Grey Hairs don’t half make a bloody racket. A beautiful bratty racket that puts their name into sharp ironic focus. If this is the sound of getting old and going grey then hand me the fucking zimmer frame and book me into the nearest retirement home.
With the onset of their brilliant debut album Colossal Downer, released through the excellent Gringo Records, I asked Chris from the band a few deep and probing questions about its making and life being grey…
Firstly, I bloody love Colossal Downer, it’s a cracking record. The album was originally intended to be split over two separate EPs – Side A: Man Gulps and Side B: Little Fingers. How was the recording process for the two EPs?
We did 17 songs over two weekends back in 2013 in our practice room, with our friend Ill Tim engineering. It’s a really tiny room so we just did the guitar and drums first and then spent the next year snatching moments here and there to add thousands of overdubs to them, until we were so sick of it (and deaf) we thought we’d better put it out.
We decided we liked 12 of them enough to put out, and then worried that 12 songs is too long for an album. So we decided to think of it as two six-song chunks and it made more sense – in our minds at least.
One of the original album title ideas was Man Gulps & Little Fingers, so that loaned itself to naming and sequencing these two fake EPs.
For those of you who don’t know our drummer Dave – ‘Man Gulps’ refers to the post-work capacity to drain a drink in about two sips whereas ‘Little Fingers’ refers to the vital life-skill of hooking your little finger under your glass in case you have a wobble and drop it.
So Side A is the confident, invincible us and Side B is the confused, wobbly version our friends are most familiar with. 6pm vs midnight / start of gig vs end of gig / ying vs yang / wine bar vs graveyard and so on.
When/why was it decided to join them together to make Colossal Downer?
If we were a much larger, more successful band we might have put the idea of two 10”s to Gringo but the label’s lost enough money on our collective endeavours over the years so you have to take it easy.
But basically, 12 songs take ages to listen to, so we’re just encouraging people to eat it in two sittings if they want to. Although that’s taking more explaining than we maybe anticipated.
The album cover for Colossal Downer is amazing, can you tell us a bit about that?
We were struggling with the cover image for ages – the idea of the Colossal Downer is such a rich, multi-layered thing to us that coming up with a single image to convey this was becoming impossible.
Then a friend of ours (who shall remain nameless for his own dignity) showed us a photo of himself as a child, alone at his own birthday party sometime in the 1980s. It looked exactly how the record sounded to us. It was like a gift from the heavens. Thank you Pawl (oops).
How important is humour to Grey Hairs?
It’s vital – if you’re still playing lowest-rung punk rock in toilet venues at our age you have to have a sense of humour.
The band’s sense of humour is pretty ‘refined’ now but I think beneath that are maybe more serious motivations (not that we ever discuss them).
The desire to be creative (beyond any thoughts of making a living from it) is a political act in my book and it’d be wrong to overlook how our individual day-to-day lives affect how and why we feel compelled to continue to do it.
There’s this expectation now that creative endeavour should operate like a business. So, maybe you take some nice photos or do some drawings for fun and they turn out good – the immediate thought for that creation is to work out how to monetise it and take your impulsive acts and profit from them. Everyone’s a cultural entrepreneur.
In music it feels like there’s an expectation that you should ‘step up your media game’ or be savvier in marketing what you do in a post-internet world to maximise its monetary success.
That pisses me off so much I can’t articulate it without sounding like a crazy person, but it’s why culture is just standing still. We all secretly know things were better before every twat got a smartphone and that’s why we only hold up art made prior to that as being important (and why bands from that time reform constantly and there’s an audience for it). But no-one does anything about it.
I guess you have two options in rebelling against the times we live in and doing things on your own terms – you articulate your anger against it brilliantly (i.e. Sleaford Mods) or you treat it with the level of seriousness it deserves, laugh at the world and get on with the creative endeavours your life urges you to involve yourself in.
So, yeah, humour is important to us but this isn’t a joke.
You’ve all been in/are still active in other bands (Lords, Fists, Cult Of Dom Keller, Fonda 500 and Kogumaza), but how did the band Grey Hairs come about?
2011 was a pretty busy and intense year for my other band (Kogumaza) and we’d toured a fair bit and spent a lot of time recording and I think maybe my brain just wanted to play simple rock guitar for a bit as opposed to playing long, orchestrated pieces of music (though I still love doing that). So I did some really rough demos of ideas and liked them and thought it’d be fun to play them with other people.
I’d known James from Fists for ages (through being a huge fan of that band) and he suggested Dave might be a good drummer (Dave plays bass in Fists too). We then met Bod from Fonda 500 as she moved in near where we all live (all of us live pretty much on the same street) and it seemed the obvious choice. It was definitely more important to have the right personalities in the band rather than all being into the same music.
As soon as we started playing together those demos went out the window and it became a totally different beast to what any of us imagined, but that’s always the best bit with bands. It’s pretty obvious sometimes we’re all playing outside of our comfort zone a bit but that just makes it what it is.
With your separate lives and jobs how easy was it to all get together and play once Grey Hairs had formed, does normal life get in the way?
Very much so. Sometimes it’s impossible. The idea of us touring is so logistically horrific that I think we’ve all just written it off. I get regular anxiety dreams where I’m scouring some unknown land in a splitter van, looking for an AWOL James and I don’t want to make that a reality just yet.
But the way the band sounds almost takes this into account – we rarely practice and we certainly never play songs more than once when we do. Somehow it seems to work, though no one wants to analyse exactly how in case it ruins it.
Grey Hairs in some ways appear to be quite a relaxed band; the Facebook genre description reads ‘Adult Social Club’. How does being in Grey Hairs compare to being in the other bands?
I’m conscious of not playing up to the cliché of the rock band in the boozer but a lot of what we do in the band is basically socialising. In normal bands this’d seem like wasted time but it’s almost like going to the pub and wasting an evening chatting about nonsense is as productive for us as going to the practice room sometimes. The Harry Nilsson covers 7” was certainly a product of this visionary approach.
Do you feel you are better equipped to be in a band now than when you were younger and newer to the ‘business’?
Mentally yes, physically no.
How does that translate into your music?
I think when you’re younger your band is more of an extension of what you want yourself to be. So you cram lots of ideas in and craft and shape the result to represent this idea of yourself.
As you get older you know yourself better perhaps, and feel less pressured to bend what you do to fit anything. You’re also more accommodating of other people’s ideas and it’s not so crucial that the band sounds a particular way. It makes it easier and faster to make music and the results are better – for me, anyway.
Also, from where I’m sitting it looks like – for the first time ever – there might be a generation of young people emerging that are lamer than their parent’s generation. Just more conservative, more passive, less rebellious…
I was watching Kerrang’s Top 100 rock songs for some reason recently and there were tons of young bands I’d never heard of and they all sounded like the Thompson Twins and looked like young Conservatives from the 1980s.
If that’s being young then they can have it. It’s theirs.
How is the Nottingham music scene at the moment? London has seen a lot of alternative venue closures recently, has there been anything similar in Nottingham?
Definitely. There are a couple of fantastic DIY studio-type venues in Nottingham (JT Soar and Stuck On A Name) but once you get above 100 people capacity you’re really stuck for somewhere to play that doesn’t close at 10pm for a club night or cost a lot to hire.
I don’t begrudge those venues doing that at all as they have bills to pay, but right now we have the ‘Creative Quarter’ which is a redevelopment of a part of town that provides cheap rent for creative industries. Sounds great but it’s just going to be the gentrification process: eventually the creative types will be forced out and their spaces turned into apartments. Happens all over the world I’m sure.
It’d be nice if the art and music made in the city that can’t be quantified financially was given the respect it deserves for helping shape and influence the way the city works but like I said, it’s all about monetising creativity and if you’re not interested in that you’re essentially off the radar.
Are there any other bands that you are particularly into at the moment or that had a specific influence on Grey Hairs?
At the moment – Hey Colossus, Drunk In Hell, Monotony, Personnel, Nadir, Lower Slaughter, Mods, The Wharves, Rainbow Grave, Broken Arm, Sloath…
In terms of stuff we keep going back to as a reference – definitely Stick Men With Ray Guns, Link Wray, The Obits (RIP), Jesus Lizard, that weird era of Nirvana where all the songs sounded like different bands, ‘Last Splash’ era Breeders, Billy Childish, The X Rays, The B52s, Roky Erickson, Creedence, Sabbath… the usuals.
Though, more than any other band I’ve been in, we don’t really tend to talk about what our music sounds like or reference other bands. Which is great.
Until we realise we’ve made something that sounds like Suede.
Your live shows are notoriously riotous; how would you describe a typical Grey Hairs gig?
The first 10 minutes are always half decent. Then we get tired. We must be the only band to play songs slower live than in the studio. Someone crowdsurfed in Oxford recently – Oxford.
You’ve played with many other great bands, have you had a favourite recent gig?
Really loved playing with Sleaford Mods a few times recently. Ditto for playing with Hey Colossus. I still think my favourite Hairs gig was really early on when we opened for Flipper and Bod sang ‘Sex Bomb’ with them. It was like a weird gig dream come to life. The drive back from London and work the next morning was more like a nightmare though.
What are the plans for the future?
We have a new bass player: Amy (from Bus Stop Madonnas). She joined last August and straight away it felt like the right thing to do was start writing new songs, so we’re kicking around ten-or-so songs at the moment and when they get done to a standard we’re happy with (i.e. a not very high standard of vague understanding) we’ll record another LP, assuming anyone wants to put it out. Hopefully this one won’t take about eight years. It’s sounding pretty good so far in our collective mind.
But our collective mind is maybe not the most reliable place to be.
And finally has being in Grey Hairs actually given you any grey hairs?
I look like Father Christmas, it’s ridiculous.
I’m not sure it’s all the band’s fault though.
Words: Luke O’Dwyer
Photo: Thom Stone