The Gray Vines are a New Jersey-based duo who have been described as “embracing the strange” and are putting their post-modern spin on ’90s rock ‘n’ roll.
Jake Hoffman and Jill Deegan met in a Philly alleyway after attending the Post Pop Depression Tour. Deegan, desperate to escape a drink invite from an inebriated, glitter-covered fan, struck up a conversation with Hoffman. Hoffman, an accomplished toy inventor and Ghostbusters fanatic, and Deegan, a self-described game show junkie and college radio station manager, formed the duo shortly after.
Hoffman’s empathetic songwriting and aggressive guitar playing pairs well with Deegan’s melodic and deliberate bass playing. Influenced by acts like the Foo Fighters, Queens Of The Stone Age and David Bowie, together they create music with an energy that swings the pendulum between grunge garage rock and the avant garde.
Yearning for a sound that stands on its own, The Gray Vines enlisted two-time Grammy winner Marc Swersky (Joe Cocker, Roger Daltrey) to produce their debut EP. The self-titled EP was recorded at Shorefire Recording Studios in Long Branch, NJ, a proverbial playground of audio equipment, under the knob twiddling brilliance of Joseph DeMaio (Monster Magnet, Bon Jovi). All tracks were cut live over the course of a five-day period. Recorded with no frills, the EP is raw and spontaneous, paying homage to their iconic musical influences.
Swersky and his projects are not new to these pages. In the past, he has given us beautiful products by artists such as Gedeon Luke & The People, Christine Martucci, Boyd USA and much more. As a writer, his credits are impeccable and include such luminaries as Joe Cocker, Kesha, Natalie Cole, Lulu, Gordon Brown, Nicki Shannon, Kara Dioguardi, Rebecca Jordan and so many other well-known partners. Marc is also a two-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter featured on The Bodyguard soundtrack for the song “Trust In Me” sung by Joe Cocker and Thanks And Giving All Year Long (executive producer, Marlo Thomas) for the song “(I’ll Give) Anything But Up!” sung by Hilary Duff. So of course, it was with great interest that I wanted to take a listen to his latest antistatic discovery right here on the New Jersey scene.
The Gray Vines may be new to the scene, but they are already delivering solidified results with their new self-titled EP. I took a listen to the music and here are a few of my humble thoughts on this dynamic duo.
The disc starts out with a song called “Dear Friend.” Right away I hear the band’s influential nod to the late ’90s grunge-filled days of bands like The Lemonheads. Guitars tear vast swaths of grit-fueled melody over the top of rumbling bass guitar and evenly layered vocal harmonies. Hoffman’s lead guitar is both agreeable and slightly off center which I love. Instead of going for standard lead patterns that you hear way too often these days, Hoffman rolls into his specific tunnel vision of colored sound. The result is both refreshing and addictive to the listener. Combine that with the seamless vocal assist of Jill Deegan, and you have a song that should do well on radio.
“Just To You” features the fuzz-dominated bass work of Deegan under the powerful vocal ministrations of Hoffman before he joins with sharp and biting guitar chord action. Listening to this duo play (great drum work comes courtesy of Steven Jake) I can immediately see what Swersky must have seen in their talent. There’s nothing typical about these writers, and they achieve their own level of greatness without sacrificing originality. The choruses here are catchy and well-crafted, as are verses. This band doesn’t waste time on additional instrumentation, and it makes their songs shine brightly. The modulation into the middle-eight is outstanding, and Hoffman’s lead work is both energetic and strangely inspiring. Hoffman reminds me of Jason Everman (Nirvana and Soundgarden), and his skill at balance is in the range of perfect. Another outstanding radio-oriented tune that should go far.
The next song is called “Silver Moon.” Electric chords ring under Hoffman’s raw vocals as the band begins to rise behind him. Drum work (featuring Jon Loree) is fantastic and works well with the bass work of Deegan. Hoffman and Deegan are masters at compositional construction, and this is yet another great example of thought-provoking songwriting. Lyrically speaking, Hoffman is a natural born storyteller and his delivery his impeccable. I love Deegan’s vocals in the bridges along with the Harrison-like guitar work of Hoffman. Choruses are memorable for days, and they blend perfectly with other compositional elements of the tune. Very Beatle-esque. By the time Hoffman hits the solo spot, I’m already a fan. I also love the ending and the way it drops down into the same sparse space as the beginning does.
“Turn Around” hits the player next and reminds me of old Foo Fighters. I love the syncopated feel and the jagged guitar chords over smooth backing guitars before bass and drums kick into the mix. Hoffman sings like Bowie during his ’80s days on this one. The middle-eight guitar lead is pure Fletcher Dragge (Pennywise), and the chorus is solid as hell.
“Walking On” once again features the pocket-like drum work of Jon Loree. “Walking On” is a musical walk through the combination of pseudo-pop meets The Replacements. Guitars fly between riffs, and dissonant, Pat Smear-styled noise rock progressions would make Dave Grohl sit up and take massive notice. Bass work by Deegan is rock solid and nails this fascinating tune to the proverbial tarmac.
The last song on the EP is called “Nothing Good To Say.” Hoffman lunges at the listener, utilizing powerful vocals and crunching guitars as Deegan and Loree keep things steady and in the groove. Guitars wreak sonic havoc on this one, and I dig the combination of dirty rhythms and slashing, heavily pronounced section changes. Once again, The Gray Vines come up with a winner. Strong choruses and heavy duty verses make for a lethal combination that should see this band in much bigger places for 2018 and on. I love the brief juxtaposition of change around 2:26 with swirling guitar chords.
The Gray Vines have produced a killer EP that should get plenty of airplay in the upcoming months. With a thorough combination of playing talent, writing skill and a production team that enhances instead of hinders, you will be seeing a lot more of this Jersey phenomenon. For more information head on over to thegrayvines.com.