Toronto’s Greys are ’90s alt-rock enthusiasts

Greys frontman Shehzaad Jiwani shares some controversial opinions in a '90s alt-rock quiz.

April 19, 2016

Like anyone who grew up in the 1990s listening to alternative music, Greys singer/guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani is nostalgic for that era. When he isn’t spending 140 characters reviewing Deftones, Jiwani often spends time on Twitter either praising the music of his friends, complaining about something, or contemplating the genius and futility of some ’90s band. Even though it doesn’t accurately reflect his current listening habits.

“It’s funny,” he says. “We always get these ’90s questions, but it’s not like we just sit around listening to [Drive Like Jehu’s] Yank Crime all the time. We don’t even really listen to this stuff anymore. It’s fine though. I grew up listening to this stuff so I love talking about it.”

Well, that’s good, because we decided to subject Jiwani – who is currently prepping for a North American tour to support the brand new Greys record Outer Heaven – to a marathon, 40-minute game of “Which ’90s Alt-Rock Band Is Better?” And yes, he survived it, only to ask, “Are you going to put all of that in?” The answer is yes. Every single word of it. Stream Greys’ new album below and read on for the quiz.

AUX: Let’s start off with the big one: Smashing Pumpkins or Nirvana?
Shehzaad Jiwani: Oh my god, Nirvana! Obviously. That’s not even a question. I mean, I love Smashing Pumpkins with all my heart, and you could probably argue they were the better musicians, but song for song? Are you kidding me? No way. Nirvana for sure.

I think at this point in my life I would rather listen to Smashing Pumpkins. But if I had to pick the better band? Even Billy Corgan would pick Nirvana. However, I think “1979” is one of the best songs ever written, and arguably better than any Nirvana song. But Nirvana is such a perfect band to me.

Alice In Chains or Soundgarden?
Soundgarden, although I do love Alice In Chains very much. Soundgarden have a lot more to offer and hold up better. I totally get when people make fun of me for liking Alice In Chains but those harmonies are fucking awesome. Soundgarden are fucking bad-ass though. They can do so many different things. Plus they were on both SST and Sub Pop. That is the argument I always use when people say, “They’re so lame, man.” Well, actually no, they’re the better Led Zeppelin.

L7 or Babes In Toyland?
Oh, that’s tough. Fuck! That is actually really hard because I love both of those bands. I think at this point though I’d rather listen to Babes In Toyland, but L7 are a lot more fun. Babes In Toyland can be a lot more harrowing and Kat [Bjelland]’s voice can be pretty brutal at times, but I think that’s why I like it. L7 seem like they have such a good time.

Helmet or Jawbox?
Helmet. I never really got into Jawbox much. Helmet to me is a deceptively dumb band. They do a lot of knuckleheaded stuff, but the things they’re doing musically is actually quite interesting. Even though it is proto-nu-metal in a lot of ways. I actually just listened to Betty front to back for the first time recently. And I did it because my roommate is Australian and he had never listened to a Silverchair record before. So we listened to Freak Show and I was like, “This is essentially just a Helmet album but with really bad lyrics.” But Helmet rules. I always say they’re like the AC/DC of noise rock.

Tool or Marilyn Manson?
Well, I never really got into either of them, but I would have to say Marilyn Manson. Some friends of mine really liked Marilyn Manson, but in that era of industrial bands like Manson, Nine Inch Nails and White Zombie, those records sound fucking awesome. Someone was recently playing Anti-Christ Superstar and I thought it sounded really heavy, which was surprising because it was so popular. Even The Downward Spiral was so over the top aggressive, and it was pretty crazy that it sold millions of records.

Nine Inch Nails or White Zombie?
White Zombie. It holds up better. They’re fun too. I love Astrocreep 2000 so much. I think it sounds so great. I love Nine Inch Nails too, and I only have the utmost respect for Trent Reznor – in fact, that was a real touchstone for Outer Heaven, to make it sound huge like The Downward Spiral – but his lyrics are so fucking bad! So bad that they actually take away from the songs. And it’s difficult for me to get through a record because it all sounds so teen angst-y. I can’t get past that. But holy shit those records sound amazing.

Whereas with White Zombie, he’s in on the joke. It’s fun. It’s pre-nu-metal, so it’s not this ironic thing that he’s trying to be spooky. It’s like no, this is just a dude who was in a no wave band who now wants to make this bombastic rock music where every song is so much fun. I legitimately love Astrocreep 2000 with all my heart.

Collective Soul or Goo Goo Dolls?
Yuck, neither. Although, if I had to pick I’d go with Goo Goo Dolls. The early stuff is fine. They were just trying to be the Replacements, and I don’t have anything against that. But Collective Soul? Fuck off! Are you kidding me?

Dinosaur Jr or Sebadoh?
Oh man, I would actually pick Sebadoh, song for song. I feel like Dinosaur Jr have done a thing real well, but Lou Barlow is a great songwriter. Cam, our guitar player, is a huge Sebadoh fan. They’re still somehow underrated.

Pavement or Guided By Voices?
Pavement because they’re my favourite band. I know everyone gives us Nirvana comparisons, but if I could be as smart as any singer it’d be Stephen Malkmus. He’s such a genius. He’s like my Paul McCartney. It’s impossible for him to write a bad song. He’s such a great guitar player. Pavement sums up so much of what I like about indie-rock. Like the very idea of being this detached frontman who pulls the rug out from someone just as they’re getting attached to the music. I love that so much. It’s such a shitty, bratty attitude to have and I just love it. I will love him forever. How can you dislike that band? To add to that though, Guided By Voices are also fucking fantastic.

Pearl Jam or Stone Temple Pilots?
That’s not even a question. Fuck Pearl Jam! Stone Temple Pilots are a thousand times better. Stone Temple Pilots are one of the most underrated bands of the 1990s. Yeah, they might have started off sounding like Pearl Jam but Core is better than any Pearl Jam record, period. Scott Weiland was a thousand times better at being a frontman than Eddie Vedder. Robert and Dean DeLeo are two of the best players in the world. Dean smokes both Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, and he’s only got one guitar. No disrespect to Pearl Jam…

Oh, I think you disrespected Pearl Jam.
[Laughs] I think Eddie Vedder is a cool guy. I’d love to hang out with him. But fuck that band. They’re so boring! STP did so much cooler shit in their career, even though they were the least cool band of the ’90s. Tiny Music is such an interesting record for a band like that to make. When you’re a pretty huge band, to make this weird, art-pop, psych-rock, Bowie-esque record was brave. If they had better lyrics people would have respected them more.

Pixies or The Breeders?
Oh the Breeders. I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t really like the Pixies that much, but I fucking worship the Breeders. Kim Deal, like Malkmus, has an easy time writing great melodies over interesting guitar parts. She is so cool. She is one of the coolest people in indie-rock. I mean, the Pixies aren’t bad, but the Breeders just connect with me on a personal level. Pod and Last Splash are just perfect records.

Green Day or The Offspring?
Green Day, for sure. I do love Smash, but Insomniac is such a great record. Maybe not now but I fucking loved that band as a kid. Insomniac sounds like it was recorded live. It’s a great follow-up to Dookie because it sounds pretty lo-fi and it’s heavy and aggressive. Every song is so catchy and fun.

Presidents of the United States of America or Cake?
PUSA for sure because someone just told me the drummer of Cake was a child molester.

I don’t think he was a founding or significant member. Did you ever hear the first Cake album? There was a single that sounded exactly like Pavement – in the worst way possible.
I can see that. I don’t really know anything about Cake at all, but PUSA’s first record was awesome. It’s so catchy.

Tad or Mudhoney?
Ooh, that’s a good one. I love Mudhoney. They were one of my favourite bands growing up but I think Tad is really cool and super underrated. A friend of mine compared them to Helmet and I don’t that is so far off. They’re like Helmet with weird grooves. I really like Tad a lot. I hope they get a cool retrospective at some point, as opposed to a band that is intrinsically linked to Sub Pop and Nirvana. Mudhoney just fucking rules though. I’ve seen that band so many times and every time I love it.

Bush (X) or Foo Fighters?
Whoa, are they really on the same level? I feel like the Foo Fighters’ first two albums are legitimately good, right? Bush was never a thing for me. I can’t really ever hate on the Foo Fighters’ old stuff because those albums, along with Nirvana, basically taught me how to play music. Can’t hate. Anything after the ‘90s though…

Primus or Ween?
I never spent much time with either, but I definitely knew more Primus songs as a kid. Ween I believe are the more legitimately good band, based on certain friends of mine, but I’ve never actually listened to any of their records.

Faith No More or Rage Against the Machine?
I hate Rage Against the Machine! They’re one of my least favourite bands of all time. Everyone else in my band fucking loves them. I think the coolest thing Zack de la Rocha ever did was that verse on the Run the Jewels record, and that’s about it. Rage Against the Machine are also to blame for Audioslave, which is objectively one of the worst bands of all time. How could they ever do that to my sweet, beautiful Chris Cornell?

Better Than Ezra or The Verve Pipe?
[Laughs] No comment. I couldn’t name anything by either of those bands. Actually, my only relation to Better Than Ezra is that Norm Macdonald joke, which is my favourite joke, which I tell every time someone breaks a string or we need time to do something on stage. “Number one on the charts is Better Than Ezra. Number two on the charts is Ezra.”

311 or Sublime?
Sublime are the worst band of all time, not just because of their insufferably bad music, but also because of their hacky sack-kicking, Bob Marley flag-having, goofy t-shirt wearing fans. 311 fans probably overlap here, but they seemed less influential on a generation of head shop merchandise. Also, I fully loved 311 from the ages of 13-15, so…

Filter or Stabbing Westward?
Filter, for sure. Filter were bad-ass. Stabbing Westward were so whiny. Get over it man! Filter just had a good time. That Filter song on the Spawn soundtrack was fucking awesome.

Live or Everclear?
Oh my god Everclear because I would say “Santa Monica” is a legitimately good song. Whereas “Lightning Crashes” is a legitimately hilarious song, which I will sing at karaoke.

Let’s do some Britpop now. Blur or Oasis or Pulp?
OK, Oasis is one of my top five least favourite bands. So there’s that. They wrote “Wonderwall,” which I think is just the bane of human existence. Blur is one of my top five favourite bands, so I’d have to choose Blur.

However, Pulp are an excellent band and I do love almost all of their stuff. Jarvis Cocker is one of my favourite frontmen of all time. I probably like Jarvis Cocker’s lyrics more, but Graham Coxon is one of the best guitar players and the hugest influence on me. Damon Albarn’s voice is just so wonderful. Blur doesn’t get much credit for covering as much ground as they do being such a popular band.

Imagine being the biggest band in your country, these mega celebrities that get invited to hang out with the prime minister and you follow up your biggest record with this weird, introspective, fuzzy, indie rock record? That’s a big gambit to play. That self-titled Blur record was a huge, huge touchstone for this new record of ours. Just the whole fuzzy pop thing, it was a big direction. The crazy, slide-y guitar stuff on “MOR” was a big part on “If It’s All The Same To You,” the third song on our record.

Elastica or Suede?
Elastica, but only because I’ve owned that record for a very long time. But I do really like those first two Suede records. I think Dog Man Star is fantastic.

Ash or Supergrass?
OK, I like both of those bands but I’ve never spent that much time with either. I’ve actually meant to go back and listen to a couple of Supergrass records.

Gene or Marion?
OK, Gene I only know that one song because of my ex-girlfriend, who grew up in England and she knows a lot more about that stuff. But I hated that fucking Gene song!

OK, finally, let’s do some CanCon. Matthew Good Band or Our Lady Peace?
Ooh, that’s a great question! I think I’d have to go with Matt Good, but I really did love Our Lady Peace as a kid. I’d say Matt Good holds up better. Underdogs is great. The guys in the band love Beautiful Midnight a lot, but I didn’t spend much time with it. “Load Me Up” fucking rules though! Me and Raina [Douris] from Indie 88 talk about that song all the time. Our Lady Peace, as dated as it is, “One Man Army” or “Automatic Flowers” are not bad songs. If he didn’t do the yodelling it would probably hold up better.

Sloan or Thrush Hermit?
Sloan. They’re one of my top 10 favourite bands of all time. I fucking worship that band. I love Thrush Hermit too, but I think their first five records are pretty much perfect. I think they’re still an excellent band. They’re the best Canadian band of my life. Other than maybe the Constantines. But Sloan is just so wonderful. It’s crazy how good they are at writing songs. And they’ve written some of my all-time favourite songs. I love that band with all of my heart.

Eric’s Trip or Super Friendz?
They’re so different. I like them for very different reasons. I would say it’d be easier to compare the Super Friendz to Thrush Hermit or even the Inbreds. But I think Eric’s Trip because they do a lot of things that I love. But I do love Super Friendz and also Flashing Lights.

Age of Electric or Limblifter?
Limblifter, for sure. I never got into Age of Electric. I don’t dislike them but I love that first Limblifter record.

Moist or The Tea Party?
Oh my god, Moist, for sure. I mean, neither really, but definitely Moist if I had to pick. When I was a kid I really liked “Resurrection” and “Breathe.” Later period Moist [laughs].

Gob or Sum 41? I will admit Sum 41 were more into the next decade.
I legitimately liked Gob as a kid. I remember associating them with what a punk rock band looked like because of the “Soda” video. But I actually owned some Gob records so I’ll say them. I never really liked Sum 41 or any pop-punk stuff. I was the right age but it never really held any water for me. However, I did think that the band was kind of cool. They were legitimately funny and didn’t just talk about shit and farts. I would have wanted to hang out with them. Gob was a band, Sum 41 were people for me.

Doughboys or Rusty? The battle of the dreadlocked frontmen.
Oh, Doughboys. They were probably the better band.

Econoline Crush or I Mother Earth?
I Mother Earth. I was just thinking about them yesterday. I loved I Mother Earth when I was a kid into my teens. They were like the Canadian Soundgarden or something [laughs]. Maybe not. I did really love them. I always thought the guitarist had cool tones. I can’t think of another band that actually sounded like them either. So there’s that, I guess. You’ve got to understand, I’m not saying I listen to this stuff currently, but if I were to choose I’d go with I Mother Earth.

Treble Charger or Killjoys?
Treble Charger, but only the Bill Priddle songs.

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