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Gavin Brown Takes On Grand Collapse | Interview Special

August 27, 2021

Grand Collapse Interview Special

Gavin Brown

Over the past decade, Grand Collapse have made waves with their fiery and anthemic hardcore punk sound. Their music has been solidified so far on their albums 2014s Far From The Callous Crowd and 2017s Along The Dew as well as a fearsome live reputation. Formed in South Wales but now Bristol based, the bands incendiary new album Empty Plinths has just been released and it’s a rabble rousing collection of defiant and life affirming hardcore and punk songs and the perfect antidote for the uncertain age we now find ourselves living in.

We caught up with Grand Collapse vocalist Cal to hear all about Empty Plinths and its creation and the inspirations behind the songs as well as the importance of protest music and the bands artwork, the return of live shows, memorable gigs, lyrical inspiration and all things punk rock in an interesting and informative chat. 

Your new album Empty Plinths is out very soon. How did the making of the album go? 

We started writing in 2019 after Blag joined the band on bass. We had a few parts knocking about but the majority was written that winter and into 2020. We returned to the Ranch near Southampton to work with Lewis Johns again. It’s a great studio and he’s brilliant to work with.  

Did everything going on with the pandemic and lockdowns make the albums creation a more difficult task? 

Just as the UK went into lockdown we were about to hibernate to concentrate on these songs leading up to recording, so if anything the downtime helped us because we had less distractions. We weren’t’ going to be gigging during that period anyway. Myself and Glenn live together and we have our own practise space so we were able to continue rehearsing in some form in the lead up.

Was it a cathartic experience creating and getting the songs on Empty Plinths out? 

More of a relief in the end! It took so long from studio to release. We were really happy with how it came together but we’ve been sat on the album for a year because of pressing delays. Now that it’s out we can reflect on it a bit more. The response so far has been really positive.

Was it a completely different way of making an album compared to your last record Along The Dew? 

The process was very similar; same jam room, same recording studio etc. We have a new bass player and that gave things a different perspective but we generally went about things in the same way. Having been through the album writing process twice before, we knew what to expect and how to manage things.

Was the subject matter on this album easier to write with so much to fight against at the moment? 

It wasn’t hard to find inspiration that’s for sure. The world is being manipulated by psychopaths and the ruling class in this country are taking the piss. The pandemic has masked a lot of that as we concentrate solely on the health crisis, and there’s been plenty of fuck up’s there too. The title refers to the BLM protest in Bristol last May which saw an action taken by the public to remove a statue of a 17th Century Slave trader from its plinth in the city centre and dump it in the harbour. It was a historic event in Bristol’s history so I thought it was important to document that. In general this album is pretty scathing when it comes to British national identity and takes aim at that outdated culture. We were going through the Brexit process and the nationalists were chirping away because they got what they thought they wanted and so it caused an intensification of prejudice across the board. I guess they felt emboldened by their victory in the referendum.

What has the reaction to Empty Plinths been like so far? 

So far so good! It’s only been out a couple of days but the reaction has been very positive.

The artwork for the album has once again been created by John Abell, what does the cover of the album represent? 

It’s a depiction of the Colston statue being dragged down by protestors. I gave John the album title and lyrics to the song and he interpreted that in this way. It’s a woodcut print that and I think looks pretty sweet. The reverse has the statue sitting in the water.  

You’ve worked together many times now. Do you feel that John’s art is an integral part of Grand Collapse?

Yes, it’s a big part of the band. I think punk and art has always come hand in hand. Album covers, clothing and banners etc, its all part of the aesthetic. A lot of Johns work is political and matches our sentiment so it’s a good fit.

How did you start work together in the first place? 

We met in Bristol but are both from Cardiff so there’s a link and we just became good friends and then when we started the band and needed art I thought his stuff would work well on a record sleeve. None of us can draw for shit and I’d always admired his work so it was an obvious choice. He’s a bit more expensive these days!

What’s the some of your favourite album covers of all time? 

I love all the Crass covers. The use of slogans around the edge and some fucked up satirical imagery in the centre. It immediately catches your attention because it’s shocking and there’s also a story there. You can look closer and see different things each time. I think the Icons Of Filth art by Squeeler is also amazing. Those intricate drawings are really bleak looking.

(At the time) You’ve got a record release show at the Exchange in Bristol with Dawn Ray’d, Defcon Zero and Stray Bullet on August 14th . Are you looking forward to that?

Absolutely, it’s been so long since we played and I know that’s the same for everyone but we’re excited to get to it again. It’s a great line up and hopefully a good turn out and a chance to blow off the cobwebs!

Have you got plans to hit the road after that now it’s a bit safer to do so? 

We’ll be touring the UK in September. I’m just getting the last couple of dates sorted and we can announce that pretty soon. We’ll be hitting Brighton, London and then a load of cities up north and into Scotland too.

Do you feel that there is a mixture of anticipation and trepidation about gigs returning? 

Yes, there’s a mixed reaction. Obviously everybody wants to go along but some of more nervous than others. There’s a fine line between public health and just wanting to live a so called ‘normal’ life again. I understand both sides and hopefully if everyone’s vaccinated we can live with a bit more freedom because being couped up like that has its own health consequences. Ours is one of the first back as it just landed that way and I hope people can enjoy it safely. We’ll be handing out masks at the door.  

Are you looking forward to unleashing some of the Empty Plinths material in the live arena?

Stoked! The new set is heavy on the Empty Plinths stuff and we’re excited to play new songs live. They’re a bit are heavier and it should get things moving!

I saw Grand Collapse at the Full Moon in Cardiff back in 2017 and it was an incredible experience! What have been some of your favourite gigs that you have played over the years?

A few spring to mind; the Zoro Fest in Leipzig is just carnage. Crusty’s hanging off the ceiling and going mental.  Just before the Lockdown we played a great show in Milan in this squatted football stadium. We’ve played under a bridge in Prague, on street corner in Brownsville, Texas & a boat in Liege (twice!). It’s mad some of the places you end up!

What are your favourite gig venues to play across the UK and beyond? 

The best venue we have played by far is the Observatory in Orange County. It’s this huge amphitheatre with a grand stage and all the mod cons. We were touring with Conflict so completely blagged it but it was good to see how proper bands did it! In the UK I love the Exchange in Bristol, The Black Heart in Camden and there’s a cool place in Edinburgh called the Banshee Labyrinth that has a built in cinema and looks like an old haunted crypt.  

What have been some of the most memorable gigs that you’ve ever attended and what made them so special? 

Sick Of It All are the best live band I’ve seen. They just smash it every time. Just pure energy and hardcore without being dick heads. They even laugh at some of the tough guy bullshit that happens in the crowd. If you’ve never seen them you have to go. I also caught From Ashes Rise at Punk Illegal Fest in Sweden which was pretty cool even if it was outside and rained the whole way through. I also got a boot right in the chops at the beginning and had blood pissing out my lip.

Welsh punk bands like Icons Of Filth, of course, and The Oppressed must have been an influence on the music and ethos of Grand Collapse?  

My dad Andrew, or Stig as he was known, was the singer in Icons so that obviously was a huge influence. It still is. The sentiment in those songs shaped my thoughts on the world and the society we live in. I miss him dearly but still have the songs as a reminder of those ideas.

I love The Oppressed. A blatant Anti-Fascist skin head band in a genre that is often questionable when it comes to politics. They wore their heart on their sleeve from the beginning and I have so much respect for that. My old man used to tell me that Cardiff was one of the only places where punks and skins were hanging out together because he would go all over the country watching Crass and experience violence between the two camps but at home it was cool.

What is the hardcore/punk scene like in Wales at the moment and are their any bands you could recommend for us to check out? 

I’ve been living in Bristol for a while now so I’m a bit out of touch but there’s a cool band in Cardiff called Disjoy I’ve been listening to, and there’s Pizzatramp of course and Bad Sam from Newport (ex members of Cowboy Killers).

You are now based in Bristol, how has that move been for the band?

One by one we’ve slowly migrated. It’s a lot easier now for practise with us all being in the same place.  

What is the punk/hardcore scene like in Bristol? 

There’s tons of new bands popping up; Rank, Gimic, Zero Again to name a few and there’s always stuff happening (when we’re not in lockdown). There’s a few decent venues and pubs that have hardcore shows.

I’m your opinion who are the greatest songwriters and lyricists that punk and hardcore have ever produced? 

I think Chris Hannah of Propagandhi nails it. Whenever a new record comes out I have to spend time reading through the lyrics because they’re quite dense but when you dissect what’s there it really appeals to my sense what’s going on, so to speak. It matches my world view of being both absolutely raging whilst also poking fun at the institutions or people that are to blame for this mess. I can relate to that cynical approach.

Grand Collapse celebrated their tenth anniversary earlier in the year. Did you ever think that the band would not only be still going but stronger than ever after all that time? 

Nah, we just wanted to start a band to be involved with gigs and so on, like everyone else. Pressing our first EP in 2013 was a big thing for us and our first couple of tours we played to empty rooms and didn’t give a shit. There was no plan we just kind of grew into it step by step. We’re three albums in now which is pretty cool.

What have been some of the highlights in your time with Grand Collapse so far? 

Some of the places you visit and great people you meet along the way. You’d never go there if it wasn’t for a gig and it’s some of the best moments of your life. Travelling around Europe having a ball with my best mates I’d say is the highlight as they’re wonderful memories.

Thank you so much for spending time with Circuit Sweet

Words: Gavin Brown

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