Justin Greaves - A trip down memory lane
Okay, I did this interview like a year ago (shame on you DemonDust!), but since it wasn’t about a band in particular I didn’t give this one priority to work out. This is an interesting interview with legendary underground drummer Justin Greaves, who has been in acts like Hard To Swallow, Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard. I interviewed him when he was touring Europe with Electric Wizard, but he has, according to reliable sources, departed from that band. So, here we go on a trip down memory lane with Justin Greaves!
Your dad owned a record store when you were growing up, did this shape an open mind towards all music in general?
‘Yeah he’s still got that record shop, he opened that in 1976. It’s still going, he still has a lot of vinyl and everything. So when I was growing up it was always around me, our family lived above the shop. I can remember one year my dad was decorating the shop and I was helping him paint, I was young then, I was only eleven or twelve years old. And he said for helping him paint, I could have any record in the shop. And I looked around and there was one thing that really stood out; Never Mind The Bollocks from The Sex Pistols, because it was bright yellow and it had the word bollocks on it. So I was like I want that one, my dad was quite open minded so he didn’t mind. So there I was, eleven, twelve years old listening to The Sex Pistols, Discharge and it just went on from there you know. And when I was like fifteen my dad brought home this big box of vinyl for me, he had bought it second hand from someone. There were bands in there like Deep Purple, AC/DC, all the classics basically. You’ve had enough of punk now listen to this you know what I mean. I guess that’s most of my influence you know, first listening to punk, my older sister is into punk as well, and then listening to rock and let the two meet. So I started pretty early, and I guess my dad is a big influence as well.’
Do you also make music with your dad?
‘Yeah, in 1990 I actually joined his band, which was a Jethro Tull tribute band. He asked me to join, because me and my dad fell out for a while, I left him when I was seventeen because he wanted me to go to art college because I was always drawing and painting, and I wanted to be in a band. And he was just so disappointed, we just kind of fell out. And in 1990 he was like okay let’s play some music and since then he’s been my best friend.’
So when did you start drumming?
‘My first gig I suppose was at school, it was at primary school so I guess I was maybe nine or ten years old.’
That’s about the age you started drumming?
‘I didn’t start it properly. I was really into Adam And The Ants when I was that age, so that was a big influence for me as well. My first proper gig was in a local pub, I was totally underaged, like fifteen or so and I was playing in a band with people that were eighteen, nineteen. So they just sneaked me in the gig you know. So that’s when I started to play with bands.’
When you’re on stage you put your middle fingers up in the air, who are those for?
‘I don’t know, it’s from the Iron Monkey days. That’s what’s left over. It was a weird life in that band, we just did that because we like to get people going. And there is an element of that in Electric Wizard as well, songs like ‘We Hate You’ and such. So it’s kind of in that tradition, but it’s not like just screaming "hey you bastard!", it’s like a term of endearment, like a friendly gesture, a fuck yeah gesture. Honestly I think it doesn’t really mean something, it’s just something that’s stuck, nowadays I just find it funny.’
And when people do it back?
‘When people do it back I fucking love it. I love to see people do it back to me.’
There’s not much further interaction with Electric Wizard.
‘I used to play in punkrock bands, and people went off there, knocking the drums over and stuff, I love that. I think sometimes, when playing in a band people can get a little complex, they really appreciate it but they don’t interact at all. It’s hard to connect and that breaks the ice a little bit.’
Okay, then it’s time to go on a trip down memory lane. I will name a band you’ve been in and you tell your story about it. First one up; Hard To Swallow. Fastcore thrash.
‘That pretty much says it, powerviolence. That’s one of my two proudest moments before Electric Wizard, being in Hard To Swallow and Iron Monkey. Those two bands come together. It was me and Jim Rushby, from Iron Monkey as well. I think we formed Hard To Swallow six months before Iron Monkey, and after that we split up. That’s it basically. We did a few tours and we played with some great bands. We played with Rob you know, with Insult, we played with Melt Banana. The best show we did was somewhere in Germany, we didn’t have a clue who else was playing. So we came there, looked at the poster and it was Stack. Stack had been split up for a while, but they got back together and they were playing. We in Hard To Swallow were all massive fans of Stack. It was the best show ever man, I will never forget that.’
About Hard To Swallow, why is the stuff you released so hard to get?
‘Well basically because we did everything ourselves. We didn’t sign to anybody at all. Every release was on a different label, we did a lot of stuff with friends, released a lot of split albums with friends bands. So they were all kind of limited press, usually 500 or something, but the album we did for the ……… album was re-released. And then there was another release of all the split seven inches and compilation tracks which came out on Armageddon Records. They’re around, you just gotta know how to find them.’
Next band on the list; Iron Monkey. Fucking love that shit! Sludgecore. How the hell did you end up playing such an extreme underground genre?
‘I think it was just that what we had in our record collection. It was like a mix of everything we had you know, from Bloodswags to Saint Vitus. Me, Jim and Johnny had been playing in hardcore punk bands for some time, like Hard To Swallow. So we we’re listening to a lot of underground music and playing it as well. But at the same time there were a bunch of hardcore punk kids that were listening to Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus, so we just looked at what we could make of this. It literally just came out that way. The thing with Johnny’s vocals, it just came out that way. He was singing in a hardcore band where he didn’t sing like in Iron Monkey. It was quite extreme. It was just a mixture of what we are were into at the time.’
Well for me it is the best sludgecore band of all time.
‘We’re a lot more well-known now. It’s unfortunate that the band is bigger now after Johnny died. I don’t really like that, but it’s some kind of acknowledgement because we went through so much shit with that band. We had some really hard times, I could write a book on that band. The bad stuff that happened was really bad. That band was destined to split up. We couldn’t carry on. It wasn’t just the music, the whole lifestyle, and everything that happened to us was extreme. I don’t understand why it was like that, but we attracted it and it just happened to us all the time. Most of the time we were just laughing about how shitty everything was. We went through a couple of managers because every manager we had said that we were an unmanageable band. Basically we wouldn’t do what anyone told us.’
A sort of rebels?
‘Well, I suppose there are people that are more rebel than us, but at least we stood by what we believed in. We didn’t play the games with record companies, that's just what happened with Earache Records you know. We’d rather split the band up than carry on with them, carry on with the managers and carry on with the way it was going. We’d rather just split the band up. At the end of the day our lives are worth more than the band. And we were all living our lives, we were all working, we had no money, no respect, haha. It’s alright when you look back on a band like that, and everybody thinks it must be so cool to be in a cool band like Iron Monkey, there’s people that say that. But it wasn’t like that back then. To be in that band was shit! It really was. Apart from the fact that we went through so much together as friends and I respect everybody so much for what they did, and I’m proud of the music. But it was shit.’
Okay, on to the next; Armour Of God. Crossover New York hardcore.
‘That was right after Iron Monkey split up, it was me, Jim and Johnny, and Sean who was also in Hard To Swallow. And a guy called Marvin who played in The Varukers. I think that was just the reaction to what happened to Iron Monkey. Something different. It was just paying respect to a style of music we all really loved and grew up with. In the eighties crossover hardcore was just like so amazing, I mean like Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, D.R.I. and Cryptic Slaughter, all those old school bands. It was just part of what we liked, not what we were totally into. It wasn’t a real serious band.’
Did you have any releases?
‘We did one that had only three tracks.’
And that’s probably even harder to get than those from Hard To Swallow I guess?
‘Absolutely. But it was cool, I really enjoyed it. We just played a bunch of gigs and that was is basically.’
This one I’m interested about; Borknagar. What the hell did you do in a black metal band?
‘I was pretty much of a misfit in that band. I don’t know, I just got a phone call and I was asked to do it. And this was while I was in Iron Monkey. It was just for a tour and there was supposed to be some recording afterwards but that never happened. But it wasn’t really a solid plan, they just paid me for the tour. It was a real long one, with Napalm Death. The guys flew over and we had three days of rehearsal and after that I was just playing for forty minutes a night. Black metal. It was a real cool experience, and I will say that out of everybody on that tour the Borknagar guys were the most down to earth, straight open and nice blokes. I really really like the people. I had a great time. You hear a lot about Norwegian black metallers and stuff like that, that they’re weird and stuff. These guys were just good guys. I think Cradle Of Filth’s crew had more ego than these guys you know. So it was really cool. And it was funny because these guys were like seven foot tall with long blond hair and leather and stuff, and me in a Siege t-shirt and a baseball cap on playing black metal. It must have looked really strange, I must have looked like a dwarf you know what I mean. But it was cool and it was good for me because it was a lot of discipline for me. Playing I mean, because I was used to straight up and blastbeat, punk/hardcore stuff, sludgecore with Iron Monkey. And when I came back to Iron Monkey after those couple of months of tour I just was more together as a drummer. I did actually do me good in Borknagar.’
Okay, that’s nice! On to the next band, another one of my favourites; Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine.
‘I love that, it’s one of my most proud moments. Not a lot of people like it, I don’t think people get it and I understand that because it is a very difficult record to listen to. It was born out of me and Stephen O’Malley, we were having a conversation, talking about our love for The Melvins. So after that conversation he came over and stayed at my house for a while. At first it was me and Stephen and Marvin from The Varukers playing bass, just the three of us. We had a show in Nottingham and we had just had one rehearsal. We wrote the songs and rehearsed them in one day, and that night we were playing a show with Armour Of God, and Stephen was there so we just played the set that night. That was like early on in the year.’
How was the crowd’s reaction?
‘Uhm, they were pretty much crushed, people falling over and stuff haha! Stephen of course brought a stack of Sunn 0))) amps, so it was like a wall of sound. Even recording it man, we recorded it in a fairly small room, and the sound was just so oppressive you could heard the compression. You could feel your chest pound when we were playing and recording it. It was a very thick sound, and it wasn’t even in a big studio or something. We recorded it in a studio of a friend of mine which was literally around the corner from my house.’
But that’s not the line-up in which you recorded the album.
‘No, but Stephen came over again and at this time Lee from Cathedral was down with doing the vocals, and we wanted to have Mark Deutrom who used to be the bass player in The Melvins. But Mark was really really ill, so Stephen asked Greg Anderson to play with us and he came over to do it. We rehearsed the songs the night before and then had a discussion about how we were gonna record it since we all live in different countries and play in different bands and such. So we decided to record the whole thing the next day. It really destroyed us all to record that record, I mean at that time, this was before all the drone sort of bands, like five or six years ago, at the time it was so extreme. It was experimental doom stuff, it had the pedal walls, where Stephen and Greg would just fool around with their pedals creating all sorts of sounds. There was no way we could record that sound the way we experienced it in that rehearsal room. But it is what it is and I love that album.’
Will there be a follow-up to this album?
‘Hopefully. I’d love to do it. I mean I’ve spoken to everybody about it, it’s been mentioned. I was talking to Lee about it too actually, he has some ideas about it as well. But next time we gotta do it right, with more time and such, so we can think about what were doing.’
Okay then, on to the next. This ought to be good; Silver Ginger Five.
‘Oh for fuck sake! How did you know about that, I’m supposed to keep that one a secret!’
Haha, it says it was pop-punk here.
‘No it wasn’t pop-punk, it was more like stadium-rock, glamrock ‘n’ roll. It was basically Ginger from The Wildhearts. I actually did it for the money, but then I found out I actually really liked Ginger. He’s not actually what he appears to be in all the magazines. He likes to live up to that to sell his records, you know he’s got a child to support and a house and bills to pay for too you know. I give him all credit for doing that. I don’t know, it was just a really weird set-up. I was in there for just a couple of months, just chilling at hotels, going out and stuff, I went out of my mind with Ginger every night, that’s what it was basically hehe. I thought it would be like an experience and stuff, and a great way to pay for my bills, but in the end it wasn’t worth it.’
Up next; The Varukers! Did you record anything with that?
‘No. But we did some tours in America and Europe, but I got really ill during that time. When we were in America I caught an ammonia, and went I got back home it had gotten to my lungs, pretty much nearly died. I was in a hospital for a few weeks tucked full of morphine, so I was basically tucking out a bit. Flying around in the room because of the sedation, when I lay on the bed it was like the bed was on the ceiling and stuff. I visited everybody in a little cubicle, it was horrible. I was completely out of it for a while. And something like a month after that we went on a tour to Brazil, and we just caned it so hard. From Brazil we went straight to Europe and that’s when I had a stroke.’
‘Yeah. But that pretty much was it, I put the brakes on it. I said that enough I’m taking a break from everything. Start looking after myself, because I’ve got a daughter and everything and it’s important I do wanna see her grow up. So I just stepped out of it for a while.’
Okay, so that wasn’t exactly the best chapter you might say.
‘No, not at all indeed.’
Quickly on to the next one then; Crippled Black Phoenix. A solo ambient project?
‘Yes, still doing that. Still working on that.’
Did you record anything for it?
‘I’ve got some demo’s for it, it’s been probably two years now in the making. It’s just something I wanted to do for a long time.’
What does it sound like, how would you describe it?
‘It’s very miserable, maybe like Swans. It’s got that lo-fi thing going on, I don’t know. I don’t like to describe my own music. It’s just music I felt like I had to make. After like a very bad period in my life I ended up in a house where I could play with all my equipment for the first time, so I played something, recorded it, listened to it, and so on, just making bits of music basically. And then my friend Dominic, he plays in a band called Mogwai, he came down and played some bass on it. Andy from Esoteric did some vocals, like Gregorian style monk vocals and I had another guy play some piano. There are a lot of instruments and stuff, they are long songs. It will be released at some point, it’s just that I’m being a megalomaniac about it, I just want it exactly how I want it. It needs to be a hundred percent correct before anyone hears it.’
Okay, I understand. Sounds interesting though. That leaves us with Electric Wizard.
‘I’ve been in Electric Wizard now as long as I’ve been in Iron Monkey. It feels like home now. Nobody really knows the true story, most people think Jus split from the other guys and just formed a new band around him. It didn’t happen like that, it was much more natural. When he kicked Mark out, I was actually supposed to join Electric Wizard a couple of years before while they did the American tour, but then he gave Mark another chance. Jus always mentioned that we were going to do something together, whatever it may be. We’ve always got a mutual respect for each other, and Electric Wizard has always been my favourite doom band. But with that American tour I was also doing an American tour with The Varukers, we were basically playing the same venues the day after each other. That was a bit weird. So after that ordeal Jus was like I will split the band up and quit if you won’t do it. So I joined when Tim was still in the band so it was the three of us. And at some point Tim didn’t want to play bass, he didn’t want to do music, so he left and we brought Rob in. But we all knew each other, so it’s more like this came together naturally. And that’s why it’s working so well now.’
Indeed it is. Well I think you’re an amazing drummer and the perfect fit for this band.
‘Well thank you very much.’
Thanks a lot for this in-depth interview and I hope to see you again some time!
‘Yes indeed, thank you too!’
Pictures by Bobby Vimto
Pictures by Bobby Vimto