[Note]: This is the extended version of the interview given by Pedro Pedra, the frontman of Grog originaly published in the booklet for XXXAPADA Fest.
Portuguese grind veterans Grog return to XXXAPADA after last year’s amazing gig in the fest. This is a special year for them, in which they celebrate their 25th birthday as band. We had the chance to catch up with them before the fest.
1 – 25 Years of Grog. What’s the secret for your longevity?
Rolando, our drummer, a few years ago, by the time the “Scooping The Cranial Insides” was released said that us still being immature was a good thing, and I believe that for us to be able to take things to the level and place where we are now, immaturity is a good thing, a feature to retain in a band. Other than that, I just think it’s a combination of factors. If in the beginning someone had asked me if I thought it was possible for us to still be here making music with Grog, I would most certainly be dealing with an impossible question. There was no way to foresee the future.
However, being here at this point now, I know that there were some moments where we’re really close to disappearance, and others where everything made perfect sense. Overall, we are the result of a lot of rehearsals, and trial and errors, sort of a perspective of… let’s see where we’re going with this, and always having our immaturity as an ally, because it allows to jump into the unknown without being too afraid of drowning or getting lost. This is what allows us to deal with all this and at the same time keeps excited about some things, because, if we were serious people, we’d probably put this aside a long time ago. Another trait that it’s related with our existence, it’s our passion for music, that’s what speaks the loudest to us, even if nobody else is listening. When everything seemed like about to giving up, our passion for music spoke louder and gave us a new light to go on. We never tried to follow any specific formulas, because time helped us find our own path. I am still here and everyone else on the band too… I did the math and this formation has been together for 14 years now, and it’s without a doubt the steadier formation we’ve had, which took the band to higher levels. All formations have contributed and worked in that direction, but it was this current one that lead to it. It helps when you work hard, and at the same time have the ability to laugh at ourselves when needed. So when we like the music while we were playing it all turns out to make it easier, which is what happens in this case. In short, it is “only” possible that this condensed answer.
2 – 2016 has everything to be a great year for you guys. 25th band anniversary, 20 years anniversary of the release “Macabre Requiems” and a new record to be release. Do you have any expectations for all of this?
We have no expectation, that’s something we’ve learned not to create. From the moment we started, that it was set that we’d we make our music for ourselves first and foremost, and from there, everything else comes from us. Everything that happens here and where, as well as everything that goes on in the scene or the communication channels and press is out of our hands, we can’t (and won’t) control anything. It’s not a passive move, because we’re not laid back with our hands crossed. However, our reality determines that our contact with the booking and promotion stuff to be done, in most cases, with the same people we’ve been working with for 20 years or so, because, we as a band, are ready to defend our interests in the most professional and ethical manner. We’re not going to be creating expectation nor won’t defining certain possibilities publicly, for the event that something might happen that enable them to fulfill, and then makes look like we lack ambition or something. In that domain, our ambition is strictly to make music; everything else is the result of that. If people want to see us live, we just have to see if we have the necessary conditions to play live, and we’ll do it. If there aren’t any, then we won’t play, it as simple as that.
3 – Are you planning on playing a special 25th anniversary gig?
Yes, it is possible that it might happen. It’s something that actually makes sense, although we haven’t planed anything yet. It’s a card that’s on the table, we just need to fit it in our busy schedule for this year. We’re currently finishing our next album, so everything else is dependent of that. Then there’s also the 20 years celebration of “Macabre Requiems”, that will occur in November, but until then we still have some room to organize everything. Let’s just see what will happen until then.
4 – What are the main changes you find in the Portuguese underground scene of today, comparing it to when it all started?
It has grown in every aspect. Consolidated in many others, just look at what is our panorama now a day. It’s constituted primarily by the bands, by means of disclosure, and communication and oldest festivals. This is the basis of our underground, then obviously we have all these new musical values, all with evidence and proof given, some both here [in our country] and out there. Today it is easier to record and to divulge the music, there are other means available and other formats as well, which makes everything a little easier. So yes, it is seems that grew up in a somewhat uncontrolled way, because it’s in the interest of those who have a band to do so. Just look at all the names that we have and the will people have to try to raise them, speaking of certain bands and musicians, to the class of professional musicians. However, personally, I do not defend this fragile reality. Having sponsorships, doing tours and be everywhere cannot be synonymous with professionalism. To be professional in any field you have to be able to live from it, right? However, most of the bands, still, no doubt, give everything (or almost) to commit to their music, but no matter how comfortable it is, the bands are not forced to give all they have, to do what they do for their music in exchange for almost nothing. Unless they have something more to give, and thus spend that is yours to do what they like, without looking to what they’ll get in return. However, in the latter case, I question. And the magic to make it happen from nothing, where is it?
On the other hand, the policy of come here to play, and in return we’ll give you some food and drinks (implying that is for a few euro) depends of a lot of variables and always has consequences for the band. If the band is still taking the initial steps and looking for consolidation and to show off their work to the public, I think it is acceptable to make this effort, although they are not obliged to do it so, but now when we are talking about bands with some weight in the scene, and who have proven themselves to the people, who already know that from the artist side will come out quality material, and are able to fill up venues, that proposal may not be valid. And yes, this is one of the biggest gains that we have today in extreme music. We have the existence of bands (new and experienced) capable of presenting music of excellence and that are only one millimeter behind what is done outside our underground scene. We also have to bear in mind that you can never ask a band to put everything aside, including their professional life that allows them to pay their bills on their personal life, in favor of music, especially when the proposal they are offered to play isn’t much better than a few drinks and some food. I do not want to start a war with it or anything, but it’s important that we all think more about it, about the time it takes the music to be made, the sacrifices that are made to bring it to the point that we want and understand why there are bands that follow a certain path and not others. It’s all a little more complex than most people think!
5 – We’re back to the old question of love to the cause…
This is a subjective matter, because (hopefully) everyone will use their free will and thinking as they fit best, but in my perspective, and I do not want to provoke or discriminate anyone, but unless the band already has some money with them and carries their “entourage”, also as a way to invest in their own image, and to rise to a certain standard. But after that, what do I do? What if I open up that door and there’s nothing on the other side?
Another option is the bands doing it always having in mind not to lose what they have. Because getting to the point where you have to pay to work is just wrong. This is where we get subjective in this matter. The way I see it, is that you either have the perfect conditions to play your music and keep doing it in the future, or you don’t and stop. People need to understand that. People have to have an idea on how the industry and the market works, because, unfortunately, there are still many bands out there who still have to pay to play. Although you have to bear in mind that not everyone sees this in the same way, and it’s those little things that make a difference. Overall, today we still have bands that are past the 20/30 years mark, although there aren’t that many, but from now on, I can’t picture how many of the bands that started in the past few years will still be around in 20 or 30 years time.
6 – Do you think the internet and the digital world had a game-changing role in things? What do you think is the importance of social networks and online forums?
Yes it was a huge game changer. We all changed from paper fanzines and tape recordings to the digital world, where everything is closer. Now a day you listen to music online, you watch the news and everything that goes on in the world on the internet, everything revolves around it and it’s all online. There more and more bands that use it as a mean of promoting themselves, and a few others that still won’t do it. For example, when you release an album, the following day it’s already online for download sometimes that even happens days (or weeks) before its due date. It’s a privilege mean of information, as such, there are many bands that take advantage of it to release a few tracks or album previews before the time to promote themselves and their work. Back then, that didn’t happen. You may be listened to a couple of songs on the radio, but never a full record. The labels sent the albums for the radio stations and the zines to be promoted. Same with the press releases. You listened on the radio that a band was going to release a new work on a specific date, and you had to wait months to be able to listen to it. You even had radio shows that dedicated 30 minutes slots to a record, like one that existed in Radio Comercial, called “Lança Chamas” by António Sérgio, that when the “Clandestine” record from Entombed was released, he played 4 tracks from it, and it was a huge deal at the time. Other shows had polls, where you voted for one of five records, and the one with most votes would play in full, so you waited patiently at home to recorded it with a tape, this was when pirate radios where very popular. That’s how I got “Schizophrenia” by Sepultura, for example. This for me is priceless, for more Spotify or Bandcamp there is, there will never be anything with this magic ever again. I recall a tape I got from a friend, with a recorded interview we gave to a radio show back in 1992, that came with a hand written letter, almost unreadable, with some promotional flyers. The same flyers we have now that announce shows or new releases everywhere, but back then we got them by post. Same with the promos. Not like today, where you get hundreds of promotional stuff on your email every day. Other thing common from back then is that some bands used to exchange letters with each other, via PO boxes, and I got a few from Czech Republic, with tapes from local bands, where I didn’t knew a single one of them. This was in the 90s, before Obscene Extreme was born, and even then they were already a country with a big tradition in grind bands. Now a day you post a link from a band on Facebook and get a “like” and everything is easier. Although it’s so much easier now, all the magic and mysticism of the underground is now a bit lost and won’t ever come back.
7 – How do you handle the fact that you’ve became one of the main influences in grindcore of the Portuguese scene?
Well, first of all, I don’t think that’s entirely true, because there’s no official record of that, at least that I’m aware of. That’s information that comes from the mouths of the scene and people involved in it, not something that’s written in stone. People say that they like the band x or y, so they say that about Grog, as they say it about some other bands. We didn’t invent the wheel, so to speak, but we have to assume some of the merit we have. When we started we didn’t had any of this imprinted on our DNA, in a systemized way, we were just 4 teenage boys that went on an adventure in the musical style that spoke the most to them. Or first record embraces and catalyses all of that, and it ended up reaching some greater proportions, according what was said at the time (and that it is in fact written). Nowadays we do things differently, mostly because that’s what we learned from our experience. Back then, someone played a rhythm from scratch and we went along with it.
The audience is different, and bigger. The bands (and people) should hold on to what they like and make music for themselves. That’s the starting point, at least for me. It’s true that we all have our influences and inspirations that we look up to, but our music must come from inside ourselves, it’s something very personal. That feeling of restlessness, it’s one of the reasons I keep making music today, and having thoughts of not stopping doing it so for a long time. Because for me, longevity is not the same as having ideas, the repeating of the same old ideas over and over again does not praises creativity, which happens when you have fresh thoughts and ideas. The novelty of something is what moves your creative side, without losing your core identity. Regarding Grog, all the music we made is first and for most for internal consumptions, only afterwards, if we are happy with the result, we promote it and show it to the outside world. We are our biggest fans and harshest critics at the same time.
8 – Since the release of “Scooping The Cranial Insides” in 2011 you became more active and started giving more concerts. Is the stage your natural habitat? Or do you feel more comfortable in a studio/rehearsal room?
These are two different questions. If on one hand our writing period is spent on our cave, where we close ourselves for a long time and work all the ideas we have, both individually and in a group, and this is where, I stand a bit behind looking at these three brilliant musicians working their magic, waiting for the moment to say something, because I know nothing about music. I growl, and write lyrics, however, the whole musical composing process is made by them. When they show me their idea I give them my opinion and suggest a few changes, nothing more than that.
So regarding the playing live part, something I’ve done so many times that I lost count, every time I step foot on that stage, everything is different. You’re up there absorbing everything that goes on around you, and the crow in front of you is your main point of focus. When a gig is good, there’s just this synergy that forms between you and the people in front of you, and that is perfect. We love to play live! Especially when we have all the perfect conditions put together to do it so, in the best possible way. And each everyone of us always have its own individual perception of what went on in that show, and eventually it’s different from each other, so there are always those gigs that for some reason stay in locked in your memory, for the most different of reasons. The same goes with how the audience perceives it, what for us was a good show; they may not see it like that, or the other way around.
9 – How are the works (composing and recording) for the new record going?
For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to read the studio report we did for Loud magazine, it’s going well. We’re starting to record the guitars, so we’re almost done. Regarding the artwork I’m not allowed to unveil much, I can only say that we are going back to handmade drawings, something I believe it got lost with time. I came across with this reality, because nowadays we have a lot of work done with photography, photocomposition, so we decide to bring that back, something done with symbolism and detail. I’m not going to go any further on this; I’ll just say that the artwork is amazing. We found an artist whose work was exposed online, so without knowing him, I reached him because I liked his style, and made him an offer and presented my idea. The whole process was amazing, because I gave him my idea, and told him I wanted the elements A, B and C, that would result in the elements D, E, F and G, plus the details H, I and J. The connection with the artist went from complete strangers to the state of almost telepathy, and that’s shown in the final result, that’ something extraordinaire. The cover of the record is just a small part of the final drawing. The complete piece might be revealed in full later on, I’m not quite sure if it’s viable or not, as artwork for our new merch, and after that unveiled in full.
10 – Does that mean there’s a theme/concept behind the new record?
Yes, there’s a concept. It’s not a conceptual record, but it has a theme and a very clear focus intention behind it, that has been worked musically. It’s hard to explain better without unveiling everything, but it’s purely Grog, musically speaking. When we closed our last record (“Scooping…”), the ideas started to flow and being built since then, and honestly I believe that it’s better than its predecessor in every way. I’d say that it’s the most extreme, but at the same time, the most musical piece Grog has done. It’s also faster, but the sound is clearer, you can fully listen to every detail, it’s not just brutality clustered, it’s not brutal just for the sake of being brutal. It has dynamic. So to sum things up, it’s brutality with a concept. It’s only what I can say for now.
11 – Do you have released date planned?
We want it to come out in the first quarter of the year, that’s our goal. As I said before, we started recording the guitars, and after that the only thing left to record is the vocals, we hope we can finish up everything during the month of January. After that, the process of mixing the sound as masterization begins.
12 – Are you going to do a video for any of the songs like before?
It’s not my place to answer it (laughs). But we have some ideas regarding it, and it might happen. So if you listen some rumours about it, don’t be surprised.
13 – In 2012 you had your debut at Obscene Extreme Fest (Czech Republic), do you think that the fact you signed with a foreign label helped to make that possible?
Our association with Murder Records was with that goal in mind, to be easier to show our work out there, in Europe and on the rest of the world, in a more consistent and effective way. One thing is you being in a Portuguese label and sending off your work out into the world, another is for you to be in a label in the Netherlands and do the same. I’ll just make a clarification; Murder Records is one of the subsidiary labels for Helldprod, which is the main one. And both of them are entities whose presence in the underground scene is more than 20 years old, and both have been doing an excellent work in publicizing our music out there.
14 – All of you have (or had) side projects active. Does this change your dynamics as a band in any way?
In don’t think it changes anything, we’ve always find it easy to keep things separate. There’re just different drawers and compartmented from the same closet, I think it’s the best analogy possible. Our activity with Grog, it’s our activity with Grog, their activity with Neoplasmah (for example) it’s their activity with Neoplasmah, and so on. We’ve always manage to keep things separate. The only thing we have to be careful with is to schedule gigs and presence in festivals so that the dates don’t collide with our other bands. What might happen is that someday we’ll want to play with all our bands together in a day, and that won’t exactly be easy, because we’ll end up completely tired and all. It happened before, but it’s not an experience any of us would like to repeat often.
15 – Regarding XXXAPADA, do you think it’s helping to publicize grindcore (and similar genres) in Portugal?
XXXAPADA is, without a doubt, a really good thing. It’s helping to fill a gap we had regarding festivals that give a bigger attention to these specific genres, and it’s quite an interesting project, without a doubt. But it’s still in a maturing process, although with just one edition had already given more than enough proof of its value. But it still has a lot to go, this is just its second indoor edition, and the first open air is going to take place this summer, all the steps are being taken in the right direction. Let’s just hope that all the fans of extreme music (and others) will subscribe in a massive way to these events, so it can grow more and more. We have here an excellent opportunity to take the name of our country even further in terms of extreme music festivals. Being in this event, or others that take place in Portugal, all deserve our support.
16 – Do you have anything special planed for your concert in the festival?
We’re going to have new merch, and there might be other surprises, so pay attention because you won’t regret it for sure.
17 – Is there any message you’d like to leave to the audience that’s going to be present at the fest?
I hope everything goes well and that RCA will be completely crowded with people. I hope it’ll be a relaxed and entertaining event. Try and support all the bands present, from both days, because there are a few difference in the genre and styles, which were separated in a very smart way by the two days. Peace and Love!
Interview by: Rita Limede
Photos taken by: FG Photos (in Moita Metal Fest 2015)
Special thanks to Grog and to the XXXAPADA Fest Team
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