Interview: GREAT FALLS

At the end of October, Seattle noise makers Great Falls will unleash their bleak and blistering opus, The Fever Shed. The Washington trio craft a cacophonous, suffocating and destructive sound that is fully actualized on this forthcoming full-length. The instrumentation is uproarious and dissonant, and when combined with maddened vocals, creates a claustrophobic atmosphere of which there is no escape. It is arguably one of the more intense releases to be heard in 2015. American Aftermath recently caught up with the group to discuss the new record, future plans and more. 

Could you please introduce yourselves at your roles in Great Falls?
Shane Mehling: I’m Shane Mehling and play bass.

Phil Petrocelli: I’m Phil Petrocelli and I play trout. And drums.

Demian Johnston: I’m Demian Johnston and I play guitar and yell at people.

First and foremost, how did Great Falls come into being?
SM: Demian and I were in this noisecore band Playing Enemy until 2006, when we broke up. Demian had been doing a sort of experimental project called Hemingway at the tail end of the band and I just joined up with him and we spent a few years doing whatever random ideas we had. We put out a ton of tapes and random CD-Rs and a record, all of which were very far from Playing Enemy. We realized later we just needed to slough off everything about the last band that had burned us out. Then around 2009 we started to get back into doing noisecore again with a drum machine and decided we should change our name. Phil joined after we realized we needed someone competent handling the drumming side instead of two monkeys bashing their fists on an Akai.

You three have played in a variety of bands, such as Playing Enemy, Kiss It Goodbye and Jesu. Compared to your other musical endeavors, how has playing in, and writing for Great Falls pushed you as a musician and/or songwriter?
SM: Maybe the rest of the band won’t agree, but I feel there is a lot of respect for everyone’s ideas in the band, which means that if someone doesn’t like something then we have to solve that problem. In the past I’ve run into the issue where if you don’t like something, the onus is on you to really sell why you don’t like it. Or you have to find a way to fix it yourself. But for us, if someone isn’t really digging something, then we’re almost always ready to dive back in and fix it. And sometimes that sucks shit, because you thought the song was all ready to go and now you have to spend hours going over it again. But in the end, every time, that extra work is worth it.

PP: In Jesu, I was a hired gun, so I took up playing parts that I did not write. There has been a rumor that I would collab with those guys, but with Godflesh happening – on permanent hold. Similarly, I think I started out in Great Falls as a hired gun, but, hey. We know how Shane and Demian’s resistance turned out haha. But, I second what Shane said about the health of our creative process – we all respect each other so much that arguments, etc. are not even an option, would even be amateurish. We use the word “our” way more than any of us use the word “my” in our process – that says a lot. Best and most natural creative process I’ve ever been a part of. Also, previously, my wheelhouse was stuff that was informed by mostly 4/4 grooves. In this band, I’m playing things I never thought I’d ever play, grindcore being one, odd phrasing another. Growing all the time.

DJ: I would definitely say that Great Falls is the first band I have been in where there isn’t a clear “band leader.” We write songs together and we all really value each other’s opinions. Usually there is one guy who kinda takes the lead role and usually seems to have veto power over other people’s opinions. I’m sure we don’t each end up being 100% behind every single note and decision but in the end I think we always write stuff that is unique to us.

All of the musical acts you guys have been a part of have all been stylistically different, as is the case with Great Falls. What drew you towards the more chaotic and noise-laden side of things with this band this time around?
SM: We’re all getting older and at least at this point in my life I really didn’t want to fall into that age trap where you’re supposed to focus on something a little more reserved and melodic, etc. We’re not the most intense, fucked-up band in the world — far from it — but when we show up at practice we’re all in agreement that we should still at least aim in that direction.

PP: Seeing Hemingway and Great Falls as a fan, they immediately drew me in with the drum machine. I have always been in the “partnership” camp as far as drummers v. drum machines goes. I had hoped I’d be playing along with the loops (I still lobby now and then), but it started morphing into more freeing and (the good kind of) fucked-up ways as we got to writing. I think we still give a nod to the drum-machine-based thing with the remix things we’re doing? And that mixture of all the noiserock things I enjoy was also there. Pretty unique.

DJ: Playing Enemy was really just an extension of Kiss It Goodbye, in fact 3 or 4 songs on Playing Enemy’s first record were Kiss It Goodbye songs that hadn’t been completed. After that Hemingway became almost a complete noise band. Almost the opposite with Playing Enemy and it’s obsessive attention to minor details. I think Great Falls is a mixture of all of that for me. Stylistically, I feel like it’s pretty close to Playing Enemy but without the rigidness and a lot more noise.

What influences Great Falls, non-musically speaking?
SM: Non-musically? For me it’s just the sense that while I want to always be proud of the end product, this is what I do with my friends and it has to be fun. I think there is something that looms over the whole process, from practicing to playing shows to making shirts, where we all realize that we just really enjoy hanging out with each other. I think that perspective whittles down some of the expectations and disappointments that come with being in a band that is purely focused on the music.

PP: I second what Shane says here. Keep the intensity around liking each other and working with each other and don’t give energy to the other stuff. Fortunate thing is, we have an actual item that shows for all of that. Also, I think all of us have several things outside of Great Falls that indirectly influence us – for me, I am a math teacher and photographer, both creative and aesthetic pursuits.

DJ: I am in agreement with Shane and Phil. I get a lot of fulfillment from doing something I love with my friends.

Your new record, The Fever Shed, arrives late October via Innit Records. What can you tell me about the new full-length in terms of writing, recording, etc?
SM: Writing songs is one of the most boring, fulfilling things in the world. So there isn’t much to say — it’s just three guys sitting there and talking through riffs and Demian and I play a lot of air drums at Phil and then sooner or later we have a song. We recorded this over a couple days about a year ago in Seattle with our friend Jeff McNulty, so it’s been a while to finally be released. But we were shocked to find out vinyl plants put more priority on Beatles re-issues than noisecore records.

PP: Pretty sure The Meatmen said all that needed to be said on “One Down, Three to Go” re: Beatles, tho technically not correct in 2015. That being said, I am super proud of our work on the record; feels like we elevated and our sound has become more … ours? I can hear our evolution – that’s satisfying. Shane and Demian’s air drumming is progressing in leaps and bounds.

DJ: Our air-drumming is the backbone of our entire writing process.

The Fever Shed cover art

How do you feel it compares to your previous full-length, Accidents Grotesque?
SM: Accidents Grotesque was very much us coming together as a band. It was our sea legs record, getting into a proper studio and working on something that was meant to be cohesive all the way through. But it was still a bit of a lopsided record — three of the eight songs were already on earlier releases and two of the songs, I believe, are longer than the remaining six. This is the first time we went in with songs that had been written to fit all together, and I feel everything is a little more balanced and everything compliments everything else. And of course I have no choice but to think the songs are better.

PP: I second that. I feel we really spent time on the details from day 1, and the end result shows it when I listen.

What are the lyrical themes explored on The Fever Shed?

DJ: Since Great Falls started writing Accidents Grotesque I have been going through some difficult times in my marriage. Those difficulties, while ever-changing, have still continued through the writing process of The Fever Shed. I use my lyrics as a place to vent regrets and frustration. The lyrics aren’t always literal and they aren’t always directly about me and my situation but they come from a very personal place. I am still with my wife and we are working on our relationship every day. It’s hard being poor, over-worked and raising two kids in a very expensive city. Those pressures, combined with personality conflicts, often leads to issues.

How do these themes, lyrical or otherwise, tie into the album’s title? What would be your definition of a “fever shed”?
SM: A Fever Shed is another name for a Pest(ilence) House, which is where people or families go to be quarantined if they have infectious diseases. The lyrics cover the idea that a family is together in this home but they are all unwell and getting worse. A drawing in the layout, with the roof still intact but everything in ruins below, I think illustrates that pretty well.

PP: I think the drawing in the layout could speak somewhat to our contemporary, appearances-based culture. If you were, say, flying over the area where that building is, it, seeing only the roof, would look like a normal “status update,” but, as we know – and still won’t admit as a culture – the roiling unwellness is there, often in the things that are the most load-bearing parts of our physical, psychological, and social realities. This whole goddamn thumbs-up/“like” culture could be placed in a fever shed (or a sealed trash bag), as far as I’m concerned.

What do you want listeners to take away from The Fever Shed?
SM: I guess the records I like the most are the ones that I find myself going back to much later, and there remains a sense of freshness. I would like listeners to hear the record now, then in six months or a couple years from now they go back and there is still a feeling of immediacy. Shit, I hope that happens when I listen to it.

PP: I would like for listeners to be impelled to check us out live – that’s another aspect of what we do that I would like to see develop. I also second the “standing the test of time”. I hope this record does.

DJ: I want people to be kinda bummed out.

What else does Great Falls have planned for this year or the near future?
SM: We will be recording soon for a Hammerhead covers comp. and a split with an unnamed band, and we are about 75% into a new full-length, so that is our goal for early next year. And hell, it would be nice to tour a little at some point.

PP: Split with Heiress. Remix stuff. Side projects/work.

DJ: I would like to do a little tour for sure. I am trying to wrap up most of my obligations with my label, Dead Accents, my blog, Dead Formats, and my main side project, Blsphm this year so I can focus on my family, my print shop and Great Falls.

Any final words or thoughts?
SM: You’re a sweetheart for asking us to do this.

PP: Thanks for your interest. Hope enough of this survives the editorial pass.

DJ: I appreciate this a lot. Thanks!


Pre-order The Fever Shed here (vinyl) and here (cassette).

Great Falls on the Net:

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