Exciting shows are key to the Graveltones’ stripped-back brew of heavy blues and old-school rock’n’roll, and the affable Australian duo have earned a loyal following with their energetic performances and no-nonsense work ethic.
“People forget sometimes that it’s entertainment at the end of the day,” says guitarist and vocalist Jimmy O. “You’ve got a room full of people and they’re there to be entertained. You can’t expect just to stand still and play your song we move around and we have fun, and we enjoy what we do and we let that show.”
Influenced by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Captain Beefheart and the White Stripes, the Graveltones got together in 2011, when Jimmy was working in a guitar shop on London’s Denmark Street, otherwise known as Tin Pan Alley and historically a centre of the British music industry.
“I was looking to put something together; it was always meant to be a four-piece band,” recalls the guitarist, who had booked a slot to play at the celebrated 100 Club on the British capital’s Oxford Street. “I figured that if I wasn’t able to put a band together, I’d just do an acoustic set. I’d started looking for a band and I walked into a drum shop, two days before the gig – so I’d left it pretty last minute – and met this chap, and we went and had a jam.”
“We had a pint, and then we had a jam,” drummer Mikey Sorbello butts in, laughing at the memory.
“And Mikey recorded the songs on his phone,” Jimmy continues, “and we did the gig two days later.”
Since that hurried beginning, the London-based Graveltones have played hundreds of gigs, giving the twosome an onstage rapport that hints at telepathy. “We believe in communicating strongly on stage,” says Mikey, who cites Stranger Than Kindness by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds as an all-time favourite track for “that moving, haunting feeling”, and admits he is “thinking of rock’n’roll constantly”.
“Jimmy knows when I’m going to do something different to the night before just by looking and [my] body language, and we understand the way each other works,” adds Mikey, who suspects such spontaneity has largely been lost in the modern day, with many performers simply running through the same set list of songs night after night.
“[In] rock’n’roll there’s that element like jazz, where you can take your song somewhere a little bit different each night,” the drummer says. “We use that to keep our audiences interested.”
From humble beginnings, the Graveltones have progressed to playing gigs in front of thousands, notably when supporting American rockers Rival Sons on their European tour in 2013. “Smaller venues are amazing because you’re so close; it’s an intimate sort of situation,” says Jimmy. “With bigger venues it’s a little bit easier because they’re all there together, and you get a vibe because there’s so many people. We’ve played gigs in front of three people and its been rocking. It differs every time.”
For his part, Mikey still relishes smaller gigs, where he and the audience can get up close and personal. “When they’re sweating and I’m sweating, it just feels right,” he says. “Something like where there’s natural acoustics, reverberation happening, not so much relying on mic’ed drums. Something like that, where if you took everything away you’d still hear Jimmy screaming into his microphone without a PA.”
“A small stage is easier to own; to make your own,” offers Jimmy, who grew up listening to Bob Dylan and writes poetry in his downtime, “whereas when you’re on a big stage, it’s quite a thing to control an audience of that size, and we’re only new to that, supporting these bands that give us the opportunity to get in front of these thousands of people. It’s a craft.”
As well as paying their rock’n’roll dues on the road, the Graveltones make effective use of social media to connect with their ever-growing fan-base. “Our influences are definitely old-school, but we’re trying to bring some of those old things musically into the new age while maintaining integrity,” explains Mikey.
The band’s debut album, 2013’s Don’t Wait Down, in fact, was largely financed via an online platform, whereby fans are able to pledge money, funding the recording. “We wouldn't have been able to make the first album without it,” says Jimmy. “To feel that support – when we were pretty much an unknown band – from all the guys that had come to our shows and said, ‘We really want to hear an album; we’re willing to buy it even before you’ve made it’ that kind of support was super-encouraging for us. It was an amazing experience.”