Each scene deserves a diary entry.
Whether it be backseat post-coital promises between young lovers, the aftershocks of a parent’s addiction on a child, or a proclamation to celebrate life before death, these moments echo with the sincerity of a chat among best friends in the music of Grayscale. The Philadelphia quintet—Collin Walsh [vocals], Dallas Molster [guitar, vocals], Andrew Kyne [guitar], Nick Ventimiglia [bass], and Nick Veno [drums]—align nostalgic confessions, nineties alternative homage, and 21st century playlist-busting ambition on their second full-length, Nella Vita [Fearless Records]. These twelve tracks urge pensive pondering, rock catharsis, and danceable elation all at once.
“It’s really personal,” explains Walsh. “The music provokes a lot of visuals, because it’s very conversational, real, and romantic. That’s just how I write. The songs are transparent stories that cover the full spectrum of feelings you experience in life; true reflections of things like love, sex, being a teenager, addiction, pain, joy, grief, death, and everything in between. We wanted to musically and lyrically approach these experiences from an honest place. We want you to dance, laugh, cry, and have fun. We want you to feel it all.”
The group quietly inched towards crystallizing this style since their 2011 formation. Along the way, they went from Philly stalwarts to a critically acclaimed contender on 2017’s full-length debut Adornment. As “Atlantic” clocked over 4.3 million Spotify streams and “Forever Yours” eclipsed 3.5 million, “Let It Rain” and “Beautiful Things” also leapt past the one million-mark with the total stream tally exceeding 11 million by 2019. The group logged thousands of miles on the road alongside everyone from State Champs to Real Friends to The Maine in addition to The Vans Warped Tour. Critical acclaim also came from Alternative Press, Rock Sound, Idobi, and more. During late 2018, the musicians turned their attention towards what would become Nella Vita.
Under a heavy influence of everything from nineties alt rock to funk and modern pop as well as rotating through modern hip-hop and R&B, they dove into writing. At the top of 2019, the guys traded Philadelphia for Austin, TX, holing up in the Machine Shop alongside producer MACHINE [Lamb of God, Armor For Sleep, Four Year Strong, As It Is].
Staying in a motorhome on his property, the boys devoted a solid week entirely to jamming live in the barn face-to-face alongside the producer, prior to beginning the tracking process – totaling five weeks. In this setting, he finetuned their performances before pressing “record”—a first for the group. It set the tone for the music.
“We like the raw, live feel,” says Ventimiglia. “It was a different process. No producer ever emphasized the live performance aspect of songwriting to us the way he did. MACHINE delved into each song’s lyrics with Collin in order to understand exactly what they meant and the emotion that was behind each line. He did this in order to feel what Collin felt when writing the lyrics, ensuring he could empathize with Collin’s emotions and capture them accurately in the moment when tracking them. He pulled the best out of us as a band. We love him for it.”
After personally mailing select fans a strip of paper with a password to unlock a snippet, Grayscale introduced the album by way of the single, “Painkiller Weather.” A sunny beat, hummable melody, and bright clean guitars offset an ironically irresistible chorus, “I loved a girl named Madison. And she liked to do heroin. Pull the shades, let the sun shine in. She doesn’t know what room she’s in.”
“It’s definitely very nineties-inspired,” Walsh continues. “It’s a dark story about being in love with someone who can’t get out of the way of their vice. Whether it’s a parent or somebody you’re dating, their addiction distracts them, and it makes it hard for them to love and understand. You realize you’re never going to be a priority for this person no matter how much you want to make it happen, because of the inability to put love in front of selfishness.”
The follow-up “In Violet” underscores a morbid theme with lush keys, a sweeping riff, and a life-affirming hook, “Bury me in violet when I leave this wonderful place.” He adds, “When I die, I don’t want it to be a miserable funeral where everybody doesn’t fucking talk. I want you to celebrate, sing, laugh, and dress in violet. I want my life to be celebrated, not for my death to be mourned; there’s already too much sadness in this world.”
A funk rhythm seesaws beneath “Baby Blue,” which details “seeing my grandfather in the ICU after not talking for five years and making up for lost time.” Elsewhere, the dusty guitars of “Old Friends” deals with the grief of Walsh’s cousin who took his own life saying, “No one knows the pain like you did. I wish we could talk it out like old friends.”
Meanwhile, the buoyant and bold “YOUNG” touts “a battle cry for our generation and the next to be better.” The opener “Just Right” hinges on a vivid refrain, “Do you remember it? When we fucked in my car, I swore to God I would die for you.” The emotionally charged closer “Tommy’s Song” serves as a dedication to Walsh’s aforementioned cousin. Musically, it unfolds as a powerful eulogy illustrative of the group’s commitment to their craft with stirring piano and a full choir crescendo.
“We spent a lot of time on that one,” says Molster. “We had a full team to make it happen with the choir and the harmonies. The lyrics are gut-wrenching, so we really pushed the music to elicit the same response.”
In the end, Nella Vita also hints at where Grayscale will go.
“There are a lot of very pure moments that are straight from the heart on this record,” Walsh leaves off. “We spilled a lot into it and took the gloves off both lyrically and musically. I want people to able to listen this this record when they’re 16 or 50 and still find something that makes them say, ‘Fuck, I remember when this happened to me.’ We tried to make a timeless record in 2019, whatever that is anymore.” — Rick Florino, May 2019