Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Interview with IndieCircuit.com
Hey Gavin, Gray here with Indie Circuit. You’re obviously an extremely busy guy and I really appreciate you taking the time out to do this. Congratulations on the release of Home. You should be very proud of your work.
IC: How is life in Portland treating you? Do you think it will have any impact on your music?
GC: Portland has been really wonderful and welcoming. From my very first show I noticed a difference in how my music was embraced and received, and it has done nothing but flourish since that show. I notice my music is starting to edge its way towards sunny again. It’s as if I’m happy or something.
IC: How did you find Lauren Coleman? Why did you choose her?
GC: My man Eric Frederick of Facing New York and Wallpaper called me and was like, “Bra, I got your girl on tap in so. Cal” and I was like, “Remember when you told me to check out the band Papa Roach in 2000?” but he insisted so I spoke with her and sure enough, she was illy most. I chose her because her attitude was proper – she was all about realizing my vision for the thing, all about an ambitious approach to the challenging parts, and not at all about ego or negativity. Plus Julie Andrews wouldn’t do it for anything less than a fat stack of Benjamin’s.
IC: What would you say are the best and worst parts of making Home.
GC: The best part of making Home was when I heard our voices (Lauren and I) harmonize at the end of “Warpaint” for the first time. The worst part was editing sloppy performances for 3 weeks without exercise.
IC: What do you think most people’s reactions to Home will be?
GC: I think that really depends on if they can give it 53 minutes of undivided attention.
IC: You’ve released a substantial amount of diverse material beginning with Gruvis Malt up through now. Which of your records throughout your entire career is your favorite and why?
GC: Well, they all feel like children to me, even the ugly ones (*cough Grace Land *cough), so I couldn’t pick a favorite. I could tell you that the ones I actually enjoy listening to almost like a fan (which is rare for me in regards to my own music) are Ebu Gogo’s Worlds and Home. Both have lost no luster for me.
IC: Do you think you’ll ever try something like Home again? Has doing this changed your perspective on music in any way? In what ways has this effected either your view on your musical process or on life in general?
GC: I’m not sure what you mean. If you mean doing something with large instrumentation and very labor-intensive production, I imagine I’ll do something larger should the opportunity and funds arise. I won’t do something that large on such a small budget again. I don’t think my body could take it. I think overall it has affected my approach to making music in that I’m finding more gratification out of making music that affects and communicates with other people as much or more than myself. For this reason I think that sound tracking may be my next move.
IC: What are your plans in the near future? Do you have any new records or side projects in the works? You used to do visual art. Have you been doing any visual art lately?
GC: This year my main focus will be touring to promote Home. I will be finishing up production on a children’s record, and working with Brian Cass on a strange record. My adventure-rock trio Ebu Gogo will tour Europe, as will I, hopefully. I’m sure there will be several collaborations and random recordings peppered in there. I always find myself spending too much time on the graphic design and web development for my work as well, so I’m sure I’ll give some attention to that department as well.
IC: There is no question that you have spent vast amounts of time honing your craft. How much of your time would you say has been put into your development as a musician? How would you say your average day is spent?
GC: I think that depends on your definition of “musician.” The last few years I have not put nearly enough time into being a keyboardist. But I have put an abnormal amount of time into composing, and a load of time in engineering/mixing/producing. Right now, as I am not working on a particular record, my average day is spent on the computer - juggling, socializing, and putting my music where people may find it. When I’m working on a record, I spend 10-17 hours a day composing, writing lyrics, and recording. I forget to eat a lot, but when I do eat, it is in large piles.
IC: You have been a harsh critic, as exhibited in the “Great American Bottleneck”, of the music industry. Can you describe what you think is wrong with the music industry and how you think the industry should work in an ideal world. Give the Barack Ocastleton speech on changing the music industry.
GC: In the ideal world, there would not be an industry wrapped up in art. Art would be made for the benefit of society, and society would value it enough to support the artist in making it. Since we have a “free” accessible forum to assert ourselves as artists and give our art to society (the internet), there really isn’t much holding us from that except for a whole lot of middle men, and a whole lot of people that don’t value culture enough to support it. I don’t think much needs to be said about our current “music industry,” they’re doing a good job of slitting their own throats right now.
IC: This is not a simple record. I don’t even know how long it would take to sit down transcribe all of the parts on the record. Between the large amounts of polyrhythms, unconventional chord progressions, odd time signatures, and big instrumentation, it is obvious that Home had to have been approached from some kind of different viewpoint than most songwriters come from. Could you describe your writing process for this record?
[GC: I think the next two questions will answer this one]
IC: How did you know when a song was “finished”?
GC: I never have to think about this question, I guess. My hands just add the parts and stop when they’re done, and I’m always sure that its finished. I can’t describe it much more specifically, except to say that it’s as if the song is already complete in my head, I am just transcribing it. I’m not suggesting I hear the entire thing like Beethoven, just that it’s all there already, and the parts are revealed to me quickly and in succession. I don’t remember ever sitting around wondering, “What does this song need?” In fact, the way everything seems to write itself for me is starting to bother me, in that it means I’m getting too comfortable in my composing, starting to employ some sort of template maybe. I am making efforts to introduce variables that will shake me up for the next record.
IC: Did the songs come first, or were the songs written to fit into a story?
GC: I made a rough outline of the story and broke it out into scenes, and then began at the beginning with the piano part of “Bugguts.” I wanted to do everything in order, because I wanted the album to mirror exactly what was happening in my life at the time. For that reason, I couldn’t write the final lyric until the last day of mixing. I originally had the thesis of the album sketched out, but had to quickly abandon that because the purpose of making it kept changing. The final message of the album was only clear to me as I wrote the last song, Credits.
IC: Are references to past material there for reasons of significance in the relationship or for other reasons? How did you choose what of past material to pull from and develop more?
GC: References to past material are used as a “time code” in the album, to mark when those things were happening in my life. So the events in “Unparalllel Rabbits” represent those months in 2005 when “Bad Rabbits” was written. And so on…
IC: Are there any specific references to other artists who had some kind of meaning in the relationship that Home was based off of?
GC: I’m not sure what you mean. I will say that each song is, at its core, the marriage of two very different artists’ styles. There are of course lots of influences for every song, but I did intentionally draw on pairs for the foundation of each. The variance between paired artists becomes greater as the record progresses, so that at its darkest moments, when the protagonists are furthest apart, the two artists that the song was modeled after are also the most distant, stylistically.
IC: Who are you listening to now? Do you have any favorite records from 2008? Are there any artists releasing new material this year that you are excited about?
GC: I remember Facing New York’s Get Hot album was in my Top Whatever from 2008. I was working on Home for much of 2008, and when I’m working on a record, I try not to listen to anything else (aside from mixing/production references). I’m just now letting a bit of music in – Sol Seppy, Broadcast 2000, the new Notwist, Blue Cranes… I listen to Al Green’s Lay It Down nightly. I’m pumped on Kelli Schaefer’s 4-song demo.
IC: You have been playing music for a long time. In that time you’ve developed a pretty unique sound. What advice would you give a young musician who wants to find his or her “own” sound?
GC: Listen to everyone when they’re making their music, listen to no one when they tell you how to make yours.
IC: What has Lumas been up to lately?
GC: Same as usual: checking his email, updating his blog, turning away the line of bitches at his doggie door. He’s also recently taken an interest in Nascar.
IC: Your Hospital Hymns EP is an entire EP built with a religious theme. You’ve also referenced to religion in Home, specifically from the song, “The Walls Start To Give” the line is “ I know you don’t believe in God but I do, and he’s not here with us” and in “Good Manbaby” from For the Love of Pete “I was raised up high in the Mormon Church”. Sufjan Stevens is a similar artist who brings his faith into his music, but not in a forceful preachy kind of way, it is just a reflection of who he is. Can you explain on how your religious upbringing has had an effect on your music, if at all?
GC: Well, its effects on my music are pretty clear to me. Growing up we had very limited music in the house. Not very little, mind you, very limited. So we had oodles of classical music (especially with my siblings and I taking lessons), Disney soundtracks, Broadway musicals, and three “modern” tapes: The Best of the Beach Boys, The Best of the Monkees, and Neil Diamond’s Greatest Hits. Through friends I became aware of Run DMC, Fresh Prince, and Def Leopard. I did not own any truly modern music until 7th or 8th grade, when my friend let me copy his tapes of 80’s glam bands like Warrant, G N’ R, Megadeath, etc. This stunted listening meant I had to really put in a large effort to catch up. There are still huge blind spots in my listening: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neal Young, etc. The classical and religious music still finds it way into my chord progressions and melodic tendencies, but I’m now very grateful for that.
IC: ”The Human Torch” is one of my favorite tracks from Home. The first line of the song is “This is the sound of finding you, after the night I’ve just been through”. Who is “you” and what does this lyric mean?
GC: Well, some have considered it subjective; a song addressed to my next lover. Truth be told, that was its original intent, but for many reasons it belongs on the record as the converse of “Oregon,” as an exorbitantly happy ending in which the girl returns in a helicopter, and we fly off to an island, living out our days with dancing cartoon animals and bottomless burritos and whatnot. The lyric “this is the sound of finding you” is very literal – the music in that first section of The Human Torch is what it would have felt like to me had we been reunited: massive, moving, tidal, final.
IC: Compositionally I think this song is on a different level than most people, especially in a “pop” idiom, operate. Between the guitar in 9/8 and the marimba doing groupings of 4 over 3, this song is full of rhythmic interest. The bass part starting at around 2:04 is more than most people, aside from Victor Wooten, would ever put on a record. Despite all this, all the parts remain tasteful and necessary. What influences you to write in such a unique and “musical” way?
GC: The music I make is a direct result of my listening and my interests, that’s why it changes so often. I wanted this record to be very cinematic, so I was researching a lot of film scores and shooting for something very orchestral, but applying my preferred instrumentation.
IC: Is there any particular reason you choose to use so many odd time signatures on this record?
GC: Odd meters are used to signify the off-kilter feelings that accompany heartbreak. More jarring signatures (like the 13/4 of “The Onslaught”) are interspersed with even signatures (like 4/4 in “The Wall Starts to Give”) to simulate the checkered calm/panic of the breakup process. Musically, I find it to be far more challenging to make something feel natural in an odd time signature, than an even. Plus I find that odd time signatures lend themselves better to polyrhythm, which is used to signify the many layers at play in the destruction of a long-term relationship.
IC: Blink 182 just reunited at the Grammys. Is Gruvis Malt really going to let this happen? What have the other guys from Gruvis been up to these days?
GC: If Blink did it, then the demand for abnormal left-of-center composition has clearly been met. They did ask us to get together for the Tony’s, but I was in the bathroom and the other dudes are each running their own franchises at the moment so we couldn’t coordinate schedules – Scott has two Subways, Brendan just launched his first Dunkin Donuts, Erik is two years into a Denny’s, Steve is trying to bring In & Out to the east coast, and Justin is barely keeping the last Little Caesars alive somewhere in Roanoke, VA.
“Home” is currently available for purchase on iTunes.