I am a BIG fan of the work that Grace@Arms is doing. Bastion, the lead singer, came to me thanks to a connection in Ryan Brewer. He and I met, talked, and one thing led to another. Then we were scheduling interviews and he was confirming his band to play on the next rickyleepotts.com presents six bands for six bucks. Once that was confirmed, the band literally took over the city promoting the show, shooting photos (both images used here are from a six for six photo shoot by the way) and have just continued to impress me with their marketing skills. These guys are also down to earth and are just a treat to be around. I have become friends with Bastion, and am really looking forward to seeing them perform on Saturday, August 6th. (But apparently I can catch them every Friday night at a drive-in movie theater in their hometown.) They write some incredible lyrics too… just an all around talented bunch of dudes. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the guys in Grace@Arms.
Before we get too far into this… what’s the deal with the name? What’s the story behind Grace@Arms? Do you get mad when people spell it Grace at Arms?
(Laughs) I don’t mind, people can spell it however they want to spell it. The name of the band is almost… I guess… the purpose of the band, if you want to call it that. We found that as you get older, the things that you care about disappear, from friends to opportunities to interests and passions. If you want them to remain, then you have to work for them… fight for them. You need to keep them at arms.
We have all had plenty of bands that have failed in the past, as well as plenty of other projects that have fallen apart. We have found that our voices are mute unless we speak. Our grace is not enough… this is our grace at arms.
Where are you guys originally from?
We are all from New Castle, Indiana.
You guys were added to the rickyleepotts.com presents six bands for six bucks a little late in the game… when one of the bands backed out at the last minute. Are you excited to be on the bill for the next show?
We are extremely excited about the show. We are excited to promote the other local bands, and to be a part of an event like this. It’s our first major event for us. We handle all of our own promotions, all of our scheduling, and all of the things that management at a record label or a recording engineer would do… so while we achieve an awful lot for being so limited, getting an opportunity like this is always extremely exciting.
I LOVE your logo. Who designed that?
I have a friend named Ben Sowards who lives in Springfield, Ohio. We met him a few years back, as we were founding Grace@Arms and working on the audio tracks for the new album. He was in the process of starting his own graphic design business, and we decided to help each other out. We gave Ben the basic ideas behind the band, and he came back to me with a few logo ideas. The logo that we went with, specifically the @ symbol, just stood out to us. It was clean, stark… and looks awesome in a lot of different contexts.
Speaking of design, I am really digging the album artwork for your latest release. Tell me a little bit more about Chrysalis. What was it like producing the album… what are your hopes and goals with this release?
I (Bastion) had written a lot of music over the course of years that had not been recorded, or had been recorded in demo form. Upon graduating from law school, I revamped my studio and recorded the way I like to rock. Milo called me a week later, to say, “Hey, I just bought a drum set.” So now we are either rock stars, or chumps. It was time to actually do something with all the music.
We started organizing the songs and worked on starting an album. The album was highly thematic. We decided no matter where we ended up, at least while no one knew who we were, no one was going to get a theme album, or hear some nameless album… we gathered up a set of songs that represented the different aspects of our sound and of our message.
Chrysalis hits each of the extremes of Grace@Arms music, and provides kind of an introduction to us. I recorded all of the instruments, besides the drums. We used Pat Gibbs, an audio recording major at Butler University. Milo and I were able to reserve time in the Butler sound studio. Milo recorded his drums, and I was able to record some of the acoustic guitars and a few vocal lines. The entire project, from conception to end, ended up taking a combined 2,500 hours. It also took a few hundred hours on Ben’s hours.
For the artwork and images, I worked both conceptually with Ben. I then contacted Josh Guibault and Jamin Mahoney. They helped do the programming and design elements for the website. The album was released on March 1st. It’s available both digitally and hard copy. The presentation of the album as a whole is very important to the band, and as a result, a lot of time and effort went into making the artwork coherent and cohesive. That also helps to foreshadow some of our future albums, many of the songs for which are written and recorded.
For the record, all of the drum tracks were recorded, as a result of problematic schedules, in the Butler recording studio between the hours of 1:00 AM and 4:00 AM over the course of 2010-2011 winters. All of the other instruments were either recorded in those same time frames or in my basement studio.
Bastion, there is sort of a story behind your name… your real name is Sebastian. Tell me why you like to go to by Bastion.
I am an attorney, specifically a public defense attorney. For a large degree, it was for my clients. When we considered the idea of creating stage names, the decision to go by Bastion was obvious. I had always related to the child in the never-ending story, and this band in many ways is my never-ending story.
At first I had intended to take the name strictly in the context of the band. In the process of writing, recording, editing, and creating the album, and this band, it was so difficult and consuming it resulted in so much personal growth. By the time it was done, I really related more to Bastion than to the name on my birth certificate. Now I go by that name in the context of the law.
You are killing it with the social media efforts. You are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube… heck, you guys are still on MySpace. Who is the one handling all of the social media efforts?
That would be me. I am a little obsessive compulsive when it comes to band efforts. Especially since the band only consisted of two of us, live shows were not an option for a long time. Social media was the only way to connect with the fans and for spreading the music. Each of the members of the band are very sociable people and have always had large groups of friends and have enjoyed interacting with them. Social media was a natural progression. It both matches my personality and is the most effective way to connect with people and to promote Grace@Arms.
Wait a second… let’s go back for a second. You’re a lawyer? No way. How does a rock star become a lawyer… or better yet, how does a lawyer become a rock star?
(Laughs) I think, actually, I am jealous of the words… but Milo said it best when he convinced me to start Grace@Arms. Or to realize Grace@Arms. He pointed out that being an attorney, or being an optometrist as he is doing, is hard. It’s a lot of work, but you can do it by closing your eyes and holding on to the collar of the person in front of you. We put so much effort into those things… they require so much effort to succeed in those programs. If we put that much energy into our hobbies, we could really see that blossom and success. Music is naturally us. We fit into the roles of our other professions well. This is what we do, we explore thoughts and ideas and come up with crazy things to do. We connect with people… this is hard work, but it’s easy work for us to commit to that work.
Brighter Days, a single off your new album, has been getting some airplay on X103. How cool is that, hearing your work on the radio?
I had to pull over so that I could get out of the car to jump up and down… because it wasn’t working while I was driving. People can buy Chrysalis on iTunes, Amazon, DigStation… and a wealth of other places.
When you set out to sell an album like that, are you the ones reaching out to these outlets or is there a process that bands follow?
We actually found a CD manufacturer called Oasis CD Manufacturing. Their publishing package included a membership to CD Baby, which is an online distributor with contact through the sites that you mentioned.
I want some Grace@Arms merchandise… where can I get a shirt with your faces on it? (Well, maybe your logo… not sure I want your face on my chest!)
You can “arm yourself” at graceatarms.com/arm. (If you are on the website, it’s the Arm Yourself tab.) You can find high quality vintage customizable shirts there from a company called screened.com. (We think it’s really cool where people can pick his or her own colors… it’s pretty unique. Our @ shirts are awesome.)
We will be updating Arm Yourself soon, but currently at our live shows you can pick up posters, physical CDs, download cards… etc. You can also order physical CDs from CDBaby.com. Of course, we will have plenty of merchandise available both at six for six and in the six six six ticket packages, which we are selling on our website.
Can I just say how impressed I am with your marketing efforts for the next six for six? You guys are killing it. What’s your motivation for that?
To get out there… to gain exposure. Grace@Arms is kind of everything that I am from my ideas to my attitude to the way that I understand the world and the way that I approach the world. It’s extremely important to me, the rest of us as well, to see this band grow and to become the best band that it can be. Any opportunity, large or small, is great to us. This is a great way to gain exposure, friends, and support the local music community. We are really excited to join the lineup for this six for six event… it’s really neat that through the efforts of rickyleepotts.com and local sponsors that this kind of show is even possible.
Tell me about the drive-in… you guys play at a drive-in? I haven’t been to a drive-in for years! That’s called “Live at the Skyvue” right?
(Laughs) The first live performance that Grace@Arms did was an acoustic show for the annual benefit dinner for a local youth center. The owner of our local drive-in and his son were at that show. They grabbed two copies of the album, and our contact info… then invited us to come out and play. We don’t get paid outside of tips… well, they give us delicious burgers. The venue is small, but it’s easily our favorite venue. No matter how big we get, we will continue to come back and play both acoustic and electric performances. It’s a good place to bounce ideas off people and see their reaction. Also, huge thanks to Aaron Pierce for making that possible.
Some call you rock… some call you pop… what do YOU call yourselves?
I call us rock. It’s hard for us to put a label on our music, because frequently our genre matches our idea that we are conveying… like Zeppelin. You couldn’t give them a genre. They would go from heavy metal to bluegrass… it totally depends on the idea of the message you are trying to convey. We sometimes don’t know how a song will come out in the end. The song goes through a lot in the process and the development. It’s the diversity in the music, and the ways we can conceptualize each song.
I haven’t seen you live… yet. But what can someone expect from a live performance?
Melted faces… busted guts… Don’t type that! (Laughs) A lot of energy… a lot of passion. We are very guitar driven. Our live performance averages out to a rock sound a lot more… our music is better fit to the simple rock genre. It’s easier to categorize our songs when you hear them live. Everything is a little more intense, guitar driven, a little less pop… a little less country. It’s rock.
Who writes all of the lyrics? Where do you find inspiration for new tracks?
I write all the lyrics. I try to diversify both my inspirations and my approaches to songwriting. I have a lot of songs that started as a lyrical idea and grew from there. I have had plenty of them that started as an experience that I needed to say. I have had plenty that started with a guitar riff and demanded that it grow into something. The most common and most important reason why I write songs is to explore things that I don’t understand.
If I had to describe the most common theme in my lyrics, I would call it, “hope in the real world.” I’m not interested in writing feel-good music. It feels escapist and dishonest to me. I try to be honest in my lyrics. I try to find solutions and resolutions to the agonies and hardships of growing up. As a result, despite the diversity of themes and backstories for my songs, I’d have to say that growth, understanding, and hope are constant inspirations for me.
We try to mean what we say, and frequently we will end up saying what we didn’t realize we meant. In exploring the vocabulary, both linquistic and melodic, that goes into capturing an idea in a song, through that process, I find myself learning more about me… about life, hope, and ambition, and about the ideas that we are trying to explore.
Who have you been listening to lately? What’s on your iPod?
Lately some Mumford & Sons… been getting into the Avett Brothers. In Flames is a mainstay on my iPod. Old school Metallica… Rage Against the Machine… any classic rock. The Who, Beatles, Zeppelin… a lot of Smashing Pumpkins have resurfaced.
You guys have some pretty impressive photography on your Facebook page. (And on your website, for that matter.) Who took all those shots?
A lot of those shots are taken by Ben and myself. However, Dave Nance of Nance Photography has been exceedingly gracious to us and is responsible for all of the good-looking band photos. Particularly the Bastion and Milo album, available on our Flickr and the promotional photos for the six for six. I do all of the photo editing.
Wait a second… you blog too? That’s awesome! How often do you write, and what do you tend to write about?
Everything that I write tends to be somewhat towards motivation and self improvement. The topics per blog, however, range from all of my interests from social media to zombies, actually from music to zombies to body building conventions.
I have actually just started a six week series on Twitter on my observation of effective uses of Twitter and other social media networks. I also have a section of my blog, which will become almost a sister blog in time, in which I catalog my scotch/whisky tasting notes and occasionally notes on various beers. I am a malt enthusiast. I put a lot of time and research into the study and pursuit of scotch/whisky. There is no “e” in whisky.
In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the way people absorb music?
We could probably talk for hours about that. The two most basic changes are that music is infinitely easier to get heard by someone though it may be actually harder to be heard by everyone. You really have to put a lot into the quality of your work to make it exceptional. You really have to work to gain visibility. Everyone has a Facebook account. Everyone has a Twitter account. That’s part of the reason we are so sevant about our online presence. There isn’t a band on earth that doesn’t have a great sounding CD and a full social network for its members. It’s awesome that it’s easy now.
If you want to establish yourself, you have a lot of talent… you have to stand out from a whole lot of high quality talent. For you guys, it’s a lot easier… for us, it’s a lot harder. It’s our grassroots. We have to make friends with thousands of people, and create a different personal experience from thousands of people.
I know… I know, it’s a long time from now. But where do you see yourselves in five years?
I have written five albums for the specific Grace@Arms project. Hopefully, five years from now, we will be releasing our fifth and will be living in several homes across America and will be getting ready to go on an international tour. I want a bathroom we could play baseball in! (Laughs) On the other hand, we are doing this because we love this. We will still be playing music in five years. We fully intend to conquer Earth. (Laughs)
When this is all said and done, and Grace@Arms is no more, what do you want to be remembered for? What’s the Grace@Arms legacy?
For spreading hope and understanding. Our music explores a lot of real life themes, and isn’t afraid to be honest about the amount of pain and unhappiness around. But everything we do, we do with an eye towards self-improvement and hope. I just hope that we are able to make that available to people, and inspire people to spread it in their own lives.
Uplifting message aside, Cooper doesn’t want to be remembered as a slouch on the guitar. Cooper wants some hot licks on those albums.
In all of the interviews that I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
The exaggerated example of our message is currently our big project. I have a blog entry detailing the story behind it. Our current single is called A Song About You, and we are donating all of the proceeds from it to a charity organization called Direct Relief International. The story is in the blog!