William Duvall Compares GIRAFFE TONGUE ORCHESTRA To ALICE IN CHAINS – “It’s Completely Different”
September 25, 2016, a year ago
With some free time on his schedule from Alice In Chains, singer William DuVall has finally gotten around to launching Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, which has been in the planning stages for years by this point. Comprised of such renowned names as Brent Hinds (Mastodon), Ben Weinman (the Dillinger Escape Plan), and Thomas Pridgen (Mars Volta), among others, GTO has unveiled their debut full-length, Broken Lies. DuVall spoke with BraveWords correspondent Greg Prato on the eve of the album’s release.
BraveWords: How did Giraffe Tongue Orchestra form?
William DuVall: “It started roughly six or seven years ago. Brent Hinds from Mastodon and Ben Weinman from the Dillinger Escape Plan both approached me about doing something. I was very interested and very intrigued and very flattered, actually, because I’m a great fan of both of them. But for various reasons, it just wasn’t quite the time - the timing wasn’t right. And I got drawn into ‘the Alice tornado.’ But fast forward to last year, I ran into Brent Hinds at the grocery store in Atlanta. [Laughs] And he said, ‘Man, I’d still really love to do GTO.’ So I said, ‘Cool. Let me get on the phone with Ben and see what’s going on.’ I did, and by then, they had gone through six years of involvement with many different bass players and drummers, and even singers that did not work out. They had also gone into the studio with Thomas Pridgen and Pete Griffin on drums, and that did work out, and they essentially recorded the instrumental tracks for the album. By the time of my running into Brent, this had already occurred and I got on the phone with Ben, and he was like, ‘Well, I have all this music.’ And I said, ‘Send it.’ That’s what really triggered it. He sent the music, and it was just this amazing landscape of sound for me to figure out where to build my ‘house.’ I started sending Brent and Ben back the completed songs, and they were just freaking out. That’s when it became real, and I thought, ‘This can actually work.’ Before we knew it, we had a ten-song album that we just could not be more proud of. I feel like this is a landmark work for me, and I think they would say the same. So there it is, Broken Lines, coming out September 23rd.”
BraveWords: What is the meaning behind the band’s name?
William DuVall: “That’s another Brent Hinds creation. He was in the zoo in Sydney, Australia, and he had a bunch of bananas in his hand, and he was visiting a giraffe. And one of these giraffes went up to him, took the bananas from his hand, peeled them just using his tongue, and ate them - right in front of him. He was very moved by this, and he just thought, ‘Wow, what a magical and resourceful animal!’ So he came away from that experience saying, ‘I think I have the name for the band - Giraffe Tongue!’ And later, the idea came up to put the word ‘Orchestra’ behind it, to give it a little bit of class.”
BraveWords: How would you compare working in GTO to Alice in Chains?
William DuVall: “It’s completely different on every level. In GTO, we’re starting from the ground up, and I got sent the music and essentially had complete carte blanche to do whatever I wanted over it. I just responded honestly to what I was hearing. It was a great thing, because the music in GTO is just so wide-ranging - from this gnarly progressive thing to straightforward, almost dance numbers. It was like I got a chance to access part of myself that I hadn’t had a chance to access in many, many years, because I have a history with progressive music - it goes back to being a teenager in my early punk bands like Neon Christ, I was always a fan of free-jazz, a band of avant-garde noise music. Right alongside Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler and the more sort of ‘out’ John Coltrane records. And Jimi Hendrix, the way he embraced noise. That’s my foundation as a musician. So, to come up to today, and get this golden opportunity to work with two of the best guitar players alive today - Brent and Ben - and then have a guy like Thomas playing the drums, and Jon Theodore also plays on two songs on the album, and Pete can play anything - he’s a guy who played Zappa music, for Christ sake. It just harkened back to another time in my life. It was a welcomed challenge to be able to re-embrace that side of myself, and get to respond to this music that they sent. At times, it was almost like writing for a theatrical production. A lot of the music in GTO is so rapidly changing in mood within the same song, it will go from this complete noise thing to this really quiet, sort of pastoral sound in the blink of an eye. It was almost like changing scenes within a stage play, or a movie. It was down to me to figure out how to write to that, respond honestly, and say what I wanted to say. At times, the feelings that it evoked, it was almost like writing a role, picking a world view, writing to that, and scripting exactly what I wanted to say. It’s hard to explain, but it was really a wonderful thing.”
BraveWords: Let’s discuss the track “Crucifixion”.
William DuVall: “‘Crucifixion’ is a good example of what I mean by a track that has really rapid-fire mood swings and runs the gamut from heavy/gnarly progressive to quiet/pastoral, and lots in between. That’s actually one of the first tracks I wrote to, and sent them. The lyric is actually inspired perhaps by more personal events, but I quickly saw that a lot of what I was saying could apply to the wider world, and perhaps things going on in the world. That’s why the video for ‘Crucifixion’ takes a bit of a different turn - away from the personal, and includes lots of historical clips alongside some contemporary clips of wars and politicians. But then it also has a segment where it’s two lovers embracing and kissing. It sort of paints this picture of the human condition, and the continuum of our ability to do the most inhumane things to one another, but also be looking for some sort of peace and love and companionship, and those other things that we need. And how irreconcilable that duality can be, and that everything that we are experiencing now, although there is a temptation a lot of times for people in the media to act like, ‘All these things we are experiencing in the election cycle that is currently happening, oh this is unprecedented. This is a new low.’ I understand why they’re saying that, and a lot of the stuff is hard to watch or hard to hear. But it’s not new. We have seen some horrific things go down in this country and across the world, and it is not new. I think the ‘Crucifixion’ video, again, was an attempt to juxtapose our past with our present.”
BraveWords: What are the touring plans for GTO?
William DuVall: “Our fondest wish is to give this album its proper due and really tour it. We have some shows coming up in the US starting in late November and then running into December, and it’s mostly major cities in the US - not a ‘nooks and crannies’ tour. It’s shorter, I wish it were longer, and the focus is that we will be able to do a more thorough tour on the United States at some point. And the same goes for Europe - we made our live debut at the Reading and Leeds Festivals last month, and that was extremely exciting. A really great place to have a coming out party, and we would love to do a proper tour of the UK and Europe as well, and hope to do that in 2017.”