Well-known as “Left Hand Graham”, Graham Vanderveen has been given one of a kind opportunities to prove his chops on the bass guitar. He has been a member of Graves and Doyle, the solo projects of Michale Graves and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein of Misfits. As of late however, he has capitalized on the task of playing bass in Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg. The band plays over thirty classic Ramones tracks and currently has Andrew W.K. as the frontman. (Michale Graves was the frontman previously)
I got the chance to interview Graham about the whole Blitzkrieg experience and what it all truly means to him.
Prior to joining Blitzkrieg, how did the music of the Ramones play a role in your life?
The Ramones basically taught me how to play. I remember figuring out the chords to the songs and scratching my head as to how they made so much magic with four or five chords. The music seemed so simple- like anyone could do it, and yet there was only one Ramones. I was initially a real metalhead and after discovering the pure fun of playing like the Ramones, it made the endless metal riffing I was trying to do seem like a waste of time. They were one of the bands that made me realize I needed to switch over to the side of punk rock.
Now that you have played many shows with Blitzkrieg, how has the experience redefined your appreciation for the Ramones?
First off, after playing these shows, the main thing is the truly physical aspect of the performance. As simple as the songs are, they are not easy to perform right. Nobody else sounded like the Ramones because they put their full energy into every note of every song. There’s no space to coast. Once the show starts, it goes full blast for an hour and a half. Not only did they pioneer that approach, but they went out and did it for so many years- I mean those guys were machines. Secondly, it has really reaffirmed the incredibly wide appeal of the music. You can find a Ramones fan in any corner of the world. All the time I see parents and their kids rocking out with equal intensity at the shows. Not a lot of bands cross those generational boundaries.
What was your reaction when you found out that Andrew W.K. would be taking over fronting duties? How do you feel he does in the role?
I was a fan of Andrew’s for a long time, so naturally I was excited for him to be involved. As different as his music is from the Ramones, he also has a style which focuses on simplicity, energy and sincerity- which makes him a good fit. Andrew brings such an unapologetic enthusiasm to the show, it’s almost impossible not to have a good time. It’s great for me because when I’m playing those songs, it’s impossible for me not to have a good time. These shows are really a celebration of a great band and Andrew’s ability to connect with the crowd in a very real and humble way sets just the right tone for an uncut dose of Party.
Even though he’s behind you while on stage, what do you think of Marky’s drumming?
I’ve played with a lot of drummers through the years- and even among great drummers, some you can really lock with, others you just play along to. I love playing with Marky because the beat is so strong and defined. Heavy kick foot and hard-hitting wrists. When he starts playing a beat, I can almost immediately find the groove. I also love that you could have twenty guys playing the same beat and you’d still be able to tell which one was Marky. Of course most of those guys probably couldn’t hold that beat for the whole song, not to mention a whole set!
What was your first ever gig with Blitzkrieg like? How did you prepare?
I got recommended through the one and only Frankie Cheeze. (our US tour manager) I remember the tour was already booked and we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Maybe ten days or so. if those songs weren’t already in my musical DNA, I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off the thirty plus songs I needed to know. When it was time for the first rehearsal, I knew I was gonna be a bit shaky, but I figured I’d just try to follow the rest of the band. When I got there, I realized there was no rest of the band! Marcelo, the guitar player, lives in Argentina and was flying in just before the tour. And the singer wasn’t coming in that night. At that point, I started sweating a bit. But I though, “Well, they’re short songs, we’ll pick ’em apart one by one.” Then Marky says, “Alright, let’s do Rockaway- Lobotomy- Psycho Therapy- Do You Wanna Dance- Havana- Commando. Count ’em off and go right into the next song. Ready?” And BOOM. We were off. Even in rehearsal, we never stop. That first one was the real trial by fire. You had to be able to do it like a Ramone. If you couldn’t hack that pace, you’re not cut out for the gig. It was stressful at first, but now I look back with fondness at those early rehearsals with just bass and drums. It sounded like the early records with the speaker balance turned to once side. After that, it’s kind of been one crazy blur!
When not performing with the band, what do you do in and out of music?
When I’m not touring, I work at the family landscape construction business. Yes, if I’m not rocking out on stage, I may be digging in your backyard. It’s quite a mental shift between the two occupations, but I’ve been doing it that way for a long time now. I think most people would be surprised just how many musicians have a similar arrangement.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming Punkspring in Japan?
I’ve never been to Japan, so I’m really excited about that. Back around 2002 or so, I was in a band called Graves with Dr. Chud and Michale Graves of the Misfits. We had a Japanese tour booked when the band abruptly broke up and that missed opportunity has bugged me ever since. It’s so wonderful traveling around with Marky because you’re just met with so much good will. It’s just great to see those songs bring out the same youthful spirit in people wherever you are.
What do you feel separates the Ramones from any other band out there?
When you watch any old footage of the Ramones, it’s immediately apparent that they were stars. They had something special. And yet they did it by completely being themselves. They never stopped being a bunch of quirky kids from NYC. I think that’s really rare in music. I think it’s also a big part as to why their music resonated so well with people. The honesty, the inclusiveness, the complete lack of pretense. They weren’t a bunch of pretty boys trying to get girls, they were really playing straight from the heart.
Who are some of your favorite bassists?
Geezer Butler, Simon Gallup, Peter Hook, Duff McKagan, Cliff Burton, Darryl Jenifer, Jean-Jacques Burnel, Barry Adamson and of course, Dee Dee.
Thoughts on Marky Ramone’s pasta sauce?
Great! Have some crusty bread around to scoop it all up.
Favorite Ramones song?
Really, really really hard question. I’ll have a different answer every day of the week. Havana, Sheena, RNR High School, Miracles, Judy, RNR Radio…the list goes on.
Favorite venue to play at?
Also really tough. I’d say anywhere where the energy is right. To me, this music is best in a packed mid-size venue (like 500 capacity) with no barrier where you can really get in peoples faces. When you get larger than that, it’s harder to connect with the crowd in a truly energetic way. Last year, we played a show at Andrew’s venue “Santos Party House” where all those forces were in alignment. That was a memorable one. On the completely opposite- we also played Rock in Rio to around 100,000 people. It’s pretty memorable having 100,000 people scream “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” at you.
Favorite band t-shirt you own?
I have a Captain Harlock skull shirt that someone made as a reproduction of the shirt Glenn is wearing on the cover of Walk Among Us. I’ve been wearing that for the last twenty years or so. Not technically a band shirt, but a good nod to the Misfits.
If you could join any other band, which would it be?
If you would’ve asked me when I started playing, I’d saying the Ramones and the Misfits. I now play with Marky and also with a band called Doyle with the guitar player of the Misfits. It’s pretty crazy how my luck turned out. Not only do I get to play with these bands, but they also turn out to be great people. Doyle is going out on tour all over the US this March and April, and if you have the opportunity, you should check it out. We toured the states last year and it’s a really great show. Due to scheduling conflicts, I won’t but doing this one with them, but Doyle and Alex Story will still be crushing it every night. Otherwise you can catch me and Marky at upcoming shows in Japan, Norway and Spain.
Photo Credit: Sandra Sorensen