The narrow winding staircase that leads up to the tiny box-room above The Packhorse is plastered with posters and flyers of forthcoming and recent successful punk and hardcore gigs. Situated just outside Leeds town centre it’s an atypical punk rock venue and although it’s setting doesn’t force you to walk past the ladies of the night like many other such establishments in the UK, it is in itself a small, cosy, at times cramped pub with a suitably intimate room upstairs for the bands.
Today though, the Packhorse seems particularly heaving. Impressively-designed band shirts are crowded round the pool table. Small groups of stereotypical, nicely combed, fresh-faced emo kids are swapping zines to the side of the bar while the walk upstairs overhears eager words of anticipation regarding, for most people, their first live taste of a band whose latest release on Revelation Records has provided them with a fresh breath of originality in amongst the Ensigns and Get Up Kids currently doing the rounds. It’s something that corporate trend-setting music paper/rag NME has picked up on and included as part of it’s ‘Emo’ issue, an issue that set out to inform the oh-so-trendy hipsters of the latest cool *new* movement emerging from the post-hardcore scenes of America. And right now, this exciting new rock music is cool. To the uninitiated it’s cool because clueless, middle-aged Indie-rock obsessed journos, at the moment, say it is. But to those present tonight it's been cool for much longer.
“I honestly haven’t heard an emo band in like, five years,” shrugs vocalist Joseph Grillo, leaning against a dusty fireplace in one of the back rooms. “At least that’s my term of emo. I think the word ‘emo’ means something a little bit different in America. In America it’s kind of a ‘bad’ term. I don’t know what it’s like over here but I would say we were just a rock band because that allows us to write any type of music and sing about anything we want. I would say the exact same about Rival Schools and Hundred Reasons, who I fucking love. I think they’re fantastic. But to me they’re a rock band. I think emo has become what alternative music became in the early nineties. It’s just some word and it became a marketing item and it doesn’t really mean anything anymore.”
I think emo over here is the name given to the new music coming through that bridges the gap between rock, punk and Indie and that hasn’t really got a label yet.
“Yeah, to a degree but… it’s weird because emo was already a label right around the time of hardcore-punk. Around the mid-80s emo already existed as a label and it was labelled a very different style of music to Jimmy Eat World or us or Burning Airlines.”
I read an article recently that even labelled Converge emo!
“Yeah, Converge have been labelled emo, Reach The Sky have been labelled emo, Juna 44 have been labelled emo…”
Ok, you’re from Boston which, as you know, has a world-renowned HC scene, and you’re signed to Revelation so is there any pressure on you to retain any HC elements to your music or do you feel free to just do whatever you want?
“Er, no pressure to retain any HC elements in music. The only pressure – and I think it’s a good form of pressure – is that in Boston there’s a lot of different bands and they really support each other and I think there’s a real pressure to support the local scene and I also think there’s a lot of pressure to put on shows that’re kind of mixed bills. Like, half a year ago we played a show that was Converge, Cave-In, us, The Stryder, I mean, really different sounding bands but as far as the bands were concerned it was fucking great. Like, we love playing with each other and that’s the only pressure. The fact that we can play with Bane is great to me although it might be kind of weird to other people.”
Scrolling through the list of bands coming out of Boston it’s evident that it has a really healthy music scene and to outsiders it just seems like everyone knows each other. But then you’d be pretty much right. Although Boston is large in population it’s actually quite a small city. Most of it’s rock music inhabitants live within the same 2 miles in a small town called Allston that’s only about one and half square miles big in itself. To help his finances in Garrison’s early days Joseph would work in a small Buritto restaurant where musicians, who’d list like a who’s who of Boston’s hardcore bands, would come in and hang out.
“Every Monday night, like clockwork, Six Going On Seven, Converge, Cave-In, the guys from Bane when they were there, coz they’re really from 45 minutes away, the guys from In My Eyes, Ten Yard Fight all come in every day and it’s like everybody just hangs out there. Eyeball too.”
What do you love about the Boston scene and what do you hate?
“Well, I love what I was just talking about, like everyone’s really supportive. I mean, I never wanna be in a band that sounds like Bane but when their record comes out, I get it and I listen to it and I’m like ‘guy’s, this is awesome’ and that’s what I love about it. It’s really supportive in that way. The thing I hate about Boston? The Winter’s kinda suck. It get’s really cold. I don’t know if that applies to the Boston scene. I think the thing I hate about the Boston scene is the thing I hate about the punk rock, hardcore, Indie music scenes everywhere in the states and it’s very, very much er… like, I started going to shows in ’89 and you know, to my jaded point of view I remember going there, and all the people going to the shows were the losers, the geeks and the people that didn’t know how to talk to girls or the girls who didn’t know how to talk to the boys. It was a place where you could go and see other people & kinda communicate and that was rad. And now it seems to me, from an outsiders point of view that it’s the coolest kids from the high schools and like, the best-looking, most well-rounded people and that’s fine that they enjoy the music but it just seems kinda, like, I wonder where all the losers went. Like, where did all the kids that played clarinet go? It’s really fashionable and that’s unfortunate.”
I guess to some people the punk image is more important than the music.
“Yeah, I think it’s great that people can wear whatever they wanna wear but when everybody’s wearing the ‘uniform’, it’s like c’mon!”
Joseph is very keen not to get caught up in any kind of trends whether it’s musical or stylistic. He frequently expresses disdain against those who care little for originality and his opinions on many societal issues are, although challenging, very strongly expressed. This kind of free-thinking extends to the stage, where Garrison’s unique take on early 90s Indie-rock and post-hardcore results in an explosive spine-tingling formula and one that draws few comparisons. Bands like Drive Like Jehu, Jawbox and The Pixies are ones that Joseph think have helped shape their sound.
“Drive Like Jehu from a guitar point of view, although our song forms are very different, Jawbox from a songwriting point of view, The Pixies, not a lot of stuff over the last five years because although I listen to a lot of stuff that comes out all the time it doesn’t influence me as much as stuff that I listened to in High School. When I think of The Cure, they’re one of my all-time favourite bands ever. You probably don’t hear that in Garrison at all but they’re the best, I love it. Swervedriver, they’re one of my favourite bands, Slowdive… but yeah, I think of a lot of the bands it’s more contemporary, it’s not so much influences.”
As well as that certain energy and emotion that’s immediately evident on ‘Be A Criminal’ there’s a defined lyrical theme running throughout that explores the darker side of the human psyche. Each member of Garrison has been arrested at some point in their life (although, I might add, that not all were found guilty of their crimes) but it’s the intentional or unintentional crimes people can commit against each other on a daily basis that’re drawn on more.
“The underlying message is to be a criminal. It’s to do whatever you can to get whatever you want in this world. It’s realising that you are a criminal anyway, to some degree, in a myriad of ways with the companies that you support. You know I just bought a beer. I don’t know anything about Carlsberg as a company. They might support slave labour in China, I dunno; I’m wearing a leather jacket; I’m not really for killing animals because I’m a vegetarian… I guess it’s a question of where you draw the line as well because to me, all those things are fine. I guess I come from an area of the world that’s very militant about Indie labels and you know, ‘all our records have to be on an Indie label & if they’re not they suck and they’re sell-outs.’”
Don’t forget it has to be vinyl as well.
“Yeah, it has to be vinyl, but I don’t see a single person that listens to their independently made record on an independently made stereo system, you know? It’s bullshit. It just seems kinda foolish to me. I guess it’s about having a broader view of the world and also whether your morality is in line with what the laws of the land are. I don’t know what it’s like in England but in Massachusetts gay marriage is illegal. I think that’s incredibly stupid. Also in America you can’t drink until you’re 21. It’s retarded.”
Over here it’s 18 but you can get served when you’re 14 with a half-decent fake ID card so it doesn’t matter.
“Everyone drinks younger but everyone also incredibly abuses alcohol because it’s forbidden. People are so, like ‘oh, I’m doing something Mom & Dad don’t want me to do’, and the same thing with Marijuana. I think straight down the line almost every single drug should be legal, not necessarily that you can buy heroin at the corner store but if you’re a heroin addict maybe that you can get it prescribed to you by a doctor in lessening doses. A lot of the lyrics deal with the fact that I’m surrounded by a culture of criminals. The biggest criminals in the world are big businesses and politicians, bottom line. So they’re my teachers, what should I do? I should do what they’re telling me. I look on the CD and I see bloated, fat, ugly people that are making money hand over fist by exploiting others and we hold the fortune 500 – the 500 people who’ve made the most money – as heroes. Why? It just seems ridiculous!”
On the song ‘Dump The Body’ there’s a line which says “I’d rather point a finger but I’d rather point a gun.” Is that a reference to societies increasingly trigger happy and hostile attitude in situations which could otherwise be easily solved?
“Well, Ed wrote that line so I can’t totally speak for him but also each song on the album we try to tell it from a different person’s point of view and that song is an attempt to tell a view of the world from, not necessarily me but maybe somebody who’s in a situation where they work 9-5 in a miserable job; maybe they’ve got a couple of kids who they can’t feed and just the stress of it. It’s easy to look back at the world as a college-educated student and maybe have a trust fund or whatever and comment on it and say what’s right & wrong. It’s another thing to be digging ditches everyday or washing dishes and being like, ‘you know, this fucking sucks and I’m really pissed off & I’ve got anger and frustrations that’re just as valid as a professor but I don’t wanna write my congressman, I wanna shoot somebody in the head.'”
You said in an interview that people don’t treat drugs with the kind of respect that they deserve and you were talking about drug users as just normal people as opposed to being abusive and dangerous. Can you elaborate on this further?
“Sure. Um... I think I may have mentioned this in that article, drugs are inanimate objects and just like anything they can be used or abused. The example I always give is a knife can be used to chop up a vegetable or cut somebody in the throat and I think there’s a real stigma attached to a lot of drugs and personally I think some of the best and most rewarding experiences in my life have been on drugs. Because all drugs do is alter your perception of the world in the same way that if I stay up til 5 in the morning with my friends, not having done a single drug, suddenly I’ll see the world differently just coz I stayed up; or if you eat an all-meat diet all week or you eat vegetables. And that’s my view of drugs. Very rarely do I find people treating drugs with any sense of respect. I mean, it’s something that’s gonna change your perception and alter your abilities physically and there are good things to that on occasion but it’s stupid to have a couple of pints and get behind the wheel. It’s really stupid, but it’s true it does grease the wheels of social interaction so maybe you’re trying to get on the same level as somebody and talk about something and it might help to have a couple of drinks so there won’t be this like, weird tension.”
The name Garrison has a double meaning. As well as referring to James Garrison, a conspiracy theorist who was the first and only person to bring trial in the JFK assassination the name was originally a reference to a Garrison-style belt Joseph’s Grandfather used to hit the kids with when they got outta line. It’s an apt name for Garrison’s intelligent and viscerally engaging music and may well prove to be the perfect tool to bring today’s baggy panted rap rock homies back into line.