A lifetime ago in March of this year, the Houston Press spoke by phone with Sid Ryan, bassist for the surging street punk band Grade 2. Ryan was in Canada with his band mates, guitarist Jack Chatfield and drummer Jacob Hull. The band had played the first show of a North American tour with a planned April 2 date in Houston at White Oak Music Hall. When we visited the afternoon of March 16, the tour, like most live music pursuits in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, was in limbo.
“We’re currently still in Canada waiting for more news. As far as we know, (the Houston date) is still going ahead,” Ryan said at the interview’s outset. “We’ve actually been here for a week today, we arrived on Monday. We played the first show of our tour on Wednesday and then Thursday the news really hit and everything was cancelled. So, we never actually managed to cross the border. We stayed in Canada after the first show and are just kind of waiting for everything to blow over at the moment.”
“Everyone’s in the same situation nowadays,” Chatfield added near the end of our conversation. “All the bands touring, all the venues shutting down, everybody’s going to be fucked from this.”
In some ways, Chatfield was right. The virus has dealt a massive blow to the live music industry. But any Grade 2 fan already knows that the talented trio is scrappy and determined. They’ve found ways to thrive and promote Graveyard Island, the stellar Hellcat Records release they intended to tout via live concerts this year.
That Houston date never materialized, so our advance of the show never ran. Because our visit ended with so many unknowns, we contacted Grade 2 for a second take to learn what happened in the days and weeks since we first spoke. The little band from Ryde, an English seaside town on the Isle of Wight, is doing all it can to keep alive its big dream, a dream which began in earnest with a couple of chance encounters with punk legend Lars Frederikson.
L-R: Jack Chatfield, Sid Ryan and Jacob Hull
Photo by Bill Chatfield, courtesy of Epitaph
“It really is a dream for all three of us,” Ryan told us in March. “It started back in 2014, is when we first met Lars actually. We played a show with Lars and his band, The Old Firm Casuals, in Bristol, so we were still a very new band at the time. Now bear in mind, this is our first ever band, we haven’t come from other projects. We were really still learning the ropes.
“We played the show, we were given a load of free booze, we all got really drunk and Lars literally said he never wanted to play with us again,” Ryan recalled.
“And then fast forward four years later and Lars has now joined the German band Stomper 98, which is a band we had played with a few times throughout the years, and they invited us on a two-week tour with them,” Ryan continued. “So, Lars found out we were coming, wasn’t too keen on the idea originally because of this past encounter he had had with us and thinking that we were just like an irresponsible band that didn’t really care. We played the first night and he was blown away by the set, that we had improved so much and taken everything seriously. And we were the only four English-speaking people on this tour for two weeks, so he literally had no choice but to talk with us.”
The band proved itself on that tour. Frederikson wanted to work with them and turned them over to his Rancid band mate and friend, Tim Armstrong.
“He felt that Tim was actually going to get a better result out of us,” Ryan said. “We got a call in December 2017 and Lars said ‘Tim’s producing the album, it’s coming out on Hellcat, you’re going to record it in December in L.A. of 2018.’ We had to sit on this news for a whole year before anyone had even heard about it. It was a crazy year sitting on that information.”
They spent that time crafting songs for Graveyard Island, which released worldwide via Epitaph’s Hellcat Records imprint last October. The album is a collection of sometimes funny, often gritty tales of modern times taken from true-life encounters.
“For me personally, I always try to write in a storytelling kind of style on experiences that I’ve had,” Ryan shared, “So, I wrote the song called ‘Bowling Green Lane,’ a song where someone’s traveling home from their night out and bumping into that one rowdy person that’s had too much to drink. In the U.K. if you pay with a 20-pound note to try to get on a bus, the bus driver looks at you like you’ve committed the ultimate crime. I try to make as many of those anecdotes and little things that are relatable for people.”
“We definitely tried to branch out with some new styles with this record and Tim really opened a lot of doors which would probably have never been opened if he didn’t do it,” Ryan said.
The band didn’t get to complete or even launch its North American tour this year, but it’s no stranger to touring. Chatfield told us in March that Grade 2 has tried to absorb all it can from fellow bands.
“We learn everything from everyone we tour with and everyone we meet,” he said. “From Tim, we’ve learned a lot about songwriting and production, whereas Lars he’s more of a businessman, so he kind of teaches more of what it’s like to be in the business, in the music industry.
“Dropkick Murphys we did a tour with, every night was honestly like a lesson to watch them because they’re probably one of the best live acts going on right now, in the punk scene anyway,” he continued. “You can always learn more from an act like that, just watching what everyone’s doing, how they perform and how they interact with the crowd. Similar can be said with The Interrupters. They’re again one of those bands which just do the shows fucking perfectly. They do everything right. They’re charismatic on stage, they’re confident and tight as hell.”
We were excited to see how the lessons the band has learned along the way would manifest in their live set before we learned the Houston show had been scrubbed. As time passed and with repeat listens of Graveyard Island, we got curious and contacted Chatfield, by way of a very patient and helpful Epitaph publicist, to learn the rest of the story. Chatfield said the band knew the first leg of a three-month tour was cancelled when we spoke. They were still hoping the second leg, with dates supporting The Casualties and Leftover Crack, would go.
“So instead of flying straight home we stayed in Canada with a friend for about a week, waiting and keeping an ear to ground for any news that we could continue the tour. Little did we know at the time how the whole world was about to shut down,” Chatfield said. “So by the time we finally got the news that we had to go home, getting back was looking sketchy. Flights were getting cancelled, borders were closing left and right. We found the closest, most affordable flight, which we could only barely afford as we had just invested all of our money into this huge tour, and we got home by the skin of our teeth. It was certainly an exciting week in Canada, was a like a holiday really. A very stress-inducing holiday.”
Back home, the band has leaned on the power of friendship and music to manage ’til live shows resume
Photo by Bill Chatfield, courtesy of Epitaph
“Holiday” was definitely over when the band returned home. Like many other bands on the cusp, Grade 2’s members still have day jobs. They returned to work after their highly abbreviated “tour” and Chatfield said the band found silver linings to its new circumstances.
“The depressing reality of this whole situation has actually been weirdly positive for us in a way. We’ve all had to go back to real life jobs on our shitty little island living with our mums and for awhile it affected all three of us pretty badly,” he said. “But after the initial post-tour cancellation depression, we starting talking and reflecting a lot on our situation and got a lot of positives from it. We’re back to rehearsals and song writing and have already got a lot of new songs under the belt, some of which were directly inspired by all of this. But maybe most importantly of all we started bonding again and decided to treat ourselves to a fancy lobster dinner we couldn’t afford. 45 Adapters have a song which I believe is called ‘Friendship Over Almost Everything,’ – sorry if I’m wrong, Gerrard – and that has never been more relevant for us. It’s dark times so you gotta be there for each other. Talk to your friends.”
The band is forging ahead and plans some UK shows in February. Thereafter, Chatfield said, its entire slate of 2020 shows has been rescheduled for the same dates in 2021. They plan to be back in the States with Anti-Flag in March 2021 and touring Europe with Social Distortion next summer.
“Aside from that we are just constantly working on new material for the next album. I can’t say much as of right now but things are in motion and we hope to bring new material out sooner than some might expect. Grade 2 will always remain on the radar,” Chatfield said.
“We haven’t dared do a livestream show because it would sound dog shit in our rehearsal room, trust me, it wouldn’t be fair on our fans to put them through that. So, me and Sid did a couple videos of us playing along to the new tracks, acoustic covers, they were a lot of fun actually,” Chatfield added. “So that’s been good, but nothing comes close to the promotion we’ve missed out on from touring. Everyone’s in the same situation though so it’s not as bad as it seems, it’s just like everything’s been put on pause and at some point things will un-pause. And when that day comes we can all put our trousers on in the morning with a smile on our face.”