Interview: The Grassy Knoll
Tue, 10 Mar 2015 09:05:14
Now, there's certainly a lot going on in each track by The Grassy Knoll. For all of those fascinating intricacies though, multi-instrumentalist and producer Nolan "Bob" Green knows how to cut right to the chase. He's warping samples with a combination of visionary production and deft instrumentation in order to conjure true emotion. It's as if he's pulling heartstrings within the framework of every track on his brand new album, Electric Verderland, Vol. 1 [out March 17. 2015 - iTunes link]. After one listen, you'll feel it forever.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, The Grassy Knoll opens up about the record and so much more.
Did you approach the album with one vision or vibe in mind?
Thank you for asking that! I did. Us older guys—we like the flow of an album. I miss that, so it was a very conscious decision to place the songs in an order where they made sense in that fashion. I've been out of it for a while. It's been like 12 years since I'd made a record. When I got back into the studio, I had this renewed energy. I knew I wanted everything to flow. I didn't want it to sound like a bunch of songs just caked on top of each other. I wanted there to be an underlying theme. If you go back and listen to older Grassy Knoll songs, there's a dark, cinematic theme that underlies the music. I always like to think there's ethereal beauty in the music mixed with a lot of chaos.
A lot of extremes converge in one place.
Yeah, before mashups were a thing, I always felt my music was a mashup of everything that moved me. I worked at CMJ as photo editor, and after that, I worked at a classical music label as a production manager. I felt like Grassy Knoll was a mixture of everything that moved me from classical to free jazz to heavy metal.
How do these genres seamlessly fuse?
There's a reason so many people love Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, or Miles Davis. They don't actually know what that reason is, but there's obviously a universal chord those artists strike. What I tried to do was get a sense of what the universal chords are and combine them.
Is there a lot of planning involved?
It's absolutely all a happy accident. I sit down and create a bass line on top of a drum kit. Then, I'll be like, "What do I want to do next?" The first place I usually go to is my seventies live vinyl collection. The reason I do that is I love all of the moments between the moments. On a live album, you have all of the surface noise of a crowd whistling, clapping, people tuning guitars, and drummers doing random hits. There's a lot of magic in those moments that aren't part of the song. I like to take those moments, throw them into a sampler, pitch them down, run them backwards, experiment with them, and see how they relate to the bass and drum groove. On "Something Together," the melodic line that sounds like a flute is a sample of a guy whistling at the end of a song on a live album, and I just pitched it way down. That melody happened off of the whistle. It just happened organically. I'll think, "What kind of a sound to I want on this? Do I want an electric guitar? Do I want a B3 organ?" If I want a B3 organ, I'll put out a Lee Michaels album and look for a moment in between the songs where he hits the B3 that will have all of that extra tension and noise. It creates a sonic elegance.
What's the song in particular about for you?
I love how that song took shape. I started with that simple sample I described to you, and I wanted it to be a really haunting song based on the sound. I had this eerie little track in the works, and I sent it to John Dee Graham. I said, "You want to do some lyrics on it?" He was like, "I keep hearing these five same words, and they keep repeating in my head." He came over and laid them down. Every time he sang the line, he didn't matter what he sang—it was how he sang it that gave those words so much meaning. There's another young woman in Austin named Francine Thirteen. She did the backup vocals. I sent it to Dave Depper, and he laid down all of those choir vocals. It just came together. It's dark. It's eerie. It's hopeful. It's an odd track for me because it really sums up a lot of different emotions.
If your new album were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
It would be The Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieślowski because those are little hour-long movies he did. Each one tells a story. Some are dark, and some are hopeful. His movies are really beautiful.
Have you heard The Grassy Knoll?