Grotus live in Rouen, France - 1994.
The expression "ahead of their time" pretty much sums up the musically unique, genre blending, multi-media 1990's Bay Area group Grotus. Grotus was an amazing band, especially live, that appealed to fans of punk, industrial, metal, two drum-set percussion, samples, and politically outspoken lyrics. Unfortunately though they were also one of those really good bands that never fully got the type of credit or, more importantly, the level of success that they deserved and the band called it quits in 1996, only five years after they released their debut album.
Grotus' original members Adam Tanner (keyboard, guitars, sampler) and John Carson (keyboards, bass, sampler) formed the band in San Francisco in 1989. Drummer/vocalist/sampler player Lars Fox joined afterward and together they honed their unique sound and steadily built up a strong local following, getting much airplay on stations like KUSF and KALX, and gigging at a variety of venues, often with the band Consolidated with whom they were friends. Drummer and DJ Bruce Boyd joined the group after they released their debut in 1991. His addition gave Grotus the two drummer sonic assault that helped define their powerful sound.
Grotus' record labels included Spirit Music Industries, Alternative Tentacles and the major London/Polygram, and between them all the band released a series of singles, EPs, and albums. They played on stages alongside such groups as Nine Inch Nails and Mike Patton's Mr Bungle, for whom they opened on a 1992 US tour. For the next four years the band toured tirelessly, winning diehard fans along the way in countries such as France, where the above live concert clip was shot and where they recorded a live album in 1994. Grotus' three studio albums are Brown (1991), Slow Motion Apocalypse (1993), and Mass (1996). While most of the Grotus catalog is out of print (Slow Motion on Alt Tent is still in print on CD), you can usually, with a bit of digging in the vinyl and CD sections, track down copies of their records at Amoeba Music. Recently I caught up with member Bruce Boyd to ask him some questions about this great SF group.
Amoeblog: You joined the band after it had been around for a minute. Can you give folks an idea of what point Grotus was at when you joined and how you came to join the fold?
Bruce Boyd: Grotus had just opened up for Nine Inch Nails at the Warfield. They played with a drum machine. I had just moved to the 'Sco and Adam Tanner worked in the place next door to my job as a screenprinter. This guy Smelly introduced us to each other. Adam wanted me to drum in Grotus and I told him no several times because I "don't like industrial music." Then he told me about the idea [of] playing with samples and a click track and I was sold. I tried out and liked the guys and the music.
Amoeblog: Can you break down Grotus' instrumentation, both live and in the studio?
Bruce Boyd: Studio: I gotta say, Lars and Adam did most of the work. I hated the studio -- found
it boring, and was generally useless in there. I just stayed high and played the drums when they told me to. But the road was a different story. Unlike the other guys, I had previous band/touring experience. Plus onstage I kicked out the jams.
Amoeblog: You played drums but were not alone in the percussion department. How important was it to have more than one drummer?
Bruce Boyd Yeah, at first I had the typical drummer's fragile ego... and didn't like him up there drumming. You know...he's the singer... "Doesn't he get enough attention?" and all that. But then I realized how cool it came off on stage and how much thunder it produced live. It became our thing and people loved it and me n Lars bonded and shit. It was bitchin.
Amoeblog: Who did most of the sampling and what were some of the sound sources you drew from for your samples?
Bruce Boyd: Adam and Lars did most of the sampling/song writing. Almost all of it. Sure, I might have had an input here n there. Actually, I was very much a part of creating "clean" sound sources [that] ran the gamut: od black blues singers, world beat, instrumentals, documentaries, the Melvins (my choice).
Amoeblog: Can you tell me about the accompanying videos you guys used to incorporate into your shows?
Bruce Boyd: That was 100% Lars right there. He was passionate about his vision and you gotta let
a guy run with it. They were kind of a visual representation of the lyrical content of each song.
Amoeblog: You guys were artistically close with Consolidated, correct?
Bruce Boyd: I mean, I guess. They were way more dance and techno I thought. We had the very same technical band structures, combining live musicians with the tech. That was new shit back then.
Amoeblog: What other Bay Area bands were you friends with and how, in retrospect, was the Bay Area music scene at that time (first half of the nineties)?
Bruce Boyd: Fuck, dude, the scene was the shit back then -- Melvins, Sleep, Plainfield, Steelpole Bathtub, Neurosis. I mean, there was a lot goin' on. The scene was diverse, not pigeon-holed into any cliques.
Amoeblog: I know you guys got a lot of love in the Bay Area and I also know you toured a lot outside the Bay. So what was the reaction like outside the Bay, both in the US and in Europe?
Bruce Boyd: Reaction in the USA was mixed. The heartland for the most part was confused by us. East Coast was good. But on the whole, Europe was way better to Grotus: great crowd reactions. We toured Europe three times and hit like 14 countries, hands down. The best time of my life...what I can remember of it.
Amoeblog: What was the Mike Patton connection and how did it come about?
Bruce Boyd: He saw us at the DNA one time and just asked us to tour with Mr Bungle. That was a great tour; Bungle fans totally "got" Grotus. Mike was way cool, made touring fun as hell.
Amoeblog: What are you doing now and what are the other members up to? Any chance of a Grotus reunion now that the world has caught up with the music?
Bruce Boyd: Me? I'm a radio DJ in Moab, Utah. Kong is living in Portland. Lars is in Portland too, producing for large acts like Everclear. Adam took off to North Carolina, shunned all heavy music and went deep into the bluegrass scene, playing mandolin. He's very, very good at it, I hear...A reunion? Hhhmm... I'm down. The world? Ah, the Grotus Myspace page doesn't have many friends, let's say. Seems we have largely been forgotten, except for a few die-hard fans.