Phil Michalak - Drums, Martin O’Brien - Vocals, Paul Coleman - Guitar, Jaime Carillo - Bass
Graven Image have managed to make a name for themselves in the Connecticut local Metal scene, drawing the attention of classic metal fans and musicians alike. They describe themselves as “A throwback metal band with influences ranging from Iron Maiden to Megadeth...Soaring vocals and strong musical hooks is what we are all about.”
Graven Image most recently performed at Cherry Street Station in Wallingford on April 21st, 2012 to a packed room. OFNR was broadcasting live from the show, including streaming video. This was my first experience of the the band and I was able to catch up with them for some words after their set.
Agrippa: Can you give me a brief history of the band?
Paul: This band has been around for a couple of years. This is the second version of it and probably the better version of it. Coming back around, this is only our second show with this version of it and we’re looking to do some more. I had been out of the music scene for a long time and I got together with a friend and started writing some music. We put it up on Reverbnation and within about three weeks it had gone all the way to number eight in the whole state. We decided at that point to put a band together. I contacted another friend of mine named Brian Betterton, who sang for us originally. We put some music out that went number one in Connecticut. It’s been there for about a year. We did a whole bunch of shows. People went different ways and we got Jaime, we got Martin, and here we are to make some noise.
Agrippa: You guys sounded tight tonight.
Paul: Thank you.
Agrippa: As a band you don’t really like to set yourself up in a specific genre, but when it comes down to it, it’s really vital that you do. As a Metal band, how do you describe yourselves?
Martin: I like to pen it as Power Metal, because it does have tendencies to have the heavier end of the Metal spectrum. Then again, when you look at Power Metal, it’s got a lot of lighter ballady stuff too, so we kind of fit into that. I would say definately a Power Metal band. Not necessarily straight up Metal, because we do have the grimier stuff.
Jaime: I just think we’re just more old school. More of the...I’m not going to say Hair Band Metal...but more of from my influences when it comes to playing the bass. Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) is probably my idol, so...
Agrippa: With that in mind, who are your influences?
Jaime: Me, myself, Steve Harris. Then I like to get heavier like Dave Ellefson. That bass player is unbelievable from Megadeth. Those are my two favorites, but I’m all over the place. I can listen to Journey and Foreigner, you know what I mean? I love them too.
Martin: My influences...I’m a huge grain bonom fan. A huge Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) fan. One of my favorite vocalists is Danny Bowes from Thunder, a band from England. Big influence on the way I sing, because of the way he uses his voice. He’s not just straight up, you know, yelling at you, screaming at you, but he actually uses his voice. I took a lot of that and tried to put it into my own Thing. I ended up with my own style I guess. Those are my influences for the most part. Geoff Tate (Queensryche) too, obviously.
Paul: Randy Rhoads, without question. Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen. Songwriters? Dave Mustaine (Megadeth). I fucking love everything he wrote. I like everything from Neil Diamond to King Diamond.
Agrippa: With that, you guys probably have a huge album collection. Hypothetically, you have to get rid of your entire collection except for one album. Which one is it?
Martin: If I had to get rid of everything, I’d probably keep Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits. It’s got some of the greatest music for me anyway. Growing up I used to listen to a lot of it and some of that music I think...when you listen to it, you can actually hear a lot of the Metal influences in a lot of Billy Joel stuff, because it talks about life. That’s essentially what Metal is all about. We’re not “Kill your mother. Kill your father” type stuff, you know. It comes from the heart.
Jaime: I would say Rust in Peace (Megadeth). I think it’s the best Metal album. It’s awesome. That’s the album I would keep.
Agrippa: It’s definitely the best Megadeth album.
Paul: I have to say that I’m extremely fortunate, because the one album I would keep would be Awaken the Guardian by Fates Warning. At my last two shows I had John Arch (former Fates Warning vocalist), at my last show, and Steve Zimmerman (former Fates Warning drummer) here tonight.
Agrippa: Here’s another scenario. You get to pick one band that you get to open up for. Who would it be?
Martin: For me? Probably Iron Maiden. I’ve opened for Bruce Dickinson before at Toad’s Place in New Haven, when I played with Beyond Reality and it was great, because I got meet him. He was my idol growing up. To play with the actual full band...that would be just a dream come true. That would be amazing to say “We opened for Maiden”. For me, that’s it. That’s huge.
Jaime: Open for Maiden. In a second. My idol is Steve Harris, so...I’d love to meet Maiden. That would be it. They play in front of 300,000 people. Who wouldn’t want to do that.
Paul: You know it’s gonna be a fucking hard one again, but if I could open up for anybody, I’d have to take someone out of the dirt. I’d have to take Randy Rhoads back with Ozzy. To get a chance to play in front of them and maybe sit back and learn something from them. Or Black Sabbath. You know what? Toni Iommi is a pretty bad mother fucker.
Agrippa: Within a band there’s a lot of different personalities; from band to band and from person to person. Who’s the jokester in the band?
Jaime: I guess me. A little bit morbid sometimes, too.
Agrippa: How about the serious guy?
Martin: Yeah, probably me. I’m on the business end of things, because I understand how the industry works. I’ve been in it so long. I’m looking at that all the time, so when it comes to shows I try to make sure that everything is where it’s supposed to be, when it’s supposed to be. After the shows, what happens and all that kind of stuff. Making sure that everything is in line with what everyone is expecting. So, probably me.
Agrippa: Before a show, some people get nervous. Do you guys get nervous, and if you do, how do you deal with that?
Paul: I get nervous all the time. Until the minute I get up there and start play, my stomach...I was up at 5 o’clock this morning practicing. That’s what I do. I get behind my instrument and try to tell myself...My old singer said something to me the first time...I hadn’t been on a stage in like thirteen years...He says to me, “Take a look at this audience. There’s not a better guitar player here than you. Just go out and be you.” For whatever reason it’s fucking stuck with me. That’s what goes to my head, you know?
Martin: I can honestly say that I’ve never gotten nervous getting on the stage, ever in my entire life. I guess I’m very laid back as it is as a person, so I’m a different person when I’m on stage. I suppose I just jump into that persona and for some reason, I can’t explain, I just don’t get nervous. I’m a performer and musicians should be. When you meet me out in the street I’m a completely different person than what I am on stage. I like to perform and make people happy. I’ve never gotten nervous.
Jaime: Honestly, right now...back in the early times I was more nervous playing out, but I just love it. RIght now I don’t feel nervous. I just go out there and play. I try not to think about, you know, other musicians being out there. I mean, if they’re out there that’s fine. It’s great. I love it. I just try to do what we do. Maybe the first show I got a little bit nervous. I was a little tense, but after that I’m good to go.
Agrippa: What’s your favorite Graven Image song to play?
Martin: For me it’s probably either Atheist or Demon, because they’re just really heavy songs with a lot of energy. I like playing the lighter stuff too, but the reaction from the audience when you play the heavier stuff and you really put it out there...It’s a good satisfaction to have people say, “Wow. What a great song.” For me, I put a lot energy into it as well. It feels good to me. I love to sing that kind of stuff, because I can really experiment with my voice. Those are probably the two for me.
Jaime: Demons. It’s our last song of the set. It’s the second song we ever wrote together. I just feel that it’s got a lot of energy, it’s fast, it’s slow. It’s got everything we want being in a band. It’s a good song. It’s got some good lyrics. I think that’s probably the song that I would pick.
Paul: You know, it’s a toss up: World of Decay or 1600. 1600 is a real favorite of mine, because it really fucking moves. There’s a breakdown. There’s a real message in that song too about the bullshit that’s going on in the White House right now. I like that...and I alway notice the reaction to that. The people go fucking nuts for that song, so that’s probably my favorite.
Agrippa: Now this might be a different song for you, but what do you think is the definitive Graven Image song; The one that, if you’re introducing someone new to the band, you would give them the song saying “This is us.”?
Martin: I would give them Twisted and Broken, because it has a hook for the chorus. It starts off slow, it goes into a rocking beat, then it has a hooky chorus, and then it ends again with a slower melody. There’s a lot of diversity in it. Either that one, or Atheist, because there’s so many changes.
Jaime: It’s hard to say. The definitive song, I would say is, lyrically would be 1600. I like political songs. I like writing about government and things like that. I would say 1600, honestly. That’s the direction I would like to go in the writing-wise. Demons is another. I just like the riff from Demons. I call Paul the riff master. He’s my Toni Iommi, like I’ve always said. That comes up with the riffs and we just run with it. I’d say both of those.
Paul: I’m gonna a little deep on you for this. The definitive Graven Image song for me is probably Twisted and Broken, because there’s a little bit of the story of my life. I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been sober for twelve years. Before that I spent about twelve years in a prison cell. That’ why I haven’t been out here doing it. When I wrote that song, it was a transformation from what I went through to where I am now. That was the first real song I wrote with Graven Image. We’ve redone it here. It means a lot to me, that song.
Martin: I took the lyrics that were initially there on the song, when I first got a copy of it from these guys...I probably listened to it like fifty times, because I saw a lot of potential in this song, but it was very limited in the amount of lyrics that were written there. What I did was took what Paul had written lyric-wise and I basically put myself in his position, and re-wrote the rest of the song the whole way through to kind of highlight the story of what he was telling me in the first part. That’s how that came about.
Jaime: Twisted and Broken, I believe that before we joined was an incomplete song. No disrespect to Paul. When we first heard it, is was the beginning and the end of a song that needed the middle. We added that to it.
Paul: I think Graven Image was an incomplete band before that point. What these guys have brought to the table, as far as writing and what we’re coming up with now, it’s fucking complete. I mean I was doing all the writing before and now I’m bringing stuff to these guys. They’re adding parts and changing stuff. It’s a whole different band. I’m bringing these dudes some bones and they’re putting all the meat on it.
Martin: Paul will come up with something...when we first came together as a band, there were a lot of songs that had a lot of potential. I dragged a lot of stuff out of these guys saying, “Try this. Try this. Try that. Try it this way.” Basically what happened is like what you saw tonight; A culmination of pulling stuff out of people and basically saying, “Try it a different way.” I guess when you get a different set of ears on something, obviously you’re going to hear it differently, but to be able to suggest it to someone and have them actually understand what you’re saying...that’s what you get, basically, with our music.
Paul: And I would even add this bit: Jaime does more than he gives himself credit for. He says, “I want to write more.”, but you know really, I bring something new and he’s like, “Let’s do this and that.” He gets these changes and parts that completely makes the song right. It’s definitely a whole thing. We’re all putting the pieces together. It’s been a cool ride, man. A real cool ride.
Agrippa: What was your worst gig nightmare? Do you have any stories?
Martin: I had an incident years ago...it wasn’t me, but it was my guitarist...we were on a makeshift stage and he walked back and disappeared. He had fallen off the stage. That was a nightmare for me, because...luckily we had another guitarist that was still playing, but we couldn’t find the other guy, because he had fallen off. I think the worst thing for me would be when you go out on a stage somewhere big, where people are expecting to hear a good sound and they don’t hear what they’re expecting to hear. That comes down to the sound guy. Maybe they’ll hear too much drums, too much bass, no vocals, and no guitar. For me, that’s a nightmare because when you’re on stage you can basically hear everything, but you’re not necessarily hearing what the audience is hearing. The audience not hearing what it is that you’re playing, that’s a nightmare for me.
Agrippa: And for someone who doesn’t know any better, they’re going to blame the band, not the the sound guy.
Martin: Correct. Exactly, and that’s always a bad thing.
Jaime: It’s happened to me, and it was the very first time I ever played in a band in front of people. I broke a string. A bass guitarist doesn’t ever break a string and should never break a string. Four songs into the set, we’re rocking out...I only had one bass at the time...My E string breaks and that’s the worst one to break. We had to stop the song in the middle of the set and borrow a bass guitar from the other band and tried to play the whole rest of the set with that. That was my worst, but now I’m lucky I have more guitars, so if I had to fall back on that and it happened, I could easily grab one. Yeah, that’s the worst thing that ever happened.
Paul: I’d say the worst for me was our debut show with the last version of the band at Daniel Street. We had created this monster buzz with the original Graven Image. On a Wednesday night, we probably had a hundred some odd heads in this place. It was packed. We were halfway through the set and our old singer, Brian, took a step back and unplugged my guitar and hit me with an elbow on the side of the head. Fucked up half the song. I hadn’t been on the stage in thirteen years, so I was really....Our drummer just showed up. We’re doing an interview for Metal Cyndicate. Why don’t you jump in?
Phil: How are you doing?
Agrippa: Good. How are you?
Phil: Doing good. I just busted my ass loading up my truck. Here with my brother and we played our asses off tonight. I love it.
Agrippa: What are your short term and long term plans?
Paul: Just to write and play the shows. These guys are going to do some acoustic things too, which is going to be real positive. You ain’t seen nothing yet. We’re writing and it’s all different. We’re bringing back the old school flavor on it.
Agrippa: Any advice for young and upcoming bands?
Jaime: Follow your dreams, man.
Paul: One thing I’ll say for sure. The one thing that goes on a lot that I don’t like is there’s a lot of people like “You’ve got to be fucking Death Metal or you ain’t cool.” Fuck that. Play what’s in your fucking heart. There’s a fucking audience for it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you got to be one thing or the other. We play what we want to play.
About the author
Agrippa is a the general adviser, internet tech sorcerer, and a reporter for the Metal Cyndicate of Connecticut, as well as the author of his own blog about music and music production,Agrippa: Thought Manifest. He can also be found fronting his own band, Agrippa93, on vocals, synths, sequencers, samples, and piano. Agrippa also has an industrial solo project called, Agrippa’s Laboratory. Both projects are produced through his label and studio, Sickle Pation. You can follow him on twitter via @agrippa93, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.