Don’t holster this pistol
“We wanted to set up a community,” says the 61-year old singer, songwriter, guitarist, and head of The Grifters, a five-piece Auckland-based band. In 2010, they began putting on Gunslinger’s Balls every four months with as many as nine acts (The Broadsides and Heart Attack Alley are regular institutions), “straddling the divide between heartfelt alt-country, raucous blues, rockabilly brashness and punk bristle.” Two years later, the community Griffin was seeking has coalesced enough to hit the road for a North Island tour.
“It’s grown so quickly in Auckland. It’s gone from 100 people to 700 people at shows. There’s something happening with this string sound,” says Griffin, who grew up in Johnsonville, but “had to leave town. I was a naughty boy.”
This weekend he comes home to Wellington, bringing with him the Grifters, The Broadsides, and Steve Abel to join forces with local acts D Burmester and the Blind, Johnsonville City Nights, and Eb & Sparrow. The night will be emceed by Shady, host of RadioActive’s Americana show. (Griffin also does two hours of Americana on Auckland’s 95bFM every week.)
“We really want to spread the word. There are a lot of people who want to hear this music.”
Griffin’s Grifters don’t play pretty pop country, nor is it straight blues, rock, or folk. Citing influences from the Velvet Underground to Warren Ellis from the Australian instrumental trio Dirty Three and American troubadours Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie, the band uses tension to great effect. Subdued vocals and guitar rising in high-energy crescendos of fiddle, drums, and bass can be heard on their new album Everything So Far, the ten tracks including lonesome lamentations, lots of heavy weather, and good old political folk.
“I wrote ‘29 Diamonds’ because I was pissed off with the government,” Griffin says of his song about the Pike River tragedy. “I’m still just as angry. I don’t particularly agree with coal mining but the way that the corporations treat people I don’t like.”
If the North Island tour goes well, Griffin is hoping for a South Island version and a chance to play that song for the West Coast. Ideally, he’d like Gunslinger’s to evolve into an annual festival to see “who’s out there and who’s doing it.”
Griffin began playing guitar as a teenager, but got into drugs and “got lost for about 20 years.” He backed several bands over the years and ran Global Routes, a music distribution company that went under when digital downloading took over, and was the first chairman of Independent Music New Zealand, lobbying hard for the 20 percent Kiwi quota for radio stations. Through it all, he wrote songs but never really played them on stage. After his kids grew up and Global Routes went under, he changed tacks.
“I thought I need to get this body of work out there and I never really had the confidence to present my work to the public. I kind of had to come out of a long period of addiction and find the world is very real. I just started playing and felt incredibly vulnerable, but I kept playing.”
To aspiring musicians who may feel daunted by the stage he says: “Never listen to yourself. Listen to the audience. I don’t think our minds always tell us the best messages but if your fans tell you they love what you’re doing, it’s the truth.”
Tell him what you think this Friday.
Gunslinger’s Ball, Bodega, 8pm, October 19.