By John Clay, Rock At Night London
Cultural chit chat with Grace Solero covered the band’s formation, frustration at lockdown in their native UK and outspoken opinions on the lacklustre support for grassroots venues across the country. There is also the start of an in depth discussion regarding the cultural explosion of BLM protests and what impact (if any) this has for the UK Underground punk scene.
Hello people, thanks again for giving me your time to chat. Firstly, how are you guys doing in your various states of Lockdown?
Dan: All good here aside from the obvious. It’s frustrating not to be able to play live, but at the same time, we’re carrying on with mixing the new album. Daily walks and a new-found love of gardening are helping me to stay sane.
Gardening and rock bands…I love this new future we’re in. The eccentricities of musicians are a clue to character, right? Do you think there is a social pressure to prescribe activities that may have once seemed rebellious (fast life style, drink, drugs) are becoming more frowned upon, or would you say nothing’s changed?
Dave – I think it’s pretty much the same. I think there have always been bands who want to party and those that are a bit more restrained. I’m not sure whether we’ll have Rolls Royce’s in swimming pools anymore though. It takes a few streams on Spotify to pay for something like that!
To be clear for our American readers and your American fans, what scene does Grace Solero tend to play their shows? Mostly North London, right? Part of the Healthy Junkies Camden group, yes?
Grace: We mostly play North London but also the rest of the UK and mainland Europe. In the last couple of years Dan and I have been playing regularly in NYC. We’ve also played some shows in Canada as well. We played some shows in Italy just before the lockdown.
Curious to discuss how the UK music scene, at least from your perspective has dealt with lockdown and other world events, but first, your band: How did you guys all meet?
Grace: I met Dan in London, when I was looking for a guitarist. We played lots of shows as a duo and gradually expanded to a 4 piece. Bjorn came to one of our acoustic shows and introduced himself as a bass player. Dave was recommended by a common friend.
Would that common friend be a rather expert editor who worked on your latest music video for the new single, ‘Awake’?
Grace: Nope! It was Dany, a bass player who used to play in the same band with Dave and maybe Amir? Not sure about that … Dave?
Amir being the editor guy, I wanna add. Perhaps Dave can add his wisdom?
Dave: I did play with Dany and Amir but after I joined you guys. I played in a metal band called Kopperhed with Dany about 11 years ago.
Love to hear how interconnected the community is. Tell me, what makes you guys tick as a band? Do you socialise together much? You certainly like to perform the odd ritual together, if your last video is anything to go by.
Bjorn: Well, that ritual was a one off really, perhaps more in the future, who knows! We do hang out but a lot of it is all the little adventures you share together on the road. Obviously there is a musical connection as well that comes from playing together.
Indeed. ‘Awake’ has a grunge-like vibe to it. What’s the song about?
Grace: ‘Awake’ is about spiritual awakening and new beginnings
It’s a deep journey both inwards and outwards … with a positive outcome … the discovery of new life!
And who could say no to hearing more of that vibe, especially during this time, right?You must be aching to play live shows again? How long has it been, and do you have some ideas as to what you’re gonna do onstage when you next play ‘Awake’ live?
Dan: Yeah we really miss playing! I mean it’s what we do. It’s been very odd looking at a wall calendar without a bunch of gigs on there! Our last gig was at the end of February in Camden. Seems like it was years ago though. Grace has a passion for onstage theatrics so I’m sure it’ll be special when we get up there and play ‘Awake’ for the first time after lockdown.
What do you get up to onstage Grace, and do you find the balance between performing and playing easy?
Grace: For me it’s all the same, I mean I’m in the zone! I play guitar and sing but on certain songs I prefer not to play – it gives me much more freedom to express myself.
Sounds thrilling. Must be such a downer not to be able to express yourself onstage at the moment. Can you guys give US audiences an idea of what it means to be in a band now in the UK? Apparently it took ages for the government to look after freelance workers, let alone the venues, right? Fill us in.
Bjorn: I was lucky enough to get money coming in from my regular job paid for by the government. As far as music venues, they have only recently received some support and unfortunately it will be a whole new world out there when this is over.
Grace: Venues are just restarting booking bands – but there’s lots of uncertainty at the moment. It’s mainly about doing the groundwork as a band, in our case looking at 2021 to play shows in support of the new album. As a freelance self employed musician I got some support from the government.
Dave: I think the whole pandemic throws a light onto arts funding in general. Music, literature, Film and TV to name a few were what people turned to during quarantine. Yet, the arts always seem to be the first area to be hit by cuts.
Dan: It’s just a really uncertain time for live music here in the UK, as well as everywhere else. I’m hoping for the best but I think live music venues, which were really struggling before all this, have a really difficult road ahead. Culturally it’s really important to have these kinds of places open to allow people to get up and do their thing, build communities and make great art.
Why do you think the UK government has such a low priority on grassroots venues? Is there a blindspot in their understanding of how it factors into a long established correlation between cultural heritage and economy? It’s not like big bands/performers don’t begin in such venues anymore, right? Or have we perhaps missed something in how the industry now runs?
Bjorn: Fundamentally we have a Brexit government, don’t expect anything else from them.
Dan: I think the big, successful artists that honed their craft in the smaller clubs in the beginning need to help raise awareness of the situation. But really youth culture just has so many different interests these days compared to when rock & roll was king and going to shows was where the scene was.
Dave: There seems to have been a continued gentrification of London and a desire to create a homogenised environment. Music venues have been on the losing end and if we’re not careful we will have lost our music venues for the sake of a few more chain coffee houses and expensive flats.
Grace: Priorities are very messed up lately because of Brexit. The UK government seems to have been fully absorbed in that. Music venues were the center of culture years ago – now things have changed.
Do you foresee youth culture going further underground? Are there any positives to this?
Bjorn: They have possibilities of connecting and finding each other across the globe these days. I remember writing letters to my best friend after he moved abroad in my youth; not so for youth culture of today.
Grace: Things have changed a lot with the internet and youth can be sidetracked by the virtual world – in the UK most gig goers are people in their 30s and beyond. The most interesting aspects of youth culture have always been underground.
Dave: I think the idea of ‘the underground’ is pretty liberating as there are less constraints you have to conform to. In terms of youth culture, I’m probably too old to comment directly but I think it’s pretty fluid. Certain genres that were once considered underground move to the mainstream and vice versa.
Dan: I think there will always be young people trying out new ways of doing things and challenging convention. That’s a good thing! While it may not always be music related or music I’m into, there are still new things and communities to be created.
Food for thought there. Another aspect of culture that’s changed the conversation in band and youth culture is the focus on BLM following the killing of Floyd. Dan, you’re from America and are based in the UK. What’s been your assessment of this cultural turmoil given your experience on both sides of the pond?
Dan: Well there’s been a lot of problems not properly dealt with in the past that are now bubbling over and can’t be ignored anymore. I think it’s great that we can talk about things that are uncomfortable because at least there’s a dialogue. I think there have been similar reactions in both the US and UK, as well as the rest of the world.
For sure. Do you think that it’s been an issue that bands have been equipped to handle? Healthy Junkies for one have been quite outspoken.
Bjorn: As musicians we are not necessarily any better or worse at dealing with these issues than any other person. Of course it was appalling to watch that footage, but I have no idea how to approach race inequality in any practical sense. I suppose the first thing is to tackle policing so that the focus is on de-escalating violence like they do in Norway; that would be a start.
Dave: The current movement seems to be an opportunity to create a lasting social change. I really hope it is a movement and not a moment.
Grace: We need a social change and not only for BLM.
There’s so much that we can address as a global community now that there is focus on what need not be a divisive civil rights issue. There is a danger that people misinterpret BLM, particularly the misguided ALM posts, but yeah, thank you for sharing your thoughts on it, and I’m sure we’ll go deeper in future. Where can people buy your record?
Grace: Sure it’s a very deep topic and it takes time to talk about it…
People can download our single from all major digital platforms. Here’s one https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B089NJQGG5/ref=dm_ws_tlw_trk1
Also visit our website where you can find all links to listen and download in one place www.gracesolero.com
Indeed. Much more to discuss. Thanks for your time guys! May your single sell well!
Grace: Thank you, John! Pleasure to talk to you 🙂