Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Too New To Be Known: An Interview With Grant And Dan Of Panthallasa

As I drove into the parking lot, I didn't really know what to expect. I had heard the horror stories from Grant Peter about the "Poodle Lady" who owned the space next to where he practiced, and her affinity to harass anyone who seemed out of place, or anyone who may have unknowingly parked in her grooming service's empty parking stalls. I half expected to see her when I pulled into the lot - almost hoped to see her - if nothing else to match her actual appearance with that of the one imagined in my head. 

But she wasn't around on this day. What caught my eye was the hidden bar that sat behind this particular building. It was like a speakeasy, tucked away in a spot not visible from the road. The neon lights said it was a bar, but the crowd of dudes in tank tops and emblemed jackets standing outside on the patio told me that it was a unique spot, like an exclusive club, and one that might not attract (nor welcome?) strangers. 

I was early, and I had a few moments to kill. I pulled into the an empty spot underneath a neon Corona light and went inside.

The place was empty aside from a few dudes who were sitting at various spots around the bar. After I sat down, also bellied up, one of these fellas went behind the bar and asked me what he could get for me. I ordered a beer and scanned the place. On a big projector screen a concert was being performed by a singer I didn't recognize. He resembled Wayne Newton, only he sang in a foreign language I couldn't decipher. But it was a high quality video and during the times the camera panned over the crowd, I could see that this gentleman was adored. His fans swooned at him and sang along with his every word. The video was being played very loudly, especially I thought, since nobody seemed to be watching it. 
Most people were enjoying the weather outside on the patio. 

I asked the bartender if he was the owner.

"Yes," he nodded.

"How long have you been here?"

"For a few years," he answered in a thick accent. "Have you been in here before?"

"No," I replied. I am here to meet the band downstairs."


After a slight pause, he asked, "Do you like that kind of music?"

Assuming that he meant heavy rock and roll, I nodded yes.

"They are really loud." he said.

At that point, my phone buzzed and I looked down to see a text from Grant. Apparently he was downstairs in the space directly underneath the bar. I was here to meet him and listen to his band for the first time. 

I paid for my beer and went outside and walked down the hill alongside the bar to the area tucked underneath, where there were a couple of shop doors. One door was unmarked, and the other was clearly the entrance to the poodle shop. I pulled on the unmarked door and went inside. I could already hear the buzzing of the amplifier and the long chords being played on the guitar. The guy upstairs (whom I found out later to be Bosnian) was right. It was very loud. I wondered how my ears would take it in such a small practice area. I immediately understood the qualms that the Poodle Lady had with Grant. I also understood why the video being played upstairs was turned up so loudly.

Back track a week or so to my house where Grant came to talk to me about Panthallasa, his new project. He brought along with him his bass player, Dan Powell and we gathered around the kitchen table and discussed the metamorphosis of this new endeavor and the evolution of a two-man project to a full piece band. 

We also discussed their upcoming show at the House of Bricks this Friday night, Panthallasa's first live appearance. It's an early all-ages show and they will share the stage with Des Moines' prog-metal bands The Maw and Violent Fade. 

Listening to Grant talk about his band, I began to realize just how big of a project this has been for him, and how one man's vision can come to light, even through the turmoils he has faced. It's not easy to see something through while maintaining a vision, especially with constant distractions. Grant has somehow managed to do just that. Friday night's performance at the House of Bricks will be a celebration. Plus his band rocks.

You can hear for yourself by visiting their Soundcloud page. Turn it up LOUD. You can see for yourself by going Friday. 

At $7, this concert is a steal.

The cover of Panthallasa's digital EP. (Click this and all photos to enlaarge.)

What IS Panthallasa?

Grant: Yes. Ok.. I hate documentaries... absolutely hate them. But about a year and a half ago I was watching this documentary on Netflix about plate tectonics. And kinda in passing when they were referring to Pangaea  which, at least I learned about in 6th grade - it was that super continent - so while they were talking about this super continent, they also mentioned this super sea. It was this ocean that surrounded this super continent called Panthalassa. We're spelling it a little bit differently because the logo I drew up, it looks like there are SS bolts in it. We can't be having that... So we nixed one of the S's and added an L. But it's still pronounced the same, Panthalassa.

How long have you been working as a band?

Grant: With this line up, what, a couple weeks?

Dan: Yeah. I've been playing with the band for about a month. 

So it's a newer project.

Grant: Yeah. It's a new project using very old riffs. Some of these songs were written years ago but as musicians you are always throwing stuff into the bone pile basically then you come back to it, pick it back out and rework it. So initially it was just going to be a recording project between the guitarist and I, the drums were all going to be programmed and we hadn't even tackled the idea of doing vocals yet. As it snowballed we actually started getting live members together, and kind of a funny thing, when our vocalist Matt Burkett, came into the project, he just showed up at our actual first live rehearsal, he just walked into the room and he looked at me and said, "Do you mind if I sing?" I was kind of like, "Uh, yeah... sure... whatever dude. Go for it." And I really liked it so how he kinda joined in there. It worked out.

Was he just in the neighborhood? 

Grant: Well pretty much, man. (Laughs.) We share a rehearsal space with a band called No One, which is a two-piece which features Matt Burkett on guitar and vocals and Shane Mills, who is also in The Maw, on drums. So it was a rehearsal space that we were sharing with them, and yeah he was in the neighborhood and he came in. He asked me if he could do vocals and yeah. he pretty much was just ad-libbing stuff for several months and I kept asking him if he was going to write lyrics, and he never got around to it, so I just started doing it.

So let's talk about the snowball effect. Tell me about when the process of when you knew that you were going to go from a two person project to let's bringing in more musicians and making it a band.

Grant: Well not to get to deep into... what are the words I'm searching for? I'm not going to say that the stars aligned or that there was this clarity, but there came a point when it became obvious that I wasn't going to be able to do it as I envisioned it. It was just myself and Joe, and the person with whom we were working with is in a full-time touring band and they weren't going to have the time to dedicate to it and I had the time all of a sudden.

Ok. So who IS Panthallasa? 

Grant: Panthallasa as the current lineup is Mr. Dan Powell who is here, plays bass. We have a drummer now, his name is Shane Mills. I mentioned him earlier. That guy is in about 4-5 bands at a time. Joe Curry is on guitar, Matt Burkett is the vocalist who plays the guitar occasionally, even though he says he don't want to. 

Dan: He wants to.

Grant: Yes he does. He likes the way it looks around him. (laughs) 

Who doesn't?

Grant: Yeah. (laughs.) And I kinda do what's left over which is some guitar and I also screw around with some electronic stuff.

So you have a show coming up...

Grant: We do! May 23rd, first show, it's going to be at the House of Bricks. I'm really stoked on this. The lineup is one that I'm actually most excited for because they're two bands that I've always wanted to do a show with but due to circumstances, it has never actually happened. So it's us, and then the next band up is The Maw which I couldn't even begin to describe that band. It's everything you could want out of a band. Phenomenal music. Then, I guess you could call them the actual headliners, is Violent Fade. They are an instrumental three-piece, but when you think of instrumental three-piece bands, it doesn't quite do it justice. There is actual composition and arrangement there. You aren't going to just go and watch these guys thrash around.

Sounds fantastic. Will you guys be releasing an EP or a CD?

Grant: Yes. No CD. I was actually talking to Joe Antleman from Aquamarine (Dream Machine) today and he was asking me when is the CD release show... We're not doing a release show. We're not even doing a CD. Um... Nobody buys them anymore. Nobody buys CDs unless you are like myself, a neurotic completionist, you're not buying it. Everybody downloads off of iTunes or a bit-torrent site, and they pirate it, and it just ends up on their phone or their iPod or whatever. So it's going to be released digitally, for free because again, nobody is buying this stuff. I'll have a Bandcamp so it'll come like in this zip file, get artwork all that stuff.

Very nice.

Grant: Yeah... It's probably the easiest way to get music to people now anyway. If they are coming to your show, they are actually going to spend more money at the bar than they are at your merch table.

So how are you involved with the process, Dan? 

Dan: Well one day actually, I guess... I hadn't talked to Grant in months. Let's see... Oh yeah. I remember now. he wanted to start a Limp Bizkit cover band, was that it?

Grant: Yeah.

Dan: Or Korn, or something like that.

Was that a serious venture, or was that just bullshit?

Grant: Yeah. Ok. (Laughs.) Seth Peters (Dead Horse Trauma) is kinda like a spiritual type guidance counselor to me. If I ever have an issue, I run it by him. We were just talking one day, kinda BSing around and maybe it was his idea, but we were talking about doing a Limp Bizkit cover band. He's like do you know how much money you'd make off of that if you were doing that? I'm like, yeah. Even though people really rail on Limp Bizkit, you know that they'd go see a Limp Bizkit cover band JUST to be ironic. So yeah... I posted something about it on a social media site, and Dan saw it.

Dan: Yes. That's what happened.

Grant: And we're like cool man. We'll do this. 

But you guys were friends before?

Dan: Yeah. We've known each other for a long time.

Grant: Since what, 2008 maybe?

Dan: Yeah I played in a band with Grant, I guess when I was playing with him, it was Patient Zero, which became Autocrat. So I did that for a short while. Played guitar for a short while. But anyway, yeah. So I'm like Ok! You're totally down! Let's do it! and I wasn't playing music at the time and I guess it just never really materialized like... a... Limp Bizkit cover band... which is actually what should happen...

Grant: Not exist?

Dan: Yeah. (laughs.) Then he shot me a text one day wanting me to fill in for a little bit, just doing live shows. Then after a couple of weeks, it's like, "hey, you are in the band. You don't have much of a choice, and you can't quit." 

Grant: Pretty much.

Dan: I'm like, ok. So here I am.

Panthallasa:  Joe Curry, Matt Burkett, Dan Powell, Shane Mills, Grant Peter

You mentioned Seth Peters. How much of an influence does he and Dead Horse Trauma have on Panthallasa?

Grant: You look at bands that are successful locally. You look at what they do and how they operate as a business unit. Obviously the art's there, but in the Midwest we have this work hard, play hard mentality, but what comes first? It's the work. Dead Horse Trauma exemplifies that. They work so freaking hard it's ridiculous. I mean, it's amazing that any of them actually have day jobs outside of what they are doing because they are so busy promoting and touring. So their sense of work ethic has sort of rubbed off on me. Maybe not to the degree where I'm out handing out flyers to people, but just how they run their day to day operations. It's a business. I think that's why they are as successful as they are because they aren't dicking around. It's not an excuse to party, it's not an excuse to say 'I'm in a band!' you know. I mean they treat everything as a product. I don't think that there's anything wrong with that inherently, I mean you could probably go overboard... Are they there yet? I don't think so. Not at all. So I kinda run Panthallasa pretty tightly. Don't get me wrong. It's not like we are all just brownie-faces when we are sitting in the rehearsal space. We may have a couple of beers in there or what not but we are not in there partying, we are in there working. You show up to practice when practice is scheduled and you gotta learn your parts. You gotta know what you are doing. It wasn't this way initially, but lately I'm kinda rolling with it, but I look at some of the bands that have influenced me personally... The Mars Volta, a band called The Ocean, The Dillinger Escape Plan. These are all bands that are led by one individual and this individual writes the majority of their music. Each band member is given a little lee-way with their parts, but it's not a very democratic process at all. It's you show up, you do what you are supposed to do and we go home. Simple as that. It hasn't worked with everybody, you know one of my best friends was out first bass player, and we're still on pretty good terms. I'm not going to say that our friendship wasn't deteriorating, but it wasn't as strong as it used to be and you could just tell that he wasn't really enjoying the fact that he didn't have a whole lot of creative input on it. Fortunately the people we have now understand how the cookie crumbles. Wasn't that in Bruce Almighty? 

So everybody in the band is in tune with that philosophy?

Grant: Well, if there are any issues it hasn't been raised. You know... we all write. Right now as it stands I'd say it's about 80/20 with the 80 being myself doing the writing and composition and the vocalist doing 20 percent. Now Joe, the other guitarist, I kinda let him have some free range, the way I've described it best is a coloring book. It's blank. Here are the lines. Your instruments are the crayons, markers, paint, whatever. You stay with these lines. You can use any colors you want as long as you stay within these lines. Don't go outside the lines because I've got it set on this clear path. I know it kind of sounds tyrannical or egotistical, but I know what I want. I don't lose any sleep over it.