Last Thursday, I caught the mask wearing duo, The Cemetery Boys, at Retro Cafe in Virginia Beach. The band consists of father and son, Edgar Von Graves (bass and vocals) and Lurch (drums). Yes, just bass and drums and yes - just Lurch.
Their music, along with Edgar’s chillingly rich vocals, permeated the room as quickly as the fog machine and scrambled my brain; because, they sounded like way more than just two people.
Their set of original material ended with them covering The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now,” and “Cars,” by Gary Numan, which put the proverbial nail in the coffin and got everybody dancing.
Yeah, not bad for a Thursday.
A couple of days later, I got in touch with Edgar to ask some questions and to see if he could help me unscramble my brain.
Beth Austin: How long have each of you been playing?
Edgar Von Graves: I have been dabbling for many years. I’ve gotten serious about it just in the last few years. Lurch has been playing drums for four or five years. He plays drums out of necessity for me. His main instrument is guitar and he has his own projects on the side.
Beth: Have you played in other bands?
Edgar: None really worthy of mentioning. Nothing ever worked out to my liking. I find it hard to work with multiple people with their schedules, their democratic processes and politics. No one else (who can actually play) seemed to be interested in combining music and spooky stuff.
You’d also be surprised at how many people are reluctant to wear a mask on stage. “I don’t know about all that,” they would say. And they would be quickly escorted to the door. That’s pretty much why I came up with The Cemetery Boys and why I had to ‘make’ a drummer.
Beth: How long have you two been playing as The Cemetery Boys?
Edgar: The two of us have been playing together off and on for four or five years. Lurch briefly moved to Nashville in late 2012, so from April 2013 to December 2013, my drummer was a gentleman named Tom Bzombie, who was from France. His wife worked for NATO in Norfolk. He was a great guy and was on board with everything I wanted to do. Unfortunately, he had to return to France in January 2014. Lurch rejoined me then and we never really missed a beat (pun intended). Lurch is also a pleasure to work with and is about the coolest guy I know.
Beth: When I saw you at Retro Cafe, I couldn’t believe the sound coming from just two guys. After your set, people were like, “Whoa!” I could tell by their faces that they were as happily confused as I was.
You scrambled my brain because what I saw and what I heard just didn’t match up. You sounded like way more than two people - way more than just bass and drums. Can you tell me about that? How do you put out so much sound?
Edgar: Yeah, it’s just bass, drums and some prerecorded movie dialogue stuff. We used to use a prerecorded cello track on a lot of it to thicken it up, but we don’t use that anymore. We’ve kind of gone back to a very raw, real, rockin’ sound. It also helps to have a powerful Ampeg bass amp in situations like you saw at Retro, where the only thing coming out of the PA was vocals.
Beth: You were playing a bass, but I swear at times it sounded like you were playing guitar and bass. The sound was just incredible. Can you tell me about your playing style?
Edgar: I play a Gretsch short-scale bass through a distortion pedal into an Ampeg head and Hartke cabinet. I use thin bass strings which give it a little more high end, like a guitar, without losing too much low end. I play the bass somewhat like a guitar since I played guitar earlier in my life. It works out to be kind of a cross between the two. I love playing the bass.
Beth: What can you tell me about Lurch’s drum kit? It looks modified, like the bass drum doesn’t look like a bass drum, it looks smaller. Can you tell me about the set up?
Edgar: Yes, the bass drum is small for no other reason than it’s what we can fit in the truck. Everything we carry fits perfectly in to our Chevy Blazer. It’s tight, but it fits. When we get our hearse, it won’t be an issue anymore.
The only drum gear we use are bass drum, snare, high hat and ride cymbal. We’ve found that the more involved the drumming gets, the more the music calls out for other instruments. So we keep it simple, with minimal drumming, just to keep a big beat. We also employ prerecorded tambourine and cowbell. The drums are Pearl, the cymbals are Sabian.
Beth: What made you decide on just bass and drums? Have you ever considered adding anyone else to the mix? Not that you need it, that’s for sure.
Edgar: I went with the bass and drums format because I love the bass and it just has a more lurking, evil sound. It fills in holes that a six string guitar might not. And, as I mentioned earlier, the more people you have in a band, the more schedules and politics you have to deal with. I’m at a point where I just don’t feel like I want to put my ideas up for a vote anymore. With The Cemetery Boys, if I want to do an Echo and the Bunnymen cover, then we do an Echo and the Bunnymen cover. No voting, no muttering about hating Echo and the Bunnymen from anyone, no attitudes, no one quitting in a huff.
Also, with just two people, I can pull the troops together at a moments notice. And splitting the money two ways is, well, you know… That being said, there is some talk about adding another bass to the mix, but the constraints of time are making that very difficult at the moment.
Beth: Who has influenced you musically, and what was the last thing you listened to?
Edgar: Black Sabbath, pre-1978 KISS, Type O Negative, The Ramones, early Rob Zombie, The Smiths, Chameleons UK, Elvis Presley. The last thing I listened to was Black Sabbath’s, Never Say Die album.
Beth: So, the masks. Why the masks?
Edgar: It adds a mysterious element to it. Also, being heavily influenced by early KISS, it’s easier than wearing make up. Plus, wearing a mask allows me to do this well into my old age. I’m no spring chicken. The masks will carry the band a lot farther than our faces.
Beth: (smiles) Great idea, maybe I’ll start wearing a mask.
So, where are your favorite places to play?
Edgar: Our favorite place to play is probably The Belmont House of Smoke because we get to work with our pal, Patrick Walsh, who is the soundman there. We also like The Taphouse and Roger’s. The other night was our first time at Retro and we liked that place. We booked a few more shows there. There’s a place called Fallout in Richmond that was fun. We’ve never really had a bad experience anywhere we’ve played.
Beth: If you could get a gig anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Edgar: London, England. I’ve always been fascinated with the British since reading the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels as a kid. I consider London to be the spookiest city in the world. My inner voice has a British accent. Unfortunately, I’m terrified of flying, so it would have to be a long boat ride.
Beth: Do you have any music out?
Edgar: We have a nine song album coming out on or about May 1, produced by the aforementioned Patrick Walsh. See our Facebook page for details about how you can get it.
Beth: This has been great. Do you have anything to add? What’s the future look like for The Cemetery Boys?
Edgar: The plan is to get the album out, continue to play steadily in the area and hopefully, start traveling outside of the area. We are in need of representation/management, so if anyone knows anybody who might be interested in getting behind something like this…
"The Quick Six," spooky style:
Beth: Morticia Addams or Lily Munster?
Edgar: I lean toward Lily, but I like ‘em both.
Beth: The Lost Boys or The Craft?
Edgar: I’ve never seen either one. I’ve also never seen any of the Star Wars movies. That’s kind of a badge I wear.
Beth: Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures?
Edgar: I watched both when they each first started but was ‘scared’ away by the fakeness of it all.
Beth: Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street?
Edgar: Neither. I like creepy, spooky, atmospheric stuff. I don’t like bloody movies that glorify murder.
Beth: Halloween or Día de Muertos?
Beth: Count Chocula or Franken Berry?
Edgar: I love ‘em both! And I love BooBerry, Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy! Although, Yummy Mummy was an acquired taste.