“I’m a cockroach on a guillotine”

London via North Yorkshire’s Grass House are anything but your run of the mill average quartet trying to make it in the big smoke. Formed just under two years ago band members Liam (vocals), Ross (drummer), Steve (guitarist) and Nick (bassist) affix dusty industrial blues to avant-garde lyricism that casts a coy glance to the freewheeling beats of Beefheart and the melodies of Cohen.

In the short time the band have been together they’ve already self-released two EPs, Plough More Sky and Ant Giant Ant, on their own label Holiday Club Recordings alongside fellow Londoners Sunderbans. And, this month sees them set to release their new single, ‘A Cradle, A Short Breath’ on 27 June - a record shaking with guttural menace that has already earned them a coveted play on 6music.

The 405 caught up with vocalist Liam Palmer and guitarist Steve Dove over a quiet half one drizzly Monday evening. Finishing their sentences off like long-lost brothers and with an infectious dead-pan humour, we discovered how the band formed, why French novelist Blaise Cendrars is a must-read and how an obsession with the legend that is David Attenborough can lead you to beat trees in Hampstead Heath at 5am in the morning.

The 405: How did the band start?

Steve: It started with us two; just pissing around for a while. Liam had some songs and I learnt how to play the guitar parts for them, and then we sacked it off and started afresh.

Liam: Essentially, it was just us being a garage band in our bedrooms probably for about a year; I think by the end of the year we had nearly two songs. We weren’t really doing it seriously to start with and then we got quite good.

The 405: How did you meet Nick and Ross?

L: We met Nick through a mate from Driffield who went to university in Sheffield, so we went to see them a lot and he was always there. Ross was at Leeds College.

S: He was working in Woolworths when I met him. I used to go in there on my way to work for pic ‘n’ mix sweets everyday and he was behind the counter – the pic‘n’mix man.

The 405: You formed just under two years ago. What was your first gig?

L: It was with Lord Auch at the Korsan Bar on Kingsland High Street. It had a cage around it on the outside; it looked rather scary. I remember it being alright, but I can remember afterwards asking people how it was and them saying: “Really good, yeah good…. it was ok”.

S: I can’t remember any of it.

L: Yeah, Steve was really nervous.

S: We had a keyboardist for a little bit and he always got the shakes and he’d bring these beta-blockers and I had a couple of those – that scared! We’ve only just settled down now, I think. Everyone still gets scared, actually just me.

The 405: Where does the name come from?

L: I was working in trade forecasting and they had this book about this thing called Wabi-Sabi by Leonard Koren, which was all about imperfections. There was a little story in it about this guy who walks through fields and he wants to find somewhere to sleep, so he grabs the tall grass and ties it up and sleeps inside the tall grass and it the morning he unties the grass and walks on. The essence of Wabi-Sabi is the kinks in the grass you know that someone’s been there and done something to the grass, but you’ve not seen it so you can’t connect the things actually happened; it’s nothing really to do with the meaning really, it’s just that it’s a nice story.

You want a bit of depth, but it’s difficult as it sounds quite pretentious and we didn’t mean it in that way. Hopefully, it doesn’t come across too wanky!

The 405: Do you have any shared influences as a band?

L: Yeah, to start with there was a lot of Beefheart, Tom Waits and Nick Cave.

S: I think when first started we were very influence heavy and we were like, “listen to this song”.

The 405: Your first EP, Plough More Sky was quite raw and primal whereas your second EP, Ant Giant Ant is more richly layered. Do you think you’ve evolved a lot since your first EP?

S: Yeah, the new one takes things even a step further and is a bit more subdued.

L: We’re trying to slow things down a bit. To start with when we used to play, we used to go out and hit everything as hard as we could.

S: It seems quite an immature way to go about it just smash through the whole thing, whereas we think about things a bit more now.

The 405: Ant Giant Ant was inspired by nature. What attracted you to nature?

S: We went to see Chris Watson and David Attenborough speech. Chris Watson’s the guy who does the sound editing and sound design for wildlife programmes; he created this one five minute piece of what it’s like to experience a night in the jungle cut into five minutes of sound with no video. We were like, “we’ll get a microphone and record loads of sounds”, so we went down to Hampstead Heath and hit sticks on trees and rattled some leaves.

L: It was quite nice, but we threw too much shit at the wall and we wanted to put it all in there and we had no idea of how much we should keep in and how much to leave.

S: The new Deerhunter album, Revival, uses lots of different samples that he’s taken to create the percussion but he brought them in and out and that’s what we wanted to do in a way; we just kept it all in!

L: Because you’re like, “that’s a really good sound, oh that’s a really good sound” you can’t take any of them out and instead leave them all in; you’ve got fifteen layers of people jumping into puddles and dancing in the leaves.

The 405: How did you record the EPs?

L: For the first one, our old bass player (a different guy from the one from Driffield) did it. He has a studio at his house and he’s produced the new single as well we kind of went back to him as he’s better at recording and mastering things than we are.

The 405: Did you produce Ant Giant Ant yourselves?

L: Yeah, we did that one ourselves after he left. We really wanted to do more of a concept EP. With the new one, we’ve recorded the drums at his and the guitars ourselves, so it’s going to be mix n match.

The 405: The single’s called a ‘Cradle Of Short Breath’. Is that another concept record?

L: No, it’s written more in the vein of ‘Lazy Bones’ – it’s a bit slower, more thought out. We thought that it’s a nice summery pop song.

S: We get stamped with “brooding, dark and mysterious” a little too often for our liking to be honest, so yeah we can smile.

The 405: You have been compared a lot to Nick Cave and Captain Beefheart. Is that a fair comparison?

L: A bit to start with, but I think when you hear a deeper it’s of a lazy comparison. We don’t listen to that much Nick Cave anymore; I think he has more poetic lyrics.

The 405: Ant Giant Ant seems more considered and cohesive than the chaos of Plough More Sky.

L: That’s what the hoped that it would be more from start to finish; it would be a bit more of a journey.

S: It started man-made with all these little things we were doing with typewriters we were playing around with to start with, and then we went down to Liam’s farm and did a similar thing with the pigs and the horses.

L: No animals were harmed!

The 405: Your songs are lyrically very quite abstract, like ‘I’m a cockroach on a guillotine’ from ‘Cockroach’ on Plough More Sky. Where do you get your inspiration from?

L: We usually try to find some kind of book within a book and use it and evolve it.

The 405: Are there any particular authors you look to?

L: Blaise Cendrars. A French novelist and poet, we rip him off all the time. It’s an absolute travesty no-one reads him as he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s got a book called Moravagine , which is one of the best things that I’ve ever read in my life. It’s the darkest most horrible book; I actually gave it to my 79 year old auntie for Christmas and she really like, but she say she keeps having to put it down as it’s so horrible.

S: The early scene is a man in a mental hospital where someone walks in and he’s just finished masturbating. He gets broken out of this mental hospital and goes round Europe causing chaos; it’s a really anarchist book they go to Russian and get involved in a revolution.

The 405: You've released your EPs on your own record label, Holiday Club Recordings, along with fellow Londoners Sunderbans. How did that get started?

L: We all set it up together as we wanted to put out our music when we wanted and do the promotions ourselves; we didn’t want anyone to rely on really. We’re doing it because we like doing it, it doesn’t matter if we sell a lot or don’t sell a lot it’s just good to have it under roof with everyone looking out for each other; it’s turned out quite well.

The 405: You put a lot of effort into the artwork for your EPs both physically and online. Is that important to you?

L:We haven’t got a lot of money behind us and can’t do things like Google maps or an equisite music video. We haven’t got that kind of money, so you have to think of something that people can do. It’s all about a good idea, I think.

The 405: The artwork for the EPs is very DIY, especially the black and white cut-outs of Plough More Sky. How do you create the artwork?

L: For Plough More Sky, we made all of the covers out of books and got pages of books and figured a way to fold them up in the CD cases and then gave them all away.

S: We’re doing something very similar tonight; we’ve got 200 promo CDs to print off and stick down.

L: We’re all sat there in a room folding.

S: A little production line going on.

The 405: Are there any plans to record an album?

L: EP’s are our primary interest, because when you’ve got songs together you want to get them out. It feels that people don’t really listen to albums anymore, especially smaller albums.

S: With the progression being quite fast paced I think each EP has been completely different and if we spent the time doing an album we’d be fed up of the first songs we’d completed.

L I think it’s good to draw a line under things, like “here we are now”. If we get picked up and they ‘you’ve got six months to write an album’, we’re not going to go back and say ‘ok, we’ll take the best songs from the EPs’… You should keep writing and turning over the songs, rather than resting on a good set of songs. The problem we always find is that every three months or so we hit a lull in the set where we get bored of songs ..so we put all the new songs in and they take a while to get going – it’s like starting again.

Grass House's new single 'A Cradle, A Short Breath' is out on June 27th via Holiday Club Recordings. To find out more about the band visit: www.grasshouse.bandcamp.com