STANDING ON THE SHOULDER OF GIANTS: THE GRIP WEEDS
By Mike Doktorski
the The Kinks to Oasis to the Stone Temple Pilots, the history
of rock n roll is strewn with bands forged from the unique ties
that bind siblings. New Brunswick's Grip Weeds follow in that
proud tradition. Formed by brothers Rick and Kurt Reil in the
early 90s, the Grip Weeds have since cultivated an avid worldwide
fanbase with their infectious brand of psychedelic pop rock. Just
prior to the release of their fourth CD Giant On The Beach,
the Grip Weeds (Rick,Kurt, guitarist Kristin Pinell, and bassist
Michael Kelly) kindly took the time to share with Night &
Day some thoughts on songwriting, the new album, and all things
How did the current Grip Weeds lineup come together?
Rick and I have been playing together since we were kids; Kristin
was in another band that was in the NYC pop scene in the early
90's. We were looking to toughen up our sound and Kristin was
the natural choice. When she came into the fold, the band's sound
really came together. Michael was the last to join- he just came
in this year- his first shows were tours of Canada and Spain!
It worked out so well we asked him to take part in the new record
we hadn't yet started. The he outdid himself on the new CD!
My entrance into the Grip Weed Circus was when I met them through
mutual friends in the NYC music scene. Their songs had this kind
of cool 60's retro style with a lot of harmonies and 12-string
guitars that I loved. I got to be good buddies with them and went
to a lot of their shows and recording sessions. Rick and Kurt
asked me to play guitar on some of their demos and when they started
making plans for their first album they were looking for some
heavier rock guitar so they asked me to come aboard to replace
a departing guitarist Our current line-up was completed when bassist
Mike Kelly joined us last year. Mike and I had been playing together
in a band called The Rooks. When that band ended we decided to
continue to work together in the Grip Weeds. So here we are.
I'm not gonna bother you with the "where did the name come
from" question- you named yourselves after a character (Pvt.
Gripweed) played by John Lennon in the 60s flick How I Won The
War. And the new album Giant on the Beach evokes in many ways
the sound of Rubber Soul/Revolver-era Beatles (the backwards guitar
solo on Realities...nice!). Does it go without saying that you're
all Fab Four fans? What were you listening to while you were recording
Thanks for the Rubber Soul/Revolver compliment. Those records
are such milestones for us. I don't know that we specifically
set out to sound like the Beatles or those albums in particular
with Giant On The Beach, but you're quite right to detect that
they influence us in general. What those records have going for
them is first, the songwriting of the Beatles, which is impeccable
and probably the best ever in rock
music or maybe all of popular music. Secondly, they created sonic
environments for those songs which were tightly arranged, yet
totally groundbreaking in their creativity and use of experimental
production techniques. That band never tired of pushing the envelope.
And in our way we tried to push our own sonic envelope on Giant
On The Beach. We strove for a greater depth in songwriting, and
worked to make the arrangements more powerful or poignant. We
also wanted to harness our ever-expanding palate of production
techniques. Since we record in our own studio, we are free to
experiment much more than if we were on the clock. Also, without
the benefit (or drawback perhaps) of an outside producer or engineer,
we have to figure out techniques by ourselves, and we used that
on Giant On The Beach. This is the first record on which we used
computer technology, so while we look up to bands like The Beatles
for their creativity and fearlessness in exploring the possibilities
of recording, we don't necessarily try to copy their sounds. We
didn't make this album to sound like anyone in particular, and
we all listen to a lot of different music all the time. But what
does happen is that when we start working on a song, it may suggest
an influence, and then we may check out the song that it reminds
us of. We do this a lot, not to copy, but to get ideas. We might
have listened to The Beatles, but we also checked in on some new
stuff. If you want some names, The Foo Fighters, also Rainbow
Quartz label mates Outrageous Cherry. But overall we were trying
for an evolution of our sound.
We're all Beatles fans. We grew up listening to their music, so
there's probably a thread of their influence in everything we
do, but it's not necessarily a conscious act. It's like a backdrop
that frames our culture and times- the Beatle influence. In making
GOTB, I was listening to a lot of Paul Weller, his more recent
solo stuff. His music encouraged us to get a bit more "out
there" and crank up the intensity level of our recordings.
The Beatles and George Martin, for me are without question, the
ones that set the standard for writing pop music and turning it
into a high-art form. I love all periods with a leaning towards
albums like "Help", "Pepper" and "Hey
Jude". For Giant On The Beach, there certainly was a sound
I was going for on each track and derived ideas from past influences
and used my musical instincts for guidance. For specific reference
ideas I was listening to Jellyfish, The Grays, old Wings albums
and XTC. The sounds on those artist's albums are all on the 'tastefully
vintage' side, but with more modern production, which is what
we were going for.
The songwriting on Giant on the Beach seems pretty evenly divided
between Rick and Kurt. Is there a healthy competition there? Do
you bounce ideas off each other, or do you each take control of
recording your own songs? How would Kurt and Rick describe the
contributions of Kristin and Michael?
There is a healthy competition between Kurt and I in as a much
as we are often impressed by each other's songs and then challenged
to come up with something as good as the other. We work both separately
and together, depending on the song. Sometimes we each come in
with a demo that suggest a good bit of the song structure and
an arrangement. However, there are also collaborations ("Gone
Before"). Kristin and Mike add a lot to the process, particularly
on this record. There were a couple of my songs that I chose not
to make demos of on purpose so that they would become band-arranged.
One was Astral Man, another was Telescope. We kept playing them
in rehearsal and they evolved with every member of the band making
significant contributions to the way it came out. Kristin often
comes up with leads that are breathtaking and take the song into
higher emotional levels, Very compositional, like classical music.
Mike is an extremely talented musician and composer in his own
right, so he added that experience to the recording process. He
varied his approach on bass so extremely from one song to the
next that I like to think of him as being about 5 different bassists
in one. Kurt is a master of harmonies. We tend to think very similarly
in terms of drumming (unfortunately for him, I was originally
a drummer) and we are both recording fanatics. We will study what
so and so producer did on whatever classic record to get "that
drum sound" or guitar tone.
There's definitely a healthy competition there, but it's Ok because
the result is that we both contribute better songs to the Grip
Weeds. We've been writing separately a bit more these days, but
we always bounce songs off each other. "Gone Before"
is one instance where Rick had written part of the song- it was
like a folk song. I thought it could be harder and more dramatic,
and wrote the bridge to give it more drama. Maybe because I'm
a producer I hear songs in my head as finished recordings- I heard
thi song heading in a harder direction, which is how it turned
out. It's great as a songwriter to work with musicians who turn
your songs inside out and figure out what makes them tick. Kristin
and Michal are serious musicians who take the time to create fully
realized parts that elevate the songs to another level.
On this new album I have once again focused almost all my energy
on the guitar work even though I did co-write "Closer To
Love" with Kurt. He and I wanted to create a story with an
early "Hollies" vibe. When I work with Kurt and Rick
on one of their new songs the first thing I need to do is get
inside it and find out where they want to go with it, specific
sounds or instruments they might want to hear. I'll then spend
alot of time working up different guitar lines and parts, playing
off the the song's basic riffs-kind of pulling the song open.
When getting parts ready for Giant On The Beach, the boys would
give me CD demos of material or email my MP3 files of songs with
and without the bass lines. For Kristin's song 'Closer to Love',
she gave me a cassette recording made on a little Radio Shack
tape recorder! Some of the material had some parts pretty well
developed, which I just added to, whether it was further distilling
a good idea or recommending the sound as to which bass and amp
setup to use. With songs with no bass part, I was free to come
up with my own material.Each Reil has a different collaboration
style; Rick leaves all the doors open and will entertain all the
ideas brought to the table, then sifts through and either picks
the one he likes the best, or we construct a new part based on
several ideas resulting in a whole new idea. Kurt is more of a
'director' in that when he wants a specific part, he pretty much
wants that part down, but will swing with other ideas IF you present
a compelling case for it. He also was open to trying new ideas
as was I with regards to trying different basses and amps until
we came up with what we thought was the best part and sound for
the song. All in all, the whole process was intensely creative
and balanced with just the right amount of fistfights and group
How does the experience of writing and recording Giant at your
own studio (House of Vibes) impact the album? Do you ever miss
the objectivity of an outside producer?
We definitely don't miss an outside producer. Unless it's one
of those great producer engineers like Andy Johns or Eddy Kramer,
we would see it as an interference. We have such strong ideas
of what we want to do and I've heard stories of producers wrecking
albums with preconceptions of commerciality that turn out to be
wrong. That said, we would love to have an experienced engineer
sit behind the board and bounce ideas off of. Recording in our
studio is an essential component of our sound. There are musicians
who think they need big budget studios or certain kinds of expertise,
but what I think they don't realize is that the most important
factor (after talent and creativity) is TIME. Many a band have
gone into a big budget studio and have gotten a terrible result
because they had to rush. When you have to rush you can't experiment;
you don't have time to make mistakes and find your own recorded
sound. We're able to get very much the sound we want, especially
on this record because by now we have some engineering skill and
From the very start, the Grip Weeds were a DIY group. Early on
there was no one there to help us and we had no choice, but now
we're very used to handling all aspects of a production. We like
having total control over our sound and presentation- for me,
it's part of the package- equally important to the song itself
is how it's performed and recorded. It keeps things simple to
just handle it all ourselves, and take the risk to rise and fall
solely on your own merits. Recording is like a big experiment-
you never fully know how it's going to turn out- you just kind
of guide the process along and hope for the best. It's something
I enjoy. It's all about working with the right people who understand
your vision. We 'd just prefer at this point to produce ourselves,
but I'm not adverse to someday working with someone to get another
viewpoint on our music. I'd like to work with an engineer though-
that'd take the heat off us! Producing yourself works both sides
of the brain- it's like singing and drumming. That comes naturally
to me, but some people can't understand how I do it. I can't either,
I just don't think about it. Performing and producing at the same
time is similar.
We are so lucky to have our own studio. It allows us incredible
creative freedom and a real opportunity to explore ideas. Most
independently financed bands could never achieve the "major
label" sound that we get out of our basement. It would cost
too much. The amount of hours and detail that went into this recording
is huge. I don't think any of us really wants an outside producer
except to give us some technical pointers. I personally feel very
protective of the sound that we create ourselves and wouldn't
want to give anybody else the control. It is however, sink or
swim....We've learned by our mistakes. At least we seem to be
getting better at it with each release.
This impacts the Grip Weeds in a number of ways. Everyone with
a laptop and a copy of Pro Tools is calling themselves a producer
these days. I think as producers, the Grip Weeds do a great job.
Since we do all the work ourselves, this gives us the time to
be more objective, take steps back and have a look at the overall
progress, and the return to tweak, edit, and re-work if need be.
For me, a producer by definition is someone with expert musical
knowledge and can make a good song great through the process of
hearing the essence of the idea, and honing and polishing that
idea so that it becomes it's clearest possible interpretation.
Certainly musicians like Sting, U2, Peter Gabriel, Sir Paul who
are not just still around playing the 'nostalgia circuit', but
still flourishing as artists with fresh evolving stylistic ways
to express their music, make use of producers so they can just
concentrate on the music itself. I certainly believe the Grip
Weeds would benefit from another set of ears behind the desk for
that reason. Self-producing rarely gives you the chance to get
out of that 'producer-head' mentality, so it would be cool to
run through a part just thinking about the performance without
thinking "Oh, I just got an idea for a keyboard part".
The artwork on Giant depicts a painting of a giant genie gazing
down at the band. Who came up with the artwork and concept?
We all wanted something different and beautiful and fun. The genie
cover painting is a gorgeous powerful image and Kurt's graphic
design work is very cool. I was always really into fabrics, tapestries
and moroccan, middle eastern designs and colors. We were able
to incorporate all that into the artwork. We scanned our clothes,
our pillows...the photo shoot for the CD is my bedroom!
Kristin came up with the idea. It can be interpreted in many ways,
which is what attracted me to it- one way to look at it is that
the genie represents our music, which we conjured up collectively
and it's bigger than all of us. In any case, it's something we
haven't done before- it's certainly different from our other covers.
We didn't want something safe and obvious- we wanted to challenge
ourselves and the audience.
The idea for the Genie came specifically from Kristin, but the
whole band jumped on it. We had a meeting at Mike's apartment
one night and he served up some kind of intoxicating beverage,
and it all took off from there. We really wanted something different
for this cover, not just a picture of the band or something that
looked too much like the last one. The image of the Genie struck
us as outrageous. There's a lot you could read into it. I find
it to be an image of power, of unleashing huge creative forces
and of wishes that will be granted. Of course, feel free to come
up with your own interpretation. That's part of the fun.
Well, the image of the cover certainly has evolved to all kinds
of symbolism that means different things to different people,
but hey, here's the truth. All of us sat in my living room one
afternoon and started charting out ideas for the cover of the
album, the website and all things Grip Weed. I broke out the beer
and bourbon, and the ideas were flowing all over the place, just
like the beer. Then Kristin says "we should call it 'Giant
On The Beach', and then Rick says "yeah, that's cool, I love
that". I say "Hmmm
that certainly conjures up some
cool imagery". Kurt says "I don 't know, Giant On The
Beach?". It was Kristin's idea, bless her little rockin'
Has the band members' involvement in various side projects over
the years informed the work of the band? Or are side projects
and the Grip Weeds deliberately kept separate and distinct? Does
the experience of producing other bands (at House of Vibes) impact
the work of the Grip Weeds?
When we produce other people, we work very closely and almost
become members of the band- that gives us a perspective on their
working methods, and sometimes it's influenced us to do things
differently or try other ways of working that we wouldn't have
thought of before. It's an added benefit of doing production work.
It's similar with the side projects: Occasionally, I work with
Jim Babjak and Dennis Diken from the Smithereens in Buzzed Meg.
We play mostly Jim's songs and I'm the front man- that's different
for me, having spent most of my time behind the drums. For one
thing, it's made me a better guitarist, which directly impacts
the type of songs I'm capable of writing.
Side projects enrich the sound of the band, especially if they
involve working with bands that don't sound like the Grip Weeds.
I find that working outside of the band allows me to work in different
ways in o things that I might not have thought to do. Kurt and
I have done production sessions with other bands who work differently
from us, and we learned a lot of useful things from them. We were
also forced to develop some of our studio skills more quickly
because when we produce bands, THEY are on the clock and we have
to make them sound great quickly. Of course, they benefit from
techniques we worked out more laboriously in Grip Weeds sessions,
so its beneficial for everybody. One of my side projects is a
group called The Wyld Olde Souls which is much more acoustic than
the Grip Weeds and features two female singer songwriters. I have
approached this situation much differently than The Grip Weeds,
yet what I learned in that project I was able to apply to Grip
We all continually work with other musicians. It keeps us fresh
and interested. The Grip Weeds right now are a huge job and very
time-consuming. It's taken all of my focus.
As far as side-projects are concerned, I can say that the Grip
Weeds have certainly enhanced my side projects in terms of live
performance and new musical ideas I can bring to the table. The
Grip Weeds certainly have a very genre-specific style heavily
influenced by a literal who's WHO of rock. This benefit works
both ways as my side project influences and musical choices are
now part of the Grip Weeds evolving musical palette. I constantly
strive for higher musical challenges through my works in jazz
and orchestral writing, and certainly these factors manifest themselves
in my playing, which then of course show up on Grip Weeds CDs,
just don't tell the band I was going for that Charles Mingus vibe
So what's next for the Grip Weeds? What are your plans around
the new album? Will you be touring?
We will concentrate on promoting Giant On The Beach. Specifically,
we have not yet learned how to play the whole album, which I would
like to do. I don't mind "resting" some of the older
material to concentrate on the new stuff. Its very challenging
and for me its where the development of the band is. I would also
like to see this record break us to a wider audience. It would
be good for the band to be able to play a longer show at a bigger
venue, maybe with a little production value in the show. We have
a sizeable catalog of songs now, many in different styles and
sometimes the club gigs can be limited in what you can play.
After the new year we will be doing more live shows and our record
label, Rainbow Quartz will be releasing the CD worldwide. We are
currently working on shooting a video and building our website.
There is talk of going to Japan and Europe which I am really looking
Yes, touring here and in Europe and probably Japan in 2005. The
label wants us to get out and promote this album- we plan to stand
behind- or below- our genie!
Wow, it's been such a wild year for me. Each move towards what
we are trying to achieve just gets bigger and bigger. Gigantic
things will be happening, be careful for what you wish for!
a listing of upcoming shows and to purchase a copy of Giant
On The Beach, goto GripWeeds.com.