Exclusive Interview: Active Child
September 1, 2011
by Chuck Norton
Rather than write a long, elaborate introduction for my interview with Pat Grossi – the man that is Active Child – I’m going to let his words speak for themselves … for the most part.
When the first tracks from the recently release Active Child debut album, You Are All I See, started making the rounds, it was easy to understand why this album and artist have been generating such positive percussion from music-listening masses. The album is simply gorgeous.
For me, the feeling I get listening to it is not dissimilar from how I felt about the Gayngs album last year … the more I listen, the better it gets. To me, that’s the high-water mark for quality.
After two years – and one EP late last year – Grossi released the Active Child album on August 23, 2011. His diligence and thoughtfulness as an artist is paying off in the success of the album. I think you’ll find that shine through in this interview, just as it did on You Are All I See.
DeadJournalist.com proudly brings you this exclusive interview with Pat Grossi, aka, Active Child.
Just about every artist I’ve interviewed says that the “critical buzz” isn’t something they focus on or allow to impact them. You’re new album, You Are All I See, has generated a lot of press and praise in the last few weeks. So I’ll ask you … What do you think about hype and attention the album has been getting in advance of its release?
PG: First off, I’ll say that any artist who manages to tune out the “critical buzz” is a better man or woman than I. I find myself way too often reading reviews, tweets, comments on blogs. It can be a little overwhelming at times. I think for me it’s just so early that I can’t help but feel a little fragile.
That said, I am very very excited about the hype and attention thus far. I’ve only read a few negative reviews, that stung a little bit. But when I finished the album, I sat down and listened through it a few times. And at the end of the day it is something that I am incredibly proud of.
What were the biggest challenges for you when writing and recording this album? What have you learned during the process that will help you in the future?
PG: For me, one of the biggest challenges feeds into the previous question. There’s a distinct change, I think, in an artist, when you go from creating something in your own world, almost completely unaware of what others will think. You sit there and make something and think, wow I really like this. It’s interesting to me. But then when the attention comes along, suddenly you have the other guy looking over your shoulder.
There’s a certain innocence that is lost, that is kind of a shame. But it also propels you forward to test yourself and see how far you can really push it. I’ve learned a lot from recording this last album, most notably, give yourself plenty of time and try to find a space away from your home to write and explore.
Musically, how does the new album differ from your 2010 EP?
PG: I really wanted to create a more diverse sound bed for this album. I wanted more nuance and unexpected moments. The EP focused primarily on a lot of borrowed nostalgia from the ’80′s, and the new album has plenty of that don’t get me wrong. But for this, I wanted to use those elements and try to make them my own. I also wanted to focus more on incorporating the harp and creating a more classical tone.
“Johnny Belinda” was one of the last songs I wrote for the album, and I think I was finally getting into my groove of what I wanted the songs to feel like. In the end I think this album is really a bridge to something else, a little bit of the EP and a little bit of what may be around the bend.
How did Ariel Rechtshaid, who produced the album, impact the finish product?
PG: Ariel was crucial to the final product. I came to him with a bunch of different demos, some more finished than others. We sat down and picked through the strongest ones, re-recorded the vocals and started to attack the composition and sound choices on each. I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to try, but didn’t really know how to do them.
It was refreshing to be able to sit down with someone and voice those ideas and then see them come to life. One moment that sticks out in my memory is the night we finished the vocals at the end of “Way Too Fast”. I was finally feeling zoned and relaxed around him and just kept vamping through the outro. Ariel started twisting and turning knobs on his harmonizer and delay racks, just getting real weird with it. And that section ended up being one of the eeriest and most beautiful moments on the record.
“It would be nice if the best songs came from happiness, right?” – Pat Grossi
What drives the creative process behind writing and recording your music? What provided the inspiration for this album?
PG: I think sources inspiration for me are always changing. But one source that is consistent, and I think nearly every songwriter can attest to this, is heartache. As cliche as it sounds, the best inspiration for my music is feeling emotionally destroyed. That period of time when you feel cut open and raw is usually when I am at my best. Which is a damn shame. It would be nice if the best songs came from happiness, right?
Which do you enjoy more: writing, recording or performing?
PG: I’ll take writing over anything. There is no better feeling for me than when I am in my space and in my zone. There’s a moment when suddenly you have something special that wasn’t there before. That is my favorite time. Sounds narcissistic, but I like soaking in that moment and having it for myself for a little while. But occasionally, under the right circumstances, performing live can be a really heavy and rewarding experience.
You’ve been in residency at The Echo in Los Angeles for the past few weeks as you get ready for your Fall tour. Were you using this time to put the finishing touches on your live performances? Have you made any performance modifications during this time?
PG: Yeah, it’s definitely been a time to explore these new songs live and see how people react to them. See what works, what doesn’t. The response so far has been really overwhelming. I’ve been on the verge of tears multiple nights, just so blown away that all of these people go out of their way to stand in a stinky sweaty venue every Monday, just to hear me and my band play songs. I’m starting to believe that they actually like me, and it’s not just the buzz driving them through the door. Ha.
How does your album translate to your live performance? Do you try to maintain consistency from show-to-show or do you tailor each performance to location and mood?
PG: It’s always been incredibly stressful for me, dissecting these songs for live shows. In a perfect world, I would have everyone playing all the parts, multiple harps, strings quartet, small choir, random percussion section, timpani, chimes, gongs, etc. I have so many ideas for the live show, but some of them are way down the line.
Really what I want to convey most is the emotional intensity of the album. I think, before, when I was opening for other bands I felt like I had to somehow accommodate my set to their fan base. But now, I think I’m more confident in myself and the music.
On you upcoming Fall tour you’ll be performing with Com Truise (Seth Haley) and Chad Valley. Have you played with either of those guys before? If not, what are you looking forward to their involvement?
PG: I’ve never played with either one of them before, although Seth and I hung out for a bit when he was out in LA for a show. I’m a fan of both artists, they both bring really interesting takes on retro-futuristic electronics. I think I’m just looking forward to touring with two artists who are young in their careers and eager to get out and share their music just like me. It’s gonna be a fun month!
What are the biggest challenges for you – both as a performer and personally – for being on the road? Conversely, to what are you most looking forward?
PG: Being on the road is work, there’s just no way around it. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and incredibly rewarding.
The toughest parts for me personally are living out of my suitcase, sleeping in crusty motel rooms, and missing my girlfriend. I’m a home body, so being out in a club type setting night after night can be pretty exhausting.
On the flip side though, there is no better feeling than playing a really good show for a good crowd. Hearing peoples feedback after a show always makes everything worth it.
How does social media and social networking impact how you market the work?
PG: Social networking is crazy now. The fan and artist are closer than they have ever been before. You gotta be careful with this sometimes, people will get creepy on you.
Have you seen benefits or detriments from the intimacy your fans have to the band because of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.?
PG: I think it has been much more of a benefit than anything else. It’s a really great feeling to see people taking the time to write you a nice little note or compliment. And it’s been huge just as a tool to spread the word, spread the music and keep people up to date with what you are doing.
Is there an artist that you’ve encountered recently that you’ve been recommending to your friends?
PG: Balam Acab. I’ve had his new album on repeat in my world for the last month or so. It will be out soon and it’s something you should definitely seek out.
What were you listening to in 2001?
PG: Big L The Big Picture
Which do you prefer: MP3, CD, Tape or Vinyl?
PG: Vinyl all day.
Web site(s) you read regularly?
One Drink. One Movie. One Album.
PG: Makers on the rocks. The Godfather: Part II. The National High Violet
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