TCN meets the popular Dubrovnik band, Gruhak.
In the summer of 2015 I was wandering around the Old Town and I saw a poster about local band Gruhak. Not knowing anything about them I thought I’d check them out. I found videos of them on YouTube covering rock songs from the 60’s and 70’s such as ”Love Me Two Times” by The Doors, Led Zeppelin’s ”Immigrant Song” and Pink Floyd’s ”Comfortably Numb”. I was blown away by their fantastic covers of these great classics so I checked out some of their own songs and found videos of their album ‘’Make a Stand’’, which I duly got hold of. It’s an excellent album, and it is in English, so I can sign along (I use the term ”sing” loosely!). I recently met up with Ivan, the guitarist, for a chat, where we discussed the band, their music, and their future plans.
When did the band first form? And has the line-up changed much over the years?
The band itself was formed in 1995. They were maybe 15 or 16 years old when they started. The only original member is Boris, the singer. In the first maybe 5 or 6 years there were changes because at that time everyone was in high school, and then college, and priorities changed. I came in, in around 1998. There have been some changes in the line-up recently. We will let everyone know what they are soon.
How did you all meet?
I knew Boris and some of the other band members, who are not in the band now, through my older brother. The band disassembled in 1997 because some of the guys had to go into the army for a year for conscription. When they finished with the one year in the army there was a gig, a festival outside of town, and they needed a guitar player, so they asked me. We all knew each other because everybody was playing in different bands at the time. We were rehearsing at the old hospital which had a lot of rehearsal rooms right next to each other, so we all knew each other from there.
How do you decide which covers you’re going to do?
Basically, it’s what we like to listen to at home. Everybody has an idea, and whatever sounds best we record that. If it doesn’t sound good after a couple of turns we just leave it alone.
When you write your own songs, how does it work? Do you have a tune? Or do you write the lyrics first? How does it happen?
There were no basic rules before our latest album, which we’ve just recorded in the U.S. Usually me or Boris, would come up with an entire song and then show it to someone else. In the U.S. we all worked altogether. Someone would come up with a bit of music, someone would come up with lyrics, someone with the chorus. Everybody was involved, and it’s a great way to write, because it’s all in the moment. The first time around a song tends to be in its most sincere form, so you record it immediately and then forget about it.
In March 2013 you played at the 100 Club in London. I know there are a lot of people in the United Kingdom who would like to see you play live, so will you be playing there again?
Probably not because of the logistics and the difficulties of getting to London. It was great fun because we drove from Dubrovnik to London and back. It took a few days to get there because we played a gig in Zagreb, then we played 2 gigs in Germany, then we went to London, and then we came back. It was a real road trip. It was fun, but it was a logistical nightmare, and moneywise we lost out financially. We knew we were going to lose money but we decided to do it anyway.
You play in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Germany. Apart from London, where else have you played?
In, maybe 2011, we did Ukraine for 10 days. It was amazing. It was very different. The people there are really hungry for rock and roll because they have been cut off from the world for a very long time so they just accept everything that comes there. It was great.
Do you have another job?
No. Boris and I do acoustic gigs at the hotels, which is sort of a fine line compromise between doing our original, artistic stuff and making a living out of making music. Dubrovnik is probably the only city in Croatia where we’d be able to do it, because of the tourist season, which is growing longer. Yesterday we had the first hotel gig of the season, and it’s really early in the year, and the last gig will probably be the beginning of November. So, basically, we work for 7 months, and we play every evening 6 days a week. The money for musicians in Dubrovnik is the biggest I have ever seen. It was lousy for a period and then it became better and better. The attitude of the hotels has changed. Basically, they can get anyone for any kind of money, but they slowly realised it’s about quality not quantity, and quality always needs to be paid.
We mentioned earlier about your new album that you’ve just recorded in the U.S. How did that come about?
We don’t usually play weddings, but we got an e-mail one day saying someone wanted us to play at their wedding. We knew they were American and that they had some relatives here, but we didn’t know them. We weren’t going to do it at first, but they were very persistent in wanting us to do it, and the repertoire they sent us was classic rock/70’s which is what we like to play, so we said ‘‘Yes, let’s do it.’’
As it turns out the producer that got us to Florida was the father of the bride. The first time he heard us was there at the wedding. He said immediately ‘’My name is Bobby Croft and I have a studio. Do you want to come?’’ At first we were pessimistic because every year there are people who come and say they’re going to make us famous, they’ll take us here, take us there, things like that. But we said yes we’d go, but we didn’t think much of it. Then a few months later he actually contacted us again with solid plans about how to do it, what we are going to do, how we were going to do it, visa’s needed etc. So, we thought OK this guy is serious. We Googled him of course. As it turns out he’s kind of a big shot in that business. He’s worked with a lot of amazing people, not necessarily as a producer but in one way or another, like Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, the Eagles, Gregg Allman. We said okay, we’re not going to waste this opportunity, we have to go.
What was it like there, and what happened once you were there?
We had an amazing place to stay in. It was a big house and the studio was right next door, in the same property. It’s a dream come true for every musician to stay in a house that has a world class studio and just get up in the morning, go to the studio, and see what comes up. We were going to do originals but he didn’t want us to come with any material. We could come up with ideas, but the plan was we go there and write on the spot. We went there for a month and we wrote 14 songs and recorded them in that time.
When will the album come out?
Hopefully some time in the summer. The plan is for him to try to get us an American record deal. While we were there we met a lot of people, and a lot of musicians. Because we are Croatian we have a lot of things working for us. We’re a foreign band, and to the Americans Croatia is very exotic. As soon as they hear that we’re from Dubrovnik, and that Dubrovnik is King’s Landing from Game of Thrones, they flip out. So, for them, we’re from an exotic country, and an exotic city, doing their music in English, and doing it well. Maybe it’s still too early to tell, but if we manage to get a record deal, it’s going to be a big precedent for Croatian, especially Dubrovnik, bands.
There was a very complimentary article recently about Gruhak by Tanvir Ahmad on Quora. What did you think about it?
I was very surprised about what he wrote. I didn’t expect it. We tend not to take ourselves too seriously. We thought in the beginning that people were saying we were good just to be nice to us, but when comments kept coming, and views on YouTube kept coming, we thought, OK we’re good! It’s always nice, and a big surprise, when you actually figure out that somebody else thinks that. It’s great!
Apart from the new album, what else do you have planned for the future?
We’re going to do some more covers for YouTube. We did a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘‘High Hopes’’ and filmed it on Mount Srđ, so we’re maybe going to go in that direction, away from the rehearsal room. The thing about Dubrovnik is there are incredible vistas everywhere, so maybe we can get the City Walls, or the Rector’s Palace, or somewhere like that, to record a couple of videos. I’m not sure if it’s that simple, but I think we could do it, and show off the town at the same time.
If you want to find out more about this amazing band from Dubrovnik, have a look at their videos on YouTube, and check out their Facebook page where you can see photos and videos of them recording their latest album, some of their videos from YouTube, and details of any gigs they are playing.