The Grip Weeds
A Good Vibe Goin'
story & interview by Pat Pierson
Amongst countless pop bands out there who worship The Beatles and the '60s-- and believe me, there's a lot-- only a rare few do it right and do it well. The Grip Weeds, formed by brothers Kurt and Rick Reil, started off in positive enough fashion by starting their own label (Ground Up) and recording their own records in their home studio. In the early '90s they hooked up with the German label Twang!, who released their early singles and first full length album, House of Vibes (named after the studio). Over the years band personnel would change. Kristin Pinell, of The Rooks (of whom she still is a member) became the band's guitarist circa 1993 and by 1997 the band would finally find the "bass" and record label happiness in Michael Nattboy and Buy or Die records. This line up, along with the band's new pad and studio set up, seems to have breathed life into their recordings and live performances.
Upon the eve of the band's second full-length release, The Sound Is In You (Buy or Die), the band flew out west to debut the material at LA's second pop festival, International Pop Overthrow. Now sure, this was an event that seemed like an obvious win-win set up. You now, play on a bill during a week when everyone in the world who loves great pop is out there. Well, the truth is, with these festivals it's not as easy as showing up in your Beatle boots and singing "la-la-las" with Rickenbackers, which, counting the Grip Weeds, a hefty amount of the acts do. If that was the case, I wouldn't have remembered the amazing set the Grip Weeds put on. It didn't make things any easier when you take into consideration that their slot was in between such highly esteemed artists like Dramarama's John Easdale and x-Jellyfish/Grays dude, Jason Falkner. Yeah, that's right.
So the place was packed, and the band's set was perfectly timed to impress the now overflowing club. I just wasn't ready for what happened. Out of nowhere came The Sound Is In You's opening cut, "In Waking Dreams" live and explosive with Kurt Reil's Keith Moon-ish fills and the band's quasi-psychedelic pop sound. I had seen them once before, but that was a night when Kristin was under the weather, and the crowd was barely alive. This was a magic night. And the band did everything you wished pop bands would do: they rocked, they kept it brief, and they encored with a Move song ("I Can Hear The Grass Grow). Recently I caught up with Kristin and Kurt, and despite my feeble attempts at trying to do this interview in person (we're all from New Jersey), I had to opt for a phone. Here's what some of the gab was about...
Yeah3: (To Kristin) So are you still playing in a couple of bands?
Kristin: Yeah, it's kinda difficult trying to schedule it when one band is recording or one band is doing some live shows. But it's been kind of on and off for the last couple of years (with each band). No extensive month-long tours.
Y3: I think most of the bands you've been in are like the definitive pop bands formed by people who love the music and aren't doing it with any other thing in mind. This kind of music, especially, is the kind of music where, trying to bank on its career potential is not what it's about. It's kind of a '90s thing. I don't think these bands think about going on world tours for too long of a time.
Kristin: And that's what people always said to me, like, "What are you doing with all of these bands?" And I say, "I play with these people because most of them are friends and I love their music." As long as I have the time, I'll do it.
Kurt: A lot of it comes down to a money thing also, like going on tour. I think every one of the bands that we've played with, would love to get more of a backing and be able to go out on longer tours. And things are so tough to get that backing.
Y3: Yeah, I think that's the reality that's set in. The people who have these pop bands with great integrity, they realize where the reality is. Which is why they release the records the way they do and sporadically play the festivals or try to hook up with other bands.
Kurt: That's what it's all about. Try to connect in some way. I think for every one of us it's more than a hobby and we'd like to go out on a tour, but there's no reason to do it unless you have a point where people know you through radio. Otherwise you're in and your out. It's a shot in the dark.
Y3: Which is the good thing about those pop festivals.
Kristin: I've been out there for most of them, with either The Rooks, or The Grip Weeds and they always been great.
Kurt: The internet's been a real good thing for that. It allows you to be exposed to, you could say, the world, rather than be a local band. It really helps you get yourself out there. And we're doing that a lot.
Y3: Yeah, it's much easier than trying to get a fan base by playing haphazard gigs in NYC.
Kurt: Oh yeah. And I'm not sure how it looks from your perspective but the music scene, in the industry is scaling down a lot.
Y3: Yeah, this was the week for that. The biggest scaling down ever. The indie labels, especially for pop bands are where it's at. Especially on an underground level where you want to create a solid grass roots following.
Kurt: You've got no choice.
Kristin: If you're on a major label, personally, everyone I know who's been on one has been dropped and have been left in the cold. We're really glad we've got our own studio and we do things the way we do.
Y3: That's the great thing about your studio. And with this record, I thought there was a progression from the last one.
Kurt: A little bit of upgrade goes a long way. The thing is, though, the most important thing is that technology is not the basis for it. It's really the creativity.
Y3: What you can do with what you have.
Kurt: Yeah. I mean, you gotta have a certain level of quality equipment but the rest... I mean you can go to the extreme and get a lot of equipment and really get into the technology and it does not equal a better album. I think we realized that. You can't just go off and buy thousands of dollars of equipment and expect to get a great record. It's a lot more than that.
Kristin: A lot of people don't believe that our record is an 8-track record, But it shows you what you can do.
Kurt: I think it's important to work within your means. It's something that everyone has to do.
Y3: The trick is to get that great drum sound or guitar sound... and try to capture some kind of edginess.
Kurt: Yeah, and that's the kind of music we like. The stuff The Grip Weeds like is not really slick. We're into early sounds. True and genuine drum sounds and guitar sounds. So it's not like a process thing. We're only trying to get what we're hearing in the room on tape and not try to fuss with it from there, for the most part anyway.
Y3: I guess the only "production" thing would be to get that psychedelic vibe you guys have.
Kristin: That's the drugs. (laughs)
Kurt: Not really, there isn't a whole lot of that going on (at least with me).
Y3: Still, for an 8-track production you got some sounds out of it, that weren't necessarily live stuff.
Kurt: Well, yeah. When I say "We're trying to get the sounds as we hear them," that doesn't mean we're going for a live recording.
Y3: It's sort of a combination.
Kurt: Yeah. There's a lot of craft involved to make that work. And especially with Kristin's parts. A lot of thought goes into it as well as the vocal parts. There's a craft involved to get the record to sound right and make it as powerful as possible and focused. And the psychedelic thing is one of the influences we draw from that comes up in various ways at various times. Like we'll throw a mellotron on here and there.
Kristin: And since we have our own studio it's like we are a signed band. We have the time to make things sound the way we want them to.