When we call Grave Pleasures frontman Mat McNerney on the Internet phone, his sense of relief that his band is no longer called Beastmilk is palpable. “I think the name prevented some people from taking us seriously,” he offers. “We never really intended the stuff that came with Beastmilk to be there in the first place, anyway.”
What he means is this: After releasing an almost-universally lauded debut in 2013’s death rock masterpiece Climax—an album initially created as more of a recording project than the product of an actual working band—Beastmilk got an offer from Sony Records. At the same time, they were having problems with guitarist and co-songwriter Johan Snell, who eventually left the band. Rather than keep the Beastmilk name, the remaining members—McNerney, bassist Valtteri Arino and second guitarist Linnéa Olsson (formerly of exalted one-and-done metal sirens The Oath)—spent two days in Berlin drinking and trying to come up with names. “We did Ouija boards; we did names in a hat,” McNerney recalls with a laugh. “We almost decided to call ourselves Psychic Liars. But then I had a dream and Grave Pleasures was there in the morning.”
Next, the Finland-based band fashioned themselves into an international supergroup, enlisting former In Solitude drummer Uno Bruniusson and Oranssi Pazuzu main man Juho Vanhanen on guitar. If you’re keeping track, that makes two Finns (Vanhanen and Arino), two Swedes (Olsson and Bruniusson) and an Englishman (McNerney, who lives in Finland). The result is Grave Pleasures’ debut, Dreamcrash. “Of course there’s differences between the bands,” McNerney concedes. “A lot of people attach things to band names and concepts, and that’s fine. The Beastmilk album will always be there for them. But even if we sounded just like the first album without Johan, there would always be somebody who doesn’t feel it’s the same thing.”
Noisey: When Johan left, was it clear that you would change the band name?
Mat McNerney: There was a lot of discussion around it. Nothing was really clear. It was a difficult situation. We basically just had completely different ideas about what to do with the band, and a bad feeling had developed while we were touring. It was the band on one side and him on the other. Beastmilk had been a project. It was never intended to be a proper band—it was sort of an anti-band. But then it blew up and we wanted to do the deal we had on the table, but he pulled out at the last minute. He wasn’t up for working with us or doing things our way. We talked to him and it seemed like there wasn’t going to be an easy solution. When it became clear that he wouldn’t be involved, we felt the most honest thing to do would be to change the name. We probably could’ve tried to fight it out and keep the name, but we certainly don’t have any ill feelings towards him so we didn’t want to take it to a nasty place.
What happened with Sony at that point?
Sony wanted Beastmilk and we had gone really far down the road with the contract before it became clear that Johan never really had any intention of going ahead with it. We wanted to tour, we wanted to do another record; we were really into the band. It would be sad to just bury it all. So it was a difference of direction because one guy wasn’t taking it seriously and the rest of us really wanted to do this. Later, we played Sony some new material kind of thinking we weren’t really gonna get anywhere with it. But they said they’d keep it going—it was a very underground-minded, non-major-label thing to do. No complaints over the name, no input on the material. They just supported us and believed in us, which was very nice.
That’s incredible. I’d assume they would freak out over a name change and a major lineup change.
I think major labels have to start thinking like underground labels now. They have to start thinking like independents or they’re gonna go down. They have to find what works and work with it rather than try to change it or mess it up. They’ve realized, I think, that the major-label way of thinking doesn’t get you anywhere these days. And they’ve got a lot of people from independent labels now working for them so you don’t meet a lot of the people you would’ve met back in the day—all the suits and that. I don’t think they exist anymore. But yeah, they were really bummed because we had so much good stuff going [as Beastmilk], and they didn’t really understand where Johan was coming from—that he didn’t wanna do it on any level. And not only did he not want to do it; he didn’t want us to do it, either. Which I don’t think is right. If you’re friends with people, you should want them to do well. So it all got a bit ugly.
How does it stand with Johan now? Are you guys on speaking terms at least?
[Laughs] It ended really badly with Johan. I don’t think he likes the fact that the band carried on. But I wish the guy all the luck in the world. I think he’s a very talented guy. I really hope he carries on doing his own thing. I’m really up for continuing to be friends with him, but like I said, I don’t think he likes that we carried on. I don’t think either side comes out smelling like roses, really. Bands are bands—they bring out the best and the worst in people.
You really landed on your feet with Uno from In Solitude and Linnea from The Oath. Those were two of the best metal bands in Sweden, if not all of Europe.
Yeah, it was really nice how it came about. Things couldn’t have been worse when Linnea came into Beastmilk, but she brought a lot of good spirit with her, even though The Oath had recently broken up. Her positive attitude kind of saved us and let us do that last tour. I think Beastmilk would’ve split a bit earlier without her.
How did you get Uno involved?
When we started getting together as Grave Pleasures, we heard that In Solitude had broken up. We had just done a tour with them, so we figured Uno might want to get into some music to get out of the bad feeling they must’ve been in. I mean, In Solitude were a band since they were teenagers. It was an amicable breakup, but it still must be sad to lose your childhood band. And we were right—we were there at the right moment. He came in and really brought so much to the arrangements and compositions, so it was the best thing that could’ve happened to us. I think there are a few drummers who are shit-hot right now, and he really is one of them. We’re really lucky to have him with us.
What about Juho from Oranssi Pazuzu?
I knew Juho because I’d been supporting Oranssi Pazuzu a lot here in the local scene, and he and I live in the same town in Finland. So he was the first choice for a guitarist to step into Johan’s shoes. He’s a guitar teacher by trade, so we knew he’d learn Johan’s stuff really easily and also be able to bring something to the new material as well. Especially with the lead guitars on the record, there’s songs that would never have been the same without him. And I think his style and Linnea’s style work so well together. They have this miraculous alchemy between them, but it could’ve gone horribly when you put two people who don’t know each other in a room together. It worked out excellently.
Linnea joined Beastmilk about six months before the name change. Was she someone you specifically sought out?
We weren’t really looking for anyone, but we had always discussed that the live shows might be improved with a second guitarist because Johan had different parts on the record that he wasn’t playing live. But we didn’t want to bring in someone we didn’t know. We weren’t exactly the most happy band in the world, so our worry was that if we brought in someone else, it might make things worse. So it had to be someone we were excited about, and I was hoping it would be someone who would bring the band more together. We met her and hung out with her at this festival that we played at in Germany, and we had a really good time. We went on to a festival together the next day in Norway. We sat down to have a beer and I said, “What about Linnea on guitar?” Everybody got really excited about it because she’s really cool and we all loved her compositions on The Oath album. We thought it was a shame that she wasn’t doing anything after The Oath broke up, so we figured we better snap her up before somebody else did. Right away, the live shows got better but it didn’t make the band any happier. [Laughs] But me and Arino and Linnea had a good vibe going together, and it only got better when we got Uno in. Now I get friends coming to see us as Grave Pleasures and they’re like, “Oh, you’re a real band now!” [Laughs] It’s a shame when it’s like that at someone’s expense, but the vibe has got be there.
J. Bennett couldn’t agree more about the vibe and stuff.