Not Your Average Grandchildren

Grandchildren's debut album is worth the wait.

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 5, 2010

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Photo by Sean Flannigan

It took three years of epiphanies, frustrations, back-to-the-drawing-board moments and obsessive songcrafting for West Philly indie-rock sextet Grandchildren to finally birth its debut album Everlasting, issued last week on Green Owl Records. But, says frontman Aleks Martray, that protracted labor was crucial to the group’s development, and it’s paying off now.

“When the album was being tweaked and refined and kinda rethought and rearranged is really when we became a band. We’ve all played music together for years and years and years so it’s nothing new—we all have a chemistry together. But I think that honing the music over that time and figuring out how to at least reproduce it live or make it even better has really turned us into something special.”

A few spins of Everlasting provide insight to why the creative journey lasted so long—its polyrhythmic beats, experimental guitar, synth-generated tones, and symphonic sweep makes for complex tunes, but they’re still rendered with a remarkably light touch (thanks perhaps to some sweet vocal harmonies and accessible, affecting melodies) to keep things from getting ponderous. Indie touchstones like Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors and Ratatat have been thrown around by critics as points of comparison, and already the online buzz is mounting.

Much of Grandchildren’s history is tied into West Philly’s famed Danger Danger house—a hub for the city’s underground/fringe music scene, where Martray and the rest of the band lived for two years (from 2006 until 2008). “I think the creative energy of having this house where you’d have shows in the basement, the first floor, bedrooms, everywhere–400 to 500 people in this place–that energy just fed back into the music we were making. That’s really when the album took shape and where Grandchildren took shape as well.

“We had every kind of music,” he continues. “We had old free jazz musicians like [Sun Ra Arkestra’s] Marshall Allen, you know, 80-year-old guys playing to 20-year-old kids in our living room. I remember sitting in [Grandchildren’s] Russell [Brodie]’s bedroom, which was kind of the green room of the house, and Marshall Allen was sitting there and all these young college kids, these white hipster kids, were trying to muster up the courage to talk to him. There were a lot of moments that were really surreal and really great.”

At the time, the six musicians had a sort of Venn diagram going between two bands–Grandchildren and Rad Racket. Both outfits toured the country in the same van, sharing members and gear, but last year, says Martray, “There was a really obvious realization that we were all doing one thing. There may have been different styles going on, but the thing about the Grandchildren sound was that it was getting overwhelming responses, and it was this meld of enough different sounds and incorporated enough of our individual talents that it felt right to put everything into one project. It made sense to have this as the umbrella for all of our creative energies.”

So Rad Racket is on semi-permanent hiatus now, and Grandchildren is focused on developing a following both in Philly and beyond. “For us, building a local fanbase is key, if nothing else to feel connected to where we live,” says Martray. “And especially with running Danger Danger, we were a huge part of the music community in this city. But on the other hand, we’re travelers. A huge part of the reason we’re musicians is to travel and to travel with purpose, not just as tourists. To bring our art to different places and see how it works. It’s really important what the kids in West Philly think of Grandchildren, but it’s just one dimension of what you do with your art. You bring it to kids in Fargo and you see how they respond and you get more of a perspective of what you’re doing. It brings a lot more clarity as far as making even better music down the line.”

Grandchildren Album Release Party
Fri., Oct. 8
With Little Teeth, Hermit Thrushes + the Armchairs.
Johnny Brenda’s
1201 N. Frankford Ave.

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