Sandstorm's P.J. La Griffe on bringing literal heavy metal to their Desert Warrior
Consisting of Swedish brothers Stevie Whiteless (guitar & vocals) and Reptile Anderson (bass & vocals) and drummer P.J. ''The Butcher'' La Griffe, the group have a surefire grip on what made the pre-thrash period of metal-making click with headbangers around the dawn of the ‘80s— gain-scorched solos, black light boogies, and plenty of sword-swinging storytelling. Visually, the vintage-looking grit of Desert Warrior’s jagged logo and crude, bestial cover drawing—the warrior itself, it would seem, scuttling across barren dunes— would look especially killer sandwiched in your LP collection between Samson’s Survivors and Tygers of Pan Tang’s Spellbound.
Speaking with Gut Feeling, P.J. got into Sandstorm’s epic journeying, in-studio anvil clanking, and the benefits of a finely-studded set of leather drumming gloves
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Time to Strike was a perfect title for a debut release, it sets up the intent: the band are battling for listener’s attention. But it’s also sung on Desert Warrior that “the battle rages on.” Where did you want to take the band with this second release?
P.J. La Griffe: Well...I suppose the battle is never over. This one feels more cohesive, more themed. You know how it is, every first record has a little bit of this and a little of that—you’re using all the songs from when you first started playing together.
What kind of themes do you see in Desert Warrior, then?
P: The continuation of the battle between good and evil.
What can you say about dialing into this early metal aesthetic, with songs full of epic journeys, and traversing the plains with sword in-hand?
P: That’s where the influences lie: Dio songs; metal songs where the video has this epic battle. I think it just kind of goes well with the genre of music. Its epic and dramatic.
You all met in Vancouver, but Stevie’s since moved back to Sweden. How has this impacted Sandstorm?
P: Well, we might not have even have recorded this as soon as we had. He had applied for another visa but didn’t get it, so we booked studio time. We literally did it the week before he left. It was all or nothing! It was our last chance for at least a year to get anything on wax.
We were going to go over to Sweden and play some shows around a festival last May, and then he was probably going to come back here in the Autumn. You know, obviously that didn’t happen.
Are there any key moments you can recall from the recording sessions?
P: We borrowed anvils to get the sword-slashing sounds that are in “Evil Wins.” That was a hoot. We’d never embellished the music with outside bits like that before. It was fun to fuck around with that.
What were you striking the anvils with?
P: They were these little anvils that we borrowed. We were hitting them with these tiny hammers, but the heads kept coming off. It was hard to hit them without the hammer head coming off and killing somebody.
“Evils Wins” begins with this idea of a small child seeing the god Thor up in the skies, with this moment instantly inspiring them to “live the life of a warrior.” How inspirational was it for Sandstorm to open up for [Canadian metal icon] Jon Mikl Thor?
P: It was cool! It was at an all-day festival—I think we played first, and he played last. I’m pretty sure Reptile got a photo with him. I saw Thor probably about 20 years ago, and he was awesome then. You know, blowing up hot water bottles, bending swords...things like that. He must’ve blown up a hot water bottle at the festival, too. He’s still got it; His band is serious and aggressive looking when they play. Tongue-in-cheek stuff, but I loved it.
One thing about your personal aesthetic is that you’re always wearing leather gloves while you’re playing. When did you first start wearing those?
P: I started that when I was in Twin Fangs from Edmonton. We jammed in a basement during the winter when it was totally freezing, so I literally put the leather gloves on to keep my hands from freezing. But then I realized, ‘Oh my god, I don’t get blisters! I don’t drop my sticks!’ This was way better. It just kind of stuck.
How often do you wear-through a pair of gloves?
P: I should probably change them more often. Even before you wear them through they get stinky and disgusting. I’ve probably only gone through five or six pairs over the past 15 years. Sometimes I just end up taping the gloves, though. It’s hard to find a pair that fits well.
There’s at least one studded pair of gloves in the rotation.
P: I’ve always done that sort of thing, embellishing and making my own clothes.
Did you stud Stevie’s leather jacket with the giant Sandstorm patch, too?
P: Stevie did that on his own—We actually had a studding party out on my porch one night. [Stevie and Reptile also] did their own Nike armbands, these really big sweatbands with giant spikes on them.
So you’ve got these four new songs on Desert Warrior, but was there anything you didn’t get around to recording before Stevie left?
P: We recorded five songs, actually. Four of them are on the EP, and one is going to be on a split with our friends Time Rift form Portland. That’ll come out in June, I think. We’ve played with Time Rift a couple of times; they had played that same festival with us and Thor. [Time Rift] released their album on Dying Victim as well, so it’s a perfect little mash-up.
You also DJ a monthly proto-and-‘80s metal night called BC Hydra, normally from a bar but more recently as a livestream from your apartment. What are the challenges of keeping the party going from home?
P: They’ve been looser; they didn’t use to involve costume changes. It’s been a bummer because most of the fun of BC Hydra is that it’s normally seven of us [DJ’ing], and it’s a blast getting together. Maybe we haven’t seen each other all month, you know? I miss that. Its not as fun with just me and Kevin [at home]. The first one we thought was going to look so stupid, like, nobody’s going to watch this. We have giant walls in our apartment, so there’s lot’s of room to use projections. If you walked in you would think it’s the shittiest set up you’ve ever seen, but on a tiny screen it looks great!
Do you ever slip Sandstorm songs into your sets, or would that be like wearing your own band’s shirt?
P: I totally have, and I wear my band’s t-shirts all the time. I’ve always done that. I usually make the t-shirts, too, so I want to wear them. Some bandmates have made fun of me for it—they think I’m a dork for wearing one— but with Sandstorm it’s not an issue.