The Mighty Oaks interview with Bret Grey

November 21, 2012

The Mighty Oaks interview with Bret Grey

The Mighty Oaks recently released a brand new album called “Validus Balianus”. I recently spoke with Bret Grey about this very enjoyable album. Their influences came from various of places and what I find the most interesting is their love for Amon Duul II album “Yeti”.
Would you like to present us The Mighty Oaks?
Well The Mighty Oaks pretty much are
Bret Grey & Owen Keenan (think Sonic Boom & Jason, Seals & Crofts,
Robin Williamson & Mike Heron {Incredible String Band}-you get the picture-
now; it’s no longer a quartet. So I’ll be sending you some psychedelicized
portraits of Owen & I.
Neverthess, drummer Ron Duffy is still
involved & will be almost definitely on the next album that we’ve already
started (we owe another one for the label).
How long have you been together and if you
can tell us about your formation? How did you got to know each other?
Owen & I had been friends since our
teens and were both in various Toronto bands. Owen had Circle of Ill Health and
later Wilder. My two main bands were The Mind Set and Vatican Rip, I also
played in a very short lived band called The Golden Triangle with the
quasi-legendary guitarist, George Reinke who was in Tav Falco & The Panther
Burns who were produced by Alex Chilton. As a result I heard many interesting
& intimate stories about Alex and almost met him once but couldn’t get out
of my house that night lol…anyway, Alex, REST IN PEACE BABY! What was unique
was there were hardly any new psychedelic groups in Canada at the time (early
90’s- I wasn’t even of age)- most definitely not in Toronto. The drummer on
Validus Balianus, Ron Duffy, was in a legendary Toronto band, Change of Heart,
who almost everyone in the Toronto scene has at least heard of.
Years after all those bands had either
disrupted or broken up for good, say around 2008, I got a call from Owen who
wanted to metamorphose his solo project into a proper democratic band and,
along with Ron on drums, brought in ex-Admiral drummer turn singer/songwriter
guitarist, Gary Edmonds which would ultimately be a mistake due to his limited
vocal & musicianship, though, we managed to produce his catchy songs &
singing into something charming.
Basically we were all liked to get high,
though not always on the same thing & strived to make music that people
(& ourselves) would enjoy listening alongside their favorite music
regardless how lofty that maybe- there seemed to be SO MUCH mediocrity
EVERYWHERE at the time, we almost felt it was a sacred mission to go the extra
mile, pay attention to nuance & just make a fucking good album. We had an
extra challenge, though, using a studio that was being built for the express
purpose of the album. So it came out sounding somewhat a garage version of a
classic album. Not garage in that poorly played early Stones music by the 80’s
plus “bowlcut brigade”, but the idea of a big sound recorded in a
small studio more suited to acoustic recording. Fortunately, the engineering is
pretty good resulting in nice sound quality. Perhaps because we had a makeshift studio
evolving as our new compositions were and, at the time, we had 3 songwriters:
myself, Owen & Gary, it didn’t take to long before we were focused on an
L to R: Bret Grey, Gary Edmonds, Owen
Keenan, behind: Ron Duffy.
“Validus Balanus” (Mighty Acorn)
is your debut. It’s a collection of songs from 2009 to 2012. Please present
this new album to us.
Originally we had ideas for Validus to
be a double album ’cause the material was just piling up; Owen, & I always
had some new song to take a stab at. Despite this prolific period I remember a
lot of sweat especially on my part and eating Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
like candy! Though it did get you flying high, to be completely honest with
you, I needed it to just drive this band! Ron is a very tasteful drummer; he
reminds me of Charlie Watts sometimes (one of my favorite drummers), however,
he needed to be seriously driven sometimes. So I kept a tic tac candy dispenser
full of those heart shaped yellow pills a la Mothers Little Helper!
Anyway, I guess the double album idea was
considered too expensive by the label and Owen peeled off what he thought was
the best tracks & takes. With the studio we used it produced a garage like
Revolver or maybe like a Buffalo Springfield album. The funny thing is that,
though, we like that music, we have no interest in going back, though, compared
to the overall quality of the releases today, the music from 60’s & 70’s
was more consistent at any given time……………till disco that is!
Man From Atlantis: the original idea was to
have two versions of this on the album- one to open & one to close. A part
one & two like the Moody Blues, Have You Heard from the “On The
Threshold of A Dream Album”. I always felt this Keenan composition had to
deal with many of the ugly scenesters we had to deal with downtown in the old
days. You know, assholes who specialized in the poor man’s variety but, for
some strange reason were able to convince innocent young talent that if you
weren’t “in” with them, you’d never work in the city which is
bullshit; Toronto is somewhat like LA in that there are powerful players in the
industry who are also good people but you may have to wade through some sleazy
waters before you learn where you should be.
Born Sorry: is the one cover on the album
and, ironicly, probally my favorite track. It was written by a muti-talented
artist, the late Steve Banks, who is a legend in Toronto & probally his
most famous & consistent band was, “Trans Love Airways”, who did
some work with the producer Kramer who is quite well known through his work
with bands like Galaxie 500. Steve was a great friend and I miss him dearly. He
was also like the “keys to the city” for me- he always knew what was
going on that was worthy of attention. He was a heavy consumer of cannabis and
I can remember many stoned listens to Pearls Before Swine’s ESP records which
he played constantly!
Tuesday Song: is actually an older song I
wrote in one of my first serious bands, “The Mindset”. In fact, their
is an earlier version that was released on The Mindset’s lone album, “Jack
Queen King”. However, it has always been so popular with people and a live
favorite that was often extended into epic live freak outs with much hypnotic
guitar work. Took 5 minutes to write and sounds like a hit- it’s great when
things work out like that.
White On White: I have absolutely no idea
what this song is about nor do I remember a thing about recording it. Very
spiritual & something to do with cows.
Neighborhood Girls: One of our WORSHIP
tunes. Like the Surrealists, we believe Women to be more in touch with the
OTHER. You can also refer to this as the ESSENCE.
Mischeif: Another one of Owenz. I like the
McCartneyish harmonies he conducted.
Dream Maker: I preferred how this one
sounded in the “bed track” stage of the recording before some of the
lead guitar was added; there were subtle parts that conjured visions of light
seeping through a window at daybreak, though, the solo’s are good. Kind of
Whoish in an early poppy way. It’s funny how you can sit down to write a song
or start one in the studio with no intentions to sound like a particular band
or maybe it reminds you of someone else at the outset but later….
Waves: A haunting track I wrote together
with Owen. My lyrics dealt with cinema, a certain starlet (which will be kept
secret), decadence and, perhaps, the occult.
Gales of March: An interestingly mystical
and somewhat cryptic composition by Owen which reminds me of Arthur Lee
NMB: I would consider this our Occult song.
The lyrics were heavily influenced by Kenneth Anger’s “Lucifer
Rising” which I had just saw around the time we were composing the music.
Do you all draw from similar influences or
do you have different backgrounds as far as your favourite music goes?
Both Owen & I have very diverse
tastes and it really depends on the time just how close we both are on the
dial. Amon Duul II is a mainstay and we were talking a lot about them,
especially when Validus was being bandied about as a double album; we were
inspired to do, perhaps, a one track side that I’m sure had a lot to do with
the fact that “Yeti” was the album of the month for us.
The new album is going to be primarily
acoustic and will feature just me & Owen with some other talented musicians
under our direction, perhaps. Ron maybe involved again. The fact that I have
been listening to a lot of America, Incredible String Band, Pearls Before Swine
and Crosby Stills & Nash (Young), I’m sure has helped create some of the
mood of our new work in progress. This new work will have much more flow and
really take you places.
I mean I could tell you and/or namecheck
all these groups that have had a seminal impact on us such as The Kinks &
The Velvet Underground but do you really care to read about how another artist
was influenced by The VU? I certainly don’t- I mean, WHO CARES?
I WILL say that though we are not
throwbacks to some bygone era, the only new artist getting the big push
currently that I think is any good is Lana Del Rey. As for new exciting groups
on little labels, unfortunately, we’ve been too busy working on our new album
to keep up and stay in touch. I’m really into Krautrock so I’d be interested in
anything with striking atmosphere and the kind of conviction those bands of old
had on their instruments. It dosen’t necessarily have to be complicated music,
but I’m only interested in new bands who can deliver & so few can nowadays,
though, the material is sometimes interesting, however, the quality of singing
& playing has gone down alarmingly so.
We will definitely deliver on this new one
Worship of a certain mysterious muse
which some would call God that pervades the imagination & inspiration to
create. And, simply, the quest to make an album that we feel stands up to our
Do you have any plans for the future?
Perhaps a tour or just a concert you would like to promote here?
The new acoustic based album is our real
priority right now. I’m sure their will be some electric moments on it too,
along with other such ingredients…it should be both quite mystical AND
commercial in that it will be full of memorable well crafted songs. Here’s
hoping nothing gets in the way of its realization. Sure we will be touring but
only when get other things finished and the timing just right!
Thanks for taking your time. Any last
words, message?
It was my pleasure and we think your
magazine is one of the best around right now! And anyone who would like to get
their hot little hands on Validus Balanus, it is available internationally
online at RECORD HEAVEN. Validus Balanus is also available at ITUNES.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar/2012
© Copyright
  1. Owen Keenan

    A Nice interview all in all - and much thanks to Klemen for the exposure. Some falsehoods and exaggerations made in the name of "Rock and Roll" however the first being that "we all liked to get high". This isn't a necessary or accurate (or cool) thing to say. I for one was sober all of the time not least because I was the engineer and also - this addresses the second exaggeration - we had no label overseeing our work (as in we weren't "signed" the way Bret suggests). It's my own label: Firebrick Records and though it's small I work hard to make it viable. Anyone interested in further work from us can find it through the Firebrick Records website. Nonetheless sincere thanks to Klemen and "It's Psychedelic Baby" for the feature. It's a real honour.

  2. Jerky LeBoeuf

    So sad and beautiful to see my friend Steve Banks mentioned and remembered in this interview. I'll give your version of Born Sorry a listen, but thanks regardless for keeping his fire alive.

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