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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 album.

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 somewhat.

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 favorites.

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 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


Owen Keenan said...

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.

Jerky LeBoeuf said...

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.