Hellfest 2023: Grandma’s Ashes interview

Grandma's ashes - myriam

It was a few days before the 2023 edition of Hellfest that we had the opportunity to meet Myriam, guitarist at Grandma’s Ashes. The opportunity to look back on their dazzling early career for the female power trio offering music on the border of stoner and progressive rock.

Hello, congratulations on your album, we can come back to it later, but first, how are you? 

Myriam: I’m great ! We rehearsed well and now we rest to be in shape for the Hellfest!

I first saw you at the guitar fest by Julien Bitoun in the end of 2021, how did it feel for you to be propelled in less than 2 years at Hellfest? 

That is pretty crazy. When we had Julien Bitoun’s fest at the time, Grandma’s Ashes was coming back from Bordeaux and we had just met our booker from 3C who we work with now. We’ve been around for four years and we’ve been going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. We went from very punk halls of 100 people to first parts of bands like Mass Hysteria where we play in front of 800/900 people. The more people there are, the more powerful it is, so we can’t wait.

Why the choice to make a power trio with Grandma’s Ashes? What do you like about the formula?

At first, when I arrived in Paris, I came across Eva. I had a big crush on what she was doing musically. It immediately matched the two of us and we created Grandma’s Ashes. So we were looking to complete the rhythm section, but we complemented each other quite melodically. And the meeting with Edith was also obvious.

The power trio is true that it is a special format because it requires to be concise, straight to the point and relevant while trying to do complex things to make the thing richer and I think it is a challenge that succeeds us well. work parts by completing each other without too much artifice. Eva has a rather rich bass game, as we claim prog. It’s something I like and look for in the music we do.

How was the writing and the design of your album in relation to the EP? 

The first EP, as it was the first time we all met in the studio together, we decided to record live. We were looking for something raw, and in 7-8 shots it was in the box. For our album, we wanted to do things really differently and take the time to work on it. Work on our parts, our intentions. We did a lot of production, adding a lot of small details that are hidden but present to have a little extra. There are for example trombone calls before the chorus, gunshots on the snare drum to give more punch.

It was a much longer process. So we first made some fairly rich models and sent a real that did a bit of structural work with us, saying, “Do you really want this to be a long piece? Isn’t that going to be a little three-and-a-half-minute single?”. He took a big chisel to go further in efficiency and intent. It still lasted a year and a half of composition, arrangements, before arriving in the studio to do everything in ten days.

It’s interesting that you talk about artistic direction, but it’s something we don’t talk about often enough. This is a rather particular exercise and that requires to already release our baby very quickly in the process of creation…

Totally! This is something that is quite scary at the beginning. We worked with Fred Lefranc with whom we also recorded at the Bruit d’avril studio in Montreuil. He was super patient and pushed us into different things to go further, add more prog on this aspect, add more slowness for example. It also allowed us to be less scattered on our pieces.

Concerning the album, I found that the whole has a very luminous overall sound. Is it a will that has appeared since the composition? There is a real sound evolution between The Fates and This too shall pass. Was this evolution thought upstream? Did it happen naturally?

It’s pretty funny because all the subjects are really sad. We wrote it all down during the pandemic so we were imagining what the end of the world, the apocalypse and what we were going to be like. When the lockdown began, we were 23 years old, and all that ended between 25 and 26. We kind of felt like we hadn’t lived these two years, and that’s what we put in our album, also talking about things like death, late teens, coming out to your family.

But there’s a lot of hope, a lot of resilience. This idea that it’s okay, we’re young, it’s a gateway. That’s why the album is called This Too Shall Pass anyway. It’s true that in the end, in the album, he has many passages in major, very close prog seventies to the Yes. We realized by telling our sad stories during the writing process that we were ultimately quite full of lives, and that even if we make big badass riff, we have from time to time this little major note, which gives hope.

In terms of the construction of the album, there is a very cyclical dimension, whether through the theme of resilience, but also in the tracklist of the album, giving a quite narrative dimension to the whole. Is it Grandma’s Ashes’ ambition to have this concept album/narrative dimension? 

Basically, we wanted to make a concept album that takes place over the seasons. We thought that we didn’t want to change the titles and finally because the songs already had their own title and subjects. We put them in one order where we more or less composed them. We spent a whole year in our studio locked up during the covid. There was curfew at night, we couldn’t party too much, we couldn’t take a vacation. So we did our clearances and we spent weeks and weeks just locked in the studio composing and there was a period in the winter we did Cold Touch, La Ronce Caffeine, a more spring period where there was Spring Harvest, Borderlands…

We realized that depending on the times of the year and how these stories evolved around us we had totally moods. We used the interludes a little to rhyme it.

Even if you sing in English, two tracks have French names in your album. What is your relationship between the two languages within your music in Grandma’s Ashes? 

It’s not easy, English was much easier for us because our inspirations are English. It is easier to put into music a language where we already have relevant examples. We don’t listen to a lot of French rock so we have less referential. There is also a dimension where we hide behind the foreign language. It’s easier to talk about the death of a loved one, depression by putting this language barrier.

After that, for example, we allowed ourselves to put the title in French because the word is more beautiful in French than in English. For my only desire, it is actually from the tapestry of the Lady with the Unicorn that is visible in the museum of Cluny. At the end of the six tapestries, there is a moment when we see the Lady with the unicorn and behind it is written A mon seul désir. It is a tapestry that speaks of the desire of women, of fleshly desire. As the piece speaks of this, we thought that the sentence to conclude was perfect.

You talk about Covid a lot. Are there any difficulties in developing a musical project in the middle of this period without being able to develop it and promote it on stage?

That’s exactly it. Before we released our first EP, we toured a lot especially in the Paris area and we made a pretty cool fanbase. We also had the opportunity to go south, and when we released the first EP, it was in the middle of Covid so we had a tour behind. It’s something that’s been a blow to our morale. We had just released our first project as Grandma’s Ashes, and we can’t even defend it on stage. And we weren’t even confined together, so we had months where we’d write in our corner and we’d call each other. And we did mini covid tours where people were masked what was horrible, it kind of disgusted us.

That’s when we started seeing each other a lot to work on the album. We used to be a really stage band, where as soon as we had a piece, we would run it on stage and that was the most important thing. And then we took the time to compose without even knowing if we could play them in front of people. We have learned to appreciate this work of goldsmith, of constantly changing composition. We have become addicted to it now. It really changed the way the band works on composition.

Besides, because of the lack of concert opportunities, do you have more appreciation of studio work than being on stage?

We had so many chances with our tour operator that we played from February to now we played the dates. We didn’t have time at all to put in place new compositional ideas. We never really lost it, but we found the pleasure of being on stage again. Especially when it’s nice dates. We were lucky there between the tour in Spain, the first parts of Psychotik Monks, Mass Hysteria and Pogo Car Crash Control. We only did dates with 300, 400 people and it was amazing.

Last week we started writing again because we thought before the Hellfest was announced, we could go back to the studio. It’s a longer job. Today I see the concert as the reward after hard work.

Let’s talk concert now. Do you operate with a similar concert every night, or something more improvised?

At the beginning of the year in Spain, we work on our stage with three-four pivoting pieces and in between we have 4-5 songs that are interchangeable. At first there were only two songs moving. As we had behind first parts that were very different, with different set times also. We took it as an automatism to discuss in the van to create our set to develop the atmosphere that will be consistent with the evening. We no longer have a contemplative set but we also have more venerated sets.

But at the beginning we had a set of 45 minutes that didn’t move, and after 10 concerts we really got tired of this formula. Today we find it more interesting to vary the ensemble between each concert. For the Hellfest here, we did what’s probably the heaviest set we’ve ever done.

What was THE decisive moment for you, the one that made you take an instrument for the first time? 

My father is a guitarist, and there has always been a guitar and a piano at home. Around the age of 5-6, I reproduced piano commercials. Around 8-9 years I did a little classical guitar. It wasn’t my thing and I left out. It was around the age of 14 that I really started playing guitar. I wanted to join a band. In college we had a music workshop and I wanted to rehearse between 12 and 2. I asked my dad to teach me a guitar thing for the audition. And he taught me the Clapton version of I shot the Sheriff.

So I joined the band, and we did covers of Joan Jett, Sex Pistols. And it was really learning songs, playing together, that made me think, I want to do this with my life.

I noticed that in your style of guitar playing, you use a specific technique for arpeggios, using the pick for the first strings and your fingers for the high strings. Is this something that happened quickly in your game? 

I started doing this when I learned Crazy on You from Heart. It’s something that comes from country and classic. And I learned a lot of pieces also from Ozzy period Roads and it’s kind of this set that made me develop that. I like to make continuous bass and add additional notes with my fingers.

What do you play on? To play such a genre, you need both equipment to make massive sound, but also something to have fun with.

I play on more and more things (laughs). To open the sound, I wanted to play in stereo, and I have a switch to be able to put different effects right and left. From that moment on, I started to have several fuzz, several distos. According to the riffs I put a disto on the left, a fuzz on the right. I have a lot of Black Arts Toneworks effects for fuzz, Electro Harmonix or Walrus for delay and chorus. I have a pitchfork, a whammy. Octave, fuzz and delay is my central heart.

We were asleep by Orange until recently I had two orange amps. And I realized over the concerts that I liked the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, and it’s an amp that takes the fuzz very well. And so I use both, with orange for big rhythms and split to get out of the mix with a big fuzz. And guitar level I am on an Epiphone Flying V. I was before on an Les Paul but there were too many stockings, it was too heavy. And the Flying V is super light and at the level of the mix it balances very naturally with the medium bass game of Eva. And it’s a slapping guitar!

A big thank you to Myriam for giving us her time for this interview. If you want to discover Grandma’s Ashes, don’t hesitate to listen and buy their album, This Too Shall Pass. And if you want to discover them on stage, the dates are available right here!

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