Grip Inc.

Interview with Gus Chambers By Mike Exley

Mike Exley finds Grip Inc. singer Gus Chambers in combative mood as he reveals that all is not quite as ‘Incorporated’ at HQ. as one might think. Let’s not beat about the bush. We all know that keeping a band together that features three very key individual personalities is never going to be a bed of roses, but this Summer news that Grip Inc., (the band featuring producer extraordinaire Waldemar Sorychta (guitar), drum god Dave Lombardo, and the voice of Gus Chambers) was once again going to come out of seclusion and release new material, was met with great excitement. Why? Well, simply because the band has had so many aural highs, going from strength to strength. But has also had its incredible lows and had largely been defunct since 1999. Four albums in ten years isn’t a great strike rate, but when those albums include ‘Nemesis’ and ‘Power Of Inner Strength’, you can have had few doubts that new stuff would hit hard and few complaints. That is, unless you’re the one person in the band that dedicates his whole life to the concept. Ah, the material may have hit home, certainly, but was Gus really happy? I’m getting too far ahead now, though. Let’s just refresh your memory a bit first.


Grip Inc. was formed ten years ago (in 1994) by ex-Slayer drummer Lombardo as a release from many of the pressures that had forced him from the line up and as an expression of the power that couldn’t really be channeled into many of the projects he wished to indulge in. Sorychta was, at the time (and continues to be…) one of Germany’s most dynamic and up coming producers. And then there was Chambers, a one time punk and vocalist with 21 Guns, Scott Gorham’s post Thin Lizzy combo, who had the range to beat many and the voice to go with it. The resulting debut ‘Power Of Inner Strength’ was a huge success and the follow up some two years later (‘Nemesis’) established the co-operative as a band that really meant business on the European scene and had the power to break into the big time with songs to match.

Then, things went a bit quiet. The band’s third album ‘Solidify’ did just that, keep the band together and build on some of what had gone before, but as Chambers remembers, probably led to the first serious challenge to the power that had been at the heart of the band; the collective strength. Chambers now freely admits, that after ‘Solidify’ he needed to seriously address issues that had been thrown up, to clarify his position in music if you will, and the power brokers in the band soon shifted from Lombardo and Sorychta to Chambers and the guitarist. The result; a three-year hiatus, but a fresh approach that saw the vocalist and guitarist seriously addressing many problems that had existed long before. Leap forward to 2003 and news that the two had once again begun to swap ideas and discuss a new Grip Inc record. Problem though; Dave Lombardo had rejoined Slayer, was set to tour with Fantomas and was one busy chap. How did they get over that hurdle? And, just who was most responsible for recreating the atmosphere that enabled ‘Incorporated’ to happen?

Gus. ‘Well, to be honest, Waldemar and I pretty much laid the foundations. Dave came in and did his parts, but they were all written and arranged for him before that. I wanted this album to reflect more of my personal feel for the Grip Inc sound. I’ve said before that ‘Solidify’ and ‘Nemesis’ were pretty much musical albums with the vocalist in tow and I made it known very early on that any new album had to be more about the songs and less about the musical capabilities of the individuals. I knew we were capable of many different styles and I wanted the album to reflect that, but with Dave’s schedule I knew that we would have to write and construct all his parts for him. We basically programmed all the drums; he learnt all the parts and bingo, that was the album. I don’t want to take anything away from Dave, he’s a great drummer and can pick up ideas really fast, but his time was very, very limited.’

You’re quoted as saying that ‘there were certain things you needed to clarify with yourself and the band’. Can you see those aims now met fully by ‘Incorporated’? And is there more in the tank?

Gus. ‘Certainly. Waldemar was very open-minded and I really felt him pushing me to get the ideas across, express the different styles. I know my voice, I hope I know what it’s capable of and it has been quite a journey for me…, but I think that there’s also a lot more there too! Grip Inc has not, as yet, recorded the ultimate album and I hope, of course, that we’ll have a lot more time in which to try and reach that goal.’

There have been several theories expounded as to why the band struggled and nearly broke up in 1999 – poor reaction to ‘Solidify’, lack of exposure due to the fact that Waldemar as a producer and Dave as a full time musician outside the band were very busy? Even, I guess ‘problems’ between the three of you which we don’t know about…?……… but what would you say contributed to that situation and who has solved those issues this time around?

Gus. ‘Well, I’ll be very honest and say that it’s really Waldemar and I that have resolved the issues. I don’t want to come across here as a whiner who’s throwing the rattle out of the cot, but there have been issues that have affected us. In 1999 right at the height of our crunch period, Dave had said that he wanted to play with other bands and express himself outside, leaving Waldemar to continue with his production work. The only person to suffer was me, who had committed ten years to Grip Inc. It made it very hard to go forward as a solid unit. Nu metal was all the rage, bands needed to have a solid unit to compete with that and Dave wanted to go off and play with other bands? I was very angry and we certainly had our differences. What changed it around I think, was that I had to turn my anger to something useful, the songs I knew Grip Inc could write and, thankfully, Waldemar saw that in 2002 when we finally sat down…. The result is ‘Incorporated’! There are still issues to be dealt with now. I found out after the album was recorded that Dave really can’t commit to this band for several more years to come, he’s committed to Slayer for two years and that is that, as I understand it, which throws up more problems when it comes to the live arena. I don’t want to knock Dave from a creative point of view. Playing with other people like John Zorn has made him an even better musician, he’s created history with his style of playing, but the situation is still frustrating. In the studio, I don’t have to cheat writing for Dave. We did the entire recording acoustically, in analogue and he played the whole thing, but it’s just in the direction of this band, where it can go, that Dave and I have our problems. It’s a shame that, for all the people who buy our album, they may never get to see it played live, the way it should be. I’m really fed up with people in this business that play on all these projects, for the money, and then run off without giving the live element the force it deserves.’


OK, let’s tackle that! It’s been very difficult over the years to promote Grip Inc as a live band. The album’s been out a few months; the music cries out to be aired live. So, what plans are there to spread the word in a live arena?


Gus. ‘That’s a tough one. I hope we can play live, but what you’ve got to remember is that the other two main members of the band really don’t commit to Grip Inc as fully as they should do, meaning living it 24-7, so it throws up loads of problems. I’ve talked to Waldemar about taking the band forward, he understands that the industry will not accept a ‘project band’ in any circumstances, so, I’m afraid we’ll probably have to go forward with a different drummer. Waldemar and I have already written six songs, more are on the cards and I think we’re going in a very positive direction. It’s a heavier direction if anything, but very much in the Grip style.

On the subject of actual live shows, we hope to go out very, very soon. Richard Christy, who was in Iced Earth and Nick Barker (ex Dimmu Borgir) have both expressed an interest in filling Dave’s boots live, if that’s possible? There’s also Mike Terrana from Rage who’s also really knocking our door down, but we’ll have to see. If all the legal situations can be rectified and a new drummer installed, we hope to go out with Iced Earth actually. We need to go out live and I really miss it.’                            

At the moment, ‘Incorporated’ has to suffice as the main focus, then. Can you give us a quick potted history of how the album was constructed in terms of dating songs, which came first, who brought the most to certain tracks?

Gus. ‘As I said before, all the songs were written well before we hit the studio – the budget was cut back because it’s the last album of the current deal - so we had to do a lot of pre-production, especially concentrating on Dave’s parts of course. ‘Prophecy’ probably came first. I felt it was a poppier song for us, in a way, but we wanted to be more accessible to the younger audience and that track and probably ‘Enemy Mind’ and ‘Skin Trade’ possibly take us in that direction. The young demand more from their hard music. It has to be more accessible, not ripping somebody off with music that’s too technical. Just the feel of the song. ‘Curse (Of The Cloth)’, and ‘The Answer’ came next, then ‘Enemy Mind’, etc.’

Another interesting aspect to the album is the vocal variations involved; Jeff Collin, Sandra Schleret and Lisa D. Robin. You also incorporated sitar, cello and violin. Is that a key part of the accessible approach you mentioned?

Gus. ‘Well, yes, but I feel that the vocal variations and the cello, for example, say as much about the album as some of the songs do. We found a guy who can actually sing an octave lower than me, the cellos and the sitar really added to the flavour, made it deeper if you will, and all of this was planned in pre-production. All went straight to tape in the studio with all the musicians ready to go – nothing added later or triggered to come in on cue from backing tapes. I wanted to get some different melodies, outside the range I’m capable of, enhance the songs and use backing vocals to balance my voice. Too much singing can strangle some of the passion, but I feel that the different voices actually make it more poignant.’

Pick out your favorite songs for us and give us just a few quick words on each one that has benefited. And also on why the album got the name ‘Incorporated’?

Gus. ‘OK. ‘(Built To) Resist’ is one. I had the idea of a cello line and a synth just didn’t cut it, so Waldemar suggested Eicca Toppinen from Apocalyptica. We didn’t want to be accused of copying them so we got the main man! ‘Skin Trade’ was another that involved sitar. The song is about what’s going on in Eastern Europe and although the instrument is fundamentally Indian, it added a nice flavour… Then, there’s ‘Curse (Of The Cloth)’ where we used the low baritone backing vocal – that added more depth. What was important was that we tried to make sure all of this could be done acoustically, in the studio. I don’t like the use of too many synths and samples!’

‘As to the use of the word ‘Incorporated’, this is fundamental to the strength of Grip Inc.. I may be critical of the positions held by the other members of this band, but this album could not have happened without the three of us working together. Look behind the titles and the lyrics and you’ll see the cogs used in the artwork. Everybody had to function like a cog, or the machine wouldn’t have worked.’

Can you comment then on why it seems to have taken such a long time for the album to emerge? Recording took place in the August and September of 2003, and May 2004 (the release date) was almost eight months later?

Gus. ‘Well, that’s partly our doing and the work of the record company, Steamhammer/ SPV. I know that they had some very big releases at the time – the priorities were probably stuff like Iced Earth and Manowar - and we didn’t want to be lost. So, we fought with them to have it put back until the time was right.’

Next I want to move onto the role of Stuart Caruthers as far as Grip Inc is concerned. His role is underplayed on this album as he’s listed as being only the live bass player and not even shown on the video clips to ‘Curse….’ And ‘The Answer’?

Gus. ‘This is a little drawn out but I’ll try to explain. Originally, in pre-production we were going to fly over to Dave’s in Los Angeles and do this stuff live with Stuart, but Waldemar couldn’t get into the States and it fucked the whole thing up. In the end, Stuart couldn’t make the recordings, Dave could and the budget didn’t allow us to fly Stuart in, so Waldemar took up the bass for the album…., I assure you though, Stuart is the bass player in Grip Inc and that’s it.’

Now I remember talking to you a few years ago and the lyrical side of the band was always very important – give me an idea of some of the more powerful themes this time? ‘Curse Of The Cloth’, ‘Enemy Mind’,  ‘Man With No Insides’. Can you put some flesh on those?

Gus. ‘Well, with ‘Curse (Of The Cloth)’ first, there’s been an absolutely diabolical misuse of trust within the Catholic Church and although it’s being exposed well within America particularly, it’s still to be really faced in some parts of the world. People who abuse the position of trust put in them by the young, not just in the Catholic religion, abhor everyone and I had to write a song that made some reference to that. I’m obviously aware that to strip some of the points down too much would make it corny, but I hope to have made a point of being more upfront in a creative way this time because I’ve often been accused of hiding core points too much.’

‘Then there’s ‘Enemy Mind’ which is about mental illness. Some people, who suffer mental illness, have nowhere to run and it’s quite a personal song. I’d like to mention ‘Man With No Insides’ though. I don’t want to give you too many names but you might guess from this interview as to whom I’m making a reference to. There’s many people in this business who just do this for the money – just take the money for making music and they have no morals about the fans, the musicians around them, or the music. They have no insides, if you like? It sucks, it’s horrible.’

That’s quite a statement!

Gus. ‘Possibly, but I know what the truth is and if my position is compromised by saying those things in the context of a song, so be it.’

OK, try and sum up the feelings Dave, yourself and Waldemar have now that ‘Incorporated’ is out – is there a huge contrast to the optimism that was around after say ‘Nemesis’? Is this a ‘new beginning’ or do you feel you still have hurdles to climb to make the band the way you all want it?

Gus. ‘Well, I think the important thing is not to focus on the negative too much. Sure, this band still has its problems in how to develop and how to go forward, but for me personally, when you’ve been at the bottom you can only look upwards. I tend to tackle that in my lyrics and the band has to tackle it in the way we write and how we drive forward. As I said, Dave has committed himself to Slayer for two years, we’ve been away for five years and if we wait another two years we might as well forget it, so I think it’s much better to just look forward and carry on, without him. If, in two years, Dave is available to do another record, we’ll tackle the politics of that when it happens, but if the new drummer does the business, who knows? It’s up in the air right now, but ‘Incorporated’ is a great album and although we know that there are hurdles to climb, I don’t think we’ll get complacent because there’s no room for that. We have to be positive and ‘Incorporated’ is just the first step in making that point. When we go out live, we’ll make the best use of ‘Incorporated’ – practicing first with the use of cello, a keyboard player, all of that and we look forward to everyone’s comments when that happens. See you all soon!’

All live pic's by Jason Brown

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