BS: Hey, Bryn Schurman with the Eleventh Hour here, and on the phone with me is Aaron Gregory from the group Giant Squid.
AG: What’s up? How’re you doing? Sorry for the delay there.
BS: No problem. Live from California?
AG: Live from San Francisco California right now.
BS: All right. Your new album is The Ichthyologist and from what I’ve been reading, you’re somewhat of an ichthyologist yourself.
AG: Somewhat, yeah. An amateur ichthyologist in ways. I’ve definitely just been involved in it all my life. I used to own a tropical fish store, a couple of different aquarium companies, so I’ve been doing this since I was a kid professionally. I am currently a professional scuba diver and animal caretaker at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco
BS: Oh, cool. Do you do much recreational diving?
AG: I do, but not since I’ve had the job, really. I’ve only gone out a couple of times. You know, I dive upwards of three to four hours a day underwater in 53° water, so three days a week, four days a week. By the time I’m done with that, I actually try to avoid water as much as I can, so I haven’t really got a chance to do much, but here in California there is a lot of that with Monterey and whatnot.
BS: Well if you ever make it down here to the Florida Keys there’s a couple of good reefs and wrecks and stuff to see.
AG: I think I’m heading there in August, actually. I’m kind of going on my own solo little road trip to just hit as many dive spots as I can, and that’s the head destination, that’s where I want to end up. I’ve never been out there.
BS: Other things about this album I’ve been seeing: there’s a graphic novel that’s already published or it’s in the works?
AG: It’s in the works, it’s definitely not published yet. But it’s in the works. I was out at the big
San Francisco comic conventions last week schmoozing with everyone, just getting advice and trying to network and see who’s out there. Who might be interested in either drawing it, drawing my script, and/or just publishing the whole thing in general. Yeah, it’s a big work in progress and it’s coming along really well. I’m pretty excited about it and should have definitely some big advancements in it in the next six months or so.
BS: Great. The Ichthyologist: the album is based on the graphic novel, or the songs are based on elements that happen in it?
AG: Right, kind of back and forth. The way I’ve been describing it is basically the album is the kind of poetic, musical version of the first six issues of the graphic novel — a graphic novel is basically just the collected comic books into one big trade paperback. — the first six issues as if it were to come out monthly. That’s what this album is basically depicting.
It’s basically the origin of my character who discovers that he’s lost it all and goes through this journey because of that and the journey doesn’t end so well. So the end conclusion of the album is kind of his downfall.
Yeah, it’s basically the first six issues, a much more poetic kind of abstract version. Some of the lyrics in the songs wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense until you’ve actually read the comic. And others, a listener can just take what they want from it. I mean it’s all metaphoric. I mean there’s definitely stuff to identify for every listener in the songs. It’s not that abstract.
BS: Okay. So it’s like a concept album based on it, more or less.
AG: Yes, total progressive rock concept album. (laughs)
BS: And you mentioned that this is the first six issues. Would this possibly be a series of albums based on the story?
AG: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve actually already talked about another project, a 12 inch record split with our sister band Grayceon, who we also did a 7 inch split with. Our song would actually be a 20 minute epic called Cenotes (not sure spelling???), which would be a continuation, another chapter in the Ichthyologist mythos. So we’re all really excited about tearing into that here pretty soon. I’ve already heard the material that Grayceon wants to put on it, and it would be very fitting and would reflect really well with it, and it’s just amazing stuff.
BS: You mentioned your sister band Grayceon, with Jackie [Perez Gratz]. How did you first get involved with her?
AG: I’ve actually been a huge Amber Asylum fan. Just a fanboy of t there’s for over 10 years. Well, now Jackie’s been in the band for almost two years, so it’s like 12 years. I first discovered them shortly after discovering Neurosis, way back in the Through Silver in Blood era. So I’ve been listening to Amber Asylum the whole time.
When we played San Francisco about three years ago, when we still lived in Austin Texas, Jackie and a lot of the Amber Asylum people were there and so she became a fan of the band from that moment on and kept in touch with us about stuff. Of course, we’d send each other merch back and forth and trade for stuff. I became a big fan of Grayceon then from that point on.
So when things kind of fell apart for us in Austin, she was actually the very first person I wrote to see if she’d be interested in playing with us. Bryan [Beeson] and I, the bass player kind of considered it a shot in the dark because she was the chick from Amber Asylum (laughs). She was kind of a badass, and you know we just didn’t think she’d probably be that into it. But I guess I wrote a really good letter, and she called me and we had a big hour-long conversation that went really well and pretty much by the end of the day she agreed to do it. That was kind of the final factor for us to decide to move back to California and then she joined the band, and it’s kind of been nonstop ever since.
BS: there is a lot of diverse instrumentation on the album, not just her cello, but there is some banjo and trumpet and lots of cool horns and strings throughout the whole thing. How a bare-bones did it start with? Did you have things MIDI tracked out or something, or have charts written out for this?
AG: It was all really bare-bones (laughs) I mean, for sure. We had tracked all of the meat and potatoes parts of it with Matt Bailiff by time. He came for all the guest appearance stuff. We had about a month in between from when we tracked with Matt and when we mixed with Matt, and so we coordinated with as many of the guest appearances as possible from that point on.
Obviously, Anneke’s guest vocals, she had to do on her own in Holland so we just sent her the song via e-mail and she laid her stuff down really quick and just kind of sent it back. Kris Force from Amber Asylum did her stuff at home as well. She has her own little studio, and that’s where they actually recorded most of their Amber Asylum stuff. But the other people, we basically had those rough mixes and we went to an Oakland studio with Billy Anderson and we tracked Karyn Crisis’s vocals there and Nate’s trumpet. Jackie’s sister Kat did oboe, and she was the only one that actually had charts mostly written out that Jackie worked with her on. Oh and Lorraine did her flute.
When it came to everybody else, we basically said do whatever you want. We’re kind of thinking here. We’re kind of thinking there, but show us what you would want to do. I’ve always found that works the best with guest appearances, because a flute player’s a much better flute player than I am. Or a trumpet player, of course, is going to know what works and what doesn’t, and so they kind of lay down their own thing and get more into it. They play more emotionally that way because it’s more their representation. It worked out really well, man. By the time we got all those layers done, within two days in the studio it just sounded enormous, so I’m really happy with all that.
BS: is Karyn Crisis a medusa?
AG: Is she a medusa? (laughs) yeah, everyone turns to stone that looks at her
BS: I mean with the fearsome Gorgon dreadlock kind of thing going on.
AG: Yeah, she’s totally radical and beautiful in person. She’s quite the character and I’ve become really dear friends with her. [Karyn] and Billy Anderson and I had a little band going for a bit here in San Francisco. She’s just awesome and has been a fan of the band. We actually kind of got our first record deal, more or less, through Crisis getting a hold of our music because they were on The End records as well, which was the first label we were on. So yeah, we’re just pretty close with Karyn. She now lives in Italy and is doing her own… a whole other band. So hopefully she’ll have some good music coming out pretty soon.
BS: And I’ve seen some of her artwork as well, on the web.
AG: Right. Yep, yep, yep, she’s always busy with that stuff
BS: Do you mind if I ask about the name Giant Squid?
AG: Sure, man.
BS: Why not the Colossal squid? The Antarctic one that’s even bigger?
AG: Right, right. Well you know, when we decided to be Giant Squid was about 2000-ish, and the colossal squid hadn’t really been as known. Hardly at all, I mean it just wasn’t. I mean, it’s amazing what the Discovery Channel does in the last six to eight years as far as people getting excited about all these things. You know, Shark Week and all that kind of crap.
But anyways, we were actually called Namor after the Marvel aquatic superhero. He was kind of like Marvel’s Aquaman, which was awesome. I was super stoked to be named after him. But then we heard that there was a Namor movie coming out eventually — which still hasn’t come out — but we thought, you know is going to be kind of cheesy.
And before that, we are actually called Koi after the Japanese carp. The pond fish. We’ve kind of always had an aquatic theme, but no one ever understood what Koi really was and Namor was even worse. And then we actually changed our name to Metridium Fields for a moment. I started putting ads out as that and people were even more baffled.
We decided that we really wanted a name that we could just say it. You instantly get it, there’s no explanation, and Giant Squid just really… I mean we all kind of laughed, we all thought it was pretty goofy at first, but I mean if you really look at it in kind of a deeper way. Yeah, it’s like the elusive giant squid. You just don’t see them much and they’re really cryptic and this and that. It’s just being a giant-ass sea monster kind of works well for a really loud, down tuned band, so it’s perfect really.
BS: Going back to the album, I was looking at some of the subtitles you have on your tracks, some of which are species names like Sevengill and Blue Linckia. I think Vibrio Cholerae is the cholera bacteria, which goes ties in to Sutterville from what I can tell from the lyrics.
AG: Some of them are really obvious like the cholera one for sure. Sutterville is about the flood in Sacramento and the huge cholera outbreaks that rocked it. And Sevengill — Notorynchus Cepedianus — is just the species name of the seven gill shark which is kind of loosely what that song’s about. I mean, Sevengill’s are mentioned in there. Blue Linckia is obvious, it’s a blue Blue Linckia sea star.
Some of them are really far-fetched. You’d definitely have to do some googling and then cross-referencing with some of the lyrics to kind of see maybe what it’s about. Rubicon Wall is, and Emerald Bay is definitely like that. Both those songs actually have to do with Lake Tahoe in a way, so the species names there are pretty abstract. The one for Dead Man Slough is basically a crayfish because the chorus of the song is “Crayfish will do as they wish”. And all those kind of goes back to the graphic novel too, as far as the significance of those creatures or animals, or whatever may be. Mormon Island isn’t even an actual species name, it’s a mineral description, basically.
BS: I see you have a West Coast tour coming up. Is there anything that might take you to this side of the world?
AG: We’re really pushing to do something in August that will get us across the whole nation again. We would love to get back out there. We’ve only really been out to the East Coast twice and we haven’t since 2007. August is looking good for us and we’ve got a couple of different projects in the works as far as what bands to go out with and whatnot. We are really hoping by August to have the album come out again, a slightly different version, rereleased on a label. So of course, to tour behind that would be the best thing to do.
Yeah hopefully, I mean we’ve actually never even played Florida. We tried playing in Tallahassee but something didn’t come up and we had to go right by. That’d be great. It would be incredible to get all the way down to the Keys and stuff. That would be awesome.
BS: There are a lot of good aquatic attractions around here.
AG: (laughs). Yeah, exactly man. Just kind of follow the coast. I have to get the rest of the guys and the gal in the band SCUBA certified and get them out there what it’s all about.
BS: Can you tell me about the Syd Barrett tribute?
AG: Yeah. It just kind of came out of the blue. James from Dwell Records got a hold of us and said he was a fan and wanted to do this comp. In all honesty, most of us in Giant Squid aren’t that hard-core Pink Floyd fans. Chris, our drummer, definitely is, and Jackie is a fan enough, but other than the more classic, recent stuff — Animals and The Wall and whatnot, Dark Side of the Moon — definitely none of us were really familiar with the old stuff.
I didn’t even know who the hell Syd Barrett was, in all honesty, which might sound sacrilegious now. So I quickly looked up… well who is this guy? we’ve actually never covered a song, so I was skeptical about covering anything let alone somebody I didn’t know. Of course I pop into Myspace not knowing what to expect. The very first profile that I open up and the very first song on that very first profile was Octopus. So it starts to play and I start reading the description and it’s like holy shit, this guy was in Pink Floyd. Holy shit, this guy was kind of nuts. And he was this totally oddball guy, was a recluse. And then Octopus was playing and I was like, ah I fucking love it! This is it. We’re going to do this song right here. I didn’t even bother listening to anything else, honestly. We chose Octopus, I wrote back to James and said ‘Has anybody picked Octopus yet?’ He said, ‘No, not at all.” So we went with that.
Since then, I’ve gone and gotten Madcap Laugh on vinyl and I just love that record. It’s so great. I’m still really stoked that we picked Octopus and it really came out well. We got Billy Anderson to record it and Zach from Gracie on to play drums, because we didn’t really have a drummer at the moment. And we just kind of went for it and knocked it all out in one night.
We’re really happy about that. Now we’re all excited to try and cover some other stuff. We’ll see what comes up.
BS: There’s the Gentle Giant album Octopus, maybe you can find something from that?
AG: Gentle Giant, huh? Cool
BS: Any other projects that you’d like to talk about? Anything else on the horizon?
AG: That’s pretty much it. The tour in August, hopefully, and we’ve got that 12 inch split I was mentioning. That’ll be a whole new song that kind of goes along with the Ichthyologist. And we’re also hoping to re-release our Monster in the Creek EP through a label on vinyl only, because we get so much demand for that little EP and it’s so long gone out of print. They were like handmade things, but it is a pretty interesting chapter in Giant Squid’s life. And then possibly even… I’m trying to find a way to get Metridium Fields, the original version, out on vinyl. So there’s a lot of stuff in the works for Giant Squid. We are going to be hopefully popping up all over the place in the next year or two and we are all pretty excited about it