Low Gravity: "You have to create a desire for people to be there."
Tom Murphy Low Gravity at the Larimer Lounge
Low Gravity (hosting its dual CD release party tomorrow night at 3 Kings Tavern with Jaded Poet) got together in the summer of 2009 when Jess Ellis -- who used to play in the noteworthy, and unconventionally literary, sludge metal band the Nod, as well as Half of Zero -- started jamming with Austin Williams. Both guitarists had cut their teeth on the splintery groove of bands like Sleep, Kyuss and Yob.
Six years ago, Low Gravity would have found plenty of bands locally with which its fluid and heavy riffing would fit next to easily, but these days, that sort of sound isn't as common as it once was. But Low Gravity isn't necessarily looking to fit into a scene, and the band's latest album, the six-song Incarnadine rumbles and menaces like the music of like-minded acts you'd find on the Southern Lord imprint. We spoke with Ellis and Williams about how the band came together, Incarnadine, the perils of finding bandmates on Craigslist and a couple of amusing live show experiences.
Westword: You went in to record an EP, and what happened?
Jess Ellis: Well, we didn't even realize how long the songs were because we just play them. Once we did the roughs and everything, it came out to about fifty minutes.
How did you guys meet?
Austin Williams: We met online on a guitar forum. I was going to school at CU.
JE: He couldn't find anyone with similar musical interests to jam with, so I told him to come down. We had a lot of the same ideas for riffs and music. We were both into sludge and stoner rock. Like Kylesa and Yob.
AW: Weedeater, Bongzilla, Hull.
JE: Hull writes epic stuff. The flow of albums, which we try to do too.
You considered how the songs would flow together?
JE: I wouldn't say it was a conscious effort from song to song, but after we write the songs, we like to put them in an order that makes sense to us. But we don't go in with an overall concept.
Not like Dopesmoker.
JE: No, nothing like that.
How did each of you get into heavier music from a young age?
JE: For me, I was six and I got the very first Kiss album. I think it was 1977. And I was doomed from then on. Then, also, my first concert was Black Sabbath on the Mob Rules tour. That was in Casper, Wyoming. I grew up there, and it was one of the first concerts there. My older cousins took me.
AW: I was listening to thrash and old school metal in high school. I was messing around online trying to find heavy music that I liked and I found Kyuss through Queens of the Stone Age and I found the groove I was looking for in heavy music and I just latched on to it. I think a lot of it came from my dad listening to the Rolling Stones and blues and stuff like that. I wanted something heavier.
The name Low Gravity really suits your music. Why did you pick that name?
AW: I just wanted to have a MySpace page back in the day to store the recorded riffs that I was doing, and I just picked that name for no real reason than to secure the MySpace page. When we started jamming, everybody really liked the name.
JE: He wanted to change the name but I don't know if he had one and I talked to him and said, "Band names are so hard to come up with and that one makes sense."
That name suggests weightiness. You have an interesting word as the title for your album, Incarnadine. How did that come about?
JE: Our bass player, Devin [Ferguson], has poetry magnets and they're Old English/Shakespearean ones. One night we were drunk drinking beers and saw the word "incarnadine" on there and just thought it was this really heavy word. When we got into the art of this album and looking at the meaning of it, "of the flesh or blood red." It matched the artwork we had. Our previous EP, he uses that as part of the lyrics.
AW: Originally we were toying with the idea of Bloodbath and Beyond but GWAR already used it.
You met Devin in kind of a funny way?
JE: Believe it or not, Craigslist. One of the few that worked.
AW: He was the first and only person we tried out for bass and vocals.
JE: I've had horrible experiences with other bands and Craigslist but he walked in and it was pretty much done.
What are some of your bad bandmate Craigslist experiences?
JE: It doesn't matter how wordy, and exact or descriptive you make your ad, no one reads it. It can say, "You need to know every one of these bands. You need to know what this tuning is." And they'll say they do and come in and play like Steve Vai or someone else well-known. We're not gear snobs but we're tone snobs and they'll walk in with a Line-6 solid state amp and a seven string guitar and ready to play death metal or something.
With Devin, I was really descriptive and we emailed each other. God, it sounds like we were going to date. We emailed each other quite a while because he was the same way--he'd had a lot of bad experiences and we made sure where we were at. He came in and I looked at him and he was as old as me and maybe that's a plus or a negative but as soon as he started playing it was on and thank god we didn't have to deal with looking for another person through Craigslist. In other bands I've just had nightmares with it. It does work from time to time.
Maybe this is imponderable to you but what attracts you to playing heavy music still?
JE: It's the only thing, musically, that makes me happy. It gets you right in the gut. I've tried playing other stuff just for fun and I don't get the same feeling at all. It attracts itself to me.
AW: It makes sense better than anything else I can think of.
You said you weren't gear snobs but you were tone snobs. What hardware do you use to get the tones you're looking for?
JE: All tube amps. Big watt tube amps. Passive pickups.
AW: Boutique fuzz pedals.
JE: I've been messing with my tone for almost ten years now and it's never ending. You can emulate that tone but it doesn't feel the same to me when you're playing live and loud. It doesn't move your pants when you're standing in front of it. It needs to hit you in the chest.
Do you use alternate tunings?
AW: We just stick with C standard--two steps down but no alternate tunings.
Do you use different gauge strings to get that sort of sound?
JE: We use 12s. They're like bridge cables but they give you that warmth. It's like wrapping yourself up in a steak. If I went down any lower I'd have to use 13s. Stevie Ray Vaughan used to play 13s in standard tuning on a Fender, too. I imagine that's why he was always super gluing his finger tips.
What kind of amps do you use?
JE: I use a Sunn Model T.
AW: I have an Ampeg V4.
JE: Our bass player is playing through a Mark V that fits into his pedalboard box. He wants to get an SVT but he doesn't really want to haul around an eighty pound head. This thing weighs like a pound and he gets some pretty good gnarly tone out of it.
AW: We've even asked him to turn down his bass before.
JE: We get yelled at at our practice space.
"The Crushing Black" -- did the title come before the music or did the music come first to suggest the title?
JE: The music comes before all. We have all these titles that we've written down that we think of when we've been drinking or doing our thing.
AW: Devin always ends up changing them once he writes lyrics for it.
JE: Most of our songs are instrumentals in the beginning. We've rarely written around lyrics. We'll name it something and by the time he gets lyrical ideas, we'll change it. We still refer to half of these songs by their old names. "Crushing Black" was "Amore."
AW: We always called "Deathug" that because his son came up with a name for it.
You guys don't seem to play out as often as some other bands.
JE: We haven't been lately because of recording but we average about once a month to six weeks. We don't want to over saturate. It's hard to book a show in this town anymore. It was easier in the early 2000s. I think a lot of clubs are gone, or if not gone, they've switched booking agents and/or management. Who you knew then you don't know now.
Another problem is that hardly anyone's touring anymore. Bands of our ilk who we'd want to play with don't come through nearly as often. Playing with the same local bands over and over, as much as we love them, no one wants to see that every weekend. It's a combination of all of that.
When these bands come through, they're on package tours and very rarely do they want local acts on those shows, understandably show. But getting back to your original question, playing live is the main reason I do it. The CDs and stuff are a necessary evil for me, personally, and playing live is what I really enjoy and I don't care if only one person enjoys it, I have a blast. Again, you have to create a desire for people to be there.
When you play live locally, sometimes funny or otherwise memorable experiences are bound to happen. What have been some of your favorites?
AW: When we played the Buffalo Rose in Golden, we were setting up there was an old lady and she was drunk and she was yelling at us about how she's been listening to us since the 1970s and she drove all the way from her trailer in Brighton to come and see us. About halfway through the set she came up on stage and started dancing with us while someone was throwing Big Lebowski merch off the stage.
JE: It was kind of a surreal thing.
AW: We kept stepping on her and she was just not getting off the stage. She was up there for about a song and a half before they finally took her off there.
JE: They finally fish-hooked her off there.
AW: We also played Love Thy Chopper, and everyone started emptying all the trash cans and throwing all their trash all around. That was at I-25 and Colfax. Near the Evil Souls Car Club, next to Invesco.
JE: It was a big custom bike show. It was ton of fun. We played last and by then everybody was blasted and we look out and they're throwing tables and cardboard trashcans. Somebody picked up my own beer and threw it at me while I was playing. They were stoked, but still, I wasn't. Not when I'm plugged in to an electrified amp.
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