Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome to the Falcon's Fortress, Now Listen to the Artisan Demo/EP 2002!

Hey & G'day Folks!

Perry Grayson here. Welcome to this new-fangled and feathered blog. Many of you already know I have a personal blog called Peregrine's Prattle. The Falcon's Fortress is going to be slightly different. Here I'm going to focus solely on sharing sounds and videos of my past and present bands.

I'll start off with a batch of complex metal tunes, the 2002 Artisan demo/EP. Just listened to them on my MP3 player last week for the first time in ages. Have to admit these four songs sum up the style of technical, melodic and aggressive metal that I decided to pursue with two of my best friends back in 2000. I'm talking about bassist/vocalist Mike Bear (ex-Prototype) and guitarist/vocalist Ana Greco (ex-Rapture [L.A.]). Metalheads who had followed my six-string slinging in Destiny's End finally got a chance to hear me handle a hefty amount of vocals in Artisan too. Credit must be given where it's due, and I definitely have to say Mike rose to the occasion and handled the majority of the "clean" singing in Artisan, with plenty of harmony and backup from Ana. While I injected a few little "clean" words, the majority of my vocal contributions to Artisan were of the growled sort popularized by aggressive metal heroes Chuck Schuldiner (Death), Darren Travis (Sadus), Rob Urbinati (Sacrifice) and Mille Petrozza (Kreator). In short, the kind of pissed-off stuff I loved most in high school. Some of it still stands the test of time in my creaky ears 20+ years later.



When I decided to depart Destiny's End in the aftermath of the recording of the second DE album, Transition, in April 2000, I didn't waste much time before conceiving Artisan with old pal Mike Bear. Mike encouraged me to join Inhuman Visions, the death metal band he was playing session in, but I realized it just wasn't for me. Instead, I told him, "If I'm gonna play this style of really technical extreme metal, I want to build a band from the ground up and write tunes with you, the way we've always wanted." We had a lot of history together--shared many laughs and even sombre heavy moments--like brothers. Mike coined the band name because someone had referred to him as a "6-string bass artisan" in a review of Prototype's Cloned. I felt Artisan perfectly fit the sort of progressive, aggressive and technical vibe--that it was totally in keeping with names like Cynic, Atheist and Watchtower. Bands who pioneered this genre while Mike and I were still rank amateurs. Initially, we stalled on asking Ana Greco to join Artisan. After all, she was Mike's girlfriend at the time! But we caved in within a few days, as we knew Ana was a shoe-in for the job. It seemed like predestined fate that the three of us were bandless simulataneously. We'd previously jammed for fun while I was a DE-dude, Mike was a Prototyper and Ana was a Rapture-chick.

Artisan was formed as a labor of love between three good friends, and it's always rough to find precisely the right member to complete a band like that. We wrestled with the idea of getting a vocalist, but none of the people who auditioned fit. Many of them were death-grunters, and I rationalized if we were gonna have that type of aggressive vocalizing, I'd rather that I did it on my own. We tried drummers out like mad. One of the first candidates was a very young, but nonetheless talented dude, named Aaron Rossi. Aaron later worked with John Sykes, Prong and Ministry. Aaron wanted to constantly gig, which was easy for him with local pop/punk outfits, but just wasn't an option in Artisan at first. For a while we thought we'd been cursed by the Spinal Tap green globule! We found quite a like-minded soul in Matt Conley from an Illinois band called Vigilance. He relocated to L.A. to play with us.

Artisan was in full-swing when we began tracking tunes for our debut EP/Demo. I'd kept in touch with Nevermore drummer Van Williams since touring with the Nevermormons while in Destiny's End. Van designed the Arti logo. You may notice some similarities between the NM and Arti logos for that reason! Van offered to play session on an Artisan recording if we couldn't find a drummer, but we never took him up on it. We played some cool gigs with Prototype, Onward, Dreams of Damnation, Zero Hour and Engine. At the height of my Arti membership we supported Arch Enemy (along with Hate Eternal, Nile and Origin) at the Key Club in Hollyweird on their very first US tour (second L.A. appearance for them!). We also played L.A.'s Gates of Metal fest in late Spring '03. A good friend of ours, Steve Aschenbrenner, recorded one full Arti demo/EP track as a project for his engineering degree at Loyola in L.A., and we arranged to complete the remainder of the tunes with our pal Vince Levalois (the Prototype guitarist/vocalist) behind the board.

All was not hunky-dory in the Arti-camp, however, and before the mixing phase of our demo/EP, drummer Matt Conley left. I was particularly bummed, because we'd built up quite a momentum. Not to mention I got on with Matt like a house on fire! We remained good friends, but Matt knew his path lay elsewhere. To be fair, I know Matt had it rough moving halfway across the country to play with three musicians as closely knit as me, Mike and Ana. Like siblings, we'd squabble passionately about the music. As difficult as it must've been for Matt, he adapted very well to SoCal, and we were far more than mere bandmembers. Total metal brothers! We shared a love for early Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and the rockier Carcass discs. Though Matt departed, his drum tracks remained on the recording.

It took us ages to find a replacement for Matt Conley. Likewise, it was an excruciatingly drawn out overdubbing and mixing process. Vince Levalois was consumed with work, family and  obligations to Prototype. It was impossible to get consecutive sessions booked with him. I preferred and was accustomed to taking no more than 3-4 weeks to finish tracking and a couple of weeks mixing a full-length album back in Destiny's End. Months dragged to over a year with Artisan recording/mixing. By which time my interest in Artisan was waning. I was far more excited about Falcon, the raw, loud and vintage heavy rock band I formed in '02 with Greg Lindstrom from Cirith Ungol. Hyperspeed technical metal with growled vocals just wasn't as much of a turn-on for me. In a way I was burning out on playing it. I stuck things out for a while.  I broke the news to Mike, Ana and new drummer Justin Bouchee before heading to Germany to record the Isen Torr Mighty and Superior EP with British metal bro Rich Walker (Solstice).

Though they were sad to see me go, the Arti-folks asked me to play a farewell gig in the fall of 2003. It was quite a send-off, jamming in front of a packed house at the Whisky in support of Cathedral, Samael and Strapping Young Lad. Though I had a blast at the Cathedral gig, I couldn't help but wish it had been Falcon opening the show. Certainly the Cathedral blokes were big fans of Greg Lindstrom's original band, Cirith Ungol, not to mention all the heavy/bluesy/psychedelic rawkers of the late '60s and early '70s who inspired me to form Falcon. So it goes, though. By Nov. '03 I was in the studio with Falcon cutting our first full-length. The S/T Falcon album recording beat the Artisan demo/EP to the punch, partially because I never want to overthink anything or ruin the spontaneous and raw vibe.

The Arti EP/demo received an internet-only release after I bailed. We distributed a batch of CD-Rs of "Goodbye," but no "pro" CDs of the EP/demo itself. My metal brother Ed Laing, who played previously with me and Mike in a short-lived band called Stormhaven in '95-'96 (no demos or gigs), was the perfect man to fill my shoes. But Ana departed Arti, and eventually relocated to Illinois. She played in a band called Blue Razor Rust for a while. Matt Conley is a professional psychologist and has taken up guitar in his days since leaving Artisan. Artisan still lives through Mike, Ed and Justin. They have taken much time to work on a full-length, with many breaks in between sessions. It's understandable, as they all have other priorities in life outside the band.

In a way, I felt like we were our own worst enemies in Artisan. Possibly we could've garnered greater success if we didn't take forever with the recording or overthink nearly every iota of the band. Perhaps we could've capitalized more on my recent history with international touring power/prog metal band Destiny's End. DE traveled with Nevermore, Iced Earth and Mercyful Fate. How 'bout Wacken '99, two full-length albums on a respected big metal indie and a couple of high profile tribute albums? That stuff ain't chopped liver! I know our second drummer, Justin, was taken aback by the fact that we didn't go around shooting our mouths off to the effect of "Yeah, we're gonna be the next Metallica!" Or somesuch boorish boasting. Truthfully, we downplayed our achievements and were far too realistic for our own good. If it was up to me alone, I would never have done even one pay-to-play (or gay for pay, as I call it) gig. I feel it shows promoters you are willing to take it up the arse with no lube. We might've gotten the same few big Hollywood gigs through other means. We didn't go around bragging about all my accomplishments in Destiny's End, nor Mike and Ana's in Prototype or Rapture, both of which were high-profile SoCal metal bands in the late '90s. To be fair, open and honest about that whole situation, I have to remind folks that Artisan was formed as a labor of love between three best friends. My dear friend Mike Bear happened to be chronically ill during the entire time I was in Artisan. Our hero Chuck Schuldiner was battling brain stem cancer, and I'd donated cash and an acoustic/electric guitar to be auctioned on Chuck's behalf. But Mike's illness hit even closer to home. I deferred a lot of creative control to Mike, and particularly wanted him to have a lot of freedom to express himself as a songwriter. Ana and I wanted Artisan to be a very positive force in his life, although we had our own share of struggling to make ends meet in the real world--beyond music concerns.

Even as a website-only release, the Artisan demo/EP wasn't widely distributed or reviewed. It went below the radar for most metal fans. It seems as though, perhaps like Cynic and Atheist in the early '90s, we pursued a style of music that just was not very popular. The tunes may have gone over the average listener's head. Despite its shoestring self-financed budget, I'm still pretty satisfied with how the Artisan demo/EP turned out. There was a bit of ProTools editing on "Goodbye," but it's nothing by comparison to today's inhuman standards. Yup, all four of us actually played our instruments. Mike and Ana sang their asses off. Some will find it surprising that I growled. It was far from surprising at the time. You will find no "auto-tune" here. (It's a dirty word in my book!) We began tracking a cover of Death's "Pull the Plug," but a corrupt session CD-R prevented us from completing on time, so it was abandoned. But Artisan did cover "Pull the Plug" as a tribute to our hero Chuck Schuldiner at nearly every gig during my stay, and below you can watch a live video to prove it.

Right click and "Save-As" to download the MP3s below!

1. The Stain of Life
(Music/Lyrics by Mike Bear)
While me and Ana may have added our little idiosyncratic styles to playing this tune, it was Mike who brought it to Artisan. I'm not going to take credit for writing it. I just reacted to what Mike played, like his bass tapping part. The octave chords and melody at the end were devised by me, but the tune itself is Mike's. End of story. I dig Mike's lyrics. Very mature and thought provoking. This tune forced me to pick fast. I have Mike to thank for pushing my right hand dexterity. The majority of the vocals are courtesy of Mike on "The Stain of Life." Ana did some cool harmony backups, and I only had a bit of background growling on this track. I think Mike's bass sounds almost as froggy in parts on this as Steve DiGiorgio's on the Death album Individual Thought Patterns. That's a good thing! "Ribbit!"

2. The Sickness
(Music by Perry Grayson, Ana Greco & Mike Bear / Lyrics by Mike Bear & Perry Grayson)
A team effort here. Most of the music was written by me and Ana. The clean-tone intro was a 50/50 Perry and Ana thing. Ana dug her extended power chords (root, fifth, root, fifth--a big stretch) and I'm very into Alex Lifeson's use of major 7th chords and open high E strings. The instrumental heavy parts after the intro were mostly Ana's work. I wrote the verse and pre-chorus and the bridge after the solo. I played some inventive chords in the crunchy parts. We were always shooting to do more than the stereotypical root-fifth power chords. Mike contributions to the tune were the solo riff and over half of the lyrics. Lyrically a very special song, considering our hero Chuck Schuldiner was battling cancer at the time. Deeper than that, though, there were health concerns within our own band. The solo section jumped around a lot, and I got stuck playing over it, as usual. There was some slight hemming and hawing from Ana and Mike about the solo not shredding enough. I tremolo picked one section, and that made things a bit faster. I used the wah, not in the conventional sense of rocking it in time, but by pushing it down to accentuate the treble. I harmonized 3/4s of the solo too. Vocally, I was really stoked with Mike's high-range on this one. I always thought it fit the tune. The growls are mostly me, although Mike gurgled lower through some parts.

3. A Silent War
(Music/Lyrics by Perry Grayson)
This was actually the second song I brought to Artisan. The first, "Unrepentant," was left undeveloped by the band as a whole. I wrote the chorus riff while I was still in Destiny's End. I always loved how Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing would dig in and pick the overtones on a single-note part, so I shot for that with the chorus in "A Silent War." There's a very slick doom section a la Solitude Aeturnus, Revelation and Candlemass. It gets thrashed out somewhat under the solos. I never would've injected loose, raw and bluesy riffage into Artisan. There is a right time and place for everything. Artisan was neither the time, nor the place, to rawk out. I saved that for Falcon. "A Silent War" was probably the most straightforward of all the Arti songs, but it was still pretty technical. The riff with the breaks in it reminds me of Fates Warning's Awaken the Guardian and No Exit. I harmonized the solo, but it's hard to hear in the mix. Our ears were shot from too many hours of playback. In retrospect I would've turned my lead up more. Lyrically this one was totally rooted in reality. I knew all too well that I'd get slagged in the metal press when I decided to leave Destiny's End. Not to go down with the sinking ship. I'm not into slinging mud, but I will always rise to the challenge and speak the truth in one form or another if dirt is dished at me. Mike sang the clean vocals, and I handled the aggressive growls.

4. Goodbye *
(Music/Lyrics by Mike Bear)
Another of Mike's compositions. Lyrically it has a lot in common with "The Sickness." Mike was shooting for a very David Gilmourish vibe with the vocals over the mellow bass part in the middle. We're both big Pink Floyd fans. Once again, I got stuck having to play lead over an every-moving and complicated riff. Instead of a traditional solo, I wound up playing two slow melodies with a fast muted fusion/prog-metal thing a la Cynic and Watchtower sandwiched in between. It worked and I was happy with the finished product. It doesn't always have to be about shredding in prog. Mike and Ana handled most of the vocals on "Goodbye." I had several lines of growled vocals and a Tom G. Warrior-like "Oooooh!!" in the middle.

[Updated Nov. 2]
5. Bonus: Pull the Plug [Death cover] live, 2/17/02 - Tarzana, CA
We played Death's "Pull the Plug" at nearly every gig as a tribute to our recently deceased metal bro and hero Chuck Schuldiner. We wanted people to remember just how important a figure Chuck was to the global metal community. This is still one of my fave metal tunes to play, and I love belting out the vocals on stage. At Death gigs it was always the most requested song by fans. Typically Chuck saved it for the encore. Ana played Rick Rozz's whammy bar fest and tapping lead, while I tackled Chuck's more melodic solo. Unfortunately, because the camera was on Ana's side of the stage, you can't hear my lead much. I tried very hard to be faithful to Chuck's original solo. Leprosy remains one of my fave metal albums of all-time. I include my fave lyrics in my email signature file. I'm known for quoting those all the time: "Life ends so fast, so take your chance and make it last." Chuck wrote some poignant words. Some might call them prophetic. It holds a special place in my heart because I first heard it when I was a freshman in high school. Primitive, yet somehow slick for death metal in 1988!

Mike Bear - bass/vocals
Perry Grayson - guitar/vocals
Ana Greco - guitar/vocals
Matt Conley - drums

All but * engineered/mixed by Vince Levalois at Utopia Studios, North Hollywood, CA
All but * produced by Artisan & Vince Levalois
* Engineered/mixed by Steve Aschenbrenner at Loyola Marymount Studios, L.A., CA
* Produced by Artisan & Steve Aschenbrenner



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