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The Story Behind the Supergroup: Giraffe Tongue Orchestra

Bassist Pete Griffin describes the formation of Giraffe Tongue Orchestra; their new album 'Broken Lines' drops this Friday

giraffe tongue orchestra interview

Photo by Johnny Buzzerio

Giraffe Tongue Orchestra’s new album Broken Lines has roots in a generation of influential rock ‘n roll bands. The group includes current or former members of Mastodon, Alice in Chains, The Mars Volta, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Zappa Plays Zappa. However, GTO is “more than the sum of its parts,” says bassist Pete Griffin. “If you listen to the record,” Griffin explains, “there’s moments that sound a little like Mastodon, there’s moments that sound a little like Dillinger – but that’s not the bulk of the music. It’s really more about this sort of bizarre conglomeration of all of our experiences filtered through these songs.”

The project that would become GTO was sparked by the friendship between Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Brent Hinds of Mastodon. The two guitarists had been kicking around ideas for years before the core group of the project fell into place during a Los Angeles jam session. Griffin received an impromptu invitation from Hinds (the pair had bonded over their mutual love of Frank Zappa while performing on the same bill at Bonnaroo 2008) to join the trio of Hinds, Weinman, and drummer Thomas Pridgen at a local studio. “I walked in and it was those guys jamming on the song that became ‘Crucifixion,’” Griffin recalled. “I think from that first moment of the four of us playing together, that was the ‘oh shit’ moment.”

The foursome of Weinman, Hinds, Pridgen and Griffin began tracking the record just a few weeks later. “It was just the four of us working through a bunch of tunes that Ben and Brent had been kinda kickin’ back and forth for many years, and then when Thomas and I came into the fold, it just sort of magically all came together in such an easy way, it was sort of undeniable.”

Then came the long hunt for a singer.

“There’s probably been maybe a dozen people who have been either considered [for the role of vocalist] or who were actively working towards being in the band,” says Griffin. Among those in consideration were Juliette Lewis (who guests on Broken Lines cut ‘Back to the Light’) and Faith No More vet Mike Patton (who had previously collaborated with Weinman on the The Dillinger Escape Plan’s spectacular 2002 EP Irony is a Dead Scene). Hinds bumped into Alice in Chains vocalist William DuVall in their mutual hometown of Atlanta, and invited the singer to contribute vocals for the band’s songs. “Shortly after that,” Griffin says, “Will was sending us demos of what he was singing over the top of [our material], and it was like ‘Okay, I think this is it. This is working, he’s worked within the sort of bizarre parameters of the songs.’”

Those ‘bizarre parameters’ include complex arrangements, unusual time signatures, and the technical fireworks of the group’s experienced players. The band sought a balance of complexity and accessibility on Broken Lines. Griffin said with a laugh, “There are moments where we’re kinda sneaking some smart stuff past the average listener because they can nod their head and dance to it and not know that they’re groovin’ in 13/8 or whatever.” Having toured with Dweezil Zappa’s band for years, Griffin is no stranger to challenging arrangements, and prides himself on being the ‘glue’ that can transform a complex song structure into a crowd pleaser.

Griffin praised DuVall’s ability to elevate the songs. “He really found a way to find hooks,” he said. “To find catchy choruses…. He’s actually found a way to bring it into something a little more accessible to the average listener. Suddenly, we’re not just a ‘musician band’ anymore. We might actually get girls at our shows, and not just nerdy guitar player guys!” Pete will find out for sure this winter; Giraffe Tongue Orchestra has announced eight live performances (see giraffetongueorchestra.com for tickets) in November and December.

Giraffe Tongue Orchestra’s new album Broken Lines drops this Friday via Party Smasher Inc.

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