Spotlight Feature: GRAND MAL – ‘Bad Timing’ w/Interview

Grand Mal formed in New York City in 1995 and released a self-titled EP and an album; ‘Pleasure is No Fun‘ on № 6 Records. On the strength of that output, they were picked up by Slash/London Records for their 1999 release, ‘Maledictions‘ but were dropped from the label shortly thereafter. In 2003 they regrouped and released the aptly titled ‘Bad Timing‘, on Arenarock Records, an album guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Bill Whitten calls: ‘the defining statement of its career‘.

Out of options and money, the album and the band quietly faded away. However, thanks to the world wide web, ‘Bad Timing‘ has lived on among diehards and now the Norwegian label Asura Revolver has reissued the LP.

In 2019 ‘Bad Timing‘ sounds timeless. A combination of 70s power pop, glam, bluesy rock and roll, and pub rock, ‘Bad Timing‘ is a step away from the dirty garage rock of ‘Maledictions‘ and a few steps away from the melodic slacker punk of Whitten’s previous outfit St. Johnny.

In 2003 when ‘Bad Timing‘, was first released, the musical landscape was convoluted, to say the least. The CD was dead or dying, Napster had changed everything, and iTunes was thriving. The garage rock revival led by the White Stripes was in full force but Grand Mal had already flirted with glammed-up garage rock on ‘Maledictions’ . It was a record that fit more in line with the revival and in 2003 ‘Bad Timing‘ could hardly be categorized as garage rock as the White Stripes would have it. The record raises a toast and slides in comfortably beside other 2003 releases from ‘revival’ bands like The Exploding Hearts, Ted Leo, and The Strokes.

Writing and recording ‘Bad timing‘ was about survival. They all had day jobs — drug deliveryman, shipping and receiving clerk, furniture mover, waiter and “immersion in rock and roll was the only escape, the only solace from the absurd calamity of life“.

Bad Timing‘ is released as a deluxe set which includes never before seen photos, extensive liner notes and a remix of ‘Disaster Film‘ by KWKA aka Mike Fridmann.

 

Bill Whitten was kind enough to answer some questions for us about ‘Bad Timing’.

You’ve stated that ‘Bad Timing’ is “the defining statement of its (Grand Mal’s) career.” Why is that?

B. Whitten: After the wild years of drug addiction, depravity, extreme alienation – the 1990s – Grand Mal found itself without a record label, without much in the way of opportunity. The band was desperately searching for a strategy to avoid at all costs returning to the fate that rock and roll had saved us from — manual labor, petty crime, oblivion. It was then – the Fall of 2001, right after the Twin Towers fell – that Dave Fridmann called and said we could make another album with him. So Grand Mal – Steve Borgerding on lead guitar, Parker Kindred on drums, Jonathan Toubin on bass, and myself on rhythm guitar and vocals – began to work on the songs that would make up Bad Timing – demoing them, playing them live, laboring over them in a way that I haven’t done before or since. We assumed it would be our last chance. When we showed up to Tarbox Road Studios to work with one of the most visionary producers of the 20th and 21st centuries, we were prepared and (for the most part) of sound mind and body…

How did this reissue with Asura Revolver come about?

B. Whitten: Totally by chance. Rozet, who runs Asura Revolver is a fan of both St. Johnny and Grand Mal. Rozet exchanged some tweets with Ilya, who runs the cassette label that put out my last album – William Carlos Whitten’s Burn My Letters – and it was decided Bad Timing would be reissued. Rozet described it as ‘a lost classic from the turn of the century. A nice stroke of luck. And now it’s been reissued on vinyl, and the package includes never before seen photos, extensive liner notes etc.

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The track order is different on this reissue. Why is that?

B. Whitten: After Patrick Klem remastered Bad Timing, to my ears, at least, it sounded like a different version of the album. And along with the fact that a couple of alternate edits had been used (for example on Black Aura), it seemed like a change to the track order would be a way to make the album sound even more unfamiliar and…fresh. What we are familiar with we cease to see or hear. If we shake up a familiar scene, we see a new meaning in it. And it also made more sense to me to begin the album with Duty-Free, a song that was pretty much the signature tune for the band back in those long-ago days of 2001-2003. And, last but not least, Quicksilver, my least favorite song on the album, was, in my opinion, better off banished to the B side, instead of on the A side where it was originally …

What was the effect of being dropped by Slash/London on the writing, recording etc. of Bad Timing?

B. Whitten: A certain band member who will remain nameless and will be referred to hereafter as H.A. had departed the band during the period following the release of Grand Mal’s album Maledictions. He was caught in the spiral of addiction and we, his band-mates were forced into the role of the audience, or chorus, or witnesses. In a collective of would-be poète maudits, H. A. was the exemplar – he outdid us all. Admittedly, we each had problems. Like our music, we could be unbearable. When we drank, it was if animals or children were drinking. His plight – he was our friend after all – cast a pall over the band that literally took years to wear off. The elegiac tone of certain songs that I wrote for Bad Timing can no doubt be attributed to this. And then, not long after H. A.’s exit, Slash/London/Polygram dropped the band. We were once more out on the street, hats in hand. Desperation and ambition are closely related. We wanted a new start, our only concern was: who would give us money to record another album? Perhaps, we felt free as well; we’d given a chance to begin again. So we – to resort to cliché – we put our hearts and souls into the album. Unfortunately, Bad Timing disappeared – it got great press, but there was no money to tour. It has since lived a second life as musicphile contraband, e-mailed back and forth across the globe by a secret society of exegetes and devotees hoping to spread the word. It would be nice if this reissue would bring the album to a new audience…

When you listen to the record now, what would you change? Are there songs you’d leave out, rewrite…..?

B. Whitten: As I said, Quicksilver was my least favorite song, so I could imagine leaving that off. But, on the other hand the album is a snapshot of a time, a milieu, an ensemble of people, so it’s for the best to leave it as is. On the other hand, the past has been, in a way, altered – KWKA aka Mike Fridmann did an incredible remix of Disaster Film. His mix bursts the seams of historicity and takes the listener both backward and forward in time. In a perfect world, he’d remix all the songs…

Everything about St. Johnny, Grand Mal and William Carlos Whitten

William Carlos Whitten – Bandcamp

ASURA REVOLVER


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