Gridfailure is one of our favorite current projects out there in the extreme musical weirdo multiverse, the experimental and totally mental brainchild of scene lifer Dave Brenner (ex-Theologian, ex-Heidnik) . Since May of 2016 Brenner has already released two albums, a split with Never Presence Forever and several collaborative releases with even more on the horizon! There is really no rule book, which makes this one of the more exciting acts to follow currently.
The latest Gridfailure release Hostile Alchemy features guest contributions from a wide cast of allies including Leila Abdul-Rauf (Vastum, Ionophore, Cardinal Wyrm), Mark Deutrom (Bellringer, ex-Melvins), Jeff Wilson (Wolvhammer, Abigail Williams, Chrome Waves), Faith Ciavarella, Pete Tsakiris, Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe), Christian Molenaar (Those Darn Gnomes), Alexei Korolev (The Company Corvette), and more. Some sections of the album sound like listening to distant jazz while drowning in a swamp, the hallucinations mounting as oxygen is cut off to the brain and you fade to black. Other songs are like the half remembered film score from a two week old nightmare you haven’t been able to shake off. This is probably the music that Morlocks in the X-Men universe screw to by candlelight in the sewers beneath the underbelly of New York City.
“As Gridfailure was spawned from creating horror music, the underlying themes of terror and impending harm are always going to be there,” Brenner says.
Read more below.
So, for those who don’t know…how did Gridfailure become a thing? How does one suddenly find themselves making a ton of insane audio sculpture from the depths of the psyche?
The act was born early in 2016. I had been recording tons of random material, scoring several horror/spoken word titles with Theologian for Cadabra Records in late 2015, namely H. P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Pickman’s Model. Over several months, I had created dozens of hours of experimental material and field recordings, on a wide range of random instruments, much of which was used to create the scores for those two albums. But I was left with tons of material, so I began learning how to work in various recording/editing programs, layering and manipulating these experiments, and they quickly came writhing to life as this ominous, suicidal, paranoid, apocalyptic destruction. Since I was not writing in any specific direction or purpose, the songs had a much more abstract feel to them than any other band I’ve been a part of, and I just dove headlong into this abyss of unhinged lunacy and turned those first tracks into the debut album, Ensuring The Bloodline Ends Here.
Since then, I’ve expanded upon these themes and have ventured into countless other directions musically, but the elements of unpredictable paranoia and confrontational dementia remain steadfast.
So, for everyone who buys Hostile Alchemy in March/April you are planting a tree for Arbor Day? That’s really cool. Do you love nature or were you just really out of promotional ideas that hadn’t been done before? I think the Rolling Stones Got Live If you Want It came with a condom that didn’t work as well as overdubbed fake crowd cheering already, sadly.
Yeah, I thought about setting booby-traps in each copy so each download version would wipe out your hard drive or make acid Kool-Aid pour out of your headphone jack, or each disc/tape would be lined with rusty razors and spring-loaded exploding glass packs. But when they put this Pruitt person in charge of our EPA/ecosystem a few weeks ago, I decided to put those other plans on the back-burner next to the napalm and support the Arbor Day Society instead. The plant-a-tree idea was something I thought about a while ago, so in recent weeks, I recorded a fully collaborative album with Megalophobe, called Dendritic. The album came about very randomly and organically in a live jam; we wanted to release the album on the Spring Equinox but didn’t have it finished quite in time to promote it or anything, so I thought of Arbor Day, and we put the tree idea into effect for that. So, for each preorder of the Dendritic collaboration, and all other Gridfailure purchases in March and April including Hostile Alchemy, will plant a tree.
How has it felt to see people responding to your stuff or even being down to collaborate?
It has been incredibly fun working with such close friends and allies. The year I spent with Theologian was the first time I’ve been in an active band in almost 15 years. Several other projects I was trying to form, or was playing with in recent years, all kind of fell apart, and when things fell out with Theologian I simply focused all material and time into Gridfailure full-on. I’m honored to have people interested in taking part in this madness. It has steadily evolved into more than just a “solo project” into more of a cult world music collective. The outfit only passed its one-year anniversary in February, and the first album came out in May 2016, so it’s still a very new act. I’m very thankful to anybody who has checked out one of the albums or videos, to any mags who have picked up reviews of the album, and to anybody who has helped flaunt the propaganda in any form.
Let’s talk about “Kompromat”. Are there blackmail tapes of you out there, Dave. It seems like you wouldn’t care and would, like, make them into a music video. Or are you talking about Trump getting peed on?
“Kompromat” is all about the other info Russia has on file. We saw what they dropped on the DNC but where is the other half? If urination infusion becomes a regular part of Gridfailure, I am pretty sure the collaborations would require some new sanctions — especially the stuff being mailed in from abroad – and I’d likely take the area rug out of the studio.
The Melvins once responded in liner notes about releasing so much stuff because there is enough room for it in the world. I love that approach and kind of hate normal release cycles bands get locked into. It kind of puts a cap on creativity. That said, you have certainly opened the floodgates! How do you find time to do music PR and make so much art?
Everything is based out of here – Earsplit’s PR operations, DIY micro mailorder/label faction, my recording bunker — I don’t have to travel out to record. Earsplit is how we pay for the bread and butter, but after hours, beyond Miller Time when the moon is fully baked and coyotes and transients roam the railroad tracks that border our border, the Gridfailure lab begins churning almost every night. Gridfailure will release approximately ten albums, collaborative albums, and EPs in 2017.
I really like “Mannequins” on the new record. The weird string sounds kind of coming in from that ghostly fog. People seem to feel like you should score horror movies and I can’t help but feel that is a great idea. Or would you rather sort of have your own work spark the imagination?
Thanks! “Mannequins” started out as a whack track where I just layered some noise/instrumentation around a sample from the movie Tourist Trap. I included some beautiful ambient/clean vocals from my niece Faith Ciavarella, and then my West Coast cohort Christian Molenaar (Those Darn Gnomes) piped in that amazing violin piece that cranks into the second half of the song. After we added that, I couldn’t handle hearing the movie score meshing with his real violin track, so I continually reworked the track around/to the sample, and gradually worked the sample virtually out of the track completely, leaving a creepy skeleton of orchestration there.
There is some totally creepazoid snuff/horror soundtrack stuff coming on the Teeth Collection album and Drought Stick double-album, both in the later phases of production for release this year.
I am very interested in scoring movies; that’s got to be something you can just fill out an application for at Hollywood, right?
Have you done most of your collaborations in person or through the interwebs? I know Jeff from Abigail Williams/Chrome Waves said he was dropping in to hang with you when he was in town.
A bit of both; some collaborations happen as very avant/jazz/freestyle jams with friends and family here at The Compound, and some contributions are piped in from friends and cohorts all over the country and beyond. Jeff sent in synth for most of the Hostile Alchemy record, and we’ll be working on more material in the coming months. As Gridfailure becomes a live venture this year I want to both perform and record with folks abroad.
Your song titles have a sort of bunker dystopian post apoc Cloverfield Lane quality without getting all Siege At Ruby Ridge about things. That said, the government almost certainly has a file on you by now. Are you commenting on the fall of society or trying to help usher it in? It doesn’t seem like it needs help these days.
Most of the themes and lyrics are based out of a sense of duality, split personality, parallel universe or abstract sort of sub-reality. Hostile Alchemy is a much more politically-motivated and reality-based record, created in revulsion to the entire ridiculous election cycle and seemingly unavoidable volatility and fallout of what’s going on in the world of US politics. Anybody who is not terrified of what is happening, terrifies me.
But yes, looking beyond the looming doomsday, as Gridfailure was spawned from creating horror music, the underlying themes of terror and impending harm are always going to be there. Albums of post-Sixth Mass Extinction cannibalism and mutant biomechanical/artificial intelligence cross-breeding are impending, as are albums that will hit in a more personal terror/inner turmoil fashion.
Do you sort of look at Gridfailure as beyond genre? I mean people will rush to say “experimental” because it is an easy way to explain it, but you’re not really limiting yourself.
I just say experimental because it sounds goofy and pretentious to apply six genre subcategorizations to something that most folks are going to simply classify at “noise” anyway. Most reviews and references seem to refer to the music as “electronic” which is only partially true. Influentially, I’m incorporating attributes of everything I listen to into Gridfailure’s madness in some way. It’s like mutant elements of metallic hardcore infused into soundtracks and world music (note: I am pretty sure Dave told me one night months ago that he was putting the sound of his barf through a loop pedal on one early song). I’ll simply record my first attempt at playing an instrument and use a ten-minute-long one-take mistake as the foundation for a new track; leaning into abortive mishaps rather than avoiding/discarding them. Instead of trying to create clean, patterned songs, this is more about expanding on an interesting tone or invoking a visceral feeling or visualization, leaving folks to draw their own conclusions.
Nature/field recordings are a huge part of the recording process to create a more immersive experience, and because of this, I find myself listening to almost everything around me in a different way now. Instead of trying to perfect anything before recording a record, this truly is improvisational trials and ventures into the unknown with virtually no boundaries, so when my talented friends supply their ideas to these songs, the fully unpredictable nature of the music is doubled, as even I don’t know where some of these movements are going until they take us there.
There are some crazy new contributions from all kinds of interesting folks from a wide array of backgrounds already recorded on upcoming albums. Mac Gollehon — who has played trumpet and more on over two-hundred gold and platinum albums from the likes of Duran Duran, Madonna, Onyx, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, Blondie, Billy Ocean, and countless more – has recorded tracks for several albums I have coming up. Other collaborations include much more with some of the Hostile Alchemy crew, including Leila Abdul-Rauf (Vastum, Ionophore, Cardinal Wyrm), Mark Deutrom (Bellringer, ex-Melvins), Jeff Wilson (Wolvhammer, Abigail Williams, Chrome Waves), and more, as well as Brett Netson (Built To Spill, Caustic Resin), Clayton Bartholomew (Mountaineer, ex-Secrets Of The Sky), David Rodgers (Godhunter), Greg Meisenberg (A Fucking Elephant, Maid Myriad), and many more.
This experiment is only beginning. Dig a hole.