Giant Squid wraps its tentacles around a shiny future
For Giant Squid, 2006 must have felt a lot like the song “Neonate” from its album Metridium Fields. There are moments that crush like a dirge, but pushing through the muck are unexpected and sweet melodies that wend their way to the forefront, eventually taking over and leaving a sense of relief, even hope. But the relentless groove of the guitars, tuned lower than any six-stringed instrument has a right to be, leaves a permanent impression.
The short version of the recent Giant Squid story is that the band—consisting of husband and wife Aaron and Aurielle Gregory on guitars and vocals, Bryan Beeson on bass, and brothers Mike and Tim Conroy on drums and trumpet—relocated from Sacramento to Austin, Texas, in early 2006, searching for greener pastures, or perhaps bluer oceans.
What the musicians got was a receptive music scene and, in their estimation, more clubs than Sacramento. “We could play every couple of weeks and play some of the better venues,” Aaron said in a recent interview over a pint.
What they got even more of was tumult. The Conroys were fine in Austin, but couldn’t handle the touring. “They discovered it wasn’t the life for them,” said Aaron, with what turned out to be characteristic tact.
After the brothers bailed, they were replaced by Kimberley Freeman on keyboards and Scott Sutton on drums. The new lineup played a handful of shows, and then Aurielle dropped a depth charge: She was leaving the band. The details of how it all went down are sketchy, and Aaron is loath to discuss it. But he and Aurielle are no longer married—or soon to be no longer married—and she’s living elsewhere.
“[Aurielle] made some pretty drastic decisions that were shocking to us, including me, who was married to her at the time,” he said before clamming up about his ex and turning the conversation back to the band.
“There were some long nights of drinking in Austin. Bryan and I decided to keep going.” Of the return to Sacramento, he said, “I needed to come home to California to be with some friends and family.”
Fair enough. And who cares why Giant Squid left—or came back—or who’s in the band (currently Aaron, Beeson, Sutton and new member Jackie Perez Gratz on cello), as long as they’re worth listening to? The focus is, hopefully, on the music. And Giant Squid, whatever its lineup, has great music in its repertoire.
The songs on Metridium Fields are unlike just about anything out there in prog rock (no identifiable classical bent), metal (too much melody atop the riffage) or doom metal (whatever). No, the songs as performed on the CD are haunting in their instrumentation, with crunchy, dirty, low-tuned guitars, deft keyboard phrases and, maybe the greatest surprise, cathartic joy in the vocal performances. The words themselves may be dark, even impenetrable in meaning, but the voices are not, from Aaron’s guttural howls and pleading tenor, to Aurielle’s lilting harmonies.
This band on CD is a force, typified in the 20-plus minute “Metridium Field,” which Aaron summed up thusly: “It was an idea to come up with the most triumphant riff I could come up with and play it into the ground. We played that song until we couldn’t move our wrists.”
How all those songs will translate with only one guitar and a cello is anyone’s guess, but Aaron is excited, regardless. “Jackie’s so capable,” he said. “She’s holding down what was done with the keyboard. Other times she plays Aurielle’s guitar parts and she’s a fabulous vocalist. If anything, the songs are almost more sad or melancholy.”
Sad or melancholy. It’s funny how songs that certainly are those things can end up making one feel buoyant after listening to them. Kind of like how one can look back on a rough year; battered and bruised, but with the solace that the worst is behind. And this moment, whatever it is, is the best thing yet.