After a successful tour earlier this year with Napalm Death, American grindcore bruisers Escuela Grind return to these shores for another run of dates, so The Midlands Rocks sat down with the band (vocalist Katerina Economou, guitarist Kris Morush and drummer Jesse Fuentes) just prior to their set at Birmingham’s Devil’s Dog (reviewed here).
We’re here in the home of Black Sabbath. They were influenced by their industrial surroundings. Growing up, how did your environment shape you?
Katerina Economou: I grew up in Western Massachusetts, which is a lot like this area, it’s post-industrial, so I guess a lot of parallels can be drawn there, but it’s also kind of rural, so our scenes were small and spread out, so I had a desire to find a larger community and that brought me to the heavy music that was happening outside our bubble. So, I’d definitely say Escuela Grind is directly related to how isolated we were. However, Jesse grew up in Texas and Kris in New York, so they were definitely more cosmopolitan.
Jesse Fuentes: Escuela Grind is definitely a reflection of where I’m from. There are so many great bands from Texas; Pantera, Iron Age, ZZ Top, Insect Warfare, we’re all from the same community and there’s so much competition; you can’t just be any band, you have to do things that people care about. I was in waves of bands that people care about there, so Escuela Grind is all those bands in one package, and now Krissy joined the band so during the pandemic we were able to bounce ideas off each other.
Kris Morush: I was definitely beatdown hardcore orientated. Bands like Napalm Death didn’t seem obtainable to me in terms of playing music, but in Texas those genres are closely knit and people are able to make a community out of that, so where I’m from it was dipping into different genres.
All you influences are pretty extreme, do you think your band is a case of art imitating life?
Jesse: For sure.
Katerina: In a way. We have a lot of influences that are not always apparent when you first listen to the band. When we wrote the last album we drew inspiration from how we thought people would move to the songs, especially EDM where they’d build songs up then suddenly release the tension. So in terms of art imitating life, we do have all the extreme influences, but we have little sneaky things we put in like Prince and R&B you might be able to find.
Grindcore fans can be quite conservative musically, have you faced much hostility for bringing all these different styles into the scene?
Jesse: That’s one of the main questions we’ve got over here. We had a lot of younger grindcore fans liking us, and older grindcore fans who didn’t like us and it created a vibe of “fuck this band!”. One guy in a really cool grindcore band said we sucked, and then it was like we almost divided the entire scene. We divide people’s opinion of what grindcore is.
Kris: I think even within our fanbase, I see them argue a lot as to what grindcore is.
Katerina: I will say that it never gets us down, it would be nice for people who like “true” grindcore to like us too, but our goal is much broader than that. Once upon a time I wasn’t sure if the scene was for me, so to represent it as to who we are is great, and to be authentic about it, because I’m not a “true cult” authentic type person. We are who we are, and we put on the show in that way.
Jesse: I didn’t ask to be part of grindcore, grindcore brought me in. I became part of it. So that’s another thing to be considered; you brought me here, so this is what happens when you bring in diversity!
What made you choose grindcore as a way of self-expression as opposed by punk or metal?
Kris: It contains a lot of what we like in our own self-interests in music. Whenever we are in the van and when we are rarely listening to hardcore or metal, we are thinking of Prince beats and Slipknot and Nirvana.
Jesse: I had so much anger as a kid, I grew up in inner cities, and that’s what drew me to the scene, for sure. When I was at hardcore shows I could beat somebody’s ass and nobody was going to call the cops on me! After I saw Drop Dead, I just got the urge to just play d-beat. It took me away from the beatdown punk mentality, and I just went full-on grinder. I was also playing in death metal bands, so I was already part of all these different communities, and me and all my friends were the only ones who’d go to different shows.
Katerina: So what you’re saying is grindcore fans like all different types of music and they’re more open minded?
Jesse: Hell no! Grindcore nerds are assholes!
Katerina: Me and Jesse started Escuela Grind with one other guitar player and we moved to a small town where there was one other grind kid, so we just started the band to have something to do.
Lyrically too, you touch on some heavy subjects. Have you faced much hostility for being so outspoken?
Katerina: Not so much recently, generally people are respectful of the content. We do have a moment in the set where we reach out so people know they’re supported; trans people, people of colour, so sometimes that might get a little grumble from some ignorant people in the crowd, but in general even though we do touch on heavy topics it’s pretty much accepted by the community at this point.
Jesse: When there was people who said “no clit in the pit”, they still come to shows, but there’s always some kickback to the message, but that doesn’t really matter to us.
Katerina: Keep pushing, the people that need to hear the message hear it, and that makes it worth any lashing out.
You’ve seen a lot of the world through touring, do you think things are getting better? My experience is that things are more polarised than ever.
Katerina: If you look at the arc of history, things are definitely getting better for people, but it is so hard to see that in the moment. I think now people are finding ways to talk to each other, and more befitting of the environment we have now. Usually when you’re on tour you’d expect people to show you the best face, but people are really honest with us, they tell us their struggles. We’ve toured Eastern Europe a few times and there’s actual Fascism there, there’s really rough stuff going on. When we go to those shows and speak out for the Trans people, those are things they can’t say because their government will censor them. So us coming from another place and be able to say that, it means so much more to people.
So when you play Eastern Europe, is it more satisfying to tell your message there?
Kris: It definitely strikes a chord.
Jesse: People should know about certain things that they don’t experience at home. Everybody is a product of their environment, and that’s one thing we have to make people understand, and it works both ways.
You all seem pretty chilled and Zen, so how do you psyche yourself up to go onstage?
Kris: Redbull helps!
Katerina: When we first started playing shows I’d get really nervous, but people ask ‘how can you perform like that consistently?’ and the stage fright you get, you put it into physical motion and means you can do you job, and my job is looking crazy!
Do you find it hard to leave the anger on stage?
Jesse: I’m never angry onstage.
Katerina: I think cathartic is the right word for it. A friend said you can write songs about really happy stuff, but once you write them and put them out there, they are not yours any more, and once you’ve performed them countless times, something that would have made you cry on the first performance, won’t make you cry on the thousandth time.
Jesse: It’s adrenaline. The adrenaline starts with the anticipation, at the beginning of the day it starts and ramps up until you play.
So you must be hyped-up on stage, so how do you come down afterwards?
Jesse: We’re still on stage technically, at the merch table!
Katerina: We go to the merch table and meet our fans. We get to meet people, last night there was a father and son that came up to us, the son was a trans person and the father had something important to say to us, the son had something important to say and it was like wow! If that’s not wholesome, I don’t know what is! My cheeks were hurting from how much I was smiling.
You’ve become famed for your full-on live show. Have you set a dangerous precedent? People will always expect it now.
Katerina: I think so, and especially on the last tour, it directly affected the headliner, Barney from Napalm Death was trying to go as hard as he could, and that resulted in a broken ankle. We’re definite messing up our bodies by going hard every night.
World tours and shows with the likes of Suicidal Tendencies and Napalm Death. Do you have to pinch yourselves sometimes, or did you always think the band would take you this far?
Jesse: I’m not surprised, because we’ve worked so hard.
Katerina: I know you shouldn’t expect things to happen, but we did put a lot of work in. I know the last tour we did with Napalm Death, the venues were so huge, some legendary venues like the Electric Ballroom, there were some moments where I had to pinch myself and think ‘these blast beats can take us here’.
Kris: We definitely don’t take it for granted, but there’s so much more to be manifested.