Holy Grail are a traditional metal band from Hollywood, California, with influences like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Helloween. Earlier this year, the group released their sophomore album, Ride The Void, and are preparing for their first headlining tour with Oklahoma’s Anti-Mortem. I recently talked with singer James Paul Luna and guitarist Eli Santana to discuss a variety of topics, including how to go about using new equipment and performing at festivals.
They spoke warmly of playing with cassettes, and are getting ready to release their new album on tape. In addition, Luna talks about his contributing work with Children Of Bodom, Parkway Drive, 69 Eyes and others. The transcription is below:
You are gearing up for your first headlining tour with Anti-Mortem. How do you prepare to become a headliner?
James Paul Luna: Well, it has been a long time coming. We did a co-headlining tour with Cauldron, who are our buddies from Toronto. Now that we have a second album out, things have been going pretty well. We have been touring nonstop. The opportunity came about where our management, booking agent and label said you need to try out and see what you can do on your own and go for it. It’s kind of like we are anxious, nervous, and excited all at once, just trying to see how it turns out. We are real excited we are going to play a full set. It’s been a while since we have done that. We will have more than the 30- or 45-minute set. We will try to do an hour to an hour and 15 minute set.
What are some of your biggest concerns and worries playing at festivals?
JL: For me personally, since I’m a strict vegetarian, I am always concerned on what the food or catering is going to be like at those things since it is usually like turkey legs, fries and random junk food. The other concern is how hungover you are going to be the next day and then have to catch another flight to another festival.
Eli Santana: I think a big concern for myself is what equipment we are going to use, since a lot of times at festivals you have so many quick changeovers that you don’t actually bring your own gear. It’s scary since sometimes on the fly you have to get an amp that you have never really played and deal with the tone quickly and be able to perform. When I see a band at a festival and they are struggling through a set, I give them the benefit of the doubt because it’s such a weird fish out of water thing with monitors and equipment. That is always such a scary thing. I played Wacken and I got this Marshall that I never have even seen before and I didn’t know how to figure it out. It had this straight AC/DC Malcolm Young tone and I am trying to shred on it and it was really tough and it was a slight nightmare.
I noticed Ride The Void is getting a cassette release, and a number of other metal bands are going with cassettes too. How much interest do you notice from fans as well as from other bands when it comes to heavy metal releases on cassette?
JL: I think it sounds better on cassette too. It has a more analog feel to it. The way it gets bounced to the tape, it will give you a little bit more of that oomph that you remember listening to. I had a tape player when I was driving around in high school, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me.
ES: Just growing up with the age group that we are, that I always wanted to see a band that I was in, like when we come out with our cassette, it’s going to look like this. That part of me, the younger me, to make him happy, I think it would be really cool to come out with a cassette. When everybody was like, back to vinyl, I was kind of joking, “Forget vinyl, go with cassettes.” Now I am actually more serious about it.
You have had bonus tracks like “Lucifera,” “Go Down Swinging” and “Can’t Hide The Wolf” on various releases of Chase The Wind and various EPs and B-sides. Can you please speak about the recording and inspiration of some of these tracks?
JL: To talk about them each individually, “Lucifera” is inspired by this South American or maybe Mexican horror film called Alucarda. It is about this young girl who goes to a convent and becomes the wife of Satan. It was a mouthful to sing “Alucarda” so we changed it to “Lucifera” so it would be a little bit easier to sing.
ES: That was one of the foreign B movies from the ‘70s that our producer, Matt Hyde, would just put on to set the mood and just have on repeat. The other was Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS. I am trying to write, and I am looking up, and it’s like, “What the hell are we watching?” It was kind of fun to have something kind of dark but really poorly made to draw inspiration from.
JL: With “Go Down Swinging,” I would look at it like a Maiden song. It has a lot of Maiden worship. “Can’t Hide The Wolf” was actually a song that didn’t make it on the first record. We couldn’t really work out this one transition part, and we kind of revisited it on Ride The Void session and that is how it came about. We worked on it with Matt Hyde and tweaked it to perfection.
ES: “Can’t Hide The Wolf” was one of our favorite choruses we had done. It was kind of rough leaving it off the album. Maybe in the future it will see some light, maybe live or something.
It’s been three years since Crisis In Utopia. How many songs have you composed that are ready to be recorded that you know you would want to put on a future album?
JL: We have two songs that we never put on an album from our first EP demo sessions: “TGPF” and “For All Eternity” that we might end up doing eventually. They are just there on the back burner. “For All Eternity” is like power metal, Yngwie meets Dio kind of sound where is it has really technical power metal riffs and a stompy Dio chorus. “TGPF” is a very fast kind of chug song that has a very epic breakdown and outro to it.
You also appeared on the Children Of Bodom track “Party All The Time” from Relentless Reckless Forever. What are some bands that you may end up finding yourself doing background vocals or duets with this year?
JL: I am not sure, it just comes up unexpectedly—whatever Matt Hyde is working on at the time. That was actually a Matt Hyde record and I also sing on the Parkway Drive record that came out recently, and then the other one I did was with this goth band from Scandinavia called The 69 Eyes. Whenever he needs someone to do backing vocals, I come in and lay a few things down. I don’t know what is up next. Maybe it will be Monster Magnet or something?
For musicians who are just beginning their careers, can you explain the difference between paying your dues and being taken advantage of?
JL: There is a fine line, definitely. You have to go about it blindly with paying your dues. I suggest talking to other bands and see how things are going and talk to other bands that have been around a bit longer. That’s how you find out who is blowing steam up your ass. It is really tricky. We’ve gone through a bunch of different phonies and fake promises over the years with myself as well as Eli. When you come up through about a million bands through L.A. and San Diego, you kind of get a vibe for it. It is very tricky. You kind of never know when you are being taken advantage of; you get a good vibe from people to go off of.
ES: You kind of follow your gut if something is wrong, but also sometimes you want to believe some of the stuff people say. A lot of it has to do with talking to other bands. They can give you a heads up on how things are done. Even certain people in a particular scene, you say, “I’m dealing with so and so.” “Oh, don’t mess with him, he’s terrible.” “But if you deal with him, he’s a good dude.” Stuff like that. Don’t go it alone. Do talk with other bands and make friends with them. You do have to draw a line in the sand as far as how much to do that. Paying your dues is alright, but you start doing that for years and years, you have to say, “Okay, that’s enough of that.” It is a really weird fine line that you need to make personally.
Eli and Alex are doing this guitar clinic at the shows.
ES: Alex and I are doing a guitar clinic for people who want to show up a bit earlier and have the cash to do so. You can see the flyer on our Facebook. We are calling it the Super Shred Bros. Guitar Clinic. The clinic is 90 minutes. We will teach a lot of licks and stuff. We will leave a huge amount of time at the end to have a Q and A and even go into certain guitar playing stuff if that is the question. It’s completely open-ended so there will be a lot of time to talk. I know with myself, once I get going, we probably will go a little bit over the time we designated. When I talk about the band and the writing, I get super nerdy and I can’t say enough about it. I’m going to stay a lot of time. We will be having it every single day. We’re not going to do one of those things where, “Oh, we didn’t get enough people to show up.” If there is a city with one guy, he is going to get a guitar lesson from Alex and I. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for info and pricing.
Holy Grail will play at Saint Vitus in New York City, on November 2nd with Orange Goblin and Lazer/Wulf. For more information, go to holygrailofficial.com.