21.12.2009, Words by Charlie Jones

A Grave With No Name: "Sounding frostier, more elegant."

Having released the debut EP earlier this year on Popular Records, A GRAVE WITH NO NAME are set to drop their ‘Mountain Debris’ LP on No Pain In Pop. Nurtured in friend’s bedrooms, converted churches and a very personal place, Alex Shield’s A Grave With No Name is a labour of love whose affections might never be returned. Both a deep concentration on melody and a tortured vocal whisper forms the backbone to this haunting, fuzz covered musical project. Drawing inspiration from a number of different areas, and not just the usual list of lo-fi touchstones (insert Sebadoh/Pavement reference here), the album ‘Mountain Debris’ is at once a faint hint and an all-encompassing barrage of emotion splayed across a vast enriched soundscape. A Grave With No Name are pop, but not as you may know it.

Having pushed myself into an odd, reflective space over the last few weeks at the hands of this mysterious, deeply introspective record, I had no idea what to expect from the man who made these dreamy, and at times frost-bitten odes to God-knows-what. But as we huddled into a basement bar in Shoreditch to discuss the ins and outs of how A Grave With No Name appeared, I found an insightful, engaging guy for whom music is the be all and end all of everything.

You write all the music for AGWNN yourself, right? How did you get into writing music?

Yeah… My parents gave me money to, basically, get driving lessons, and I couldn’t be fucked to learn how to drive, so I just got a guitar, and it just went from there really. I still can’t drive.

What guitar did you buy?

Just a Squier Strat, which I still use, but I broke it recently. So, yeah, basically, it was just the process of messing around and learning about the music, and it went from there.

Have you always played alone, or did you start off playing in bands and stuff?

When I was, like, 15, I was in a skate punk band that sounded like NOFX, but with these Soundgarden wah pedal guitar solos. It kinda sounds cool, but it wasn’t. We were terrible. Except for that I’ve played on my own, yeah.

Do you play all the instrumental parts for the album yourself?

Most of it. Tom [King] plays bass on a track…then Anupa [Madawela] plays drums on a couple of tracks. Astrud Steehouder, a childhood friend, sings on the opening track.

You recorded half the EP in a converted church, right? Which I thought was pretty apt considering the ethereal nature of the music. Where did you record the album?

Yeah, half of the album was in a church that I used to live in and the other half was in my parents place. Perhaps the quieter tracks were recorded in there. The drummer had a flat in Camden and we did some stuff there. Various bedrooms, basically.

You have said before that you recorded part of your EP in a pretty dark place, with your gran in hospital and the loss of a friend…I was just wondering what sort of mind state you were in to record ‘Mountain Debris’?

I think the majority of it is like, yeah, when I feel a bit shit about myself and stuff, I guess. But they’re not all like that…_Zachary_ was recorded when we were just hanging out drinking red wine, listening to Bruce Springsteen, and happened to write a song – they weren’t all recorded in one particular state of mind. I try not to get like, ‘Oh, my gran is in hospital, I’m going to write a song about it’. I just write when I’ve got a free night to record. The last song on the album was put together after I had a couple of friends over, and we hadn’t slept … I was pretty fragile.
Why the name “Mountain Debris”?
Well, basically, there’s like a lot of themes and story lines that make up the whole thing, but then I realised then I realised that that could be restrictive. So, I guess it’s just the idea of like, stylistically, all of those ideas coming from the same place…I think that just kinda summed it all up.
You said in an interview that you’re not that into lyrics, just melody. I have a tendency to agree with you, as I only pay attention to lyrics on hip hop tunes or if they’re really pronounced … What are you singing about on the album?
Umm, I would say that some of the songs are open to interpretation, I think. I think that content is largely irrelevant, as the songs pretty much say what they are meant to say, just with the melody. If hate artists like Morrissey because he tries to say everything through his lyrics, whilst the music is bland pub rock, the guy clearly doesn’t have the ability or desire to emote through music and melody. In my opinion, the most important thing is actually express yourself without resorting to words. Some of my words, I took care in the writing in writing because I wanted too, and then others I don’t. I mean, as I said, it’s open to interpretation …

I like the idea of that, just letting the emotion you’re feeling speak through the music you’re playing…I think a lot of lyrics are bullshit most of the time anyway.
Yeah, definitely.

You said that you wanted the album to be a journey, like a peek into the world that you created … do you enjoy people being able to see that part of you which was hidden, as you’ve said before that you find it hard to relate to many people?

I guess so, like, I never talk about, I mean I am now, but I never talk to my friends in day to day life about my music – you don’t sit down and talk about your artistic aspirations because people don’t want to hear it. I guess, that’s why I write music, to communicate in some way. The music is textural and purely about evocation so it’s like something you can inhabit – people can choose to enter into it, rather than in the real world where I find it odd expressing myself.

Which is your favourite song on the album? Is there one that means something more to you than some of the others? Mine are definitely Silver and Zachary.
I really like Sofia, but Stone Setting is probably my favourite.

I read that you’re not a fan of “journalistic tagging.” How would you describe your sound?
It’s not so much that I don’t like journalistic tagging, because it is of course…

It’s part-and-parcel, I guess.
You’re not going to walk into a record store and just pick up a record at random without knowing anything about it, I guess, [so] saying that it sounds like Animal Collective helps to contextualize it for some people. I like Animal Collective, but I’m not an obsessive of theirs or anything. I’m a massive record collector, and I wouldn’t make a record of something that I didn’t love … I don’t mind if someone is getting it right, like saying someone like The Microphones or stuff like that, it’s more when people say “Animal Collective” because they haven’t done their research properly, and it’s just a really obvious reference point to grab out the air.

Yeah, just when it’s generic comparisons like My Bloody Valentine or Jesus and the Mary Chain.

Yeah, like, anyone who distorts something or puts reverb on a track sounds like My Bloody Valentine…it’s really lazy, and you know, sure I take inspiration from my entire record collection and it runs much deeper than just the guitar sound.

What records are you listening to at the moment? Have you got time to listen to new music?

I listen to new music all the time…an artist called Black to Comm…, which is like an ambient thing I discovered recently… the main thing, which I am obsessed with at the moment, is a guy called William Basinski, who discovered these old tapes loops he had made in the 80’s. The tapes started disintegrating as he was trying to transfer them onto his hard drive, and you can hear the magnetic tape flaking off for up to an hour at a time for each loop. At the same time he was doing this, the Twin Towers disaster occurred an he was in an apartment near-by watching the buildings slowly collapsing. It’s an amazing backstory, but more importantly, the music itself is staggeringly sad and beautiful on its own terms and would work without the backstory. I also listen to a lot of rap.

What’s your favourite rap record?
What like ever? Probably like ‘Liquid Swords’ by GZA…but, I’ve got to say that I’m really into like the brainless rap records – early 50 Cent, Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross … I suppose it’s just sonically more interesting to me.

What are your plans for the new year?
Record the next album, I’m already about a third of the way through that and know exactly the direction I am going to take it – there won’t be anymore annoying lo-fi tags with this record that’s for sure. I guess it’s sounding frostier, more elegant than the first record. I think we’re also going to be doing a UK and European tour, and then just listening to loads of records too.



Download the mix Alex made us a few weeks ago.

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