“My drums are covered in blood,” says Whitney Petty, one half of and drummer of rock/blues and all brilliant The Grizzled Mighty. The male half of The Grizzled Mighty is singer/guitarist, Ryan Granger, who decided in 2010 he wanted to form a band. Through Craigslist he found Georgia native Petty, who joined him as a guitarist (Petty has toured as part of Deerhunter), and together they created what would become the duo The Grizzled Mighty. Granger mentions, “I picked her up as a guitar player. We started jamming on guitar. I had just gotten out of a band I wasn’t too happy with and starting to get antsy. I was getting ready to move out of the country actually because I needed to change something. I had everything planned out, I had a job lined up, I was looking for an apartment in Paris and then I got a string of tickets in a week. There went my nest egg. I wanted to start a band, and I knew kind of what I was going for. Whitney was one of the first auditions I had. I had a lot of people come through but Whitney and I clicked immediately.”
As they developed their sound, it made more sense for Petty to play drums. There is no doubt Petty’s drum would be covered in blood, as are her hands, which are often healing from drumming wounds caused by the passion with which she plays her instrument (Petty: People tell me that I remind them of Animal. I’m down with that. I like puppets.) Petty remembers, “I hopped on drums for “Work Me Slow” and we were like, that’s the one!” Granger recalls the same response, “After that the songs started coming together a lot quicker. Our first show was last May [at the Rendezvous]. It went well. We’ve been booked solid ever since. It’s been a little less than a year.”
Granger grew up partly in Spokane, Washington, partly in Los Angeles, California. An athlete through much of his life, he boxed in Spokane for three years. I wanted to know if the athletic mindset helps him onstage as a performer. “I think a lot of it is work ethic. I was an athlete for years – football, basketball, pole vault. I was pretty good at those sports, but it was because I worked hard at it. I took that and applied it to music. I came out here to do some boxing, and I injured myself benchpressing. I couldn’t work out the same. I broke my sternum or something. That’s when I transitioned.” His exposure to music came very early in life: “I started off on piano, when I was four. My grandmother was a music teacher. I moved to saxophone in junior high. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was sixteen.” When he was nineteen he mentions that he came to Seattle, “I had a buddy who was my roommate, who wanted to do some acoustic stuff. I got into another band and it wasn’t my thing at all. Got out of that and started The Grizzled Mighty. While The Grizzled Mighty was warming up, I got into Fox and the Law.” I ask Granger if it’s more difficult being the front man, as opposed to guitarist in Fox and the Law? “It’s more challenging, at the same time there’s so much less to deal with when there’s only two of us. As a musician it’s much more challenging. I kind of like it. How do I make this sound full without being too busy? Or sparse without being empty? I keep my thumb as a drone note.”
Petty started out playing guitar: “I started playing guitar when I was fourteen. When I was about seventeen I asked my parents for a drum kit for Christmas. They bought me one. It’s really hard to learn drums when you’re living in your parents’ house and you’re not very good at it, and they’re not that into it. I can play drums by myself now.” I asked her what kind of response she gets from people as a female drummer: “My whole life is like this. Every job I’ve ever had, I’m always the girl. When I was a deckhand I would get huge tips because people were just like, did you see you flicking that anchor chain? She’s so small! They’d slip me twenties. Last night, some guy came up to me, and this happens consistently – 2 or 3 dudes, every once in a while some girl will come up and high five me, but usually it’s dudes and they’re just like so, I heard you playing but I couldn’t see you because you were behind this pillar, and then when I realized that was a girl, I was like what the fuck! They freak out.” Granger agrees: “They love it. In Portland the other night, I’d just got done doing the solo, and nailed that. And then I hear, get it girl!!” Petty: “It’s a niche, and I’m exploiting it. I think my kit has a lot to do with it too. Consistently every soundman is like, I love your kit. That’s the biggest kit I’ve ever seen. It’s massive. The massive kit, the tiny girl.”
The Grizzled Mighty – photo by Jake Clifford
They’ve thought about adding a third member, a bassist, but as a duo they’re more than happy “Guy [Keltner, Fox and the Law] plays with us sometimes. Ryan gets so creative – he can, because he’s not holding down the rhythm. Sometimes when we have a bass player it’s startling how cool it sounds,” says Petty. “We have this dynamic as a duo that would totally change with a third person. But not necessarily in a bad way,” agrees Granger.
I’m also intrigued by a story circulated by Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox that Petty was a “cheerleader with a bad attitude” in school. Petty sets the record straight: “That’s not true actually. It’s great that this is Brad’s quote of me, because I was never a cheerleader, but he remembers it because I stole a cheerleading uniform from my high school cheerleading coach, who also happened to have a computer lab. I was waiting in her lab one day to have my school ID taken – she was a terrible person and made us wait half an hour – so I stole this cheerleading uniform. One of my best friends was actually on the cheerleading squad, and when she found out one of the uniforms was missing, she came to me and was like, dude, give it back, I’ll steal it back for you at the end of the year. It’ll be great; you’ll wear it to all the parties. I didn’t want to capitulate. So I don’t know why, but I decided to call my friend Bradford. He’s extremely skinny, he has Marfan Disease. He can’t gain weight. [I told him] I think it would be good if you would wear this to her office and strip. I picked him up early in the morning, he put the cheerleading uniform on with nothing but his boxers on under it. He walked in, and the next thing he came back out in his boxers. [My friend] stole it back for me. I wore it onstage, and Brad wore it onstage in our hometown. “
Petty still has the uniform: “And I will wear it for a Grizzled Mighty show at some point.”
Granger thought of the name The Grizzled Mighty (Petty wanted to be Iguanadon, a name she says she’ll use for her solo project) while Petty created the band’s symbol. Here’s Petty’s story on that: “My best friend Anthony had given me this alchemist/magic book. It’s based on the hieroglyphic monad of John Dee, from the 1500s. The hieroglyphic monad is based on astrological signs, and also the idea that every letter of any meaning is derived from the same three shapes, a dot, a line and a circle. If you look at the alphabet every letter is either a dot, a line or a circle, or a combination of either two or three of them. It’s this idea of stripping down the universe, and all that has meaning, into this basic element. The monad is a powerful symbol, for that reason. I modified it a little. Instead of the bottom of the hieroglyphic monad is two crescent moons, and I made ours an M. And then I put the eyeball in the middle. I took the cross out. I call it the Grizzled monad.”
The Grizzled Monad
The mysterious intro on the band’s debut album, The Grizzled Mighty, gets an explanation from Granger: “I was walking back from work one day and there was some yard sale, and there was this old reel thing that looked like it was a recorder. So I asked the dude what it was and he said it’s an old wire recorder that they found in a building downtown before they were going to tear the building down. They stopped making them in the 50s or 60s. I took it home. This was before we recorded the album but thought it would be cool to do some vocals with it. I fixed it, and was curious to see what was on the reel, and that was on the reel. It sounds like he’s reading a prayer. I thought it would be cool to start the album with it.” The duo’s writing process is a collaboration, with Granger working on lyrics: “A lot of the time I’ll write the lyrics secondary, or I’ll have the lyrics not for a specific song. I’ll have a riff or progression I’ll work out, not knowing exactly where it will go. She’ll start doing the drums and we work it out.” Petty concludes, “ Ryan’s got the basic sketches but I think they really come to life when we play together.” For Granger the lyric writing is “one of the things I struggle with the most. I think I overthink it sometimes. I kind of had to force myself into it. It took a while to get the flow on how to write songs. A word is not catchy – you have to fit it in a melodic way to what you’re playing. “
In one of the craziest band photos I have ever seen, Petty and Granger are on the roof of a car on fire. Granger: “We set it on fire. We had to hop three barbed wire fences to get in. [When] we were leaving, there was this car on the side of the road. Whitney had brought butane, because she was under the impression she was going to peer pressure me into blowing fire. But given my facial situation . . .” Petty had a plan: “We had a few props for that photo shoot. We went to an abandoned nuclear power plant. It was totally deserted.”
The massively attractive and talented duo of Petty and Granger have such a comfortable and easy way with each other, and I wonder what the secret is of how these two get along so well as roommates (they rent in the same house) and bandmates. For Granger it’s because “we’re both pretty level headed easy going people. If one of us has a problem the other one listens. We’re pretty reasonable people when it comes down to it, and we make an effort. I think that goes a long way.” Petty points out: “We have common goals. We’re low drama. We like the same things”
The Grizzled Mighty play the Crocodile on Thursday, May 17th.