Published Feb 01, 2000To paraphrase Canada's venerable hard rock troubadours April Wine, no one ever told Kyle Bishop rock and roll was a vicious game. But as the screamer for the vanguard Toronto-area new school hardcore/emo quintet Grade found recently, it most certainly can be. The band had finished one of their trademark roof-raising sets before a throng of mostly adoring fans in Syracuse, New York, home of one of the most militant and unfortunately belligerent straight-edge scenes in the U.S., when Bishop was approached by a few goons who wanted to take him to task for something they thought they heard him say.
But instead of asking him what was said, they simply set about beating him up. "It's something we try not to talk about," Bishop says when asked of the incident. "It was about misunderstanding, people not paying attention and not talking about things and being crazy and beating people up."
But it served as something of a wakeup call as to the new reality in punk music; that the days of unity and taking care of your brother that were what the scene was mostly about in the beginning were gone.
"It's funny how for a long time punk and hardcore was about getting away from the jocks and the people being tough, and in certain places the scene has turned into exactly that," Bishop offers. "Everyone has their place in it and deserves to be part of it. It sucks how people feel the need to bring violence into something that is so positive.
"Hardcore has always been about aggressiveness and releasing that from day one," he continues. "There have always been fights, but now with people stabbing and shooting other people and ganging up, I find that appalling. It's ridiculous, people need to learn how to communicate a little bit better."
And putting a positive spin on things is something that Grade have been trying to accomplish since forming almost five years ago. In that time, the band, which now features dual guitar slingers Greg Taylor and Shawn Magill, bass basher Matt Jones and most recent acquisition Chris Danner on drums, has released music on four CDs (a full-length, a seven-song mini album, a three-song EP and a split CD), a seven-inch single and has appeared on a compilation. In doing so, they have established themselves as one of the most creative and interesting bands in punk today.
With their hybrid of searing hardcore, Fugazi-inspired grooves and occasional pop melodies, and Bishop's ambiguous cryptic lyrics, they are as good at making you think as they are at rocking your lame ass. But, to borrow from another legendary Canadian band: baby, you ain't seen nothing yet. As good as their past efforts have been, it'sUnder the Radar , their most recent offering and second full-length disc, that's going to put them over the top while perhaps confounding punk fans even more. Grade simply refuses to play by the rules of any one punk sub-genre, opting instead to mix and match elements, something that has lead to them playing on some unlikely bills.
We're the odd band out regardless of what we do. We're not heavy enough, we're not mellow enough.
"We are a hardcore band and we're always going to be part of that scene, but at the same time a lot of people from outside hardcore are starting to really enjoy us as well," Bishop observes. "We've always been the odd band out at whatever show we play, but that's inevitable. Regardless of what we do, we're not heavy enough or we're not mellow enough. We play music, we play rock and roll. People can categorise us the way they want. People say we're an emo band and then they say we're metal or hardcore or alternative and we just say, 'Take what you want.'"
That determination to do things their way is something that they're now being rewarded for. The success of their previous release, the Separate the Magnets EP, sparked something of a minor feeding frenzy. Many labels came knocking, but when the smoke had cleared, the band signed with Victory, the label that has become synonymous with straight edge hardcore over the last few years.
"It's definitely odd," Bishop says of the hype that followed them for a while. "After Separate the Magnets came out, things went crazy. We sold a lot of copies of it, and when that happened it sparked interest in everyone from hardcore labels to major labels and Victory was one of them.
"At first we kind of dismissed it, but we knew one of the guys that works there and Daryl from [Victory band] Snapcase, who's a good friend of ours, said we should really look into so we did. And when we talked to the people at the label, they were really amazing."
Two other factors contributed: the label's desire to broaden its horizons; and the prospect of being the first Canadian band signed to the label. "They started releasing bands like the Strike, who sound like the Clash, and Electric Frankenstein, which is amazing. They've really started to broaden out their range. We still love bands like Hatebreed and Snapcase so we figured it was a good idea."
But joining the ranks of a label that is known for a certain sound, and that might result in certain expectations didn't phase the band. "The only thing that was different about this record was that we had more time to record it," says Bishop. "The writing style and where it came from is the same as it has always been. Victory wasn't telling us to do this or do that.
"You'd assume we'd go harder but we didn't. The songs are just as strong and tough and they're very powerful, but they're not quite as metal as previous releases. We figured we'd keep the intensity but add more melody as well."
Next on Grade's agenda is the completion of a European tour followed by a short break at home where they will celebrate the release of the new disc and shoot their first video for a re-arranged, re-recorded version of "A Year in the Past, Forever in the Future" fromUnder the Radar . That will be followed by a tour of the West Coast (U.S. and Canada) in November. As for gigs on their home turf; they're a possibility, but most likely in the suburbs west of Toronto, and not in the city itself.
The reason? "Toronto is weird. It's always been a very weird place," Bishop says. "It's funny how in the suburbs there are big shows that bring out 300 to 400 kids, and then in Toronto it will be 100 kids or less unless it's a bigger band. There are a lot of people who are into punk and hardcore in Toronto, but not a lot of them go out to the shows. It's very strange that way.
"Besides, every time we play Toronto we suck."