"Everyone is an alien to me," Shehzaad Jiwani states on "Blown Out," a song from Greys's new record, Outer Heaven. A few tracks earlier, he's ruminating on the color of his skin, and its effect on how he's perceived by others, across the monstrous hooks of "No Star." Outer Heaven -- the second LP from the veteran Toronto punks -- feels weighty, crucial. Jiwani is looking to connect, yet feeling detached.
One moment, Jiwani is suspicious of his surroundings; the next, he's the one to be feared. These keen contradictions are what drive Outer Heaven: shifts from tension to ease, anxiety to humor, quick bursts of noise to wistful reflection. And it's all really, really loud.
It's also important. On Outer Heaven, there's a lot to say, and Jiwani is ready to be heard. Not that he or his bandmates -- Colin Gillespie, Braeden Craig, and (a particularly quiet) Cam Graham -- are taking any of it particularly seriously.
“You’re like April O’Neil and we’re the Ninja Turtles," Jiwani quips during our MTV News interview (in the middle of a particularly serious discussion, to be clear). “If we were the Ninja Turtles, who would be who?”
Jokes (mostly) aside, Greys are giving a shit, and it shows. Below, the band share thoughts on the noisy Toronto scene, defining what it means to be a political band, and connecting with the world in an age of increasing isolation.
Shehzaad Jiwani: There are lots of bands in Toronto, and they all happen to be really, really good.
Braeden Craig: There are a lot of different pockets of scenes, and some of them overlap. But some don’t.
Jiwani: There’s no “Toronto sound,” I don’t think. There’s no discernible aesthetic or approach. But right now, it seems like a lot of the bands are noisy in some way. Certainly on our label, Buzz Records, the connective tissue is that each band has different degrees of noise and pop.
HSY is at the sludgiest end of the spectrum, but then you have Fake Palms, who are pretty noisy and math-y, but extremely melodic. Then Weaves and Dilly Dally who are both more poppy, but strange and angular. I guess we’re somewhere in the middle. And that’s just one label.
Colin Gillespie: I’d say everyone in our scene is just kind of loud.
MTV News: Why do you think “noisy” is a term that applies to so many bands from Toronto?
Gillespie: I don’t really know. I think for a lot of noise bands it comes from playing really visceral live shows, and maybe the volume comes from there. It kind of feels like a live scene, versus a studio label or a bedroom label.
Jiwani: It’s not easy to put a finger on it. But [the scene in Toronto] feels really great. It’s amazing to be able to talk about it, too, and have people ask us about what’s happening.
MTV News: It’s cool to hear about what's happening in scenes in different cities, because it’s important to highlight that everyone has the power to create a music community. If there’s no scene where you are, then you make the scene you want.
Jiwani: I’ve talked about this a lot with Denholm [Whale], who co-founded Buzz and plays in Odonis Odonis. We listened to the same Kill Rock Stars compilation, with bands like Unwound, and Bikini Kill, and Nirvana. They were all friends with each other, they were in this college town, and they just created this scene. That was such a big thing for me as a kid. The idea of taking a space, co-opting it, and making it your own. Having a platform to communicate the message that you have. It’s super liberating.
MTV News: That’s the plus side of the Internet — when it’s used as a tool for discovery, and sharing across different scenes. But there’s a dark side to that, which is addressed on Outer Heaven and Shehzaad, it’s something you’ve brought up in interviews.
Jiwani: [The Internet] is definitely a tool for discovery. But technology and the Internet make me sort of wary. They’re wonderful tools for getting information across, but that can make it difficult to connect. Everyone has their own idea of what’s important, and how they share what’s important.
Gillespie: We’ve had these conversations in the van. The whole mass Internet age kind of amplifies the feeling of insignificance you have. Everything you do can be so easily left out in the thread of things. It can be depressing.
Jiwani: I try not to make it too depressing. We try to approach things with a sense of humor, and a sense of community. “If It’s All The Same To You” is like that. It’s OK, because we’re all in this together. And you can still be friends with somebody you don’t necessarily agree with. I try to be relatively positive. But it’s hard! It’s hard to exist in the 21st century.
MTV News: There’s a sense of urgency on Outer Heaven — it’s tight and anxious in places, but melancholy and reflective in others. It feels like there’s something you’re pushing towards, or trying to resolve. Was it intended to feel like a sort of search for something?
Jiwani: It kind of is pushing, and it all kind of culminates on that last song ["My Life As A Cloud"], which ponders the very idea of what your identity even means. I don’t know if I had a specific idea of what I was trying to get across. It’s an interesting interpretation to see it as a search, but I guess that’s just what you’re always doing… maybe it’s a search for the ability to relate to people. I think at the end of the day, that’s what all our songs are about. There’s a sense of detachment. I don’t want to feel that way. Nobody likes feeling that they can’t connect to other people. I think that’s a byproduct of the influx of information that we have, which sort of separates us from each other… So it’s kind of a search for someone else to understand you.
MTV News: “No Star” addresses the issue of race, which Shehzaad, you’ve had to discuss a lot since the single was released. It’s an important conversation, but it’s not an easy topic to have to talk about continuously. How much of that responsibility did you feel you wanted, or needed, to take on when writing the song?
Jiwani: I’m not some sort of expert on this. I can only speak to my own experiences. So I was pretty hesitant to be any kind of “voice” for that. When “No Star” was chosen as a single, I knew there would be a conversation around that. Thankfully, there’s a lot of other stuff on the record.
But I did feel uneasy, because I don’t want to be a one-dimensional character, and that happens with everything: with women in bands, with trans people, in any sort of walk of life. The irony of the song is that it was written to take myself out of that. To not be one thing to anybody, and to show that everything is contextual. Someone who grew up beside me, went to the same school, whose parents came from the same place, could have an entirely different experience.
That’s an important thing for me to have people understand: I’m speaking for myself, I’m not speaking for anybody else.
MTV News: How much are you willing to embrace the role of being a political songwriter, or a political band? Do you think that's just something that's inherently inside everyone writing music, even if that's not their intention?
Jiwani: I’ve never had to address serious issues before. People have never really asked me questions like that [about race] before. But at the same time, it’s not something I’m shying away from.
One option is to shy away from it, and to not address it, but I think that’s doing a disservice to a lot of people who go through a lot of things that I go through. And if I can make them relate to my experience in some way, I feel like I’ve done a good job. Which goes back to the idea of connection. I just want people to understand that we’re not all that different. The more you talk about it, the more you break down those barriers that people have between each other. You have to talk about it, because ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.
I guess there are different kinds of politics. You can be socially aware, but there’s also personal politics. But there are a lot bands that just sing about stupid bullshit. I think at this point, it’s a waste of time… you don’t have to like, get into literal politics. You don’t have to write lyrics about Trump in order to have something to say. You can find something in your life that you want to change, and does that make you political? I don’t know. I think it’s boring if you don’t have much to say.
At no point in 2016 does a song need to be written about what a great day you’re having. No one gives a shit.
MTV News: There are a lot of bands, and just a lot of people, in America right now paying attention to serious issues: whether it’s Black Lives Matter and police brutality, or just the collective fear and anxiety about Donald Trump. Americans often idealize Canada as a liberal wonderland where these problems don’t exist. What are some of the problems that you’re seeing, and that might affect your music, as a Canadian band in 2016?
Gillespie: There are still plenty of bad things that happen in Canada. There are a lot of murdered and missing aboriginal women. There are Black Lives Matter protests.
Jiwani: Cops still kill children in Toronto. That stuff happens there, too. Someone just burned a mosque down, right after the Paris shootings.
Gillespie: We only like to think we’re better.
Jiwani: There’s a little more shame with Canadians. Americans can sometimes be openly stoked on oppression. Whereas in Canada, they mutter it in under their breath. It’s just because we’re part of the Commonwealth, we care about being polite. Even when it comes to racism.
Outer Heaven is out now on Buzz Records and Carpark Records.