Caithness band Pure Grief uncage their debut album
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THERE is a set of 10 songs, pacing and rampaging and imagining a life beyond the world of the band which made them – and on Friday they will be released.
So far, Pure Grief have been careful owners of the tracks they have created for debut album Loyal To No-one, Local To Nowhere.
And singer and guitarist Peter Bacon, bassist Marc Sutherland and drummer Darren Macleod from Caithness have waited longer than most to launch the album, long in the making.
'The album has given us purpose at a time when it’s very much needed'
The band’s earliest beginnings came in late 2015. And, when they describe getting together, it sounds like a mix between a male coming-of-age ritual and three musicians finding the irresistible chemistry needed to form a band.
Pete said: “The previous band Marc and myself had been in fell apart. But we were keen to continue playing music immediately after, so nervously approached Darren in the smoking area of our local nightclub – how exotic.”
The words “tequila” and “Bon Jovi” are added as the story continues. Somehow karaoke was suggested. Then it’s the song Living On A Prayer and the phrase “struggling to outdo each other”. I think you get the picture.
But the creative magic was born.
Pete said: “We didn’t book any gigs, we started working on the music straight away. We got three tracks, then went to record them. When we announced the band, the music was out straight away. So we hit the ground running, pretty much.
“We played our first gig in April 2016 in Wick.”
Ask all three, as they stare at you politely by the magic of one of these trendy multi-screen interviews, and it’s Marc who replies in most detail when you ask if that first gig was a big moment.
“I think, because we had put the songs out blindly before people knew what it was, we then hoped they would come out and see us. And they did, so that was fine.”
How did the band feel after that first big gig, perhaps their biggest moment so far at that time? They answer in character.
“Knackered!” Darren jokes.
“That’s probably about right!” Pete agrees.
And Marc, who doesn’t say a great deal as the interview unfolds, says thoughtfully: “It was good that we had some substance behind us.
“A band doesn’t have anything until they can prove themselves live, I suppose.”
“Once you play a gig, you’re a band,” adds Pete.
It was certainly a blistering incarnation of Pure Grief that played last year’s XpoNorth showcase set at the Market Bar in Inverness, for example.
It’s the perfect place to watch a band like Pure Grief which performs with every sinew stretched, but able to lull down into quiet moments at the flick of a switch – if only to give you a second’s breathing space before ramping up the rock – or the harmonies – or the tricksy lyrics.
And there is no better place than perched on a seat two feet to the left of Pete’s guitar to get a proper prey’s-eye view of his impressive lion’s head shirt.
Looking back, Pete goes into the band’s early dreams and plans.
“I believe the initial pitch was ‘Let’s rip off Alexisonfire’, which didn’t exactly come to fruition,” Pete revealed. “I remember in an early interview saying some stuff about us not abiding by any genre constraints, which in hindsight seems like a daft thing to say.
“I think we’ve finally settled into the ‘Pure Grief sound’ on this album.
“We had a great first year, but struggled to keep momentum going. Partly our fault, partly due to some of the snakes we’ve encountered along the way. Hence the album artwork,” Pete stated.
The earlier talk about sartorial style jumps the conversation forward to 2017 when the band were nominated for best new act and attended the SAMA (Scottish Alternative Music Awards) in Glasgow.
“I think we were the only ones wearing suits,” Pete recalled.
Their early strategy was bringing out a series of double A-side singles. In their first year they were also being chosen to play some high-profile gigs.
“Yes, 2016 was a good year for us,” confirmed Pete. “We played some great gigs – Belladrum in our first year. We went over to Shetland, we played the Ironworks for a Netsounds event.”
Over time, they also worked on building up a set of songs, aiming for their first album.Pete explained: “You don’t want to commit to something as big as an album too early.
“You only get one chance to release your debut album.”
Darren said: “The songs we released previously were pretty strong, but were never what we felt was a collection, I don’t think.
“It’s Pete who tends to take care of most of that stuff. It was him who came and said to us ‘I think we could probably do an album now’.”
They recorded Loyal To No-one, Local To Nowhere at home in Caithness. Pete calls that a luxury.
He said: “We worked with our long-time producer James Reid who has done all our stuff. He is a friend and we recorded at a private studio in Thurso – that was in March 2019.”
Darren elaborated: “We did it there, in our own space, and then went to James’s house to do some of it there.
“We did the big noisy stuff in the studio and then all the parts that didn’t have to be so dramatically loud, we did there.
“It meant we could all go home at night. If you are in a studio somewhere else, you end up in a B&B or on a mate’s sofa.”
It was mixed by last September and ready for their perfect moment. And then Covid-19 came along and disrupted their plans. Only it didn’t.
Pete said: “After facing postponements and challenges, it was just time to get it out. Now or never!”
Darren pointed out: “The waiting became too much and the fear we’d become disengaged from it was starting to show, so we gave ourselves a kick and started setting dates and goals.
“The album has given us purpose at a time when it’s very much needed.”
The title comes with two almost contrasting ideas.
“To me, it came from a feeling of the band not really having a home town,” said Pete. “I’m originally from Wick, we rehearse in Thurso and are considered a Highland band – which is an incredibly large locality.”
For Darren, it’s different: “The idea of locality disappeared the day social media took hold. You may be a local band in terms of physical location, but you can find support from anywhere in the world now.”
With no manager or other major support, Pure Grief have got the album out themselves. They are proud of that.
“I always wanted to make music,” said Pete. “That’s the important part. We just have to handle all that other business to make sure we can.
“Our main concern is trying to make good music, everything else is supplementary.
“Some people skip that first step.”
Darren added: “Recording and releasing an album is a nice thing to have done. The whole process is both challenging and fascinating – all the way from Pete’s demos to release day.
“But once it’s out, we’ll move on to the next thing. The challenge is the best part.”
The best the rest of us can hope for is to meet Pure Grief out with their songs one day soon at the album launch gig they long for.
And the songs? Look out for the dreamy pop of new single Zooey Deschanel; Coughing It Out opens the album with a grand organ chord sliding into a siren call – and its own cough; don’t miss the doomsday lyrics of Electric Gold and its luscious opening guitar riff; or the menace and metal sheen of As Above, So Below. All 10 are dying to meet you …
For details of the release on Friday (July 10) of Pure Grief’s debut album, go to: www.puregrief.co.uk
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