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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Savvy Interview

Through extensive touring, energetic live shows, and a powerful message, The Savvy has slowly built a dedicated and thriving fan base.  Bandmates Joe Stockton, Korey Shrum, and Chris Duke, describe The Savvy as, “high energy rock and roll.”  In 2010, the group released their debut EP entitled Kill The Noise.  Produced by famed producer James Paul Wisner, Kill The Noise was fueled by rock anthems and soaring vocals.  On June 17, 2011 at the Ichthus Festival, Marc Webb had the opportunity to speak with The Savvy about releasing new music, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the challenges of touring.

Webb:  First off, how many years have you played at Ichthus?

Joe:  I think as a band it is our fourth year.  It is our third consecutive year, but we played a long time ago. 

Webb:  Could you tell me a little bit about the story of playing at Ichthus this year?

Joe:  This year, we are not playing as much as we would like.  But, we are promoting a lot, and making the best of the spot we got.  It’s not the best slot that we’ve had, but we are making the best of it.  We are hoping for a good turnout.

Webb:  Did you guys come here [Ichthus] back when you were in high school and middle school as fans?

Chris:  Oh yeah, for sure.

Korey:  Totally.  I came with First Baptist of Somerset a long time ago.

Joe:  I used to come with a youth group.  It wasn’t my church; it was one of my buddy’s churches.  I used to go with them every time for like two or three years.  Then we started playing.

Webb:  Do you remember any shows from when you came as a fan that were really memorable?

Joe:  Yes, two.  The first one was Noggin Toboggan.  They are not around anymore.  I think they only played one year I went.  They played on the old school Deep End [stage].  They got me into punk rock music, three piece just straight up really fast.  I think that same year I saw House of Heroes for the first time.  I thought they were just fantastic.  I am still a fan of that band.

Webb:  What is it like for you guys coming here as a fan and now getting the opportunity to play on stage?

Korey:  It is kind of surreal.

Joe:  Honestly, the funny thing is that a lot of our friends are in bands that play here, and we are actually fans of our friends’ bands.  It is kind of the same as it was, but we play.  We are still psyched to see as many bands as we can while we are here.  In a sense it is very different, but it’s also the same.

Webb:  You guys changed your name a little while ago.  Your name was Nineball, and then changed the name to The Savvy.  What was the reason behind the name change, and what is the meaning behind your new name, The Savvy?

Joe:  The reason we had to change our name was basically legal reasons.  There was one Nineball with the trademark, but there were hundreds of other Nineballs without the trademark that I guess we were competing with.  It just made sense to change it.  Actually at the time, we were talking with a lawyer and a label.  They were like, “If we signed with them, we were going to have to change it.”  We decided to not sign with them, but changed our name anyway to avoid that conflict in the future.

Webb:  So are you happy with your new name, or do you miss Nineball?

Joe:  Honestly, I never liked Nineball [laughing].  The founding member of the band, he actually left the band four years ago. He named it when we were like 14.  People were like, “Eight ball, what?”

Korey:  Tell them what it was going to be:  Blue Duck.

Joe:  It was between Nineball and Blue Duck. I guess Nineball was a little better than Blue Duck.

Webb:  How would you describe your music to an average person who has never heard your music before?

Korey:  Fun, energetic.

Joe:  High energy rock and roll.  I guess our live show is what a lot of people really like.  A lot of energy, a lot of water.  Fun, high energy rock and roll.

Chris:  I think people can just tell that we enjoy what we do when they come watch us.  I think that makes it a good experience for them.

Webb:  You recorded a cover of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson a couple of years ago; can we expect any more covers from you?

Joe:  Oh, I am sure.  I was actually just thinking about it today.  There is a song called “Because” by the Beatles that I would really like to do.  I don’t think it is very well known, so that probably wouldn’t be the best idea.  There are a few that we have played live that would be cool to cover.  I would like to do a White Stripes cover.  I am sure there will be covers.  Kids love covers.

Chris:  We are a fan of many other bands.

Joe:  Last October, we did a cover of “Monster Mash.”  So yeah, there will be more.

Webb:  Kill The Noise has been out about a year, have you started working on new music yet? 

Korey:  Oh yeah.

Joe:  We actually have been doing a lot of writing and demoing.  I have a home studio.  We are not going to release any stuff that we do in our home studio.  That is kind of where we build the songs.  A couple of weeks ago, we just did five brand new ones [songs].  

Korey:  We are letting them sit.

Joe:  I would really like to pump out a good 20 songs before we pick anything.  As far as releasing them, we are kind of rethinking the idea of releasing an album, and possibly trying something new; like releasing more frequently, maybe two songs, A-Side/B-Side kind of thing.  Do that throughout the year, instead of just releasing one album, sitting on it for an entire year and releasing another.  But, nothing is really finalized with that.

Webb:  Is it too early to give us a preview of some of the songs, how they sound musically and lyrically?

Korey:  The first song on our new set is a song called “Pretty Disease.”  It was on that Halloween EP.  It was just kind of a rough demo.  We got a lot of good feedback from it.  I remember I was working at Chipotle in Nashville.  Some kid came up to me and was like, “I like your tattoo.”  I said, “Thanks.”  He was like, “Are you in a band?”  I was like, “Yeah.”  Then, he asked about who we were, and he was like “I totally just got your Halloween EP, and was so stoked on ‘Pretty Disease.’”  We have had a lot of good feedback from it.

Joe:  I think a lot of the newer stuff lyrically and musically is a little bit more mature than our last EP [Kill The Noise].  Our last EP was pretty polished, just straightforward.

Korey:  This one is a little grittier.

Chris:  A little more out of the box.  Just in general, kind of off the grid, I guess.

Korey:  A little more interesting.

Joe:  A little less pop rock, I guess.  But, I wouldn’t say it is going to be so weird that you couldn’t hear it on the radio.

Webb:  Are you looking at producers yet?  I know you worked with James Paul Wisner; are you looking at working with him again?  Are you looking for someone new?

Joe:  I think we are going to try somebody new.  We actually have been talking with the guy who did our cover for “Thriller.”  We just really clicked with him.  We are going to talk to him a little bit more.  I don’t think we are ready to make any decisions.

Korey:  There are a lot of good people that we would love to work with.

Joe:  It is a matter of budgets.  We loved working with James.  I think we want to look for somebody who is a little bit more organic with the way they put stuff together.  Like with drums, to where what you track is what you hear on the record.

Webb:  So are you wanting a more live kind of feel?

Chris:  Sure, just more raw [feel].

Korey:  We want something that is a little more like our live show.  We get so many compliments on our live show; that it would be good for kids to come and see us, and then take something home that sounds like what they just heard. 

Joe:  I think a lot of that comes with just finding the right guy that can pull that out of you.  Being in a vocal booth and singing on stage are two different worlds completely.

Webb:  You mentioned that you start your songs in your home studio.  Could you expand a little bit on how you create a song and the writing process for songs?

Joe:  Yeah.  I think it is a little different for all of us.  Korey is the newest member of the band.  He is pretty new to songwriting.  He will write a lyric and then hum a melody to it.  He will sing that to me, and then I will put that on a guitar.  For me, it kind of works the same way.  It kind of comes in like either a specific guitar riff in my head that I will build a song around, or a lyric that I put melody to like “Man that’s a cool line.  That has got to be a hook in a song.”  I will put a melody to it, and then I will jam on the guitar until it builds into a song.  Sometimes Chris will come to me with a chorus or a riff.  I will start to build around that, and vice versa.  I can come to them with something and they can build around it.

Webb:  That’s awesome.  It is something that a lot of bands don’t do.  Most bands don’t have the entire band in on the writing process.

Joe:  It is kind of a new idea for us.  It just makes us all more proud of the final product.

Korey:  It makes it more personal; it is something that kids definitely grab on to.  I think that we all go through different things.  There are different things that kids could relate too that maybe some other kid couldn’t relate too; like the way Joe is feeling or the way I am feeling, and then we put it into a song.

Webb:  Have you ever thought about recording any music videos?

Joe:  Yes.  Actually, if we were to go through with releasing two songs at a time, whatever that A-Side is we want to try and put a video to it.  Every two months have a video come out.  I think music as a whole right now and the way that kids are, is kind of going for a more visual round.  When I was a kid, all I needed was the song.  I would just jam it all day long and all night long.  Nowadays, kids are going straight to YouTube, “Oh I like this song, let’s go to YouTube.”  If there is no video, then they are like, “Well whatever, I will find another band because there are hundreds of thousands of bands out there.”  That’s definitely something we want to look into.  It’s actually something I have talked to your brother [Matt Webb] about.

Webb:  What would you say is the hardest part about being on the road constantly?

Joe:  The hardest part about being on the road constantly is the fact that nowadays a lot of kids would rather be on their computers at home than be at rock shows.  It can get disheartening.  We play some really awesome shows, but at the same time in between those awesome shows there are some really dead shows.  It is kind of hard to keep your head up sometimes.  But, I mean I guess we have been doing this for five years, and we are still going.  So, I guess we keep our heads up.  I would say the hardest part for me is just those shows that kids don’t make it too for this reason or that. 

Chris:  It is frustrating [sometimes] to try and get people to care about something that you care about.

Webb:  On the other hand, what would you say is the best part about being on the road?

Joe:  For me, it used to be playing those awesome shows where the kids are just vibing off of your energy, and singing the words back to you.  Now though, I really like connecting.  Even if we go to a city and there is a group of two or three friends that we make.  Those friends remain friends, I think that is my favorite part.  Just making friends and meeting people.

Korey:  I think we are all people persons.

Chris:  People people [laughing].

Korey:  People people [laughing].  For me, definitely just meeting new people.  I think I am the one most eager to just meet new people.  I think making new friends in different cities, and remaining friends like Joe said is probably one of the best things.     

Joe:  From a band that has been touring for so long, I think we have just as many really close friends across the United States as we do at home.  That’s really cool.  Even if there is that show that was not that good, we get to go to our friend’s house afterwards and just hang out.  Grill out or whatever, and it is kind of worth it at that point.

Webb:  Looking way back, what inspired each of you to become musicians?  Was it a certain band, event, person, or instrument?

Joe:  I have a really funny answer and a really serious answer [laughing].

Webb:  You can give both [laughing].

Joe:  When I was really little, my mom got me “Ninja Turtles On Tour” on VHS.  I watched it all the time.  They had these big fake guitars.  I went to my grandpa’s house, and he cut out a big, fake guitar out of a tree for me.  I just played the heck out of that thing.  They wore these cut-off jean jackets with sparkles all over them.  I was like, “Mom, I want sparkles on my clothes [laughing].”  After that, I guess my mom saw that I was really into music.  She would just jam like “Phantom of the Opera,” and my dad would jam stuff like Michael Jackson to Van Halen.  I was surrounded by music.  For me, I guess that is just where I ended up.

Chris:  My brother has been a drummer.  He is older than I am.  He started playing drums before I even thought about it; I was more of the sports guy.  One day, I just kind of decided to give it a shot.  Sit down, and see what happened.  He ended up teaching me some stuff, and I just kind of fell in love with it.

Webb:  I am sorry to interrupt you, but you have a huge spider on you.

[Chris quickly flips the spider off his leg; it flies straight at me.]

Chris:  Holy!  I hate that.  I am so sorry.  Thanks for telling me.

Joe:  Yeah, good looking out.

Korey:  I was just watching it crawl up.

Chris:  You didn’t say a word?

Korey:  I was going to flip it off, but then you threw it on him [laughing].

Webb:  I don’t think it is on me.

Chris:  I think you are good.  Anyway, my brother inspired me I guess.  I just gave it a shot, and fell in love with it.

Korey:  I remember getting my first cassette tape ever from my friend Tristan.  It was Michael Jackson.  I think that lit a fire underneath in me.  Always going to the lake with my mom back home.  She was always jamming music, and really soulful music and country music.  That has always been a part of my life for sure.  I joined the road with these dudes like four years ago.  I did merch for them for a year.  Actually, our old bass player ended up quitting.  I didn’t know how to play.  I was like okay, I will learn how to play bass.  Joe taught me how to play bass on the road, and I have been going ever since.

Webb:  As a musician, which do you like more, playing a live show in front of fans or creating songs in the studio?

Chris:  That is just two different worlds.

Joe:  That’s a good question.  I think it just depends on my mood.  As of lately, it feels so good to play.  Our last guitarist actually left the band in December, and I had just been singing.  I kind of got thrown back on guitar.  Whenever I started playing guitar again, I don’t know what happened, but I really reconnected with that instrument.  Ever since then, live shows have been as fun as when we started playing.

Korey:  I think just because I am so new to creating songs that I would say live show, just connecting with people.

Chris:  Yeah, I am kind of the same way.  I have been playing live shows longer than I have been writing music.  So that was kind of my first love.  But, I love song writing.  It is therapeutic almost.  It is just a different kind of thing.

Webb:  What does the rest of 2011 look like for you guys.  What can we expect from The Savvy for the rest of this year?

Korey:  We have some more festivals.

Joe:  We are playing Cornerstone and Lifest.  I think we have another southeast tour coming up in August.  But, for the most part we are going to focus on getting new stuff.  Getting new songs, finding the right producer, and putting a plan behind when we are going to release it [new music].  That will probably be our biggest focus for the rest of the year.

Marc Webb interviews The Savvy in the Ichthus Press Tent on June 17, 2011.   
Photo by Jeremiah Massengale.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blindside Interview

They have released six albums, toured with major secular rock groups like Linkin Park, Papa Roach, and AFI, performed live on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” featured in the P.O.D. music video for “Boom,” collaborated with Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan, and were featured on World Wrestling Entertainment. However, in 2007, Blindside decided to take a break from the music industry. During their hiatus, the Swedish rock group focused on spending time with their families, and deciding if they still wanted to record music. After four years, Blindside returned to the music industry in 2011, with their latest album, With Shivering Hearts We Wait. On June 16, 2011, I had the chance to speak with Blindside’s guitarist, Simon Grenehed, about their new album, the band’s silence during their hiatus, and about Blindside’s special relationship with the United States.

Webb: First, I felt like your new album was very diverse musically. You guys incorporate some new stuff, especially with adding stringed instruments, and a couple of songs are very radio friendly. But, you also stay true to your hardcore sound with the screaming vocals and driving rock songs. With all that said, did you intentionally want to stretch yourselves musically on this album, and have a diverse sound?

Simon Grenehed: I think when we make music we don’t really have a plan from the start. The one thing that we did have this time was that we wanted a really good production that sounded pretty powerful. That is why we contacted Howard Benson and his team. We have been working on this record and writing songs for more or less five years. Over that time, we have been going back and forth a little bit; but I think we narrowed it in, in the last year to what we wanted to do. Musically, we just found a direction that felt fresh for us. It is always like that for this band. We just try to follow our heart and see what comes out. This time we have had a little bit longer to work through that process. We were very happy with the response that came out.

As far as the extra string material, that was a dream for us to incorporate it into this record. It just came together in a great way. We actually recorded all the strings in Sweden, after we were done recording. We are very happy with how it came out. As far as diversity, we write the music that comes out, and just go from there.

Webb: Besides being a lyric in one of your songs, what was the inspiration to the album title of With Shivering Hearts We Wait?

Simon Grenehed: I think the whole wait thing for us has been very much. There was supposed to be a record in 2007, but it didn’t come through. The shivering hearts part I think in some ways defines our faith, just the expectation and adventure that it is to have a faith. I think for us it has been almost a scary thing to jump in situations that you are not used too, and just trust God in what is going to come out. So I think it sums it up in this title what this band is about at this point.

Webb: One song that really caught my ear was the hard hitting song “Bring Out the Dead.” I absolutely loved it. I was wondering, what was the inspiration or story behind the song?

Simon Grenehed: I think musically it has riffs that just came out and they drive the whole song. It is the same riffs over and over. Lyrically, I’m not the lyricist in the band, but I know it’s about dealing with your inner demons. Everybody has something we are ashamed about. At some point, you have to confront yourself, and confront it in front of the higher power. Sometimes it is scary to let go of these things that kind of hurt you. But, in some ways it defines who you are as a person. It is a tricky subject, but I think it is something that probably everybody can relate too.

Webb: Could you talk a little bit about the album’s artwork? The artwork really seems to tell a story right alongside the lyrics.

Simon Grenehed: We basically told the guy who did all the artwork to listen to the music and read the lyrics, and just see what comes out. Once we started hearing his plans for it, we definitely felt that it was representative of the music and the visual thing we were going for.

Webb: Do you have a favorite song on this album, or one that you are extra proud of?

Simon Grenehed: I think it is still kind of new. For me, personally, the first song on the album; as a guitar player, I have been working on that song for a couple of years. I had that riff. When I first brought it in, they [Blindside] knew that it was something good, but they didn’t know what we should do with it. I just had the vision in my head, and kept rolling with it. Once we got the strings in at the end that just really made the song. That one, I am excited about. Also, a song that we have been starting to play live is a song called “Withering.” There is a vibe on that song that is really interesting, and a lot of things are happening musically as well. Those two, I think are my favorites right now.

Webb: You mentioned that you took a long time on this album writing and recording. So in the recording process, which do you prefer: taking as long as it takes to get the album great like you did on With Shivering Hearts We Wait, or do you like working under a tight pressure or deadline?

Simon Grenehed: I think there are pros and cons for both. The album, About A Burning Fire, we wrote and recorded in almost one or two month’s time. The good thing there is that we really just worked hard, and let ourselves be open with ideas. It is a weird thing with music. When we write, we don’t think too much before; we just go in and try ideas. So, we will play stuff at home, and you don’t really know if there is a song in there. When you get to the rehearsal place, it could be either dead or the next great thing for the band. That doesn’t really matter, if it is a long process or a short process.

I think after Great Depression, the last album, we did go into a mode. It was kind of hard to come out of. It was a little bit darker. We kept writing songs and they were along those lines still. It was probably meaningful to have enough time to instead of doing Great Depression Part 2, you really try to reinvent yourself and see what the next step is. We probably needed the time do that.

Webb: I do want to talk about your break a little bit. Was it intentional to keep the fans in the dark about what you were doing during your hiatus?

Simon Grenehed: Yes, I think so. This society right now, if you don’t put out a record every year or every two years, there is a lot of pressure to just keep banging out stuff. For me personally, I was kind of tired of that thing. When I was growing up, if I found a band, it took awhile before you figured out who they were and what they were about. There was some kind of magic in that.

Now, you know when a singer goes to the bathroom basically because of twitter and everything [laughing]. I think we felt like we didn’t want to come up with news unless we think it is something worth telling. But, I think now that we have our record out, it is more interesting to keep people updated. We weren’t afraid to keep people in the dark about what was going on. We just felt that it wasn’t something that people needed to know about.

Webb: Did you ever think about calling it quits?

Simon Grenehed: Yeah, of course. For us, being in a band and also having families, we have mostly built our fan base in the States. It is a big step to go over there and spend time away from your families. We didn’t have a record deal for awhile. It was very hard to motivate for your family, to go on a tour and see if we came back with the rent. I think as far as the band goes, we needed to step away a little bit and find our own identities. Also, we needed to figure out if there was more in store, and if we could contribute anything more. We prayed about it for a long time and discussed it. At the end, we felt like we had more stuff that we could do. I think it was a good decision, after having done this record. We really felt that we had more. Even when this record [With Shivering Hearts We Wait] is done, we still have the inspiration to write more.

Webb: One thing that a lot of bands have trouble with is keeping the same members. I think it is really cool that all the original members from Blindside have stayed in the band. What is the secret for you to keep all of the original members in the band?

Simon Grenehed: I think for us it has been a mutual respect. We have always tried to listen to each other, and also listen to the families’ needs. We are four very different individuals. But, somehow when we get in a room together and make music, we just love it. We feel like it is a gift. We learned to play together. I don’t think we could even keep going as a band if we lost one member. In some ways, we feel like this has and will always be the band and lineup.

Webb: I know you have toured all across the world, everywhere from the United States to Australia to South Africa. Do you have a favorite country that you have toured in?

Simon Grenehed: This is also something that I want to say about the hiatus. A lot of people thought after the Great Depression, that we just took a break. But, that was the period we did tour in some of those countries. We have fallen in love over and over with different countries. But, the States is where we felt like this band was something to do for real. I think we have gotten so much love from the United States. That is definitely the place where we want to go play again, and meet all of our friends again. So, that is the place that is very close to our hearts.

Webb: What does the future look like for Blindside? Are you guys going to jump back in head first into the music industry or are you going to take it slow? What can we expect from you in the near future?

Simon Grenehed: Right now, we are pretty busy. We try to keep things going on the web for people that do not live in Sweden. We are coming back to the States for a tour in September. That tour in the United States will decide a lot of things. We are up and running again. We are very excited about it. I don’t see us stopping or taking it too slow. What we did before of touring 11 months straight, that is not going to happen again. But, we are definitely going to try to move as much as possible.

Webb: Do you have any last comments?

Simon Grenehed: We are just excited to be back. We are looking forward to coming over, meeting all of our friends again, and playing some good rock and roll music.