By Scott Wolfe
The gents in Grand Master have been on the Winnipeg metal scene for quite some time. Their new full length, The Dream Alive, shows some impressive songwriting, taking the listener on a musical journey through the band’s influences and then some. Stylus sat down with vocalist/bassist Alec Schaefer and guitarist Shane Barron at the Yellow Dog to catch up and discuss the new album and summer plans.
Stylus: First off the band name, Grand Master, is pretty awesome. How did it originate? Seems like something out of a kung fu movie, but what made that name stick?
Alec Schaefer: The name is completely unassuming and is just a sort of placeholder. When we agreed on the name we were not really applying anything.
Shane Barron: We used it for our first show and then it just stuck. Another Winnipeg band actually has the same name but we could not find any information so maybe there will be a lawsuit one day. People usually react in two different ways to the name, either “That’s awesome,” or “What the fuck?”
AS: [laughs] Yeah, I bought a book that apparently consisted of every metal band’s name and there was no Grand Master to be found. There was Grandmother Vomit, but no Grand Master.
Stylus: You recently got back from a tour going out west. How was it?
SB: It was good but short. We only played like six to seven shows, including Brandon, Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon. Brandon is always pretty rowdy and fun to play but we got to play with some bigger bands in Saskatoon (Ultimate Demise and Mayors), which led to a good turnout.
Stylus: Let’s talk about the new album. How was the writing process? What were some influences?
AS: The album was written over the past three or four years and the songs are both old and newer; nothing was necessarily prepared specifically for the album. Some influences for us are Dream Theater, Rush and Iron Maiden, but we actively try to incorporate all influences and styles into our music, which is why writing some songs takes ages. A new song we recently finished, called “Envy,” which is not on the album, was fun to play live.
SB: We all have similar tastes and that is pretty incredible considering metal is not as popular as other genres. Like Alec said, we like to incorporate many different styles into our music. Like in one of our new songs we have a 12 bar blues section, which would be pretty hard to find in any metal song I think.
Stylus: You have an acoustic set coming up at Pop Soda’s café. Are you nervous or excited? Have you done anything like that before?
SB: The show is on June 1st, and we have other material that is acoustic; it’s not different rearrangements of our songs, but completely different material. It’s not so much metal but it’s written by metalheads, and we have done these sets before. I am looking forward to getting some of our music out to some folks that may not necessarily otherwise hear it.
AS: All our instruments are the same except Shane has an acoustic, but we just turn it down a little. Our drummer’s kit is still a spaceship though, regardless of the kind of show we play it’s not totally stripped down. We usually don’t mix the two styles in a single set but we have the versatility to play both styles.
SB: In Saskatoon once we just set up our stuff in a mall and played an acoustic set, aside from some pretty weird looks things went well.
Stylus: How would you describe your sound? I find that some metal genres take it a little too far with the genre thing (speed metal with dub influences?).
AS: We are a progressive metal band that listens to and is influenced by progressive rock.
SB: By being a progressive metal band we are not pigeonholing ourselves and can get away with a lot more in our music. We can have sections of black metal and 12 bar blues in the same song for instance.
Stylus: What can we expect from Grand Master over the summer?
SB: We are playing shows around the Winnipeg area all summer at different venues so we can cater to different crowds. We are playing Brandon on July 14th…
AS: We also play a show at Shannon’s on June 21st for our drummer’s birthday. But other than that we will be doing a lot of writing over the coming months as well, so our live shows will definitely incorporate some new material.
Catch Grand Master live throughout the city for either some acoustic doodling or a rocking plugged in set. Their new album is available at Music Trader, Into the Music and The Folk Fest Store. Check out their Myspace at myspace.com/grandmasterband. Also, the band is also looking for a keyboard player!