April 2, 2015
Overcoming conflict is the theme of the Grip Weeds' newest album
DATE POSTED: Thursday, April 2, 2015 12:26 PM EDT
By Hank Kalet
THE Grip Weeds’ new record, How I Won the War, opens appropriately enough with the sound of distant gunfire, before an aggressive guitar breaks in, over military-style drumming and an air-raid signal.
It is a warning of what is to come. A concept album, How I Won the War, explores themes of conflict and it does so with the band’s trademark guitar-driven, melodic but muscular pop. Much of what the listener has come to expect on the band’s first five studio recordings is here, but there is a new urgency born from the fires of internal discord.
Kurt Reil, the band’s drummer and founding member along with his brother Rick, says the band “stared down” a potential breakup, triggered when longtime bassist Michael Kelly left. The family connections — Kurt’s wife, lead guitarist Kristen Pinell, is also in the band — exacerbated some of the tensions, while also acting as a safety net that ultimately allowed the band to continue.
”What it amounts to, when dealing with conflict, if want to win you have to find a way to stop,” Kurt Reil said. “You have to find a way to reconcile or destroy. And the option of reconciling was very appealing and attractive to us.”
The result is How I Won the War, which will be released on April 7, with a record-release party and show to follow on April 10 at the Record Collector in Bordentown.
The record’s title carries a lot of weight. Fans of the Grip Weeds will get the reference — it is the title of an obscure and, as Mr. Reil says, not very good 1967 film directed by Richard Lester and starring John Lennon. Lennon’s character in the film, Musketeer Gripweed, gives the band its name.
The title was, Mr. Reil said, “kind of the elephant in the room” for the band for a long time.
”It was around but we never thought to use it,” he says. “It seems kind of obvious now.”
The band decided to use the title — because it was a “good publicity angle for the album,” but more importantly because “we had been going through some struggles and turmoil in the band.” The band was looking “at the world through conflict” and decided to write about it.
The record has nothing to do with the movie, aside from sharing a title. It is, as Reil says, an album of conflict and resolution, a metaphorical journey through a rough patch in the band’s 20-plus-year history.
”The title of the album became a rallying cry,” he says. “When we were going through our problems, I would say ‘We are going to win the war. We just have to find out how.’”
The record bristles with energy. Starting with the powerhouse opener with its allusive use of war imagery — is it a song about battle or a crumbing relationship, and does it matter? — the record is a roller-coaster of discord, the songs exploring political, environmental and emotional strife. And yet, even as the lyrics portray relationships fraying at the seams, the center holds, thanks to the band’s trademark harmonies, Mr. Reil’s propulsive drumming and Dave DeSantis’ steadying bass.
Ultimately, conflict is only the means through which the album’s true theme emerges — something hinted at from the beginning, as the band sings “sound and light inner theater.” The “light inner” comes back, flipped on its head at the end, as the band closes with The Beatles’ “The Inner Light” and the finds a way to rise above the hostilities.
This closing, however, was an accident, Mr. Reil says. The band had recorded the song, but hadn’t planned on using it. That changed when Marty Scott, president of the band’s label, JEM Recordings, heard it.
”He listened and he said ‘That has to be on the record,’” Mr. Reil says.
He adds that musically, Mr. Scott thought it was a perfect fit, and he also thought the cover image — a photo of Gripweed with a bright light emanating from the center of the frame — made it a perfect fit.
”It made sense to put it at the end of the album,” Mr. Reil says. “It was almost like a journey through conflict of whatever kind: military, environmental, war on the environment, man at odds with fill-in-the-blank — that creates the conflict. The album is concerned with that, but we put ‘The Inner Light’ at the end of record because it seemed to be the resolution of the conflict.”
Strife is inevitable, to a degree, he says, especially when you work with “who you have strong family relationships with.” Plus, when a band is around a long time, he says, “people start going in different directions and you get distracted, you change your priorities, and things happen that make you reassess the path you’re taking.”
In the end, the band members decided that the Grip Weeds were a creative priority. “It is not a static thing,” he says. “It is a living and breathing entity that needs to be nurtured. Relationships need to be nurtured. The creative aspect has to be nurtured.”
The Grip Weeds will present a record-release concert and party at The Record Collector, 358 Farnsworth Ave., Bordentown, April 10, 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $15, $12 advance. For tickets and information, go to www.the-record-collector.com or call 609-324-0880.