Hitting below the belt

By Laura Glick

Do you remember the first time you had the wind knocked out of you? That thudding sensation as the air was violently sucked from your throat, the momentary breathlessness as you stared wide-eyed in a calm stupor, followed by the sharp attack as you inhaled and oxygen hurtled into your empty lungs.

Welcome to Grade–Burlington, Ontario’s finest export.

With a vicious punch, "The inefficiency of Emotion", the opening track on Grade’s seventh release, Under The Radar, hurdles out of the stereo and connects with your ears.

Not many bands can tap into your nervous system so quickly and with such vigor that you can only yearn for more.

"It makes me wanna smile or punch something," says vocalist Kyle Bishop of Grade’s unique combination of emotionally volatile lyrics and serrating hardcore background. "I love how it can toy with your innards. In the beginning you just want to tear everything apart, then all of a sudden you just want to stop and fall back into a big feather pillow."

With dozens of recordings tucked under his belt, the young singer can’t seem to satisfy his voracious musical appetite. Even with side projects, a solo effort and touring, Bishop is still thirsty for more.

" We want to hit a broader audience," he says simply.

Multiple European and US tours have garnered a moderate amount of attention, but their recent teaming up with Chicago’s infamous hardcore label, Victory Records, has paved the way for much more.

The preferred attention will come from all-ages audiences, the only audience Grade will play to.

"Why should music and ideas be limited to if you’re 19 or older? I wanna be able to play to everybody," Bishop shares, as he explains their no-licensed show history. "I don’t think emotion and passion is limited to a certain age group."

With fans ranging from 14 to 40, Bishop and his cohorts find themselves thrust into the position of role model and sometimes political advocate. The latter is a tough responsibility.

"There’s five individuals in our band and not everyone has the same viewpoint," he begins. "All of us have very strong political beliefs, but we don’t really push it upon people, especially in lyrics. There’s so many bands that are doing that, and have done it, it’s regurgitating the same thing over and over.

"There’s a million and one vegan, straightedge bands that say the same thing over and over and over. I’m vegan, I’m straightedge, but I don’t need to talk about it," he continues.

Finding the balance between educating and over-saturating is difficult, and remains a task some bands have mastered better than others.

"Bands like Rage Against the Machine made a very good point, they’re taken seriously," Bishop states. "A band like Aus Rotten may not be taken seriously because of where they are, and a lot of the time bands like that are preaching to the converted."

Converting is not Grade’s goal, they would rather let people make their own decisions and interpretations.

"We always believe in the idea of be yourself. It’s such a common statement, but so often people just aren’t applying that. Just stand true to who you are and stand behind who you are."

Though their underlying philosophy seems cliché, Grade take it seriously and following their own advice are content to let the music speak for itself.

"We take all elements, we take the classic emo [emotional], the hardcore, the tough stuff, some old-school, we take pop-punk and we even take indie-rock and smash it all together," he explains. "We tap into you. If people like stuff with an original taste to it, that’s what we’ve got."

The original taste he refers to saturates the eleven tracks on Under The Radar. Gliding from gritty roars to powerful choruses seems second nature to Bishop as he bounces from style to style with ease. The transitions are so smooth and the dramatic differences complement one another so well the final product bears no signs of sewing the two musical fabrics together.

Listeners are not privy to the secret ingredients Grade mixes effortlessly, but receive a delectable aural dessert instead.

"Our secret to song writing was described by our guitarist Greg (Taylor)," Bishop says, getting excited. "We base it all upon the Rocky theme, the whole idea of the first Rocky movie."

He then launches into a frenzied explanation their motivation.

"You’re sitting there, you’re down, you’re dirty, your life’s not really going anywhere, you’re fighting all out, going through the trenches and all of a sudden you get a shot of something," he says, his voice quickening. "You start fighting for it and it gets better and better and then everything’s good and then you’re there. You’re at the top, you’re at the peak, you’re fighting

"Then all of a sudden there’s always something there, your brother dies or something happens to your mom, or something happens to your friends, and you’re like ‘No!’," he says letting a deep rumble emerge from his throat. He takes a quick breath and continues.

"Your whole life seems to flash before you, your guts spill out over the floor, you’re just like ‘I gotta conquer this.’ Your in this lull, you’re in that rut and then you work and work. You train as hard as you can. You train and train and train and you get to the fight, and you run like you’re running up to the top of the Rocky stairs, and you get there and you’re just like ‘YEAH!’," he says screaming. "You conquer yourself."

Having attained temporary satisfaction, Bishop becomes quiet.

To witness Grade’s metaphor in action, catch them Nov. 11 at Melodiya Records for a free show with Bain, starting at 4 p.m.

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