GRAVE NEXT DOOR "Heavy As Tombstones"

By Lord Randall

The members of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s GRAVE NEXT DOOR have been plying their grisly trade for a few years now and have finally opened up their coffin-shop to the public in the form of “Sanctified Heathen”, to be released on Black Doomba Records soon. Lord Randall sat amongst the tombs with guitarist brothers Patrick and Tony Salerno and bassist/vocalist Travis Soleski to find out more…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: When did you first begin to realize that three dudes from Western Michigan playing doomed-out rock was an actual band? Was there a battle plan in mind when the three of you came together (obviously the brothers, yeah), and had you been in bands prior?

PATRICK SALERNO: We started hitting the open mic night circuit as a two piece. I reached out to Travis and he flew out from Cali where he was living. We practiced for a day and a half, and in a two day period played six open mic nights, driving around in an Audi-4 in a blizzard all over West Michigan. I was in punk and hardcore bands in high school and did hip-hop in the early nineties for bit. Tony always tried to start bands, but it never worked out. He was in a praise and worship band at church, but they kicked him out for smoking, and using distortion on his guitar, but I guess Jesus still loves him [Laughter]. Travis has the most musical experience out of all of us; he's been in wedding bands, mariachi bands, holiday bands and garage bands, as a drummer and a guitarist.

WC: The band name story is normally something I could care less about, but GRAVE NEXT DOOR seems interesting. Enlighten us?

ANTHONY SALERNO: Our first name was inspired by our favorite movie “The Warriors”. Our name was Cleon's War Chief, but when we were playing our first couple of shows they were confusing our name and announcing us as "Klingon's War Chief", so that didn't work. Being SABBATH fans we came up with a lot of names involving “Black” but none seem to hit. We wanted a name that was going to fit, while psychologically stuck in the brain. While thinking of names standing on our porch looking into the graveyard I thought of the phrase "The girl next door" then I thought "The grave next door". I thought it was perfect because it was right in front of me the whole time.

WC: When I was around 11-12, we lived next to a country church with a graveyard, and across from a huge cornfield. Being a huge Stephen King fan at the time (in some ways, still am), that was a dark paradise. Do you feel that, for yourselves, that closeness to death, peace of a graveyard maybe colored your musical outlook as well?

TRAVIS SOLESKI: Yes, there's always a closeness to death with each inhale and exhale of breath with take and exchange with others. It's felt and purposeful. The closeness of any cemetery/graveyard is that we bury those once "loved" ones far away in a new unfamiliar dark place thinking that it's a place to rest, when in reality it's really a place of nothing, yet everything is there taking up space. Closeness derives from the sorrow of the inner soul knowing that there's no more pain…. Sorrow as well and that's really a form of pain.

WC: We’ve all heard of rivalries in bands with siblings, but that’s usually media-driven hype, and if you grew up playing music together – especially if your parents, older relatives played/sang – there’s a kind of connection. Not to say a telepathic link, but a closeness that most bands strive to achieve. Some never sound fully like a band, you know? Do you think that familial closeness is a factor whatsoever in what GND does, or when you’re on stage?

PS: Tony and I are 22 years apart, so we didn't even grow up in the house together or the same dynamic. I was a very early in life kid and Tony later in life. When I was growing up our parents were young hippies in the ‘70s I was encouraged, by the ‘90s they were conservative Christians, and our dad did not want Tony playing guitar. No sibling rivalry whatsoever when it comes to the music. Telepathy and connection, yes. Years before this band Tony and I always played music together; he on guitar and me on drums. He's the first guitarist I've ever played drums for, I'm originally a guitarist, so I can feel when he's going to change a riff, break into a solo or go into a bridge. It's like an unspoken language. It's a crutch too because I rely on that. We even record differently from most bands because of it. Most engineers want drums and bass first. We do drums and guitar first. On stage and in the jam room that connection is there. We need to hear each other and be locked in. It helps us create songs by jamming.

WC: There’s definitely a ‘70s vibe to ‘Thor’, a sort of LUCIFER’S FRIEND/early GRAND MAGUS riff. I dunno, man, the older I get, and I still appreciate new music, but coming across a gem from back in the ‘70s you’ve never heard before, taking it home and having it rocking your world. There’s something to it, right? That being said, you can’t just hope to be another “retro” act. There are already enough bands doing that, so what do you do to keep GND sounding fresh, like a blend of what’s come before and what’s coming after?

TS: The immediate short answer is we don't desire to be like anybody else. We just want to be ourselves and share our creativeness with the world. Yes, the song ‘Thor’ does have a 60's/70's vibe to it as it is a swing beat in a higher set tempo with a very "bluesy" flair. However, most songs from bands in the ‘80s to right now have either extracted something like that to make their music stand out or out rightly made it that way as if it teleported from a time machine. Yet a deconstruction and the construction of our own pieces of music is where the magic happens. So indeed, there's a definite blend especially since there are three different minds bringing something invariably different and special to each piece of music. It will always sound fresh. We have a profound appreciation for the past and an open mind with and for our futures.

WC: Most of my Michigan experience is from Detroit, the Eastern side, but I know a few dudes from like, Luddington, Montague, and they’re some crazy mofos. Is there much of a music scene to speak of in Grand Rapids?

PS: Grand Rapids has a very diverse super talented music scene. Western Michigan is known as the "Protestant Papacy" throw a stone and it bounces off of five churches before it hits the ground. The Calvinists and Dutch founded this place. You have a lot of people growing up in a praise and worship environment where they all learn how to sing and play the guitar really well. The talent pool here is very deep, it's really a hidden reserve of bands like RIP VAN RIPPER, SLUMLORD RADIO, SOJII, GHOSTS OF MOTO and many others. Is G.R. known for one genre? Absolutely not, but Folk Punk is very strong here.

WC: Black metal, death metal, so on and so forth seem to be – a lot of times – definable by a sound of their geographic location. You know, Chilean black metal, Norwegian black metal, Swedish death (Gothenburg or Stockholm), and New York Death Metal, etc. Aside from a few outliers, though, doom is just DOOM, writ large, and doesn’t really focus on where the band is from as much as is it Real? Does it hit hard? Does it make you feel a soul connection, you could almost say? Of course CANDLEMASS sounds nothing like TROUBLE who sounds nothing like WORM, but there’s a thread of sorts running through, would you agree?

PS: I agree doom doesn't reflect a geographical location, but more a vein of darkness and despair. It helps when where you grew up and live is the overcast, dark, industrial, rust belt of Flint, Michigan and oil refinery sprawl of Linden, Michigan and Elizabeth, New Jersey with its world renowned stench. It’s easy to understand and portray despair. Tony grew on the beaches of St. Augustine, FL and Travis in C, so again geography does not define doom.

WC: Could you go a bit into the lyrical inspiration behind ‘Witch Head’ and ‘Sand In The Blood’?

TS: ‘Witch Head’ is about an ex-girlfriend, chopping her head off, not literally not metaphorically ending the relationship. It's about breaking the curse of love that I was under. The song's chorus "the rabbit never sees the stairs" refers to my old nickname on a construction job. They called me the rabbit because I was quick on my feet. The stairs represent success and I never saw those stairs because she (the ex) kept holding me back. In the last chorus "the rabbit finally sees the stairs", it's about seeing opportunities and success because I was freed from the curse.

‘Sand In The Blood’, first song we wrote, was inspired by a Saudi Arabian television docudrama “Black Crows”, and its original title was ‘Gharabeeb Soud’, which depicted women and men who were tricked or forced into joining the Islamic State, it depicts the hardships and realities of life under ISIS and the power struggle within. The show was made to combat recruitment into ISIS and act as a warning. The song depicts a final battle when the people are rescued. We binge watched this show for a week. To us it also addresses the PTSD of combat.

WC: Was the album done old-school, live or were you kinda stuck where you were due to restrictions?

TS: We did the album twice. The First time we all got COVID-19, and we used a click track that didn't take into account the ebb and flow of the rhythm and our tempo changes. My brother Patrick has only played drums with me, so he bends the time a lot to match my guitar, he's locked into the riff and the click did not account for that. It sounded robotic and took the feel out of the groove. There was way too much multilayering; it sounded too polished and overproduced. At our do-over the producers sat us down and said we are a live band, and that how they were going to record us, they said we would use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) and make it very raw, saying that it would be so raw that some may hate it but some will love it! Then Ritchie Dekker said "boys, we’re going back to the ‘70s early / ‘80s with this one."

WC: Plans for the coming year? Tours seem to be a thing now, again, at least to a degree.

TS: You are correct, tours are it, as they are a big deal to us. Playing live is not only fun, it's also very inspiring as well. The mind is the creative process and it's always extracting from the life that is or was to make "art." Creating and writing songs are also happening as well, finding things in life to be inspired by and finding different ways to create said music. Lyrics for the songs are a shared effort. Also coming up with new or different designs for shirts, art for future posters or future albums. Practice, practice, practice is a big deal to us as much as creating new songs. Without practice there's no smooth transition of our "art" being communicated live to the world.