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A Chat with Grapetooth, the Band Based in Wine

Anyone who has ever been to a wine tasting knows what it’s like to leave looking like you’ve just snacked on coal. As you swish red wine around your mouth, the tannins bind with saliva and sticks to your gums, teeth and lips.

When we learned there was a band named after this phenomenon, we had to talk to them. Grapetooth is the Chicago-based duo of Clay Frankel and Chris Bailoni, a band born out of a love of red wine.

How did the band name come about?

Clay Frankel: It was meant to be. Our friend Peyton Copes gave me the name one night on tour after I drank a lot of red wine and had gotten stained teeth.

Do you remember what you were drinking?

CF: Cabernet Sauvignon.

Can you tell me about Grapetooth, the band? 

Chris Bailoni: Myself and Clay started this music project sort of unintentionally back in 2015, after many months of hanging out and making music in my room. It slowly became something that we and our close friends were so excited about that we decided to finish a full record. Now, it’s a public thing and we play live shows, etc., but nothing has changed with how we make songs.

What’s your songwriting process like?

CB: Dim down the lights in my bedroom, listen to some music to get inspired, drink some coffee, then some wine and see what happens first. Each song’s process was different. For instance, we wrote and finished “Trouble” in one night, but some songs like “Hallelujah” or “Red Wine” went through many changes over the course of a couple years.

Speaking of your song “Red Wine,” typically I picture bands backstage with beer and shots. Am I off-base with that? Or are you guys usually the outsiders ordering wine? Are there other musicians in your circle that opt for wine?

CB: We drink it all, but red wine was definitely a drink of choice we both bonded over loving after we started living together a few years ago. I’ve seen some people in green rooms drinking wine. The only downside to drinking wine before you play a show is that stuff can sneak up on you. [Plus] each of us in the band has a bottle to ourselves on stage and sometimes drink a good amount by the time we play the last song.

You guys have a mutual bond over ’80s Japanese New Wave music, and you can hear it in some of your songs. What other genres or musicians are inspirations?

CB: I suppose for this project it’s pretty all over the place, genre wise. Lots of country like Neil Young or Arthur Russell, and then over to some ’90s Brit pop and disco, etc. Some films were also an influence on this record, like the movie Badlands by Terrence Malick.”

You guys are from Chicago, what are some of your favorite wine bars or stores?

CB: Whatever is closest!

Have you seen these 40-ounce wines popping up? I feel like you could be the faces of Forty Ounce Wine.

CB: [Laughs] I have seen those before. I think wine should stick the classic glass bottle, and beer to the 40-ounce.

That said, more and more 20–35-year-olds are drinking wine, and it’s changing the industry. Back in my day, if you wanted a budget wine, it was a box of Franzia or a jug of Carlo Rossi. I was in the Rossi Posse. Now you can find quality, affordable wine in boxes, bottles and more. Do you guys have any go-tos?

CF: Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark Horse, in particular.

CB: Any real dry red wine, especially if it’s got that earthy taste to it. Rioja is one of my favorites, definitely.

Here are a few bottles for bands on a budget that have gotten the Grapetooth seal of approval

Pata Negra 2015 Crianza (Rioja) | $13

Dark Horse 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (California) | $10

Junta 2017 Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon (Curicó Valley) | $15

Stemmari 2016 Estate Grown Sustainably Farmed Nero d’Avola (Sicilia) | $10

Cline 2016 Cashmere Red (California) | $15