Interview: Grade 2 on Band’s Origin and Growth

Grade 2’s third studio album and second for Hellcat (following 2019’s Graveyard Island), is a highly anthemic, infectious self-titled 15-track record, out February 17. The Isle of Wight-based band, which consists of vocalist/bassist Sid Ryan, vocalist/guitarist Jack Chatfield, and drummer Jacob Hull, are rightfully thrilled with the outcome. Here, Ryan and Chatfield talk about the album’s sonic expanse, the band’s origins, and their undeniable progression throughout their 10 years of existence.

First of all, for people who aren’t familiar, how did you guys get together?

Jack: We were just a bunch of school kids. I met Sid and Jacob when I was 13, 14. We started playing songs together at school during lunch breaks. Sid introduced me to punk rock. We never knew it. He was raised on punk rock by his dad, so that’s how we got into it. So we started covering The Jam, Stranglers, all the classics, it was just a piss at first. We got noticed ‘cause we released a demo and then it just kind of took off. We got some gigs in Germany and things started going from there. And we were literally like 14 years old and still doing our exams while going on tour and then here we are 10 years later.

That’s amazing that you hit it so fast.

Jack: Yeah, it was really fast-moving actually. It was quite odd because we were literal children. Our parents had to sign off every time we went away. “Why are you going to Germany to meet these skinheads in the middle of nowhere? What’s going on there?” [Laughter] It was all a bit weird to them, but it was great fun and very interesting.

Was this your first band?

Jack: Not mine. I’d been in a couple of others. Just little fun projects with friends. I’ve been playing for a while before. Sid and Jacob, it was the first time for those two, wasn’t it?

Sid: Yeah, me and Jacob didn’t play before we started this band. It was a discussion at a New Year’s Eve party and I remember talking to Jacob and he had just bought an electric drum kit and I’d just bought a bass off a friend for five pounds, for five measly pounds. I was like, “OK, I know how to play one song.” Jacob was like, “I think I can play two.” And then we pitched the idea to Jack, like, “How about we start learning more songs?” We got like six covers and rehearsed them and then we butchered a lot of them. We tried to become a band like the Dropkicks which is like an eight-piece band and we were a three-piece that could barely play. And we thought we sounded great. We played a pub gig to about six people and we had a guy say it was the greatest cover of the Dropkicks Murphys he’d ever heard. [Laughs]

In school did you guys play in band or anything?

Sid: No. Back in the UK, the school band isn’t as common a thing as it is in America. We did it just as a pastime, just in between breaks of classes. We had a music teacher who’d let us use that room so there wasn’t a way for us to specifically learn an instrument through school. You could study music but you’d be studying the theory more than how to play, so we more had to teach ourselves and Jack was basically my teacher as well.

Jack: After Sid and Jacob decided to form a band it was like, “Who do we know who knows how to play guitar?” “That guy Jack plays guitar.” That’s how I started, I guess.

And it’s always been you three.

Jack: Yeah. With a brief fill-in from one of our good friends Toby, from the same school, from the island as well. He filled in for Jacob when he had to leave for about a year. But that was a temporary fill-in and Jacob came crawling back to us, thankfully. [Laughter] And now it’s just the three of us again.

So, next year will be 10 years?

Sid: Yeah, that’s right.

I mean, how does that feel?

Sid: It’s pretty surreal. We’ve been seeing bands that we started playing with early on, they’ll have that stop and look when we’re talking, and, “Yeah, we’ve been a band 10 years next year,” and “Wait, how old are you now?” “Yeah, we’re still 24, 25.” And it’s like, “Whoa hold on.” We’ve been playing with all these bands for that many years. I think coming back after the two years of not playing made it even weirder. Like, oh my god, we’ve been playing for nearly a decade. It’s funny because we still keep getting called a new band wherever we play. It’s like, hang on, we’ve been playing for a decade. You don’t realize that when you’re in the band. You’re only in the circuit that you’re in and you’re still a new band to people regardless if you’ve been a band forever. So that’s always interesting when you are introduced to new people and they’re like, “Oh, how long have you been a band?” And you turn around and you say, “Ten years,” and they’re like, “Hold on.” You get that kind of reaction and I think that reaction is kind of the same for us.

Jack: I think because a lot of people like you say haven’t been exposed to us until Hellcat made us a bit more known to people, so everyone thinks we’re this band that just came out of nowhere when actually we’ve been grafting for eight years before that or whatever it was. A lot of people are still discovering us, which is great, like, “Who are these guys?”

Yeah, so you have put out records before on Contra, how did you get with Hellcat?

Sid: We met Lars [Frederiksen] first. Lars was our first introduction. We met him in 2014 originally and that was literally a year after the band started. We played a show together with his side project The Old Firm Casuals and it wasn’t really until fast forward another four years until we crossed paths with Lars again when he’d joined the German band Stomper 98 and we ended up on a 10-day tour together, and we were the only four native English speakers on that tour, so we kind of honed together and we know we can all chat and it’s easy, so naturally we were just talking the most. And we’d just released our debut record before that tour. We got talking and said, “We have this record and we’re looking at trying to take the next step in our musical career.” Just kind of asking him if there was any advice he would give us. And by the end of the two weeks it was, well, if you were to write another record, Lars would produce it. It was, “Let’s finish this tour and stay in touch and let’s see what we can do.” The tour was in October and just before Christmas we got a call and it was, “I’m not going to produce the record, Tim’s going to do it and it’s going to come out on Hellcat next year.” And it was like, “Whoa, OK, hang on.” So, in the space of three months it went from—we were touring a lot, and it just went full throttle. We have to finish a record and it’s coming out on Hellcat and all we were told was make sure it’s the best songs of your lives, so every song we wrote was oh god.

Jack: No pressure.

No pressure, yeah. [Laughter]

Sid: So, we took it down every avenue. What do we write? We got a bit experimental and some of the demos we took in were a bit crazy. [Laughs] Four-and-a-half-minute songs that just made no sense in the punk world. But we tried it anyway. And that’s kind of how that initial introduction took place, but it was really, really fast. It was basically all or nothing.

I was going to say this record has a lot of different feels and styles. So that kind of came about more when you got with Hellcat?

Jack: Yeah, I think it was after we had our initial Graveyard Island writing session and recording session at Tim’s studio in L.A. After that whole session we had to go home and write a whole new album after we did some touring. I should note Covid hit almost right immediately after that, so we had all of Covid to get writing. Then we felt like our songwriting developed quite a bit because obviously we’d taken quite a lot that we’d learned from Tim and we were maturing as musicians and songwriters anyway because it’s easy for us to forget we were literal children when a lot of this was happening. Only now we’re starting to feel like we’re maturing as adults in general let alone as musicians, and I think we learned a lot during that time and I think it all just came together really nicely during Covid and we’re learning a lot during that period as well, a lot of self-reflection, as everyone else felt too. So I think the result of that was actually a really a good thing because I think we ended up making some of the best songs of our lives on this new album. I think you can probably hear the sound. It’s quite different from Graveyard Island and we’re so happy. It’s another step up in our eyes and we’re hoping people can see the same thing.

I was wondering that you’ve had albums in the past, but that you did this one as self-titled, if there was significance, like you feel this one represents you more or something. Or am I reaching? [Laughs]

Jack: No, pretty much. It’s funny because it initially started because we had fuck all what it is. [Laughter] The whole session it was, “We still don’t have an album title. We still don’t have an album title.” We had some ideas which were all right but nothing was screaming out at us, so we were like, “Why not just play it safe and do self-titled?” I’d written that idea off in my head, like, “I don’t ever want to release a self-titled record.” I just hate the idea. I think it’s lazy. I just really was against it. But when I opened my mind to it, I realized that for this album it actually made a lot of sense because this album we created is literally Grade 2 in our eyes right now. We kind of hit our potential with this album. There’s always more that can be done but right now we gave it our all. We’re very proud of it and we think it’s what Grade 2 has to offer.

So, you see progressing between albums, writing-wise, through the years.

Jack: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s why we’re still so excited about this band. We’ve been doing it for 10 years and we’re still all really excited about it because our sound has been evolving as musicians like I said earlier, and that means every one of our records is new and different and in our opinion it’s better. We feel like we’re getting better and better. Which is a great feeling. You go back and listen to Mainstream View, our first EP, one of the first records or Broken Youth was the first one, that’s literally more apart than what we released now. But I quite like that. I like that we’ve grown. That makes it interesting. I think there’s only so much you can do if you have the same sound for every record. Now we’re at the point where we’re reaching that potential so the question is where to go next. I don’t know. We still don’t know. We’re kinda still sitting on the high of this album. See what people think of it first and go from there. The evolution of the records has really been an exciting thing for us.

It feels like you had more of a straight-up Oi! sound in the beginning…

Jack: Yeah, 100 percent. We just wanted to sound like Lion’s Law. [Laughter] Lion’s Law, an amazing French Oi! band. In my opinion they made the best Oi! record of all time. I think their first album is the best album ever. And yeah, me and Sid especially were obsessed with them back in the day, so we kind of just were so inspired. Sid had way more interest than I did, he was a punk rocker from Day One. I was basically just like Mr. Lion’s Law. [Laughter] That’s kind of how our sound I think started. And then we grew and evolved, learning about different bands more and more.

You’ve had some singles out for people to hear. Is it hard to choose because I’m sure you love them all.

Jack: Choosing that is hard enough but cutting the songs is even harder. That’s the hardest part because we had like 20 songs to choose from, so we cut it down to 15. We only cut five, we could’ve cut more but we couldn’t bear to cut any more. [Laughs] They’re all amazing in our eyes, obviously. We’re so happy with it. I think the singles came quite naturally, didn’t they Sid?

Sid: Yeah, I think picking the track list was the hardest bit, then the singles we kind of picked ours. We said to Hellcat, “What do you think?” And we were basically all on the same page. Each single kind of has a different sound themselves. They kind of represent what’s going to happen throughout the album. I think that was quite nice, that we were able to show the quick, punchy song, the more melodic one, showcase a bit of the record. I think these were the ones like this is what’s feeling natural.

How long were you working on writing the songs?

Sid: Some of the songs on the record, we had demos that go back to 2019. One of them from the record, the original demo, was before the first record on Hellcat. So, there’s a few ideas that had been sat on, but through the pandemic I think time was probably the crucial thing—we went back. So, we’d demo a song and then it’d be announced there’s another national lockdown for two months so we’d have two months to listen to these sets of demos we’d just done. It was what’s working on this song and what isn’t. And we’d rehearse as if we were going to put them in the set, how would it fit in a live set. Time was the biggest thing. We were able to just really figure out what was working for the song, so each song has three or four versions of what could’ve been, which is quite nice. It wasn’t: here’s the song, let’s move on. We really took time on, like, “Does this intro feel good? Does it capture you? Can you imagine playing it live?” Kind of questioning what every section of the song added. And if the initial feeling was there to it, does it feel complete.

With the whole Covid thing, were you guys in the room together or did you trade files?

Jack: I can’t remember because there were so many different parts with Covid. Sometimes we’d be able to sit at a table with six people but no more but then you’d have to wear your mask to go to the toilet. We did have rehearsals occasionally, I know we did the demos, the strings. And Sid would come around to my house and record demos here. We had little mics set up and a little home recording studio set up. That saved us. That was our main creative outlet. Sid would come around, I’d be like, “Sid, I made a little demo, come lay down some vocals, some bass.” He’d blow his voice. The neighbors would be pissed. I feel so bad for the neighbors. They never complained once, actually. It was very kind of them. So, we did a lot of demoing at home. And then I think Jacob got off lucky because I’d program some shitty little drums and he didn’t have to do much. But yeah, we got rehearsing pretty soon cos we had to smash out loads before obviously the recording session and I think we did quite a few months of smashing out these new songs.

Sid: Yeah. On the lead up to the recording, we were back in rehearsal, but writing wherever we could fit it in or anywhere we could do it, that’s how we would do it. Even just little voice notes so we could build ideas, any way around it, that’s how we were doing it.

But then it must’ve been so hard for you guys not being able to play live…

Sid: Yeah, it was pretty tough. It was the cancellations more than anything. When it got to the point where we didn’t have anything booked, then it wasn’t as bad because it was, OK, we know there’s nothing coming up. But as everything was locked down, we had a lot of tours booked and we were on one at the time, we were just due to start. We played one show in Canada and then the whole tour was cancelled. And that whole tour was due to be over 50 shows. Weeks would go by and the next batch of dates is cancelled, this is cancelled. And it’d be like these ones are postponed—maybe. And then, no, it’s cancelled. [Laughs] it was just like oh my god. Please.

Jack: Yeah, it was rough. But it was the same for every band, really, so we don’t want to feel too sorry for ourselves. That’s what we’re telling ourselves. But we were on a very upward trajectory at the time. We had these big tours coming up, we had this new album coming out, big record deal, big tours in America. Was this the point where it was going to break a little bit? And then as soon as we played the one show with Anti-Flag, which is one of our favorite bands, it just all came crumbling down. So, we were like, holy shit, the gods hate us definitely. To be honest, the old saying everything happens for a reason I do believe now because we made the best album to date for us. So, a good thing came from it at least.

Just gotta look forward and, yeah… [Laughter]

Jack: It was bleak for the first six months or so but we bounced back. We were writing and feeling good about things. Now we’re feeling better than ever. We just got a tour with Rancid. [Laughs] We’re literally so excited. Things are really looking up right now so hopefully we can continue, keep it going.

I saw that, you have the March dates, April, UK and Europe. Do you think US is in the works or what?

Jack: Yeah, we’re working on it. We hope to be back next year as much as possible. Nothing’s confirmed yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

So, you were saying when Covid hit you were in Canada…?

Sid: Yeah, we were due to tour with Anti-Flag at the time, and we kinda knew what was going on, but it hadn’t hit the news that bad, so the tour was still on.

So around March?

Sid: Yeah, it was March. It was early March. We played one show and then drove to Montreal for the second show and the guy who was at the venue, I can’t remember if he said the country or the city was on lockdown. So we sat down in Anti-Flag’s tour bus and they kind of were talking this date’s been cancelled, this date’s been cancelled. I remember Chris their bass player said maybe we can work it out if we play four sets today. If we play four times then there’s only so many people at the venue. They were trying to do everything to make those shows happen and we were all for it. I don’t think anyone at that time realized what was going to happen.

Jack: I’d feel worried for the people who get the fourth show if that were to happen. [Laughter] That was odd times, wasn’t it.

More about the record—do each of you have some songs that stick out to you particularly?

Jack: Yeah, I think a song for me that’s not a single is called “Fast Pace.” It’s a bit different, a slight different direction but a feel-good tune. When we wrote that, I remember Sid was bashing out on an acoustic guitar, this was ages ago and just came up with the main chorus hook and I was like, Holy shit. You don’t realize what you just came out with.” He was just pissed about writing a verse. I was like, “That’s a chorus.” And it just came together. It’s such a simple song. It’s just the same thing all the way through, but I love songs like that. I love simplicity, so I think that’s a really good one for me.

Sid: Maybe “Parasite.” “Parasite” is one of the earliest demos and I’m glad it actually came to life and it made it to the record. It’s a bit more of a harder song. It’s still kind of got that heartbeat feel with brutal lyrics. I think that’s one I really imagine playing live and just chaos. [Laughs] Nothing but chaos. Again, it’s not a single, but I’m excited for people to hear that one.

That’s what I’m saying there’s so many different sounds on the record, there’s something for everyone.

Sid: It’s kinda funny how that came together. That wasn’t an intentional thing: “Let’s try to cover these different punk sounds.” We were just writing everything. A lot of different things we were taking influence from and how it pieced together, that was kind of how we finished the record: If you’re into that kind of UK82 really quick, punk songs there’s something there. We definitely took a touch from the American ‘90s punk scene and even some of the Britpop vibes are in there subtly. So, I think there is definitely a little piece in there of something for everyone.

Jack, what about you, how you got into music in the first place, rock ‘n’ roll, or what have you.

Jack: I started just playing guitar when I was a kid because my stepdad at the time was a guitarist, bass player, and he was left-handed and I was left-handed too, so whenever I picked up one the right-handed way, like, “This feels so weird. I don’t like it.” And he was like, “No, come here. Come play this one.” He taught me how to play left-handed and I liked it better. So that’s kind of how I found my love for guitars. And I just got into playing generic rock stuff like AC/DC, The Who.

That’s not generic. That’s good. Stop it. [Laughter]

Jack: Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. I guess as a kid I didn’t read too much into it, I’d just YouTube like rock songs and stuff. I got quite into pop-punk as well, Offspring, Sum 41, Green Day, I guess Green Day isn’t technically pop-punk but you can make that argument. So, I got a little dip into that scene I suppose. Like I said I was in other bands as well with my other friends back in the day but music didn’t really become a serious thing for me until Grade 2 started. It was kind of just a bit of fun and then it all became real when Sid came about and Jacob.

Photo courtesy of Grade 2

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