Grayscale were never going to be the type of band who, come album three, were going to rinse and repeat themselves: they're not ones to be underestimated.
"We're after finding the best sound and being the best band that we can be. None of the other shit matters to us." Beaming his band's new mantra in from somewhere in Sunny America, Collin Walsh is ambling around a truck stop en route to Sad Summer festival, where Grayscale are performing along with cohorts The Maine and All Time Low.
"I don't mean that in a pompous way because if you're coming to our shows and paying to see us, I'm gonna leave it all on the stage every night; we all are," he says. "That means the absolute fucking world to us. But as far as making music to appease other people or specifically for playlists, we don't care about that."
Describing their first two records as akin to being lost in the woods, "not stumbling, but journeying," it's on their third that the band have found their way out, bleary-eyed, onto the trail.
'Umbra', in all fairness, is Grayscale on a pathway to even more enlightenment. There are bands pushing boundaries, poking political promises with sharp sticks, and generally aiming to be beacons. Grayscale, while as with any band, they want to be big, they're instead focused on showing their truest colours.
Referring to 2017's debut 'Adornment' as "just a rock record", it is undoubtedly beholden to a core of alternative. "People put it in the category of pop-punk, and that's fine. We don't really see it that way," Collin reflects. "With the world that we're in and our peers and where we came from, I can see why and that's cool."
Its follow up, 2019's 'Nella Vita', is where the Grayscale chaps began letting their true influences beam throughout. Coated with a pop-leaning sheen. "We have a lot of love for R&B and funk. Gospel, 80s, and pop," Collin explains. "That's the kind of shit we really love to do, like let's start implementing that."
Explaining their influences, it's quite a mixed bag. Guitarist Andrew Kyne grew up playing in church and loves gospel. Other guitarist Dallas Molster is into a bit of Phil Collins, and bassist Nick Ventimiglia can be found scoping nineties grunge, while drummer Nick Veno, along with Collin both learned jazz drums. Quite the smorgasbord, then.
All this is not to say that Grayscale's early moves were conducted with any untoward intentions in mind. Sticking close to those rocky roots came simply from not knowing how to translate their many influences. "We wouldn't have been able to implement it in a way that we would have been comfortable and happy with looking back," he says. "We were fairly young. Every band's career path is different, but I think as songwriters, we weren't ready to do this yet."
It's the first impression that often sticks. So, after Grayscale's first, the "rock" record, is what drew people in, their exploration was undoubted to be met with a few ruffled feathers. Yet, a facet often forgotten in music is that no band is born with the sound they want. Titans such as blink-182 were a rough and ready-to-collapse punk act before finally finding their major pop-punk strides on album four. Collin's clearly been pondering this himself, swiftly mentioning Bring Me The Horizon and their shape-shift from metalcore to alt-pop giants.
"Now that you've seen the full transformation, you look back at it, you go, oh, that makes complete sense like, I see what they were doing all along."
Fellow Sad Summer crews The Maine and All Time Low are two bands who've also learned to lean into something bigger than their purer pop-punk starts. The former are leaning into their best conceptual selves, while the latter are reigning strong in the pop charts - are Grayscale keeping their eyes on what's going on around, or focusing solely on their lane, then?
"I think every band is its own animal," he ponders. "We keep it in our lane, but like The Maine are good friends of ours, and I'm gonna see both of them in a couple of hours today. There are definitely conversations I've had with bands in the older generation than us that I've taken some stuff from, but a lot of that is more, I don't want to say reassurance, but just kind of affirmation."
Seeing bands not only choose to follow their own path but succeed is what Collin's mining. "It's seeing people execute it well, and it being exponentially more successful than if they had just done the same thing over and over again. It's knowing it's possible. But at the same time, I think in 2021, people consume stuff very quickly, so there is a little bit of a balance there. If you do it well, and you do it in an organic way that's true to who you are as an artist, you'll be successful. That's something we've always held on to and believed in."
The big question is, have Grayscale ever seen themselves as a pop-punk band in that case?
"We've truthfully never, ever, ever seen us as that at all," Collin stresses while smiling, ever the diplomat. "But there's nothing wrong with it. People like that, and that's totally fine; we don't have any hang-ups about having a label on anything."
Perhaps a point that may go unnoticed, but an acknowledgement of Grayscale's deep musical roots comes in the form of references that, quite frankly, you don't really - or ever - hear in contemporary music, let alone from previous Warped Tour participants. On 'Umbra', they're insisting on 'Dirty Bombs' you "listen to some Elvis, put on some rock 'n' roll", and using Motown's timeless iconic group the Temptations to colour the rather blushing 'Motown' (it's also a bop of the highest order).
"There's something about that song," Collin smiles. "Our manager, that's like her favourite, she was like, 'this has to be a single'. She was so pissed when the label and we said we don't want it to be."
Perhaps due to the very on-the-nose nature, or perhaps to keep some secrets for when the album's unleashed, either way, Grayscale are indeed leaning into popping a lovely positive sheen on matters that can fall as a bit depressing or even overtly sexual.
"Hiding in plain sight is a very, very, very truthful and good way to explain the record!" And that's just what Grayscale have been doing. As with all those classic pop songs that leave a darker meaning to be cloaked by a delicious melody, Grayscale aren't afraid of hiding a bit of meaning.
"'Motown''s an example of a song where the lyrics don't match the vibe of it, and I'll do that on purpose. In art in general, having that kind of juxtaposition is cool; it's interesting. It creates a scenario where people can take what they want from it. If you just put on 'Motown' and don't listen to the lyrics, it's like 'Oh, this is a fun pop song, like a radio fun song', but if you listen to what it's saying, it's really not, it's vulgar."
For all of its openness in sound and subject, 'Umbra' is bold. Fan reactions, now that the ball has well and truly left the pop-punk court means some have had to make a choice. But certainly, anybody that's jumping ship will indeed be missing out on a band on the cusp of properly hitting their stride.
"It's one of those things where, to your point, some fans can be stuck in their way," he ends. "But I feel like we're a band where the majority of people and our fans thankfully understand what we're doing and where we are. I think when you look back, when you look at it as a spectrum, it'll make sense in the end, for sure."
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Grayscale's album 'Umbra' is out now.
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