In an era when hardcore bands were smashing together melodic elements with brutally aggressive ones, Grade stood out for the density of their sound and for taking an unexpected route. They weren’t the only band doing what they were doing, but they were a lot smarter about it than most, and they did a fine job of juxtaposing the personal with the political.
This interview with Matt Jones was, I believe, conducted over email–if not, my younger self was really fond of incorporating slashes into conversation. Separate the Magnets was recently reissued on Dine Alone Records, and the band has reunited; this 2014 interview conducted by Jonah Bayer is worth checking out.
This appeared in the gargantuan fourth issue of Eventide.
I noticed that there was a two year gap between the recording of And Such is Progress and Separate the Magnets-why wait so long between releases?
The Progress LP was recorded in the spring of ’95, then we recorded again in December ’95 for our 7″. The LP was doing really well at the time, and we wanted to go out and tour but a couple of guys in the band weren’t into touring, and it was hard to even go out and do weekend shows. The band was always just our tight little group of friends, so even though we wanted to kick them out it we just couldn’t do it because we were so close. Eventually we kind of broke up for about 6 months in ’96. We all still wanted to do the band, so in November ’96 we got a new drummer and started playing shows again. Around that time our 7″ finally came [out] after a bunch of label problems, and everything started to take off again. The real turning point for us was going to Europe last summer. It went so well that we realized we could actually make something of the band. That and all the support we’ve gotten from Dan at Second Nature. Without him we might not be around right now. We finally went and recorded again in Oct. ’97. The reason it’s a 10″/EP instead of another LP is we were so impatient trying to get something new out, that we didn’t wait to record a full albums worth of songs, we just recorded what we had at the time. Now we’re all caught up, and can put out records without 2 years gaps in between. We’re recording again in March/April for a couple of 7″s. One’s a split with Morning Again on Ferret Records, the other will probably be a limited edition tour 7″ on Second Nature.
How much time do the members’ other bands take up?
Right now our other bands take up the majority of our time, because they’re just getting started and Grade’s already established. Plus it’s easier for Grade to concentrate all our shows into big tours, instead of weekends because we all work or go to school full-time. We’ll play maybe one show a month around here, but when we play we want it to be an event instead of just another show, you know. Too many local bands play every weekend, and everybody gets sick of them.
Toby: How pleased are you with the new EP?
Matt: We’re all really pleased with it. It’s by far the best thing we’ve ever done. I can’t even listen to the old CD’s any more. We play maybe two or three of the songs off the Progress LP and that’s it. It’s hard to tell how the new CD is doing because it’s really only been out a few weeks, but all the feedback we’ve got so far has been amazing.
How would you describe your sound?
That’s the question I always hate answering, ’cause I really can’t. I think we’ve got a little bit of something for everyone. There’s rock, straight forward hardcore, emo, metal, pop, nice sung vocals, and sick screaming vocals. Somehow with all of that going on we pull it together into our sound. If anybody can think of a good description I’d like to hear it, but above all I think we’re one of the more original bands around today.
What kinds of crowds do you find are the most open to your music?
I think the majority of the kids that come to are shows you could call emo, but not the Buddy Holly variety, just your regular emo hardcore kid. We do still get a good mix of people, from crusty kids to tough guy sxe kids. I remember the last time we played in Connecticut, there was this tough looking kid wearing camo’s and a V.O.D. shirt, crying and wiping his eyes after we finished our set
It seems like, in general, the lyrics on the new record are a bit more personal than the lyrics on And Such is Progress-any reason for that?
There were a couple of songs on the new CD that are specifically about some problems Kyle was having at the time we recorded, but the rest of them are similar in style to the LP. Mostly on this record the lyrics are more conceptual than before.
What is the sample from at the start of “The Tie That Binds”?
I can’t tell you that, it’s too easy. If you read the lyrics and recognize the voice I’m sure people will figure it out.
How did your European tour go last summer?
That tour was without a doubt one of the best times of my life. We played 22 shows in 8 different countries and the only bad shows were when Kyle lost his voice for a week. The week we did with Endeavor was amazing. Those guys showed us how it’s done. Hopefully we’ll be doing some U.S. shows with them this summer. Europe was so much fun for us because we didn’t go over expecting some huge rock tour and to make tons of money, which is the misconception a lot of bands over here have. We went to Europe and were just so excited to be there and travel for a month for free. You can’t beat that.
When did you first get into hardcore?
I guess I really got into hardcore in ’89 when I was in 9th grade. Some of my friends’ older brothers had all these Minor Threat and 7 Seconds tapes (they were total punk rockers), [and] we started listening to those. Then one of my friends had another friend who lived in D.C. and he started sending him all the Bold, GB, Y.O.T. stuff and I loved it almost right away. From there it just grew. One of the first shows I ever saw was INSTED with Face Value and a very young Snapcase, in Buffalo.
Would you say that more of the people who are into your music are from the US, Canada, or Europe?
I think it’s pretty evenly divided. The US may have a bit of an edge just because of the difference in population. Canada and the US are pretty much the same size, but you have more than 10 times the population we do.
Do you feel that Canada has a hardcore scene of its own?
Hell yeah! Southern Ontario has one of the best scenes around. There are tons of awesome bands coming from Canada now.
Do people perceive it as such, or more as an extension of the US scene?
I think Canadians want more than anything not to be lumped in with the US, because your culture has already seeped into every aspect of ours. I think we try harder to be distinct.
I noticed that you did the design for the album-is the decision of how the album will look more in your hands, or more of a band choice?
We always try to make artwork a band decision, but the only people who really give any input are Kyle, Sean our roadie, and me. In the end I have almost total control. Not because I want to, but because if I don’t nothing will ever get done.
Why do you think it is that so many people in hardcore/indie/emo are into graphic design?
Honestly, I got into it because I didn’t have to take Physics in College. I wanted to be an Architect but I couldn’t stand all the Math & Physics involved. I think a lot of people get into it for similar reasons, it’s a pretty fun job, you don’t have to read text books or look at numbers all day and it’s way easier than taking Sciences or Commerce or something.
How did you end up doing some touring with Hot Water Music?
Kyle met them a few years ago when we played in Gainesville, and I guess they’ve been talking ever since. I think the idea first came up last summer at the Wilkes Barre fest. We love their records and I think they’re into us and we just asked them if they wanted to do some shows together this summer. It’s still being booked right now, but it’ll be about two weeks on the East Coast in early May. We’ll be doing another two weeks on our own after we finish with them, but that’s all they can do right now ’cause they’re leaving for Europe at the end of the month.
It seems that the hardcore bands that are gaining a lot of popularity nowadays are, in a way, tapping into a retro vein by playing an old school style, while bands like yours are playing a more original style. As someone who’s in a band without an easily classifiable style, how do you feel about this?
I really loved that stuff the first time around, and I guess so did all the people in those bands, and that’s the style they want to play. I think there are a few bands that do it really well, like Floorpunch, but most of the old school revival is pretty weak. To be honest, I think hardcore is pretty stagnant right now, there are very few bands around that I can get excited about.
What bands out there are you interested in?
Not a whole lot right now really. Hot Water Music, Harvest, Endeavor and a few others. I haven’t seen any new bands lately that made an impression on me. The last band that really blew me away was Jimmy Eat World at the Detroit fest over a year ago.
How are you doing the booking for your European tour?
Our tour’s being booked a couple of good friends of ours in Switzerland and Germany, Pat Ferderli and Marcus Grosse. They run a booking agency called Drive To Play. They did our tour last summer with Endeavor, and they’ve done a bunch of other bands like Morning Again, Culture, Catharsis, Rain Still Falls. We had the best time last year, and we couldn’t wait to go back. No one had even heard of us and it was still amazing. You can’t beat traveling around Europe for a month for free.
What’s it like to have someone who’s not necessarily in your band booking your tour?
It’s kind of a relief for us actually. Only the first 2 weeks of our US tour are being booked for us. We still have to book the other 2 weeks ourselves. We’re so busy working and practicing and everything else that it’s hard to find time for other things. If we had to book the entire tour ourselves we’d be exhausted before we even left. Last year when we went to Europe we were up for 3 days straight making shirts, and I was still working at my job until 3 in the afternoon the day we left. Then when we got home from Europe I had to go back to work at 8 A.M. the next day.
When you’re not in the band, what are you doing?
The band really doesn’t take up that much time, but I wish we could all put more into touring and recording. I’m the art director for a high-end audio company called Sonic Frontiers. I also do a lot of design work for people in my free time, mostly CD covers, ads, posters etc. For a while I was in three bands at once. Grade is my first priority, then I’m in a metal band called The Swarm with Kyle from grade and guys from Acrid & Left For Dead, and I also used to be in 78 Days with Matt, Chris & Josh from Chokehold. When ever I actually have some time to myself I play Resident Evil 2, and hang out with my girlfriend.
What caused you to leave 78 Days?
Grade’s really starting to take up more and more of my time, plus I have a million design jobs to do for people, and I like to have a little time to myself every once in a while, so I had to quit to keep my sanity. Those guys all knew how busy I was so they understood when I told them I was leaving. There are no hard feelings at all, we still hang out whenever we get a chance, and Sean Mo, Grade’s Roadie, is playing bass for them now.
What are you looking forward to the most about touring this summer?
Being able to quit my job, and not have to work for 4 months. Playing shows now that people can actually get our CD’s. Finding all the good Vegan restaurants.
Anything to say in closing?
“Don’t worry, my dad’s got the ultimate set of tools”.