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Articles Home » Music Talk » 'The Struggle' Is Real Interview With John Grell Of WINTERKAT By Nina McCarthy
'The Struggle' Is Real Interview With John Grell Of WINTERKAT By Nina McCarthy

Interview With John Grell Of WINTERKAT

By Nina McCarthy

Boston Rock Radio

 

 

In the mid 1980s San Antonio, TX was unquestionably one of North America's hottest metal cities, boasting the likes of Heather Leather, Wyzard, the infamous S.A. Slayer and hometown heroes WINTERKAT.​ ​

Sixteen year old Liquid Sky guitar prodigyJonathan Grell jumped ship and along with vocalist Ric Swanson, keyboardist Jamie Vallejo, bassist Chris Watkins and drummer Tim Saunders recorded WINTERKAT's debut 5 track EP. 1988 saw the release of The Struggle from the quintet, an album that garnered rave reviews from across the globe and positioned them as potential major league contenders.​ As we all know, the music business isn't all that it's cracked up to be and those that are the most deserving often miss that brass ring.​ Such was the case with WINTERKAT and The Struggle became a highly sought after cult classic.​ ​

In 2019 ​The Struggle was​ reissued through 20th Century Music / Vanity Music Group, with the label adding four bonus tracks to the recording. And a year after that release, the band decided they wanted the album to be available in digital format so​ it's now available on nearly three dozen digital platforms across the globe, including iTunes, Spotify​ and more.​** ​

Thanks to John Grell for talking to Boston Rock Radio, reminiscing about the past and what the future holds.

 

 

You joined your first band, Liquid Sky, at the age of 16. What advice would you NOW give your 16 year old self?

I think what a dream it would be knowing everything we know now and going back to the beginning again. I think I would focus more on band unity and trying to keep bands together for longer periods of time. Bands have difficulty staying together. The chemistry inside the band is important. Sometimes when you have chemistry, the emotions are hot too and it’s challenging. I would definitely focus on that if I was going back to 16.

 

For those unfamiliar (or too young) to know...can you give us a picture of the music scene in the San Antonio, Texas area during the mid to late 80’s?

It was very active. Multiple bands came out of that area from that scene, going onto the national and international stage. It was a very vibrant music scene with many venues to play and a lot of bands. Also, bands were getting local airplay, like we were on 99.5 KISS and on KROCK, so the radio stations were very involved in promoting some of the bands and helping them to get started as well.

 

That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on at Boston Rock Radio. We play and cover the up and coming bands from the local scenes along with all the mainstream rock and metal.  I think that’s so important for these bands to be heard.

Yes, absolutely.

 

Back to the late 80’s...unfortunately for rock during that time in history punk, hardcore, and metal was at it’s height. In fact by 1990, only 2 of the 6 dominant American record companies were headquartered in the US. Do you think these factors had anything to do with the fact that WINTERKAT was never able to capitalize on the momentum during that time?

I think WINTERKAT was just a little bit obscure to the straight heavy metal scene. WINTERKAT was very progressive, now we have the label Prog Rock. We did write some more hard edge music that we recorded before we broke up, and we were able to get those tracks onto this CD that 20th Century Music released last year and now released on iTunes and all the online formats. It wasn’t the flavor of the day. It was a little different. It caught on in Europe. We had good reviews and people buying the record, which was vinyl at the time and cassette. We were receiving mail from people in Germany, Sweden, England, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and pretty much all over western Europe because people had picked up on some articles from magazines, like Kerrang! and Metal Forces, and started ordering the record, initially mail order. This resulted in Important Records/Relativity in New York picking it up and distributing it for us. In Europe we had distribution through Important but we never had mainstream distribution in the United States at that time. It just seemed that Prog Rock was more open in Europe. We were competing more in the US with heavy metal, so it was a little bit different. Not that we didn’t get heavy metal sometimes, but I don’t think I would describe us as a heavy metal band.

 

The way all genres of music seem to be coming back and popular right now, it makes it timeless, which is great.

It’s nice that people are still listening to it. The re-release last year was very exciting for us. I love all kinds of music. I’ve taught all kinds of music like when I was in my late teens to early twenties while I was in some of these bands, so I got to have an affinity for all kinds of music. I love classical music and I like a lot of Blues from growing up in Texas. But WINTERKAT was an interesting band.

 

With all the major advancements in technology, what would you change if you were to record The Struggle now?

We’d have the advantage of the digital domain now. A lot of bands use Pro Tools and you can edit things really easily now. We pretty much recorded straight onto tape, and in order to edit the tape you had to literally cut the tape with a razor blade and tape it back together. It’s not really something you want to do unless you have to. So, all of our performances were pretty much how the band sounded. What we were able to do though was I went into the studio, when Dave Tedder and 20th Century Music / Vanity Music Group approached us, I said that I’d like to get these bonus tracks that never got released and they said, “Great!” I went into the studio with R.B. Blackstone, who is a really well-known recording engineer in Texas, and he baked the old tapes and transferred them to digital and re-mastered them. He really did a nice job, so they are straight from the original analog masters and transferred to digital. It was done right in the studio. He was able to re-master some of the equalization and compression and things like that. We were really happy with how it came out.

What’s been the feedback from the fans?

Everybody has been really happy about it. People have been asking for years and years when they would be able to get the album in digital format and so it was great to have the opportunity to do that.

 

It did come out good. I was listening to it in preparation for this interview.

Thank you.

 

What do you think was unique about The Struggle that gave it a somewhat of a ‘cult following’?

Originally it came out as an EP and the tracks were very progressive. We added the harder rocking tracks to be completed as a whole album later. There’s a lot of Prog Rock bands out there, and there’s not that much Prog Rock. I think that’s what helped us get going in Europe, so I think that’s what would have made it a little bit unique.

 

For the gear heads, what’s your favorite guitar to play?

With WINTERKAT, I was playing Les Pauls with DiMarzio SDS-1 pickups, through Marshalls, pretty much the classic rig. Sometimes I like to have a little bit of chorus, but I’m pretty much a straight into the amp kind of guy for the most part. I don’t use a ton of effects. I ended up playing Strats later on in my band Mudpie, which is more of a Blues Rock band, but with WINTERKAT it was straight Les Pauls.

 

What are you doing currently?

Currently, I’ve been on hiatus, being a father, family person and raising my daughter. But I am looking to get back and possibly do another record. I’ve been talking to the guys from WINTERKAT. There might be a re-release of the Mudpie CD coming up in the future, so that’s something to look forward to.

 

Do you think you’ll tour again? 

I don’t know because sadly our singer has passed. Rest in peace, Michael Grothues. He was a really good guy and really good singer. That would be a hard bridge to cross, so you never know.

 

I’m sorry about that. In conclusion, what would you like to say to your long term followers?

I’d like to say thanks for still listening. They are the reason we were able to get this project put together, or else there wouldn’t have been any demand for it at all, so thank you. It was a real thrill to finally get it transferred to digital and see it on iTunes. It’s great.

   

Yes, congrats on that! I really appreciate your time and I enjoyed talking to you.

Thank you, Nina.

 

Listen to The Struggle:

iTunes

Spotify

 

** Quoted from August 4, 2020 Press Release from Head First Entertainment.

 

Nina McCarthy, joined the Boston Rock Radio staff in December of 2015. Nina has freelanced for over 25 years, interviewing bands for various webzines. Nina currently focuses full time as the Senior Music Journalist and Digital Content Editor for BRR.  Nina is a very dedicated supporter of music. Contact Nina at nina@bostonrockradio.com for interviews, reviews, comments, or suggestions.

 

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