Ginkgo's Josh Grier: My favorite records talk about deep and sad things in funny ways
L-R: Jeremy Hanson, Jacob Hanson, Adam Switlick, Josh Grier, and Rob Skoro
Photo by Charlie B. Ward and Graham Tolbert
In some ways Josh Grier still doesn't know what hit him when Tapes 'n Tapes unexpectedly blew up seven years ago. On the strength of their ragged-but-right debut album, The Loon, they surged from little local band to toast of the blogosphere seemingly overnight.
"We made a record in a friend's basement in a week and then were suddenly touring the world," recalls Grier, still sounding audibly astonished, over early-evening pints at the Depot. "All kinds of crazy things were happening that I had never fathomed. I wouldn't change anything, but it truly was like riding a roller coaster."
The roller coaster finally came to a halt last year after two more albums and a leveling off in blog buzz. Indie-rock kingmakers Pitchfork Media, who anointed T 'n T as saviors in early 2006, declared them passé only 26 months later. The band agreed to take an extended hiatus and explore other creative outlets. Shortly after T 'n T hit pause, Grier suddenly found himself with even more time on his hands when he lost his steady day job as a data analyst, which he had maintained despite an exhaustive touring schedule.
"I had a year and a half where I wasn't working a day job for the first time since I graduated from college, and I didn't really have any band stuff going on either," says Grier, now 34. "Suddenly I had all this freedom. That was both really confusing in some ways and great in others."
The downtime birthed Manopause, the debut album from his new solo project, Ginkgo.
Working at home free of the expectations attached to the Tapes 'n Tapes name or the need to please anyone else, Grier pushed the envelope, reconnecting with the raw-nerve sensibility of T 'n T's best work and channeling it in new directions. In a spirit of playful experimentation, Grier pushed layers of wiry electric guitars and goofy synthesizer squiggles in and out of homemade mixes atop quirky programmed drum beats.
"I tried to capture a lot of the experimentation that goes on when you're writing songs," he says. "In a band setting you typically have to have the parts nailed down before you record. I miss the element of surprise in a lot of music nowadays, where it seems like any note or element that's just slightly 'off' gets ironed away. Some of my favorite records growing up had wrong notes."
The finished product retains this fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants philosophy. Songs like "Bitte Meddler" feature catchy choruses colliding into herky jerky improvised guitar solos, while the initially tightly coiled and propulsive "Rubberheart" segues into an extended outro that teeters on the verge of collapse before resolving confidently.
Beneath all of Manopause's jokey song titles ("Line Dancing with the Stars") and goofy overdubs, however, lies a surprisingly heartfelt album, filled with insightful ruminations on growing up without growing old. Stunning album closer "Vitamin Friends" fi nds Grier lamenting the passing of time ("I want the old times back/When we don't watch the clock/When we don't match our socks") and those friends whose aging has sapped their sense of possibility ("Are you determined to live like you're old? Why aren't you here with the rest of the world?").
"Life is always confusing," says Grier. "And you can either get negatively wrapped up in that, or you can laugh at all the really weird, crazy, and sad things that happen. It all depends on your outlook. I didn't want this record to be dark; I wanted it to be light. If you read the lyrics you'll see there are some dark themes going on, but I largely treated them humorously. Some of my favorite records, like Beatles albums, talk about deep and sad things in funny ways. There's something to be said for musical comedy. Fun is important."
Staying true to that fun-loving spirit is now Grier's prime objective as a musician. He's assembled a crack band of local scene veterans to back him in live performances around town, but future plans for Ginkgo are purposely open-ended and don't include extensive touring for now. (Plus, he's since found a new data analyst job.)
"I don't want to be the guy who sounds unappreciative of the opportunities he's been given," Grier says. "I've certainly had some great experiences touring. But at this point in my life, is being on tour for eight months and not seeing my family and friends going to make me happy? Or is it better maybe to still enjoy making music but not worry about pushing to keep doing it at a certain level? It's going to sound like a hippie thing to say, but everybody gets to choose their own path in life. There are a lot of different ways to be happy."
GINKGO play their CD-release show with Carroll on Friday, September 20, at Icehouse; 612-276-6523
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