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Modern Day Psychedelics
Oakland’s Gris Gris brings the past to the present
by Christopher Mulally

Anyone who has written a rock and roll song knows the minute you stop scraping your knees praying for something perfect to come out, it just hits you like a rock against the face. After all, it’s the stuff that was recorded in old basements, along the sides of airplane runways or in stained bathrooms that really lives—the stuff without effort to make it smell nice.

A recent example of that fearlessness is the album
For the Season, by Gris Gris, a band spearheaded by Oakland musician Greg Ashley. “I think it just sounds the way we sound.” He said before the band’s show in Seattle with The Warlocks. “I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it, but I guess it just kind of happens. There's not a whole lot of polishing on my 8-track machine.” Even the vocals, which sometimes take up to 40 takes for some bands, were done like a snap of the fingers. “Well actually, I never usually do more than one take with the vocals,” said Ashley. “I'm just like, ‘fuck it.’”

Ashley, who played sitting down at the show with his guitar like he has for the past couple years, actually dragged his bandmates down to his Texas homeland to record the album in three months. It is there that the band melded psychedelia amongst wooded acres, horses and a lake.

What came about was an album that has a lot of ‘60s and ‘70s influence, sort of like if The Velvet Underground had progressed for a few years and experimented with some different musical styles. It actually shows the process behind the songs. Many songs have beat mishaps, sour notes and sometimes lose steam. But all are hushed, dreamlike, bedroom melodies. In Voodoo, gris-gris are talismans that are kept for good luck or to ward off evil. They are small cloth bags that contain herbs, oils, stones, small bones, hair and nails. Although you won’t see a gris-gris hanging around Ashley’s neck, you can get a sense of that mysterious beyond listening to his tunes.

Besides Ashley, Gris Gris is Oscar Michel on bass and clarinet, Lars Kullberg on keyboard and Joe Haener on drums. They were formed in 2003 after Ashley left his childhood band The Mirrors in Houston, TX to join the crew in Oakland. Before Gris Gris’s debut, Ashley put out an innocently titled album,
Medicine Fuck Dream, a collection of songs pretty much about 10 girls, starting with Karen Loves Candy and ending with Lisa Lisa.

Gris Gris’ live shows are something worth seeing. Ashley isn’t afraid to interact with the audience. A lot of his songs bring you back to the Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane era, where the audience can actually be heard singing the choruses. At times, poetic, and at other times screaming with all his might, Ashley often resembles an angry Dylan on stage.

You can find out more about Gris Gris by going to their website,
www.birdmanrecords.com/grisgris.