Interview: Greyhaven’s Brent Mills on New LP ‘Empty Black,’ Building on Debut

Coming up with truly great ideas is hard enough, but making all kinds of excellent concepts come together in some coherent fashion? That’s practically unattainable. Well don’t tell progressive post-hardcore act Greyhaven, who yet again prove the impossible possible on their sophomore release.  

This Bright and Beautiful World, out April 15 via Equal Vision Records, is a doubling down of everything that made debut Empty Black so special. The creative wellspring of ideas is deeper than Lake Michigan: you want the best grunge since Nirvana? Check. You want the most bewitching stoner-core this side of He Is Legend? Discount Double Check. You want a whirlpool of technical riffs and stadium-sized hooks not heard since Letlive? Oh hell yeah.

This Bright and Beautiful World is a modern classic because it somehow does so many unique ideas to perfection, sometimes in the same song. That kind of kinetic creativity is a clear goal, as vocalist Brent Mills notes:

“That’s just kind of what we want to do, you’re right. We don’t know what we want to do (laughs). It’s not like we’re sitting here going, ‘We should do a fast song into this grunge song.’ We just write so much. We write so much shit. There’s so many riffs that are getting thrown around when we get to the studio that when we get in there and have to start unpacking it all and assessing it, and looking at it objectively and shit, that’s when all of the songs start really making sense.”

“It’s funny,” he adds,” “because it’s coming out of this whirlwind of ideas, like this idea pool. So, it really means a lot that you say that, actually because sometimes we’re not sure if we pulled it off or not. Especially with this record, we’ve been sitting on it for, like, a year. I’ve listened to it way too many times, and I go back and forth between, ‘Oh, I’m really, really stoked on this,’ or, ‘Are people going to fucking completely hate this record and not understand it at all?’ I have no idea.” 

Ironically, the key to the band’s success is focus—both to their brand of whatever-happens-happens-core and to each other, as Mills acknowledges:

“It has been interesting through the last few years, especially with restarting with (guitarist) Nick (Spencer) and (drummer) Ethan (Spray) and COVID the last two years, like really having to assess why we do this. And do we still all believe in this the same way? And are we really going to put everything that we have in ourselves into this thing? Because it’s the only way that it’s going to work. But especially with COVID, it can get pretty disparaging.”

“But I was happy that, when we were recording the record, this is definitely the most connected and on the same page and excited and really floored about the band that us four together have ever been. The attitude in the band is so positive and excited and interested in the records that we wrote, which is really cool. (For us) there was a little bit of a positive that came out of sitting at home and having to wait, and having to put everything on pause and really having to sit on it for a minute. Because now that it’s finally rolling out, it just feels so fucking good, and I think it has made for a better record because … we really, all four, got to really be hands-on with it. And every decision about this record, all four were very, very involved together, and I was really appreciative of how ready to do the work everybody was.” 

Not only did the band reassess, but Mills took the opportunity to take personal stock of himself: 

“There is going to be waves of, you’re going to find some beauty in some things, some really mundane things, that you should. We should find beauty in those things. And then you’re going to also have to do some real heavy cleanup in your mind. Because you’re stuck there. You’re stuck with yourself. So, you have to take a look at it at some point and figure out a way to make that bearable. You’re just being alone for a year; you have to figure out a way to make that bearable, or you’re not going to survive.  

“And hopefully, some people got to the point where it’s not only bearable, but enjoyable, beautiful. That’s kind of the work. That’s kind of the thing you want to get to. But everybody, I think, was forced to do that over this year. So, I do think there’s a lot of good that could come from this uncertain time period that we’re in, but it’s not obvious. You have to look for it.” 

That self-reflection bled into what is ultimately a hopeful record, even if it’s not entirely positive, as Mills notes:

“I think in a way, building this art, trying to find something permanent, doing this record, doing the one thing that I know makes me feel like I have some kind of a purpose, is like putting in that work was sort of protecting myself, you know? What the record talks about is, I was trying to figure out a way to protect myself, from myself, even. Like, in all kinds of ways.  

“There’s so many different ways we can unpack that. It ebbs and weaves between these moments where I just absolutely can’t stand myself or my actions, or just the way my brain seems to work. And then there’s other parts of the record where I’m just like, fuck that. I think all of this mess is beautiful in a way, because I could clean it up. I know I can. Something can grow out of that. I know if you plant the right things, the right things will grow. And I’m capable of doing that, but I’m not there yet. Maybe that’s some of the things that are being said.”

“The point [overall] is just to have the moments in your life kind of mean something. It could be small, big, exciting, boring, mundane, doesn’t matter, but be present. That’s really the big struggle. I struggle with that a fuck ton. That’s my biggest probable struggle, is to just stay present.”

On his relationship with artistic meaning and how to interpret art, he says:

“But for the most part, every time I read that shit, I just feel like I’m full of shit. I’m just like, dude, you don’t have to explain away everything. I write really sporadically. I write really broken up. I write as abstractly as I can that it makes sense to me. I’m trying to paint a picture in my own mind when I write lyrics, and I don’t really like having to pinpoint every pixel or thing in the painting and be like, ‘Oh, this is why I put this there.’  

Art is supposed to just be received and then appreciated, and then it’s up to the viewer, the listener, to get the weight out of it. It’s kind of like you take the mystique away whenever you just explain everything that you did and why. And I felt like I got really stuck in that with the last record. So with this one, I had to write it so quickly because I don’t know what the fuck happened, but I was having writer’s block like crazy, the months leading up to the studio.” 

The whole record also feels like a unified front, and part of that is due to commitment:

“(The band) have this thing. We have this kind of running joke where I love comedy. I love doing bits and stuff, just with your friends, just any kind of bit or whatever. And when someone meets you there and joins in on it, and you kind of riff on a bit for a while, nothing feels better than connecting with someone like that, especially if you’re getting to know someone, and they just kind of meet you there and you’re like … Or alternatively, you know someone so long that you get into a bit like that, and you could just drag it out forever.  

“So, we kind of have this joke, like, commit. Commit to the bit. And with music, we kind of do that too where it’s like, well, if we’re going to do something this spastic, let’s really go for it.”

“Like, if we’re going to write a rock song,” he goes on, “let’s not throw a breakdown in it, ruin the fucking song. Let’s commit to the bit, like we’re going to play this part for this thing, for this moment. Ride that out; finish that thought process out. We don’t have to incorporate every, little thing that we are into every song because then it just doesn’t really make sense. Keep the same joke going, right? You try to do a bit, and somebody starts making fart jokes. You’re like, you’re not doing the thing. You’re doing a different thing.” 

Watch the video for “All Candy” here:

For more from Greyhaven, find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Greyhaven and Cam Evans

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