Grave Babies' Danny Wahlfeldt

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Grave Babies

Grave Babies’ sophomore album, out in late February, follows their earlier work of matching catchy riffs with thick instrumentals and blank generation vocals to make loud and unsettling sounds that wear down into sometimes darkly soothing melodies. On the literal eve of Grave Babies’ Crusher release, we chatted with the band founder Danny Wahlfeldt about the feeling of an impending album drop, slapping the bass, and N*SYNC vs. BSB.

Your record is about to drop, how does it feel?

[Laughs] It feels kind of weird! We had two release shows over the weekend in Portland and Seattle, and they went really well. The Portland show was cool, it was in a record store bar, and there were people there we knew – people who had come to our shows in the past. And Seattle was a lot of friends too. The bands were all great. You know, I put them both together, so they were great. [Laughs] It was a lot of fun!

I can’t believe Crusher is coming out now, I mean, I feel like I’ve had it done for so long. We decided on a release date in October, so it just seems like a really long time ago, and we’ve been on the road all the time since then, which has been cool. But it was still weird to have it take so much longer still. [Laughs] It was done sometime last year.

Have you been playing your new songs live, or did you feel like you had to save them until after the release?

A few songs we’ve been playing for the past couple years, and then we worked a few more into the sets when I was finishing the record. But we’ll be adding more for some new shows after the record comes out.

I hear your live shows are pretty amazing, can you describe them to a newbie like me?

Well, there’s a lot of bass. Originally, we had a bass player, but he couldn’t come tour with us, so we decided not to worry about it and just see if we can do it with the three of us. So the keyboard player plays a lot of the bass, which adds a different kind of bass to the music. It’s not really like a bass guitar where it kind of drives and chugs along. It just fills up the space with loud noise. My guitar with it makes it really loud in terms of instrumental. And we have a drummer – he plays along with the drum machine.

Is Crusher different than your last releases?

I wouldn’t say it’s different, necessarily, it’s still hanging out in the same place, but I think it’s been perfected and I’ve been able to get more experimental. Not “experimental,” but I’ve been able to hone in on sounds and how the recordings worked, and I put a little more structure around the actual songwriting. I kind of figured out a sound and everything else to move forward and focus more on the details…it makes me feel good that I can imagine those more. I want to keep working on structure, that’s the thing that it still needs. Like, I don’t want it to be to repetitive, but it needs to be kind of repetitive. [Laughs]

The structure of the songwriting, does that include your approach to the spoken word breakdowns between songs?

The first album had a lot of broken down parts with talking and stuff, and I feel like it added an experience to the record, which is kind of the point. I wanted to do something similar for the new record too, but not stay the same. There’s also weird, swelling synths that sound like they would be background for Transformers – that was a friend of mine, he has a project called Night Worship, and he made them all with an algorithm synth thing on his laptop. He plugged in code and it would control the synth. It was really weird. I heard him playing shows and I was like, “Jesus dude, just record, like, ten minutes of that and let me have it.” [Laughs] That was the pitch, and I worked it into the record.

As someone who records alone, do you like having something like that – a sample, something that’s out of your control – to play with?

Yeah, I think you can use any elements for anything if you do it in such a way that makes it for your purpose. I find that kind of easy – to re-purpose things. Even if it’s something that’s not yours, it becomes yours by how it’s used.

So tell me: how’d the band get together?

Tyler, who plays the keyboard, lived down the hall from me in the first house I lived in when I moved to Seattle. We just started talking about music…he was from Florida, and was into all this…it wasn’t quite pop-punk – I don’t know if pop-punk was popular in Florida – but it was something like that. He was a college kid in the 2000s, so I think that just happens that way. And I was playing, writing and recording, making my own music already. So we just hung out and became friends, both having moved here around the same time.

Keith, who’s our drummer – we would see him out at shows. He was in a band that played this weird electronic kind of stuff. They were super loud and had a drum machine. And when Tyler and I first started the band, we took the bus to shows. We didn’t have a car or anything, so we were on the bus with suitcases and amps and things would get broken…and it just sucked a lot to take a bus to these awful shows where we didn’t know who we were playing with or anything. Keith offered to play drums because he knew we were looking to do something like that, since we were a drum machine band and he knows it just kind of works out well if you add a drummer to a drum machine band. So basically we were like, “Sure, yeah, you should play drums!” [Laughs] And he was great, and we were able to tour – he had a van – and we were really excited to just have a van, drive around.

So where does the drumming start and the drum machine end?

The recordings are always drum machine, and then live, there’s samples of those drum sounds on a sampler – I have a foot trigger that turns it on and off – and Keith plays along with the drum machine. So it’s kind of programmed into the set. I’ll flip it and he’ll start, and he just plays along for the most part. He and the drum machine are almost fulfilling the same role.

Do you always record alone, or do you bring Keith and Tyler in?

I always record alone, lock myself in the basement for four or five hours and make a song. I’ve got everything there – it usually just comes from sitting around, something will just happen.

What’s your basement like?

My girlfriend called it scary last night – she was doing laundry and got freaked out. There’s definitely a bunch of rats down there and mice I haven’t seen, but they poop all over the place. My girlfriend’s dog was about to go after one once, but we couldn’t really see it, it was just kind of creeping around. It’s a dark basement, but there’s this little stair up to a different section where everything’s all cleared out and there’s blankets everywhere to deaden the sound, and that’s where I have a pretty good little set up for recording.

Do you think being in a basement makes you play a certain kind of music?

It’s hard to say since that’s the only place I’ve ever made music. I’d have to try another place out. But I’ve made a lot of different kinds of music down there, not just the Grave Babies sound, so probably not.

So I hear you don’t dig the “gothic” descriptor, despite your dark band name and penchant for basements.

I just think it’s funny how people have to always label everything, and I’m kind of a control freak too, so I think, “Don’t say that…” I mean, I don’t really care, people can say anything and I can usually see what they mean. The first band that was called “goth” probably didn’t care, so I don’t care. [Laughs] I know people get mad about those kind of descriptors, but you can’t really take yourself that seriously or care that much about…anything, really.

For those who think of your music as dark, what is the happiest, most surprising music you listen to?

I learned a lot from 2000s boy band music, like N*SYNC and 98° and the Backstreet Boys. They introduced me to the idea of clearly over-the-top production and multi-part harmonies. It’s more like stage performance. You don’t have to be offended by the fact that they’re not a band – that’s not what they’re supposed to be. But I mean, you can learn a lot from everything. I learned a lot from the new Drake record, too.

Well you have to tell me if you’re a BSB or N*SYNC fan. You gotta pick a side in that one!

N*SYNC are way better than Backstreet Boys, that’s for sure.


Yeah! The Backstreet Boys, they suck. They didn’t even have any real hits or anything. N*SYNC were only hits, and they were more talented at what they were doing. I don’t know if they were writing songs or not – maybe they just bought the better songs. But they definitely did a better job in the talent department. What about you? Sounds like you’re in the Backstreet Boys camp.

Yeah, BSB taught me about love, man. I was thirteen at the time, and those boys had soul.

It was hard to tell them apart for a while.

It really was.

But that was a crazy age for music. I was listening to Mandy Moore recently, and I don’t know…there was all kinds of shit going on.

Yeah, back then there was this weird idea that making “modern” music involved some random sound effects, but most pop stars will still singing straight R&B above it all.

All the production was awful. All the rap, the Cash Money guys, and all that stuff. If you listen to it now, you’re like, “Holy shit, my Yamaha keyboard has better sound for cowbell than the cowbell they’re using,” but then it’s like, “Why are they even using cowbell?!” It’s just stupid. They shouldn’t even have been using the cowbell. I don’t know…a lot of weird shit was happening in the 2000s.

Turning back to now, how are you feeling about your music and where you are with it? Do you feel like you’re in a good place, or are you reaching for something more?

I don’t know what to do, really, at the moment. It took a lot of energy to get here, a lot more than I thought it would. I just kept thinking I was moving really far ahead, but it took so long to get it together, out, and done. It took a long time to get it to the point where the band could just kind of go. We got everything down, and we know what to do, so now we can do whatever we want to do. But that kind of leaves you in a place where you’re like…”What’s next? I don’t know.” In that world where you’re driving around in a van, at first there’s a lot of challenges, but now we sort of know how to drive around in a van, so where do we go from there? I don’t know. [Laughs]

I would like to go further, but I don’t know what that means. But I’m not too worried about it. I feel like there have been a lot of moments like that along the way – “what do we do now?”

And something always comes along?

Yeah, something comes along, an opportunity presents itself, or I don’t know. I’ve never had a band that’s done as much as this band does. We’re going to keep touring, doing a West Coast tour in mid-April, maybe East Coast, but we’ll have to see. And I’d like to do a European tour, that’s always been the dream. I’ve never been to Europe under any circumstances, and it be incredible to go as a band. I’d be down for a D.I.Y tour of Europe, if it worked out.