When the going gets good, Colin Grigson gets going. The Oregon-raised musician, regarded by many punks as the heart of the scene, quit playing bass for two popular local bands in the past two years. He helped bring on the dissolution of the Observers in late 2005, although a few of the group's unreleased songs helped leadman Doug Burns' new project, the Revisions, garner a contract with Dirtnap Records. Grigson also ditched Portland's beloved Clorox Girls because band leader Justin Maurer wanted to sign to BYO Records, an indie label distributed by Universal Music Group, a major.
But while he was breaking ties with his most well-known groups, Grigson was forming new ones. In fact, the 25-year-old marketing research assistant is always forming new bands—he's currently on the roster of six groups and, in the decade since he started playing in bands in his mid-teens, he has been a member of no fewer than 35 performing outfits. While most musicians are concerned with snowballing a group toward stardom, Grigson just wants to have his kicks—in almost complete obscurity.
When the Grigson-fronted Defect Defect formed last year, the band undertook a three-day tour of Portland's suburbs for its first shows. In January, Grigson organized a gig for the four-piece to open for hardcore heroes Tragedy in Gresham. This Saturday, March 31, he's bringing Portland punk institution Defiance to play with Defect in Beaverton. WW met up with Grigson on a bench outside the Rose Garden (where he saw his very first show, Metallica, in '91) to discuss his march toward antiestablishmentism—and the suburbs.
WW: How did you get from Metallica to a hard-line stance on major music labels?
Colin Grigson: There was a punk band at Tualatin High School when I was still in eighth grade, called Danger Boy, and they covered a NOFX song. It just kind of went from there to Black Flag, etc. I started to get this idea that [even] though Nirvana's on the radio, they like stuff that isn't [on the radio].... Therefore, there is stuff that isn't. Pretty much I started hating almost everything I [had previously] liked and started getting into punk.
All I knew was that the people [in these bands] were in it for the kids—they wrote songs about anarchy and that's the stuff I like, because [Grigson says jokingly] I'm the kids and I'm anarchy.... I went to this all-day punk show and the cops came...they didn't quite have the power to shut the place down, so someone held up an American flag upside down and it was, like, so meaningful [he says sarcastically]: "Fuck the cops! Everything I read about was right! We're all brothers in here!" The cops eventually shut down the show.
And why are you against major labels?
[Major labels are] destroying music, and that money goes into government and goes into wars and goes into everything I don't like. It's all tied in.
To be on a label like BYO is a dream for a lot of punk bands.
Justin and I went back and forth about the BYO thing a lot. He was like, "Well, you played South by Southwest [Music Festival] and that was sponsored by Pabst...." And I was like, "You know what? That's true. I don't want to play South by Southwest anymore." He was like, "We're on iTunes and that's owned by Apple." And I was like, "You're right. I should have thought of that. I don't want to be on iTunes anymore...."
Was it tension over money that brought down the Observers?
We were not on the same page. It was similar to Clorox Girls, where one person would put one price on the price list, and then they would go to the bathroom and me and [drummer] Mike [Warm] would mark it down. It was repeatedly awkward for roadies. We were touring Europe and we were bummed out, and we were like, "This is the coolest thing in the world, why are we bummed out?" Mike made a good point that we can tour Europe again, just not with this band. [Grigson has since toured to Alaska with Warm in Defect Defect, and is about to head to Europe with another band, Self Abuse.]
Do you think fame is unhealthy?
Absolutely. I like that when I play a show, I can generally relate to everybody there. I don't think Metallica can relate to any of their fans. I read this interview with Fat Mike [of NOFX] where he seemed like a super-cool guy until they asked him about talking to his fans. He said, "Most of our fans are 15 and they want to come talk to me, but what do I have to talk to them about? We just can't get along." And I don't think that's true for me and 15-year-olds.
Why play the suburbs?
Nobody plays in Gresham and, you know, aside from the fact that it doesn't really have too much of its own culture, a lot of people live there. People play Medford or Bend all the time and there are less people there than there are in Gresham. I want to play everywhere, and that's a place that keeps getting ignored. I'm obsessive about wanting to play in every country, in every state, in every city. Also, you know, you're some kid and you're living in Gresham and the only thing you know about punk is Good Charlotte, but you see "punk" on a flier and decide to go, and you find out there's this whole other world.