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“We’ve been touring on and off for something like two years now. It’s been a while!”
Sebastien Grainger says this from a van somewhere on the road in deepest Arkansas, en route from Little Rock to Austin, Texas, to play yet another stop with his band the Mountains on his seemingly endless tour. It’s part of the whirl of activity the thoughtful Montreal native has found himself involved in since the end of Death From Above 1979, the duo that helped bring him and former band mate Jesse Keeler to fame.
While that group’s brusque, energetic dance/punk fusions found Grainger on drums as well as singing, on his self-titled solo debut (as well as in concert), he takes over on guitar, delivering up a walloping series of anthems—“American Names,” “By Cover of Night (Fire Fight)”—that are as much un-ironic FM radio epic as frenetic groove.
“I was trying to do something that was exciting for me,” Grainger explains. “I wanted it to sound big, to explore different ways to achieve it. I didn’t want it to sound modest; I wanted it to sound glorious, full-on—where my tastes lie. I’ve had experience playing in big venues now, and I know that small music just isn’t good for places like that!”
That may sound like a boast, but the album backs it up, even at its quietest, like the vocal and keyboards-only “Love Is Not a Contest.” At the same time, Grainger also speaks firmly about how he planned the record to be something that delivered for a listener in a quick, immediate fashion. “It is a concise album, with a Side A and a Side B—the idea of a two-sided album is something that a lot of us grew up with, and I didn’t want to lose that. It’s something I’ve always considered when making a full record.
“For this album, I was also trying to sing better than ever—though that’s a little hard to do on the road with all the talking all day, screaming during the show and the drinking afterward! In Death From Above, I relied a lot on double vocals to create a harmony, but here, I wanted the core to always be one vocal track down the middle, with lots of personality. I listen to something; if I can’t relate to the singer, I can’t enjoy it—probably won’t stay long on the iPod or in my record collection!”
While Grainger starts writing each song on his own, sometimes with drums and others with guitar, his experience on the road with the Mountains has informed the recording process—not surprising given the time the group have spent touring both on their own and opening for bands such as Bloc Party.
“It all depends on the song, and they’ve been arranged at different times,” he says, “but more than half were recorded after they’d been played live and included certain things from that. In fact, sometimes, we found that some things we were doing live didn’t really translate to the studio, so we had to come up with a new part!”
Grainger reflects on some of the surprising places his music has turned up over the years; he mentions e-mails from soldiers who have blasted his songs while on tank patrols. But he seems satisfied with how well his current music is being enjoyed by many longtime Death From Above 1979 fans on its own terms. He describes new material for a second album he is already working on and otherwise sounds in fine creative health.
“It’s a lot easier to be creative now, in recent years, since it’s almost impossible to pin down all the various sounds and influences that can go into someone’s work now,” he says. “If you listen to the early Rolling Stones, it’s pretty easy to sense those blues and early rock & roll records they were listening to, but all that is so far removed from now that it’s almost difficult to pinpoint. And you can do so much more with all the technology that’s around today—I couldn’t operate without it. Sure, you could be a purist and work only with old equipment, but ultimately, what’s the point? Right now is a perfect time!”
Sebastien Grainger at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Fri., 9 p.m. $10. 21+.