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James-Paul Luna, Eli Santana, Tyler Meahl (Holy Grail)

Interview with James-Paul Luna, Eli Santana, Tyler Meahl from Holy Grail
by Quinten Serna at 31 August 2019, 8:15 AM

HOLY GRAIL is a Thrash Metal band based out of the Pasadena/San Diego area of California, USA. Metal Temple writer Quinten Serna recently caught up with the band at a show with vocalist James-Paul Luna, guitarist Eli Santana, and drummer Tyler Meahl to talk about a variety of topics. Take a look at what they discussed!

Awesome, alright! It’s great to be here today with y’all from Holy Grail. Why don’t we start with just some basic introductions, yeah? Just introduce yourself and name your position in the band.

Eli: I am Eli Santana and I am lead guitar and backup vocals in Holy Grail.

Tyler: I am Tyler Meahl. I am babysitter and most of all the drummer.

Eli: That’s true.

Tyler: Actually now that my brother has been on this tour a little bit I’ve been down on my babysitter neccesitites, it’s been nice—get a little Zzzs.

Alrighty, and my name’s Quinten and I’ll be your waiter tonight. Can I get you guys started with some appetizers?

Tyler: Avocado eggrolls!!

Eli: Yeah?

Tyler: Yeah.

Jesus, alrighty for those few reader who don’t know the magnanimity that is Holy Grail let me then ask you guys what was it like starting out? How was it when you all first started gigging, writing, and recording as a band? And what was your missions statement then?

Tyler: It’s interesting ‘cause we wanted to be called…

Eli: Well there was Sorcerer.

Tyler: Slaying Mantis.

Eli: We actually signed a record deal as Slaying Mantis. Which, I’ll admit—and I always admitted then—is one of the worst names.

Tyler: Yeah you were the one who was against it—

Eli: I hated it a lot.

Tyler: And then me and LaRue were like “yeah let’s do it!” And then our buddy from Early Man was like “I can’t let you guys do this.”

Eli: Was it Mike?

Tyler: Yeah.

Eli: Mike Conte—great band—and he saved us, that’s a terrible name (Slaying Mantis).

Tyler: ‘Cause we were like “all we want to do is be a Thrash band and get our name out there and it’s going to be so much fun.” But you know you always have to look a year past that five years past that and we’re not just a thrash band.

Eli: That’s true, and that goes to the mission statement of trying to be more than just a Thrash band or just a NWOBHM band, we want to be Holy Grail. We love all those influences we love Thrash and we love NWOBHM, but I think it was we wanted to do something that was very much bringing something new to the table.

Tyler: As much as you can.

Eli: Yeah, we wanted to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Tyler: In 2009!

Alright, so defying convention?

Tyler: He went to Nam once.

Okay.

Eli: Yeah, I went to Comic-Con as well.

I’ve been to Comic-Con as well.

Eli: Ah, I love it and I’m bummed I’m going to miss it this year. There’s also… there’s convention oven

Tyler: Hahahahaha.

Eli: So you have to adjust the temperature, and I think it’s hotter.

Tyler: Well it’s difficult because when you put broil it only heats the top and then when you put toast it gets the bottom and the top. So you just got to keep pressing toast if you really want to get it hot.

Eli: So if you get anything from this interview it’s that Holy Grail is a bottom and a top.

Cooking advice from Holy Grail; alrighty, what was it like hitting the road for that first big tour and what was the transaction like going from a 9 to 5—or whatever hours job—and becoming extremely successful starving musicians?

Eli: Ahaha! We were successful at starving that was for sure.

Tyler: Yeah, I remember watching 3 Inches of Blood eat and then we were like I don’t want to be rude and like ask them for food because that was our first tour.

I remember that.

Tyler: Yeah and then we were like ohhhh, what do we do, we’re so hungry… and then they said “Hey, you guys want some food?”

Tyler and Eli: Hahahaha.

Tyler: And then it turns out everyone was pretty cool on tour, you know?

Eli: Yeah, we lucked out having between 3 Inches of Blood and Saviors having the best headliners, because…

Tyler: They took us out on our first tour and they weren’t actually making fun of us the whole time like we expected.

Eli: They knew we were green but I think what played in our favor was is that we weren’t like oh we’re this like new hot thing we’re just like, “okay, we look up to you guys and we don’t know what we’re doing, and we’re going to take every piece of advice to heart. And I mean a lot of it we still kind of live by to this day.

Tyler: We still can’t back up a trailer though. After 10 years. Hahaha, they should have a video game for that.

It’s called Grand Theft Auto.

Tyler: Grand Theft Auto? There’s an actual trailer in Grand Theft Auto?

I mean I know in San Andreas they have trailers you can back up in semis.

Tyler: Really? So you got to do the opposite of the turning to back up and you can parallel? Wow.

Eli: My character was overweight and he was wearing tidy whiteys.

Tyler: So he only rode the Ninja motorcycle.

Eli: Nah, he could back up a trailer.

Tyler: Hahahaha.

Eli: He could also crash a helicopter—did you know there were missions in that game??

Yes, ahaha.

Eli: I didn’t know that for like months, I was just going and getting in fights and blowing things up.

“Yo, homie, over here!”

Eli: Yeah—yeah! Hahahaha.

Alrighty, you guys were out of commission for a hot minute there, how is it being back in the saddle and where will you all go from here?

Eli: I think we’re still getting back in the saddle. (Looks to Tyler) Right? You should answer that first.

Tyler: I don’t know, this is the first record we’re putting out without a record label and… saying that without a budget we’ve already recorded an EP, and I don’t think it’s ready I think we should settle that as a pre-production and then really get in there with a producer and a real engineer and do it.

Eli: Especially since we’ve been some of the songs live, so it’s—

Tyler: Yeah it’s great to play them live—we just kind of wrote them scratched and them out then recorded them, and then it just wasn’t the same as after we’ve kind of all played them together.

Eli: Yeah, especially one of them you guys have been playing it wrong.

Tyler: Hahahahaha! Is it us or you?

Eli: Well I fucked it up tonight, but the other nights—

Tyler: (Sarcastic) It’s Alex, just blame him.

Eli: Well he doesn’t know that song yet, he’s been busy.

At this point in the evening we were asked to stop and load out all of the equipment from the venue so that the bar could start closing. Tyler Meahl and Eli Santana were busy for the rest of the evening loading all the gear and merchandise into the trailer, so the remaining section of the interview was conducted with singer James Luna.

So one of my favorite speakers Henry Rollins departed from the National Geographic stage on his 50th birthday with one mode of knowledge to be passed on: if you’re in a position where someone younger than you is looking up to you, why would you not do your best to motivate them? Why would you not throw gasoline on their metaphorical flames of inspiration? How do you feel about this and what do you do, if anything, to inspire those who look up to you?

James: Well I think it’s really cool that he did that, but I think overall it doesn’t hurt anyone to appreciate those that look up to you… I don’t know, some acts I’ve seen it’s kind of an ego trip or even the way they treat fans it’s like you’d be nothing without your fans and without people supporting you, you know? You can’t do it on your own, like you need a whole like a whole village and whole following to like be able to succeed at any kind of entertainment industry type of foray, you know? So I think for me it’s just great seeing like fans that came when they were like 15 or 16 then go off to do their own projects then see them like slowly grow from there and then play a show with them and then now they’re touring in Europe and it’s like really great. So I’m all for just like trying to be supportive to the Metal community you know?

That’s great, partnership and social network—well, I wouldn’t say social networking but you know, having that support.

James: Absolutely, yeah man.

Okay, assuming no legal repercussions would you kill 2 strangers to save the life of one of your bandmates.

James: I would, unless it was animals. I wouldn’t kill animals because they have a special place in my heart, but yeah I would definitely kill 2 strangers to save the life of a bandmate.

Okay, what’s the difference between where you see yourself 5 years from now and 10 years from now?

James: I think 5 years from now versus 10 years from now… I haven’t really laid out my plan I’m just kind of like riding it out month to month and we’ll see how it goes, you know? Haha.

Carpe diem.

James: Yeah.

Alright, so do you guys have any odd influences? Any esoteric artists or musicians that inspire you that fans just would never assume like Siouxsie Sioux, Mother Maybelle Carter, Edith Piaf, Leadbelly or any other musician people just would not associate with you?

James: Hmm, I don’t know sometimes I feel like I wear my influences on my sleeve but then other times it seems like when I mention something people are like “oh I didn’t know that’s what you’re into.” Personally I’m a very 70s Rock guy, lately I’ve been really into like anything in Spanish/Latino Rock from like the late 60s early 70s and I’ve been especially drawn to bands from Argentina that kind of have this like Led Zeppelin Black Sabbath kind of influence like Pappo’s Blues… there’s this guy from Argentina whose like—almost like the Phil Lynott meets like Jimi Hendrix of Argentinia and he has got statues made for him. He died in a motorcycle accident in like the early 2000s, but he started his career in like the 60s and then was in a Metal band called Riff and he had his own band for years called Pappo’s Blues and I really love that guy’s stuff and then there’s also this band called El Reloj which means “the Watch” (clock) in Spanish, but I really like that band. They’re also—it’s kind of like progressive kind of like Deep Purple but on Speed and they’re from Argentina as well. So I’m really in the like the weird 70s Rock, Hard Rock anything that sounds like Deep Purple or like Uriah Heep. Like organ driven rock usually gets my goat, so yeah it gets me going, you know?

That’s awesome, I never knew that—I would never assume that, hahah.

James: Yeah, okay then that’s my answer then, hahah.

So this one is a bit redundant but when it comes to touring and the tour life is it something you can just jump right into or do you need time to prepare yourself?

Well personally I need a little bit of time to prepare just because I have like a day job, but I think it’s more about the physical preparation for touring and it depends what capacity. Like if I was just helping out a guy playing bass on tour than I probably wouldn’t have train as much as I do or prepare as much as I do, for singing for Holy Grail because it’s kind of like—at least the way I do it—it’s a very physical endeavor. A lot of movement, and all over my range, I’m not just hitting blue scales in my lower register the whole time so I got to just kind of like recalibrate a bit before a tour. It usually takes a week though and then I’m good.

Hahahah, that’s awesome!

Yeah.

Okay, as band what would you say is your greatest achievement or greatest moment?

It’s hard to say because each moment is great for a different reason, so then it’s like how do you choose your favorite out of your babies, all your children you know? But I think one of our favorite times was playing shows in Japan so we’re actually working up to play some more shows in September in Japan so I think that’ll be great just to get back out there. Something about Japan, it’s so foreign and they’re so rabid for music there that I think it’ll be great.

That’s awesome, that actually feeds into the next question: socially and economically speaking, what’s the difference between touring a country like Japan and touring in Europe?

Actually you know to be honest, we haven’t done as much European touring as most people would assume that we’ve done.

Really?

Yeah, we’ve only done like—well not to say only—but we did Wacken Festival and then like 3 festivals in 2009 and haven’t been back to Europe since, so it’s been like 9 years. Our sound I think would translate well to a European market and we have fans there at least from what I can tell online. So, I can’t fully answer that question but I think overall—we did do several UK tours but we just sort of kept it to the UK we didn’t branch out to other parts. But I have toured in other groups in Europe and overseas and I think there socially and economically… I think at least being an American things are a lot more expensive, and then socially there’s like—at least in Europe—a more seriousness but when they go to party and they drink they like just go hard.

Really?

Yeah, it’s like—I don’t know. It’s a drinking culture, we have it here in the states too but I think that the states are a bit more loosey goosey, they’re not quite as like… I don’t know how to put it, I don’t want to sound like a dis (sic) but in the states it’s like we’re a little more like free and then I think just the way Europe has…

Like sort a sense of formality or obligation?

Yeah, I think it’s just an overall sense of formality and just a little bit more of like a business energy to them. But, aside from that the shows in Europe are like way crazier, people come early and are like going nuts the whole time, and the shows in the states aren’t always like that they kind of like trickle in right before the last band or the band before them, you know? Same with Canada actually they go crazy. If doors are at 7 they’re there at 7 and then are just thrashing and moshing the whole time till the show ends which is awesome, the whole European market is just like that as well which is great. Yeah so, that’s the social part of it and then the economical yeah it’s… I think the wages are higher over there so their cost of living is more and things cost more but here, we haven’t really caught up here. Our cost of living keeps going up but our wages aren’t.

It sound pretty damn accurate, hahaha. So, with Crisis in Utopia, Ride the Void, and Times of Pride and Peril you guys seem to tread the waters of mythology, dystopian complacencies, and the human condition. Do you guys set out with writing these ideas in mind or are they sort of fit and molded to the music afterwards? And also, what inspires these conceptions?

I think for our lyrics it’s kind of a culmination of the two things, sometimes we have like ideas that we jot down. It’s mostly been me and Eli writing the lyrics so some will be all him some we’ll be all me and some we’ll collaborate on, and then Tyler is there as like a bullshit detector he’s like “no these words sound goofy, let’s change that.” So he’s like the editor, you know? But, I think more often than not, maybe 60/40 the music is written and then the lyrics come and then, somehow like energetically like the working title of the song, we’ll pull energy out of that and it’s usually stuff that’s like sci-fi or movie related, so we pull from that stuff and I think it—I don’t know it’s just stuff that sounds cool to us and kind of like our view of the world in a sense, that’s kind of where the lyrics are rooted from.

Alrighty, so this one is a bit lengthy. So your music can be neo-classical and even baroque at times—I mean, it’s metal you know?  To misquote Filthy Phil Taylor Es ist metal! Kein Kompromiss! Kein zurückhalten! But there exists passages in your works that are a bit more focused on dynamics, harmonies, and voicings, those substances that would be more closely associated with compositions and symphonies instead of metal music. Is there a direct line of influence between you all and classical music, or do you believe it’s just the natural evolution of the genre, or something else entirely?

Well we didn’t really set out o have a classical influence but I think shred just—it just comes with the territory. Anyone that shreds is probably coming out of the Richie Blackmore Yngwie Malmsteen kind of world and then like it branched from there so…  I don’t think that there’s a shredder who doesn’t know who Yngwie Malmsten is, you know? And it just comes with the territory like I said but I think, having more complex compositions as well just take it to that classical realm of music where you can’t really… something about it it’s like the darkness and the tone just really suits itself to Heavy Metal, so I think it’s just by proxy that it sounds like that.

Alrighty, in terms of music what’s some of your guilty pleasures?

Guilty pleasure—yeah see I kind of don’t know what a guilty pleasure would be considered because I kind of listen to like listen to all kinds of stuff and I don’t know what I should be feeling guilty about? Hahaha.

That’s a good way to put it, I guess music that people…

Wouldn’t expect.

Yeah, like Barbara Streisand—

Oh I really got into, Japan, they kind of sound like a weird dark… they were an 80s new wave band but they have a weird like—almost a darker version of  Roxy Music or like David Bowie almost. I heard them on a mix recently and I’ve been really liking that. I like some of the darker Depeche Mode stuff which is like probably not very Heavy Metal but yeah, that stuff’s kind of cool too.

Awesome, if you had to choose just one who would you say is your favorite Golden Girl?

You know I’m not as familiar with the Golden Girls as I should be I guess. But I do like the one… who’s the gal that did the—maybe I’m mixing it up but I thought that one of the Golden Girls did the rapping, the Sugarhill Gang rap song in…

Oh, are you talking about the Wedding Singer?

Wedding Singer. Was That one of the Golden Girls?

I honestly don’t remember, other than Betty White and Bea Arthur I don’t know their histories well enough.

I think it was Betty White, yeah I like her, for sure.

Everyone loves Betty White, she’s America’s treasure.

Yeah, hahha.

Alright, so this one is a bit lengthy too. So imagine that your car just broke and you NEED to get to an important meeting, the studio, a release, or something else of dire importance so you ditch your car and take the bus, or the metro for anyone where the bus isn’t applicable. There is only one seat available next to a shady looking character near the back of the bus, you sit down and take notice of the person sitting next to you, you are astonished to see that it’s either Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhodes, Jason Becker, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jeff Buckley, Dimebag Darrel, Stevie Nicks, Cyndi Lauper, Luciano Parvarotti, Jim Morrison, Lemmy Kilmister, or Ronnie James Dio in the prime of their career. Who is it and what do you talk about for the duration of the bus ride?

Whoa, that’s a long list. I think I’d just have to go with Ronnie James Dio because that dude just has so much influence on me—I think just anyone that listens to metal. I’d probably talk about Indian food and some of his favorite spots or just about his history like Ronnie and the Red Caps or whatever his doo-wop band was…

Oh yeah, the Prophets.

Yeah, well there were 2 there were the Prophets but then I think before that he was like Ronnie…

Are you talking about the Electric Elves? Well that wasn’t doo-wop that was almost like Queen.

No, there was something Ronnie and the Red Caps or something too. But he had like 2 Ronnie and the somethings. But like I’d think we’d just talk about music and talk about food, it’d be cool.

Alrighty, the tour life can be hard and stressful, both mentally and economically, what is your band’s go-to for food if you’re low on funds?

Personally I’m kind of unique because I’m the only vegan in the group so I bring a rice cooker with me and you know a bag of rice costs like 5 or 10 bucks, and then I get some dried lentils and then throw it all in. We didn’t do it tonight because we were close enough to places to eat but it’s like, you can make a whole meal for 3 or 4 bucks, it’s really cheap eating that way but also really healthy. ‘Cause I’m like really keen on eating healthy so I’m not just like barfing on stage like eating a pizza or like, yeah… I just try to eat clean to help boost my energy levels and stuff.

Awesome, I think there’s only one left.  It’s been great being here with you, it’s an experience I would not trade for any other but as this is the last in a slew of questions, is there anything you all want to make mention of or leave on a high note? Anything you want to tell to your fans or to the world as a whole?

Yeah man, I’d just like to say thanks for all the support over the years and we’re now in our 10th year and looking forward to hopefully bring in another 10 years of Heavy Metal and we’ve got some new stuff in the works. We’ve pretty much got a whole album’s worth of material written we’re just trying to find the right producer for it and so expect some new stuff coming. We’re going to try and have an EP out by the end of the year and then hopefully a new album out next year in 2020 so keep an eye out for that.

That’s great I am looking forward to that.

Awesome, thank you man.



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