Interview with vocalist / bassist Sid Ryan and vocalist / guitarist Jack Chatfield
Grade 2 is a trio of 21-year olds from the U.K. who have been a punk band for five full years. It’s not amazing that a youth culture, going strong for 50-plus years, still attracts riled and angry kids. But it is notable that these three lads write damn fine songs with maturity, thought, and skill. They have a full sound with elaborate execution, not just three chords and a snarl. Graveyard Island – the title alluding to their home, the Isle of Wight – is their third LP, and shows further growth from their already impressive signature. Now on Hellcat Records, with their record produced by Tim Armstrong, Grade 2 also toured the States in the summer of 2019.
Intelligent songwriting has solidified Grade 2’s stature in European punk circles, and their youth gives them a different viewpoint and energy in the oi! and punk scenes. Bassist and vocalist Sid Ryan agrees with this.
“I believe so,” he says. “Although most of the meaning and understanding for the scenes stay the same, we are definitely trying to bring some modern twists to the table. If that wasn’t happening, everything would just remain stagnated. I think you can hear it throughout our newest album, with song topics about technology within modern living arising twice.”
The fact that Hellcat is delivering these tracks to the world still stuns these young men.
“It’s an immense opportunity that we’re incredibly fortunate and grateful to have received,” Ryan says. “We’re all huge fans of the bands on the label, past and present. Now to be able to have our name amongst that, truly mind-blowing.”
And actually having Tim Armstrong run the boards for Graveyard Island was, Ryan reflects, “incredibly surreal.”
“It’s not every day you have the chance to work with one of your heroes,” he says. “The whole experience is something we will all remember for a lifetime.”
“It was a calm environment, and a very quick process,” guitarist and vocalist Jack Chatfield notes. “Tim worked us all out rapidly, differentiating our weaknesses from our strengths, taking our abilities up a notch. It was everything we could have hoped for and then some. It’s amazing to have someone with his musical knowledge and understanding overseeing our writing process, and for us to see his. We learned so much from him.”
The songs on Graveyard Island express concern and frustration for an array of socio-political issues, but through a personal lens.
“The majority of our motivation is definitely from personal experience and our surroundings,” Ryan says. “Our upbringing on the island has given us a unique perception, and I feel we write a lot better when it’s about something we have experienced first-hand.”
On their third LP, Grade 2 has learned to deliver the same impact as their previous efforts, with more succinct tracks. Sure, it’s always been punk, but punk and oi! bands can certainly indulge in five or even six-minute songs. Graveyard Island’s trimming feels very intentional, and the band’s songwriting is aware of duration and repetition.
“I think we demonstrated quite well on our last record, Break The Routine, that we can indulge in three-to-five minute tracks,” Ryan says. “So, [on] this record, we were definitely keen to try and bash out a few more quick, to the point songs. In the studio, we were actually talking about one of the new tracks, ‘Johnny Aggro,’ and I asked if maybe it was too short. And Tim looked at me in horror! [laughs] He said ‘this is punk rock. Ain’t no one gonna be mad about that.’”
Grade 2 toured the U.S. in 2019, beginning in Boston and hitting Chicago, and were included in Pirates Press’ Rock the Ship Festival in Oakland, with Cock Sparrer, Subhumans, and Street Dogs. The band was honored.
“Pirates Press really outdid themselves on that one,” Chatfield says. “But it wasn’t our last show, we had more dates on the West Coast the rest of the month. Madison, Wisconsin was the highlight show for us. We were playing on the floor of a little restaurant with the tables and chairs cleared out, and it was absolutely packed. The place went off.”
March 2020 will see Grade 2 return to Canada and the East Coast of the U.S.A.
Top photo by Alan Snodgrass