Interview with They Grieve
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Deniz: It’s kind of hard to say—as cliché as it might sound, I think I’ve just always loved music. I started playing a little bit of piano, drums, and guitar at a relatively early age and have been mostly self-taught. I mean, I took a few months of piano lessons and probably 4 or 5 drum lessons when I was around 10 years old, but I just could not force myself to sit down and practice so I decided not to continue. I really just wanted to mess around, improvise, and try to figure out parts of songs I liked by ear on different instruments. It’s basically been that way ever since. I can’t really remember a time in my life when music—even just as a listener or basement demo warrior—wasn’t a major part of my life and identity.
To be honest, it’s very hard for me to think about what my life would look like or who I would be without music playing a central role. I think I would simply be a different person altogether. I’d probably be less depressed and would definitely have more money.
Gary: I also can’t really imagine what my life would be like without music. I met almost all of my friends through music. When I was a teen, music was what made me feel like I belonged. Through playing music I realized what music can do without being able to express it in words. I’ve always found performing therapeutic in some way.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Deniz: Since my early 20’s I’ve spent a lot of time studying and playing chess, as well as slowly pursuing academia. I’m pretty bad at both of those things but I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the years. Chess has taught me to never be surprised by the depths of my own stupidity. My academic work, on the other hand, has introduced me to ideas and ways of interpreting the world that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise come across. A lot of our lyrical content is influenced by the books Gary and I read and discuss.
Gary: As Deniz mentioned, reading has been a different style of escape and even influenced us lyrically. I like to keep busy outside of music. My brother and I have created some short films together and are currently working on our first feature film. I also do live sound which helps me feel relatively connected to the music scene.
How long has your band been around?
Deniz: Gary and I started writing together in the early summer of 2015, then chose our band name and rushed to play our first two shows later that summer. We then took a 6-month hiatus to wrap up a previous project, and then took another 6/7 month hiatus in 2017. So, 7-ish years?
Gary: 7 years already!? Where does the time go.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Deniz: Both Gary and I grew up in Ottawa, Canada, and we’re currently based here. We’re both big fans of the history of Ottawa and Quebec’s chaotic, emotional hardcore from the 90s onward. We love the melodic crust-influenced sound of bands like Union of Uranus, Okara, and Buried Inside, and how they all found their own ways to push into slower, heavier territory. In my opinion, Gary’s previous band Alaskan also carried that torch, albeit in a less chaotic, more sludgy direction. I think a little bit of that approach to melody and harmony can probably be heard in They Grieve as well but maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Gary: I think the climate here probably also contributes to our music. It gets cold in the winter, and days are short, it can be pretty depressing.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Deniz: We started making a list of potential names pretty soon after we started writing. None of the options really grabbed us though. Our friends in Greber asked us to play a show before we were really ready—we agreed to do it, but had to come up with a name quickly for the poster so we just went with They Grieve as it was the least terrible option on our list. It just kind of stuck after that.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
Deniz: First one that comes to mind is a show we played in Quebec City at a bar called the Scanner Bistro, incidentally also with Greber. While we played, people suspended themselves from hanging meat hooks up on a gallery/loft area right above the audience and broadcasted a video feed of it at the main level bar. The show wasn’t part of a tour for us, just a one-off show with only us and Greber. We drove to Quebec City and back home the same night in a blizzard.
Gary: I forgot about that show! To clarify, it was a body mod studio that was above / part of the venue. Still pretty wild. And that drive was insane, taking us all night driving like 60km/h on the highway at best.
I’d also add the show we played with Eyehategod. Having Mike mention he liked our shirt but “forgot his wallet in the van” several times was amazing. Yes, I gave him a shirt.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Deniz: We haven’t played there as They Grieve, but Soybomb in Toronto was my favourite venue to play in previous projects. No pressure on Jay but I’d love to play there at some point in the future.
Gary: Turbohaus in Montreal was pretty awesome to play. Felt like it took us way too long to play this location. I don’t know if there is a venue on my list of places to play. I’ll play anywhere! Got a basement with a PA? Hell yeah, let's piss off your neighbours.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Deniz: If we’re talking time-travel, I would go back to 1996 and play a venue called 5 Arlington in Ottawa with Union of Uranus and One Eyed God Prophecy.
Gary: Again with time travel, would love to have played with Buried Inside and Mare. Current bands I’d say Big Brave.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Deniz: To someone just getting into playing in bands, I would say don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from musicians you like—don’t worry about looking cool. And practice setting-up and tearing-down your rig quickly for shows so you don’t keep other bands and the audience waiting.
Gary: Don’t develop too much of an ego, keep in mind the other people in the room. At the same time don’t worry too much about what other people think about your music.
To my younger self; you wouldn’t believe the places you’ve seen all because you picked up the guitar.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Deniz: Don’t do it. But since you’re gonna do it anyway, at least practice every once in a while.
Gary: Don’t let the wrong people influence your decisions, musically or otherwise.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Deniz: This is a tough question. I think I’d have to go with “Weakness”, the final song on our upcoming album To Which I Bore Witness. Most of the songs on the record were written, scrapped, and then completely re-written—and this one was no exception. Even after completely re-writing it, we spent a lot of time fine-tuning parts and working out the smaller details. I think that this song posed the biggest challenges to us from a songwriting perspective thus far—we really had to confront our limitations as a two-piece. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to slowly build intensity and construct a natural narrative flow to the dynamics of the song. At the same time, we also learned to accept that dreary minimalism is also just a part of what makes us sound like us. It was very rewarding to see it all come together.
Gary: I love that we are constantly pushing ourselves and each other as musicians. I think we pour a lot of ourselves into our music so each song is a massive accomplishment to me. If I had to narrow it down to 1 song I’d have to say “The Name of the Void” from our first EP, I Made My Sacrifice Accordingly. I think writing that song was a real turning point for us musically.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Deniz: We don’t really get requests, but people seem to like the drone pieces we play in between songs during our live sets. Those are probably my favourite parts to play as well.
Gary: I think “Wither”, the opening track from our upcoming album, is probably my favourite to perform.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Deniz: Gary and I collaborate on essentially every aspect of the music, which makes the writing process quite slow for us. Generally one of us will bring a loose, unstructured idea to rehearsal which we then improvise with and build on together from there. The same goes for the lyrics, more or less. Gary and I have been close friends for over a decade now and we see They Grieve as an extension of our friendship. We spend a lot of time talking about our personal experiences with depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness brought on by the suffering and injustice we see in the world. Our writing comes directly from those conversations.
Gary: Couldn’t have said it any better, but we also sometimes just really love a good riff.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Deniz: Things make us feel bad. But honestly, this is kind of a tough question to answer—we’ve never really thought about what message we’re trying to convey. We have no solutions for overcoming or even dealing with the things we write about—depression, grief, failure, isolation, all that fun stuff. I guess the general message is that sometimes there is no growth, no learning, no new opportunity, no silver lining that can be squeezed out of these experiences. Sometimes suffering is just suffering.
Gary: Sad music doesn’t have to be soft or quiet. It can be loud and overbearing or droning and ambient or all of the above.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
Deniz: We do have some disagreements, but they never really last long or become obstacles. Gary and I really trust each other and respect each other’s judgment, so if one of us feels very strongly about something, it’s not hard for the other to just defer to that decision. We have a rule of thumb when we disagree about a part we’re writing: we always play out every suggestion, every variation, just to see how it sounds. I might fall in love with an idea to change a part in my head, play it out with Gary, and then realize it doesn’t actually work. The “let’s just try it out and see how it goes” approach solves 99% of our disagreements.
Gary: Nothing is ever off the table. If we both have different visions for a part we try both variations and see which works most organically with the parts surrounding it. It’s a very open process but it does slow us down a bit.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Deniz: Our full-length album, To Which I Bore Witness, is being released through Silent Pendulum Records on February 24th, 2023. We’ll be playing some shows in Ontario and Quebec in support of the release in the spring. We’re also working on a drone-based accompaniment EP for To Which I Bore Witness which we’re hoping to record this summer.
Music Video - To Which I Bore Witness -