In just over a year of existence, the experimental project Gridfailure has created several different releases, with many more in the pipeline. Their latest is the EP Hostile Alchemy. They are our featured artist in this week’s Meet The band. Mainman David Brenner introduces us to Gridfailure.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Gridfailure.
David Brenner: Gridfailure started as an experiment. I was recording/performing with Theologian for about a year, and while I’ve always been into experimental music, I’d never been in any kind of dark ambient/industrial/power electronics acts before. It was a whole different way of playing, performing, even envisioning making music with other people.
I began recording tons of source material for the albums we were working on, layering and combining random experiments. This was while we were recording material for several H. P. Lovecraft LPs for spoken arts label Cadabra Records, and I was going through some dark times personally, so the combination of factors started becoming something intense/unplanned.
In February of 2016 I named the project Gridfailure, and took these ongoing structures forward, creating the debut album, Ensuring The Bloodline Ends Here. I released that in May, and just two weeks later parted ways with Theologian. Since then I have been collaborating with random friends, cohorts, family members, and other musicians all over the country and beyond.
Describe the songwriting process for Hostile Alchemy.
I have been working on several full-length albums at once for many months now. I wanted to take a side-step and release something brutal/short in the meantime. One afternoon I was watching these Republican surrogates blatantly lying while these reports of the election being hacked by Russia were flooding in, and I just flipped. I quickly scrawled out a straightforward burst of enraged lyrics, which I called “Surrogates.” In succession, I laid down a simple programmed beat, bass, guitar, keys, and vocals, and recorded them straight through that afternoon. Adding a few songs to it that week it became a rough noise record.
However, in reaching out to collaborators about other albums I was working on, several of them began sending in material for Hostile Alchemy, although I was almost done with it. In the last week of working on it, several friends took part in the record, and it completely changed course. When I was done with the record, it sounded NOTHING like I’d planned, outside of the initial “Surrogates” track. It’s got a lot more space, sad melody, orchestration than the scathing noise EP I’d planned.
What inspired the album?
Gridfailure is a generally psychosis/paranoia-inspired demoralizing soundtrack, more focused on abstract/visceral ideas, but this record is much more reality-based and politically-motivated. While watching the absolute debacle of the 2016 election, I was getting increasingly more agitated, dumbfounded, furious at what was and is still going on with the entire U.S. political climate. It’s embarrassing and appalling and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only human who is afraid of what’s around the corner.
How did you decide on the collaborators for the album?
I was reaching out to some of my friends about collaborating on the other albums I’ve got baking. While sending advance versions of songs on the upcoming Teeth Collection and Drought Stick albums out, I included the nearly-completed Hostile Alchemy tracks to several of them, just to check out for feeling/tone. To my surprise, many of them just started sending in material for the record in the last two weeks of working on it. Leila Abdul-Rauf was one that came in at the last minute. She came in with trumpet for “Target Rich Environment,” and vocals for a few tracks, including “EMP ASAP,” “Scourge Telepathy,” and “Hostile Alchemist.”
I recorded some beautiful/mournful ambient vocals by my niece Faith Ciavarella, which ended up going on the themed intro/outro tracks “Unveiled Abyss” and “Fallout Curtain,” as well as the track “Mannequins,” the latter of which also features creepy/beautiful violin Christian Molenaar (Those Darn Gnomes).” My friend Jeff Wilson (Wolvhammer, Abigail Williams, Chrome Waves) came in with synth for almost all tracks; he’s just not on a track or two which I added at the end. I pulled “Scourge Telepathy” from another upcoming record; that track features a scorching guitar lead by my bro Alexei Korolev (The Company Corvette), and to that was added organ and erhu by Mark Deutrom (Bellringer, ex-Melvins, Clown Alley). My friend Pete Tsakiris added some cyber guitar on “EMP ASAP,” and my friend Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe) recorded accordion here, which resulted in his inclusion on “Hostile Alchemist,” and also spawned our upcoming fully album, Dendritic.
How would you describe its style/sound?
Hostile Alchemy is meant to reflect the doomed nature of our planet right now. Between the insanity of what is considered normal in our political system these days, the rising tide of hate and division in our own country and around the globe, the tension we have with so many dangerous adversaries, nuclear expansion, terrorism, a dying ecosystem… Multiple horrifying terror attacks were carried out while I was working on this material. So, the basis for this project is, paranoia, fear, angst, confrontation, revenge, insanity, and internal terror of all unhinged forms; add to that this angst-ridden new Alternate Fact reality.
Talk about your upcoming collaboration with Megalophobe.
We named it Dendritic because of its organic nature and ever-branching flow, and we’re releasing it on Arbor Day (4/28), so for every preorder of the record we’re planting a tree. Megalophobe is my friend Ben; he came out here from Brooklyn to record at The Compound, simply to capture some source material for upcoming Gridfailure releases. As I was recording him slaying this accordion through efx chains, I started throwing down random music with it, looping keyboards, synth, guitar, Theremin, didgeridoo; all kinds of random instrumentation. After four or five hours of random experiments and improv jams, we had what we decided was the main structure of a fully collaborative album.
He finalized the name, we layered in some more instruments, vocals, nature recordings we’d both gathered, and got a few folks to take part in the record. Ben’s brother Rob plays space guitar on “Divergence on a Finite Domain,” Christian Molenaar leads the opening track, “Niche Differentiation,” with a sprawling guitar run through the whole track, my wife Liz provides mournful acoustic guitar to “Phantom Climate.” “Die Feindlichen Alchemisten mit Glocken” is an alternate version of the Gridfailure track “Hostile Alchemist,” with Leila’s guest vox from the original as well as guest vocals from Ben’s wife Friede, interpreting my ridiculously brutal lyrics in an entranced German delivery. And just last week, trumpet legend Mac Gollehon came out here to record; this guy has played on over 200 gold and platinum albums, including albums from Blondie, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, Onyx…. Billy Ocean’s “Get Out Of My Dreams,” and an endless sea of hits. He is recording with me for several albums, but the first song we recorded in this first session was Mac’s ominous lead for “A Corpse At Every Funeral.”
Do you have plans for any live shows?
Yes; I/we will be playing live in the coming months. Megalophobe and Gridfailure will be experimenting with a live set in the coming weeks to work out the kinks and take this to the stage this summer. I’d like to fly around the country and perform with the collaborators who have been taking part, on their turf. I’m sure some brutal failures in front of hometown NYC-area crowds will take place first.
What other Gridfailure releases can we expect this year?
In the past ten months, I have released the Ensuring The Bloodline Ends Here album, Further Layers Of Societal Collapse EP, the anti-Trump “Demagogue” track by Walking Bombs which I collaborated on, a split with Never Presence Forever out of Richmond, and now, the Hostile Alchemy record, and Dendritic collaboration about to hit.
I’ve also got a track on the Death Season 6 compilation about to see release on the underground label Darker Days Ahead, who will also be releasing another Gridfailure album in the months ahead, I’m about to complete the Teeth Collection album which has been under construction in waves for almost a year, and the Drought Stick double-album is about 75 percent completed as well. There are all kinds of other releases and partial albums started/envisioned. Basically, I plan on releasing up to ten titles this year, most of them of EP or full-length variety.
With the obligations of a day job, how can you be so prolific with Gridfailure?
Working on it every day. The Earsplit Compound is all self-forged/sustained in-house. We have the Earsplit PR business, our label The Compound Recs, our mailorder Earsplit Distro, and Gridfailure’s harsh trials are also conducted on the premises. Earsplit PR is really what consumes the time as it’s our main job. Gridfailure is a way to smash things out in my own way, after promoting other bands/releases all day. It’s like yoga or jogging or jousting or planking or whatever the fuck people do for fun. I think of the band more like art class than band practice, and it gives me a chance to work with musicians in a personal way, versus a diplomatic/business sense.
How did you get started in music?
I’ve been going to shows and having band practice since I was like 13 years old. That turned into first bands in high school playing bass/backup vox with Dementia 13 which turned into The Militiamen; this is back in Lancaster, PA area, mid-1990s. During that time, a local record label called Corrupted Image opened a record store, and it became like a local hangout haven. We’d always hang out there fucking with the guys to put us on shows, etc. and we’d end up helping them fold/pack 7” releases and stuff like that, maybe watch the store for an hour for a few bucks and a pizza.
I moved to Philly for art school in ’96 and became immersed in the massive punk/hardcore scene there. A year later, Corrupted Image opened a store in the South Street area where I lived and I ended up managing the store. We started a band called Dead By Dawn where my bro Richie and I both did vox. After that I was in the founding lineup of Heidnik. I also worked at Very Distro/Edison Records while I lived down there, and eventually got hired at Nuclear Blast America, wrote for Chord Magazine, helped book shows, and all types of random things.
I got engaged and parted ways with Heidnik, moved to NYC. Liz and I did Earsplit on the side while she was the editor of Metal Maniacs and I worked at Now Or Never Records while also writing for Metal Maniacs, until Now Or Never closed shop. That’s when I took Earsplit full-time. We moved from Brooklyn upstate and now we fully operate everything we do in-house. So it’s been basically a life-long fascination and need for music, which turned into a way to pay the bills while being able to endlessly feed my addiction to music.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
My parents are classic rock folks so I grew up on The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Foghat, and such, but I remember always loving horror soundtracks like Halloween, the odd sounds in Night of the Living Dead, things like that. I got into Anthrax in like 5th grade and that changed my life; Metallica, etc. were next. Faith No More was the best since they were so odd, so heavy; Patton and that whole crew changed everything.
I was way into rap too; The Fat Boys, The Beastie Boys, that led to Public Enemy, N.W.A., Geto Boys. Next, punk; I got WAY into punk and hardcore, the early Discord stuff, the Dead Kennedys, The Misfits became an obsession. Death metal was also big in high school; Entombed, Death, Obituary… That led to heavier hardcore; Integrity, Earth Crisis, Turmoil. It just kept blossoming, but music has always been an obsession, and something that was more my entire lifestyle/way of being, rather than my hobby, business, or interest. It’s part of everything I do.
What was your first band, and what type of music did they play?
Dementia 13 was my first band, named after the early Coppola flick. I guess we formed in like 1993 in high school. My bro Dan Conrad and I wrote tons and tons of sloppy, high-speed punk shredders, trying to sound like Minor Threat, Youth Brigade, S.O.A., Dead Kennedys, Misfits. We got our friend Terry Sheetz to scream, and he brought in some sick, more poetic lyrics, and our friend Mike Giuliano played drums. After the Michigan Militia/Oklahoma City bombing, we changed our name to The Militiamen. We got way into hardcore, oi, street punk, and went full-bore into the ways of Violent Society, The Boils, Oxymoron, The Pist.
We played with killer bands like The Casualties, Bomb Squadron, Dissucks, The Boils, The Goons, The Disenchanted, The Cancerous Reagans, Duct Tape. We recorded and circulated two demos, and we were working on a 7” when I moved to Philly after high school and we fell into dormancy. After seventeen years of silence, we did a show a few years back; that was one of the key factors that got me playing regularly again. We’re lifelong friends, and I’ll be reworking some Militiamen stuff within Gridfailure at some point.
As someone who works in the music industry and is also a musician, what are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
Getting off the computer, biking, walking, getting some air. Good beer, bad horror movies. I plan on going camping and doing much more outdoor recording in the coming months. Between Earsplit, Gridfailure, and taking care of the house, there isn’t much time left in the day.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
The debut from Crypt Rot LP, Embryonic Devils, which is coming out on Southern Lord. The new Artificial Brain album, Infrared Horizon, coming out on Profound Lore. First Blood’s new Rules LP. Run The Jewels 3. The new Harvestman album (Neurosis’ Steve Von Till), Music For Megaliths, coming out on Neurot Recordings. The new Godhunter record Codex Narco coming out via Battleground Records/Baby Tooth Records. The new Barrows LP, Obsidion, coming out in May. Fuck You Pay Me’s new Dumbed Down LP.
I recently discovered this band called Ak’chamel, The Mythik Tricksters and am digging into their catalog. Organized Crime Records put out a liquid-filled 20th anniversary remaster of Integrity’s Humanity Is The Devil and a remastered reissue of the band’s Seasons In The Size Of Days which are long-time favorites so they’ve been on a lot. There’s always a ton of Integrity, Earth Crisis, Ascension, Turmoil, and other brutal ’90s metalcore on over here. Lots of Dave Brubeck, Raekwon, Conny Ochs, John Jacob Niles, Misfits, Violent Society, Melek-Tha, The Dead Kennedys, Today Is The Day, Hot Water Music, Neurosis, whatever. All kinds of tunes, all the time.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
I’m grateful to anybody who has listened to any of this recorded Gridfailure madness, or who has read this interview, and to my friends who have been taking part in the collaborations. There is an annoying amount of new material to be released this year.
Thanks to Dave for the interview! Check out Gridfailure’s music over at Bandcamp.
(interview published March 25, 2017)