Every musician has their musical heroes, artists they admire and are inspired by. In 1995 (as a senior in high school) I heard about a band from Seattle called Grammatrain. Just the year before (all hailing from Seattle) Nirvana released MTV Unplugged in New York, Pearl Jam released Vitalogy, and Soundgarden released Superunknown – all brilliant records. So with Seattle still in the midst of its domination of the music scene, I crossed my fingers and gave Grammatrain a shot.
For Christmas, my parents (per my request) gave me a cassette (look it up on wiki kids) of Grammatrain’s first label release Lonely House. The album blew my mind. The music was powerful and aggressive and the lyrics were raw and honest and it just felt like the songs had integrity. I listened to that thing all Christmas Day and eventually completely wore the cassette out.
Grammatrain consisted of: Paul Roraback a phenomenal drummer, Dalton Roraback a dynamic bass player (his playing reminds me of Krist Novoselic), and Pete Stewart on guitar and vocals. Pete’s vocals were powerful and tortured, and while a great grunge vocalist, there was a balance of grit and absolute vocal control. As for his guitar playing, he was ridiculous, both as a rhythm and lead player. Ever since I heard that record I have been a huge fan of Pete’s work.
Three times I have almost seen him perform live. The first time was while I was leading a group of high school students on a trip to NYC to serve in various homeless shelters. The band he was in, The Accident Experiment, was playing at CBGB’s but I just couldn’t justify bailing on the students to go see a show. The second time was after my band finished playing a show in Syracuse NY, we skipped selling merch and just took off to see him (with the Accident Experiment) in Rochester NY. After we paid at the door we found out that the singer of one of the bands scheduled that night was sick and unable to perform (the guys at the door were gracious enough to give us our money back). Finally last fall I bought a roundtrip plane ticket to Seattle and two tickets to the Grammatrain cd release show. Two weeks before the show I went to Haiti with a medical team and within five days of returning I got more sick than I have ever been and was forced to miss the show (sadly the airline was not so gracious about giving me my money back).
When it comes to writing and creating musically, Pete is by far one of my biggest influences. There are a number of things that I appreciate and admire about Pete’s work. Lyrically he doesn’t dumb it down. His lyrics are emotional, honest, abstract, sometimes graphic, and they carry weight. His guitar work is always spot on and he can easily flow from one style to another. Whether it’s acoustic based stuff or heavy rock, he just owns it. And to top it all off, he’s a great vocalist and can give a powerful performance with just an acoustic guitar or while fronting a thundering rock band.
If you’ve never listened to any of Pete’s work you’d be doing yourself a favor to add some of his music to your library.
Below is a discography of Pete’s work and some thoughts on each of the albums.
Grammatrain – self titled (1994)
* this album was an independent release and can be tough to find. In an intense bidding war I paid $75 on EBay for this a number of years ago. All these songs ended up on their first label release but there are also live acoustic versions of these songs which are great. Stand out tracks: Drown (live), Humanity (live), and For Me (live).
Grammatrain – Lonely House (1995)
* every time I listen to this record I feel like I am being transported back to my high school days. This is easily one of my all time favorite albums. Lyrically and musically it is just an exhausting listen which to me is the sign of a great record. The drums are interesting all the way through, Dalton’s bass work is relentless, and Pete’s vocals and guitar work are perfect. This album screams 90’s grunge at its absolute best. Stand out tracks: Believe, Lonely House, Picture Pains, and Apathy.
Grammatrain – Flying (1997)
* this would be Grammatrain’s second and last studio album before they broke up. In comparing their two albums, Flying was a bit more polished and radio friendly than Lonely House. For the fan of the classic 90’s grunge sound that defined Lonely House, Flying was a noticeable departure to a more straight rock sound. Nonetheless there is a ton of driving energy on this record and a couple of softer moments. Once again every member of band was spot on and the chemistry between these three guys was undeniable. Stand out tracks: Jonah, Pain, Fuse, and Spiderweb.
Grammatrain – 120198 (1998)
* this is a bittersweet album for me in that I knew the band was over but I got to hear them one more time. This is a live recording from Germany of the bands final show. I don’t normally like most live albums due to how they are mixed, but this one is perfect. You’d have no idea the band was a three piece, their sound was so full. Also in live recordings the crowd is either not heard at all or heard too much – not the case here – such a great mix. The highlight of this record for me is listening to Pete’s rhythm and lead guitar work. Stand out tracks: Execution, Believe, Need, and Lonely House.
Pete Stewart – self titled (1999)
* after Grammatrain split Pete honored the bands record deal with Forefront and released a solo project (also his last album under the umbrella of ‘Christian music’). Of all of Pete’s work, this one in my opinion is the odd one out. It just doesn’t really fit with the rest of his work (before and after this record). His vocal and guitar work was great as expected and there were some really incredibly rich arrangements in many of the songs, but it just seemed to lack the perspective and attitude he brought to Grammatrain. With that said, it still has some great music on it. Stand out tracks: Worship Song, Spinning, and Waiting for the Son.
The Accident Experiment – Arena EP (2003)
* for a number of years I had heard nothing about Pete and wondered if he’d ever release anything else. Then while surfing on the internet one day I found an article about a band called The Accident Experiment, featuring: Marcos Curiel (from P.O.D.) on guitar, Ernie Longoria on drums & Tony Delocht on bass (from Sprung Money), and Pete on vocals. In The Accident Experiment Pete makes his return to hard rock after his solo pop rock record. Although bummed to not hear him play guitar, his vocals were absolutely monsterous and his lyrics were some of the most interesting stuff I had heard in a long time. Thematically Pete’s writing on this EP is very different from all his previous work and it is clear that he is no longer writing from the same perspective he was coming from while in Grammatrain, but if you’re a fan of great vocal work and artistic lyrical composition, this is great stuff. Stand out tracks: Scream to Breathe, Seeds of Black, and Nevermore.
The Accident Experiment – United We Fear (2006)
* after listening to the bands first EP it just made you just want more. On their first full length record Pete’s vocals are still just so huge and the music is not your typical hard rock radio filler. The music and vocal styling is very unique and the album is interesting from beginning to end. This is such a great rock record and you can hear such varied musical influences. Lyrically Pete’s work in The Accident Experiment is some of his darkest stuff, but again if you’re into interesting lyrics and stuff you’ll actually struggle to try and figure out, his work in this band is not to be missed. Stand out tracks: Sick Love Letter, Slow Down, Lost Kisses, and So Far Away.
Pete Stewart – I Gave You a Desert (2007)
* after The Accident Experiment ended, Pete released his second solo record which is much different from his first. Although lyrically this is different from his work in The Accident Experiment, it still carries a ‘beautifully tortured’ theme. Once again you have to appreciate the art that Pete brings to writing lyrics. Musically it is primarily an acoustic driven record with a few moments of rock, but there are some great arrangements on this project and great use of additional guitars to highlight his acoustic work. Stand out tracks: This Way, In My Waterfall, and This is Going Nowhere.
Pete Stewart – Under North Sky (2010)
* on his third solo album Pete is going in some brand new directions musically. Throughout the record there are obvious country influences, and even songs I would label as country (ie. My Heart is Prone to Changes), but with the flashes of rock, I wouldn’t call this a country album. Although still wrestling with themes of loss and struggle, this album feels much more upbeat than his last few projects. The guitar work on this record is so different from all his other work and it really showcases just how talented a guitar player he really is. The musical arrangements are beautiful, his lyrics are still as thought provoking as ever, and I think it is by far some of his most interesting solo work. Stand out tracks: Echo of Our Song, By Now, Where to Go, and Can’t Get You Out.
Grammatrain – Imperium (2010)
* after ten years Grammatrain reunites and I could not have been more excited about this. The power of the music on this record is unreal and it sounds like the guys never stopped playing together. Pete’s guitars have never sounded bigger, Paul’s drums are so intricate, and Dalton’s bass lays down such a thick low end. Lyrically it’s not the same as Grammatrain albums of the past, but it is some of the most beautiful and passionate lyrics I have heard on a record in a long time. The album is primarily an aggressive rock record with a few softer moments, including for the first time on one of their records, an instrumental. My hopes were so high for this album and the band FAR exceeded them all. I put this album right beside Lonely House when it comes to intensity of music and passion of the lyrics. Stand out tracks: Damaged, Forever, All, and The Last Sound.
Grammatrain – Spin Automatic EP (2010)
* this was a downloadable EP when you purchased Grammatrain’s newest record. These are haunting acoustic versions of four songs found on Imperium and an additional song not found on the album. These songs give you such a different interpretation of a few songs from Imperium and the new song, Days Gone By, is a great addition. Stand out tracks: Damaged, Shattered Atmosphere, and Days Gone By.
** this list does not include Pete’s numerous contributions to dozens of other projects (guitar work, writing, production, compilations…) and Kneeling Between Shields EP.