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Escape Velocity

Supersonic 2012: Dizzy Nausea - Grey Hairs Interviewed
Toby Cook , October 11th, 2012 04:07

Ahead of their performance at this month's Supersonic Festival, Toby Cook catches up with Nottingham quartet Grey Hairs to discuss peanut-butter Kitkats and why there's nothing wrong with citing Nirvana as an influence

Inarguably one of the greatest things about this month's upcoming Supersonic festival is that for the majority of us we won't have a clue who a large percentage of the bands and artists performing are. That's one of the reasons it's such a fucking great festival. Perceived wisdom tells us that if you don't book the bands that people know and like, then people won't come. But fuck people, 'people' buy Two Door Cinema Club albums and wear fucking espadrilles – they're not to be trusted – and it's further testament to the righteousness of Supersonic that they eschew this notion with such an eclectic booking policy.

Without spoiling the fun then, one of the bands on this year's bill that you may not yet have heard of, but you'd be foolish to miss, is Nottingham four piece Grey Hairs – a band who have been described as "Pissed Jeans ripping off Status Quo" and may or may not be Nirvana obsessives.

With the members' CVs including time spent roaming the underground in bands such as Skull Tanker, Harvey Half Devoured and Nervebomb, and having only turned drunken pub talk into a reality little over a year ago (and still lacking a release of any kind to their name) we thought we'd catch up with guitarist Chris Summerlin to find out if Grey Hairs really are just a midlife crisis gone wrong...

Hello Grey Hairs! Who are you and where did you come from? How did the band get started?

Chris Summerlin: We are The Cup, Neck, Pissy Leg and Mum (or James, Chris, Dave and Natasha as our mums call us). Where we're from is kind of how we got started - we all live in the space of about a quarter of a mile of each other in Nottingham. I guess we were all sick of long distance practicing. We all play in other bands (Fists, Cult Of Dom Keller, Kogumaza, Fonda 500 among others) so it's kind of a social club first and a band second. We played our first gig in November last year.

And why 'Grey Hairs'?

CS: It's kind of a "fuck you" to the idea that only young people have the required urgency and relevance to get on a stage and make a racket. I know for a fact I'm better at it now than I was when I was 21. As if anyone cares.

I read one review of you guys that said something like: "... Pissed Jeans ripping off Status Quo's riffs". Is that fair?

CS: Pretty much... We had a policy when we started (soon scrapped) of doing a cover at every gig and at our third gig we did a Quo song. Afterwards a friend genuinely asked us why we hadn't done a cover that night.

I read in another interview that one of you said something like "you can just make an entire band out of knee-jerk reactions". What did you mean by that?

CS: I guess we were saying that, especially when you're younger, there's a need to make quite lofty claims about what inspires you to make art and music. But I think we all feel like, as people in their mid 30s, it's the tiny details that propel us to action. I'd love to say the inspiration for Grey Hairs was the Cameron government, because we all work in jobs affected by that and we're all qualified (and furious enough) to talk about it at length. But the fact is that the inspiration for us was more likely to be a broken boiler or Tesco running out of Peanut Butter Kitkats or whatever. It sounds trivial but these concerns kind of take your life over.

It's like The Shoelace by Bukowski: "... it's the continuing series of small tragedies that send a man to the madhouse... not the death of his love but a shoelace that snaps with no time left..."

By the looks of your Facebook page, you really like Nirvana.

CS: It had genuinely never occurred to us that anyone outside of the band would look at our Facebook or Twitter pages!

Well, I'm a journalist and I'm also pretty lazy, so I spend half of my life looking at band's Facebook pages.

CS: They really are there for any one of us to make the rest of us chuckle. You've got me worried people might think we're trying to revive an era or something and that's really not the case. If there's any nostalgia on our part it's for a time when this kind of genre-splitting wasn't so prevalent. I'm not one for looking back with rose-tinted glasses but there was a time where I would buy singles from Our Price in Peterborough and, whatever I bought, the guy behind the counter would recommend something else I had never heard of. So I'd go and buy a Breeders 7" and he'd say "If you like that, then you'll love this" and I'd leave with Lash by the Jesus Lizard as well or something equally odd. And those purchases don't relate too much - outside of it just being good music that impacts on the listener in similar ways. It's beyond genres, whereas now it seems like that is the first and foremost thing to establish before any music can be enjoyed:

"Have you heard that new band?"

"What are they like?"

"Oh they're kind of post-shoegaze with a little freak-folk thrown in".

You know: fuck that. Life is far, far too short to be filing everything away in micro-categories.

But, aside from that, yeah, I really love Nirvana and I know we all do.

That's the funny thing with Nirvana, isn't it – they're a great band and despite the fact that they've obviously influenced a number of great bands, people often seem reluctant to reveal that they like them. Why do you think that is?

CS: It's because the idea of bands is more important than the actual output of that band. If a band says they're influenced by Talking Heads (for example), you kind of know what that means and it's probably not that they're going to sound like Talking Heads. It represents something of an artistic attitude or an approach. Problem with Nirvana is they were so popular that bands like Nickelback or whatever can legitimately claim to have taken something from them - and maybe they did. But it's because the idea of Nirvana isn't what that band was. What they were, when you look at it for their output and how they conducted themselves, was a genuinely fucked-up and interesting band that somehow got to be the biggest band in the world.

For me personally, Nirvana honestly changed my life as a teenager and everything I've ever done since stems directly from that band. I was lucky to come straight at Nirvana from almost nothing and I never had that metal upbringing and then jumped ships, so it was easy to use Nirvana as a springboard and end up at Unwound or end up at Bikini Kill or Nation Of Ulysses or Flipper or The Germs and so on.

I'm conscious that looking back like people do now can often seem like they're cherry-picking the good parts a little too much. Like grunge fashion coming back to the high street and they take the plaid and the DMs - but oversized Global Hypercolour t-shirts and ill-fitting jeans seem to be on the backburner for the meantime. Same goes for music; you get people re-assessing their own history to only include the good stuff. My first gig was The Cure but the fact is I was only going to see Carter USM support. Whatever, who cares? And I could say my guitar heroes are Greg Ginn or Greg Sage or Bubba Dupree and re-write my own history, but I learned to play guitar playing along to Nirvana and I'm proud of it.

So did music really stop in 1994?

CS: I think the interview that came from neglected to include the italics to show we were being sarcastic...

Music, and especially underground music in the UK, is in the best health I can ever remember it being. Things are awesome on a creative level right now. I think we were just making the point that this reformation culture we seem to be in has put a giant "pause" button on music we love and it seems to just cycle round - so you end up with the same bands as figureheads that were in that position in 1994. It's truly bizarre. Much as it's fun to watch Dinosaur Jr. blast out classics, it seems to be at the expense of respect for people doing it now on their own terms. If you dwell on that, it's pretty depressing.

The culture of ATP and Our Band Could Be Your Life has given prominence and recognition to that 1980s hardcore model of doing a band that's best described as the 'Get In The Van' method. The shitty thing is though, that it's seen as a historical document frozen in time, to be admired looking back on it: like "Look how the pioneers did it". But if you still subscribe to those same values and still do it that way now, in 2012, you're basically off the radar. You're not even underground, you're on some rung of the ladder below that, explaining to your boss that you need the afternoon off and, no - you don't make any money from it, and so on...

How excited are Grey Hairs to be playing Supersonic?

CS: Absolutely stoked. We already had tickets anyway. We're playing Sunday, which is in no way going to diminish our full enjoyment of Friday and Saturday nights. In fact our full enjoyment of Friday and Saturday nights may well diminish our playing Sunday.

What can we expect from your set at Supersonic?

CS: Technical problems, I would imagine. We tend to hit a peak about 10 minutes in as well and after that it's a kind of dizzy, wet nausea. We try and keep the 'banger' vs. 'slow-burner' ratio to about 10 to 1, which is hard when you're as out of shape as some of us are. Though Bod reckons she ran a half marathon last weekend. None of us saw her though so we really can't be sure.

Finally, what state of mind should one best be in to enjoy the music of Grey Hairs?

CS: I've never been a spectator but as a member it's somewhere between 2 and 3 pints for me, perhaps a little less for a more in-shape person. Whatever it takes you to stop any internal review or analysis for 30 minutes basically. Don't try and work out what we're about too much: if we don't know, then it certainly shouldn't bother anyone else. Just go with it. Say hi too, it's good to get out of the house and meet people.

Grey Hairs, as you may have guessed, are playing this year's Supersonic festival, which happens between the 19th and the 21st of October at the Custard Factory in Digbeth, Birmingham