Interview: They Grieve
The idea of taking something that I've written and then thinking it's not quite right, picking it apart, rewriting it, that aspect was very difficult...It's something I didn't really have experience with previously. It was both a difficult and rewarding experience.
Ottawa’s doom, sludge metal scene has a few notable bands and They Grieve is one of them. They recently released their long awaited album, To Which I Bore Witness, via Silent Pendulum Records, the follow up to their debut album, I Made My Sacrifice Accordingly. Adriana caught up with They Grieve vocalist and guitarist Gary Thibert, and he told us all about the new record, its creation and more.
E&D: Before we get to the new album, I wanted to ask a few questions about the band and how They Grieve got started. For those who don’t know, how did the both of you meet? Were you friends first?
Gary: I believe I met Deniz at an Alaskan show that I was putting on in my basement. I think if I remember correctly, it was Deniz’s first basement show. He was very curious and, you know, bugging everybody about what was going on. I think that’s the first time I met Deniz. I don’t really remember how we became friends. I think it was just going to shows and just seeing him at shows after that.
We did collaborate on projects previously, before They Grieve. Deniz also filled in as the drummer for Alaskan for the last run of shows that we did. So yeah, yes, we were definitely friends before They Grieve.
E&D: Was it always the intention to play doom music and what/who inspired the interest in this genre?
Gary: No, it wasn’t always the intention. I think when we first started practicing together, or when we first decided to try to play music together, in a new setting, we actually tried doing more drone based music. The idea was to actually try to do more of a minimalist kind of post-rock project initially. Then, I think I had some riffs that wouldn’t quite work for Alaskan so I showed Deniz and we just started jamming. I was like, well, I guess we’re gonna go this way with this. I think I’ve always been into heavier music and I think I just wanted to try something a little slower, something with a little more breathing room in between chords compared to what I did with Alaskan. I wanted to shift into a different direction and just do something a little different.
E&D: I always wondered about your band name and how it came to be. I was surprised to read that it was thought up in a rush after you were asked to open for your friends in the band Greber. Looking back, did you know then that your music would continue to center around the theme of grief and all it encompasses?
Gary: I don’t know, I don’t think so. Actually, I don’t think that grief and depression and stuff like that were really, consciously, the basis for the music beforehand. I think even just the first few songs we wrote, it just kind of was whatever came out for us. So yeah, we were running with the riffs that we wrote, we hit the ground running and just kind of spewed out whatever we could. So I don’t think there was really that basis. I think when that idea really started to take shape was probably when we started writing the lyrics for the first EP, which were, you know, very loosely based on the concept in Timothy Findley’s novel, Pilgrim, which deals with some really heavy, heavy subjects. But I think I personally was more drawn to the more depressing passages and stuff like that in that book. And, because of that, I would share those with Deniz. And through that we kind of came up with the overarching concept for the first EP, and I think that’s the first time we consciously decided that there was going to be this focus on those themes. And then, I mean, obviously, our band is so centered around our own friendship as well and the conversations that we have with each other about our own depression, and our own grief and our own insecurities and stuff. So it just kind of naturally started to encompass the music.
E&D: On February 24th, you released your second album To Which I Bore Witness via Silent Pendulum Records. I know that it’s been a hard road to get to this point with the pandemic throwing a wrench in things. First, I want to congratulate you both on this incredible release. I Made My Sacrifice Accordingly is a favorite of mine but I think that with To Which I Bore Witness you’ve both reached a different plane. One can tell that you’ve poured all of yourselves in the writing process, it’s quite an emotional listening experience. Can you tell us a bit about the journey of this album and the writing process?
Gary: Yeah, well, I guess, first of all, thank you! I mean, I still find it really surprising that so many people still actively listen to our first EP, I Made My Sacrifice Accordingly. I mean, there are parts of that album that I’m really really proud of. There’s parts that I’m, you know, a little embarrassed, but yeah, I think for us, we really wanted to get something out there for people to listen to. And I don’t think we expected for the next thing to take, you know, so long for us to release.
I appreciate that you noticed the progression and I think that for us was really important. There is, to us, an obvious progression in not just in the production quality of the album, but also in the writing. In the song structure in the, you know, more moving, emotional passages. The intent of each song seems more focused, and the intent overall of the album, I think, feels more focused. So it’s nice to hear that people are picking up on that.
You’re not the first person, and hopefully not the last person, to say that it’s an emotional experience to listen to. I agree. It was a very emotional experience to write. It’s an emotional experience to record and to perform. The journey of writing songs was hard on its own then add the fact that we both have our own personal things going on at the same time…it was a difficult process. I mean, even just growing as a songwriter was also a difficult process. The idea of taking something that I’ve written and then thinking it’s not quite right, and then to just kind of pick it apart, and then rewrite, that aspect was very difficult as well. It’s something I didn’t really have experience with previously. It was both a difficult and rewarding experience. Hope that kind of answers your question.
E&D: This was They Grieve’s first time recording with the incredible Topon Das at the legendary Apartment 2. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
Gary: It was the first time They Grieve recorded with Topon, but I’ve recorded with Topon on numerous times with Alaskan and with a couple other projects as well. Alaskan recorded most of our albums with Topon. I was in a pop punk band called Hamilton for a while and we recorded with Topon as well. I’ve known him for a really long time and he’s incredible to work with because he’s just so easygoing, he makes it such a nice and, and calm kind of working environment. You really do feel like there’s very little pressure put on, to kind of nail things. But he’s also really good at, you know, suggesting creative solutions to problems and creative ways of capturing what we’re trying to do. Yeah, I can’t say enough positive things about working with Topon.
E&D: In reading about each of the tracks you shared that you’ve “…had many conversations about succumbing to depression-about how the ugliness and trauma we see in the world sets itself to work inside of us as individuals, plants its roots in us, and decays from without to within.” That is a succinct view of the world today, as seen by many, including myself. This is why it struck me very hard when I read it. How has the writing process for this record helped in hopefully lifting you both out of the depression and into a better place?
Gary: I’m speaking for myself. I don’t want to speak for Deniz, and this sounds like such a bummer, but I don’t know if that’s really possible for me to be kind of lifted out of those things. I mean, I’m not, you know, just sad and depressed all the time. But that’s just kind of the way that I exist. I will say that obviously writing music is a huge therapeutic thing for me. Also, the practice of going to a specific space and being with Deniz and talking and expressing ourselves in this way, is also a big a big part of that. I think those moments are my better place, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. Also performing, I find performing very therapeutic. I think I’ve mentioned that in a few interviews now. The release of performing these pieces has always been very helpful for me and even just band practice, just going through the motions of performing these songs is a big, dopamine rush. I guess those specific moments are my better place, I guess.
E&D: I remember the last time I saw you was at Pressed at one of the last shows I put together before the pandemic hit. At that time you had told me about the new album. I believe it might have been set to release in 2020. I then read that you had scrapped and then re-written most of it. Did the pandemic play a huge part in the decision to start again with this release? If the pandemic didn’t happen, do you think you would have done that?
Gary: Um, no, I think by that time, when we were probably discussing the album, I think the album was ready to be recorded, we were just doing like pre production recordings and I think we were a little anxious about taking that leap to actually record. So we really wanted to make sure that we were 100% satisfied with what we were going to be putting out. But all of the stuff that we’ve discussed in interviews, where we’ve rewritten the songs that happened prior to the pandemic, really, the only thing that really slowed down with the pandemic was the recording process itself. You know, that first year was when we were supposed to start recording, we had to push it back a little bit. Then, just due to our own schedules, and stuff, we did have to kind of space out recording quite a bit. I mean, we were lucky because we’re a two piece band so it was really easy to just be like, you know, there’s only three of us in this room, we can wear masks the whole time during recording, it’s not that big of a deal. There’s no one here that doesn’t really need to be here, because there’s only two of us. So I think the pandemic kind of slowed down the recording process. Then the mixing process got slowed down as well just from Fuck the Facts releasing a record and stuff like that. And then the release process got slowed down just because it was really difficult for us to find a label. I guess it was kind of a weird time to be shopping around music in the first place. Who wants to drop 1000s of dollars on pressing vinyl for a band when we don’t even know when shows are going to happen again. So those things were definitely affected. But no, all those rewrites, that was prior to 2020, prior to the pandemic. l think the album would be pretty much the same because we had already written the versions of the songs that are now on the album.
E&D: Will you be touring in support of the release?
Gary: Hopefully, we will be doing some touring. I mean, early March, we are doing a small run of shows in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). In April, we’re hoping to do some shows in Quebec as well. More information coming on that hopefully soon. Besides that we don’t have anything booked right now. I mean, I imagine probably closer to the end of the year, we’ll probably be going back to both those places and we’re going to look into bigger and farther tours as well. I don’t know, we’ll see.
E&D: Lastly, what’s next for They Grieve?
Gary: We’re currently working on an accompaniment EP to the album, that’ll just be passages from the album that we turn into drone pieces. We kind of have a rough idea of the parts that we’re going to use now. We’ve kind of been working through those drone pieces. We’re doing this as more of an exercise for ourselves, as like a writing exercise because we really want to focus on improving our drone pieces for future stuff. We have also been working on some new songs, some new heavy songs as well. So we have two new songs that we’re working on but I can’t imagine that those will be ready for anyone to hear for quite some time, but we’re still writing music. That’s the first thing for sure. And then, hopefully, some bigger tours. We haven’t really talked about logistics yet but we are hoping sometime in the near future to possibly reach out to some booker’s in Europe. We’ll see how that shapes up. No immediate plans, but that’s the goal.
(Photo credit: Nick Shaw)