Granfalloon recently released their second album RGB. We caught up with Richard for a chat about the inspiration for the songs on the record, the unusual sounds used in the recording, transferring the songs from recorded form to the live environment and plans for the future.
To us, the only association with the name Granfalloon we have is the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle. Is that where the name came from and why did you choose it for the name of your band / project?
That is indeed where the name came from. I've loved Kurt Vonnegut since the second book I read by him (Breakfast of Champions). Strangely, the first one I read was Cat's Cradle and his style didn't quite land with me yet. I suppose I wasn't ready for it, but after Breakfast... I re-read Cat's Cradle and enjoyed it much more (even though the central concept of Ice-9 still terrifies me).
I was very taken with his idea of a Karass and his thoughts about 'created' families that are bonded by something other than blood... A higher or special purpose. Of course, 'Karass' is a terrible, clunky name for a band so I turned to its bathos-flavoured brother Granfalloon which is where the faux family involved are connected by an absurd purpose which in a certain light (if you squint) worked even better for describing a band of musicians... there is something inherently absurd about the idea of a band... feeling this strong connection to a group of individuals through making noises to express yourself or make yourself feel something.
You've just released your second album RGB. What's the meaning behind the title?
It refers to the primary colours of the light spectrum. I just liked the colour scheme. We filmed all the videos and designed the artwork to match. When we started recording the album there were three of us as well so we each took a colour as our theme.
And the artwork is pretty striking. Is it something you created and what is the idea behind it?
I can't take credit for the artwork! That is the work of the incredible Jo Ruessmann. Check out her work immediately (on her website) and order every last one of her prints. We spoke about the colour scheme, I sent her lyrics, we discussed our mutual love of the mythological and the odd. Then she filtered that through her own lens and came up with the image which she titled A Gordian Cat's Cradle (another Vonnegut reference there).
There were certain themes that run through the album... conversation, co-operation, learning to accept yourself, learning to live with other people, that we spoke about, which influenced her decision on the image. I remember her saying she liked a sculpture she'd seen of Nefertiti and Ankhesenamun - that was a reference point too.
You had Natalie McCool feature on one of the lead singles Objects Of Love. Who else features on the record or is it primarily a solo effort?
I had a lot of great musicians making this record - I much prefer working with others than on my own. Peer Van See, Dave Bertram, and Oli Hughes were the main collaborators. Peer plays all manner of synths and soundscapes from his own project Transnational Electronics Association... he uses a mixture of Korgs including the Microkorg, Volcas, and also tape decks which he collects field recordings with. Dave plays guitars all over this record, as he did on the first album (Down There For Dancing). He also plays bass on the track EGO. Oli plays a lot of the drums as well as the Casio keyboard parts.
I was also very lucky to have George Burrage and Ellie Boney playing violin and cello on EGO. They play with Anna McCluckie (and George plays in Diving Station). And a long time friend Biff Roxby (of Honeyfeet) plays cello on Objects of Love. Last but not least, Jim Molyneux (of Jackpot Golden Boys) plays drums on The Elephant and Lysistrata. He toured the album live with us as well. Special mentions for Andrew Glassford, Paul Morrice, and Jack Prest who all helped with production and engineering for various tracks as well.
The album is very adventurous sonically with lots of unusual sounds. How did the songs come to life from the original ideas you had for them?
Some of the songs came from quite a traditional songwriter background and some came from experimenting with loops and samples from Casio keyboards and Omnichord drum machines. In September 2017 Oli, Peer and myself went into Biff's studio (WR Audio) and tried to rip a lot of the songwriterly stuff apart and then put it back together in a more interesting way. It involved a lot of playing through the rhythmic elements of the tracks trying to find where they were meant to sit rather accepting the demos as the final structure.
Some of the sound came from the mixture of electronic drums with acoustic drums laid over the top as a form of excitement. During that initial demo weekend, we had a show at Band On The Wall which was interestingly the first gig where we felt we'd found the sound that worked for us - we had an odd lineup for a band (acoustic guitar, synth, and drums) so some of those odd textures or ways of working were born out of necessity. Anyway I'd highly recommend when any band goes into the studio for pre-production they play a gig midway through the session - it was a great way to solidify the ideas and the direction we were taking.
I remember we worked on Year of the Rooster which started as a Casio drum loop and riff which I'd written at home. When we went into the studio we recorded a 20 minute drum jam with all three of us playing every percussive instrument in the room and we then each remixed those as samples... using the live drums and processing them into distorted or electronic components.
After the ideas started coming together we took a weekend in Limefield Studios with Andrew Glassford engineering - to nail down structure and commit rhythm parts to tape. It was tough striking the balance of playing to loops and making it feel 'alive' but in parts I think we got some really great moments. We also tried where possible to make sure that the electric guitars didn't sound too guitar-y... Dave's very good playing interesting parts rather than falling into a traditional guitar part.
Laughing Out Loud originally started as a very heavy rock song which didn't really work with the sound we were making and it took another good old Casio keyboard drum sample with Oli playing root notes until we figured out the feel for the song and it suggest the weird 'soul-tronica' vibe. I was insistent that everyone should take a soul approach to, I was listening to Michael Kiwanuka's album Love & Hate a lot at the time.
And of course, my collection of Omnichords is omni-present (sorry/not sorry) - I try not to overuse them as it can get cloying. Hopefully I stayed on the right side of the toyshop.
Did they start from a lyrical idea or a musical idea or a combination of the two?
It's always a combination. In 2014 I embarked on a song-a-week project where I wrote, recorded and released a new song based on a theme every week of the year. I tried the same again a couple of years later and Year of the Rooster and Ambulance both came from those sessions. The theme I was given for Year of the Rooster was 'apocalypse' I think. But it was also inspired by getting angry reading whilst reading the Metro.
Andrew (who produced some of singles as well as engineering the main session for the album) jokingly calls my songs 'self-help guides' and there's something to that. I listen back to a song like EGO and I'm clearly giving myself advice even if I didn't realise it at the time. And although there's an imagined, fictional narrative to Objects of Love, it was really about accepting the person I was in a relationship as an artist. I've talked before about my ideal triangle for a satisfyingly written song... to me it shouldn't just be a recitation of facts. If I want to feel like I'm happy with it I need to filter those facts into something that means something to me personally, i.e. has some kind of metaphorical parallel to my own life. Then the third stage is making that something that an outside listener can relate to as well. It's not the only way I write but it certainly informs a lot of these songs.
Lysistrata has its origins in Greek comedy. Is literature a particular inspiration to you when you are writing lyrics?
It can be. Obviously there's the band name which is a literary references, and the last track on the album A Happy Death is based on a book by Camus but Lysistrata also stands as a good example of the songwriting triangle that I was describing before.
The video to that single is an intriguing one, with lots of blurry imagery which adds to the mystery of the song. Are there plans to set more of the album to video as it feels like the songs would lend themselves to accompanying visuals?
That video is directed by Ric Jones who makes stuff under the name Gumshoe Produce. I LOVE working with Ric. We both have the same distaste for narrative music videos and share an interest in making visuals that are more textural. Ric has an interesting approach where he'll edit the videos to a mix of the song without any words. That way he can avoid any particularly cheesy or cliched parallels between the images and the words.
Ideally we'd make videos for every track on the album. I like those short films that don't venture too heavily into 'music video promo' which to me, feels very unsatisfying. I prefer the videos to be there own work with my music as the soundtrack.
Hopefully there will be at least one more video coming out next year. I'll be working with Sam Short of Soul Media on that one. And shout out to Joko Mono who made the video for The Elephant as well! It's amazing.
We've only seen you perform these songs live solo so far, but you have a band as well. Could you tell us who is in the band and how you have translated these studio recordings into live performance - how different do the songs sound?
The band for the album tour featured Peer, Dave, Jim and also Hannah Ashcroft on guitar and vocals. It was real pleasure to work with Hannah. I've been a fan of her music for a few years.
Translating the recorded songs into something live took a bit of reverse engineering which, considering we'd done a fair amount of reverse engineering from traditional song format to folktronic soundscape to make the recordings, meant the songs ended up taking this spiral-ic journey of being ever so slightly removed from how they began but going through a lengthy process (two sets of reverse engineering if you're counting - also, apologies to fans of sentence structure). Hopefully that aids the surreal nature of the sound I was attempting to achieve. It can have varied results. Most people will use the word 'different' when describing us live. They may even mean that as a compliment.
Now the record is out, what are your plans for the rest of the year and 2020?
This year I have one more show supporting Diving Station at The Castle in Manchester on 17th December. I'm currently booking in a tour for next year as well as starting to work on the new music video. Alongside that I'll be starting to record whatever the next album/projects turn out to be. There are the highlights from the 2014 song-a-week project which need to properly recorded and released, as well as a bunch of newer songs. It may turn out as several albums. This mix of folk and electronica has been fun but I quite fancy doing a folk-rock album as well, with all the musicians in the room playing live. So there's lots to keep me busy. Provided I get off my arse and do them.
How would describe Granfalloon to someone who has never heard you before?
We use the term 'folktronica' as shorthand. We throw around terms like 'soundscapes' and 'unicorn tears' but they're just buzz phrases. Everyone needs to know if something is worth their time immediately. In the end I write songs and if people like songs then hopefully they'll find something in this album.
Granfalloon are on Facebook and Twitter.
Follow Even The Stars on Twitter at @eventhestarsuk and like our Facebook page for all the latest updates