Video stream/interview: Giant Squid – Monster In the Creek
Some metal bands operate like businesses. Giant Squid operate more like a family project. They are not bound to the rigors of press and tour cycles; instead, they work whenever the real-life pressures of career, school, and child-rearing allow. This irregular schedule has kept them from achieving the visibility that their music deserves, but it has also allowed Aaron Gregory, the band's paterfamilias, to shepherd the group through countless lineup changes over its decade-long existence.
Gregory is a paterfamilias in more than one sense. He has a child with his bandmate & metal-cellist-at-large Jackie Gratz. The complexities of their personal and professional lives have slowed Giant Squid's release schedule. Their fans have waited for four years since their last full-length The Ichthyologist, and two since their nearly-full-length EP Cenotes.
In the meantime, their label Translation Loss has reissued Monster in the Creek, an out-of-print EP that Giant Squid self-released in 2005. The updated version of the EP includes a new layout, a variety of demo versions and live cuts, and a DVD that features interviews, studio clips, and live footage from the era. We've got some of that live footage streaming below; the original EP is embedded above.
Making music is always a personal endeavor, but Gregory's band is an unusually intimate extension of his personal life. I caught up with him via e-mail about the re-release and Giant Squid's current status.
Giant Squid - "Dare We Ask the Widow," October 2005
Monster In the Creek originally came out in 2005, between the original recording of Metridium Fields in 2003 and the re-recording in 2006. The lineup has turned over substantially since then. Who was involved in Monster in the Creek, and who's still around?
It's hard even for me to keep track of who was around during some of these eras, such as who was there to help write the songs versus who actually lasted long enough to record them. We have a horrible track record with drummers. We always seem to find incredible ones; they just don't stick around. We're coming in to our tenth year now, and so I can't remember why half of these big line-up changes happened. Some were dramatic, some were just people needing to move on. Bryan is way better at remembering exactly the way things went down and why.
Jason DeVincenzo, a beastly drummer who was a staple of the local Sacramento hardcore scene with his band, The Diseptikons, recorded the original Metridium Field with us, but left shortly after that record was done due to Dad duties. The other guitarist, Bill Hughes, who's a founding Giant Squid member, a carry-over from Koi (our proggy punk-rock incarnation), and one of our dearest friends to this day, also left at that point. So [former member] Aurielle [Zeitler] switched from keyboards to guitar, and to fill that gap on keys, I wrangled in Andy Southard, whose band, Secret Six, I played drums in. Dave Reynolds, also from Koi and the following transitional period when we played as Namor (which then became Giant Squid half way through the recording of Metridium Field), returned on drums and started writing the material that would find its way onto Monster in the Creek. That line up lasted for a brief while, long enough to play some great gigs, solidify the new songs, and even start demoing them (which you can hear on this reissue). But alas, Dave parted ways again. A childhood friend, Mike Conroy, who played drums in our straight-out-of-high-school punk band, The Connection, popped back up in my life, and happened to still actively be playing drums. So we convinced him to join, and within a couple months we hit the studio.
Andy just recently rejoined Giant Squid, which has been incredible for everyone involved. He's been out of it since the band moved to Austin, TX for a short stint throughout 2006, so it's been a long time. But other than that, it's just [bassist] Bryan Beeson and I from the original lineup.
Why did Giant Squid choose this moment to reissue Monster in the Creek?
We were supposed to have our new album out by this time, but by the new year I could already tell that wasn't going to happen. Several of us have kids now, and Bryan and I both go to school, along with all of us having serious jobs. Grayceon, Jackie's other incredible metal band, has been really busy and had a new EP release earlier in the year. Our drummer Scotty from the Cenotes EP moved to Los Angeles for work, and then back up to Eugene, OR to run his family's company, so the band just went in to hibernation for a bit to process our next steps.
In order to not fully drop out sight with the rest of the world this year, we offered Translation Loss some of our previously released, long-out-of-print kind of stuff for reissue, the most important being Monster in the Creek. We had been talking about asking Andy back into the band for a while, and so when the label excitedly agreed to do the reissues, that was the final sign for us to wrangle him in.
The timing is great. We just played a series of gigs, and played "Dead Man's Fog" live finally, after it was missing from our set list for over eight years. Feels surreal playing some of this material again.
What do you remember about the recording session for this EP?
Looking back, recording with Eric Broyhill was a huge change from our previous experience with Billy Anderson. They're both total bros, but Billy practically feels like a member of the band by the time the record is done, where Eric was much more reserved; so excited about the session for sure, but just a more reserved personality and very methodical. Billy is more like, "Let's record that distorted guitar track four more times on top of itself," and then lights some incense and puts animal skulls throughout the control room. Whereas Eric was a little more concerned with the science of the process — not in a stiff Albini way by any stretch, but more in a Tape Op Magazine kind of way. He's off setting mics up in distant bathrooms to catch strange room nuances. They're both masters of their trade who have different approaches to get the best recordings out of their bands. Broyhill is more process, Anderson is more vibe.
The other bizarre thing we did is basically track all the instruments live, together, in this huge room. The Hanger was a iconic recording studio in Sacramento, built in what was an old Vets hall at one time. The tracking room is this enormous multi-purpose room where I guess they'd hold town dances or bingo nights. It was big enough to have a basketball hoop, a quarter pipe skate ramp, a really big stage, pianos, and a half-ass tropical cabana.
So all of us were set up in this room, playing together, live, tracking straight to 2" 16-track tape. When it came time to record vocals, we tried doing them kind of old-school country style, with all of us singing facing each other, each with our own mic, but still close to each other. That was the other crazy thing, at least by today's standards; everything was done analog until the final mastering. If we wanted delay on something, we ran the track off the tape, through an outboard Roland tape-delay machine. Sure, some bands still do this, but it was a novelty when we did it, and it's a fucking rarity in today's studios. There's just so much more you can do with Pro Tools.
Ironically, while we tried to be über-organic, we had the strange idea to track the whole thing to a click, which we have rarely done since. It makes for a fairly tight album, but we can personally tell where we're battling it at moments. Definitely helped when sequencing keyboards, though. The click surely became a real source of stress for some of us, and made for a challenging session at times.
Maybe the last song, "Lester Stillwell". The writer I am now would have never let that song see the light of day, especially not on an album. It should have been a B-side or something, a bonus track to be downloaded. At the time, it was us catering to Andy and Mike's dance sensibilities, and it was a lot of fun to play live. The indie-rock kids always really liked it, and I know Bryan and Andy still love it, but personally it feels out of place to me. Monster in the Creek should have ended with "Dare We Ask the Widow," which is one of the most powerful songs we've ever written. But as far as re-recordings, only if we did a live album would you hear this old material reinterpreted with the current members. I love what Jackie is doing now on "Dead Man's Fog" in place of the second guitar, so it'd be great to get a multi-track live recording of that.
The Seattle band Akimbo released an album in 2008 called Jersey Shores. Like Monster In the Creek, it focuses on the NJ shark attacks of 1916. Have you listened to it?
Of course, and it's fucking awesome. It's truly a fantastic album. I haven't heard anything else they've done to compare it to, but I really enjoy that album. That being said, I was kinda pissed at first when they released it. I mean, yes, we self-released ours years before, but by that point, we were as much a name as they were, and we would have came up somewhere if there was any search done ahead of time to see if a band had written about that event (not that that would have stopped me if the tables were turned, I guess.) We even both have songs called "Lester Stillwell"! Theirs is infinitely cooler, though. But time passed, I quickly got over it, especially after hearing it and loving it. I eventually wrote them, being really friendly and introducing ourselves and bringing up the fact about our similar albums. Dude wrote back with kind of a short, uninterested response, joking about how his name is also Aaron. Ha! Whatever, we share a lot mutual friends in Seattle with those guys, and I hear he's just "funny" like that. I think I just wanted a shark bro-down with another band.
Our albums are SO different though. We only truly dedicate one song - the title track - to the event, and do so in a real lyrically folky kind of way. Their album is about all the attacks, from the Matawan creek incidents to the open water events outside Raritan Bay that happened before. Their whole album feels like a hot summer day in NJ, with kids being eaten in the creek. Ours feels, well... just fucking weird, sad, and pissed.
Akimbo - "Lester Stillwell"
You guys played a fan's wedding recently. What were the circumstances surrounding that show?
Yup! Mega-fan Christopher Gallagher has been watching us since he tended bar at the legendary Capital Garage in Sacramento, when we were playing there as Koi. He's been a die-hard loyal follower ever since, so for almost 14 years now. He's become a great friend too, and about nine months ago, while we were walking in Golden Gate Park together and philosophizing about all matters of life, he asked if we'd play is wedding. To me, Giant Squid playing a wedding is a BAD idea, for all the obvious reasons. But he made it clear just how important it was to him — like bucket-list level importance — and how he didn't give a fuck about what the guests would think. I caved in, and as time went on and we got closer, the reality set in that we were playing a wedding for our first show back in over a year and a half. I kind of started to freak out about it. I even lost sleep pondering it, thinking I needed to call and cancel the whole thing before it was too late. We hadn't played a show since July 2012, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, and we had just started composing with Andy again, so we'd have to piece together a set with him playing on songs he didn't write or that don't even have keyboards in the first place.
Of course we didn't cancel, and instead booked another gig the day after; a big, free, all-ages benefit for shark research, as well as a secret little warm-up gig the night before the wedding, at a little dive bar down the street in Pacifica, called Winters. So the wedding was a catalyst to get our shit together, get out, and play live again.
Watching the groom just lose his shit during "Tongue Stones," or having him come up and scream his brains out on the mic during "Throwing a Donner Party at Sea," was pretty magical and worth the immense effort it took to pull it off. The shark gig the next day was fucking awesome, probably because we were so warmed up from the nights before. So the whole thing really went off great. We did scare the shit out of some people at the wedding, though.
Giant Squid - "Throwing a Donner Party At Sea," Gallagher wedding, 2013
Though Giant Squid's lyrics aren't autobiographical, the band is obviously a very personal endeavor for you, and I think the music reflects that fact. How have changes in your personal life affected the band's music since Monster came out?
Well, without dwelling in the past too much, it's obvious that The Ichthyologist is a pissed-off record that's about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and dealing with the shit thrown in your face, even if it means becoming a mutant sea-star to do so. That album immediately followed my divorce [from Zeitler], and the unexpected loss of another lifelong friendship, which made for one of the ugliest, most bitter and painful times of my life; one that left scars that will never truly go away. So you're always going to hear a bit of that anger in our music. That's why people make music like this, though. Those feelings carry through to Cenotes, for sure, but not nearly as much. Cenotes deals with it in a different way, focusing more on the positive things that came out of so much disruption, like starting a family with Jackie, and having band members that themselves are like family. Every member of Giant Squid that has come and gone since our time in Texas is like blood to me. That sense of family is very prevalent in our recent songs.
Now, life is pretty much amazing. Jackie is one of the greatest human beings ever, and we have a wonderful little daughter together named Pearl. Bryan is married with a beautiful daughter, Mary, and everyone else is either married or just in a great place in life compared to where we were 6-8 years ago. That will be reflected big time in the new material.
What are Giant Squid's recording and touring plans in the near future?
We're halfway through the writing process of our new album, and we even played a couple new tracks at the shows last weekend, though mostly instrumentally, as I always procrastinate on lyrics. We're looking to record our third full-length in January-ish, which we'll announce some point soon. Don't really have details on that actual process though, as money is tighter than ever, and with us having kids, traveling to record won't really be an option. So we're brainstorming. But I can say, the new shit is as different as any of the prior albums are from each other, while still being SO Giant Squid. It's super-heavy, and super-gentle, and about everything else in between. There is as much an Americana vibe as there is an exotic Mediterranean energy to this new stuff. The writing dynamic between Andy and Jackie is pure magic, especially with the vocals. We feel like this will be the album that will make the world finally give a fuck. But if not, the true fans will love it, that's for sure. We're looking to have that out by Spring 2014.
There are other release plans for 2014 as well, because it's our official ten year anniversary, but I can't really announce that stuff yet. I can hint that it involves large discs of plastic, rhymes with "blunderbuss", and should weigh a lot. Plus the Cenotes vinyl/comic book is still slowly chugging along, and we've been talking about a live DVD for a while now. It's all about money and time though, both of which are scarce. I have to finish that comic book soon though, before I lose my mind. Making an entire comic book by yourself is fucking crazy.
Touring on a small scale is incredibly hard with kids, but the time for Squid to get to Europe is closer than ever. We sell more than half our records there, so it's long overdue. We're thinking a small jaunt over the pond perhaps during summer of that year, but if not, it's absolutely happening in spring of 2015, because I finish art school in fall of 2014 (finally). I promise though, I fucking swear, we're coming to Europe. We're bringing the kids and a nanny and everything. Get ready! (Ahem, and we're always waiting for Roadburn to call.)
Meanwhile, we're going to do some closer jaunts on the west coast next year, and another fly-out to the northeast so we can hit NY, Philly, and Boston. We'd love to do some small support runs with other bands at some point next year. (Ahem, Ahab, get your asses over here.)