my brother and sister live here, and I’ve just always loved Boston. So moving here wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was mostly that I finally moved. It took me a while, but after everyone I knew moved to Boston, I had to. Also, the opportunities for a band in Worcester that’s doing what we’re doing are nil. I mean, there’re places like The Space that are really cool, and there are certain crowds of people that’re into what we’re trying to do…
Joe: There’re just a lot more people around here who’re interested in independent music in general. Be it metal, hardcore, June Of 44 stuff, pop music… right across the board.
I heard The Space just got shut down.
Ed: Just recently. It should be up and running again in a few months.
Joe: I talked to Dan (another partner in The Space) a couple of days ago, and he said things look pretty good. The city actually wants to bring workers in (The Space is a non-profit organization).
Ed: That’s the cool thing about Worcester. The city government is actually behind The Space and all-ages venues. They’re really trying to get behind the art community. Okay, it’s a messed-up city, but it’s like an uncut gem. I mean, I spent a lot of time investing myself into that city. It has a huge place in my heart. I just had to move to pursue other things.
Everything seems small compared to Boston these days. It seems like every band here is either signed or getting there.
Ed: I think it’s capping off at this point. I think it’s reached its peak.
Joe: I mean, we got signed, you know? It’s definitely capping off (laughs).
Ed: Yeah, it’s crazy, but Boston is definitely the place to be right now. It has been for quite a while.
But all of a sudden, everyone was signed.
Ed: Well, it became the hot spot. Cave-In and Converge started doing really well. Cave-In… let me just go on record and say Cave-In is probably one of the most amazing bands to come out of the independent music scene in years. They’re the first band that’s excited me in a long time.
Joe: All those bands, Converge in particular, have been battling it out for almost ten years. They’ve really established a name. Even people who aren’t into metal: if they’re going to own one metal/hardcore record, it’s going to be Converge. Because it really doesn’t get any better as far as aggressive music goes. I think bands like them have a lot to do with the scene being so alive. The straight-edge hardcore bands as well.
Ed: You gotta think: you have Cave-In, Converge, Ten Yard Fight, In My Eyes, Fastbreak, Reach The Sky, Bane, Karate, Piebald, The Sheila Divine, The Wicked Farleys, The Vehicle Birth for a while… it goes on and on and on.
Joe: I think the best part of the Boston scene is that it’s big enough that there’re a lot of kids for every genre, but it’s small enough that everybody can still support one another. You’ll see a lot of the same people at a Converge show as at a Piebald show.
I went to see The Supersuckers and The Hellacopters the other night, and the place was packed. But I hadn’t seen any of these people at another show before. So just when you think you’ve seen everybody in the scene, there’s a whole other genre that has an entire audience all its own. I went to see Jason Falkner, and it was the same situation.
Joe: Because there’s also the college contingency.
Ed: I think a lot of kids have chosen to come to college here because of the music scene. But the thing that sucks about Boston is that there’re no all-ages venues. Unless you play halls, but every hall gets shut down after every show.
Or you have to pay a lot of money to rent it out in the first place.
Joe: What’s happening is that because all-ages shows are so few and far between, you put on an all-ages show in downtown Boston with bands of any notoriety, and it’s packed. It’s over-capacity. Let’s say 900 kids show up. At least two of them are going to be assholes and spray something. So whoever owns the hall – a church or something – doesn’t want the hassle anymore. They don’t want to deal with cops telling them “Hey there’re 900 kids on the streets.” So the place shuts down and the shows move to the next hall. I can’t tell you how many places in the past year have shut down after just one or two shows.
Ed: It’s hard also because it disrupts the community of musicians – they don’t have a place to just go and hang. It’s really important to have a place – maybe not even to check out a show – to just hang. I understand why it can’t happen in Boston: it’s way too expensive. In order to open an all-ages place here, you’d have to either do it completely illegally or have money up the walls. Not only is it going to cost a mint to get a place, stock it with a PA and all that, but your insurance is gonna be through the roof because of previous incidents.
What did you guys grow up listening to?
Joe: ’80s alternative, post-modern, “120 Minutes”… The Cure, The Pixies, Psychedelic Furs, Operation Ivy…
Ed: Early R.E.M.; anything before Green. I still, and always will, love Elvis Costello. I started listening to him when I was really young, and he’s one of the people that I always come back to.
Joe: My Bloody Valentine…
Ed: Public Enemy, Urban Dance Squad, then Fugazi, and Jane’s Addiction. All my friends went through a metal phase, so I got into some, like Metallica, by osmosis. But I was more into The Beatles and definitely doing more of the “art fag” thing. But around ’92-’93, there was this explosion of indie rock that was forgotten and not discovered ’til years later. Amazing bands like Bitch Magnet, Slint, Rodan, Don Caballero, Drive Like Jehu…
Joe: I think, for both of us, Bitch Magnet really was it. It’s like “There’s the music I didn’t know I always wanted to make.”
So how would you describe yourselves, now that you’ve listed all your influences?
Joe: We’re a rock band. Honestly, it’s rock music and it draws on a bunch of different things. How can you escape being a rock band with two guitars, a bass, and drums? And we play through Marshalls, so we must be rock.
Ed: We consciously try to write songs. A pop song to us is a Jawbox song. We try to write good rock songs that’re interesting in some way. Lyrically honest, interesting, not always coming from the same perspective. We work hard at trying to craft good songs. Out of everything I listen to, I really enjoy a good song.
Joe: You know how before you knew how to play, before you even touched an instrument, certain songs moved you? It was before you learned to listen for the guitars or the drum parts, something just moved you. We try to be conscious of that.