Interview: Gridfailure

The name says it all. This project is hostile, unpredictable, antagonistic, harsh, raw, horror-inducing, paranoia-engulfed, improvisational terror.

Gridfailure make music that is as harsh and unsettling as it is hypnotic so it is quite apt that their dystopian noise has yielded their crushing, latest album Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II on Nefarious Industries during these uncertain and unprecedented times. During this madness Gavin Brown caught up with main man David Brenner to delve deep into the world of Gridfailure to hear all about the new album. We get an insight into the creation, themes and who worked on the album as well as working on new music and what the future holds for the band, hearing about their recent live shows before the pandemic took hold and an extensive look at the music and history of Gridfailure.

We are also proud to give you the exclusive premiere of Gridfailure’s new video for ‘Outlander Harvesters’, taken from the new album. It’s a dizzying set of visuals and a perfect example of the band’s vision.

E&D: You recently released your latest album Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II. How did the creation and recording of the album go?

David: I have been working on all five albums in the series between other projects for several years, and the SMES albums will continue to drop in between the other collaborations, albums, splits, and other records I have under construction. This instalment was incredibly painstaking to finish though, as I had some huge ideas which I wanted to accomplish to make this album stand out and incorporate elements of the entire series. I record everything myself, minus the collaborators’ material which they generally record and send to me, unless we recorded in a live jam situation, which obviously has not been happening during this pandemic/quarantine crisis.

E&D: You worked with a multitude of musicians on the album, can you tell us about that and what they brought to the album and its sound?

David: Some of the records I create fully solo, with no collaborators or contributors. But the entire SMES series is packed with additional musicians’ sounds and creativity, some planned specifically for this project and some simply captured or sent to me to use at my discretion. Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II features sounds from Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe, Gridfailure-live), Greg Meisenberg (Oxx, Maid Myriad, A Fucking Elephant, Gridfailure-live), Richard Muller (The Third Kind, Vise Massacre, ex-The Last Crime, Gridfailure-live), Mac Gollehon (who has performed on over 200 gold and platinum albums including Duran Duran, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Onyx, Madonna, Blondie, and more), my wife Liz Ciavarella-Brenner, my niece Faith Ciavarella, Pete Tsakiris, Leila Abdul-Rauf (Vastum, Fyrhtu), Nathan Verrill (Fyrhtu, Cardinal Wyrm), No One (T.O.M.B., Dreadlords), Clayton Batholomew (Mountaineer, ex-Secrets Of The Sky), Dave Small (Cutworm), Christian Molenaar (Those Darn Gnomes), Lane Oliver (Feel Happiness, Yatsu), Christopher Henry (Fuck Your Birthday, Humans Etcetera), Jeff Wilson (Chrome Waves, Deeper Graves, ex-Nachtmystium), Matt Bacon, Andrew Hess, and Chuck Schaaf (Deadbird, ex-Rwake) and his family Star, Izzie, and Mason Schaaf. These folks supplied everything from elements of percussion, brass, electronics, vocals, programming, guitars, synth, and so on, and really helped me create the diverse range of sounds and styles I wanted to tap into with this record, blending elements of jazz, EDM, prog, doom, folk, and whatever else into the bed of harsh noise, dark hardcore, dark ambient, and vast arrays of natural elements and found sound. Dan Emery at Black Matter Mastering in Nashville, Tennessee (Kool Keith, Benjamin Tod, Krieg, Thetan) is mastering the entire series.

E&D: The album is the second of a five-album series. Have you got ideas for the future material so far?

David: Yes, the entire series is an ongoing process. I’ve basically been working on these albums since I formed Gridfailure in 2016. I basically created the two albums which will close the series first, and then added this whole forefront of albums to the arc, so the sound will seem somewhat “devolving” as the series closes out. The first three albums – Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery I, II, and III – are basically set now, in modern times, with what you see happening on the news on any sector of the planet. The closing two albums – Teeth Collection and Drought Stick – are a bit more visionary or prophetic, envisioning the near future, in the aftermath of the sixth mass-extinction. I am drawing the cover art for all albums in the series, and upon completion, all five album titles will be interconnected with each other.

E&D: What topics do you deal with on the album that you can tell us about?

David: The entire concept of the five-album series is ecological collapse, caused by the hand of man, and the simultaneous downfall of humanity during the process. This is all apparent as we see humanity ripping the planet and itself apart at an exponential and terrifying rate. We rape the planet then wonder why we have a 500-year-storm every few months. We melt the polar icecaps and complain when sea levels rise. We antagonize nature in every way and when a virus appears and causes a worldwide pandemic, we make it about poll numbers and baseless accusations rather than simply follow the science. We’re watching it happen; every day, the proof is in front of us. Yet we have folks devolving to the point of believing the earth is flat again. The subtitle of the Sixth Mass-Extinction Skulduggery II album is “As Resources Are Depleted So Are Morals”. Lack of water, air, food, healthcare, and an overabundance of dangerous rhetoric, division, and ignorance leads to rampant chaos. With dystopian governmental factions, martial law, social unrest, and civil war engulfing the selfish humans, they turn on each other, leading to looting, mass murder, cannibalism, organ harvesting, enslavement, mass suicide, and more while the planet continues to retaliate against us. While I wrote the song ‘Beyond Containment’ three years ago, I was doing the final mix of this album during the first days of lockdown/self-quarantine here in the NYC area in March, and it actually gave me a panic attack. The reality of the song hit on such an extreme level that I stopped working on the track and just sat down to breathe for a bit.

E&D: You have a very immense use of samples on the record. Do you feel that they enhance the intensity of the music you make?

David: While I do a lot of sound design, and I record a lot of nature and human sounds, I do not sample movies or television much at all in Gridfailure. There are no lifted samples from any other sources on any of the records in this series. But in addition to recording wind, fire, streams, rain, thunder, insects, mechanical/industrial output, and other random sounds, I recorded elements of this album and entire series outdoors, at night, even in extreme weather events. The song ‘Proven Finite’ I recorded with live storm vocals in an actual storm. I’m not sure how I didn’t electrocute myself, but I pulled mics out of my studio window in the middle of the night in a long, intense thunderstorm and just screamed the lyrics for maybe an hour of the storm. The song was built out of that storm and vocals session. ‘Sandy’, which opens Sixth Mass-Extinction I, is about Superstorm Sandy which knocked out our power for eight or more days and had us living in the dark, cold, without work or communication. Gas station lines were a mile long. It was during these days that I wrote a lot of lyrics which would lead to Gridfailure, although I had not formed the project yet. ‘Irma’, which closes this new II instalment, I recorded last year during the Category 5 Hurricane Irma when my parents were on a small island in the Caribbean which was about to be swallowed by a 25-foot storm surge. They texted my sisters and I right before the island lost power, and I watched on the news as the storm engulfed the entire island, leading to the lyrics, “Is Irma currently killing my family?” So, I do feel that the auras and field recordings add a sense of harsh reality to the music, as they are some of my inspiration to create said songs.

E&D: Do you think that the music of Gridfailure is very apt for these very uncertain times that we are living in?

David: The name says it all. This project is hostile, unpredictable, antagonistic, harsh, raw, horror-inducing, paranoia-engulfed, improvisational terror. Feelings of despair and helplessness give way to wrath. A sense of survivalism leads to succumbing to defeat. Paranoia leads to revenge. It’s like art class for the end of days.

E&D: Has this pandemic experience given you more ideas for your music?

David: Not exactly. I already work from home, record at home, and focus on negative aspects of the world in my lyrics and concepts, so this just magnified everything. I’ve leaned further into ecological causes and petitions, supporting protest and justice movements, despising this abhorrent current presidential administration, and unleashing as much as possible these days, since the end could literally be any day now. We’re still disinfecting all mail, groceries, deliveries, and anything that comes into the house, we’re not seeing our friends or families, and I’ve grown that much more resentful towards the current political climate. More fuel for the flames which were already burning.

E&D: What has the reaction and feedback been like for the album so far?

David: Excellent so far as I am concerned. While this is not purely harsh or abstract noise, it is as extreme and experimental as it gets and is generally too noncompliant or nontraditional for most folks to ingest or endure. I am fully aware of that, so I’m always excited when musicians and friends I respect want to take part, or when any type or level of media outlet or publication wants to give the project coverage. I don’t sell much music or merch, and I give some records away without announcing them and so on. So, when I announced that I was donating any sales for the month of June to Black Lives Matter resources, my sales magnified, and I was able to give some money to a legit cause. That has been the most rewarding thing so far.

E&D: Have you been working on any new material during this lockdown period?

David: Undoubtedly. Since the project is my own personal creation and I work and record from home, I’m always here now. The 20 albums I had somewhat envisioned, in the works or envisioning stages, and even totally new records and projects have suddenly been taken into new directions, have been resurrected, or have been fully created during this time. I’ve got the III instalment of the SMES series in the works, a solo quarantine/pandemic EP almost completed, the third Gridfailure & Megalophobe collaborative album we mostly recorded three years ago has been prioritized for immediate completion, I’ve got a collaborator-strewn Americana album of harsh sorts in the works, and I’ve got collaborative albums with the likes of Feel Happiness, Pornohelmut, Fyrhtu, Interstitia, Rack, Tovarish, and others, all of which are underway or nearly complete. I’m making videos for myself and other bands at a faster pace than before, I have been contributing to other folks’ albums and recordings, and even resurrected my high school hardcore punk band from the mid-90s and we’re working on a name/image revamp with new material in the works.

E&D: The music of Gridfailure has a very harsh and dystopian feel to it, was that always your intention with the band?

David: The project was basically just started as a full-on experiment for me. Understanding how to self-record, learning to play new instruments, trying new styles and approaches, experimenting with sound, learning how to film and create video content, and more. It just blossomed from there and became this full-time project. I can’t sing in a melodious, clean, or talented way or I’d croon like Danzig, Mike Patton, and Conny Ochs all day! The harsh vocal thing is what I know, so even if a song has a clean passage or calm vibe, I wreck it all with pummeling vocal scourge. We live in dystopian times, so perhaps it’s just a product of our surroundings.

E&D: How did Gridfailure start in the first place?

David: I was in bands in the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s, but then I had not been a part of a band or steady musical project for nearly fifteen years. I stared playing bass again, then picked up guitar, and was working with a few folks on random projects. I ended up playing with Theologian in 2015, and within that time I recorded a plethora of albums, EPs, singles, and more, in addition to playing live. It was during this time that I set up my home studio and began recording my own material, at first only for Theologian but in February of 2016 I pulled enough of my own material together to launch Gridfailure. The relationship with Theologian immediately soured and I parted ways with that project after a year with them, two weeks after my first Gridfailure record came out. Since then, I’ve opened the floodgates and this has been my main creative focus with playing, recording, drawing, writing, and more.

E&D: Who are the biggest influences on the music of Gridfailure?

David: My personal influences are all over the map. Some of my favorite artists include The Misfits, Faith No More, Anthrax, Mobb Deep, Neurosis, Today Is The Day, Turmoil, Integrity, Nas, Ministry, Earth Crisis, many others. I’m not sure how much of these influences actually make it into Gridfailure because I never set out to sound like any particular genre or style. I just create whatever is on my mind or whatever happens organically, without trying to directly incorporate any specific artist’s sounds or influences. Out of the two dozen titles I’ve released in four years, I have only recorded one cover song; Today Is The Day’s Temple Of The Morning Star. I have other new cover songs in the works though; see the list of favorite bands for some hints.

E&D: You played your most recent show in Queens with Thetan, The Third Kind, and Fuckcrusher just before the lockdown. How did the gig go?

David: Amazing. It was a fun, intimate show with three area acts and Thetan. We self-booked it to just have a ripping good time because the Thetan bros were going to be in town for another project. They were getting ready to release their collaborative album with legendary Bronx rapper Kool Keith, and they flew up to NYC to film a video for the record, which I filmed and directed. We spent a couple of days in Brooklyn preparing for that and filmed the video in Bushwick the night before the gig, so the show was just a reason to shred while they were in town. I also ended up filming my friends The Third Kind and making a video for a song on their debut LP, and I filmed Thetan’s set to make a video for them as well, which I’m working on right now. My friend and collaborator Pete filmed the full Gridfailure set as well:

 

E&D: Did you play much new material from the new album?

David: Gridfailure live does not follow a script or perform any existing recorded material. The sets are fully improvisational, every time; I find out who can play, and we just go. We do not practice or plan; we set up a bit of a plan of attack before the show, but we just arrive and completely improvise the entire show. Line-ups usually includes accordion, drums, and sometimes bass, synth, in addition to my vocals, sound effects, percussion, sampling, and visual effects. We play in the dark and let the visuals disorient those in attendance while I just go off the rails and penetrate the audience. Line-ups have had two, three, and four members, and I have even played several solo shows. I met one collaborator one hour before we played Saint Vitus Bar.

E&D: Have you any tentative plans for any live shows as yet when things get back to some sort of normality?

David: I was booking a couple of mini tours when this pandemic hit, but for now, absolutely everything is on hold; travel, shows, recording sessions with other folks, all of it. I had a friend over earlier this month to record, but I moved my primary production desk and computer out to our backyard patio, and we recorded outside, distanced. Performing live shows with friends is the most cathartic and explosively stabilizing elements of playing music for me, so I cannot wait until we can play live again.

E&D: What has been the best gig that Gridfailure have ever played?

David: Anytime I can get together with some friends who are willing to take the improv plunge and see where we end up is a great night for me, even if I lose money, break equipment or my body, or nobody but the other bands show up. Every show has been a great experience. The show we traveled to Maine to play with Zud in December of 2018 was the first time we really developed what would become sort of the “steady/standard” live sound, the first time we played in the dark with some visual elements, and the first time I incorporated the audience into the show with additional percussion and more, so that was a defining moment. But that last show in March before lockdown was something special because of the circumstances surrounding it and all the great, productive things that continue to come from that night via photos, videos, and so on.

E&D: What have been some of the most memorable moments from your time with Gridfailure so far?

David: Playing the first show at the Meatlocker in Montclair, New Jersey was incredible because it got the ball rolling on the live actions. Booking a mini tour with Zud and playing my first two solo sets within that was a major morale booster. Part of that routing saw us playing a show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, nearby where I grew up, where some of my oldest friends and former bandmates as well as my mother and father came out to watch me play my first solo set was amazing. Having friends, family, and peers I respect and appreciate take part in this venture is always humbling. Being able to use this negative sound to do some good for the world through planting trees, raising money for causes I support, just adds more fuel to the fire to make me want to work harder. And anytime an exploratory media outlet or journalist like your fine self takes the time to investigate the project, I’m eternally grateful. Thank you for exploring this madness.

Here is the exclusive premiere of the video for ‘Outlander Harvesters’:

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