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Where Is My Mind?: Grimace Federation's Xack Xweig

- by Q.D. Tran

When it comes to local post rock outfits, Grimace Federation is certainly a staple in the Philly music community pushing the boundaries in their experimental genre. Tonight at Johnny Brenda's they’ll be celebrating the release of their latest EP On Velvet. The album is as smooth as its fabric namesake, and those velvety sounds can be largely attributed to the massive vibraphone that multi-instrumentalist Xack Xweig hauls around with a full drum kit, keyboards and his mountain bike sidekick. We had a chance to chat with Grimace vibist Xack Xweig about opening for and meeting the members of Tortoise, how you shouldn’t ask them about getting a singer, plans for a remix EP and all things Grimace.

The Deli: Where did the name Grimace Federation come from?

Xack Xweig: Our original bass player came up with the name, god knows why. He hasn’t been in the band since 2003, but the name kind of stuck. It fits us well though. If you watch our faces while we hit it live, you'll agree.

TD: Why did you name the new album On Velvet?

XX: After much deliberation, the name was chosen for its double meaning. The smooth but stimulating sound of our album reminds us of velvet, but also the term “on velvet” is an old gamblers’ term which means an unexpected gain. So hopefully by naming it that things’ll all be gravy from here on out. Also Ian, our bass player, wears velvet jackets sometimes. Triple meaning I guess. Triple rainbow.

TD: You’ve been at it with Grimace for about 8 years. What’s your songwriting process? Has it changed over the years?

XX: Our songwriting process has virtually been the same since we started gigging in 2003. Wes has a million guitar riffs and progression fragments that he comes up with while noodling. He’ll play some for me, and I’ll help figure out a way to join them up and fit them into a song structure while adding harmonies on the vibes or keys. Then we’ll show it to Ian and our drummer Chris, and they'll kick it around figure out their parts. Then we'll play it live for two years until Wes wants to change the whole structure up. Repeat.

TD: You’re music is all instrumental. Have you ever thought about getting a singer?

XX: Everyone asks us that. Look, if you care enough to ask us anything, you probably like listening to us. If you like listening to us, why would you want us banished to the background by a vocalist. We’ve worked with Aesop and a worked with Doseone, and the results are stellar, but those are special remix projects. We all agree that a singer would fuck with the already sensitive fabric of this band, and more importantly, would distract people from the purely musical ideas we want to get across to people. Feel me?

TD: But if you could have any singer in music history, who would you choose?

XX: I’d choose Mike Patton for sure. Maybe Chino Moreno from Deftones and Rob Crow from Pinback (preferably together, like on that Team Sleep album). Wes would say Dio and Brian Wilson (I think he means the dude from the Beach Boys, not the dude on the SF Giants who dyes his beard black and struck out Ryan Howard looking. What…too soon?

TD: If you had the choice of any emcee in history, who would be the perfect emcee to front Grimace Federation?

XX: 100 percent Aesop Rock, so in a way we are living that dream. He’s just that good. We did that one track called Catch 22 with him in ‘06, and he just remixed Bosico (first track on the new record), which is gonna blow your shit up when you hear it. There is more in the works too with him. Also perfect would be Doseone, who also remixed an upcoming track. His band Subtle always sounded like a hip-hop version of Grimace to me anyway. (Check out their tune “Nomanisisland” to see what I mean. He’s a true innovator.)

TD: Does the term “jam band” invoke positive or negative feelings? Why?

XX: Definitely negative for me. If you mean, how do we feel about it with respect to our own music? We all resent being thought of as such. But then again, the term “jam band” has broadened so much that it could technically include our style now. Would you call Caribou a jam band? I certainly wouldn’t, but there they were playing Camp Bisco alongside us. I could see why people would mistake us for a jam band back in 2004, when we were more or less playing open-ended trancey and jazzy stuff, but since then everything we’ve written has very exact parts. The other guys will be somewhat loose sometimes, but I stick to my parts pretty much note for note, even on solos. I'm pretty OCD about it.

TD: According to tweets this summer from Camp Bisco, Diplo went back to the hotel with a few Disco Buscuit girls, and woke to find that they had stolen his shoes. You’re a veteran of the music and drug-fueled festival. What’s the strangest thing that you’ve ever experienced there?

XX: This year at Bisco, we saw Ghostface Killah with diaper bag around his neck. Does that qualify? I heard some idiot mainlined his glow stick and died, but I have no evidence to back that up.

TD: How did performing at Camp Bisco go this year? Any acts that caught your attention?

XX: We had a decent show, considering we played in the early afternoon. The gale force winds were an issue though, and knocked over some equipment during the set. And I’m not sure the hippie crowd was fully prepared for our recent heavier sound we’ve concocted since recording On Velvet. We were still getting used to being a 4-piece again, so the set wasn't perfect, like it was when we played there in ‘07 and ‘08. Ween destroyed the place this year. And I really enjoyed the Fender Rhodes-heavy somber vibe that The Album Leaf were throwing down. To be totally honest, I kind of blacked out and missed Caribou, who I’m sure was unreal.

TD: How was your experience to open for one of your major influences, Tortoise? Did you get to meet them? What were they like?

XX: Opening up for Tortoise was one of the highlights of my career so far. I recently started playing drums opposite Chris on some songs, so with our setup pretty much identical to theirs now, I was hoping they’d be flattered by how much we emulate them. They were pretty quiet when they got there after a 7 hour drive from Boston, but after we played they were really appreciative, and after they played they were the coolest. Bitney is a very funny guy, and Herndon’s a real character. Parker and McIntire are all business, but they’re all still incredibly humble.

TD: I heard that you are fan of obscure hip hop. Who do you think deserves more recognition for their contribution to the hip hop community and why?

XX: Besides Doseone and everyone involved with Anticon, I’d say Eyedea and Abilities. They've got serious chops. And Cage, who rants over some very lush and complicated music. I like that. Oh shit, and Die Antwoord. I know he’s just acting and the music’s crap, but my god, his skills are insane!

TD: You mentioned that you will also have a remix EP coming out. What should we expect on it?

XX: Expect good things. Very good things. Like I said, Aesop’s on there, as is Doseone. NYC beatmaster Mike Slott also had a go on the same track Aesop redid, and we’ve been trying to work out the details on getting Omilio Sparks formerly of State Property on our track “Moon Elevator”. That would be sick.

TD: How do you travel to out-of-town gigs with all your equipment, especially the vibraphone?

XX: Ugh. Well I’m kind of on my own, because I’ve got the vibes, 2 keyboards, and now a full drum set to deal with, plus I never go anywhere without my mountain bike, so that pretty much fills up my truck to the rim. The other guys will usually double or triple up, but we’ve never made it to any gig without at least two cars. Basically, traveling with all our gear is a total fucking nightmare. Like my dad always says, I should have played the piccolo.

TD: I saw that Power Animal bought the tonal bars for a vibraphone and built their own. Did you ever think about doing that? Would you do that if something happened to your vibraphone or shell out the cash to get a new one?

XX: Really? That’s very cool. It’s a smart idea because the frames on most vibe sets are pretty unstable. Chris would probably be into that. He takes all the old out-of-tune bars I’ve cracked and strings them together to make these chimey things. I’m not as creative in that way, but I am talented in makeshift fixes. My dampener has completely been held together by a shoestring for 6 years. If it all went to shit though or if someone stole it and rode it down the street like a scooter, I guess I’d pony up, or hire Power Animal to build me one. I’d be interested in getting a MalletKat, but part of me would feel fake, like a drum machine or breast implants.

TD: What’s your most memorable live performance?

XX: Good question. I think we’d all agree it was Halloween ‘07 at the Arts Garage in North Philly. We organized this huge party, got Billy Martin from MMW to open for us, and then hit the stage all dressed as various surgeons, with a full guest horn section dressed as our patients. The place was an absolute zoo, and we set it ablaze, kicking off the set with the Halloween Theme into Thriller. Tonight will be like that, but better!

TD: What’s in the future for Grimace Federation?

XX: After the album and the remix EP are released and we’ve toured a bit, we’ll be getting back into the studio soon so that there won’t be a 3 1/2 year gap between albums next time. Since we recorded On Velvet we’ve changed our sound a bit. Our songs are heavier, faster, and shorter for the most part, and we need to get the new stuff heard as quickly as possible. We’re gonna put some more live tracks out there, so see for yourself.

TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?

XX: Wes and Chris would go bacon, egg and cheese, and Ian would just make some gourmet shit at home, but I’m from NYC, so make it lox on a poppy seed bagel. Scallion cream cheese. Gotta represent.






Grimace Federation
On Velvet



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