Grade 8 Biography
Ryan Tooker - vocals
Dustin Tooker - guitars
Guy Couturier - bass
Scotty 'Kanikki' Carneghi - drums
Significant. It's a word we don't use a lot of in the music industry, especially alongside the more common barrage of adjectives typically used to describe modern rock and metal bands—not until now. grade 8 are guilty of penetrating grooves and their music is as physically jarring as it is sonically compelling. But amidst the thick ridges and rugged intensity is a sense of purpose that sets grade 8 apart from the more transparent sounds of their peers. It's that sense of purpose, their combustible sound and, ironically, the things that grade 8 aren't that make them most significant.
Unlike bands whose geographic roots are tattooed on their music like cheap ink, the sounds of grade 8 span as many miles as their members. Though the outfit was formed in Los Angeles, the core of the band—guitarist and principal songwriter Dustin Tooker, and his brother, frontman and lyricist Ryan Tooker—dates back to 1996, on the New Jersey shore. When Dustin's then-band needed a singer for a show, his younger brother stepped in at the last minute, they rehearsed about ten songs together, and the results were a hit live. After juggling rhythm sections over the next two years, the brothers moved to Southern California, where they set up their gear in the living room and their father—also a musician—joined them on bass as they continued their search for a lasting rhythm section. The ensuing search gave the Tooker brothers ample time to fine-tune their sound and hone their songwriting and arranging skills, while a few fateful meetings led them to a manager who helped them through the hard times, and a studio they could use to write and record. The results were prolific, and the foundation for what would become their self-titled Lava/Atlantic debut.
Bleeding together the influence of New York area bands including Biohazard, Life Of Agony and Sick Of It All with the multi-faceted sounds of California scenes including the likes of Static-X, Slayer and Rage Against The Machine, the results are a bi-coastal hybrid that defies conventional characterization. "We wanted to play music that we liked, so all we basically did was write songs that we wanted to hear as music fans," says Dustin. And while the results are an infectious amalgam of power and urgency, the lyrics drive the music home with an inescapable conviction. "We went through a lot of shit growing up, leaving New Jersey and coming to Los Angeles, and while it was normal family shit that a lot of people go through, it still left us fucked up, and this record provided a lot of closure for us. People ask me, 'Are you an angry person?' No, I'm not, but if I didn't have the music, I probably would be.
"We didn't want this album to be another young band whining about their childhood, and it's not. No one's life is perfect, and we've all got weird shit going on, we wanted the vibe on this record to be one where kids, people, and even us, can understand that stuff happens, and we have to deal with it, learn from it, and get stronger from it. How many more records can we hear from people writing about some chick who dumped them, or from someone whose mom slapped them a few times? That's not where we're coming from," attests Dustin. "It's more about, 'This is what happened to us, it's happened to everybody, and this is how we dealt with it and moved on…' I think we take a dark situation and make people feel better about it, as opposed to taking topics and making people feel shittier about them. Music is too emotional for people, and making them feel better about things is more important than making them feel miserable."
The tracks plunge from the more literal testimonial of album opener "Brick By Brick," a mantra to staying focused and facing problems head on, and the cathartic "Get It Out," about releasing tension and not letting it bottle up, to the more relationship-minded strains of "One Wish," about wanting something for so long, finally getting it, and discovering it's not actually what you had hoped for. "This record is about life," says the frontman, "It's about the last four years of our lives, and the emotions we've experienced. When I sit down to write, I'm doing it for me, usually about me, and explaining a situation to myself. The thing is, these are all situations that we've all been through, so even though I'm not worried about what other people are going to think, they're still lyrics that everybody can relate to."
So whether they're singing about the effects of alcoholism on a household in "Empire Falls," avoiding life's ruts in "Adrenachrome," or knowing when to walk away from unhealthy situations in "Chances Are," the emotions that rip through the lyrics are ones that we can all relate to—More often than not, because we've tread the same path. And that is what makes grade 8 significant.
It wasn't until the songs were written that the Tooker brothers finally found the bandmates that would transform grade 8 from a project into a band. The addition of drummer Scotty Carneghi, a Los Angeles transplant via Chicago, offered a multi-dimensional sense of dynamics to the mix, according to Dustin, "taking the songs we wrote and making them sound like we thought they should sound." Bassist Guy Couturier (pronounced GEE), was also a Los Angeles transplant, making the move from Switzerland, "the land of clocks, banks, chocolate and cheese—Everything you need," he says in a thick accent. "I joined the band while they were in the process of mixing the record, and it was really cool how they communicated with the mixer, Toby Wright. The whole band approved every mix, and Toby listened to every member—including me, and I'd only been in the band for two weeks."
"When Guy joined, that's when we became a band," emphasizes Dustin. "For the first time ever, we were playing with four guys who all got along. We're all the biggest fans of this band, and that's how we view it—When we leave the stage every night, we want to leave the stage knowing that this is our favorite band in the world."