If the title of The Grip Weeds’ new record seems oddly familiar, it’s because some of us crazies know about the 1967 John Lennon movie of the very same name. What it doesn’t tell you is that when it comes to identity, the band’s bizarre moniker pays acute homage to the movie, the man, and the timeframe. The Grip Weeds’ name is derived from Lennon’s character in the 1967 Richard Lester production of How I Won The War. In that film, Lennon plays Musketeer Gripweed, a parody-driven member of the 3rd Troop, the 4th Musketeers (a fictional regiment reminiscent of the Royal Fusiliers) and their misadventures in the Second World War.
How I Won The War marks the sixth studio-based record for The Grip Weeds. The group launched their public persona with the memorable 1994 release of House Of Vibes, and they haven’t looked back since. But it has been the last few years that have been the busiest for The Grip Weeds. After releasing their groundbreaking double album Strange Change Machine in 2010, a holiday album Under The Influence Of Christmas in 2011, the concert set Speed Of Live and companion DVD Live Vibes in 2012 and Inner Grooves in 2013, the band had worked themselves into a busy corner and were beginning to reach a personal crossroads.
Fiery guitarist Kristen Pinell tells us, “All bands go through their rough periods, and The Grip Weeds are no exception. Being in a band with my husband and brother-in-law is a double-edged sword. The familial bond helps us endure some situations that usually kill other bands off. Conversely, it’s tougher to leave arguments in the studio when your bandmates are also your family.” The tensions within the band on a personal level triggered the ideas explored musically on How I Won The War.
Another telling milestone for the band is the recruitment of new bassist Dave DeSantis. As Rick Reil tells us, “Our new bassist Dave DeSantis pulled us to another level. Kurt [Reil] and I were at each other’s throats during the early stages of this album, but Dave’s musicality and demeanor inspired us to get down to what’s really important to us, namely, our music.”
Their apparent and curmudgeonly similarities to Ray and Dave Davies (The Kinks) aside, Kurt and Rick demonstrate that everything else remains business as usual. As with all previous releases, How I Won The War was conceived, constructed and finished at the band’s House of Vibes recording studios. Longtime home to the Reil brothers, House of Vibes rivals many rooms when it comes to quality and engineering ingenuity. Rock legends Mark Lindsay and The Smithereens have recently graced the rooms of HOV along with World Music crossover artists Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Captain Beefheart and collaborator Gary Lucas. Lucas recorded an album with Robert Plant/Jimmy Page vocalist Najma Akhtar at the studio that charted internationally and received rave reviews in numerous world-renowned publications.
The influential background of The Grip Weeds is what makes them such an interesting group. Combining the soul of the Beatles and the bold, experimental theories of George Martin, the band slithers down inspirational, shag-piled swaths of psychedelically laced creativity. Combining an addictive attack of tube-blazing guitars, pumping bass and pocket tight drum work, the band delivers on all promises. Vocally, The Grip Weeds churn out arabesque and attractive harmonies that would make The Stone Roses sit up and crawl over Big Star and Teenage Fan Club to get to the melody. The Grip Weeds never forget to safeguard the influential fuse that continues to light their creativity into the current decade.
How I Won The War (Jem Records) is no standard platter. What The Grip Weeds do is bring an enhanced re-focus and fresh engagement to the original story concept, exploring the universal examples of plot, vision, and emotional theme while twisting everything into their distinct muscular voice. They’ve brought the remembered images of this dark, absurdist film to a clever musical plateau, turning an inconsistent flick into a musical odyssey paced with continuity and shored up with intuitive directives of progressive destiny. This is a conceptual disc aimed at clearing the air for both group and character, and in the end, everyone gets out alive.
The title track starts things off with electronically induced staccato fire, military-styled drums and mile high slide pulls. The band simmers, building tense directive and string scraping into the oncoming fast lane of their Byrds harmony complexities. The group chooses wisely for the opening song, doling out lush and spatially psychedelic Zen on “How I Won The War.” Sidewinding from ledge to compositionally unforeseeable ledge, The Grip Weeds catch bold footholds and climb into a beautiful and dynamic chasms of glittering direction. Kurt Reil’s vocal resonance delivers some of the strongest power in rock and roll today, and it sets the tone on “How I Won The War.” Picture the best melodic ideas of The Zombies with a fuel truck full of Amboy Dukes vitality, and you’ll understand this stormy, opening gem.
“Life Saver” is another highlight that I wanted to mention. If you’re into bands like The Records and The Plimsouls, “Lifesaver” is your salvation. Filled with chimey, reverb-drenched guitar candy, the drum work of Reil is a battle charge cry into the world of addictive pop-rock royalty. Harmonies are icing over tasty choruses and complex bridges materialize and burst into fresh reincarnations of verse work. The bass work of DeSantis is everywhere at once, catching progressive directives and shoring the Reil foundation like they’ve played together for decades. The guitar work of Pinell and Reil is an instantaneous injection of top-shelf hook and adds euphoric undertone to an already incredible chorus, easily putting this song on the “my favorites” list.
Coming strong on those heels is “Other Side Of Your Heart.” 12-string acoustic guitars pulse and strum over high-fretted bass work and solid drums. Pinell and Reil lay raw and shimmering riff work over the intro as the group spins the listener into stepping stones of otherworldly grooviness. The middle-eight guitar work is immaculately effective, utilizing a minimum of notes to push the melodic phrase deep into the listener’s long-term subconscious. “Other Side Of Your Heart” is a rare look at a minor-based composition that not only achieves hit record appeal, but also stamps a long-lasting impression on your willfully receptive mind.
My favorite song and the one I see for notoriety is “Lead Me To It.” Digging deep with four-on-the-floor rowdy rebellion, the group hits you with their “wall of sound.” Echoed codes of harmonic majesty and emotion-tugging melody make way as guitars rip raw, rusty salvos of Godfathers panache. This is the wonderful culmination of The Grip Weeds’ past and present passion for genuine rock and roll, and it’s a habit-forming vehicle that speeds them to the next popular level. The middle-eight lead sets up the returning chorus like gangbusters. If radio doesn’t pick up on this, I’m turning in my typewriter for golf clubs.
While I’ve but touched the surface of this swirling collective, the concept for this record is engaging and deep-reaching when it comes to standout creativity. It takes a keen observation to source a raw idea and summon the collective metamorphous for turning said idea into finished product. The Grip Weeds’ ideas have always been on the edge of greatness, and the end result of How I Won The War is a concise, 51-minute journey through 17 movements of highly original rock and psychedelic delight just begging for national attention.
The Grip Weeds: Kurt Reil (vocals, drums); Rick Reil (vocals, guitar); Kristin Pinell (lead guitar, vocals); Dave DeSantis (bass, vocals). For more information on purchasing How I Won The War, please check out the band’s website, gripweeds.com.