Interview: Grave Lines
I suppose the one thing is that we've learned to be brave when it comes to adding in different instrumentation and elements outside of our direct comfort zone to embrace what is right for the identity of each track, as well as for an overall cohesion.
For those who have witnessed Brighton/London’s ‘post sludge’ doomsters Grave Lines live will know they really don’t take any prisoners, as they fuel all the negativity of human failings into one hot pot of profound fury. They released their concrete slab smashing sludgy debut Welcome to Nothing back in 2016. Two years on and having already backed Black Moth on their UK tour earlier this year they are to release their sophomore album, Fed Into The Nihilist Engine, for their new record label New Heavy Sounds (Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Limb, Vodun) on 4th May. A double vinyl album, it sees the band stretch out their sound well beyond their debut by embracing in a very progressive, exploratory attitude and vision. It consists of many surprises and left turns but the dark, foreboding intensity never drops. With an album launch gig all set at the Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, London on 11th May, Echoes and Dust caught up with Oli, Jake, Julia, and Matt to explain the inspirations which drove its making.
E&D: Can you first describe how Grave Lines got together?
Oli: Three of us had known each other for years, Matt and Jake’s band Dead Existence had played many shows with my bands War Wolf and Sea Bastard, it was clear that we’d suit playing together. I’d been looking for something new to sink my teeth into around the time that Dead Existence fell silent after their last awesome LP, I’d tried stuff with other friends on the scene but myself being so picky about drummers had left every avenue a dead end.
I turned up at a studio to have some fun and the others brought Julia in tow, I kicked up a Celtic Frost storm of chugs and the magic happened. Julia’s drumming astounded me. The rest was history!
E&D: You have just signed to New Heavy Sounds label. It may be a small label, but it has an incredible roster of very good bands. How did your signing to the label happen?
Julia: I had previously worked with New Heavy Sounds in my old band Throne, and really enjoyed the working relationship with those guys. As Fed Into the Nihilist Engine was starting to take shape, I thought there was a pretty strong chance NHS would dig it…and they did!
E&D: You are due to release your second record, but first for NHS, Fed Into the Nihilist Engine. How did the song-writing process take shape for this album?
Matt: As much as it sounds kind of contrived to say it I can honestly say that nothing was pre-conceived on this record in terms of intentionally trying to go for a particular sound, or on the first album for that matter. We never had any set plan or parameters to work within, it’s all just a product of what comes out when we spend time in a room together, and from where our current collective head spaces are at the time. I think trying too hard to sound like a particular thing often makes a record sound like a dead duck! Writing in a verse-chorus way is something that never really interested us either. There are plenty of great bands out there that do that, but I think Grave Lines is more about swirling around in a vortex with a narrative underlaying all the woes and tribulations along the way. We’ve never been interested in adhering to any pre-determined structures here. The way a city sprawls or a wild garden blooms, our songs are more about discovery of where that little niggling nugget in our minds wants to take them, or where life lets things go, rather than building walls around them and suffocating their potential. So, really the album just kind of came to together in a way that felt right. We had been playing around with quieter elements and they ended up being entities of their own which added another element to how the record sounds as a whole.
E&D: How did the idea of a double album emerge?
Julia: It was more of a necessity than an idea! It got to the point in the album-writing process where we couldn’t leave any of the tracks off. It was a bit of a worry that record labels would find it too ambitious for a second album, but luckily NHS agreed with us that nothing was in there for filler, and that the album flows well.
E&D: I saw you play the Underworld about a year or so ago. Then saw you recently support Black Moth at the Boston Music Arms in London, and I was blown away by the remarkable progression in your sound within this relatively short period of time. Fed Into the Nihilist Engine is very progressive. Is it the sort of music you always wanted Grave Lines to make or has it happened organically as the band has matured?
Matt: With the first record, it was a more cathartic explosion of chugging riffs and a desire to get ripped and jam out some heavy stuff within a new group, musically so anyway. I think around the time we were writing Fed Into the Nihilist Engine though Oli and I had separately been listening to a bunch of moody ethereal English goth and some batcave kinda stuff (Fields Of The Nephilim, Dead Can Dance, Bauhaus, Alien Sex Fiend etc), and Jake and Jules would’ve also had their particular external influences at the time too, so possibly some of that subconsciously came through, but I think really the influence is more one that comes from further down within us.
We’ve all been pretty much life-long music fans of varying styles so there is a catalogue of hearing little things and nuances already steeped inside each of our playing which we’re not even necessarily aware of, and which will inevitably come out in whatever we write. Structurally as mentioned before, we tend to roll with what feels right for each song. So, I wouldn’t say the writing has matured per say, but we’ve felt comfortable with exploring where the songs are naturally leading, be that into quieter or more sombre areas, without trying to reign them in to a certain type of sound. I suppose the one thing is that we’ve learned to be brave when it comes to adding in different instrumentation and elements outside of our direct comfort zone to embrace what is right for the identity of each track, as well as for an overall cohesion.
E&D: The lyrics on the new album are extremely powerful. What were the key inspirations and ideas behind the album’s title and consequent themes?
Jake: Thank you. The album is all about exploring our relationship with negativity. Not just that mindset but how we interact and interpret those feelings. There’s a toxic symbiosis that I think humans adopt where we can pull strength from these thoughts while at the same time they start to unravel us at our core. Hatred, loathing or even just pessimism in general can outwardly create this sense of resolve in a weird way. It can be quite powerful but then there is also this kind of wretched fragility the grows internally from those same things. The title was a visual reference to this internal process which came to mind when I was writing the lyrics and I just thought it was quite a fitting image. The Nihilist Engine is symbolic of one of our species biggest flaws. This inability to process our own emotions or understand them. We are self-defeating by nature but so often unable to turn from that path.
E&D: Were there any albums that were touchstones on the making of your album?
Oli: I remember the title track ‘The Nihilist Engine’ had already taken its shape as Welcome to Nothing was being released, I captured it on a little recording device I used to demo all new things that appear in rehearsal rooms. I remember taking it home on the train and listening to it on repeat, and again the next day walking my dog by the sea. I was A/B-ing it with the completed LP and saw it as an ominous monolith on the horizon, strange and different from what we had just done, I like to create a new album in near isolation from other music and it became a bit of a vacuum as we started brewing the new tracks for me. But then me and Matt also blast tunes on the way to rehearsal, Filth Pig by Ministry re-emerged as one of my favourites and I know we all enjoyed repeatedly listening to Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Cesar when it came out last summer.”
Jake: I don’t think there was anything in particular that we felt we were all collectively visiting or having in mind. There are touches I think of various influences from all of us which have gone into the mix. As Matt and Oli have said I think there was a few things regularly on the stereo for each of us, but I think that would probably be a different thing for everyone. The whole album was really just nurturing the sound that had started to form of its own accord. Personally I go through so much different music every day depending on my mood there isn’t usually a specific thing getting airtime.
E&D: There are a few surprises on the new album for example, the synth/keyboard led drone of ‘Loathe / Displace’. For me, it is one of the album’s highlights. How did this song, both musically and lyrically, take shape?
Jake: All the shorter interlude tracks are written as sort of snapshots or isolated moments within the overall themes of the album. In a way, they can be seen as a sort of sub-narrative that runs through the other songs. In terms of that track specifically the words were written in direct response to Julia’s synth playing which I loved from the moment I heard the demo. Lyrics usually come to me pretty – quickly when there’s a piece of music that grabs me which was definitely the case with this one.
Julia: For me Fed Into the Nihilist Engine has quite a melancholic feel throughout the album, and with ‘Loathe / Displace’ I wanted to build on this mood. I like the struggle between the repetitive chord structure which somehow feels safe, and the warping, distorting, more ominous notes that occur at random moments.
E&D: Would you have any qualms about introducing a flute into a future song?
Jake: Ha! that’s a very specific question. I’m guessing there’s probably some different opinions on this between us! Personally, I would say nothing feels off the cards in terms of instrumentation but anything we bring into a song still needs to feel right and work within the context of our music as a band. We keep things pretty-open with writing but there is definitely a certain aesthetic to our songs that has formed naturally as we’ve written together. I definitely dig some bands that use it but I don’t think any of us are in a hurry to start busting out any 70’s rock style flute solos any time soon. We’ll leave that to Blood Ceremony and Focus for now!
Matt: I could imagine throwing a Dizi or a Duduk in there if the feeling was right.
Julia:‘Never say never!
E&D: Once again, thanks for taking time out to answer the above questions for Echoes and Dust. I hope to catch you at the album launch gig on the 12th May.
Jake: Cheers mate. See you there!
Fed Into the Nihilist Engine is out on 4th May on New Heavy Sounds. The album’s launch gig is at the Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, London on 12th May, which the band have said the whole album will be performed.