Greys isn’t an aggressive band, even though they sound like it. Well, okay, maybe they’re a bit aggressive – their music is an intense mix of dissonant guitars, slamming drums and vocals more often shouted than sung. But there’s much more to the band than the aggressive label they’re often given and the commonly written opinion that they’re part of some kind of Toronto loud rock music scene.
“That’s the thing about Toronto that people aren’t really understanding: there are no two bands that really sound alike,” said Shehzaad Jiwani, Greys’ singer and guitarist. “At least among the bands that we’re friends with.”
Now would probably be the time to acknowledge that Greys aren’t actually from Hamilton. But they play Hamilton shows, tour with Hamilton bands and are also really great, so it’s okay. Anyway. Back to the band’s music.
Instead of aggressive, Greys sounds anxious, disaffected and tense. It’s the sound of Jiwani desperately wanting to escape the suburb he grew up in. It’s music for anyone who has ever felt frustratingly stuck.
“You want to escape certain places and then there’s also headspaces you want to get out of, and that’s a really big part of the lyrics,” Jiwani said. “That’s something everyone goes through in your twenties – shedding your own skin. I hope that comes across to a lot of people, because I know people peg us as a heavy band. Maybe it’s because we only have EPs or something, but I feel that when we write a record people will understand that there’s more to it than just being loud.”
Indeed, there is more to Greys’ music than just being loud. It’s also really fast. In fact, almost everything about the band is fast. Greys’ first EP, Ultra Sorta, was released only a few months after the band formed and was recorded the day after their first show. About a year later, Greys released their second EP, Easy Listening. “I fucking hate that title, to be quite honest,” Jiwani said. “We couldn’t decide on a title, and that was the one we came up with. I wanted to call it Use Your Delusion but that didn’t stick.” At least the irony of the name Easy Listening makes it kind of hilarious.
Greys’ most recent EP, Drift, was released in February and shows the band becoming even more brutal, focused and thrilling. “Within two weeks, we learned all the songs for Drift; it was insane,” Jiwani said. “We had just gotten back from a tour and we were burnt out by everything.” The band had toured for two months, been home for 10 days to work at their day jobs and finished another tour before recording the EP. When the band finally got back, Jiwani didn’t even have a home to return to – he had moved out and left all of his stuff at his parent’s house. And during that whole time the band never actually allowed themselves a break. No wonder Drift sounds so crazy.
“Everyone comments on how aggressive the EP is, and I think it’s because it really captured that moment of frustration we all had,” Jiwani said. “But recording was actually a really fun time; we had a delightful couple of days.” A “couple” is actually meant literally – Greys recorded Drift in the insanely short span of two days. To even further add to the tension of recording the EP, Jiwani finished the lyrics minutes before recording them. “I was writing on the couch in the recording studio and Josh, our friend who recorded us, was like ‘you ready or what?’ and I looked at the page and thought, ‘okay, this is it.’” Finishing lyrics right before recording them seems like a situation that anyone who has finished an essay minutes before it’s due can relate to. The tension and exhilaration of an assignment that barely makes a deadline is what it feels like to listen to Greys. Except that a less nerdy analogy would probably be better.
The music video for “Carjack,” the most lethal song on Drift, features a guy in a sufficiently unsettling clown mask destroying more than a few guitars. “They were just old shitty guitars, but actually one was the first guitar I ever owned,” Jiwani said. “I felt really bad because my dad bought it for my thirteenth birthday, but at least it’s immortalized. It’s all a guitar can ask for – to be smashed in a cool video,” he said. “It’s better than ‘Crazy Train’ being played on it forever in Steve’s Music Store,” laughed Greys’ bass player Colin Gillespie. “Because it would be ‘Crazy Train’ too,” Jiwani said. “That would be guitar purgatory.”
Even though they have a music video of a guy breaking stuff, it’s still worth pointing out that Greys isn’t just an aggressive band. They don’t want to see that kind of thing going down at a concert. “I fucking hate mosh pits to be quite honest,” Jiwani said. “It’s always like 10 or 20 people who want to have a good time completely ignoring every single other person around them. Like jumping around is great, of course, bang your head and throw your fists and stuff, but don’t push people for no fucking reason. People are just trying to have a good time in their own personal space. Good grief.”
It’s refreshing to hear a heavy band reject the mindless masculinity and thickheaded culture of so many hardcore concerts. Greys is a vital reminder that loud music can still be smart and arty.