Raz Mataz interviewed Mike Gravitis, frontman and guitarist, whose beautiful synchronized harmonies with sister Lianne upped the band’s sound after she joined them following the release of their first LP, Old Story, in October 2012.
The band also consists of Dave Toms on drums, and father and son duo – David and Jack Maclean – who perform primarily fiddle and bass, respectively.
If you are looking for an exciting, foot stomping of a time during the festival, make sure to check out Whiskey Epiphany (schedule has yet to be released). Currently, the band is working on their second album which is targeting a release later this year.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): To begin, on your website, it says you are prepping your first studio album, but that was released already.
Mike Gravitis (MG): I thought we updated that! Apparently not. We put [out] one album last October and now we’re actually just about to start work on the second one.
RMM: Okay, it just threw me off because your sister’s profile is up and she joined after the album, late last year. She doesn’t appear on the first album?
MG: Lianne came in after our previous band member left after moving – she’s on the album, but my sister is going to be on the next one.
RMM: Now, I can’t imagine being a part of a band with your sibling. I mean, if I was touring with my brother, we would be at each other’s throats within a year.
MG: [Laughs] It’s funny at times. Rehearsals get, ah. . . well, you know, she needs a little bit more attention. But on stage we really use the siblings thing to banter back and forth, poke fun at each other. The fiddler player and the bass player are father and son as well. So there’s a lot of family in the band.
RMM: And that must really help give that extra chemistry to your performances?
MG: Exactly. It’s just so natural, you just don’t have to force conversations or anything. It draws people in for sure.
RMM: You mentioned your fiddle player, I think it was in an interview six or seven months ago, and you described him as being a ‘personal achievement.’ Is he also relatively new to the band?
MG: Yeah, I went to film school for college and I loved movies. Big score and big sound and all that, and strings are a big part of that. When I started a band and I started writing, it was just me and my guitar and so, you hear bass and you hear drums and everything. In my brain getting a fiddle player really opened up the sound.
On the album, he played fiddle for the track, ‘Whole Again’, but we never met him. We sent him the tunes online, and he sent back what he did. We e-mailed back and forth. I didn’t meet him until two months after the release. We’re putting a show together, and I asked him if he wanted to play, and ever since then he’s been a full-time member of the band.
RMM: That’s great. So with that fiddle sound, I guess the best way to describe your music is Celtic?
MG: Absolutely, sort of east coast, a lot of Irish influences. He’s been playing for 30 years or something like that. So the guy knows more songs than I thought existed – all the old traditional Irish, folk fiddle tunes. We’re even mixing those in the originals now, I definitely love the Irish influence.
RMM: What does his son play?
MG: The son, Jack, he plays bass for us for the most part, but it turns out he is an amazing guitar player, so for a lot of tunes, Jack will jump on the guitar. . . Everyone is switching up instruments, I mean, he’s playing three instruments in the band.
RMM: So are there are other people that can play or are learning to play fiddle, too?
MG: When David isn’t playing the fiddle, no one is playing fiddle because we have songs that span the different genres. We have some bluesy ones where you can hear the slide electric guitar, you don’t need fiddle on that. We’re separating the sets on the different genres of music. We try not to have repetition, so you’re not hearing the same progression, the same sound in chunks.
RMM: So, there’s no particular theme, in terms of the sound of the album.
MG: I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a douche-bag, but I write all the music, so it’s all coming from me – that is to say the chords and the lyrics. It’s really when the band gets together, sometimes the genre of the song will change, sometimes it will be a mandolin, and sometimes it’ll be guitar. So the feel of the actual tunes will change sometimes completely when I bring it to the band. As far as one singular cohesive. . . the band has a sound, but we definitely change the genres up a bit.
RMM: Now another one of your members has a degree in philosophy.
MG: Yes, our philosopher drummer. I started playing with him before I met Chris, he and I were jamming in Oakville, Ont., in open mics and stuff like that. He’s a metal drummer mostly by trade – he plays with a rock, folk band here in Oakville called The GCDC Gang, he’s in three or four bands sometimes, but this is the one he calls home.
MG: [Laughs] Honestly, he comes at me with these questions. Last night is a good example; it’s two o’clock in the morning and we’re coming home from a show and he’s asking me about the meaning behind some of the lyrics I wrote a couple years ago. You know, “What do these four words mean?” I’m like, “Oh, man, I don’t know, I don’t know how to put that!”
But he always ends up bringing. . . he points out to me what I wrote at times, and it’s funny, because it’s a whole different perspective on the words.
RMM: But it helps alot though?
MG: Yes, to help it all make sense. . . to keep me grounded.
RMM: How hard is to get a spot [in Winterfolk]; was there a lot of competition?
MG: There are four auditions put on at two different venues. We played Winterfolk as part of the Moonshine showcase [in Oakville] a couple of years ago. We did three songs there and it was a great experience. So when we saw it being advertised again, we thought we do that. And the Moonshine is our home base, and we went to an audition there. Its audience voted but they have two from the festival there. So we decided to do two really upbeat, foot stomping kind of tunes because we were noticing as the day was going on, it was all medium, slow-paced, folk music. So we decided to just give everything we got, hit them as hard as we can, and stand out, and I guess it worked!
RMM: Well, congratulations on that!
MG: Thank you, thank you. It was the first time I won any voting contest, so it was pretty good.
Check out Whiskey Epiphany’s website: www.whiskeyepiphany.com, and be sure to check out the band at the Winterfolk Festival from February 14 to 16.