Aleks Martray: “We’re All About Embracing the Emotional Core of the Songs.”
While Grandchildren continues to make amazing music and tour fairly steadily, the band reminds us of a different time – before Obama, before Philly was the gleaming destination it is today.
The band was making experimental, danceable music nearly a decade ago, leading a wave of really fun acts, fostering talent and inspiring fans at their gallery/studio/performance space, Danger Danger.
Grandchildren has been around for nearly 10 years now. How has the band evolved?
I think we’ve all embraced that the entire ethos of the band is continual evolution. We’ve existed in every iteration from solo to 6-piece ensemble and I think our three records chart that journey from lo-fi electronic, to epic orchestrations, to a more pop driven simplicity.
I think that ebb and flow, expanding and contracting, is integral to the creative process of finding your voice.
But really, I think the biggest part of our evolution stems from our shared experiences over the past decade and beyond. Some of our friendships go back as far as high school, and after weathering the joys and chaos of years of touring across the country we’re like family. We actually met our newest member, Shari, while on tour in North Carolina over six years ago and she’s been part of our family ever since. She’s brought a whole new energy to the band that has in many ways inspired the new record. The new songs are built around our vocal harmonies and we’ve let go of a lot of the effects and electronics that I think I often used as a bit of a crutch.
We’re all about embracing the emotional core of the songs and editing out the extraneous parts. I think sometimes it takes a decade to learn exactly how “less is more.”
After touring for so long, I’ve recognized how it’s all about transmitting energy and connecting with your audience, so this new music focuses on that connectivity above all. I think we enjoy playing live more then ever before.
Do you think things are different for musicians in Philly than they were in 2008?
Yes. 2008 is actually when we moved from the Danger Danger house to the gallery space that we’re in now. At the time there was a lack of small and mid-level sized venues and I think our space filled the void and became a real hub for Philly music and culture.
It took on a life of it’s own and was really organic. We’d have round robin shows featuring 20 bands that ranged from the likes of newbie Dan Deacon to the legendary Marshall Allen playing in our basement, living room, bedrooms and attic.
It was a brief but really special few years and we were lucky enough to emerge from it as a band that had been exposed to and inspired by so many different artists, some of whom have made it big and others who no longer exist, but were legendary in their own right. It was like a laboratory that pumped out so many incredible creations, and I really feel like you can hear some of those sounds ripple through popular music today, whether we know it or not.
That kind of thing has a shelf life though and can’t last forever.
Today there are so many great small and mid-sized venues for emerging bands to play and I think the city as a whole is a real cultural gem. More than ever, it’s an eclectic and supportive music community with a good rep, but not so much hype that it gets overrun and ruined.
What’s happening at Danger Danger these days?
Lots of amazing and mysterious things that I can’t reveal quite yet.
For years, we’ve been scheming a way to bring back the space as a cultural hub, but for a new era given the changes happening in Philly. The void these days really seems to be a lack of creative space for rehearsal, recording, networking and workshopping – especially in West Philly, where your only option tends to be practicing in living rooms or basements that were designed to flood.
We’ve been rehearsing and recording our albums here for years and we recognize the potential this space has to offer the local music community. So, though nothing is official yet, the wheels are turning and expect to hear from us in the next year or so.
What can you tell us about the upcoming new album?
Its definitely a departure, but one we’re very excited about. I spent a year writing only with guitar, piano and voice. I found limiting myself forced me to dig deeper into the lyrics and structure of the songs, like spending more time on the foundation of a building before adding to many details.
After playing a number of solo shows as Grandchild, I brought the songs to the band to develop them for our recent tour and recording sessions.
Playing songs live before finalizing recordings is something I’ve found over the years to be really helpful. You get a better sense of what connects or doesn’t connect with an audience or even with yourself, and you spend less time in your head overthinking. Your own music always sounds different in a room full of people. This process has allowed us to capture more of our live energy on the new record. The vocal harmonies are at the core of this new sound. Our new single and music video “Phantom Pains” is a good glimpse into the new direction.
Your latest batch of band T-shirts are amazing. What inspired the artwork?
It’s actually an old design from one of our first US tours with Man Man.
It was created by our amazing friend Dani Oulman, who we met in Minneapolis. They were inspired by a common sentiment that we were great “make-out music,” so we ran with that idea.
We sold out of them half way through the tour, so we thought we’d bring them back to see if they still hold up, and apparently they do. We have a few left to sale at our Boot & Saddle show this Friday!