Keil, Brad (The Gravetones)
You’re getting ready to head out to the grindhouse to catch the B-movie double bill of Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and this new flick you’ve heard so much about, Last House on the Left, by some guy named Craven. You and your buddies just inhaled a bucket of fried chicken and whacked back a 12-pack of Schlitz. As you throw on your beat up black leather jacket and slick your hair back, you bob your head along to the Dick Dale surf sound, rockabilly grooves and punk rock attitude of The Gravetone’s new album, “Dig It.” It’s the perfect choice for a killer Saturday night.
Well, it would have been, had The Gravetone’s actually existed in 1972. While some aspects of the Chicago-based quartet’s sound harkens back to days gone by—their singer sounds like Elvis, after all—the band that would have provided a great soundtrack to a night of slasher and sexploitation flicks didn’t form until 1997, and didn’t record a full-length CD until 2006.
“Dig It,” which was released on—appropriately enough—October 13, 2006 (via Criminal IQ records), has 14 tracks that encompass and intermingle a variety of styles. Tunes like “On a Pale Horse” and “Seven Days” have a classic rockabilly swing; “Big Bad Whammy” and “Lovely Sinner” channel Dick Dale’s surf-rock vibe; “Merry Death” and “Creepy Girls” have a horror punk groove; and the band cranks it up a few notches on such rockin’ head bangers as “”Devil’s Rain” and CD standout, “Burn Baby Burn.” All the while, frontman Scary Larry’s vocal timbre is all Elvis—without sounding cheesy (and sans the sequined jump suit).
So if you dig a band whose sound is part Cramps, part Misfits, and part Motorhead, then 1972’s loss is your gain. I had a chance to catch up with Gravetone’s bassist Brad Keil about the band’s unique style, their newest CD, and the undeniable influence that “horror” has had on the band’s identity.
DAVE MANACK: I read the lengthy history of the band on your website. But how would you describe the true history of The Gravetones?
BRAD KEIL: The current members are: Scary Larry, Joey Gravetone (guitar), Jimmy the Butcher (drums) and myself. Larry started the band about ten years ago. It's only been the last three years or so (with that line-up) that the band started to get serious. It started as a surfy, Cramps-style thing, but Jimmy and I come from a very punk rock background; we’ve have been playing in bands together since we were 15. Joe and Larry were in the Gravetones for years before they had lineup problems and asked Jimmy and I to join. We have come together with all of our musical backgrounds to create something unique.
DM: Upon listening to the CD, I hear such influences as the Cramps, rockabilly, a little bit of the Misfits and even Motorhead. What are the bands that you feel most influence the sound and style of The Gravetones?
BK: When people ask me, "What does your band sound like?" I always say, "Sort of like if you put the Cramps, The Damned and Motorhead together and had Elvis singing." So those bands feature prominently in what we do. We will draw inspiration from anywhere, though. The song "In Cold Blood" began as a simple blues jam in practice one night. "Lovely Sinner" and "Big
Bad Whammy" I think reflect the strong influence that surf-rock still has on us. We all love Dick Dale. We are also fans of anything Danzig has ever done (sans the techno albums).
DM: When did The Gravetones hook up with Criminal IQ records? Did you put out any other recorded material before this CD?
BK: Larry has been in contact with Criminal IQ for a long time. We began talking with them about releasing the CD as soon as we were finished recording it in late May of 2006. We have had some smaller EPs out, most notably something we called "Good Enough To Eat," that came out in the fall of 2005. We also had a short three-song EP that we gave out on Halloween of 2005 at a show that featured a cover of the Cramps' "Human Fly" and Elvis' "Little Sister."
DM: Your band's name, the new album’s artwork and the song titles give an obvious nod to horror. Who writes the lyrics? What songs (if any) are directly related to any specific horror movies or horror characters?
BK: Scary Larry writes all the lyrics, and I'm always impressed. He seems to come up with these great songs effortlessly. Joe, Larry or I will put music together, and Larry always has these great ideas for songs ready to go.
"Devil's Rain" is influenced by the William Shatner film of the same name, and we even sampled a speech he gives in the song. "In Cold Blood" is based on both the novel by Truman Capote, as well as the Robert Blake film of the same name. The song "Seven Days" is influenced by the film "Cemetery Man" or "De La Amore De La Muerte," which are about resurrection. The intro song, which is actually called "There Will Be Blood" (but there was a printing error), samples a brief clip from “Saw 2.” Horror definitely has a big influence on us. Scary Larry also painted the cover art for “Dig It” and designed the jacket and rear cover as well. As you can see, we like dark imagery.
DM: What are some of your favorite horror movies of all time?
BK: Personally I think the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is the greatest horror movie of all time. It's a great film in every respect. It starts with a red herring similar to the way "Psycho" does and gets so twisted and deranged. That movie did a great thing with sound manipulation. The sounds in that movie are very important. When the heroine is running from Leatherface, the sounds add to her terror and make the film intrusive toward the viewer. I'm also a big fan of "The Shining" and "Event Horizon." And Freddy is much cooler than Jason.
I like silly horror movies too, like "Killer Klowns From Outer Space." "The Toolbox Murders" and the first "Sleepaway Camp" are good, disturbing movies. Finally, this is more of a suspense movie, but I consider "The Silence of the Lambs" to be one of the greatest films ever made; easily in the top five, right up there with "M" which is also a brilliant film.
For more information on The Gravetones and their CD “Dig It,” please visit their websites at GraveTones.com and on MySpace, or email them here. To listen to and/or order the “Dig It,” just click the link below!