Interview // GRAYSCALE
“For us it felt very natural to write music that we loved.” Reflecting on their journey as a band, Philadelphia’s Grayscale share the stories that inspired their new album Nella Vita.
‘Painkiller Weather’ is playing in my headphones as I arrive in Camden Town on this cold Autumn day. With the summery glow long gone, it is hard to escape the winter dread that starts slowly creeping in. The mood, however, quickly changes and brightens up as I sit down with Grayscale‘s vocalist Collin Walsh and bassist Nick Ventimiglia.
Caught up in the pre-show rush, tonight marks the second date of their UK run with Real Friends. Performing their new songs off their sophomore album Nella Vita, released in September this year, for the first time in Europe and the UK, the excitement and enthusiasm is yet to cool down.
“The response for Nella Vita has just been unbelievable”, Collin says. “We did our first ever headlining tour in the US and every single night there was just more and more people.”
“Everyone is always excited when you play new music”, Nick adds in. “You can play your old record so many times but to see the reaction of the new music once it hits overseas is amazing.”
Translating to “In Life” from Italian, Nella Vita covers the highs and lows of the human existence as it navigates listeners through various aspects of life ranging from love, sex, drugs, to grief and pain. It is a deeply personal body of work that, although tinged with a darker tone, at its core brings out optimism and hope.
Shedding some light on the concept of the album, Collin explains: “There are three primary themes for the record. One is love and nostalgia, one is death and grief, and the other one is personal growth, rediscovering yourself and adjusting to the world around you as you get a little older. That’s sprinkled out throughout the record, every song has a little bit of all of those elements in a way, some more than others, for example ‘Just Right’ is a song about young love, the songs ‘Old Friends’, ‘In Violet’, ‘Tommy’s Song’, ‘Asbury’ are more in the realm of death and grief.”
There is something to be said about exposing your soul the way Grayscale did on Nella Vita. Embracing life, death, and everything in-between, they laid a lifetime’s worth of memories across this record, providing therapy of sorts, a much-needed catharsis. But sharing your life experiences and intimate moments with the outside world surely is not an easy feat, yet music makes it all possible and worth it.
Delving deeper in to the matter, Collin opens up by saying: “It’s really hard and in some way, I don’t like to do it, honestly. I feel like for me the reason I use music is so I don’t have to talk about it. It’s funny, you make a song and then you’re expected to explain it when for me the only reason I was able to kind of talk about it was through the vehicle of music. I think I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years, especially touring and seeing the reaction of fans, their response to how much our record has impacted them and it’s made me more willing and open to share my stories. I think a lot of them inspired the more honest, raw, straightforward writing lyrically for Nella Vita.”
Music – we can all speak it together
It’s no surprise that music plays a vital role in the lives of many. Channelling emotions and feelings, it brings both relief and purpose in life.
“The way that I grew up, I never really talked about how I felt”, Collin confesses. “I would just bottle that up. I’ve always been super into writing, expressing my feelings, writing poetry and stories. I think music is a mode of communication for me, it’s the way I cleanse myself off a lot of things emotionally. It means the world to me because it’s the way I feel I can communicate in the purest form. It’s us telling everybody how we feel and that’s the universal language part. We can all speak it together.”
“When you get on stage you release that energy and it’s like nothing else”, Nick emphasises. “Playing a show, having people sing back to you, it’s unreal. It’s a huge outlet for all of us.”
Swapping the comfort of their hometown of Philadelphia for a secluded idyllic scenery in Austin, TX, Grayscale began working on the new record in the early 2019. Described by Nick as “one of my favourite experiences in this band”, the writing process of the record broadened their perspective, hinting at a newfound clarity in the band.
“For Adornment  we went to LA and just did the normal Los Angeles record thing”, Collin ponders. “But this time we went to Dripping Springs, TX, which is rural Texas outside of Austin and it’s in a very isolated area. We were in a barn in the middle of nowhere, 25 minutes from the closest grocery store with this feeling of complete isolation and I think that definitely pushed us to obsess over the songs even more. There really wasn’t anything negative. We definitely had some songs that were much more difficult to work out, like the song ‘What’s On Your Mind’. It took a long time to get to the final product but that’s just part of it. It’s part of recording, it’s part of songwriting, it is a lot of give and take. It’s for the common goal of having the best product and I think we all understand that.”
“I think a great medium for that is our producer”, Nick goes into details. “Because it’s us five in the band together, always bouncing ideas off each other so to have that outside source of our producer Machine there to give us his insight and what’s best for the record was awesome. But then again, there was a situation where that song [‘What’s On Your Mind’] came in, a very heavy-guitar driven song that our producer liked a lot. He’s worked with a lot of heavy bands so I can understand why he liked it but by the end we were like ‘we don’t want this for this record’ so Dallas literally walked away for a day or two and went on his own and worked it out himself. It went from one end of the spectrum to the other, from very heavy to a club song. We love it.”
The process was easy because we weren’t writing worried about what people are going to say
The cohesion and integrity of the album is something that truly stands out on this compilation, as Nick further points out: “The process was fairly easy because we weren’t writing worried about likes or what people are going to say. For us it felt very natural just to write music that we loved.”
Marrying pop sensibilities with rock influences, Nella Vita finds the band pushing their boundaries and exploring new sonic territory. With a cinematic feel to it, the new songs bring forth a timeless quality and more vibrancy and confidence to the table, showing their progression as a band. But sometimes no matter how much you try it is very difficult to escape the labelling.
Discussing being associated with a specific genre of music, Collin elaborates: “We’ve never really considered ourselves a pop punk band. We’ve always considered ourselves a rock band, but we get put into pop punk, which is fine. We don’t care what people call us but with songs like ‘In Violet’, ‘YOUNG’, ‘Baby Blue’ or ‘In My Arms’, people would go ‘It’s so pop punk’. The songs that are the most extreme in terms of being further away from the pop punk world people would then call ‘classic pop punk’. But I feel a lot of people just have a differing opinion. For every negative comment there’s thousands of positive ones, there’s such an overwhelming outpouring of love for this record and our band and we’re so thankful for that.”
Forming the band at the beginning of the decade, Grayscale have been successfully making a name for themselves. With two studio albums and a couple of EPs in their catalogue, I wonder if there’s anything about the band that no one knows and maybe they should.
Sharing some inside stories, Collin reveals: “Almost all of Nick’s [drums] fingers are double-jointed so he can do this gross bending thing. It’s absolutely disgusting to look at. I can gleek on command and that’s probably an important thing that people should know. Dallas is ambidextrous, Andrew is self-taught with guitar which is interesting.”
“I’m originally a drummer”, Nick adds in to which Collin says: “Nick and I originally are drummers so for 3/5 of our band drums are a primary instrument.”
Falling deeper into the well of memories, recalling more recent hilarities, Nick shares: “Leading up to the release of the video for ‘If I Ever See You Again’, off of our last record, we fake-kicked our drummer Nick out. During that moment before anyone knew it was a joke, people were sending Collin death threats and burning our merch, filming it and sending us videos of them crying. And the funniest thing to me that came out of that was when Nick made this fake statement, pretty much saying that we’re assholes, everyone was like ‘Yeah, you know what, I remember once outside of the show the singer ignored me completely’, and started making up scenarios that never happened to justify Nick talking shit about us. As stressful as that day was, being uncomfortable that everyone was shitting on us, it was hilarious because people were trying to find things about us that we did wrong to piss them off.”
“They were making things up that would never happen, never did happen”, Collin further explains. “They were so outrageous, for example one was like ‘All the guys in Grayscale they were at this bar in Texas, they were all screaming at people and almost started a fight and Collin this and Nick that’. I don’t drink, I don’t go to bars, we as a band we’re not party people. In no circumstances would we all be at a bar together late at night. Most of our guys don’t even drink a lot.”
Growth is the goal
With the end of the year on the horizon, it is easy to get lost in nostalgia, reminiscing about the past as the reflective mood takes over. Asking the guys about their future dreams, Collin admits: “I don’t have any goal in mind because I feel like we’ve already hit a lot of the main ones that we had. Us starting off as a band, we were like ‘It’d be so cool to play overseas and to play the Warped Tour’. All those things we were so fortunate to experience on the first record cycle. Our expectations just keep resetting over and over again. We owe that to our fans and nobody else, and we’re very thankful.”
“I think growth is just the goal”, Nick sums up. “Grow together as a band and then grow musically and always try to reach the next step. And that comes with doing what we’re doing, making music that we love.”
Rich in a whole lot of new experiences, the guys seem grounded and open to all that future holds for them as we’re preparing to enter the new decade. Just take the inspiration from Nella Vita, life is not black and white. With all its curves and twists, it is full of surprises. So are Grayscale. Let’s just hope they’ll never treat us to another prank video.