Taking a significantly heavier tone in contrast to their previous material, Little Grim’s ‘Vice’ feels particularly reminiscent of later Foals in the guitar department, with a clashing of precise, upper neck sections followed and preceded by looser, fuzzy flares. Overall ‘Vices’ seems to march in a linear fashion, never really going back on itself to satisfy a typical rock n’ roll urge for the chorus. ‘All on Black’ I felt was the weaker of the two singles, however, it by no means lacks engagement. Taking an approach more similar to their previous stock, ‘All on Black’ is – whether consciously or not – Alt-J inspired. Falsetto vocals, rolling percussion, and a toyish, yet calculated guitar section, ‘All on Black’ does feel derived, but that does not stop it from being an attractive listen. Both singles, overall, are adventurous in their approach to mix genres and tones.
I spoke to lead singer and guitarist Joe Murphy and went over growing up in London, the gig economy, and their latest tracks.
As a Londoner, Murphy is aware of the impact the city has had on his musical education. As something of a melting pot of culture, Murphy discusses the musical landscape of London. “London is an amazing landscape of different music and sound,” Murphy says. “It’s such a good city [with a] really wide plethora of different music genres and influences, you know? You can go to Camden and find yourself in the Jazz Cafe listening to funk and soul, and you can go just over the road to the Black Heart and listen to some hard rock in a gothic style pub. I love that.”
“[London is] so condensed, so intermingled and intertwined with [itself] that it really does have a big influence on how you want to portray yourself as an artist,” Murphy says, further detailing the influences of the city. “I always walk away thinking that I want to take something that I’ve seen at this gig and mix it with my own thing even if it doesn’t traditionally work.”
Murphy continues this stem of our conversation, discussing how the band mix differing sounds with their own musical tastes and styles; which could be pigeonholed as being of the broader indie genre. “We don’t just listen to indie music,” Murphy explains, “We love a real wide variety. I can tell you now [indie is] quite far from the tastes of our drummer and bassist, who are much more into their funk and fusion stuff, whereas Jeremy and I do exist more in that indie world.”
As mentioned before, the new singles sound distinct from Little Grim’s previous material, which the band accumulated in their last release ‘Pink Skin, Blue Bruise’. “With ‘Pink Skin, Blue Bruise’, we’d been recording those songs and writing them over a number of years and, I’ll be honest, when we had a whole mixture of songs to work with we decided we were gonna take the ones we were happy with, put those together in an EP, [and] package that up and sign it off in a way that says ‘we did this, this is our music, you can hear it all in one place’. We started building everything up from the EP as entirely brand new, almost unwritten music. These are still in the process of being recorded or written, so it’s all brand new to us.”
Despite compiling and packaging up older material into the neat bundle of cuts on ‘Pink Skin, Blue Bruise’, Murphy et al. still want to their body of material to demonstrate a kind of evolution or passage through their releases. In this sense, these new tracks are not to be perceived as a stark, ‘clean’ start. “We’re hoping that kind of golden thread will run through our songs and will have that kind of continuous theme. I’m hot on the idea that every song should be individual to itself … I think that every song deserves to have its own sound and breathe its own soul.”
Murphy was eager to discuss the latest tonal developments with ‘All on Black’ and ‘Vice’. He described to me the music that informed some of the sounds and decisions on ‘All on Black’. “I think that I just wanted to say something really clear and direct and just have a bit of balls,” Murphy says, emphasising that final plosive, and chuckles with a pause. “[I wanted] it to have a proper grit behind it and just say it in a loud and proud way. At the time, I was having a writing block. There had been months between songs, I wasn’t happy with the job I was in, and everything was building up and up — [I was] getting more and more frustrated. I decided to go away for a week to my friend’s place in Berlin. She was working the whole time, so I was basically just roaming around all day. I whacked my headphones in, walked around the streets of Berlin, and went around to see some places, but found myself constantly coming back to the YANAKA EP. I loved it. It’s hard when you’re writing rock songs because it’s so easy to sound the same as everyone else. They’ve taken all the traditional parts of being in a rock band [and changed it].”
Lyrically, the single takes on a subjective approach, discussing the gamble Murphy has taken by committing to a career in music. A television programme on or about poker acted as the catalyst that would generate ‘All on Black’. “I just thought of the idea of people putting all their eggs in one basket, all their money on black. I thought that it was something that related to me at the time. I was going to take a leap of faith and quit my job and make it in music. So, I decided to quit my job and put all of my money on one thing and – despite what everyone was saying – say it’s now or never because I’m only going to regret not trying it,” Murphy halts meditatively. “Despite how terrified you might be of making that leap you’ve got to hedge your bets and put all your money on that one thing otherwise you’re just going to regret it for the rest of your life.”
All of the other bandmates are, in effect, also putting all on the black of Little Grim. Every member works alternative jobs to fund the band; Murphy works in music PR, lead guitarist Jeremy Barclay is a voice actor, drummer Roger Muntzer and bassist Chris Alger are both a session musician. As a result of this, the band devised a method to write and develop the song that would eventually become ‘All on Black’.
“We bought this old Mac and put Logic on it,” Murphy says, describing how the members leave the Mac in the landing of their flat and work on a track in their free time between work. “[We] just started recording demos there, put down a few ideas. I show it to Jeremy [and] Jeremy normally fleshes it out a bit more before we take it to the other guys, who then give it the real character and the final structure that it’s going to take. Ideas tend to start from a lyrical theme, and then they branch out from Jeremy and me and then hit the full band and expand into its final form.”
Concluding the conversation on the struggle to balance writing music with other work-related commitments, the topic shifts to lack of funding for artists of the internet generation. Although it could be argued that the emergence of services such as Spotify have allowed complacency with underpaying artists, internet-based music platforms are allowing more and more independent and underground artists more significant exposure. Murphy makes an interesting point with regards to this greater exposure, however.
“The access of having Spotify and Soundcloud can make you a bedroom superstar. It means that, yeah, there’s lots more contending and that means there’s a lot more visible [bands] that are struggling to make ends meet with just music as their only inlet.”
Any major cost that Little Grim can avoid by using their own capabilities they have and will. With a diverse range of skillsets among the members, they can promote themselves to a professional degree. “We do everything around the music; we cut videos, we make posts for our social media. Yeah, we balance our work which kinda plays into that too, like I cut videos for my profession, which is really useful because I can apply that to my work and the band. It is super tricky to balance it all, and you do get tired and worn out, but you sometimes look at yourself every few months and think ‘do I still want to do this?’ but you look at it, and you say ‘well, yeah’. There’s nothing else I would rather do with my time and, in the end, people talk about money all the time, but, it sounds cheesy,” Murphy pauses, “but it’s certainly not about that at all. It’s [about] the experience, and when I’m 80 years old, if I make it that far, I’ll be pretty pleased that I spent my time doing this.”
You can check the singles out on Spotify below: