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Grails: Psycho Las Vegas Preview

9 June 2019

Photo by Temporary Residence Ltd.

Emil Amos is no stranger to Psycho Las Vegas, with one of his projects — doom-metal gurus Om — having played the festival in 2015 (its inaugural year in Sin City). But come this August, Amos will reassemble his more experimental ensemble, Grails, for the first time at the multi-day event.

As with many of the musicians the Big Takeover has recently interviewed in anticipation of the festival’s 2019 edition, Amos is thrilled to participate in an event that is convening many of his friends and favorite bands. But he expressed extra gratitude for the festival organizers footing the bill so he could re-team with Denmark-based guitarist Alex Hall for the performance (as well as a handful of additional West Coast dates).

Grails will play a Saturday show at Psycho, happening at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino from August 15 to 18 after a few years at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. As Amos told the Big Takeover in a phone conversation, he prefers LSD over roulette — but is still making the trek to Vegas, since this year’s festival is looking so damn good.

Why are you particularly excited to play Psycho? What makes the festival special — both from a performance perspective and as a personal experience?

AMOS: This festival makes it economically possible for some of us to fly over to the U.S., which is very difficult for us. We were initially altogether in Portland for 13 years (Alex was actually there for 20 years), but now I live in North Carolina, and Alex is in Copenhagen. If we can’t find the money, the band essentially halts. The fact that we’ve stuck it out — it’s one of the greatest talents, pursuing an idea till it eventually can’t be pursued.

I can’t believe they’re able to fund this entire thing. It’s huge.

What memories do you have of playing Psycho in 2015?

AMOS: Om played it once with Earthless in Orange County. As kids, I don’t think we ever would’ve imagined we’d be sharing bills with Megadeth and Bad Religion. We’re absurdly excited. The organizers have been really nice to us by getting us to fly us across the world and get back together to tour.

Do you have any surprises planned for your Psycho set, whether they be songs you wouldn’t normally play, added stage elements, etc.?

AMOS: This sounds ridiculous for a drugged-out chaotic band, but we actually do try to revisit every record [including their latest album, 2017’s Chalice Hymnal]. We want people to be happy, and there’s no point in a band this old just experimenting.

Do you prefer playing in the heat or in the cold? Indoors or outdoors? What are the advantages and disadvantages of playing at the time and on the stage where you’re scheduled to perform?

AMOS: Om actually just played in Taos, New Mexico, where Dennis Hopper used to live. It was pretty cool. We’ve played so many different environments. The quality of our performances doesn’t have to do with weather, it’s with sound. If the sound is good, it makes it magical outdoors. But if it sounds insane, it’s gonna kill the show. Indoors, you have more control. If people are on acid, some of them like to be outdoors. I like to be indoors.

Tell me something that happened to you in Vegas that was supposed to stay in Vegas.

AMOS: I’ve never been to Vegas. I’m the last person on earth who thinks gambling is a fun idea. But this is the best reason to go.

What other bands are you most excited to see perform at Psycho?

AMOS: I was actually listening today to the very first Bad Religion record How Could Hell Be Any Worse?. When I was younger, it was the first time I ever heard a piano used on a hardcore record. That changed the way I thought about punk music.

Reaching across the chasm of nothingness in the world and reaching some kind of person who needs what you do is the luckiest, greatest moment. Bands like Sonic Youth really paved that relationship — them, Godspeed and others proved you could pull up to a pizza place and have lifelong fans see you. For us to be considered in any way alongside the bands that made it through the trenches is great.

What friends of yours are also playing at the festival? Who are you planning or hoping to hang with in your downtime?

AMOS: I just got home from Sweden with Om and haven’t even had time to think!

What can fans and newcomers expect from your performance(s) at the festival?

AMOS: The greatest performances of all time would’ve been someone who was actually feeling the way they were singing or performing in the studio as they were recording it, right? It’d be somebody experiencing what they’re going through in real time rather than planning it. This band gives us a chance to be real with people. It’s much less of a staged entity.

When you’re an older band, you have the luxury of leaning on so many decades of music. Aspects of hardcore will flash out of moments of jazz and crash into moments of classic Metallica and blend into sleazy Italian sounds. We don’t actually try to control the influences, we just let them come out in light of being ourselves in real time. We’re a band that gives ourselves license to be not entertainers.

For previous installments of the Big Takeover’s Psycho Las Vegas preview series, check out our interviews with:

• Colin H. Van Eeckhout, vocalist of Belgian post-metal purveyors Amenra
• Zack Simmons, drummer of blackened death-metal demigods Goatwhore
• Julien Chanut, guitarist of French sludge-doom band Hangman’s Chair
• Nashville cosmic-riff connoisseurs Howling Giant
• Thomas Eriksen, centrifugal force behind true Norwegian black-metallers Mork
• Tobias Grave, frontman of shimmering post-rock trio Soft Kill
• Derrick Vella, guitarist of death-metal arsonists Tomb Mold
• Niklas Källgren, guitarist of Swedish fuzz fanatics Truckfighters
• Bruce Lamont, frontman of experimental heavy-jazz project Yakuza and Led Zeppelin tribute band Led Zeppelin 2