The Grip WeedsNamed for the fictional character “Musketeer Gripweed,” played by John Lennon in Richard Lester’s 1967, motion picture How I Won The WarThe Grip Weeds‘ retro-psychedelic pop lives and breathes their ’60s rock idols. Formed in 1988, in New Jersey by brothers Rick Reil (guitar) and Kurt Reil (drums), The Grip Weeds‘ lineup is completed by guitarist Kristin Pinell, and bassist Michael Kelly.

This critically-acclaimed quartet adds another format for distribution of their most successful album to date with the release of Strange Change Machine HD in 24 bit/96kHz digital audio. Available at the Online Store via digital download on April 16th, 2011, Strange Change Machine HD gives fans access to a true high fidelity listening experience for the very first time.

Please introduce yourself. What instruments and brands of instruments do you play?
KURT REIL: Lead vocals and drums. Voice is my own; drums are Ludwig and Slingerland – 60’s vintage preferred!

RICK REIL: I’m Rick Reil, I play guitar in the band (Fender Telecaster/Telesonic and Rickenbacker 12 string).  I also sing and write songs.

MK: Hey. I’m the Bass Player, the one that hides in the back but rules all things ‘bottom end’ if you know what I mean. I play 12, 5 and 4 String Basses, as well as the Upright Bass, aka: The Dog House. My Bass Brand of Choice is Waterstone Guitars which I am proud to be an officially sponsored artist. My main basses are the TP-12 String Bass and in 2011, Waterstone will release the Michael Kelly Signature Bass, based on the prototype I play now.

KRISTIN PINELL REIL: I’m lead guitarist and flute player for the band. My main instrument for live shows right is a 1967 Gibson SG through an amp head that Kurt and I hand built (it’s like an old 1968 Marshall plexi) paired with an Avatar cabinet with Celestion speakers. I have a huge arsenal of guitars and amps that I use for recording. The Grip Weeds love old guitars and amps.

Could you tell me a little history of how The Grip Weeds was formed?
KURT: My Brother Rick and I were both drummers but wanted to play together because we couldn’t find enough like-minded players. Rick switched to guitar first- we were both learning how to play it anyway- but I wound up singing and playing drums.  Finally found a direction and other musicians around Rutgers College in New Brunswick, and eventually The Grip Weeds formed. Getting Kristin in the band was a turning point- where we finally achieved our own sound. Seven bassists later and MK was the icing on the cake!

RICK: We originally formed the band to play interesting cover material that no one else was doing (b sides of The Byrds and The Hollies singles).  Then we started writing our own material.

KRISTIN: I was playing with a band called “The Rooks” in NYC when I met the Reil Brothers on the club scene and became a fan. They were looking to record some songs with a bigger, heavier guitar sound. We all had similar influences and musical ideas so I offered to help and ended up in the band. The album House of Vibes was the first release out of our home studio (of the same name) Five albums later on we’re still working there!

Where did the name “The Grip Weeds” come from?
KURT: Our hero John Lennon was in a film without the other Beatles in 1966 called How I Won The War. Didn’t like the movie much but loved the name of his character: Musketeer Gripweed. We thought it would make a good band name because it was unique- it didn’t have any connotation other than what we would give to it- our music would define it, unless you were a Beatles fans and were in on the reference- in which case you’d hopefully be into our music.

KRISTIN: The movie is pretty whacked. I’ve tried to watch it a handful of times and I can’t get through it even though it’s John Lennon!

MK: We all blaze before we practice — sooooo!

Let’s hear a little about your tastes not related to music — Could you name some of your favorite books or movies?
KURT: Just read a book called Making Time by Steve Taylor- it’s about why time seems to pass at different speeds and how to control it. Not sure if I really learned how to make time slow down, but at least I have some idea as to why it’s passing by so fast! Fave Movie: Changes often, but right now it’s 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

RICK: I like classic movies.  Lately I’ve been enjoying silent films and The Marx Brothers.  I read lots of books, a lot of metaphysical stuff, like Gurdjieff for instance.  Also biographies, recently Keith Richards’ Life.

MK: Favorite books; Woo, I read a few at a time. My favorites right now are the Malcolm Gladwell books: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. I’m also reading Freakonomics. As far as movies; with 3 kids under 6, it keeps me in the Animation Realm. I now prefer Noggin to Network News, go figure.

KRISTIN: One of my passions is spending time in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. We have a cabin up there. It’s full of mountains and lakes. I love to go hiking, canoeing and motorcycling.  I also love sci-fi and spy movies. I’m reading Neil Peart’s book Ghost Rider right now.

Who would be your dream band to perform with, anyone in the world?
RICK: Alive or dead?  Probably The Beatles, or maybe The Left Banke.

MK: Oh, that’s easy. I’m in it, Doh! Come on, really? GENESIS and then I’d love to Jam with Colin Hay.

KRISTIN: I could see myself on tour with Paul McCartney right now. His band really puts the boot in those Beatles’ songs.

Tell me a little bit about the songwriting process; Who is the songwriter and what inspires you to write music?
KURT: I write songs- about half of The Grip Weeds music was written by me.  Many things trigger the inspiration of a song- sometimes it’s hearing a song you like that spurs you to create something of your own, or it could be a melody that jumps into your head. Either way, it starts with an initial spark of creativity and then moves into more of a craft in order to finish it and make it something compelling.

RICK: My brother Kurt and I are the main songwriters in the band.  I’m inspired to write songs by being alive and the need to express myself.  The original idea for a song is sort of a spark that can come from anywhere at anytime.  After that a lot of crafting is involved to get to sound as good as it does in my imagination.

MK: I’ve been analyzing the music of The Beatles for years now, and geez there’s no mystery as to why a song works if you know how to look. That’s a constant inspiration. I try to write everyday. Waiting for inspiration, well, that’s what a novice does. You end up with 2 songs a year that way, and only after you fall in love or break up.

KRISTIN: I have a song on our most recent album called “Mistress Forest.” It’s very ethereal and loaded with melodic harmonies. It sounds a bit different from our usual stuff but having a double album allows you to stretch out a bit and try new things. I spend a lot of time working on the guitar arrangements and parts with whoever is working on  ideas in the band. I try to get into their head and understand what they might be hearing. I listen and work with the basic tracks improvising and working the piece to support the vocals and mood.

Out of all the songs you’ve written, are there melodies or lyrics of which you are particularly proud?The Grip Weeds
KURT: I’m really proud of many of the songs on the new album Strange Change Machine. I think my favorite is “Speed Of Life,” for both lyrics and melody. I’m also really happy with the title track- it came a long way from the initial inspiration to the finished recording.

RICK: “Nothings Ever Gonna Be The Same” from Strange Change Machine is one of the most emotionally open songs I’ve ever written.  I like “Before I Close My Eyes” and “Realize” from House Of Vibes and “Tomorrow” from The Sound Is In You.  I also like “Astral Man” because it’s an eastern inspired rocker.  “Don’t You Believe It” is my best overtly “garage” track.

Remembering back to your first time in front of a live audience, what comes to mind?
KURT: Total stage fright that locked up both my arms so that I couldn’t play at all!

RICK: A small club in New Brunswick, where people were eating dinner while we had a huge amount of gear in a tiny corner playing 4 sets of music.

MK: How HOT being on stage was. I mean barbeque hot. The lights, and I couldn’t see the audience. It was such a blur then, when we finished and that roar of the crowd happened. That was reason enough to do it again, and then pay attention to what I was actually playing.

KRISTIN: Some club in Hartford, Ct. with a lot of beer and bad stage fright.

What has been your biggest triumph as The Grip Weeds? The Grip Weeds’ greatest challenge?
KURT: Biggest triumph: getting out of the basement. Greatest challenge: How to get the band back into the basement to record the next album!

RICK: I don’t know if it’s the biggest triumph but playing The Cavern in Liverpool was the realization of some kind of dream.  The greatest challenge the band now faces would be to reach a larger world wide audience.

MK: For me Strange Change Machine represents both parts of the question with regards to triumph and challenges. The creation of music is a process unto itself.  The minute you put the guitar down and say “Ah, Look What I Made,” you’re out of Art and into Commerce. Your personal feelings about your work have to be put away in order to get your music heard by a wide audience, that takes an objective head. Having 4 individuals with 4 very different ways of thinking present constant challenges to stay on track, whatever that track happens to be.

The industry has also changed exponentially during the writing and creation of Strange Change Machine, so the initial concept of the album shifted due to the new considerations of the New Music Marketplace. Thus the double album concept, and the free download, which is not the way it started out. For me, just that the album exists in the form that it is and that the band is still together is a triumph and testament to the band itself.

KRISTIN: Triumph – Having the opportunity to work with great, focused musicians that I share a common goal and love of music with. Challenge – Surviving in the music business

If the whole world were listening, what would you play? And why?
KURT: I would have us play a set of our latest songs because they’re the best we’ve done so far!

RICK: What kind of attention span does “the world” have in this scenario? I’d like a chance to play our new record Strange Change Machine in its entirety.  This album really sums up what we are about and everything we’ve worked towards musically for many years.

MK: Geez –  that’s a hard one. I mean if we had a “LIVE AID” moment it would have to be 2 songs. One Fast, and one Slow. Off the top of my head those would be “Every Minute” and “Window,” two sides of The Grip Weeds that to me are what’s so amazing.

KRISTIN: I’d play them our new double record Strange Change Machine. It’s where we’re at right now in our lives. We’re tuned into it and we want to turn everyone on to it.

What was the most awkward/embarrassing moment in the band/on the tour bus/on stage?
RICK: When smoke started coming out of my amp during a show in Hoboken, New Jersey.

MK: The ORGY. I’m not embarrassed by that at all, I wasn’t there. I wished I was. I would have participated. WHO can say that about their career in Music: Our first gig was an Orgy.

KRISTIN – I had a terrible fall and twisted/cracked my ribs when we were on tour in Germany. I was in so much pain the whole time and I wouldn’t go home. I just soldiered on!

This is your chance to promote your CDs, bands, tours, websites &  gear?
RICK: Anyone who likes The Grip Weeds or the kind of music we play should check out our new album Strange Change Machine.  It’s our best work and the culmination of everything we’ve tried to do musically up to this point.  We also do a really powerful live show so check our website or Facebook page to friend us and find out where we are playing next.  Also write to us, we would love to hear from you and appreciate the feedback.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans all over the world?
KURT: It’s so great to get a message from a fan waiting for our upcoming album, or how much they like the latest one. It makes us work harder to make the best music we can create- keep them coming! And thank you all so much.

RICK: Try to stay optimistic and hopeful no matter what how discouraging things can sometimes be.  Get involved in some “real” activities.

MK: We’re the coolest band you’ve never heard of – Get the Download. It’s free. Pass it on to your friends, then come back and do it again. We want to try to get this downloaded for free over a MILLION TIMES. IF that happens, the only reason you would have heard of us in a big way is because people really love the music and I think they will.

KRISTIN: So nice that we found each other! Thanks for listening.

I would like to thank The Grip Weeds and Kathryn Musilek for their participation in this interview.
~Denise Smith (interview 2011.04.15)