EARTHEN GRAVE "Grave New World"

By The Great Sun Jester

When I spoke to Ron Holzner of Earthen Grave, it was a momentous moment for me. Hearing Trouble's "At The End Of My Daze" for the first time on MTV's Headbangers Ball in the early 1990's spurred me to scour every music store looking for the band's albums. His fat bass lines percolated beneath the gigantic riffing and made every tune stronger.

 When I first heard about Earthen Grave and Ron's involvement, I felt utter faith that the debut album would hit all the marks I expect. I believed that Rachel Barton Pine's contributions signaled an ambition to the routine template up a little. After listening to the album for the first time and confirming all of these suspicions, I expected my interview with Ron to be informative, articulate, and interesting. I wasn't disappointed at all and hope you, reader, will feel the same.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Ron, I represent Wormwood Chronicles and I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
RON HOLZNER: No problem at all, man, it's what I'm here for.

WC: I wanted to start off by asking how the band's recent live shows have been going.
Rh: We're evolving and getting better as a band. It happens over time, you know. I mean, we're still getting little new nuances with the new drummer. It's like, parts that we struggled through before, we're playing them now and saying, hey, that went smooth. It's just repetition. You play it enough times, it gets in your brain, you know what you're doing. You don't stare at the guitar anymore instead of looking at the fans. We're getting to be a damn good live band and it feels good that people are telling us the same thing.
WC: I really admire how the band is able to straddle the different worlds of traditional, Sabbath-esque grinding riffs with a modern edge. That has a lot of appeal for me. I mean, I'm thirty-eight years old. I grew up with bands like Trouble and, even further back, Sabbath and so on. It's wonderful.
RH: Well, thank you, it's wonderful for us. All of those influences are part of what we do. During those years I played with Trouble, it was always, hey, we've got to write Trouble songs, but with Earthen Grave, everything's fresh. It's like, let's jam, come up with some riffs, and see what happens. It's still fairly new and all of our influences just come out. We're creating something really special and adding a violin just takes it off in all kinds of crazy directions. We're exploring new territories and loving every minute of it.

WC: Rachel's violin is a wonderful addition to the music and, frankly, adds a dimension that most bands working today don't have. You can bang out riffs all day long but in the end, you need something that distinguishes you.
RH: We can't get lazy, we've got one of the best classical musicians in the world. Rachel's out there jamming. She's (laughs)... we had to step up our playing. It's too bad, but we're kind of two bands because she doesn't get to play with us a lot. We're kind of a heavy, bluesy thrash band, but when Rachel comes and plays with us, it's a little more structured, not as loose. We're starting to do bigger shows as a band so, you know, it's got to be a little tighter.
WC: I want to go off in a more personal direction for a moment. I've been reading a lot of interviews you've done leading up to this and it's been twenty-seven years since you first joined Trouble, but in every one of those interviews I read, your passion for music seems undimmed. After all of the ups and downs, is that still part of what keeps you out there?
RH: When I left Trouble, there was a lot of shit going on. When you tour, you miss a lot of work things, a lot of family functions, you miss your family. Everybody gets older and you don't realize it, then all of the sudden, they're gone or sick, and it's hard, you know? It makes you realize you need to put the brakes on every once in a while. Music, sometimes you have to put it aside so you can come back later and love it again. You don't want it to become a job or try to take advantage of the gift that God, or whatever, gave you and forget about why you do it. I was going to retire. I wanted to do a few more things, like get my buddy Dave Chandler out of retirement, when I met Jason Muxlow. He wanted to get together a little doom band to play this little metal club in Chicago, but when he sat down and started playing me these riffs, (laughs) I said let me produce and arrange these songs and we're going to be playing places a lot bigger than that. The guy rejuvenated me, he's just a riff machine. We have such an eclectic bunch of guys and everything's came together without feeling forced.
WC: I agree. The album sounds very natural and organic. It's a rarity nowadays.
RH: Thanks, man. We've got cds upon cds of riffs ready for the next one.
WC: Are the wheels in motion for the second album?
RH: Oh yeah, definitely, we're going to do a couple more albums, at least. We're not going to have any problem with that. I want to make sure the songs are good, you know, we've set a standard for ourselves/ We've got to stick to our guns and keep doing what we've been doing without cheesing it up.
WC: That's great. I can understand why a band today might bow to that kind of pressure. Records aren't selling like they used to, touring isn't always the easiest business in the world, so lesser bands might feel that need to pander.
RH: There's pressure all around us and, yeah, a lot of people cave in. If that's the case, sometimes it's better to not even do another record. But we've got a few songs done, all those riffs recorded, so I think we've got a few good records in us. We want to challenge ourselves to make a better record. (laughs) Believe me, it's not going to be a hour and a half long like this time with the bonus tracks.

WC: I have some questions about those bonus tracks. First, my suspicion is that you see performing songs like Trouble's "At The End Of My Daze" as just part of your personal history and you're happy to do the song, but I was wondering if there are any kind of mixed feelings bringing songs like that into the set?

RH: Nah, because you're right, it is part of my history. I've seen enough bands over the years and a lot of times they'll use the name, like this is this guy from this band, but not play anything in their set and people get pissed. Trouble songs are kind of difficult to play, but Rachel said she'd learn both lead parts. (laughs) We said what do you mean you're going to learn both parts, but she did the harmony guitar part on the violin We started doing it and there's a big show in downtown Chicago where they gave her an award for being one of Illinois' great performers, so I asked Bruce (Franklin) if he wanted to come down and jam with us. I thought it'd be fun. They worked out the solos and it was great. I still talk to Bruce, you know, I talk to Oly (Jeff Olson), me and Eric (Wagner) are in The Skull, everything's good. We're a family. When you go through so much with people, it's all good. The recording on the reissue turned out good, we're happy as hell about it.
WC: I've heard a lot of Rainbow covers in my life, but the other bonus track, "Stargazer", isn't one people usually tackle. Who's idea was that?
RH: (laughs) That was me. I like long, epic tunes, longer jam songs, and that's always been one of my favorites. I thought of the keyboard part and thought I'd like to hear that with violin. We got Rachel to give it a try and it really worked out. It became something big, better, and special, better than I would have even imagined.
WC: I can't imagine it's an easy song to cover, but it's an exceptional version.
RH: It isn't that easy and Rachel's doing a lot of special things in there like playing Blackmore's lead and the keyboard parts. We do it a little more metal.
WC: Mark (Weiner) does a fantastic job with the vocals.
RH: Once in a while, when you get the chance to pay homage to someone, especially right after Dio died, Mark just nailed it. We've got a video of that performance we'll be releasing and, I'll tell you, it really captures a moment when Mark knocked it out of the park. I'm glad he's in my band.
WC: I've been nothing but impressed with him. He's really good. There's a real bluesy touch to his vocals that I like a lot. I read an interview where you said you really liked singers who could actually sing as opposed to the growlers.
RH:  I grew up with David Byron from Uriah Heep, Bon Scott, Robert Plant, real singers, you know? Progressive rock singers too, you know, like Jon Anderson and Peter Gabriel. I like singers who have a story to tell so you have to listen to what they're saying, not just barking into or puking on the mike, whatever the fuck they do. (laughs)

WC: You're an authority on this for me because, as far as I'm concerned, you had one of the best front men of all time in front of you for a lot of years with Eric.
RH: I'm really glad you said that. He's sounding really good, singing really well.

WC: What's the status of The Skull right now?
RH: We've got a bunch of shows lined up, but it's hectic. I'm busy with Earthen Grave, Eric's just finished the Blackfinger record, but I'm putting together a West Coast run and we'll be playing a couple of festivals in October. We going to do some recording too.
WC: An album is looming on the horizon?
RH: Absolutely!
WC: I'm looking forward to that, for sure. I'll wrap this up with one last question. Is there any new music you've been listening to a lot lately?
RH: (laughs) No, not really, I don't listen to a lot of new music. If I'm in the car, it's usually sports radio. (laughs) As far as music goes, it's a lot of my old favorites, like we've mentioned, Judas Priest, so on.
WC: I want to thank you, Ron, for taking the time to talk with me today.
RH: No problem at all, man, it's what I'm here for.