As many of you already know, math rock’s beloved Giraffes? Giraffes! set sail for an East Coast tour tomorrow for the first time since big you-know-what, kicking things off in Rochester, NY. It’s a ten date tour, so if you’re out there, be sure to catch them! If you’ve seen them before, you know what a great show they put on live, and if you haven’t, you’re in for an incredible evening.
While we could talk about the band’s explosive live show any day of the week, we wouldn’t want you to miss out on the fact that this tour in particular is pretty special: it’s the first time the band will be playing material from their latest album, Death Breath. It’s the first Giraffes? Giraffes record with such prominent vocals, and the rawest they’ve sounded since Superbass!!!!!!. Ken’s onslaught of orchestrated drum hits and Joe’s heavy yet whimsical guitar tones are some of the most consistent in their discography, and some of the most concise.
Before the guys split for Rochester, Indianapolis, Chicago and beyond, we caught up for a bit on all things Death Breath and a whole lot more. Read on for what song’s they’re most excited to play live, the band’s current guitar effects philosophy, load out logistics, and the reason it’s exceedingly difficult to apply double-kick pedals in math rock gracefully. Enjoy!
FB: First of all, congrats on the new record! It seems like most of the fans received the aesthetic tweaks pretty well – ourselves included. Are you stoked to take the new songs on the road?
Ken: Thanks so much Michael. We definitely appreciate the positive response. The new songs are suuuper fun to play. We’ve been having a great time weaving them into different variations of our setlist. It’s always great brainstorming setlist possibilities with Joe. As we have been rehearsing in preparation for these upcoming shows, we’ve both been wishing we could be playing 120 minute sets because we just want to play EVERYTHING!!! It’s all so fun!
Joe: Thanks! Yeah, I can’t wait. It’s always fun to play new songs and what’s great about this new album is that the songs are really short and we can play a bunch of them. It’s hard that a lot of our songs are so goddamn long that we can’t play too many of them during the same set.
FB: Were there any challenges adopting the new material into current set lists? Did you have to rethink your load-ins and equipment?
Ken: (laughs) Like I was just saying, it’s been fun sifting them new material in. The old material welcomes in the new material nicely, like older siblings to the new baby in the family (laughs). It’s always a fun challenge coming up with sets because we enjoy playing everything so much. We usually give each other homework as we prep for our shows, like “go home and relearn ‘…this song…’ so we can run it tomorrow.” Then we’re like “daaaaamn that song is fuuuuun. ADD IT TO THE LIST!” (laughs) We try to keep the majority of our songs fresh in our minds at all times. Joe uses several different tunings across our albums, so finding a good flow in terms of time spent tuning between songs becomes a variable to factor into setlists. The new stuff certainly adds a new, awesome dimension to the contour of our show. Our equipment is pretty much the same, aside from adding vocal microphones and mic stands to the mountain of gear we already have to haul around. And I got a new splash cymbal. (shrugs, laughs)
Joe: I play in a few different tunings over the span of our discography- I think four or five (not including adding capos), so the main thing I need to coordinate for sets is the guitar tuning from song to song to make sure I’m not wasting a lot of time tuning and swapping guitars. I don’t have a guitar tech, so I try to be economical about it so the audience isn’t bored watching me tune all night.
FB: There have been a number of vocal lines in the GG discography, but obviously Death Breath is pretty consistent in this regard. What spurred the change?
Ken: Good question! (laughing) Yeah, we really sing real songs on this new album! From my perspective, it really had everything to do with the global pandemic. Just before the world shut down, we composed and released a beautiful 15 minute piece titled “The Rite Of Summer.” We had a bunch of shows lined up in the US and UK. We were making moves to up our game. All that just slipped away. When it seemed safe enough for us to start practicing together again, it was a little dizzying and strange; a certain degree of like “What are we doing?” ya know? It was really tough getting out of my own way, mentally. I know we did a good deal of improvisation and experimentation, just letting things flow out, and recording short samples of ideas that came out of these cathartic sessions. This is where the majority of the material for the album came from. I have always been up Joe’s ass about him singing more because I think he has a good voice and he writes good lyrics. At one practice, I think Joe just asked me what I thought about possibly adding vocals to the ideas we’d been developing and we were both almost simultaneously like “Fuck it. Let’s fucking sing,” and just owning that decision (laughs). It was very liberating. We have always done exactly what we want, creatively. We have been uncompromising in our creative vision. HOPEFULLY SOMEONE LIKES IT! (laughs)
Joe: I think we came off the momentum and exhaustion of writing the big concept album Memory Lame and then followed it up with the fifteen minute adventure Rite Of Summer and then we were like “ok what should we do next”? I think the natural inclination is to go further in a more technical way and I felt that pull, but then was like- hold up, we don’t have to do that. We really CAN do whatever! I floated the idea to Ken- what if we sang a little, write something a little different- and he was totally down. What started as just a song with vocals lead into another song with vocals and then it was like oh shit we have to make ALL the songs have vocals- let’s just go all in! Honesty, it felt so good to zig when there’s this expectation to zag, it felt like shaking off the cops or something.
FB: Did you know Death Breath would be a sort of departure of sound for you guys initially or did it take time for the idea to take hold?
Ken: In some ways it is a departure, but in some ways it’s exactly what we’ve been doing this whole time. We really explored the challenge, or the game, of saying “hey, can we do what we have done in a 15 minute song, but do it in, like, 3-4 minutes? How can we compress our ideas to cut out as much self-indulgent and superfluous bullshit as possible?” Departures are good. Why keep doing the same thing over and over? Where’s the growth? I don’t think it took any more, or any less time for the idea to take hold than was really necessary. Booking studio time in advance created a deadline. Those are good- deadlines (laughs).
Joe: Once the idea of it got in our minds, it was clear that it was going to be different than anything we’ve done before- and that was very exciting.
FB: You can hear a good deal of 90’s punk influence in songs like “Bug Money” and “Disgusting Head,” which is something you guys have toyed with before. Did you try to pull from a different set of influences for the record, or is the shift more internal? Or do you even consider it a shift?
Ken: Like I was just saying man, in some ways, this is what we’ve been doing the whole time. There is no shift. I think we really hopped into the time machine and took a trip back to the 90’s. That’s when Joe and I were in our most formative years, at the atomic level. We were pulling from the roots of our influences. If you want, you and I can sit down and listen to the record and I could probably tell you which drummer I am ripping off, from what song, and the album it’s on, in every single one of the songs on DEATH BREATH (laughs)! WE ARE A 90’s PUNK BAND!!! (laughs)
Joe: The influences were always there, but we would tuck them in a bit more in our work. With Death Breath it is way less subdued. Song-structure, chord shapes, effects, everything is very 90s. It’s like instead of covering songs from the 90s, let’s just write songs we would have written in the 90s!
FB: It’s possible things have sized down with Joe’s pedalboard(s?) but last I’d seen, things were pretty impressive. Did any exciting new pedals make it onto the record?
Ken: I’ll let Joe field this question more thoroughly. He does ask for my opinion though, as we’re writing the stuff, just for the record (laughs). He has one chorus pedal that I am absolutely in love with. I don’t know what it’s called.
Joe: I purposefully used a lot less effects on this album. No new pedals, but I did adjust the ones I usually use to fit the feel we were going for. Primarily engaging more modulation. It’s all Boss CE-2W, Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl MKII, and MXR Phase 95.
FB: Ken, I feel like there are a couple special moments on the record for you, obviously “OK Song,” the creepiest GG song I’ve ever heard. But as someone who really appreciates the tasteful application of a double kick pedal, I had to bring up “Electric Meat.” What is it about double kick that makes it so difficult to apply tastefully, particularly in mathrock?
Ken: (laughs) YES!!! First- thanks for the “OK Song” compliment. That song was actually written in the studio. I play the piano part. Soooo much fun. What a trippy experience. We’ve never done anything like that. It’s like the song was just begging to be let out. I love it. Dude, “Electric Meat” though… right? (laughs) That fucking songs just, I don’t know man, makes me crazy. It’s awesome. The double kick is, in my opinion, ironically, a dangerous flavor. Too much, and the whole meal is spoiled. Sometimes just a little bit less than what I want is just the right amount. I love speed metal and love practicing double kick to a metronome. But yeah, too much salt, and I’m not eating that soup, no way.
FB: Did either one of you have a song or moment on you were most excited for people to hear for the first time?
Ken: Uhhhhh…I don’t know… If I had to say so, for songs maybe “Electric Meat?” but then also maybe “OK Song,” or “Your Disgusting Head,”… (sigh) I just don’t know. I love all of the songs. Okay I got it, the moment I have been most excited for people to hear is the first time we get to really hear and establish that there are lyrics on the album.
Joe: I mean, it’s pretty dope when that lick comes in at the end of “Pulse Lick.”
FB: Where did the album title come from? Also, between the two of you, which one is likely to have death breath after a show?
Ken: (laughs) DEATH BREATH, duuuude! C’mon. It’s Coronavirus!!! That COVID-19 breath is killer. I might have what you’re referring to as ‘death breath’ after a show because I’m the one who is most likely to throw up in his mouth while playing! (laughs)
Joe: To me personally, it’s a multifaceted thing. Like obviously the pandemic and that stuff, but it’s also about having lungs and using them to sing. And not to be a fucking bummer, but yeah just death and how temporary it all is. That comes out in some of my lyrics: like asking someone to keep your skeleton in Wax Teeth, that moment when you’re a kid that you realize everything dies in “Bug Money,” and how ultimately it doesn’t fucking matter in OK Song. Damn, this album is a bummer (laughs). You heard it here first, the next album will be way more happy and fun. As for actual death breath at show, for real Ken. I’m always out there hugging people and selling merch and Ken’s always on the floor behind the drumset dying.
FB: GG has developed a solid following throughout multiple generations of math rock and prog – what’s your secret?
Joe: Don’t die! (laughs) I mean really, just don’t die and keep on working. As far as resonance with people and developing a following, I’ve found it best to just be authentic and sincere. People can tell.
Ken: There is no secret. We love what we do. We do what we want. We do not compromise. We love talking to people who come to our shows; making personal connections with audiences and bands we get to play with. It’s just fun. I think these vibes are transmissible through our music. That’s the only thing I can think of. We’ve never done anything other than exactly what we want to do.
FB: Hitting the road with your band can be the funnest thing in the world, but also stressful when it means leaving family behind. Does balancing the musician’s life with spending time with your loved ones get easier or more challenging over time?
Ken: Oh man. It’s hard to think about for too long. Dwelling on the thought of being away from them can definitely bum me out. I always miss my family when I’m gone. I’m pretty sure they miss me too (laughs). It is certainly a delicate balance between these two parts of my life- this band and my family. There are other parts too! (laughs) Yeah man, in some ways it has gotten way easier, I guess. Getting out of diaper jail forever was a HUGE game changer! Liberating for sure! (laughs) The kids get a little older and can comprehend a little more. Yeah man, my boys understand that they need to help out their mom more when I’m gone. Don’t test her patience because it is hard for her too. They’re good boys who are sensitive to the situation. For that I am grateful. In some ways it has definitely gotten harder too though. Missing milestones sucks. I want to be there for everything. I don’t want to miss a thing (Aerosmith) (laughs). But honestly it is awesome to have a wife and kids who get that this is a crucial part of my life that directly contributes to me being the best version of myself when it comes to my relationship with them.
Joe: It’s always tough. But now that we sing, we’re going to get super famous and we’ll be able to afford to bring them with us (laughs)
From the horses mouth, as they say… or maybe the giraffes’. Regardless, go see Giraffes? Giraffes! if you’re near one of those dates, and tell them we sent you. We couldn’t think of a better excuse to travel if you were looking for one. You can check out those dates and buy tickets here or donate to our filthy caffeine habit here. Coming up we’ve got stuff from Ando San, Turian, Chat Pile and more. As well as some other exciting things. Until then!