by J. Hubner
Photo by Nick Rossi
Grey Gordon is one of those cats that never seems content. He’s the kind of musician and songwriter that doesn’t worship at the alter of any one musical master. He’s made noise under the monikers of punk, post-hardcore, alternative, indie pop, post-punk, and early 90s indie rock. It’s not that he can’t figure out who he is as a musician, it’s that he’s all of that and then some(he’s a deep hip hop fan as well.) Above all else, Grey Gordon is a fan. He loves music. He’s been engulfed in it since he was a kid when his dad introduced him to those early 90s indie rock bands that pretty much defined a generation, much like the late 60s defined its generation of flower power. Grey has always done what felt right to him. If you dug his trip, then great. If not? Who are you, anyways?
After the dissolution of his old gig Wickerwolves and the release of his solo effort Forget I Brought It Up, Gordon set out to do something completely and solely for himself. The result is Kill Surf City, a lo-fi project that harkens back to the early days of college rock. It’s a fuzzy pop-centric sound that tips a hat to Jesus and Mary Chain(in both the band name and crusty guitar sound), Guided By Voices, Dino Jr and all that other stuff that hasn’t been topped since it blew minds in the late Bush/early Clinton years.
Grey sat down with me and we chatted about Kill Surf City and whatever came to mind.
J. Hubner: So tell me about Kill Surf City. How did this project come about? Has this been a passion project in the waiting for some time now?
Grey Gordon: Well, yes and no. I had been wanting to do something in this vein for years, but never had the time before, and I never knew precisely what I wanted to do with it. I had messed around with some other lo-fi home recordings that were somewhat in this vein, but nothing ever stuck. I finally found myself with a plethora of free time and energy, and everything just sort of coalesced to form what became Kill Surf City.
J. Hubner: Listening to the ‘Wreckage’ ep Kill Surf City is definitely channeling some late 80s/early 90s vibes. Early Dino Jr, Husker Du, Jesus and Mary Chain(your namesake), as well as some more modern shoegaze-ish bands like Nothing, Whirr, and Young Prisms. Who are some of the bands that inspired ‘Wreckage’, as well as Kill Surf City as a whole?
Grey Gordon: You definitely nailed some key influences with that first round of classic bands you mentioned. The JAMC influence is obvious in the tone and of course the name. I’m taking a lot of cues from Guided By Voices, Sebadoh and R. Stevie Moore with this project. All of them operated strictly on their own terms, and did the vast majority of their recording at home. For one, that’s an aesthetic I really enjoy and which really resonates with me, but it also allows me free reign to do whatever I want. When I recorded the first batch of songs for this project, I think my idea was just to do something in the vein of The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it very quickly morphed into something a lot more all encompassing. I’m drawing from all my influences while at the same time not trying to emulate anyone in particular. I’m also not trying to be limited by a particular genre tag. I really admire bands like Sebadoh or GBV for doing whatever they felt like at the time. That’s my goal as well.
J. Hubner: The EP was released through Soft Exit out of Bellevue Kentucky. How did Kill Surf City get hooked up with them?
Grey Gordon: Soft Exit is a label run by my homie Dustin Bingaman. Our hardcore bands played a show together, and we just really clicked. We’re into all the same stuff. We had been talking about working together in some capacity for a couple years, and when I dropped the first KSC tracks online, he approached me about doing a release for me. I immediately agreed. Most of what he does on the label is more in the vein of ambient drone and harsh noise, but I think the KSC stuff is on the same page ideologically if not sonically. He plays in a really great band called Rive that everyone should check out.
J. Hubner: Tell me about the recording process. The EP was recorded all on a Macbook with an acoustic guitar, keys, and Garageband? Seems pretty punk rock to me. Was this what you had in mind from the beginning or was it more out of necessity?
Grey Gordon: It was total necessity. I wanted the project to be lo-fi, but not necessarily THAT lo-fi. Basically, I quickly found that the internal mic in my Macbook can’t really pick up electric guitar very well, so I ended up just recording acoustic guitars and running them through the digital amps in Garageband. Coincidentally, I managed to pull some pretty decent sounds out of this process.
Recording basically consists of me writing a song on guitar, tracking the basic guitar tracks to a click, programming the drums, writing/recording leads and whatnot, hitting synth and bass tracks and then recording vocals. I usually knock everything out all at once.
J. Hubner: How are the live shows going? Are the Grey Gordon and Wickerwolves fans digging the new sounds? Do you have a full band you play shows with?
Grey Gordon: The shows have been phenomenal. If I’m playing a DIY space without an adequate sound system, I just run my backing tracks through my amp. If I’m in a nicer club, I’ll run them through the house system. I don’t have a live band for this stuff. I just have the instrumentals on my phone, so I just run those and play guitar/sing live. I’ve had several people approach me about doing live band stuff, so I’m sure I will eventually.
I couldn’t tell you how GXG or WW fans feel about it. I think they seem to be digging it, but I don’t really know or care. I don’t say that to appear aloof, I just legitimately am not invested in pleasing anyone. I really, really like what I’m doing with this project, so other people liking it as well is just an added bonus. Other bands I’ve been playing with have been digging it, which is always reassuring and encouraging.
J. Hubner: You seem to be incorporating more pedals in your sound as well. They say “mo’ pedals, mo’ problems”. Actually I just said that. Anyways, what are some of your weapons of choice in the pedal chain these days? What’s your overall guitar setup looking like? You digging the J Mascis JM? I love mine.
Grey Gordon: Live, I’ve just been running my Deluxe Big Muff, the reverb in my Jazz Chorus and the built in chorus channel. I might try running some more stuff live in the future, but we’ll see. I just picked up a Turbo Rat clone I really like, and I’m definitely wanting to use my Vapor Trail delay more. I love my J. Mascis. There are some Seymour Duncan Antiquity II pick ups in there which are a little more high gain than the stock ones. Amp wise, I’ve just been running my JC-77. Can never go wrong with a Jazz Chorus. If It’s good enough for Johnny Marr, it’s good enough for me.
J. Hubner: You seem to be an artist that shuns the idea of labels. Every project you’ve been involved with over the years has been a decidedly different trip than the one before it. Instead of leading some movement or trend, you tend to just follow your muse wherever she takes you. Is that a safe assessment to make?
Grey Gordon: I think that’s a pretty astute observation. I don’t necessarily shun the idea of labels, and as a music fan, I actually quite like exploring the genre family tree as it were. As a musician, they can be limiting, though. Getting hit with the emo revival tag when I was doing solo stuff under my name was extremely annoying, and not even particularly accurate. I’m definitely aiming to avoid that with this project. I’m hoping my efforts are eclectic enough to evade any easy categorization. The stylistic breadth of my musical pursuits over the years can be boiled down to an extremely broad sweeping taste and general musical ADD. I want to be in every kind of band at the same time. That’s why I’m hoping KSC can be a catch all for just about everything I want to do, so I don’t have to constantly start new projects.
J. Hubner: Do you have any upcoming shows with Kill Surf City? Any local gigs?
Grey Gordon: I just got off a week long run with my homie Blood Handsome. Locally, I have a show at CS3 on November 19th with a couple very dope rappers from Indianapolis named Flaco and Fully Automatic Drayco. I’ve found a second home in the rap scene down there. That whole group is on the come up very hard, and I couldn’t be more psyched to be playing so many shows together. Sirius Black, Grizz, Pope Adrian Bless, John Stamps. The list goes on and on. Such a vibrant community. As of right now, that’s all I really have booked, but I’ll be booking other stuff soon. I just need to get some personal affairs sorted and set aside some scrilla.
J. Hubner: So what’s the plan with Kill Surf City? Another EP? Maybe a full-length? Is the muse leading you in a new direction already?
Grey Gordon: I’m going to stick with this for the foreseeable future. I’m putting the finishing touches on a couple songs I’m doing for a split with a very sick band from the East Coast. Will hopefully have details on that soon. I’m planning to start up a cassette label when I have some paper stacked up, so I’m going to use that as a vessel to release a lot of the KSC stuff. I hope to do a lot of splits and tapes via small labels. I just want to stay busy and be prolific. Create a lot of content. I have a few video shoots planned, and I recently picked up a Super 8 camera I’d like to experiment with. There will definitely be no shortage of material. Stay tuned.
Check out Kill Surf City over at Bandcamp and indulge in some lo-fi goodness. Head out to CS3 on November 19th and check out Grey’s Kill Surf City trip in all it’s lo-fi glory. Keep up with all future shows and release news over at Facebook.