Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mike Graff

Back in the late '80s when Deep Ellum first started to grow a unique, original music scene, Course of Empire emerged with industrial guitar, edgy vocals and two drummers pulsing out a driving rhythm.

Mike Graff, C.o.E.'s guitarist, has played with several bands since C.o.E.'s breakup in the late '90s, and has recently emerged with a beautiful and hypnotizing solo act that consists of guitar, drums, and visuals.

I was lucky to see Mike play at Hal Sample's Space this April, and am very proud to share the following interview with you today:

First, of all, could you tell me about how you got started playing?
MG: In the late '60's/early '70's, my dad had a surf group called "The New Pyramids".  My earliest memories are of crawling around amongst guitar cables and amps while the group rehearsed at our house.

As a tot, I was probably more intrigued by my dad's "Echoplex" than the guitars. The "Echoplex" was a tape-loop delay effect. The
tape would spin around on the top of the machine and create all sorts of weird, spacey sounds as you moved the tape heads back and forth across the tape. I still love a delay pedal. My solo show on Friday is all about playing in time with the delayed guitar signal.

When I was about 12, my dad stopped playing and I started to p
ick up some of his instruments. His red '61 Guild Starfire kind of became my guitar. I used it in the early days of C.o.E. I've been attracted to the big, woman-shaped, semi-hollowbody guitars ever since.

SR: Who are some of your influences?

MG: As a kid, I was just trying to learn the songs that my dad was would show me: tunes by Chuck Berry, Link Wray, The Ventures, Freddie King, etc. were all part of my development.

But somewhere around late '78/'79, I discovered George Gimarc's "Rock And Roll Alternative" radio show on KZEW. When I heard The Sex Pistols, I found my own thing to be into. Later, I heard "Birds Of A Feather" by Killing Joke. That song probably influenced my guitar style more than any other.

Bob "Derwood" Andrews of Generation X, Andy Gill of Gang Of Four, Daniel Ash from Bauhaus, Matthew Ashman from Bow Wow Wow, and Billy Duffy of The Cult were all favorites of mine too. The influence of all those guys can be heard, mashed up and regurgitated in stuff that I've done.

Can you tell me
about your time with Course of Empire?

MG: Course Of Empire
was fortunate to come along at a time when Deep Ellum was just beginning to blossom as a new center of musical creativity. In those days you could walk up and down the street and see ten different groups and be blown away by all of them. There was a mutual respect and admiration amongst all of the bands, each doing their own thing.

What were some of the more memorable

MG: Course Of Empire really believed it could change the world. However naive it may have been, we had a specific plan for how we would help h
umanity avoid the coming apocalypse and build a bright shining, sustainable future.

We had this vision that we could unify the masses and reconnect to the earth through drumming. So we would pass these big oil drums and sticks out into the audience in order to get the mass subconscious working. It was all very Lord Of The Flies/Edgar Rice Burroughs, tribal-industrial, global village stuff. Some nights "the drum thing" worked great. But eventually the crowds got too big.

During one show at the Theatre Gallery, people started throwing the drums. A lot of audience members got hurt. Some people had chipped teeth, others were bleeding. It was chaotic. We had to stop the music. Ambulances arrived.
That night was the end of "the drum thing", but the start of our career recording for a major label. We ended up getting
signed to Zoo/BMG from the energy of that show. I still have a blood-stained flyer from that show.
SR: What were your favorite songs to work on?
MG: I was proud of a
song called "The Information" from our third album called Telepathic Last Words. It was included on the soundtrack cd for a movie called Dark City. I liked the techno feel of it.

I also liked a tune called "Thrust" from our first album. It was fun recording it because David Castell actually built all the gizmos and gadgets that made all of the industrial noises happening in the track.  We thought it was our "post-industrial" epic. Live, it was the song during which we would pass out all the drums into the audience: 

SR: What side projects have you worked with over the years?

MG: After C.o.E., I did an album of minimalist ambient music called Halls Of The Machine with drummer Michael Jerome and keyboardist Van Eric Martin. Jerome and I also played with a guy named James Hall for a while. I played with a few other local groups like The Mermaid Purse and another called The Chinese Stars. But Halls Of The Machine has been my main thing, since C.o.E.

SR: I really enjoyed the set you played at Hal Sample's Space back in April. You seem to have moved in a more psychedelic direction since C.o.E., what would you call your new material?

MG: My solo guitar show is an experimental thing. I can't book a Course Of Empire or Halls Of The Machine show without other people being involved. But I realized that as "Mike Graff" I can step out and play anything I want from my musical history.

So the solo thing is really just a stream-of-consciousness trek through my catalog of riffs. Since there's no singer, I have to adjust the arran
gements somewhat to make sense from the guitar perspective. I may start out playing something new and then morph into bits of music from the C.o.E. era, and then move onto something new again.

I have some basic ideas going in, but I never really know what I'm going to play until I get up there. It has a bit more of a psychedelic feel to it, because the delay and effects becom
e more important, since there's no singer or band to react to.
SR: The last year I've seen a more and more acts include visuals with their music, including your own solo performance. How do you think visuals enhance your music?

MG: The theatre of watching a band play lies in seeing how the musicians feed off of one another. Since I'm just playing guitar, I like to have video projections that help create an other-worldly atmosphere and help support the mood of the music.
SR: What plans do you have for the future of your music?
MG: Halls Of The Machine has a lot of new material recorded. We're just looking for that next window of time that we c
an all be in the same city to finish the
next album.

SR: Do you see yourself working in any specific direction?

MG: The new HOTM stuff takes a very stripped down, rockish kind of approach. I'm anxious to get a full-blown HOTM show happening where we can
play the heavy stuff

SR: Can we look forward to a solo album release?
MG: I never considered it before, but I like the idea.

You can catch Mike Graff this Friday at Club Dada during a benefit for the Deep Ellum Association. Also playing that evening is Paul Slavens and Roy Ivy. That night the fiv
e mural finalists will be announced for this year's installment of Re*Cov*Er Mural Series Competition.

First four images taken from Mike Graff's myspace page. Last three photos (excluding flyer) taken by Hal Samples at Space on 4/6/08.


sarah jane said...



drlaci said...