Grant Henry is Stemage. You'd never know that, though, from listening to the debut Stemage record, Strati. It's a loud, big record that sounds like a band. It also sounds a lot like the late, great Cave In--something you'll read about below. Our conversation is edited a bit, to remove a long discussion of Cave In's greatness--yours truly proved himself to be a total Cave In geek!
I was a little confused about something--Stemage is a side project for you?
Well, not really. It sort of came up in the middle of other projects I had my hands into, but I've been putting a lot of focus on it lately. What you asked might have been true at one point, but I'm putting a lot of focus on it now. It's interesting, because I played everything on the record, and I don't exactly have a band, so when people come to check it out, they won't see tour dates on the site. But this is definitely a big project for me; I've got my hands in a lot of different things. I've been in a good list of bands over the years, and I've put out a number of records here and there, but this is my first full-on, all-by-myself type of thing. I've been recording for a number of years, and after talking to a friend of mine, I started thinking, "why don't I do the record all on my own?" I just sat down and emptied out my riff vault. I had all of these ideas of songs that were either already written and some which were almost written yet didn't feel right at the time. I just put all of these things together and I took a lot of time to do it.Did you think you could pull it off?
I'm used to playing, and I'm used to multi-tracking over my stuff, but I didn't know if I would be able to create something cohesive. I know I wanted to experiment with a number of different styles for this record. I wanted to make a record that brought out my love of several different genres. The sound of the record, it travels all the way from ballad tracks to a big epic metal tune smack in the middle of the record. Even though it kind of jumped around in style, I still think it turned out being something that people would listen to all the way through, and that they'd hear something that sounded familiar to them in each song. It does genre-hop. But I wasn't quite sure if I knew what I wanted--I wasn't sure just how long I wanted it to be, I wasn't sure I knew what tracks I wanted to include. And to me, a lot of my previous work had been all instrumental. I hadn't done much vocal work in a long while, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to include any instrumental tracks, other than the brief segues.Every person who makes music by themselves always has one element that they are weakest at. Personally, what was the hardest aspect of recording all of the instruments yourself--what gave you the most trouble?
For me, the most difficult element was probably the rhythm section and the drumming. I like to keep things interesting rhythmically; I will try to venture off into ideas and bring in some wild changes, but ultimately I don't like records that are sloppy with their rhythms. I did a lot of writing where I actually wrote the drums first, before I wrote the melody and the vocals, which was an interesting way to go about things, but it's a complex way to work. There are some songs on the album that are much more rhythm-based than melody-based.Are the drums live, are they programmed, or is it a mixture?
Every drum sound on the record is programmed. I spent so
long working on them, I really wanted to come up with something that sounded as realistic as possible. I play drums, so that's part of the reason I was able to pull off some of the realistic-sounding patterns. Because of the gear I was working with, I didn't have enough mics and enough gear to make my drums sound as special as I wanted them to be. I really wanted to pull this off, from writing all the way to mastering. So all the drums you hear are actually programmed, multi-sampled drums, where you use MIDI technology to trigger samples. Everything is samples, but it sounds like a drum kit. It was a great way to create drum tracks. So I'm using real drums, not computer-generated. They're just sampled drums, rearranged into a real-sounding drum line.You know, man, I gotta be honest. It's hard to listen to your record and not be reminded of Cave In.
Yeah. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? (Laughs)
Oh, man, that's a wonderful
thing. I'm way into the space-rock. I love the big, thick guitar of bands like that. I really
love Cave In. I grew up on bands like Failure and Cave In. They're such an interesting band. I love how they evolved from being a hardcore band to a metal band and then into this amazing
space-rock band with wild guitar chords and beautiful vocals. They were definitely
an inspiration on my writing.I could hear a vocal style that's similar to Stephen Brodsky's.
I really enjoy his voice and his songwriting. I love how he can put such clean vocals over such dense, large music. Hum is another band like that. I like their approach, how there's a wall of sound, and it's really hard and heavy, but the singing, which you'd assume would be aggressive, his voice is really timid, and he's not singing--he's almost talking. It's such a wonderful contrast of sounds. Except on a few songs, I didn't push my voice at all. I wanted to be able to sing clearly, and I wanted my lyrics to come through. I really like that style.Many people might not appreciate it, but Cave In was a rather weird band. Their members are all prolific, and they're each into a completely different style of music. Like, recently, I received all three of their post Cave In projects. One of them is--well, Stephen's doing his singer songwriter thing. Another one of them is doing a straight up garage-rock/heavy metal thing, and the third one's doing this weird space/screamo thing--and none of the projects sound like the other! It's amazing to me that one band can produce these distinctively different projects.
What I think is fascinating is when you have members who are into such radically diverse things, it could easily not
work. But they worked really well together. Their style evolved over time, and I'm sure each of their ways of playing and writing did as well. Plus, they'd always take off into one of their many different side projects, and produce something really cool and weird. It's a contradiction that doesn't work for most bands, but it worked for them.With you focusing more on Stemage, have you put together a band yet?
No; I have a lot of musician friends I could approach if I wanted to put together a live incarnation, but at this point, there isn't a real plan to do it yet. It's hard to justify not doing so, though. The music was made to sound like a live band. It's not disguised intentionally as being a one-guy album, but I wanted it to sound like a rock band record. At the same time, really, there's only me on it, but I'm at the place now where I want to decide if I want to do something like this live, or if I just want this record to exist on its own. At this point, I'm just seeing what the reaction is. There is no plan to push this with a tour, but I definitely would like to do that. Though nothing's formally planned right now, I do have some ideas, and yeah, I think this music would sound really great live. So we'll see, man. We'll see! (laughs)Stemage's debut, Strati, is available now on Silent Uproar