Instrumental rock progressive act Mahogany Head Grenade has created a music sense all their own as of 2011. Since then they have written and recorded material releasing it all over, played showcases and have further works underway! The band went ahead to discuss their latest "Return to the Point of Departure" and future plans.
1. Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Mahogany Head Grenade, and how long the band has been together.
My name is Dan Hyer, I'm the guitarist. We've been together since June of 2011.
2. Please tell us about the history of your band and its members.
I ran an ad on craigslist in May of 2011 looking for band members. Mike Pritchett (drummer) responded. We had a lot of similar influences, had been in successful bands in the past, played 'professionally' so there was plenty of experience for us to have common ground to build upon. We jammed for a month or so, and felt like it was something worth continuing, so we ran another ad on craigslist. It took a while, but eventually James Falcon (bass) responded. We knew he was the right guy when he stepped into the audition. He had transcribed (wrote out bass part and scored) the two songs we asked him to learn, he had a great feel - but above all that, he had just a great peaceful, yet very knowledgeable vibe.
3. Your band is a trio why did you want it to be a 3-piece act aside from the typical route? Why do you think your trio act is different from all the other trios out there?
For me as a guitarist, I've had the most fun in trio's. There is tremendous opportunity in a three piece to use the full spectrum of dynamics, not just full blown volume, but being able to play very quietly and still be heard. In a three piece, as the guitarist, it's artistically liberating to not compete with harmony or rhythms imposed or implied by another melodic instrument. It's also easier for a smaller number of people/players to have a meaningful musical conversation (at least in this style). When you throw in Keys, or another Melodic instrument, the space that can make a 3 piece breathe can be lost. In terms of what makes us different, we implement a variety of different historical samples to provide compositional context, but we don't play to a click - so there's organic give and take with tempos, while the samples play an important part compositionally. In many ways, it's like walking a tightrope without a net. If we are playing too on top, we'll be ahead of the samples, or if we are laying it back too much, we'll be playing behind the samples. It's taken a lot to get that to work out correctly.
4. Where is the band based out of and what is your music scene like there? Are there any local bands you could recommend?
We are located in Dallas, Texas. The scene here is multi-faceted with loads of talent. It seems to have been revived in recent years, maybe because the economics of the city are better. Rather than suggest bands, i think venues can give you the best mix of what our scene has to offer. The Boiler Room, Curtain Club, Trees in deep ellum consistently have some of the best and brightest of what Dallas can offer for Rock or Metal. The Kessler Theater, in Oak Cliff, is drawing in national talent because of the care with which they built that venue. The sound and vibe in that place is incredible. I doubt we'll ever play there - we're too loud. But if you are in town, you should definitely check it out. There's also several other clubs, but those stand out.
5. Why did you want to call the band Mahogany Head Grenade, does it have a meaning or a story behind it?
We spent months trying to figure out a name for the band that covered who we are, and what we are trying to say. About 12 years ago after getting clean and sober, i read a book called 'Battlefield of the Mind' by Joyce Meyers. I was struggling to adapt to a sobriety lifestyle, and that book really helped out. 'Mahogany Head Grenade' came to my conscious as I was readying and studying, and contemplating how i could apply the principles in the book to my life. There's actually a song called Mahogany Head Grenade that we may do some day. Once we started talking bout it, that name seemed to best cover the band's vision.
6. How do you describe your music to people?
Organic, melodic, theoretically charged, technical, and accessible. Or, as we often say on our gig fliers - home grown progressive instru-metal for your head.
7. What image do you think your music conveys?
I think our music connects to the people who 'get it' on a spiritual level. So the imagery that manifests when they listen to our music (even though it's aggressive and in the metal style,) translates as hope, warmth, and positive.
8. Who are your musical influences?
Mike is the biggest Rush fan on the planet, so he's hugely influenced by Neal Peart. James is also plays jazz sax and guitar, and has a classically trained background, so there are many places from where he draws his inspiration. My degree was in music, so there are countless classical composers who really challenged & won over my musical tastes. But, I also grew up with a huge appreciation of guitar players - Jimmy Hendrix, Matthias Jabbs, James Hetfield, Zakk Wylde, Dime, Yngwie, George Lynch. But once i heard instrumental music, there was a real connection that spoke to me - Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Andy Timmons - those guys very much shaped my musical direction.
9. What are your songs about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
They are biographical - regarding the same battle that people deal with in trying to figure out the "where" the "how" the "when" and the "why" they/we fit in to something much bigger than life on this planet.
10. Do you write your own songs? (Discuss the songwriting process in detail.)
Yes, absolutely. We currently have a 'no cover' rule. Hah. For the songs on the record, i introduced complete demo's and then we all built and improved on the structure, dynamics, and overall direction of the tunes from there. The collaborative part of what we do when we write is vital. We'll try a multitude of ideas, most that come from jamming and fleshing out what was introduced on the demos. We also write organically, where one of us will introduce a riff, and we'll construct the song from there. That type of writing takes much longer, but it can be more fulfilling, since there is a sense of creating it completely from scratch as a band.
11. You just released your debut release "Return to the Point of Departure" what was it like working with Sterling Winfield, Maor Appelbaum and being at the Valve Studios and Maor's Studios?
Working with Sterling was unreal. The guy has experience with legends, and it was clear that he knew exactly how to bring the most and best out of us. He is very driven, but also laid back and cool - so it made for an incredibly easy first studio record with the band. Valve studios is a beautiful place - we were able to record live, see each other in the same room, with plenty of separation and little to no bleed (thanks to Sterling's know how, and Casey Diorio - Valvue owner going above and beyond). That studio also has an old neve board - so the quality of the sounds we recorded coupled with Sterling's knowledge is something that we are extremely happy with. We sent the tracks off to Maor, and he too has experience with legends - so it was exciting, and a little scary to give him the opportunity to take it where he knew it needed to go. At his urging, we avoided the extreme volume maximization that is so common these days in order to have a product with dynamics. It was absolutely the right call.
12. How was the vibe in the studio and the whole overall process of this release?
The studio was unbelievably driven, yet easy and peaceful. I think that's 100% Sterlings understanding of how to deal with bands, individual musicians, and his incredible professionalism. We tracked 90% of the session live in two days. Then we did the overdubs in another day, day and 1/2. Also amazing to me was the way Sterling and Maor worked together to get it right after the initial parts were recorded. Sterling mixed several different versions, Maor mastered several different versions, and ultimately I think we came up with the best sounding product we could have got for this particular project.
13. Why did you want this to be released independently? Are you guys signed or want to eventually get signed with a label?
When we formed in June of 2011 we started working on these songs, as well as songs we want to go onto a 2014 release. For the first 18 months as a band, our product was our live show. That is not necessarily a hugely marketable product for a record company. Then, we self funded and self released the record. Now our product, as it gathers momentum, is the live show, the record, and the 'brand' (shirts, stickers, other swag). Lord willing there will be a point where the distribution that a record label could offer us would be attractive and fiscally make sense, but for right now - the fact that we don't have to compromise anything about the music or who we are is the most important thing.
14. You went and called this release "Return to the Point of Departure" how come?
It has a couple of different meanings. For me, "return to the point of departure" is a plainly stated biographical message. I was playing in bands with a modicum of rising "success", but because of a drug and alcohol problem, I blew it. It ALL crashed and came to a dead halt. For a while, I wasn't sure if I was interested in trying to interact, or grow with another group of people artistically - let alone to try to put something out there for people to hear. By God's grace, I was able to "return to the point of departure". Mike and James too were at crossroads in their lives when we got together, with their own unique stories of coming back after pulling away. With the band, we all started over.
15. Who designed the album artwork for it and how much input did you have in it?
I did the artwork. For a couple years in college, I was an advertising design major, and I've always loved to draw. We had a multitude of ideas of what we wanted visually to portray, and ultimately decided on a 'narrative' of what we hope someone experiences when they listen to the record.
16. How would you describe the overall sound of the new album?
Warm, aggressive, organic, and polished.
17. Did the band have any definitive goals they were shooting for before the recording process began for this album?
We did - we wanted our live show captured without it being a 'live at a gig or show' record. With the help of Sterling Winfield (and Casey, and Maor), we more than achieved that goal.
18. Are you using any new instrumentation you've never used in the recording process before?
With the exception of some extra rhythm guitar and guitar harmonies - the instrumentation is exactly what we use live.
19. When did you start writing for this album?
The initial framework was 13 years ago. These demos were all written during my hibernation while i was getting clean and sober. Then we got together and re-worked them starting in June of 2011.
20. Can you go into one or two tracks on the new album? If so, can you give us the track title and brief description of how the track sounds and how it came about?
'Return to the Point' is a pretty good example what we are trying to accomplish & represent as a band. The atmosphere is set by the samples and sound scape in the intro. With the voice samples, there is a little weirdness, a little humor, and a little truth. Some listeners get that right from the beginning. There is a tension built with the tri tones in the strings & the thickening sound scape, with the big release coming in when the full band comes in. The goal was to have the main riff create a melodic area for the melody to be able to work within developing further the tension and release with major and minor intervals. For example the melody is built around the minor second, which creates a lot of dissonance and tension, and the major third, which creates the release and resolve. There is also the finger picked 'slide' sounding melody that's really a nod to the Texas sound. Undeniably, there are some self indulgent technical passages throughout the song that are a lot of fun to play - but those sections too are really used with the intent of further creating & exploiting tension and release.
21. Do you play live as well? How's your live activity so far?
We've been playing live since January of 2012. We are always happy when the music connects with someone new, because the music is instrumental, and that can be challenging for some listeners to grasp onto. Also it's technically demanding, so some can dismiss that based on their experiences in listening, but not really delving into technically challenging music. The response from audiences has been awesome, we're always thrilled to do another show.
22. What are your plans for touring and playing shows?
Our focus live right now is honing songs for a 2014 release. We would like to tour and there are some hints of exciting things in the works, but it's much too early to talk about that now.
23. What should labels/zines/promoters know about your band? Why should they be interested in it?
We each have been in bands in the past that have written music for the sole purpose of getting popular enough to get 'signed'. We each, in the past, allowed outside forces impact & influence the music, many times in the wrong way. We are all in a place in our careers now where getting signed would be very cool, but that is not the main goal. We are interested in continuing to make music that will outlive us. That goal pushes us technically & compositionally to go places that we wouldn't go in previous bands. That also sometimes results in the music going over the heads of some people in the audience & that's ok. If we are able to challenge some people who misunderstand the technical and compositional aspects, so they have to grasp the spiritual aspect of what we are doing, then we still made a connection.
In terms of why they should be interested in our band - it really depends if they are looking for something new and different, or if they are looking something the same. We are different and we are cool with that.
24. What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most when hearing your music for the first time?
That it made them feel something positive.
25. Why should a metalhead buy your demos/albums?
Hopefully because they listened to the stream online, or saw us live, and were compelled to pick it up. From the artwork, to the years that we spent putting this together, to the quality of the engineering by Sterling, or mastering by Maor - it is a complete piece of work, from start to finish.
26. Where can we listen to your band and where can we buy your stuff?
We're on iTunes, amazon, and CD Baby, etc. We have live shows scheduled through October, with a plan to add dates in November and December as we get closer to those months. And here's some other places you can find us.
27. What can the fans expect to see from you in the future?
More progressive metal music that will hopefully challenge them mentally and spiritually.
28. Any final words of wisdom?
There are a lot of people in this world who are hurting - in all walks of life. One second of kindness to a stranger could be enough to change their lives. Don't beat yourself up if you used to be a jerk in the past - just be willing to change, and then change.