He might not inspire much moshing with his new band, but Jack Grisham's latest creative effort, the Manic Low, is the most punk rock project he's done in a while. On paper that notion doesn't quite compute--the demon-addled frontman of T.S.O.L. singing shimmering, '60s-inspired beach tunes about love letters and repentant party girls with smeared lipstick. Then again, the fact that someone like Grisham doesn't necessarily give a shit what fans think about his new-found, candy-coated pop approach lets us know he's staying true to the punk ethos of making music on his own terms.
"Some people craft their sound by catering to their audience, and I've never believed that," Grisham says. "Of course, it's killed me and it's sort of why I'm broke. But I say if this is art and this is what you're supposed to do, then basically try things and experiment."
Over a month after the release of their debut album, Songs for an Up Day on Moonlight Graham Records, Grisham and company prep for their debut show at the Weekly's new Plugged Into Local concert series this Wednesday, July 25, at the Constellation Room inside the Observatory in Santa Ana. It's also a kick off to their upcoming east coast tour, including a few stops in August with Sublime with Rome, Pepper and Cypress Hill. It's an unlikely (though promising) bill to match their unlikely band. Like most worthy projects, Grisham says the Manic Low album was never even supposed to happen.
Around this time last year, Grisham fancied himself more of a full-time author, having just released his first book An American Demon: A Memoir. He remembers a fateful book signing at Moonlight Graham's shop in Orange where shop owner Bart Silberman and the store's record label manager Dave Nielsen asked he would be interested in recording a new album for them.
"I wasn't even thinking about it, and I was like 'yeah, I guess so,' says Grisham in a recent phone conversation. "That's how it started. There was no band, there was never even any thought of making a band or playing."
Luckily for him, the right pieces were already in place for him to kick start a new group. Chief among them was Sean Greaves, who'd worked with Grisham in a previous life as the guitarist in his band the Joykiller. Not long after agreeing to the project, Grisham looked up Greaves, who'd just relocated to Huntington Beach and asked if he'd want to record a few songs for fun--he'd eventually lay down guitar and bass on Grisham's new crop of studio tracks, which veered somewhere in the vein of Haircut 100 with a side of the Kinks and slice of the Beach Boys. More sonic input came in the form of keyboardist and producer Paul Roessler (a stalwart of the L.A. punk scene of the 70s and 80s) and guitarist Rob Milucky who rounded out the core of the Manic Low sound on Songs For an Up Day.
The contrast between the cheerful title of the record and the depressed band name is another paradoxical slice of Grisham's personality that comes to bare throughout the album. For all effervescence of the acoustic guitars, B-3 organs and bouncy snare slaps, shards of dark humor and true life struggles you might find in Grisham's book are tucked into the lyrics of songs like "Good Girls Come Home" and "Some Days Are Grey."
Though Roessler's production on the record creates the big, bright pop feeling of for most of the track list, Grisham's gravitation toward simple melodies and steady beats makes them easy to pick apart and play with just the bare essentials.
"Any one of these songs could sound good with just one guy and a guitar playing them in front of a campfire if he had to," Grisham says.
Despite its simplicity, this might very well be a challenging record for some die hard Grisham fans to grasp initially, though the catchy quality of the songs have a way of growing on you slowly--something most fast and fiery T.SO.L. songs never give themselves the chance to do. And like any artist that's gone through different periods in their career, the fact that's he's entering his pop phase with the Manic Low is something he can add to the host of experiments that continue to make his music more than one-dimensional.
"And I think in the long run, it might not be popular, but it's more true to yourself as an artist and actually gives some credit to the fans," Grisham says.
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The Manic Low performs with Neo Geo and Sederra at OC Weekly's Plugged Into Local concert series at the Constellation Room inside the Observatory. Wed. July 25, 8 p.m. RSVP Only (space is limited). All ages.