Vilipend | Interview with Chris Gramlich

Life is not always fair. Sometimes we meet various obstacles that make our whole existence more turbulent. And life has not been particularly easy for Vilipend, who in the last few years have suffered some setbacks that few bands could overcome. We caught up with vocalist Chris Gramlich to talk about these bumps in the road and their vile new album “Inamorata”.

Toronto’s based-quartet Vilipend have had quite a few bumps over the five years of their existence, yet they’ve managed to survive and now the band have finally issued their debut full-length “Inamorata”. How does it feel to finally have the album out, especially considering all the obstacles you had to overcome throughout these years?

It’s actually a bit… strange to finally have a full-length out. For a very long time, one of our main goals with Vilipend was getting our first full-length out and we’ve finally accomplished that, with the help of A389 and No List Records, this year. We’ve existed for a little over five years now, and I can honestly say we’ve been through more trials and tribulations in that time than many acts will ever endure in their lifetime. While we could have released a full-length earlier, we wanted to wait until we were ready to make a cohesive, actual full-length, not just a collection of songs that technically lasted as long as an album should run. Inamorata is an incredibly personal work for all involved and an actual full-length album, one designed to be listened to from beginning to end, with a great deal of thought invested in all aspects of its creation. The art of the full-length is becoming increasingly lost in today’s ADHD-riddled world; Inamorata isn’t a concept album, per se, but there are themes and concepts in it, lyrically, artistically and musically that we return to and reference throughout. To actually answer the question, it feels great, but less like an “accomplishment” that we should celebrate and rest on than something that was inevitable as we continued to move forward, and now new goals have to be met.

One of these hindrances happened a few years ago, when Gramlich broke his back while jumping off stage during their set. I never had the chance to witness one of your performances, but are they just as intense as say Dillinger Escape Plan, with whom you shared the stage on that night? How would you describe a typical performance by Vilipend?

Intensity is a strange thing to quantify and examine, especially when you’re discussing musical acts. To me, no one will ever be as intense as Buzzov*en, Deadguy, Neurosis, Mike Patton or Rollins Band, in their primes. Are Vilipend as insane as DEP? At times, yes, I would say so. But we play very different music with a very different ebb and flow to it, so there are times where we are just as intense and crazy, and moments where a different feeling or atmosphere takes over and you channel that instead. I’m never going to get caught up trying to out-crazy anyone, but I am going to go as hard as I physically and mentally can every time we play. A typical Vilipend performance? I don’t know how to describe it, to be honest. It’s an exorcism; it’s a fight; it’s a release; it’s a marathon. I’m of the mind-set that any show could be my last, for a number of reasons, so I never want to leave the stage thinking I had more to give and didn’t — I want it all left on-stage. Are their blood, tears, violence and broken bones every show? Honestly, no, but there’s always sweat, there’s always everything we can give. I don’t know if you can ask for more. Sometimes people get hurt, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we bleed, sometimes we laugh. Sometimes I go to the hospital, sometimes I cab home. Always, I’m exhausted afterwards.

And how are you feeling nowadays?

Is, “like shit” an acceptable answer? Honestly, I’m in pain every single day and will most likely be in some form thereof until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil. Constant pain, no matter how small, is erosion: it wears you down until nothing is left. Luckily, painkillers, chiro, rehab, stretches, etc. exist to help me deal with it. Playing live, touring, etc. isn’t the easiest thing in the world anymore, but it’s worth the pain and sacrifice to do this, to be in Vilipend. I also recently was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and had a chunk taken out of my back below my right shoulder. So, yeah, that was fun. However, I’m not looking for sympathy; I’m very lucky in many ways and I try to never forget that.

Talking about the new effort, I would say “Inamorata” picks up where your previous work, the EP “Plague Bearer” left off, yet the new songs sound more developed and concise. Do you agree? How do you feel you've progressed with this record?

We’ve just become better at our craft, better at writing actual songs, better at writing heavy, ugly parts, or discordant parts or parts that are melodic, more proficient at crafting hooks and melding them instead of just throwing them together. We’ve all progressed as musicians, vocalists, lyricists, etc. We worked with Leon Taheny for the recording of Inamorata, rented a huge room to record the drums, etc. We did everything within our power to make sure Inamorata was the best we could make it at the time — no short cuts. I see a very large progression between Plague Bearer and Inamorata, and that was very intentional. I mean, you should always be trying to progress, to improve upon what you’ve done before. I don’t see a point otherwise; I would never want to regress or think my best efforts were behind me. I think you should stop at that point and go do something else.

Is the creative process easier nowadays or does it get tougher as you progress and become better, and perhaps more demanding musicians?

It obviously is different for everyone, but the “creative process” has always been a little on the slow side, for Vilipend, and after you’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and energy into a record, it can be difficult to focus on new music. We’re very meticulous in what makes the cut, musically, and sometimes writing can be very laborious. And, honestly, we’ve never been a very quick writing band. However, we do try to combat this and address it and hopefully we’ll be a little more “prolific” in the future. We have just finished recording a new song (“Fool’s Gold”) and are working on that right now, so the wheels are spinning.

Judging by some of the song titles, “Inamorata” feels like a very personal record, dealing with loss and betrayals. What triggered that?

Much of Inamorata arose from very a solitary year of negative experiences that nearly ended my existence; it’s a purging of a year of hell, lyrically, poetically, personally. Whether it was a relationship that soured, breaking my back, dealing with painkiller and anti-depressant addiction and withdrawal, a death in my family, being in crisis, problems with recovery or other issues, it was a very dark time that I wasn’t always sure I’d make it through. I’ve always been of the mindset: write what you know, so I write about experiences in my life that tend to be negative, but hopefully in a slightly more poetic way than is typical of hardcore or metal. I don’t know if it’s cathartic or therapeutic, but it’s how my mind works. I’m always jotting down bits of poetry, phrases, whatever grabs my interest, then working them into lyrics later. It’s a little non-linear, but some of my fave vocalists/lyricists are Mike D. Williams (Eyehategod), Mike Patton (specifically on Angel Dust) and Kirk Fisher (Buzzov*en), so I’m good with that. 

Is there a song on the new record you feel particularly close to?

Anything I put lyrics to I feel intimately connected with, even some of the first songs we ever wrote. Much of Inamorata is about as naked and bare as I can be about subjects that are difficult to address. However, “Meant to be…” holds the most power over me. It’s cliché, certainly, but sometimes, no matter how much you care, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you’re powerless to save something that’s destined to fail, whatever that may be. Timing is everything, so they say. 

I’ve been looking at the front cover of the album and it portrays this drawing of a hand lying on a green field. It’s a bit intriguing, I mean, we start thinking if that person is dead or alive. What made you choose that image for your artwork and what it represents?

The cover is part of a three-panel illustration we commissioned from the very talented Randy Ortiz (and can be seen here, under Inamorata: We sent Randy the music and lyrics, and told him we really liked another painting he did (Under the Overpass: After listening to the music and lyrics that’s what came to him and we were all for it. We didn’t want anything typically metal or hardcore on the cover, as that’s not us or not us. I think there’s enough records and merch out there with inverted crosses, goat heads and skulls, thank you very much — not that there’s anything wrong with that. The actual end product is stunning and fits the mood, lyrics, music perfectly. In terms of what it represents, I know what it means to me, but I never want to tell someone their interpretation is “wrong,” as it’s just as valid as mine and could mean more to them than anything I could put into words describing it.

Outside of Vilipend, you’re the managing editor for one of Canada’s major musical publications Exclaim! When did you start working for the magazine, and how did you become one of the editors?

I started working for Exclaim! about, I don’t know, 15 years ago? So, I think I was three when I started. Initially, I was just a contributing writer then I started in the office when they needed someone to replace an editor who was leaving and over the years worked my way up, doing more, taking on more responsibility, etc. It’s not a terribly exciting tale. I was lucky enough to know a writer who was writing for Exclaim!, figured I could do that, did and the rest was basically timing — timing, a willingness to learn and hard work.

How do you think music journalism has changed the most in the last few years with the proliferation of blogs and websites?

Well, obviously, it’s given anyone with a computer/tablet/smartphone, Internet connection and the inclination the ability to become involved, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Generally people start out because they love music and want to spread the word about what they’re into and it goes from there, not becoming jaded and burnt-out until much later. However, while I think that discussion and proliferation are great, in terms of actually writing about music in a critical, skilful way, those are abilities that not everyone possesses. They can be learned, and I would argue that passion regarding music and what you write about is paramount, but that requires editors and guidance. Without teachers, without editors, the first things to go are standards. Without someone overseeing, guiding and even saving writers from themselves, you have too much content going up without filters. Spelling and grammar go out the window, the level of writing plummets — forget about fact-checking and narrative flow. These are, of course, generalizations, as there are amazing blogs, websites and writers out there, but they usually rise to the top because they are competent in these areas, not in spite of them. It’s like anything: there’s good and bad. 

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Photo by Andrew Carver