Against the Grain: Proof That Rock and Roll is Alive and Well in Detroit

By: Toni Cunningham | February 19, 2014
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The sound of four-speed Detroit-based rock band Against the Grain isn’t so easy to pinpoint—and that’s a good thing. Composed of brothers Chris Nowak (bass, vocals) and Rob Nowak (drums, vocals), as well as Nick Bellomo (guitar), Bryan Griffin (guitar, vocals) and Kyle Davis (guitar, vox, touring), the band’s sound is self-described as “speed rock.”

“It’s a little punk, blues and metal all rooted in rock n’ roll,” said Rob. “Take Motorhead, MC5, Metallica (Kill ‘Em All era) and Black Sabbath, sprinkle in a dash of 80s hardcore and you’ll get Against the Grain.”

The band’s sound draws from several points of inspiration, which Nowak says comes from each member’s eclectic taste in music. At any given point, you’ll find them listening to everything from Robert Johnson to Cannibal Corpse to Bob Marley to Electric Wizard.

“If I had to agree on five (bands) that made Against the Grain what it is and how we sound, I’d say Motorhead, Black Sabbath, MC5, Dead Kennedys and Thin Lizzy,” Nowak said.

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Five years ago, the brothers began jamming with their childhood friends over beers and before they knew it, AGT was born.

“Everything was organic and natural jamming at first… There was no pretense or going for a sound, it was just what we wanted to play,” Nowak said.

Against the Grain’s self-titled album was released in 2010, followed by a tour with punk band The Meatmen and fellow Detroit band Hellmouth. Their sophomore album, “Motor City Speed Rock,” was released in 2012, when they embarked on a 160-city tour. The band’s most recent album, “Surrounded by Snakes,” was released last year and, according to Nowak, embraced the band’s love of old rock and doom metal with a Motorhead vibe.

Since they don’t fit into one particular genre, the band bounces from show to show with ease, playing alongside a variety of different artists.

“It’s awesome because we don’t seem to be limited to which crowds we get to play with, and we’re music lovers of all styles, so it’s always fun for us,” Nowak said, noting that because of it, Against the Grain has a fan base that varies from city to city.

There’s never a dull moment on tour, whether it’s fun, crazy or stressful, and the band can often be found hanging out with fans-turned-friends around the grill before and after shows. The best part of touring, Nowak said, is hopping up on stage.

“Looking up and seeing strangers you’ve never met be moved by something you created,” Nowak said. “It’s an incredible feeling; obviously good enough to make thousands of people risk any kind of life stability, quit jobs, miss loved ones and rack up debt to have that feeling night after night. There’s nothing like the road.”

Being on the road provides plenty of inspiration, and Nowak said that each song has a story behind it, whether it’s funny or dark. A prime example of life experience turned art is the song “Surrounded by Snakes”—it’s about ATG’s beginning stages of touring, when everything seemed to be falling apart and they were having trouble with promoters and other bands.

“’Suicide Steve’ off our first album was a funny story about a guy I knew from an old job (who) won the lottery and blew it all within a couple years, now works a dead-end job,” Nowak said.

Against the Grain is embarking on another tour this year, with an astounding 150 dates on the horizon. As far as local shows, the band will perform at Small’s, 10339 Conant St., Hamtramck, on Saturday, March 15, where they will release “Motor City Speed Rock” on vinyl that night.

“There’s no mission statement here other than rock n’ roll is alive and well,” Nowak said.

For more information on Against the Grain, as well as upcoming tour dates, check them out on Facebook and Bandcamp.