How Gridfailure Keeps The Lights On
David Brenner’s experimental/noise/industrial/dark ambient project Gridfailure is a psychological sort of extension, one where the mind fills in the unknown portals with a strange and confusing horror. The music is orbital and sensual, with industrial elements creating rigid formations which divide the pulsing rhythms and electronic sequences. There is certainly a nightmarish quality to the sound, and, on Halloween, Brenner (who runs extreme music PR firm Earsplit with his partner Liz Ciavarella-Brenner) released his newest record, When The Lights Go Out Vol. 1: a journey towards the robotic shadows of mankind’s inner most-torture (welcome to modern technology). There’s light therein, as well, as Gridfailure takes the form of many musical heads, equally as lush, as it is rigid.
On When The Lights Go Out Vol. 1, Gridfailure hosts a sense of appreciation for a great many musical forms in the broad width of Brenner’s imagination, and his experience plays an integral role their various combinations. His music is contemplative, but airy and free of whatever could hold it down. Gridfailure equally connects to dense and extreme metal as it does jazz and European atmospherics.
This fall got a little darker, artful, and nightmarish with the release of When The Lights Go Out Vol. 1, a record you can lose yourself in, drifting perpetually towards the altered-dimension. Invisible Oranges caught up with the busy artist/musician/businessman to talk about the record and some other stuff. Here’s the lowdown.
You’re releasing When The Lights Go Out Vol. 1 on Halloween, was the record designed with that specific holiday and environment in mind? It sounds twisted and horror soundtrack-like, while also being extremely spatial and calming
The whole idea behind the When The Lights Go Out series is to be exactly what you took away from it; a more spatial, trancelike atmosphere than the other records. Most of what I create is heavily built upon or saturated with field recordings to accelerate the creep factor; make everything sound like it’s happening around the listener. With When The Lights Go Out, the idea is to leave any actual lyrics, intelligible vocal lines, driving/dense percussion, and other well-defined instrumentation out of it, and create more of a soundscape/instrumental aura. Since I had this idea lined up and had a few of these songs already created, I decided to just whack the first one out directly behind the Autumnal Solstice release of I Shall Not Survive Another Winter, and with Halloween just over a month away, the idea of creating this purely supernatural/paranormal-inspired record. It’s all about being afraid of the dark, of course, when the lights go out.
What are some of the most important influences/inspirations behind Gridfailure? There seems to be a noise element to it, but also an industrial and ambient trace as well, all the while being visual too.
I think most of the music that influences me the most only shows through in this outfit in small elements; I’ve always been in hardcore, punk, metal bands in the past, minus one year with Theologian, so this is just something totally new for me as an artist. I’ve always been into odd and experimental music, always been into end-time scenarios and horror movies/music, and as I was already performing in the slowest, most ambient sort of outfit I’d ever played with, I had to be much more restrained, but it was very free-form. Elements of the brutal hardcore, harsh noise, jazz, folk, world music, and other forms of music I listen to heavily are spread all throughout the records, while overall the sound is more of a paranoia-driven psychotic break in pitch blackness so I’m fine with just about any genre tag folks want to apply. More of the upcoming albums in the works have more directly intensified focuses on some of these genres.
What was the writing and recording process like for WTLGO Vol. 1? Are you finding patterns and methods that work better and more efficiently for you as time goes on, and what’s the environment like when you record: is there a lot of sound collage and sound recordings involved?
Outside of leaving the recordings more bare and special instead of layering instrumentation into mega-dense pyroclastic flows, nothing was different about making this record. I didn’t have to write any lyrics, and didn’t have to flesh out any really direct percussion, and collaborators were kept to a minimum; my niece Faith Ciavarella has some vocals on “Banshee Accumulation,” my wife Liz Ciavarella-Brenner added some voices/wails and sounds to “Spectrevision” and “Your Arms Are Up There,” and our friend Rob Levitt has some percussion on “Attempt To Seal It Out” and guitars on “Your Arms Are Up There.” I did all other vocals/voices, guitars, bass, analog synth, keyboards, theremin, percussion, effects, and recorded/mixed everything. A few of the songs were already in some sort of skeletal form when I came up with the idea for the EP, and “Banshee Accumulation” has been around in some form or another for a year-and-a-half now; I’ve had it worked into the upcoming Teeth Collection album but it fit perfectly here.
What inspired you to start Gridfailure, and what was your musical background prior to starting the band?
I formed Gridfailure in February 2016. I had been in Theologian since the summer of 2015 and was doing a lot of random recording sessions for those records. I had not been in an active band for like fifteen years, and I had never done any kind of home recording with any of those outfits. It was kind of like starting a whole new experiment; doing my own project with no members or practice nights… just unloading on any instrument I felt like trying out at any point of the day or dead of night. I had tons of recordings here and just started figuring out what to do bit by bit and made the Ensuring The Bloodline Ends Here record, which I released in May of 2016, only four months after officially forming the band. Just a week or two after the record was out, things deteriorated internally, and that relationship was vanquished. During the ten or eleven months I was in Theologian I recorded on the Dregs, and Before My Flesh Was Torn By The World records, the Theologian/Lament Cityscape Soft Tissue collaborative album which I incepted, and several titles for Cadabra Records, including Theologian’s scores for H. P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Pickman’s Model LPs, and Clark Ashton Smith’s Inferno 7”. Gridfailure instantly became my sole outlet and I’ve since released a ton of material as I work on something for the band every day. I believe I’ve released four albums, a collaborative album, an EP, a split, a few comp tracks, and I have at least ten active albums and fully collaborative projects underway, several of which are nearing completion.
Before that, I’ve not been in an active band since the Y2K era. My first band was called Dementia 13, later renamed The Militiamen, and was formed with three of my best friends in high school in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in like 1993. I played bass and did backup vocals; we recorded two real demos and played with bands like The Boils, The Casualties, DisSucks, Bomb Squadron, The Cancerous Reagans, Duct Tape, The Goons, Disenchanted, and tons more until probably early 1997 as I had moved to Philadelphia for art school. There I formed Dead By Dawn with a few other guys in Philly; we were a much more death metal/brutal metalcore band, and I was one of two vocalists, my bro Richie on the screamo/high-end vocals and myself doing more of the low-end death roars. We played with Ink & Dagger, Disassociate, Catharsis, Zegota, Kill The Man Who Questions, and a bunch of other bands, but were only together for like a year. Just after that ended, a few guys asked me to try out for the band they were starting, called Heidnik; one of those guys was Max Moya who tragically just passed away in recent weeks.
I joined at the tryout and we went on to play dozens of shows throughout Philly and the rest of Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, even the basement of CBGB’s once before it closed. We played with all kinds of incredible bands; DisSucks, Disassociate, Bongzilla, Hellchild, Damad, Pig Destroyer, Mastodon, Burnt By The Sun, Mortician, Macabre, Dying Fetus, Benümb, Strong Intention, Punishment, The Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza, Martyr, A.D., Throwdown. I recorded a demo and a full-length with Heidnik but they wanted to move in a new direction when we were recording the album – wanting to do a more metalcore thing than the rampant grind metal we were doing – and booted me out before we finished the record but after I’d done most of my vocals. They redid the vocals in a different style as their first record Nothing; it was a huge bummer but right around then I had gotten engaged and was traveling to NYC most weekends, so I just moved up there not long after 9/11 and hadn’t been in an active band since. So, prior to this era of my life I’ve only been a bassist and/or vocalist, and with Gridfailure I play like a dozen instruments on each record.
Is there a strong visual methodology behind Gridfailure and your approach in general, and are there any artistic movements (Surrealism, Dadaism) that influences or inspires you?
No. It’s just fucking with tones, deconstructing riffs, learning how to play new instruments, layering murderous rants, and whatever comes to mind. It’s mostly very improvisational – or at least begins that way. Although I do consider it more of an art project than band practice when I’m making noise. Most of the song titles, album titles, lyrics, bear a lot of duality in their meaning, so I’m conveying a surface meaning paired with a more personal/inner meaning. Sometimes it’s just a line of words that match up to an audio movement; a feeling a certain sound will inspire.
There are deeper or more specific concepts to some of the records. For example, Hostile Alchemy was very political, created during last year’s ridiculous US election cycle. I’ve been inspired by Lyme Disease as I’ve had that for several years now and the pain and odd effects of that are enough to inspire a record, which I’ve got working. The other new record I Shall Not Survive Another Winter is the first in a series of records I’m doing under the genre/theme of "Sixth Mass-Extinction Skullduggery", which are basically all rooted in a bizarre post-apocalyptic future in the wake of every imaginable disaster of every kind – nuclear war, lack of resources, ecological collapse, contagion, genocide, and an overall fall of society – where rogue breeds of humans are attempting to recolonize the decimated planet. Tales of rampant murder, cannibalism, and the plundering of other tribes taking place in the mutant forests, as the cities are too radioactive and are overrun by rogue artificial intelligence. Much more in the way of tribal drumming, shaman vocals, outdoor recording, and overall end-time terror. I’m finishing Teeth Collection and Drought Stick, two albums within this concept which I’ve been working on sporadically for well over a year at this point.
What’s the technical and mechanical setup look like behind Gridfailure? When you play live, what’s going on?
I haven’t started performing live yet. This thing is complicated since I do so much layering and sometimes record three or four and sometimes up to a dozen instruments. I could be out doing improv noise sets, but I’m working on ways of performing several instruments myself live. I hate when solo acts rely too heavily on a backing track, and I’m working on incorporating drums, drum machines, loop pedals, and other random gear to somewhat emulate a live lineup. I’ll also be doing collaborative live sets, will flesh out full live lineups, and more, but I’m kind of challenging myself on this other madness first. Like I don’t have enough to do.
You said you’ve worked with Theologian in the past, what was that like, and what sort of interaction and inspiration comes from running your PR company Earsplit: you must have some really great relationships with some amazing artists?
I can only conduct these Gridfailure trials on weekends and at night, once I’m done with Earsplit for the workday. Earsplit is basically just Liz and myself running virtually everything, although we do outsource some tasks to interns here and there, and we currently have an excellent assistant, photographer Teddie Taylor, who has been helping us with our social media promo. We work with dozens of bands and labels all over the world, so by the time we start working in the morning East Coast time we’ve already got stuff popping off with the folks in Europe for hours. We’ve already been slammed for half of a solid workday when more of the West Coast folks need their stuff handled, so our hours are somewhat open-ended, ongoing, brutal. We do a bit of mail order and distro stuff with Earsplit Distro and have a small label The Compound Recs. As well, but that’s been quieter the past year or so with Gridfailure consuming most of my extra time.
But yes, we have the pleasure of working with an incredibly diverse and vast array of artists, musicians, and industry folks of all levels and from so many different backgrounds and genres, which is one of the most rewarding aspects of the company and makes the immeasurable amount of time we spend strapped to computers and phones and coffee mugs all worth it. But there is no “inspiration” of Earsplit in Gridfailure so to speak. I burn off the workday in the recording bunker; Instagram and Facebook documents some of the absurdity which transpires in these sessions; many things get destroyed and ruined, debauchery infests, tension is released, and injuries occur. And I record alone 99% of the time. It’s a wonder my neighbors haven’t had me incinerated yet. I should pass out some fruit baskets.
I Shall Not Survive Another Winter had a lot of guest musicians and feels a little more tribal than WTLGO Vol. 1; what’s the relationship between the two albums, and it almost feels like you were searching for a more minimal density with the new record, but still seeing a similar pattern?
There is no correlation or relation between those two albums. I Shall Not Survive Another Winter is the first of likely five releases in the mentioned Sixth Mass-Extinction Skullduggery concept, where more of the tribal drumming and odd instrumentation on the upcoming albums starting to peer in. It’s also got some jazz-inspired tracks, and some straight-up bass/vocals/noise explosions. Each other upcoming release under that conceptual umbrella will each employ an augmented tone/approach of its own, but will all bear more of this tribal/rebuilding approach. On ISNSAW I recorded guitars, bass, vocals, keyboards, synth, harmonica, drums and percussion, and all kinds of effects, field recordings, and more. My collaborative henchpersons on that include Richard Muller (Vise Massacre, The Third Kind, Future Hunter), BJ Allen (Full Scale Riot), Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe), Robert Levitt, Christian Molenaar (Those Darn Gnomes), and Mark Steuer (Those Darn Gnomes), scattered throughout the album.
Since Halloween’s coming up, and
I can foresee crushing some vinyl and random jams to candlelight and cocktails; maybe The Devil’s Blood, John Carpenter, T.O.M.B., Zombi, Melek-Tha, Ak'chamel, Neurosis, Gravediggaz, Gnaw Their Tongues, Howlin’ Wolf, Wolfskin, Sunn O))), Ink & Dagger, Furze, Thriller, and if you aren’t ready to crank at least a few Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig albums, don’t bother showing up. They re-released the Misfits Meet The Nutley Brass album, first time on vinyl with bonus tracks, and picked up the John Carpenter Anthology LP on “Fog Over Antonio Bay” blue wax, so both are on heavy rotation.
Are there some philosophical, social and political ideas, and theories behind Gridfailure, and do you think it’s important that music and art have a deeper function that explores humanity and social responsibility?
Overall there is no political theme or direction of Gridfailure. The paranoia, the dementia; that’s the overall theme or vibe I aim for. But music and art are incredible platforms to further understanding and delivering a political message. I listen to, promote, and support tons of politically motivated artists. The state of our environment is a huge deal to me, and I incorporate a lot of nature into the output, filming videos in the woods, and incorporating lots of bizarre nature settings in the cover art for most of the records. With the Dendritic collaborative album with Megalophobe we rogue-planted a bunch of white pine trees from the Arbor Day foundation around here in Rockland County and a few in NYC after recording sessions. I’ve ventured into political topics a bit and surely will again, but it’s more in a surreal sort of sense, not as blatantly directed or delivered like more standard punk, hardcore, and metal acts would. Hostile Alchemy has songs like “Kompromat,” “Fallout Curtain, and “Surrogates” which bear pretty obvious subject matter; just watch the news for like a minute.