jh0st talks: Gryflet – Beyond the Unknown
A collection of collaborations with Gryflet from the album ‘Left to the Unknown,’ released in 2015.
Nuno Tavares: Guitars & Bass
jh0st: Lyrics & Vocals on tracks. Rhodes piano on ‘Left to the Unknown’
Frank Baker: Wurlitzer piano & Lead Guitar ‘Your Face on the Pillow’
In May 2020, during the middle of a global pandemic, I had the privilege of sitting down (virtually) with Nuno Tavares, the mastermind behind the heavy rock band Gryflet. As we had collaborated across oceans and time zones without ever meeting face-to-face, somehow talking for the first time through a virtual connection came naturally. Nuno had created a world-within-a-world through his music: a vast, epic sound that he, myself, and other collaborators could occupy, explore, and create within…
jh0st So how’s it going over there, are you surviving the pandemic?
Nuno Tavares We acted a bit late over here, but within a week we were all asked to stay in. At my company 40% of the people got furloughed, but I was one of the ones asked to stay. It worked out fine for us since Shelagh [Nuno’s better half] is continuing to work.
jh That’s lucky, so many friends are out of work.
NT Yes, two of Shelagh’s daughters are out of work. I guess recovering from all this is going to be the real fight.
jh Before we start in, I want to say your house looks really cool.
NT I’ll show you around, it’s a typical grey day… It’s a quiet neighborhood, even more quiet these days. I’ve got the dogs around.
jh So funny, your dog looks like my cat. Black and white! Nice garden, too.
NT Here in the UK, they tend not to build upward. I’m from Portugal and in continental countries, they tend to build up. I grew up in a 6-story flat.
jh Seoul is the same. It’s very dense over here… So let’s start from the beginning. I’ve always wondered, how the hell do you pronounce Gryflet? ‘Gry’ like ‘Fry’?
NT Shelagh tends to say ‘Griflet’ even though it has a ‘y’ in it. It was a name that just came into my head. I make up words sometimes! The funny thing is I went on Google afterward and it turns out Griflet (with an ‘i’) was one of the knights from King Arthur, so I thought what a great connection.
jh …and the name was for your own solo project in 2013?
NT Yes, I needed a name and it wasn’t going to be Nuno Tavares!
jh Tell me about the beginning.
NT When I moved to the UK in 2005, I mainly played bass. Around 2013, a close friend of mine was living here in Taunton named Daniel. We knew each other since I was 8 in Portugal. When we reconnected, I would pick up his guitar and play some progressions and he would sometimes say, ‘That’s sounds really sick!’ and we would make it a song. That’s how ‘The North’ came up at one of these crazy sessions at Daniel’s house. On the weekends I would start recording – I didn’t have anything so I would use my mobile phone.
jh Daniel was a childhood friend?
NT Yes, we used to live in one of these 6-story flats I mentioned. I was on the 2nd floor and Daniel on the 3rd. I moved to the UK around 2002 and Daniel in 2007. But he didn’t know I was in England. Then someone told him, ‘You’re living in the same town!’
jh Almost unbelievable!
NT That’s how small the world is… Daniel went back to Portugal last year, but I still speak to him a lot. Yeah, Daniel and Shelagh are guilty in having me start this project up and that’s when I started posting on Soundcloud. The first few ones like ‘Fishing Stars.’ I used a 1980s drum machine.
jh That tune sounds amazing man!
NT I think the 80s drum machine is in a bin now… And then there’s ‘Gryflet’s Journey.’
jh This is good sh*t! It’s amazing hearing these first songs. I can connect the dots.
NT It’s the roots of it.
jh The first time I heard your stuff it was heavy. But this is different. Very moody. When did you start working with Frank Baker? Was he drawn to that heaviness?
NT Actually the first song that Frank heard was ‘The North.’ It was mainly acoustic just like ‘Gryflet’s Journey.’ We talked a lot about music and our mutual love of Stephen Wilson and Porcupine Tree.
jh Frank is a mysterious character, he disappears for months at a time.
NT And then he comes back with something totally new. He’s like a chameleon. The album I really love of his is Noctilucent. Fingerprints is an amazing song. When we discovered what we had in common, that’s when he offered to help me mix and record.
jh So Frank was key in the beginning.
NT He was the key and still is. Just like us, we communicated through SoundCloud (SC) messenger.
jh SC has been great in connecting people. I think that’s how Frank introduced us.
NT No, actually, you commented on one my songs first. Back then I was spending a lot of time on it. It’s a social network so you get as much as you put in. When you commented on I think ‘Endless Tempest’ I looked through your immense catalog and there were a few tracks that really, really appealed to me.
jh Oh god, most of what I have on there was from the ’90s.
NT This one ‘Apologia’ was from ’89! Sounded like the work of Steven Wilson in the late ’80s with drum machines and I realized ‘Wow, this sounds so much like Porcupine Tree!’
jh That was recorded on 4-track cassette. Maybe that’s why we met: I started on cassette and you started on your phone. Totally low tech.
NT I think what I play is what I’m technically able to. I’m not skilled, but I do have a picture in my head of what I want a song to sound like. When I discovered Wilson in 2005, I wanted to see what inspired him and that opened up a big door to ’70s prog-rock. I looked through some of the biggest albums like King Crimson, and an English band, Camel. Then of course there was Black Sabbath and all that heaviness. And I guess that made me want to do something epic.
jh Did you feel like with Gryflet it had to go in a single direction so people would recognize you as a prog-rock band, stoner band, etc.
NT You know, I have to tag it somehow ;-}. I started noticing that the stoner community was interested in it. The album ‘Timeless’ for example. I wasn’t focused on Stoner work or metal… and if you look deeper into it, it’s all based on 1970s heavy music anyway. I also grew up in the ’90s and the Grunge scene impacted my life – I used to listen to Nirvana and Soundgarden. In a way that also shows up in my music. But I listen to metal as well, like Sepultura when I was young. I listened to Tool a lot.
jh Was Timeless conceived as a record? A complete album with 7 songs?
NT I think of all of my releases as demos actually. I was putting some recordings out there to reach out to local people and ask: ‘Is this something you want to do and do you want to join?’
jh Let me as ask about ‘Left to the Unknown.’ Some of the songs I sang on were originally instrumentals.
NT That’s when I was collaborating with Frank and you. Some of them had the same feel and I discovered Bandcamp. So I thought I would make them into an EP.
jh But then it’s 10 songs. Epic, like in the 70s!
NT …and there’s epic songs on there like ‘Your Face on the Pillow.’
jh That’s an amazing song! It’s been 5 years since we recorded that and it’s good s**t. I don’t think we knew what we were doing.
NT It got on the radio as well – in France, Belgium, and Germany…
jh The other thing about the album is the crazy song names. How the hell do you name them? ‘What you Don’t Need’ directly became the song lyrics.
NT At that time it was a pretty dark time in my life. I was out of work and depressed. Shelagh was the one that was keeping things going and motivating me. I had a lot on my mind and ‘What you Don’t Need’ is about focusing on what you have and not caring about what you don’t need.
jh What’s amazing about this music is that once you see the title, you can project your own stories on them.
NT When people hear it and see the name they get a picture. ‘Endless Tempest’ was like an endless tempest in my brain you know ;-}
jh That’s crazy. ‘Tempest’ would have been good enough, but you had to go to ‘Endless’
NT It never ends you know ;-}
jh Going back to ‘What you Don’t Need,’ the lyrics I came up with was about drug addiction.
NT Yeah, it’s a dark feeling. And the funny part is that I was also trying to cut out things that I don’t need… about Steven Wilson’s influence: He said there is a beauty in the darkness. And it’s about people trying to appreciate that beauty.
jh 2015 was a dark time for me as well. I was traveling like crazy so it was perfect to have your music… cranking it up in the airplane and practicing the vocals in the toilet so I wouldn’t wake anybody up ;-}
NT That is amazing. People have no idea. It’s like we were working already in a post-Corona-virus kind of way. We were learning how to make music somewhere in a room with other people somewhere around the world. If people only knew these things …Actually you wrote the stories around the sound and I appreciate that. Like ‘Bleeding Inside’ is epic as well.
jh I don’t even know how you came up with that title.
NT That’s me being a drama queen: ‘I’m bleeding inside!’ ;-}
jh What’s great is that your music reminds people of real times and events. For me, ‘Bleeding Inside’ was about someone that had gone through domestic abuse.
NT It fits. The melody is a painful one and it appeals to people that way.
jh Talking about melodies, let’s talk riffs. ‘Endless Tempest,’ that riff is iconic.
NT I first wrote that on acoustic guitar. Hang on one second (grabs a guitar and strums riff). I started playing it and the drums were in my head. And then the bass line went like this… It was really heavy so I wacked a lot of distortion on the bass as well – I like that heavy driven bass. I didn’t put much thought into it, it just came out.
jh That song has the potential to be stadium rock… when you hear the riff, people will be like… (flashes devils horns and head bangs)
NT And when you came up with the vocals it sounded even more intense. It’s a beautiful song. It’s a shame we can’t get the word out there.
jh You never know who it will reach through the internet.
NT (shrugs) It can happen, it can not happen. You might even be dead when it happens… ;-} But if you think about Steven Wilson, he started online posting on forums in the middle ’90s and that’s how that started. He was self-made. Youtube has opened the door when others put us on playlists. Shelagh just reminded me, if I upload something and even one person enjoys it I can be happy. But it became much more than one person!
jh One song we didn’t talk about was the album title track, Left to the Unknown. I remember you weren’t too thrilled about the vocals, but we didn’t have much time to redo stuff.
NT I think I passed you the wrong idea. I was listening to that song yesterday with Shelagh. It’s possibly one of our best songs. I love it, I wish we could play it live. The part when it drops from heavy to calm and your voice is dragging is amazing… The reason I came up with this title is because of the fear of living behind your comfort zone and getting out to somewhere that you don’t know. Eventually you realize that the fear was unnecessary.
jh What happened after ‘Left to the Unknown?’
NT It was after I had started to get the songs out there when I met Andreas – he’s from Italy, but he was in the area working as a nurse and happened to be looking for people to play music with. We started jamming at his house: he had an electronic drum kit and I had this little 5w HiWatt amp and it sounded good and we starting thinking: we have to find some more people. We posted something on a local website and that’s when Billy Miles responded. For us to play live, I thought we had to have 2 guitarists. One person can’t create the soundscapes that I imagined. Billy got in touch and he loved all the songs. And George was a young lad that I knew – a really talented bass player. Everything really started around the song ‘Snake Pot.’ It was a song that appealed the most to Andrea, and Billy also loved it since he was really into early psychedelia from the 1960s and ’70s.
jh I love that song man…
NT I’ll be honest, I wish we had gotten a much better recording, but Andrea had decided to go back to Italy to work at a hospital in Milano. It was Brexit: I think that had an impact on his decision.
jh So with ‘Time Left to Kill,’ a lot of the songs were you and Andrea coming up with the basic ideas. With Moon Harvester, was that more written as a full band?
NT After Andrea left I asked my friend, ‘Mikey please join us, we have some music and people want to hear us live.’ And Billy was also into the idea of playing live. But when we tried to practice the songs from ‘Time Left to Kill,’ it had very complex drumming from Andrea and it didn’t gel well to play those without him. Mikey’s a great drummer, but more from a punk-rock influence and I think that shows on ‘Moon Harvester.’
jh Yes, somehow Moon Harvester stands out as different than the other Gryflet material. I didn’t know that Mikey was the one playing punk-rock.
NT I guess the punk-rock also shows in my playing as well. There was a Brazilian band called Ratos de Porão that were very cool. And you said Billy had a punk-rock edge… he does.
jh How was it to have a live band at this point?
NT It was pretty good to be honest. We played in this town Bridgewater at the club Cobblestones and the reaction of people was really positive. We then got this opportunity to play at this massive prog-rock festival, HRH. Quite a lot of big bands like Hawkwind that we’ve admired for years. The organizers obviously listened to our demo but we knew someone that knew someone.
jh … that’s the way you get your foot in the door, but to get the gig you have to be good!
NT Yes… but some some disputes started coming up. Me, Billy and George were really focused – every weekend we were playing together and the momentum was there. Then Mike joined and boom: the momentum was not there anymore ;-}. We stagnated a bit after the release of Moon Harvester.
jh Why do you think that was? You had just put out this awesome record… F**g drummers! ;-}
NT Well there were a lot of crossed ways. We wanted to write new music, but there was no time in rehearsal to do that, it was just about keeping up with what we already knew. It was then when we started working with Ben Croft on drums who recorded us. He was a brilliant drummer and we didn’t need to rehearse that much since he had listened to the songs so many times during the recording process. Ben performed a couple gigs with us, but couldn’t commit 100% because of other things in his life. Since we weren’t writing new material, it can be frustrating for the band… so Billy and George started working on other projects. When I found that out, I was pretty upset – me being hot tempered ;-} So we didn’t play the big festival at the end, but hey, life moves on.
jh Where are you at now? Andrea is on some brand-new recordings and it seems Gryflet is going back to the beginning – to the early days with songs like Mountain Pass. I really love this direction.
NT We had rehearsed it a lot and we tried to play it in the band format but it didn’t really stick with the guys at the time. Andrea’s birthday is the 11th of May, one day before me – maybe we think way too much alike ;-} He’ll pick up my strumming patterns and then translate them into beats.
jh Could be the Latin blood ;-} You guys recorded this remotely then, he never came to the UK?
NT Andrea recorded this in Italy and me here. Initially it was just a sketch with me playing along with a metronome. We went back and forth and then he went to the studio and put down the rough drums. It’s always difficult as you know sending files around – especially drums with 6 different tracks. Then I recorded my final guitar parts.
jh Not on your phone this time, right? ;-}
NT haha, now I have a bit more gear. A little valve preamp that goes into my interface, and then into Audacity.
jh What’s next? You’re not going to put an ad out and put another band together?
NT No, it requires a lot of time and money. At the moment, I’m cool with just working with Andrea. That thing about playing live: I’ve done it and it’s a lot of hard work. I don’t fancy carrying my gear everywhere for hardly any pay. My thing is actually recording the music. That’s the root of it and like you said, I went back into it. At the time, I admit I was a bit upset by all of it financially and emotionally. It took me a long time to overcome it. I do take things really seriously and I want these projects to be the best they can be. This is a crazy idea, but songs that you and I did together I would like to re-record or revisit. Let’s just leave this idea in the air and see what becomes of it… Recently I’ve been playing more bass. I have an epic bass riff that we can do something with.
jh Maybe I’ll play guitar then. We’ll switch it up. Those earlier songs where it changes moods in the middle, where it’s more psychedelic – some of that could come in.
NT That’s what I would like to. We talked about the music that influenced me. Like Mike Patton’s project (from Faith no More), Mr. Bungle, more jazz influences like Dead Combo from Portugal, and John Zorn. He incorporates that vintage surf guitar and I’m trying to capture that. Also, the craziness of The Mars Volta . There’s another Portuguese band I really like called Mão Morta that’s been a big influence .
jh I don’t know Mão Morta, the name sounds heavy.
NT Actually it’s more poetic. The vocalist doesn’t really sing, he speaks. Kind of dark and gothic. It’s quite atmospheric.
jh Speaking of poetry, half of your songs, even when you have a singer, there’s no vocals.
NT I guess the lyrics sometimes steal away and make the music background to it. One thing I learned from bands such as Nirvana is that they always wrote the music first. I don’t write lyrics, so the music is the main focus for me. ‘The North’ for example, I felt that it was pretty much done after the music was written. In the band, Billy was cool – he didn’t want to shout and say, ‘I’m the singer and it’s all about me!’ He was respectful about everything so he didn’t impose himself into putting lyrics on every song.
jh It sounds like you had some really good bandmates.
NT We really get on together. With Gryflet, it’s probably my own fault, but there was no real leader in the band. It was a group thing.
jh That’s the ideal band, when there’s no leader…
NT Actually it’s anarchy, it doesn’t really work, does it? ;-}
jh I guess with music, we learn the hard way ;-} Speaking of anarchy, where the heck did ‘Mobocracy Mayhem’ come from? When we started working on it, I didn’t even know what the word meant, I had to look that s**t up! I was thinking this has to be about Brexit.
NT It was actually about the elections in America! I never really got my head around how Trump got in there. And I said to Shelagh: ‘S**t, he’s going to win the election… I was actually joking and it turns out he bloody won it! I was like, ‘Noooooo! This is Mobocracy Mayhem!’ And then when Boris Johnson became prime minister, it was just like the Trump phenomenon. The song turned out great though – it’s a blues song especially with your saxophone playing…
jh You had the idea of stripping out the drums. You also had an amazing guitar riff that you took out.
NT The bass line is pretty strong on its own. It’s more like old school blues. It has the big bass driving the rhythmic line. And then we could focus on your vocals and the saxophone.
jh That’s when I realized you’re a composer. I’ve played in a lot of bands and there’s a difference between people that play and people that compose. People that only play get mad if you take out their part. With you, you’re not afraid to take your parts out.
NT We had a joint cooperation: I was asking you questions and getting your opinions. Sometimes the less complex things work better.
jh So Shelagh are you there in the distance? You’ve been so supportive of Nuno along the way.
SM I believe in his talent. I admire the man, someone that believes in what they’re doing. When I first met him, I had no idea he was a musician. We met back in 2003 I believe, by accident in a music pub..!
jh Together for 17 years! You guys are an inspiration…
NT Well going back to the beginning, Shelagh’s been very influential. She kept on telling me to record the songs and get them on the internet. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here at this point.
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