Nowhere Under (Grindstone's Web Site)
By: Alex Steininger
"You might want to place the microphone over there. I can talk really loud. And, well, Chris is soft-spoken but he's the genius of the group. His most famous quote is, 'turn around, unless you want to feel small.' That's when he's dressing, putting on his swimsuit, taking a shower, or whatever," explains Grindstone frontman Lamar Stilwell on guitarist Chris Hyde. "He gives you fair warning though, which is good, because I don't want to be belittled."
So goes the beginning of my interview with Portland, Oregon's Grindstone, a tough, groove-induced hard rock act that loves to joke around, but also has a very serious side, as is shown throughout their music. Or, for that matter, any conversation with them pertaining to their music.
On their 1998 self-released, self-titled album, these four guys known as Grindstone were still growing into both their sound and the collective responsibilities of a band. And with that album under their belts and a growing fan base earned the hard way - hand-billing, postering the town, advertisements in local rags, and show after show - the band is able to give their audience a piece of work that proves they have indeed grown over the past few years. That album is the self-released NOWHERE UNDER.
Of course, growing into your own sound and finding yourself as a band can be a very challenging, yet rewarding experience. Just ask Lamar, the man who has grown sick of comparisons to Alice in Chains' Layne Stanley, which seemed to dog them throughout their marketing campaign of their debut. So sick, in fact, that the first thing Lamar did when hitting the studio to record NOWHERE UNDER was to ask house engineer Sean Norton to not make him sound like Layne.
"It's what Sean, our producer, did. He drilled me. He made me clear up a bit. I guess the Alice in Chains sound is a bit more nasal-y; so, he got it to be clearer," says Lamar with an eager smile. "By the end of the day, my head hurt. He drilled me. Screaming is easy, the hardest thing to do is the softer parts. You can be Slayer if you can scream."
"We knew we wanted to make this record above and beyond the last one," furthers guitarist Chris Hyde. "We were really stoked to have Sean engineer us; to have this objective ear really excited us. Last time our engineer spent as much time trying to figure out how to work the equipment as he did recording us."
And it shows. "Changes" finds the band toning it down a bit as they delve into the acoustic realm, applying their groove-centric style without roaring guitars or screaming. Then there is "Wired," the band's further exploration of another musical style, industrial.
"Rob Daiker from Slow Rush (formerly Generator), who is signed to Epic, helped with digital editing and programming on our techno/industrial track, 'Wired,'" Lamar explains. "I went over to Chris' house; he's got a groove box, because he's in to KMFDM and all that stuff, and we wrote "Wired." Who knows, that may be the direction we go in the future?"
With a no-Layne sound etched into the mind of the engineer, the band's growth is very evident in their songwriting and ability to work as a unit. And, with interest in expanding their sound past their first album, it seems the band is truly happy with their new album and can't wait to show it off to the world.
"I think this album is a lot more mature; we're refining our sound. Travis, our drummer, even wrote some guitar riffs for the album and everyone shared writing on it. We haven't had a line-up change in three years. So, I think we're growing as a band," comments Lamar on the differences between the first album and NOWHERE UNDER. "Godsmack's out and Creed already has a second album. Everyone's washed up. It's a good album [the first one], but I want to move on. I like the first album, but I don't want to play on it anymore. We played those songs for three years. We've grown. I think the new album is a lot better and more people will buy it."
Adds Chris, "On the first album, Lamar had his songs and we had ours. The new album [Nowhere Under] is a collaboration."
When asked about their expectations of this album compared to the expectations of the last, bassist Tony Miller is quick to throw out the idea that, "It's pretty much all you can shoot for, is to get better every time." And they've managed to do that on NOWHERE UNDER.
Though, no matter what they do, the band knows they're going to get compared to someone. "I think we're steering away from Alice in Chains on this album and will probably be compared to Tool. But that is just the way it goes," points out Lamar.
Lamar, a man who knows the need for business to succeed in music, has spent his time in shitty hole-in-the-walls and venues that treat the bands like third rate citizens. But, no matter what the situation may be, he has always walked away with something - mainly knowledge - which will help him in the future.
"It's like NxNW. People whine and bitch about it. But, you know what? I came from the Hollywood, California scene and I paid to play. Cry, cry, cry all you want. I fucking welcome Portland's openness to play. Fuck, they're paying us to play. It's capitalism at work," explains Lamar when asked what he thinks about musicians' negative attitude to business in music compared to his forward business approach.
"We've got a lot of money tied up in this album. We went to Falcon Studies, one of the best studios in town. Then we went to Bernie Grundman Mastering, which does Blink 182, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy Dog. And NAIL [Manufacturing and Distribution] did the artwork and manufacturing. So, hopefully people will recognize the professionalism of this album and buy it," furthers Lamar on their business mindset for this album.
Of course, with a business-driven band who knows how to play the game and go after what they want, and a new album hot off the presses to promote, you'd assume labels would have taken notice. And, with the excitement of the band and fans regarding the new album, they have, as Lamar will modestly tell you: "They're just nibbling now. We just got our first record contract offered to us - $60,000 and a tour bus. But, we'll just wait for the right deal to come along."
But, what do they hope to get - besides riches and stardom - out of the new album?
"I hope we carve our niche into the music industry. Though, we can't expect anything, we just gotta see what happens," states Chris Hyde.
"I want people to go, 'Where'd Layne go?'" jokes Lamar. "I've talked to fans who've said, 'No offense, the first album rocks, but the new album kicks its ass.' We just want people to get into it and respect us for what we're doing."