Gridfailure isn't an easy musical enterprise to describe, and when I ask its mastermind, David Brenner, to break that down a bit, he's more than willing to humor me. "My prior bands were all punk/hardcore, grind/metalcore bands in the mid-'90s through the early '00s—my teens into my early twenties—but then I was not in an active band for about twenty years," reveals the New York state-based musician. "In that amount of time, I’ve explored about a thousand new kinds of music, and I think I utilize pieces of everything in Gridfailure. It’s not defined as any one style or approach to me."
For disclosure's sake, I'll tell you that I first became aware of Gridfailure through my regular correspondence with David through his work at underground music PR and distribution outlet, Earsplit, a company he co-owns with his wife, Liz Ciavarella-Brenner, a former editor of the late great Metal Maniacs magazine.
After soaking in Gridfailure's new I Shall Not Survive Another Winter EP for about a week now, I'm still having trouble finding the perfect way to articulate what I'm hearing. What I can tell you is that it's the kind of nightmarish soundscape that is better taken in via headphones. There's a lot of layering on the EP's eight tracks, and that doesn't just include traditional instruments. "I won’t say that it’s 'unlike anything that’s ever been done' or act like I’m any sort of a good musician by any means; I just boil over with ideas and infuse everything I can into this project and just kind of let it happen. It’s more like full-contact art class than band practice; it gets messy. There’s broken equipment and skin, beer and blood, lots of sweeping up, and piles of serial killer notebooks of to-do lists and sporadic rants."
But does David agree with my whole "nightmarish soundscape" thing? "It all works in different ways; I think of it all more like a horror soundtrack, melted world music, cancer that likes hardcore… it’s all more about a feeling or atmosphere than a hook or verse."
Speaking as someone who has never written or performed anything like what Gridfailure does, I’m curious about the creation process behind it. "Some albums I record every instrument and have no collaborators at all, but most tracks which feature a collaborator will see said person(s) contributing one instrument to said song, while I’ll layer three, five, twenty other layers of instrumentation and vocals to it. I’ve worked with people all over the US over the past year and a half, and am now working with more folks I know overseas as well. Some songs are born simply from a random tone or sound; a few seconds of a riff, a random field recording of a brushfire, an off-kilter drum beat. Some of the music is created from layers of sound to create more of an atmosphere. Sometimes I write in a more traditional sense; lyrics, beats to start. I’ve done full live improv jams with other musicians."
I ask David about some of his collaborators, specifically on "Never Was," one of my favorite cuts on the new EP. "My cohort Christian Molenaar of San Diego experimental jam/punk outfit Those Darn Gnomes sends me very random material, and adds all kinds of exploratory jams to songs I’ve already written; you never know what you’re going to get; flute, guitar, violin, organ… Earlier this year he sends this smooth, sexy, sad e-piano piece, and says, 'I’m sure this is too pretty for Gridfailure but I figured I’d send it by anyway.' I took that as a challenge and just went fully savage on vocals, added a bit of synth, effects, guitar… Then, Christian got ‘Gnomes vocalist Mark Steuer to sing my lyrics in his very clean, melodic style, without hearing the brutal new version of the song. I mixed those in and that was it. I kind of picture a jacked-up jazz lounge with a bunch of demoralized and suicidal humans all there to weep through a long set of depressing ballads, one by one taking themselves out, followed by the band. Psychedelic seppuku. Blue Velvet meets Heaven’s Gate."
In addition to Molenaar and Steuer, I Shall Not Survive Another Winter also features guest jams/contributions from Richard Muller (Vise Massacre, The Third Kind, Future Hunter), BJ Allen (Full Scale Riot), Benjamin Levitt (Megalophobe), and Robert Levitt.
Before letting him go, I had to ask David if living in upstate New York through countless cold spells inspired Gridfailure's latest release's title. "I Shall Not Survive Another Winter is another random term packed full of multiple layers of meaning to myself but can be translated virtually any way the listener would like. The lyrics relate to being trapped in a recurring situation in life where you keep hitting a wall, being defeated, and ending the day regretfully crushed, and falling back into your daily cycle of self-defeat. However, I wrote some of the initial lyrics years ago, before Gridfailure was in existence—back during Superstorm Sandy when I was brainstorming band names in the dark. We got pummeled and were without electricity, heat, phone, or almost any type of communication with the world outside of an AM shower radio for eight days. It was just very cold and dark; we couldn’t manage our Earsplit business at all, every bit of fresh or frozen food had to be thrown out (including a lot of amazing hot sauces), gas lines were three hours long. It was around that time I came up with the name Gridfailure.
But yes, I do end up shoveling quite a lot of fucking snow in the Winter."
I Shall Not Survive Another Winter will see digital release via Bandcamp on the Fall Equinox, Friday, September 22; a physical version of the record will be completed in the coming weeks. Acquire Gridfailure’s full digital catalog and physical copies, including a preorder of the new EP, and several hours of existing material, right here.