From Autumn To Ashes

author AP date 15/01/08

After internal conflicts that lead to a five-month hiatus, From Autumn To Ashes had everyone amazed with a remarkable come back last year. The band re-emerged stronger, more energetic and more focused than ever, with Francis Mark abandoning his drum kit and taking over lead microphone duty to release the critically acclaimed "Holding A Wolf By The Ears". Upon hearing that the band was to support Hundred Reasons' UK run and had scheduled a stop at my university, I took the opportunity to sit down with the band's drummer, Jeff Gretz, to hear more about the tumultuous past and discuss the future of From Autumn To Ashes.

RF.net: Hi, and thanks for doing the interview with us. First of all, can you please introduce yourself?
Jeff: My name is Jeff Gretz, I'm the drummer of From Autumn To Ashes.

RF.net: Right now you're supporting Hundred Reasons on their UK tour - how's that going?
Jeff: Good so far. We're only about four days in, but so far they're nice guys, we're having fun and the shows have been good.

RF.net: I noticed that you're headlining mainland and Australian runs right after, so I'm curious as to why you chose to support Hundred Reasons in the UK?

Jeff: We were supposed to do a headliner. We had actually scheduled a co-headlining tour with The Bled, but at the last minute, The Bled wasn't able to do it so they just left us kind of on our own with it, and on the short notice that we had, we were having a hard time finding strong enough support bands. Because we'd already been here twice this year, so to come and do a third headlining, we needed a really strong package but we just didn't have enough notice. So there was a period of time where it almost looked like the UK run was going to get scrapped. Hundred Reasons, I guess, were fans and they had a tour booked and they asked us to support and at that point, for us, it was like "Why not? Instead of not coming at all, let's come and play for some new faces."

RF.net: Yeah, I mean many would think that you're not the most obvious supporting act for a band like Hundred Reasons, so how have the crowds reacted?

Jeff: It's been fine. There's definitely some fans coming out. We can tell the difference though, that we are playing to a lot of new people. The response has been good, we couldn't ask for any more. I mean, like you said, I didn't expect a whole lot coming in to it because I knew that we do a lot more of the heavier type stuff than they do, so I didn't know how their fans were going to react to it. But they seem to be diggin' it a little bit.

RF.net: In 2005 you went on a hiatus and came out of it without a front figure. So what exactly happened during that time that lead to Perri's departure and Fran to abandon the drums and do lead vocals?
Jeff: Ben just kind of lost interest. He just didn't want to do it anymore. I think you see it happen a lot of times in any band, where everybody sort of has one mission and there is the one guy that doesn't feel like his ideas of what the band should be, or even being in a band is lining up with everybody else. There is like a gang mentality in a band in a sense, where everybody can sort of gang up to that one goal, and if that one person is feeling left out, you can almost shut down. And I just think he lost interest and shut down, but he'd spent so much time doing it that he didn't know how to get out. It ended the way it did, which was kind of shitty in a way, you know, to bail on your band in the middle of a recording session, but I guess everybody here would say that it worked out for the better.

RF.net: And you had some other line-up changes as well after that...

Jeff: Yeah, Josh Newton, our bass player, he left. And again, it was a similar thing. It wasn't that he didn't want to play music anymore. He wanted to play music, but he wasn't feeling like one hundred percent on the same page as the rest of us. But it worked out because Mike Pilato, the original bass player, came back, so we actually got back another original member. Again, it worked out for the best.

RF.net: So now with this new line-up, has the emphasis shifted from older stuff to newer stuff when it comes to performing live?

Jeff: No. We pretty much play a little bit of everything. These shows are a little different because we only get like a forty-minute set, so you kind of have to be a little pickier about what you play. But typically in the set there's something from every album on there.

RF.net: So, I understood it like this: Fran used to write all the lyrics, all the drumlines, and he used to do vocals at the same time. Does he still write the drum lines?
Jeff: We're actually writing right now. I was away for the holidays - I went away with my wife - and they were writing while I was gone. We came into practice and Fran was playing drums while they were working on stuff and he sort of played me what they were playing when they were writing and then handed the sticks over to me and said, "here, do your thing." I changed some stuff and I kept some stuff the same. I respect Fran as a drummer and he respects me as a drummer and we exchange ideas a lot.

RF.net: How are the responsibilities divided in the band when it comes to recording a new album?

Jeff: Everybody pretty much does a little bit of everything. You know, one guy might suggest a different transition between two parts, or somebody might come up with a melody line. Fran just came up with something for one of the songs we are working on that was based off some of his guitar riffs. Fran had some guitar riffs lying around and he played them for Rob and Brian and they built a song out of it. I might suggest something like, "why don't we go from this part to this part or cut that part out". We all sort of toss in there a little bit.

RF.net: I'd like to know how you feel about the screamo and hardcore scenes, and what you do to stand out from the host of bands that currently crowd those.
Jeff: I really don't have an opinion on it, because personally I really don't know anything about it. I don't listen to that stuff. Like, I really don't. Nine times out of ten the bands we're on tour with, I've never heard before. Like, even bands we're friends with. I've never heard Killswitch Engage. I know Howard. I'm friends with Howard and every time I see Howard I get excited and go, "Hey Howard! How's it going?" but I've never heard his band. I don't know why that is but I think a lot of the guys are like that. A lot of times we know bands through association. You heard a band because you played with them at a festival or you did a tour with them, but none of us go out and buy the records of our peers.

RF.net: So what sort of music do you listen to?

Jeff: It's all over the map with all of us. As a group? This year, there's a band out right now that we're all really getting into. They're called Baroness.

RF.net: Yeah, Baroness.

Jeff: It's sort of like heavier, Sabbathy kind of stuff. We've been diggin' that. We played a lot of the new R. Kelly record this year. A lot of Kiss. You know, you're more bound to hear something like The Arcade Fire or The Decemberists in our tour van than catch us listening to something like, I don't know, Every Time I Die or something like that. And I think maybe that's how you set yourself apart. We don't listen to it. We end up making this kind of music because that's what comes out but we're not using those other bands as reference points. Like right now we're writing and when I came to tour, I took all rock and metal type stuff off of my iPod. Basically I have like jazz, hip hop and classical stuff. I don't want to be subconsciously influenced by something else, so I won't listen to anything like that while we're writing.

RF.net: When you're on tour or at a festival with other bands, you don't listen to them at all?

Jeff: Certain bands. Usually those days are so chaotic that it's hard to try and make your way out because either you're doing press stuff or you're doing signing. I mean, I went out of my way to catch Slayer at the one festival we did this year. And I went out of my way to catch Type O Negative. You know, like certain bands... You're like "I gotta go see those guys!"

RF.net: Moving on to your latest album, what's the story behind its title? "Holding A Wolf By The Ears"?
Jeff: It's sort of a play on the whole "you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't" thing. You're a holding the wolf by the ears and you feel like you've got control over the situation, but at the same time it's a wolf and you probably don't have any control over it at all.

RF.net: What does this record represent for you as a band?

Jeff: I think it was just kind of like a rebirth for the band. I mean it wasn't intended to be that way because when the record was being written, Ben was still in the band and we were intending Ben to be on the record. But I think what ended up happening was sort of like chapter two for the band unintentionally. I guess this next record will really be the test to see what happens now.

RF.net: When is that going to come out?

Jeff: Right now we're hoping for late summer. Fall would probably be a safe bet.

RF.net: You decided to enlist Brian McTernan as producer for "Holding A Wolf By The Ears" instead of Gggrath Richardson, who did the last two records. What lead you to this decision?
Jeff: Fran and Josh had a side project called Biology and Brian McTernan did the Biology record in Baltimore and Fran and Josh really got along with him and hit it off with him, and so when it came time to do the new record... At the time they weren't even sure if the band was going to exist, when they started recording "Holding A Wolf By The Ears". When "Abandon Your Friends" came out, everything was a little hectic, tours got cancelled and no one was getting along. And they just kind of decided to go and record some songs and see what happens. They didn't even know if Vagrant was going to put it out or what was going to happen, so they just went a little closer to home - they went to Baltimore and Fran said "I know this guy Brian. He did a good job on Biology. Let's try him out." From what it looks like now, I think we might be going back there for the next one.

RF.net: From what I can hear, the album seems pretty heavy on lyrics. Can you elaborate a bit on those? Maybe pick a song or two that means a lot to you?
Jeff: To me? See, that's...

RF.net: Or if you can speak on Fran's behalf.

Jeff: I don't know. You can tell by the songs that he really wants to play. Like there's certain songs in the record that we haven't played live at all. The ones that he really lobbies to play, I would assume are the ones that have a personal connection to him. I know the song "Underpass Tutorial" is basically inspired by him and a friend of his. They would literally hop onto freight trains and ride across the United States. Like in the middle of winter. They'd just go and hop on a freight train and ride down the East Coast and get off wherever it took them. They'd camp out on the beach or in the woods and then they'd ride a freigt train back up. And he said it was a really moving experience for him because he was sort of living in the wild, he was sort of like roughing it. He didn't know what was in store for the next day.

RF.net: Some of those songs seem to be about Ben's departure...

Jeff: No, not at all. I asked him because there were certain lines where I really thought so, but no. All the lyrics were written before Ben left. Fran sort of wrote them just in case Ben didn't have anything, but a lot of the lyrics were intended for Ben to sing. Now, the "Abandon Your Friends" record is a different story. Some of those lyrics, I think, might be directed towards Ben a little bit, even some of the ones that Ben sang. Just because Fran had to write those at the last minute for Ben, so there was a lot of frustration coming out.

RF.net: Can you tell me something about what music and bands inspired From Autumn To Ashes?
Jeff: I think early on we were all sort of inspired by hardcore. Maybe not so much musically, just because that was when we were all in junior high, high school, starting to go to our first shows. Those were easily accessible, cheap shows. So we'd go to these shows and we'd see these bands putting on these hardcore shows and they were doing it themselves and they were giving themselves their own press on their records and they were booking their own tours. That's really inspiring when you're at this impressionable age and want to start a band. I think that that scene in that aspect was really inspiring to the band. Not necessarily from a musical standpoint, but just from an operating standpoint - getting everybody moving on the music train. But yeah, I mean, a lot of your standard classic rock type stuff like Led Zeppelin, Kiss and The Who. If you ask Brian what his big inspirations are, he's going to tell you like Billy Joel. I mean we're all pretty much all over the map.

RF.net: From what I've found out, "Holding A Wolf By The Ears" is the last album needed to fulfil your deal with Vagrant, so what happens now in terms of the band's future?
Jeff: We're back with Vagrant for another three records. They wanted to keep the band and we agreed to stay, so we have another three-record contract with Vagrant.

RF.net: So we can expect another three records at least?

Jeff: I mean unless something drastic happens, yeah. But we have the go ahead to make three more records.

RF.net: Seeing as this is our first interview in 2008, I'd like to ask you what you look forward to the most in the new year, musically and otherwise?
Jeff: Musically? I'm kind of hoping something happens. I'm getting really scared because it doesn't seem like anybody is doing anything new. It seems like there's a lot of people combining other things that have been done in the past, putting them in new combinations, but no one's really doing anything where I hear it and go "My god! I've never heard anything like that before!". Like, it's not happening and it hasn't for a long time, and it's starting to scare me.

RF.net: What about Protest The Hero's upcoming album?

Jeff: Honestly, I know they're label mates and I don't know anything about them.

RF.net: Tell me a bit about your life as a band right now. What goals are you pursuing, long term and short term?
Jeff: Just try to take control of a lot more things involving the band. The website, managing it, helping set up the shows ourselves. We're in direct contact with promoters a lot ourselves. We run our MySpace page, we answer every single e-mail that comes through. We're just trying not to delegate things out to other people that don't need to be.

RF.net: Do you have any festivals planned for this summer?
Jeff: Not yet. I mean, we're going to Australia in March to do a big touring festival. And then we're doing one in Japan in April. Aside from that, we're pretty much concentrating on recording and finishing the new record. So we'll see when we get a bit closer to summer.

RF.net: Do you have any crazy, hilarious or just plain disturbing tour stories you'd like to share with our readers?
Jeff: Our bus smells really bad right now. I mean that's kind of disgusting. There's us and Hundred Reasons in the same bus, so there's like fourteen guys all sleeping in a confined space. It's just ungodly, the stench in there. Other than that it's just kind of boring for the most part. I mean you pretty much just get to the venue, set up and play. I mean on our last tour we had flat tires within twenty minutes on an interstate in North Carolina. That was pretty horrifying, but we still made the show, so it was kind of exciting as well.

RF.net: This is kind of a personal question from me. Somebody once told me there was an inside joke associated with the song "Take Her To The Music Store", and I'd like to know what it is?
Jeff: Yeah. One of the old members of the band - I think it was Scott, the original guitar player - took some gear to a music store in Long Island. The guy basically tried to rip him off for how much the gear was worth. Basically that was it, the guy trying to rip him off, trying to screw him over, and I think that sort of became the thing. If you wanted to screw over a girl, it was "oh, take her to the music store!" So taking someone to the music store is essentially ripping them off or giving them the once over.

RF.net: Well, that's it from us. Do you have any famous last words or shout outs?
Jeff: A shout out to anyone that's reading and coming out to the shows. Last words? If you have to start a band, do something different. Do something cool!

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