Written by: Paul Gleason
Grog is the lead vocalist, bassist, and a songwriter in Die So Fluid. She’s also the band’s driving force, a fount of energy for a band whose sound derives from a cornucopia of styles. Indeed, Grog herself cites artists as wide-ranging as The Cure, Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Captain Beefheart, Rush, Deftones, Jeff Buckley, and The Electric Light Orchestra as influences on her band’s sound.
But you don’t really listen for influences when you put on a Die So Fluid disc. The band’s tunes are musically complex and interesting, catchy as all get out, and heavy as Heaven. Just listen to anything off the band’s 2010 release The World Is Too Big for One Lifetime, and you’ll ride a wave of infectious hard rock.
Die So Fluid’s forthcoming release—The Opposites of Light—is in the can and will appear within the next six months. What’s so exciting is the double record’s promise. Lead song and video “Crime Scene” is perhaps the strongest, most intricate, and most powerful track that the band has done to date.
Grog sat down with SEM to discuss her career and Die So Fluid past and present.
SEM: Before we get into your work with Die So Fluid, let’s discuss your work with other artists. You were a member of The Ailerons, which featured Dave Rowntree, the drummer from Blur, and Mike Smith of Gorillaz. What was your role in the band?
G: My job was to balance the nerd ratio! I played bass guitar and sang backup. I’ve taken on projects like this over the years when I’m drawn to them, but I always keep my own baby, Die So Fluid, as the priority.
Also, it was a case of having to earn money—which was mostly put into DSF in the early years.
Dave and producer Damian LeGassick had seen me performing at Shepherds Bush Empire in London on tour with Melanie C (“Sporty Spice”) and liked my style, so they invited me to the studio to meet and listen to some material, and that’s how it began. Those guys are fun to work with.
SEM: You recorded a four-song EP – Left Right. Would you please describe the songwriting and recording process?
G: The material was written by Dave and Mike, as I remember; and in this case, I basically played what was already written but made it my own and gave it the Grog mojo!
SEM: In what capacity did you work with Goldfrapp?
G: That’s quite funny—well, looking back on it anyway! I was rehearsing to stand in for the bass player, who had a baby on the way, for summer festivals, but then the violinist Davide fell off a stage, broke his arm, and they cancelled everything, much to my disappointment. I was so looking forward to doing “Strict Machine” live.
SEM: Being a huge Al Jourgensen fan, I’m personally very interested in your work with Revolting Cocks. How did you hook up with Al?
G: Well, that’s another near miss, I’m afraid. There is a tenuous link between Al and I. Die So Fluid did a European tour, supporting Prong. Tommy Victor and drummer Aaron Rossi both played with Ministry and Aaron with Rev Co.
So after that Prong tour—and I had moved to Los Angeles—they recommended me for the Rev Co job. Unfortunately, due to Die So Fluid commitments, I couldn’t accept the invitation.
Also, I did work with Sin Quirin, who played guitar in Ministry and Rev Co, on a project recently…
As for Al, I haven’t played with him yet, but I have hung out with him in the dressing room at the London Forum and seen some shit! I advise you never to touch the celery sticks on a Ministry rider!
SEM: When and how did you meet your Die So Fluid bandmates, guitarist Drew Richards and drummer Al Fletcher?
G: Drew is my best friend. We met through mutual friends in bands when we were very young and living in London. I had just got my degree at Chelsea School of Art, and during that time formed my first ever band, who were NME darlings.
Drew was also a music journalist back then and took a shine to the music I was making. He became our manager and then began playing guitar with me when my guitarist was too lazy to rehearse and write. It felt like a natural progression.
So a new four-piece band was formed—Feline—and we had a deal with Chrysalis EMI, and it wasn’t until the end of this period that we joined forces with Al. Al was in a band called Gigantic, with the singer of Flesh For Lulu. We really liked his playing, and we all would end up at the same parties. Some would say we stole him, but he came willingly!
Eventually we found the perfect line up in just the three of us. It was tough to let go of other members, but we followed our gut feeling and musical aspirations.
SEM: What inspired you to start making music together?
G: We had musical influences that crossed over in all the right places. We all had built up a wealth of useful musical experience individually to draw upon, and we all shared the same fire to create great emotional, exciting, essential, rocking music that we would listen to ourselves! We still do. We never rest on our laurels.
SEM: Do the three of you share a love for any specific bands?
G: It’s interesting how our tastes overlap. Drew and I share a love for post-punk bands that we grew up with, like The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Echo & the Bunnymen—and Al and I share a love for Led Zep, The Cult, Sabbath. We all love Deftones. I think we all got into Nirvana, Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle, and Jeff Buckley.
And then each of us has their own personal, diverse world of music they listen to. I think that keeps what we write fresh and never touching too long on any particular influence. For instance, I listen to Depeche Mode, Bassnectar, Mastodon, Dead Weather, Nick Drake and many more. Al is a big Who fan and likes ELO and Captain Beefheart. Drew listens to Polyrock, Arcade Fire, and Australian punk.
One thing to mention is our strange Rush connection, which seems to have become more relevant lately. Al got heavily into Rush as a kid hanging out with older guys doing weed, but I had never even listened to them when we started getting people commenting at gigs that they could “hear the Rush influence.” “Their singer’s a dude, isn’t he?” I would say to Al and Drew! And I kind of liked the idea, because one of my pet hates is being compared to other female singers, who may have a vague resemblance to me but sound nothing like me.
Well, of course, when I relocated to Los Angeles, I would hear “Tom Sawyer” on the radio a lot, and after realizing we had the same voice range (laughs), the spirit of it made me want to check them out some more. I watched their documentary, and it unexpectedly moved me. We relate so much to them as a three-piece outfit because of their loyal family-like relationships and their independent and maverick qualities.
Hopefully, we’re not quite as nerdy (laughs), but you know! I’d rather keep fighting to make the music we want to even if it means not fitting in with trends. I also love that it reminded me of how a band can be more than the sum of its parts—that’s a magical thing.
SEM: Your website says that your third album—2010’s The World Is Too Big for One Lifetime—“represents a big step forward in sound and performance.” Before I ask you about specific tracks, I’d like to ask you what this statement means.
G: (Laughs). Well, I hope we’ll be able to say that every time we release new music! Dragging my head away from the current material it’s been immersed in, I think it felt so different making it because it was the first time we weren’t working with financial constraints. Before then, we’d been grabbing short sessions when funds allowed. We were able to block book one studio session to record and work within a time scale. That makes you rise to the challenge, and we had an intense four-month period of preparation, making final changes to arrangements and getting focused on the sound and concept. We were more seasoned performers, and it came out with a more sophisticated coherent flow to it.
SEM: Let’s talk about the first single, “Mercury,” which combines a terrific, catchy melody with a heavy, chugging guitar riff. What was the songwriting process like?
G: Drew and I wrote the main riffs together, and I wrote the vocal part. At that point, back when we lived in the same town, we would play it in rehearsals, trying out different arrangement ideas and all contributing suggestions until it flowed naturally.
“Mercury” is like galloping on a wild horse—it just has to keep riding all the way! It’s a live favorite.
SEM: Your voice simply explodes in the chorus. What production techniques were used to achieve this effect?
G: None that I’m aware of. I just have a powerful voice and a large dynamic range that’s been known to blow up mics!
SEM: Drew knows how to rock a guitar solo, especially on this song. What can you say about him as a player?
G: Mr. Drew is a seriously underrated guitarist. He works slavishly on his tone, and he avoids cliché like the plague. He writes imaginative, original parts that complement the songs and manages to carry the responsibility of being the sole guitarist in a rock three-piece effortlessly, with epic soundscapes and fingers-on-fire soloing.
One of the key elements to the DSF sound is the way the bass and guitar combine in areas that create this lush deep wall of sound you could just bathe in. I always think of it as being like in Ghostbusters when they cross the streams, except in our case, that’s when the doors to other dimensions are opened!
SEM: On “What a Heart Is For” everything matches up—the guitar riff, the attitude in the vocal melody and the lyrics, and the bass-drum groove. Tell me how everything came together in the recording studio, including the sinister part near the end of the song, when Drew does some cool string picking.
G: The atmospheric picking, which is also in the intro. That’s where that song started and totally comes from Drew’s New Wave taste. Then, we wanted a really contrasting heavy riff to jump to. After the riffs were established, we just followed the melody for the chorus and middle—just big simple chords underneath a soaring vocal. I think that song is definitely one of our more vocal-driven efforts. The music only gets intricate when I shut my mouth!
SEM: “The World Is Too Big for One Lifetime” is one of my favorite tracks, mainly because it takes me on a dark, psychedelic journey, especially in the guitar playing in the verses. But then the chorus features yet another explosive chorus that’s positively catchy. How did you guys link the verses and choruses together?
G: It is a song about turning your wounds into instruments of freedom. I think the builds from the verses into the choruses reflect that uplifting transformation from the darkness to the light. We tried really hard to get the overall tempo just right, so the verse was dark and hypnotic, but the chorus didn’t drag and could take off and fly.
SEM: Your voice has a tremendous range. What do you do to preserve its strength?
G: Within the last maybe four years, I’ve decided to treat it with a bit more respect—and I’ve learned that the throat is a muscle that can be trained just like any other part of the body. So I have exercises I do for warm up, and I try to sing everyday if I can. Simple things like drinking water often and inhaling the steam from a shower help while on tour.
Just recently, I’ve taken up yoga, which is immensely beneficial on many levels. I’m deepening my breathing and strengthening my spine and posture—which is great, seeing as though I also carry the weight of a G & L bass on my shoulder when performing.
SEM: “If Wishes Were Bullets” has a cool, driving bass line. Do you ever compose on bass? I imagine this as the foundation and starting point for the song, even though the song evolves into something a lot noisier and more complex than the bass pattern.
G: Well, spotted. I did compose this track on bass—it’s one of mine. It just came together really fast. I write a lot just playing a guitar, as if it were as bass and singing along, I hear the rest in my head. When we write from this angle, the others usually get the song from what I play them and write their parts with a bit of discussion here and there.
SEM: “Themis” is the final track from The World Is Too Big for One Lifetime about which I’d like to ask you. What inspired you to write a song named after the Greek Titan who embodies divine order and law? This is a very cool song, both in its lyrics and vocal performance.
G: Thank you. I really enjoyed singing “Themis” in the studio, and we took great pleasure in building a world for it using the Hammond organ and haunting sounds. We finessed it together, but this song was mainly written by Mr. Drew, so I’ll let him discuss the lyrics
DR: It’s about a domestic breakdown taking on epic proportions because you love the person so much. When I showed Grog the music and my initial lines, like “Themis made flesh under the strip light,” she encouraged me to carry on writing, even though I’d only contributed a couple of lines of lyrics to Die So Fluid before this point. The middle section is cool, as Grog wrote the first and third line and I completed the rhyming couplets by penning lines two and four.
SEM: What can you tell me about the new album, The Opposites of Light? Will it come out this year as planned?
G: It’s looking more like January now, with pre-releases, perhaps, before Christmas. The music is complete, and we have two videos on hold. We’ve always had this DIY slightly Addams Family stance, and now we’re actually adjusting to the idea of allowing strangers into our world to help. It’s tough but necessary. We’re getting closer.
I just read about the Chinese bamboo shoot in a Paulo Coelho book, which diligently grows an underground network of roots upwards and outwards for five years, and not until that point does it suddenly send its shoot up 25 meters. That’s how I feel.
SEM: How does the new record fluctuate between the heaviest tracks you’ve ever recorded and lighter tracks that border on being torch songs?
G: The intensity links them all. We’re planning on releasing it as a double album, with two discs—one heavy and one dark, the opposites of light. There are 18 tracks, and we feel it makes sense to be able to listen to the disc you’re in the mood for. But it’s all different shades of vampire desert rock!
SEM: Why did you and the guys decide to take the music in this direction?
G: We got into a flow of writing, sending ideas back and forth by e-mail. This was a new method for us, and I was excited by it. We got to around 10 tracks, and more were coming, so we went with it.
I was adjusting to a new culture, beginning married life, and finding myself darkly inspired by the atmosphere of apocalyptic obsession, rapture and end of days, etc., whilst living in Hollywood with its extreme dichotomy of dreamers and poseurs. I just let the ghosts speak to me.
SEM: One of the album’s tracks – “Crime Scene” – seems to me to fall into the “heavy” camp and is, to my ears at least, more musically adventurous than your previous work. It has a metal riff, an almost punk main vocal line, an amazing noise guitar noise, parts where the drums stop on a dime and cut out…. It’s really a cornucopia. Tell me why this is one of the first song you want people to hear from the new album.
G: We wrote “Crime Scene” at the tail end of the writing session for the last album, and we loved it, but it didn’t seem to sit right with the rest of the album. So we decided to use it as the starting point for the next one.
It reminds me of some of our very early DSF tracks but more sophisticated because it’s packed with energy, but it’s kind of like…prog punk. It’s complex, but it’s still punching you in the gut.
We like to raise the bar and stretch ourselves with each new record, and this was perfect for that. We put it on YouTube with a video I made myself, as a gift for our fans, to show them we’re still feverishly working despite the wait, and to give them something to get their teeth into. We now have a new mix of it that will be on the album.
SEM: Is the road in the immediate future for Die So Fluid?
G: I hope we’ll be able to do some live work this side of Christmas when we’ve committed to a label, but next year we’re all set to get back to our mega-touring ways. I want to revisit the twenty countries we already played and add a whole bunch more. Europe, USA, Japan, Russia… let me at it!
SEM: What about yourself? Do you have any projects brewing in addition to the new record?
G: I’m the bass guitarist in The Black and Blue Orkestre with Tom DiCillo and Will Crewdson. We’ve been working on tracks for some time now, with a view to putting out an album—and we’re almost there.
We really progressed and grew as the process went on. Tom was learning quite a bit from scratch, and it’s been a pleasure to be involved. I love it because I get to explore styles and sounds and play on tracks that wouldn’t necessarily fit with the Die So Fluid vibe. It keeps me versatile and open-minded. We’re all learning all the time from the music and from each other. I’m not sure if TBABO will ever become a live outfit, but I certainly can’t wait to get back on the road with Die So Fluid.