Holy Grove Interview with Andrea Vidal: Commanding Fate

holy grove 1 (Photo by Alyssa Herrman)

One would be hard pressed to name a single city that has contributed more to the sphere of American heavy rock in the last half-decade than Portland, Oregon. I’m not even sure there’s any competition, even from places like San Francisco or San Diego. The challenge this presents new bands at this point is how they go about distinguishing themselves from their peers, and that is something that hard-driving four-piece Holy Grove would seem to have solved early.

Their self-titled debut (review here) is out now on Italian imprint Heavy Psych Sounds, owned by Gabriele Fiori of Black Rainbows/Killer Boogie, and basks in wide-cast grooves and a crisp but natural tonal warmth captured by stuff-of-legend producer Billy Anderson that puts the powerful vocals of Andrea Vidal front and center atop the riffs of guitarist Trent Jacobs, the rumble of bassist Gregg Emley and the roll of original drummer Craig Bradford (replaced by Adam Jelsing). That’s a big risk for a relatively new band, Holy Grove started in 2012, but it’s still their first album, but Holy Grove takes classic cues and updates them with a modern thickness of sound that would seem to hold an appeal for fans of then and now in heavy.

Holy Grove play Psycho Las Vegas in August (info here), joining in international and interstellar array of groups, and have a European tour in the works for the fall to further support the album, as well as work already underway on the follow-up, which is probably a ways off, but still in progress already. In the interview that follows, Vidal talks with good humor about her experience joining the band, how they got together, needing to buy a microphone after the first practice, starting work on the album after releasing the Live at Jooniors (review here) two-songer, recording with Anderson and much more, including finding her voice as a lead singer and the importance of commanding a stage and bringing a show to life.

The complete Q&A tops 3,200 words and can be found after the jump.

Please enjoy:

First thing’s first. Give me the story, how you guys came together.

None of us knew each other and we all – well, Gregg who plays bass for the band and has been in bands pretty much his whole life, moved to Portland and knew that he wanted to start a band but just hadn’t met the right people yet. So, in January of 2012 – I think; I’m not as good with dates as the other guys; you’ll probably find that out – it just seemed liked myself, our first guitar player Sam, our first drummer Craig and Greg, our bass player, were just all at the very same moment looking for the same thing.

So we found each other through Craigslist and as cringeworthy as that may seem, since the rate of being successful at finding a band is pretty bleak, we managed to do it. Within a week of them posting an ad and me posting an ad, we met. We formed Holy Grove right there and then.

You beat the Craigslist odds.

I know! And that’s the thing. We have many mutual friends. We’ve seen each other at shows, but we didn’t run in the same circles. For me, I never allowed myself to actually be that person on the stage that I maybe felt like I could be, right? I always felt like bands and being a musician was for other people, that maybe had an opportunity to do that rather than making that opportunity for themselves. It’s ridiculous, because all my favorite bands started from being set up with their lives and decided to do something with themselves. So I basically decided that I could do that and reached out, and wanted to start a band. Bought a microphone (laughs). I was so green. I showed up to the practice space and I didn’t have a mic. All I had were the lyrics to “Never in My Life.” That was the song – that’s why when you posted that Mountain record [I commented on it]. That was the record that bonded myself and Greg, because it was the song that we all jammed out to. That was it.

How did you sing at the first practice at the first practice, without a mic?

There was a mic there. They did that faux pas thing of using other people’s gear. They had a P.A., but it was a shit mic and the P.A. was not loud enough because these guys play some pretty heavy amplified instruments. I used the mic that was there, the guys basically gave me the thumbs up after I had tried out and there really wasn’t a tryout because they weren’t really doing anything. They just knew they needed a singer because none of them were singers. When they said they wanted to continue jamming with me, I went out and I bought a mic, like the same day. There’s a great music store up the street from me, Old Town Music, and they hooked me up. Then I bought a P.A., there’s so much gear in Portland that I have this amazing P.A. that is loud as hell. It’s awesome.

Tell me about Live at Jooniors. When was that put together? Was there another demo?

Yeah, so we recorded – there’s this friend of Sam, our first guitar player, he had done one of Sam‘s band’s records and we were like, we need to get shows. So we were advertising ourselves through shitty iPhone recordings. We’d have these great practices and we had two songs written but they were all on our iPhones. Our first show was just booked because, “oh, they’re friends of ours so they’ll vouch for us.” But we knew that we wouldn’t be able to book real gigs if we didn’t have any recorded material. So we went one weekend and recorded two or three songs and they were super rough but luckily the music lends itself to that unpolished, raw sound. It really resonated. That first demo, not the Jooniors thing we did, this was something totally different. Long story short, we had this demo out and that got into the hands of Nate Carson and Chris T., some of the local buckling guys. So we were playing these shows, then we ended up hooking up with the Ancient Warlocks dudes.

They had this guy Chris Joonior up in Seattle and he is the one who’s responsible – he’s the Joonior in the Live at Jooniors. He approached us and was like, “I really like what you guys are doing, would you want to come up to Seattle and record some live songs with a video?” We were like, “hell yeah. Absolutely.” We booked a couple of dates around that, but Chris at the time was living in a house with a basement that was all cobwebs and kid bikes. Then, there was this place to record music and it was awesome. I don’t think that we thought people would actually pay money for it. It was a great representation of our live sound, which is really important to us. To be able to have a video to go along with it was really nice because people were able to size us in that way. It really just blew the doors open for us as far as giving people something that they can listen to, to sort of facilitate people’s want for a full record and we were like, we’re so happy with it. But now that we have this record out, it’s more complementary more than anything.

The whole time then, the songs from the self-titled were coming together, right?

They were basically done. We’ve had these records in the can, written – we were running a full set when we went up to Seattle. But we only chose two songs to record with Chris. That’s what the Live at Jooniors was. We were basically just playing live and just trying to get as good as we could get. The songs were kind of a work in progress, but we had a big core of them finished and done like the back of our hands.

So playing out, letting the band take shape that way was something you wanted to do before you went into the studio?

Even more so now with the second record. There’s a reason why Led Zeppelin I sounds so fucking good. But it’s because those guys played out those songs, went into the studio and just nailed it. There was definitely a lot more exploration for this record that we spent in the studio. We also had lineup changes mid-recording, so there were some growing pains for this record. We were given so many great – I mean, we don’t play out that much. So the shows we were being offered like Hoverfest, opening for Uli Jon Roth and all these amazing opportunities. We were like, “wow, we’re really being given this change to play live and become more comfortable.” This being, speaking just for myself, being my first band – there is definitely a level of being comfortable with my presence on stage which was a gradual thing. I didn’t just like, play my first show and feel totally confident in my ability. The support that I had from my band, you know? So for the first couple of years, yeah, it was definitely – we had the songs but we weren’t ready to dedicate any time in the studio.

holy grove 2

Can you talk about that process becoming more comfortable on stage and getting to a point where you’re comfortable fronting the band, being the “lead singer?”

Well I think hearing, even that first demo, just hearing my music being played back to me [since] when you are signing it you don’t get that play back. So I think hearing it was important. I think Billy Goat from Doomed and Stoned played a really important part in all this. Because he has recorded every one of our shows. There are probably some people that will tell you not to watch yourself. But I watch myself to the point of like I am not really critical but I can see myself holding back in some of those earlier recordings. And I think the evolution of me being more comfortable on the stage was just knowing that I want to provide people with the type of show that got me wanting to start a band. Like I want to feel like the singer is engaged with the band. Like everyone in the band is a cohesive unit and they are all like rocking out together. If that can somehow translate to the audience there is just nothing better than that. If I am just standing there, just singing along, then to me as an audience member it is just something I cannot relate to or connect to.

I just think it is important to rock out. If I am rocking out with just my band it is really like going to be even more so on stage because there is so much energy there. It is a hard thing to express I think. But, I when I realized that the band needed a little bit more from me I just let it all go. I was basically like, I am here and not many people are doing what I am doing. And I am being given this platform and this opportunity to sign in a rock n roll band that’s the dream. So, like make it something. Make it real for people. And be genuine and I think it is the majority of people to heavy music and rock ‘n’ roll are like the best bullshit detector on the planet. I am just very grateful that I am just doing what is natural. At this point I feel really good now. I am pretty comfortable up there now.

How do you bring back that energy into the studio, without the audience interaction?

It’s hard! It is totally hard. You know at first there are songs like “Caravan” that I am seeing pure adrenaline. And it is because the band is behind me like pummeling me with the sound. It is hard right because you gotta go, go! But with recording with Billy Anderson really helps that tremendously. Because he is like the master of mixes. Like my headphone mix. He has a way of hearing of my delivery and hearing how my signing and what I need more of and what I need less of in the mix. And his guidance and his help with that really broke down any barriers that I had. He really set the pace for me. You know we did all of our basic tracking at Type Foundry Studio. And I did the majority of my vocals at Billy’s studio and also at Toadhouse Studio.

And I think with just setting the mood with turning all the lights off and like just getting into that frame of mind. Like I even at one point held a mic stand. I tried to get myself more comfortable, even though I’m surrounded by soundproofing and I’m not holding the mic. I just try to make it, give it that feel, put myself on stage as much as possible and move my arms. I wasn’t just sitting down in a box. Maybe next time, I can just record with a P.A. blasting at me. Maybe for record two, I can do something. Didn’t James Hetfield do something like that for the black album? It didn’t turn out very well for him, but, I still think it’s a pretty cool idea being able to sing as live as possible.

If that’s what you’re going for, but at the same time, I think one of the things that stood out the most is that there’s kind of – a sense of arrangement to the vocals too. You’re moving into self-harmony, things like that.

So, you know, I could, just the way that I sing, right? If I’m listening to a record, I’ll try my best to sort of add to it, you know? And I think that recording sort of allowed me to not just double but also add harmonies for drama and texture to the songs and Billy really helped but his stamp on that for sure. Vocal harmonies, like the guitar harmonies, are just so, when they’re pulled off live are just, to me, crushing. And because Holy Grove is such a forward-thinking band, you know, that’s an element to our live show that we want to bring. Not as much as the record at all, but we definitely set out to make… the type of record that Holy Grove is, our self-titled, is exactly what we wanted.

We wanted the textures. We wanted to have it not feel like just a live record. Now the second record, maybe we’ll go and do more of a live experience, but this record, we really wanted to explore what I can do vocally. I mean I was given this opportunity to add things to songs that I maybe felt but knew that I couldn’t do live because when I’m singing live it’s just my main vocals. And yeah, it was definitely important to add a little bit of thickness to the songs. We wanted to add more to them just to make it a bigger experience when you listen to it for sure.


Let’s talk about the second record.


You’ve brought it up a couple times. Where are you in that process?

I know, it’s funny I brought it up a couple times because the good thing is that we’ve been performing these songs on our self-titled record like for years now, you know? And none of us are sick of them, so that’s a really good sign. I’m so thankful for that and I think that that is a true testament to how we really believe in these songs and we love them. And I think I’m kind-of chopping at the bit because for over a year now we’ve just been… well the recording process took a awhile but not any longer than it should have, but we’ve also been like playing shows, learning setlists, getting Ryan caught up to speed for drumming, now we’ve got Adam in the band so it’s a lot of like learning the songs. But we’re in a place now where we have finished songs, we have new songs, and we’re so excited to play them and so excited to record them and so excited to get back into the studio because that was such an incredible time for us, you know. Like waking up and just being able to go and record was like the dream. So we are really looking forward to album number two, even though album one just came out today. We’re like, “okay, it’s time to move on.”

Here’s the thing: the best thing that’s gonna happen for us is playing in Portland and having the support of Portland has been huge. You know, and the community in Portland is so important to us. Without them, without other bands in Portland, we wouldn’t have been given the opportunity for any of this. And these guys have been hearing our songs and they’ve gotten better and stronger but they’ve heard these same songs, you know? And I cannot wait to share with them something new. I can’t wait for our Portland base to hear something new from us. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of people who are hearing us for the first time. I’m so thrilled that this record has awarded that ability to do so. But these new songs that we’re coming with are just a continuation of record number one, going into the second one is just going to be that much more, I feel.

How do you mean?

The last song on our record, “Safe Return” takes elements of all of the songs and I feel like the second record is going to take parts of our first, our journey from when we started the band to when we started the record – everything we went through is going to be shown in the second record. I don’t know. Can’t articulate it that well.

Would you go back to Billy Anderson again?

Hell yeah, of course. Absolutely. The fact that he lives here in Portland is amazing, but we would go wherever he goes. He’s like the Pied Piper of Holy Grove. Seriously. I can’t speak for anyone else in the band, but I will, because I know we were all – there were moments in the very early days of recording where we were like, humbled. We were always humbled throughout the process when he was recording us, but I’m not going to lie – when I recorded overdubs for my vocals, i’m in a room surrounded by the tapes for Dopesmoker, Melvins stuff, Mr. Bungle tapes, Billy Anderson shit everywhere and here I am singing. [Laughs] I was just awestruck.

Anyone that’s worked with Billy or met him just knows he doesn’t carry that with him. He disarms you immediately. He breaks that down, and is the coolest, chillest dude. He’s always so kind and so funny. When we recorded this demo, we did a rough demo before we went into the studio, we were like, “oh yea, what are you working on?” He’s like, “well I recorded with Pallbearer and then I’m going to do Leviathan.” Greg and I are just like, “oh my god. What!” Just because – yeah. What? There was just these moments of just, damn, if you would have told the 15-year-old me that someday I’d be recording with Billy Anderson I would – I don’t know. I would have to call you out, there would be no way. Billy was a great addition to the sound. He was absolutely instrumental to getting my performances, getting those tones – you know how it goes, man. There are plenty of people who bring in his records that he’s worked on and go, “hey, can you help us get these tones?” People are like OK. But you don’t have to do that with Billy because helped create that. He deserves everything, all of it. He really was important.

I saw you’re doing Psycho fest. Will you tour?

Hell yeah. I don’t know about the States right now. We’re playing Psycho Las Vegas in August. But it looks like we’re going to go to Europe at the end of September through the end of October.

Gabriele is setting that up?

He’s hooking it up for sure. That’s the dream (laughs). Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to tour the States.

Go to Europe, get paid. They’ll love you over there.

Just to pay for a ticket that I would probably spend on gas in the States and to be surrounded by – I mean, our first supporters were European. There were people that heard that first demo before Live at Jooniors that were providing us major support. I’m ready. We are so down and Gabriele is doing everything he can to make sure that we’re set up. That’s the plan, man. You just gotta give me a tranquilizer for those 14 hours and then I’ll be right as rain (laughs).

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