GTA fans, assemble
If that band name seems familiar, you’re not alone. Southampton hardcore band Grove Street Families nicked their moniker from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ protagonistic gang – and that’s not all they pilfered. Their early ‘LS’, ‘SF’ and ‘Las Venturas’ EPs – recorded at home on a shoestring budget, after a drunken joke went too far – were all named after the three islands of the fictional San Andreas, and featured lyrics about firing grenades at police and “cleaning up the hood”. Obviously.
Unsurprisingly, trouble soon caught up with GSF. After things unexpectedly took off, a quick (but polite) request from Rockstar Games, the creators of the Grand Theft Auto, saw them forced to ditch the heavy-handed videogame worship. Now, though, Grove Street Families are charging forward, free from the restrictions of their former parody life.
Joining Venn Records‘ stellar cast of UK hardcore heavyweights alongside the likes of Higher Power and Rough Hands, Grove Street Families are an essential listen for anyone who’s ever found fun and fleeting friendship in a riotous mosh-pit. As they ready a debut album, and release a wild new video for the fire-starting ‘Make With It’, NME caught up with Grove Street Families guitarist Lewis Lennane-Emm to talk about bringing a sense of frivolity to the ‘srs bsns’ world of hardcore.
NME: So, Grove Street Families… did it start as a joke?
Oh, one-hundred percent – can you imagine if it didn’t?! [laughs] The concept was a joke, anyway. Everyone in the house was on some sort of music course at uni, and the amount of stupid projects that would come out of it was just ridiculous. We’d come home from a night out, just decide to do something ridiculous, and end up recording it there and then. Grove Street’s just the one that stuck, really.
It definitely sounds like a pub idea.
You should’ve heard the ones that didn’t make the cut – it’s awful! Me and Ben [Sullivan, vocals] had a two-man black metal band called Cruciatus; Ben and Sandy [Chris Sanderson, guitar] had a two-man grindcore outfit. Because we had like four studio set-ups in our house, we’d just come home from a night out, write a song and record it. With GSF, we had to try a bit harder because Sandy and Woody – our original guitarist who lived with us at the time – they were on a record production course. They had to record an EP, and all the bands were trash, so we made our own. That’s how it became a little bit more serious than the others, because we actually had to write an EP. We just wrote it all in our front room. The first EP is pretty terrible – it’s just a load of Terror and Pantera rips turned into an EP, basically.
Did you all grow up in the hardcore scene?
We were definitely all in bands, and they were hardcore-esque bands but not specifically hardcore. Me and Sam were in a band called Eyes Like Knives which was just a massive Every Time I Die rip-off, and Ben was in a band called Shards.
The thing with GSF is that we all tried really hard with our old bands, really grinded at it, and we got a few shows out of our local area – it was really hard work. But with GSF we just kinda didn’t give a fuck about it. It was done as a joke and all the songs were tongue in cheek and meant to be funny, but for some reason that’s what resonated with people. All our other bands faded away, yet GSF is still here! I took that as a sign – I clocked onto that after the first EP release, and I realised maybe that’s what people want. Maybe people want a band where they don’t feel they’re going to get preached at, they don’t have to conform with the bands ideas and morals, and they can just come to a show and just have fun – because it is just such a laugh, anyone can get involved.
Was the hardcore scene quite open to that sense of fun?
100 percent! Our first show, we put it on at Southampton Joiners, and we opened – it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and there was a queue of kids outside. We’d only released a three-track EP, and we were like ‘…what?!’ None of us had experienced that in our other bands which we’d actually put effort into and recorded albums for! We played three local shows, and then got asked to headline a show in Wales when we were less than four shows deep. It was in Newport, we had three songs, and we were like, ‘Oh fuck… what are we going to do?!’ All the other support bands were really good, and we hadn’t even practised be this point either – we’d jammed in our front room but we’d never had a proper practice. Luckily the show ran so late they said, ‘Sorry guys, we’re going to have to cut your set short, there’s a curfew’ and we were just like, ‘Aww, that’s fine – I guess we’ll just play just the three songs then!’ [laughs] So we absolutely blagged that one… At that time [UK hardcore legends] Desolated had taken us under their wing for a few shows in Manchester and Birmingham, so already we were getting opportunities that a lot of bands after one EP would be struggling to get. People were just into it – we were awful back then as well! I didn’t even have my own bass – I borrowed my mate’s bass, which had this giant New Era cap sticker on it, it was awful. We were an absolute shambles!
The idea of a hardcore band being a bit fun as well – it has a bit of a reputation for being a very serious genre.
It’s a super serious genre, when you think about it, and it always has been. So I think that’s what people want. We were never that fussed about being seen as ‘a hardcore band’. We definitely play hardcore music, we’d play hardcore shows, but we’ve never been fussed about being perceived as a hardcore band. It’s definitely there, but we just do what we want really. Now more so than ever.
“People want a band where they don’t feel they’re going to get preached at”
Talk me through your run-in with Rockstar Games…
We can’t really talk too much about it, because we’ve signed a confidentiality agreement with them! But it’s all sorted now, we’re good – we’re still Grove Street Families. But that’s mad, innit? That was also a milestone for us. We were like, ‘Fuck, this is sick!’ It was a real feather in our caps of being recognised, like, ‘Wow, we must be doing something right if big wigs in New York are getting in touch!’
That’s such a bizarre marker for figuring out how big your band’s got.
Yeah, but I can’t complain – they were the best guys, and they were actually pleasant to deal with. Everything’s good. So many people, you’ve seen it with Baby Godzilla who got slapped by whoever owned the rights to Godzilla. Our manager was on the phone with us like, ‘I can’t believe how chill they are about it!’ We straightened some things out and it’s all good.
And now you’re moving past the GTA thing, was that liberating?
Do you know what? It really was. In the early days we had a sort of GTA style logo, so we started using new logos. We put out our feelers on our third EP – we toned it down a little bit from the first two EPs, with GTA references and stuff. There was no GTA songs or anything like that. When it came to writing the mixtape, it was harder because [GTA] was our definite theme. It’s really easy to write about GTA, because you kind of don’t have to think about it, it’s just laid out in front of you. We got to a point where we were like, ‘Right we have to stop doing this. We’ve done three EPs – it’s going to get pretty stale pretty quickly’. The turning point was when we started getting described as a gimmick. We never wanted to be a gimmick. To me, if we were a gimmick, we’ve have dressed up and all that shit. It was supposed to be a really tongue-in-cheek and a weird concept, we were still a legit hardcore band. Let’s be honest – if we were shit, no-one would’ve liked it!
All of a sudden, gimmick bands were in – you had that Ned Flanders metal band, and that Star Wars galactic band or whatever, and I was just like, ‘I do not want to be lumped in with this’. We’d been doing it one or two years by that point. But where are those bands now? I don’t think people care about them.
You released a mixtape last year, which was your first full non-GTA release. How’s that gone down?
When it came to the mixtape, it was the first thing we’d done that was written as GSF. We weren’t doing stuff about GTA anymore. We’re still the same band; the live shows have the same atmosphere. I don’t think we’ve lost anything as a band. It was quite liberating – there’s no limits now, where there were before. And that’s what we did with the new video for ‘Make With It’, as well – it’s still super fun, but nothing to do with GTA! We’re writing our debut album at the moment and it’s all just a learning curve, finding that fun vibe that embodies who we are as a band, but we don’t have the limits. It’s a bit of a weird one but it’s nice – it’s nice that people still care, after we’ve dropped the GTA thing as well. It’s nice they haven’t gone ‘Oh, that’s the only reason I liked them’. ‘Cause it could’ve gone that way!
And that debut album – that’s the next step then?
To tell you the truth, we started writing it last year but we wanted to put something out before we played Download. It was coming up to a year since we’d put our last EP out, and then we got moved up a stage at Download – we’re on the Avalanche Stage, which is like double the capacity, if not way more. We were thinking the stage was going to be dead, there was no way we were going to fill that stage, so we needed to put something out, try to get our name out there as much as possible. We decided to get a few of the songs we’d written already and we kinda just made a mixtape instead.
The album we’re working on now will hopefully be done towards the end of the year. We’re at that make-or-break part – we’ve never written more than a bulk of like four songs… We feel we’ve given a taster of who we are, so we’ve got a lot to live up to with the album. It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s something we’re willing to step up to.
Grove Street Families’ new single ‘Make With It’ is out now.