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Hello, Death

Michigan-based Greet Death thrives on being difficult to categorize.

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Greet Death plays 8 p.m. Monday at Resonator Institute in Norman. - PROVIDED
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  • Greet Death plays 8 p.m. Monday at Resonator Institute in Norman.

About 20 years ago in a first-grade classroom, Greet Death began to form. Bassist Sam Boyhtari, guitarist Logan Gaval and former drummer Anthony Spak became childhood friends in Davisburg, Michigan, before they learned long division, but they wouldn’t pick up their instruments for a few more years.

“Logan started playing guitar when he was 10,” Boyhtari said. “He started taking lessons, and my dad played in a band with some friends … so I played my dad’s bass for a while, and we would just meet up after school with some other friends. We had like a punk rock band that we were doing. … We kind of came up on bands like Blink-182 and Green Day, you know, the classic pop-punk bands. We started playing really fast. I think we would just go in his basement and do Enema of the State.”

Greet Death, with new drummer Jimmy Versluis, plays 8 p.m. Monday at Resonator Institute, 325 E. Main St., in Norman. Though Boyhtari recently moved to Chicago, he said he and Gaval are “pretty much telepathic” at this point in their relationship. 

“That’s just kind of how long we’ve been friends,” Boyhtari said.

The two took a break from playing punk rock in middle school, but the emergence of a wave of “quintessential indie surf rock bands,” including Surfer Blood and Best Coast, renewed their enthusiasm around 2010.

“We went to see a couple of those guys very early on,” Boyhtari said, “and those are some of the first, like, legit club shows we went to in Detroit, so we were real stoked on that and these bands that were kind of smaller coming up. We were like, ‘Man, let’s start playing music again … let’s actually try to do another band.’”

The new band, originally called Pines, began to move in a heavier direction, inspired by a basement show they played with Indiana act Cloakroom.

“I think that left a big impact on us,” Boyhtari said. “It was just this heavy, powerful music with very pretty vocals and kind of a country underscore, and I don’t think that immediately took hold on us but … we also listened to a lot of Neil Young and Songs: Ohia and singer/songwriter stuff. … I think we kind of grew out of what we were doing and slowly started making heavier music, but also perhaps with even more pop influence, in a way. It wasn’t really a conscious thing.”

Expanding horizons

Finding a forest of other Pines on streaming sites, the band changed its name to Greet Death after an Explosions in the Sky song, although Boyhtari said he doesn’t “particularly care for post-rock.” And though the band has been compared to ’90s shoegaze and slowcore acts, until recently, the 25-year old bassist and vocalist said he also wasn’t all that interested in music recorded before he was born. 

Greet Death released Dixieland in 2017. - PROVIDED
  • provided
  • Greet Death released Dixieland in 2017.

“I think I’m changing in that regard for the better, but I used to really not listen to a lot of music that predated me,” Boyhtari said. “We’ve always been into Pink Floyd, which is where, I think, some of our instrumental influence comes from, but my dad, his band is more of a prog band. They’re really into Yes and Rush. I mean, I used to listen to Rush when I was a kid, Rush is cool for their own reasons, even though I really think it’s pretty corny. My mom and dad love music … but I don’t know if their influences have ever directly been a thing. I would go down to my dad’s band’s practice space when I was young and bang on the drums with them, so I had music in me, I guess. A lot of the music that I started listening to when I first started listening to music came from my friends. I would take my dad’s, Cheap Trick records and listen to them on the school bus and stuff like that. … I think Logan is more influenced by some of some ’90s stuff than me, but I personally really don’t care for that era of music that much. I was never really into Built to Spill. I don’t know. Obviously, we used to listen to some of the Blink-182 stuff when we were playing punk, and I think that’s nostalgic for us.”

Figuring out exactly what kind of music Greet Death plays is difficult for people in and outside the band. 

“It’s funny,” Boyhtari said. “The other night, I forget where we played, but I think we were playing in Saratoga, and there were a bunch of people that were, like, ‘Man, it’s cool to have some punk bands coming through,’ and I’m like, ‘Are we a punk band?’ I don’t care, but that’s kind of the first time someone called us a punk band. We have a faster song that we’re playing right now. Maybe that’s why they thought that, but I’m not sure.”

Rating the album 7.7 out of 10, Pitchfork writer Ian Cohen wrote that 2017’s Dixieland “could either be described as slowcore or doomgaze,” but Boyhtari said the band’s newest material for its upcoming album — exemplified by single “Strange Days,” released last month — features a different approach and different influences. 

“I think, just from a songwriting perspective, it’s far superior because Logan and I have become better and, I think, continue to become better,” Boyhtari said. “There’s a lot more of a lyrical focus and narrative focus. The stuff on Dixieland, it’s not really lyrically driven. The lyrics can be sparse on that record, but the way I write naturally is pretty lyrically focused and Logan especially just started doing a lot of solo songwriting. He started a little solo project where he really focused on writing songs, and he’s doing really amazing stuff. … I think there’s maybe a little bit more country in it, a lot more sadness, a lot more desolation. … I just think of it as a country record in a funny way.”

As Greet Death evolves, Boyhtari said he wants it to become even harder to group with other bands.

“Especially now, the influences aren’t on a sleeve,” Boyhtari said. “I think we’re getting better at just having our own space that we inhabit.”

Oklahoma acts The Premonitions and Speak, Memory share the bill. Visit resonator.space.

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