INTERVIEW: Greys’ Shehzaad Jiwani on how to maintain the DIY spirit of Record Store Day

Greys are selling their 2011 debut Ultra Sorta 10" at Toronto indie record stores, one copy each. Plus, they've given us an exclusive live track from their early days as a band.

- Apr 17, 2015
Photo by: Sarah Cramer

As Record Store Day has grown from a retail novelty to a bigger sure-thing sales day than Christmas or Boxing Day for record stores, there's been a growing list of complaints from DIY labels, bands and shops: it creates strain on vinyl pressing plants, it exploits collectors' sense of completism, it's a cash grab from major labels in the guise of indie values. That's why Greys' Record Store Day "reissue" plan is so refreshing. It's homemade, DIY, kind of ramshackle - about as "indie" as you can get.

The band found a few copies of their debut Ultra Sorta 10" in their Toronto practice space. They recruited their friends Raina Douris, Joel French and Dave Murray to hand draw covers for them and are are giving copies to record stores in Toronto to sell... one copy each. They'll be avaialble tomorrow, April 18, at Sonic Boom, Rotate This, June Records, Soundscapes, She Said Boom (College Street), Grasshopper, LP's LPs, and Good Music.

In the same spirit of one-offsmanship, rather than giving us the album to stream, the band has given us a raw live version of the Ultra Sorta song "Simple Living" that lead singer Shehzaad Jiwani found on an old hard drive. The recording comes from a show Greys played in 2011 at the Buzz Garage (RIP) in Chinatown:

"This was recorded at the Buzz Garage in the summer of 2011 when we were all just little babies," he explains. "We played with Anagram and Spitfist, who have both since passed. If I remember correctly, Jarod from Odonis Odonis recorded this for the Buzz Records live series of tapes they did. Apparently we thought we were a hardcore band for a second there. Drop D tuning? How savage! Hearing my voice is from back then is like seeing a picture of yourself from high school. I immediately regret sending this to you guys but here we are. Or, were."

In light of the reissue and the spirit of Record Store Day, we traded emails with Shehzaad about the "vinyl resurgence," his days as a record store clerk, the early days of Greys and the new sound of Toronto music.

greys ultra sorta

Chart Attack: What do you think about Record Store Day as a concept? I know there's been a bit of backlash about how it's progressed.

Creating something unique and making something of your own within an environment that you don't totally agree with, whether it's how you make and distribute records or where you put on shows or how you create art - that's what "punk" or "DIY" is to me.

Shehzaad Jiwani, Greys
Shehzaad Jiwani: I can't hate on Record Store Day as a concept because, really, any support that independent record stores get in this day and age is a good thing. Working at stores before and after the "vinyl resurgence," I realized that there are a lot of people who weren't even aware that artists still press music on vinyl. Like, even now. It does seem like sort of a touristy thing, but if that is what gets people to go to their local stores, then it isn't a terrible thing. The best you hope for is that it sparks a lasting interest in vinyl (or whatever) and isn't just people lining up one day a year to buy a Doors reissue.

Now, that being said, I think Josiah Hughes' article on Exclaim! raises a lot of good points about how RSD has become sort of a dumping site for major labels to reissue shit that people already own and, more importantly, can buy used for a fraction of the price from the same stores they're lining up at to buy these reissues. That part sucks.

As a band who relies on vinyl pressing plants to have records to sell on tour, it also sucks to have your record coming out soon and your vinyl at the back of the queue behind a fucking Beatles box set. It's awesome when labels do really small runs of rare records or splits or whatever, but does anyone really need another Ziggy Stardust picture disc? There's all these "studies" that show those classic rock records still being the biggest sellers, though, so is the problem really relegated to Record Store Day?

What position do record stores hold for you nowadays? Do you think they still hold a vital place now that a lot of what people used to go to them for has shifted online?

Greys perform "Guy Picciotto" live at Sonic Boom | ChartAttack.com

I've worked at different record stores in Toronto on and off since I was 17 so, to me, a record store will always be a special place. We spend all our spare time on tour in record shops, wherever we are. There's enough nostalgic "back in my day" bullshit online, but I do think it's important to have a physical connection to the music you discover. You can download every album by whatever artist you want, but having a personal connection to an album that was recommended to you by someone at a record store, or just buying something on a whim because you think the cover is cool or whatever, is always going to make that album that much more special to you. It's an investment of time and money that makes you pay more attention to something. I don't care how many streaming services you subscribe to - you can't replicate that digitally.

Even with all the backlash, most people seem to like the idea of RSD in theory. And so it seems like there's more and more people doing DIY and grassroots kind of stuff, away from the official channels. It seems similar to how there are a bunch of unaffiliated house shows and BBQs during festivals like NXNE. So do you think the next stage of RSD is that the community kind of co-opts it and takes ownership of it?

It wasn't that long ago but it feels like, musically, things have shifted a lot, for us and for Toronto's scene as a whole.

Shehzaad Jiwani, Greys
I think that RSD probably started as more of a community-level thing. I found out about it via labels like Hydra Head who are very good to their fans when it comes to special packages and whatnot, so I figured it was a day to kind of give back to vinyl nerds like myself. Like anything, though, it seems to have been coopted by majors, but isn't it a logical and reasonable response for the indie artists/labels/stores to take it back and make it theirs?

We definitely aren't the first people to do something like this. Creating something unique and making something of your own within an environment that you don't totally agree with, whether it's how you make and distribute records or where you put on shows or how you create art - that's what "punk" or "DIY" or whatever you want to call it is to me, on a conceptual level. To do that in the context of a large, corporate event is just logical to me, whether it's Record Store Day or NXNE or whatever.

We would have done something like this even if it wasn't on Record Store Day, you know? And we probably will again. That was our point with doing this in the first place, to make it more about a local scene and our community, and to get people to remember how much great shit there is in their own backyard - not just musically but with art and independent business and so on. That's something major labels can't really absorb or even fathom, that locality and community mentality. It's ours, not theirs.

How does it feel looking and listening back at Ultra Sorta after four years?

Greys - Black Lodge

It's the first batch of songs we ever wrote. It's scrappy, but a lot of the elements of what we would eventually become are evident there. Maybe a bit more riffy than we are now. It wasn't that long ago but it feels like, musically, things have shifted a lot, for us and for Toronto's scene as a whole. We started the band as a reaction to the prevailing indie pop of the 2000s. Odonis Odonis, Rituals, Beliefs, Fresh Snow, Soupcans, Hut, HSY - all our bands started around the same time, kind of in a vacuum. Now, that noisy guitar rock is how one might define Toronto's music. Strange how that happens. Maybe someone is rolling their eyes at our band being like, "Not another guitar band!" and will go out and buy a MicroKorg in retaliation.

As far as looking back goes, I didn't listen to it. I don't even think I have a copy of my own. It was only four years ago, so we are hardly due for a nostalgia trip at this point. When I saw the records, it just reminded me of recording it in my dad's basement with Josh Korody, way before he opened Candle, then assembling the sleeves ourselves, all that. But we still make records with Josh and we still operate pretty much exactly the way we did then. The picture on the inside of the EP was a shot of us playing at the Buzz Garage, and they put out our records now. So, really, nothing has changed. Gained some weight, lost some hair, but we're still sleeping on floors. "From Basements To Slightly Bigger Basements: The Story Of Greys."

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