Greys are a fantastically loud, original and irrepressible four piece from Canada. Exposed to a wide span of social and cultural experiences and musical influences from Sonic Youth to Talking heads. With phat bass grooves of the revolution, thrashing shearing guitars, ear popping feedback and punk’y grunge’y percussion. Their music ranges from the raw in sound and visceral in subject matter through to more sombre, subtle tonalities and instrumental experimentation. Whether that means employing tape drones, drum machines and synthesizers as noise-making tools or maxing out amps to higher than a skyscraper volumes. See evidence of such in the bands video for ‘Guy Picciotto’ from their debut LP ‘If Anything’ (Carpark Records / Buzz Records).
Considering their origins, the bands embrace of a punk attitude and predisposition for protest are totally understandable. However, the Toronto quartet have grown into much more than just a punk band. The bands second album ‘Outer Heaven’ shows that development. Produced by long-time collaborator Mike Rocha (Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor) the album deals with deep, difficult and challenging topics. On content of ‘No Star’ lead singer Shehzaad Jiwani is quoted as stating the tracks is a response to the Bataclan massacre in Paris. The music giving the band a voice with which to reply to both the incident and against those who would unjustifiably speak on behalf of ‘us’. On ‘Blown Out’ Shehzaad addresses mental health by painting it in the context of a relationship with a partner who doesn’t fully understand the unrelenting complexities of depression.
We at backseat mafia caught up with frontman Shehzaad Jiwani to talk music, art, people, politics, charity, community, inclusion and resistance.
BM: The bands artistry is a combination of socio-cultural and political influences. observations, ideas and imagination. As seen and heard in your cover art and promo videos. How do you go about deciding upon the images and storyboards?
SJ: “We’re all sort of design nerds. We see things that resonate with us regularly and I catalogue those things in the way I write down lyrics or record guitar parts. We always wanted to juxtapose our sound with an aesthetic that isn’t generally associated with “punk rock,” or whatever. The initial inspiration came from bands like Joy Division and New Order, Kraftwerk, Boards Of Canada, Caribou, and more electronic and post-punk bands – that sort of stark modernism. Credit should be given to Andy Slater, who has designed or helped design most of our album covers”.
BM: Can you tell us about how that collaboration with Andy Slater works?
SJ “I will come to him with a vague idea of what we are going for and he will create something that goes way beyond what I had in mind. The last few releases (Repulsion, Outer Heaven and Warm Shadow) were images I had more of a hand in creating. Repulsion’s cover art is a photo from a Japanese architecture magazine that I randomly picked up years ago, and the photographer, Kiyoji Otsuki, turned out to be a renowned expressionist photographer in Japan”.
“Andy found the Outer Heaven artwork after I showed him some images of the North Korean Arirang festival, and the Warm Shadow cover is some wallpaper that I found and photographed with our friend Vanessa Heins, which took forever to make it look old and dilapidated. I think the overarching theme with the images is both depth and isolation, finding that marriage of beauty and detachment, which I think is intrinsic to our music and lyrics as well, in an abstract way. This sounds pretty pretentious, I guess, but it’s something we think about a lot, even in regards to our t-shirt designs.
BM: I ‘m not sure it does sound pretentious; it does sound caring and thoughtful. Mindfulness is in short supply and depth and isolation are very present themes in our contemporary times. Especially so in the light of recent global events. From your base in Canada and your experience of touring the US, what have your observations and thoughts been about the political events and the affect if any on the people?
BM: Do you as a band see a new politically motivated arts movement forming, or, do you feel that others may just be catching up to where you as a band have always been at? (I’m thinking about tracks like ‘Use Your Delusion’ from ‘If Anything’ and ‘No Star’ from ‘Outer Heaven’).
SJ: I’ve never really thought of ourselves as a political band, or otherwise. I write about whatever is bothering me that day. I would be surprised if more people didn’t write about the things that are happening in the world, and I honestly feel that if you don’t address it in some way – directly or indirectly – then it’s sort of irrelevant. No one wants to hear about how drunk you got last night or how difficult it is to be in a rock band. There are real battles to be fought and, though I don’t think it’s necessarily a rock band’s job to address these issues, I do think that it’s pretty dull if you don’t have anything to say about what’s going on. That is complacency and that is boring to me”.
BM: We’ve talked a little about political activism and its on that thread that we would like to know more about what’s being called your companion LP to last years ‘Outer Heaven’ and that’s ‘Warm Shadow’. The band released the album as a Bandcamp donation download, aimed at raising awareness of and funds for the trans inclusive ‘Sistering’ project serving homeless, marginalized and low income women in your hometown. Can you tell us more about that decision?
SJ: “I live literally around the corner from their headquarters. We wanted to support an organization that was local and that dealt with marginalized people – specifically women – given the subject matter of our song “Fresh Hell” from ‘Warm Shadow’ that dealt with people like Jian Ghomeshi and Rob Ford. Sistering made the most sense as an entity that could use the support. I think that we would not be anywhere without our community and that every band should give back to the community that bore them, and often times that means thinking beyond the music scene and thinking about the people that live where you live – specifically those in need”.
Can readers still donate to the ‘Sistering’ project through purchases of ‘Warm Shadow’ via your Bandcamp page?
SJ: “If readers want to donate extra to Sistering then they can buy the LP and we are happy to donate the proceeds to Sistering if they let us know how much they want to donate.
After three albums, an EP and albeit greatly received, relentless, touring the band are exhausted. They are about to “take a break to reintegrate into society and catch up on sleep”. While they rest, rest assured that they will be back soon, and in the light of the rise of Trump and other seismic global events we need them. Find out more about the ‘Sistering’ project and Play more Greys: