Grunt’s Gelatinous Cube defy expectations and categorisation, with their eclectic and psychedelic sound taking influence from electronica, jazz, metal, trance, noise and much more. After the band made their 2 hour long “Love . Force . Axis” available as a free download, the triple album has become Bandcamp’s #1 ‘acid rock album’ worldwide. M3 got in touch with the band to ask them about the free music ethos, and also found about using music as a tool to alter consciousness, 17th century English diggers and why copyright is like toothpaste…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
General Grant: Well, we’ve been making music for about sixteen years now. We met through the underground Memphis music and art scene right about when the eighties had finally finished becoming the nineties. We would all go over to Roy and Tripp’s place, midi-chain five drum machines together, play Pink Floyd records backwards, and add 45 minute feedback solos fed through multiple delays. The goal, at least for me, was and still is to make the music as psychedelic as possible through repetition, rhythm, and dissonance. If you listen to the “Love Force Axis” album, it’s a pretty good representation of what we do, since it’s a combination of live performance and studio tracks. It showcases our short, structured songs as well as the lengthy, spacey places where we always seem to end up.
Patrick: I primarily play bass and use effects to suit the mood. Although we make the music for ourselves, our wish would be to find people that want to listen. When I’m playing I am both actively performing and passively listening. It’s quite fun to alter sound as the performance is happening.
What inspired you to form Grunt’s Gelatinous Cube? What are your own musical backgrounds?
Patrick: In my teens I was in several thrash and hardcore garage bands. Grant & I met in art school and started using drum machines and effects to create interesting soundscapes, utilizing MIDI only as a timing sync. Jason joined as our guitarist, a university trained jazz musician. So we basically mixed an affinity for jazz, metal, electronica, punk, noise and psychedelic rock. If we each gave you our top 10 album list you would have a list of 30 albums. I think this is essential to collaboration; if someone else has your exact taste then you have redundancy.
General Grant: Roy and I lived at the infamous ‘Six Eleven Mansion’ at the time 611 and the Grifters were making the rounds. It was this great, scary house full of crazy musicians and trippy murals. There were two drum kits in the attic rehearsal space, and we would pound away on those for hours. I started a band called Idiot Patrol where the only rule was that you were not allowed to know how to play your instrument; folks would often beg us to stop playing. Later, we all got drum machines and samplers which provided some structure. Patrick and Jason are both versed in metal, noise, industrial, and jazz. I’ve brought ideas from my involvement in the Dead and rave scenes. Probably because of these influences, I have a fixation on the idea of music as a tool to alter consciousness. On a good night, I feel we are able to do this.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
General Grant: Live is the best way to listen to music. Vinyl, CD and anything in full resolution is great, but I cannot abide compressed music. I own exactly zero MP3s. It’s like if you went to the Louvre and they showed you a photocopy of the Mona Lisa. For me, compressed music is bullshit. Of course, we offer downloads as MP3s as well as uncompressed formats for those who aren’t bothered by such things.
Patrick: Music sounds best live in small spaces. Growing up going to punk shows every weekend, I was instilled with an appreciation of DIY and aural attitude. ‘If you don’t like it then fuck off.’ I care more about content than format. I’ve recorded radio broadcasts onto cassettes. Shit sound doesn’t kill my buzz.
Your album “Love . Force . Axis” is almost two hours long, and available as an MP3 download. In some ways digital media frees the concept of the album from physical length restrictions, so do you think we will begin to see more artists making use of these emergent formats and composing lengthier pieces in the future?
General Grant: I hope so. I’m a huge fan of lengthy pieces and the classical idea of reprising themes over an hour or three. There’s a lot to be said for the three minute song and the punk ethic that less is more, but ‘prog’ was never a four letter word for me. Put on a 35 minute ‘Dark Star’ from ’74 and I’m quite content.
Patrick: I remember people in record shops asking if they could get a ‘cassette on CD’. The concept of an album can now be defined as you wish. I’ve recently listened to a 24 hour live album by J. Randall of Grindcore Karaoke; it was a commitment.
Despite these new advances in technology, many online music platforms seem to cater to short attention spans with a kind of ‘quick fix’ listening. Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish is in danger of being undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Patrick: Again, it’s all about content. If you have a compelling narrative it will always work as an album. The test for an album is if it sounds wrong played on shuffle. Great DJs understand this better than anyone. Their craft is more complex than hitting shuffle on an iPod.
General Grant: I think most people do have short attention spans and the internet has exacerbated this. The idea of The Album as a ‘piece’ is definitely dying, and it’s very sad because it’s such a great art form. I am very much into the notion of the whole being greater than the sum. Great examples would be the Beatles ‘White Album’ or the Clash’s ‘Sandinista’. Our ‘Love Force Axis’ LP is actually presented as three albums on our Bandcamp page. It’s technically a ‘triple’ album. When the folks at Grindcore Karaoke hosted it, they combined all three into a 31 track monster. It works really well that way too.
Why did you decide to make many of your releases available as free downloads online?
General Grant: ALL of our music is free! The idea of “It’s Free Because It’s Yours” comes from the 17th Century English Diggers as well as the Haight Ashbury group by the same name. Both shared the ideal that some things belong to Everybody. Small ‘c’ communism. We view the music as art to be shared and enjoyed, not as a commodity to be sold.
Patrick: Our intent is to enjoy what we do and share it with anyone that wants to listen. Free seems to be current rate for so much great music. Digital media also creates an ability to perform and release a project on the same day. You can always find a way to make the system advantageous.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
Patrick: Massive distribution. We have connected with people from diverse backgrounds online. It’s a modern efficient process that replaced fanzines and tape trading. The days of hunting for albums you had never seen are practically over. I am nostalgic about the loss. You can always learn a lot about a city by their indie record shops.
General Grant: Finally getting some attention for our craft. We appeal to such a small percentage of the population, that in the city the size of Memphis, we have a tiny fanbase. Now, we have fans in England, Netherlands, Indonesia, and Japan. We aim to be obscure on a global scale.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Patrick: Knowing touring musicians, there is absolute truth in that statement. It’s possible to make money with online distribution but difficult to really earn a living. The lion’s share of money in record sales has never gone to the musicians. This is not new.
General Grant: (Laughs) We give away our records and our shows are free, so you’re asking the wrong people.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we may have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
General Grant: I think if someone is making money at the expense of someone else’s creativity, this is an ethical problem. However, you can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube, can you? File sharing is unstoppable, so like any capitalist venture, the music industry is going to have to figure out other ways to generate revenue.
Patrick: Copyright laws are about as enforceable as drug laws. With digital distribution this is compounded by being an international issue. So much of copyright law is bullshit.
Similarly, do you think that copyright laws could be seen as a threat to the creativity of organically formed fan cultures (artists that make use of lots of samples, for instance)? Do you think actions with music, film, or any kind of copyrighted media for non-commercial purposes should be subject to legal sanctions?
Patrick: Legal sanctions are a waste of resources. The histories of Biz Markie or Negativland’s “The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2” sum up my opinion of corporate greed. I have zero problem using samples for non-commercial purposes. Fuck Em.
General Grant: There’s a huge difference between presenting someone else’s work as yours and using samples to create something original. If a sample is used for strictly non-commercial purposes, then it should be allowed. We use TONS of samples and not a single one of them is cleared. However, we have never made a dime on our music, so we have been left alone. I don’t think the record companies are interested in getting their hands on their share of nothing. If one of the artists we sampled personally asked us to remove the sample, we would.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Patrick: Being discovered in the swarm. Digital distribution is great for casting a wide net. You just compete with more artists. Don’t try and be better at what someone else is doing; be the only one doing it.
General Grant: A dumbed-down, unadventurous audience. If you want to make edgy, creative stuff, be prepared to languish in obscurity.
Finally, what does the future hold for Grunt’s Gelatinous Cube?
General Grant: We are currently working on a series of remix EPs from the triple album. We just released the ‘Bums in Space’ remixes on the Bandcamp page; next up is ‘Midsouth of Heaven’, built around a Slayer sample. Expect a Memphis show or two over the summer with other bands and DJs, perhaps an out of town gig. We are planning a special sunrise to sunrise live performance for later this year. One non-stop set for 24 hours, perhaps on the winter solstice.
Patrick: Whatever we want to do. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more information about Grunt’s Gelatinous Cube, you can find the band on Facebook and download their music for free through their Bandcamp page.