GIITTV’s recent feature on Grant K. Fennell as part of Preaching From the Pews proved quite a hit, so much so we decided to sit down for a chat with the super talented Leeds student, who is currently preparing to release his debut studio EP, Cold Home & The Family Bones. Check out the interview below.
Hey Grant! Before we discuss your music, tell us, what do you do by day?
I study Cinema & Photography at Leeds University. I love the course, but I often find myself wishing I was just touring my music non-stop. If it was up to me I’d play 200+ shows a year, but I need to finish this, both for my own pride and for financial reasons. I’m entering my third year, so only a year to go before I can finally take my music on full time. My final film project is something I’m very excited about, but I’m trying to keep it quiet at the moment. I can give you a one word hint: Vaseline.
You’ve been in a whole bunch of bands since you were a kid. Why have you decided to go solo now?
I guess my own lack of trust. I’m not a control freak when it comes to bands, I just expect them to do their job, e.g. if you screw up, then you should have rehearsed more. I often found myself playing shows where the people around me hindered the show. I’ve had drummers pass out on me during a song, I’ve had guitarists forget whole verses. The worst part of all of that, were the people who tried to suppress my creativity, for example: “Hey guys, I’m gonna squeeze this heart full of blue paint during the last song, you know, something real surreal.” I wasn’t allowed to do these things, and sure I guess they thought I was being a bit of a freak/an egomaniac, but that’s the difference between what I’d consider a rock show and one of my shows. I guess I’m going solo for now as I’m waiting for the right musicians, who work hard in their own time as well as in rehearsals, while letting me go all ‘Butthole Surfers’ on stage.
But I wasn’t always like that, I’d of been a hypocrite if I had that attitude when I started out. You have to start somewhere, and I’ll always be proud of my early days in indie bands, playing songs that you wouldn’t catch me dead listening to these days. Every band is a learning process, especially in failure.
Tell us about your upcoming debut studio EP, ‘Cold Home & The Family Bones’?
I went to Loom Studios to record a live acoustic session, as they were giving them out for free, both to benefit the artist and as free advertisement for the studio. What I ended up with was ‘Live @ Loom Studios’, which impressed Grant Henderson (the producer) so much that he offered me free studio time to record an EP. I saw this as the perfect chance to record songs I’d been playing for years, to finally give them life outside of distorted lo-fi recordings. The EP is split with old songs, and songs I had written at the time, including the title track which I wrote in the studio (which was eventually mixed by Steve Whitfield, an engineer on The Cure’s album ‘Wish’).
Why has it taken you seven years to head to the studio?
I never had the money, which is why it was so lucky that everything from the recording to the artwork to the digital distribution was a hand-out, which gave me a real confidence boost, as these people really believed in my music and what I was doing.
I couldn’t afford to record a high quality album before this, so I recorded incredibly lo-fi music, as heard on a previous collection of recordings, ‘Burning Basket Fire I & II’. Some of the songs on ‘Cold Home & The Family Bones’ are on that, which shows you how old some of these songs are. But with lo-fi, in my opinion, there are really only two ways you can go, ‘Daniel Johnston’/’Iron & Wine’, or massively effects laden to hide the shit sound quality, so I’ve been desperate to get out of it for some time.
You’re known to drift between different genres, so tell us what we can expect from this EP, musically?
It’s intentionally minimal as I wanted something I could perform on my own live. It had full band mixes, but I got rid of them all as I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing – adding drums, strings, constant harmonies etc. I wanted it to be a through and through acoustic solo album, especially being a debut EP. That way I can explore in any direction I want to in the future, which I will be, as I enjoy putting on big, high energy live shows. It is a close representation of what I can do on my own live, however, my live shows are very lucid and often laced with improvised sections, which was impossible to record at this point in time.
You are a beautiful lyricist. Where do you take influence from when writing your songs?
Lyrically, on the EP, I had been writing about houses, my brother, a sister that I don’t actually have, dreams about family funerals, spiritual views on death, subjects very close to home. It was all inspired by my home in Essex during winter, as our boiler was broken and there was a lot of pain and love in the house. It made you feel mortal, but in a good way. The two songs that step out of that vibe are ‘Novella’ and ‘3 O’Clock’. I wrote ‘Novella’ about watching yourself fall out of love, as there is nothing worse than realizing that you aren’t in love any more, and on the track ‘3 O’clock’ I sing about letting go of things, as well as the importance of remembering the past, and how it’s hard to keep that balanced. So there’s a broad range of themes in my lyrics, but specific lyrics seem to crop up in several songs.
So you’ve been on the live circuit since you were 13. Do you have any upcoming shows planned?
I have an inability to turn down live shows, no matter how small or large, however at the moment due to EP production and university I am not going out and booking gigs myself, so there are only a couple shows a month at the moment. I’m planning on booking a short tour in December to promote the EP, but for now I’m just taking any gig that’s offered to me. The last two I have booked this summer are: July 28th @ The Hydrant, Brighton + 1st September @ The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds w/Daniel Martin Moore. But that’s not to say I won’t book more if the gigs come my way.
I want a booking agent, as I find it tough knowing where to book, plus I want to continue playing shows with less underground acts, such as Sea Of Bees, Jesca Hoop, etc. Not for my own egotistical reasons, but I found that the people that go to these shows that haven’t heard of you, seem to listen more. Unlike pub gigs where if they haven’t heard of you, they talk through the whole thing, and no matter how much you win over the audience, most of the time there is a section of the audience who act like you aren’t even performing. But on the days when you play a small gig, and the audience has come just to see you, they’re the best, they’re your real fans. Over the years you learn how to handle different audiences in different ways, with loud audiences that aren’t listening, sometimes the best thing to do is play quieter, as they have to listen harder.
We’ve heard you have done a session with Anthologies Leeds? Tell us more! When can we see this?
Anthologies Leeds are a brilliant local non-profit production company, in the vein of La Blogotheque or Black Cab Sessions. They’ve worked with Frank Turner, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Paul Thomas Saunders, Curtis Eller, some really superb musicians. They sent me an email asking to do a session with me, which, due to my inability to turn anything musical down, I agreed to. We filmed three songs at Leeds’ oldest subscription library, it was beautiful, and most definitely haunted, but it felt strange belting out some of my angrier songs in there, like I was breaking a taboo. That should be up on the Anthologies website by early August, to coincide with the EP release.
And any future plans?
Yeah, it’s hard not to plan ahead. During the recording of ‘Cold Home & The Family Bones’, I wrote my next release. A concept album about a young boy who gets sick of the world being so categorical, it gets very surreal and dark, as I tried to write songs about things that don’t exist, in order to escape writing in the usual lyrical categories, e.g. love, death, sex or surfing. Not that they’re limiting, I just wanted to see what world I could come up with, stuff like “The worms that eat the roses, inside the flynn tin whistle, make music for the ages, but sting you like a thistle, with purple paper wages and a fifteen gallon pistol.” Most people will either say it’s nonsense or metaphorical, it’s neither. I think it’s important to realise that you can create something not of this world, and if everyone thinks you’re crazy and everyone says you’re on drugs, then you’ve done it right. But like Frank Zappa, you don’t need drugs to create something most people don’t understand, in the same way that you don’t need drugs to be one of the people that do understand it all.
I am planning on recording this sometime in 2012 live in a studio, with a session band. I want to capture the lucidity of the songs, as well as the improvisation that is key to performing something like that.
‘Cold Home & The Family Bones’ will be available digitally via iTunes and Amazon MP3 on 9th August 2011. Check out three exclusive tracks from the EP, below, and head to Grant K. Fennell’s Facebook page, here.