Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett: ‘If You Want To Be Old School Then You Have To Do Old School’ [Exclusive Interview]
Grim Reaper, the band responsible for the unforgettable "See You in Hell" song / music video, were one of the finest acts to emerge from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene in the '80s. After cutting three acclaimed records, the band folded due to legal trouble with Ebony Records, which had released the first two albums, See You In Hell and Fear No Evil. Singer Steve Grimmett reactivated the band in 2006 attaching his name as a prefix of the Grim Reaper moniker and the group has finally dished out a long-anticipated new studio album, Walking in the Shadows.
We caught up with the iconic singer who was trekking through the mountains on a U.S. tour to discuss the new album and how the group maintained a slick, organic, old school production, inspiration for some of the tracks and a bit of history. Grim Reaper won a battle of the bands contest which ultimately landed them a record deal and we delved into the past with some more background information on this legendary tale and more.
Check out our chat with Steve Grimmett below.
Between GrimmStine, your solo outfit and The Sanity Days you've been pretty busy in the last decade and you reactivated Grim Reaper in 2006. Why did it take so long for the Grim Reaper album to come out?
Because we were just asked [to play] everywhere. All over the world. We were deciding on that, basically. Nobody outside the [United] States has seen Grim Reaper live because we didn't play anywhere else but the States. We did all that and then work started to slow up. It didn't dry up entirely, I wondered why — then I saw one of the guys, one of the promoters who books all the big festivals in Germany and he explained that they've seen it all now. So we needed to come up with a new album.
I went... okay. All of it turned, not into problems, but it sort of put the constraints on how we wrote because 30 years on we're writing and recording totally different so we had to go back basically to the old days of Grim Reaper and start again.
So that took a while. And also, the pressures of life was another one but then we lost two members as well and we had to bring in another drummer and another bass player. That all took it's toll. I think it was around three years of getting it together, this album now. We've got a really good team now. Great drummer, great bass player, so we are already starting to prepare for the next one.
Walking in the Shadows sounds like a lost Grim Reaper album that was plucked from the '80s. How important was it for you to capture the more classic, organic production instead of beefing it up with all the modern technology?
It was simple, really. If you want to be old-school then you have to do old-school. What we did was, I have my own recording studio so we recorded drums old school. Set up all of his stuff, I mic'd it, we recorded it that way. Same with bass and guitar and basically what you hear on the album is what we recorded.
There is nothing on there, sample wise. Nothing. It was all old-school. I don't really know how to do anything other than that, to do it old-school. That's how I learned and I think when you do that you capture something. What, I don’t know. But you do.
It sounds so much more honest without the samples. Even if you look at some of the older new wave of British Heavy Metal bands, you've got Andy Sneap with Hell doing stuff and it sounds great and modern, then you've got Grim Reaper and Satan doing the old throwback style. Is this your first time producing?
I've done a few things, but this — really on my own stuff. I don't mix it, I've got someone else that does that because if you're too close to it you get tunnel vision in the way you look at it. We've got a friend, Ian and I, Pete Newdeck who I can't say is learning anymore but he's honing his craft and we just said, "Look - it's gotta be four / three per album. Have a listen to the other three, especially the last one and see what you can do." He hit the nail on the head, it's awesome. He's done a really good job of that. I think with what we gave him, made it a nice easy job for him in the first place, but great job.
What were some of the biggest challenges that popped up while you were in the studio? Was there anything unexpected that happened during the process?
Only me, really. I had not taken in my studio voice really. I had done a lot of live work prior to going into the studio, for me. I took that with me and it goes a little bit — I can't say rough — it wasn't the old Steve Grimmett and I got reminded of that, [laughs] so I basically redid the whole thing again. That was it, really. Nothing was majorly difficult to do. When the musicians are really good and you're fairly well prepared there shouldn't be any problems.
Was there any talk to have original guitarist Nick Bowcott involved with this album?
Yeah — we did and then time got the best of us. Because we had been chased by the record label, they wanted it really bad. We went down to meet them and we ended up doing the deal and then they put a time constraint on us. "S--t, we gotta get going boys. Let's get going." So that's why Nick wasn't on it, because we just didn't have time to do that. Not saying that won't be a possibility in the future, it might be.
One of my favorites on here is "Call Me In the Morning." Can you explain how that one came together?
It was actually one that we wrote at rehearsal, we came up with this idea of call me in the morning. That was all I had. I didn't have a story or anything. I did in the end, it's about because I've been married four times and it was about my third wife who turned out to be totally unstable, to put it politely. It's about that, really.
It seems like any song on this album could have been picked as the single. Why did you choose the title track?
The reason the album is called that and the single, it was kinda catchy but we felt that had the most energy at one particular point that we were recording. We were gonna call the album From Hell, but this one just [froze] everything we thought that we were doing this whole thing for — it has a sing-along anthem, it was really really cool as far as the guitar work and the energy. So that's why it ended up being that, "Walking in the Shadows."
It seems to connect with the artwork, too.
Yes, absolutely. I spoke to the artist, said this is what we're doing. I had to give him what music we had because we demo'd the stuff anyway. I gave him lyrics, song ideas and basically that. He came up with three ideas, that one you've got is the one we most preferred.
A Battle of the Bands led to the recording of the demo and signing to a label in the early days. Who were some of the other bands you were competing against?
There was no other rock band in it at all. There were, I can't really say what they were but it was kind of some depressive — some mainstream, Top 40 stuff and us. [laughs] We'd watch the other guys and when we went on there, it was just energy. We gave it everything we had. That was doing the songs and obviously performing. There was a guy, or one of the guys that was judging it came down and said afterwards, "You know, you delivered and I felt it and I just had to say you guys were the ones, for me, were the winner."
So that's how we ended up doing that. Then we went in, 24 hours in a 24-track studio and did the demos. I was already working for another band at the time, I wasn't in the band but I was doing some work for them. I went up to Ebony Records to do some more work for them and I dropped the demo off. Six weeks later we were signed to their label.
Do you think you had an advantage being the only rock band in that competition?
Quite possibly. We did have a lot of our fans there for the start, but everybody did. Our fans just went for it. They were the loudest, rowdiest, I'm sure that was part of it. To add to that, I would never ever do it again. It was the worst time of my life. I have never A: been so nervous, and afterwards as well.
When we waited to find out who won, to be quite honest, we didn't think we stood a chance. There were some really good bands there. We waited and waited and they announced who was third, who was second and I was like - "It's not us. We cannot have won." When they announced it was us, the whole place erupted. It was something that I'll never forget, but something I never want to go through ever again. [laughs]
In the '80s, Grim Reaper were one of the last bands that really held onto that early New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound. In 1986, there was Turbo (Judas Priest) and Somewhere in Time (Iron Maiden) coming out with the synthesizers. What do you feel was Grim Reaper's overall influence and impact on the entirety of New Wave of British Heavy Metal?
You know it was just because we liked doing what we were doing. Yeah, we obviously were into Turbo when we were doing the last album. I was warming up with that, but it didn't do anything for me. I can't say that it wasn't something — we wouldn't have done it. I tipped my hat to Judas Priest and that was cool. It was really for us, we stuck to our guns. We stuck to what we do best. I'm glad we did.
With the traditional metal revival that's been happening, do you envision any kind of package tour? Maybe Satan, Angel Witch, Hell, Jaguar?
We have thought of that, but we just got on and did our own things to start off with. We just did what we do. Every tour that we've done in The States back in the 80s and now have always been us headlining and we've had local acts. Well that's not true, obviously we did the 'Hell on Wheels' tour in 1987 [Helloween, Armored Saint, Grim Reaper]. I would consider doing that for sure but I think it's probably a better things for fans. They get a better deal for their money.
With the metal resurgence happening there's a lot of new bands popping up. Is there any new band that's exciting you right now?
To be fair there's one in England that I've not nurtured but have supported for quite some time now. They're a band called Twisted State of Mind in the U.K. They started when they were 9 years old and they were everything '80s that you could think of. They were fantastic, they still are. They're still going and they're getting some fairly good recognition. They've played over here a few times, they haven't done a major tour but they played over here.
They brought in a new bass player who now is the frontman because the singer who was the guitarist, or is the guitarist had to stop singing because his voice broke. He didn't sound very good anymore so they had to swap him out. They're a great band, they have great energy. I love them and I will continue to support them because I love them. Check them out.
Thanks to Steve Grimmett for the interview. Grab your copy of 'Walking in the Shadows' from Steve Grimmett's Grim Reaper at Amazon or digitally through iTunes. Keep up with everything the band is doing by following their Facebook page.
Grim Reaper, "Walking in the Shadows"
See Grim Reaper in the 10 Greatest New Wave of British Heavy Metal Bands
Top 10 NWOBHM Albums You May Not Own Yet... But Should!