Where to begin, to introduce an article about Danny Paul Grody? Where to start? A founding member of iconic San Francisco act Tarentel, member of Temporary Residence stablemate The Drift and solo recording artist in his own right, Grody seems set to become as prolific in the number of his upcoming releases as former Tarantel member and Root Strata label co-founder Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Grody has been extremely busy it seems, and 2011 sees a number of projects come to fruition
His most recent solo release, 2010’s “Fountain” was universally well received, a complex, themed and intricate solo guitar album also utilizing melodica, keyboard, bow, rain and voice, recorded and mixed at home over the space of close to a year. “Fountain” was also followed by a self released untitled EP of companion pieces that came from the same period, initially put out in the Laminar Excursions mail-order series that included Damien Jurardo, J. Tillman and Richard Swift. Both records are apt demonstrations of his love of the West African kora (a 21 string bridge harp) and Tacoma style fingerpicking – it also hints at the drone experimentation that became prevalent in the latter half of Tarantel’s recorded output. Whilst Tarentel’s earlier material was reminiscent of post rock acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai (albeit with a psychedelic tinge), later albums like “Ghetto Beats On The Surface Of The Sun (Volumes 1 & 2)” were virtually unclassifiable; like a musical star going supernova over the space of 23 songs.
The chiming, detailed and hypnotic guitar of his two solo releases is now followed by the soon to be released “In Search Of Light”, to be released on a limited edition of 500 vinyl on the Students Of Decay label in September (the first 50 in sky blue, for interested waxheads).
The album is a slight shift in tone, with the familiar guitar also joined by other elements in an elegiac tribute to a departed friend. Danny mentions a recent re-acquaintance with Kraut/Kosmiche, and there are elements of this in “…Light” and also his recent projects Believer and Moholy-Nagy.
The nine tracks on “…Light” have a touch more of a sedate element to them than to “Fountain” – the track ‘Ohr’ in particular is more hypnotic than driving. The integration of layered keyboard when paired with big, lazy, open acoustic chords into the mix give songs like ‘Hello From Everywhere’ a glazed tone that is singular and distinctive. The playing is still direct and evocative – ‘Orbits’ in particular is a highlight, an emotive and touching piece that dips, pulses and soars in equal measure; almost like a Leo Kottke back porch bootleg (albeit less frenetic and willfully obtuse) accompanied by thoughtful and articulate piano.
Album closer ‘Unwinder’ sprawls over its five minutes, hinting at melody and straying at patterns before rounding out a cohesive and direct album.
Danny spoke to us about the album over the space of a few weeks, how it came about, his other projects and his loyalty to his instruments; he’s also soliciting for a kora player to collaborate with…
There seems to be a shift in tone from “Fountain’ to ‘In Search Of Light’; how do the two records differ from each other, in terms of how they were recorded and the material on both?
DPG: This record is a homage to my friend Jeff Jacobs who passed in the beginning of 2011. He was somebody that I’ve had the honor of collaborating with for a number of years in a band called The Drift. His primary instrument was trumpet. He had serious chops, but was the kind of player that was not into being flashy or technical. Instead he opted for subtlety, patience, exploration, and abstraction. He was a magician when it came to sound and texture. I’ve always associated his musicality to light. He had this way of always lifting the music. In practice, I’d often stop playing mid song and find myself just listening to him in a sort of trance-like state – beautiful soulful sounds.
I wanted to try and bring some of that spirit to this album. A way to acknowledge him and the influence he had on me as a listener and player. The material was recorded at home with two microphones, acoustic guitar, bells, bows, harmonium, electric guitar, and synthesizer. The synth ended up becoming a particularly fun new element to work with. It seemed to get at this feeling of light I was striving for so I used it a ton. It was recorded shortly after relocating to a new flat, which for me was an interesting process. I had gotten so used to the feel of my previous room and can clearly see how it shaped the sound on Fountain, just as this new space has with this album.
Sincere condolences for the loss in regards to Jeff; I had seen some mentions of a new The Drift record, was this completed recently? What can you tell us about it?
DPG: Thanks Charlie. Yeah, The Drift recorded between January and March of this year, just days after Jeff’s passing. We did the tracking in one concentrated session, took a break to absorb the recordings, and then mixed. We didn’t know what to expect, but it proved to be a really therapeutic experience for the three of us. Rather than focusing on Jeff’s absence, we went into the recording with the belief than he was with us – a guiding light. It’s important to mention we had been working as a three piece without Jeff for quite some time before going into the studio. He had been battling cancer for the better part of three years and as his illness worsened, we made the difficult but necessary choice to carry on without out him. The music was mostly written within a two year period.
Within that time, we had many fits and starts. It was a really difficult period for us. The fact that we have been able to weather it and carry in Jeff’s honor means a lot to us. I truly believe it’s brought us closer as friends as well as collaborators. I’m super proud of the music on Blue Hour. It’s certainly a different animal in some ways than what’s come before, but it’s an honest document of what we had been going through as a group… frustration, darkness, grief, acceptance, resilience, and the idea of something beyond.
How long did ‘In Search Of Light’ take to record?
DPG: All in all, I’d say it was about a year from start to finish to complete.
Was that a long time for a record for you? How long did “Fountain” take to complete?
DPG: It really depends on the scope of the music and what kind of expectation you place on yourself, I don’t think a year is a long time to make an album. In the case of In Search Of Light, it was motivated not only by a commitment with Alex at Students Of Decay, but also by very personal reasons connected to exploring ideas of loss and light. That was my jumping off point. From there, I accumulated material and before I knew it, a year had passed. During that time I was also working on other projects – The Drift, my new group with Jefre Cantu-Ledsma and Trevor Montgomery called Moholy-Nagy, as well as a duo with Trevor called Believer. All of which made albums this year! Sounds like a lot going on, but it all fed into one another and helped generate a great creative momentum.
When it came to making my first album Fountain, there was a lot more space and time involved because it was all new. I had never released anything on my own and had a ton of exploring to do before the music felt developed enough to release. There was no concrete deadline other than the fact that I wanted to make a solo record for Root Strata. Jefre, who runs the label has been a close friend and creative collaborator for many, many years. He was always asking… “So when are you gonna make that solo record?”. I think his encouragement and persistence really helped stoke the fire for me initially.
From what I can recall, that album took around two years to take form.
When you say you were striving for a feeling of light, did you have an idea of how you wanted the record to sound like to begin with, or did you find it as you went?
DPG: It was really a process of discovery as I went along. The theme of light definitely helped guide the music in tone, but beyond that I purposefully kept things very open-ended. Nothing was out of the question…
I prefer to work this way so as not to close any doors before I take a look inside. As the ideas accumulated, I could start seeing patterns form and then begin shaping the music into something more unified and cohesive.
How did the record come to Students Of Decay?
DPG: Alex and I had gotten to know each other essentially through music, shared friends, and my work on Root Strata. He and I would chat from time to time on email.
One day he asked if I’d be interested in doing an LP and I said an emphatic “YES!”. He’s been a pleasure to collaborate with. Great label, with a nicely varied roster of music.
I had missed Moholy-Nagy and Believer, have those records come out yet, or are they still in production? What can you tell us about them?
DPG: Both projects have recorded new albums which are slated to be released soon. Moholy-Nagy is comprised of myself, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and Trevor Montgomery. We’ll be releasing our debut full-length entitled “Like Mirage” this October on Temporary Residence. It will be available on CD, LP, and digitally. Our friend Phil Manley (of Trans Am, Life Coach, Jonas Reinhardt) took on engineering duty at a nice studio called Lucky Cat in SF. We also enlisted drummer Damon Palermo (of Mi Ami and Jonas Reinhardt) for the in-studio tracking as well as drummer Justin Pinkerton (of Eyes, Roots Of Orchis). I’m psyched to get the music out there!
The core of the band goes way, way back, having all founded Tarentel together. This marks the first time we’ve all made music together since Tarentel’s “Order Of Things” album, circa 2001. Pretty crazy! Believer is the duo of myself and Trevor Montgomery and is largely connected to Moholy-Nagy. We did a small run CD EP early this year that has since sold out. We’ll be re-releasing that EP along with a bunch of unreleased material onto LP for the Under The Spire label later this year. Very much looking forward to getting that music out to a larger audience. For the time being, here are a few links to both projects:
When does the new Drift come out, and when is “In Search Of Light” released?
DPG: The Drift album comes out October 4th of this year – CD, Double LP, and digital. It’s actually up for pre order now and folks who order in advance will get copies of the limited pressing color vinyl – marbled grey/navy blue. It looks amazing! My solo album is due later this month/early October, so very soon! It too is up for pre order and also has a limited number of colored vinyl pressed for early comers. Here are links to the pre order pages:
How do you approach your material live as a solo artist, given that some of the material is layered?
DPG: It varies for me. I sometimes like to play stripped down versions of the recorded material and sometimes I’ll play them closer to the actual multi-tracked recording using acoustic/electric guitars, keyboards, and effects. Recently, I’ve been doing these long-form sets primarily using electric guitar and layers of loops. Half improvised and half structured. It’s been a lot of fun and honestly kind of liberating for me. I plan to record a bunch of new material along those lines as soon as possible.
I’m interested that you mention Fountain was a couple of years in the making, I recently had a listen to the Untitled release on your Bandcamp and I was surprised such good material was left off the album. Is there more still in storage? How did you make the choices with the tracklisting?
DPG: Thanks! Happy you enjoyed that material. Most of it was recorded in and around the same time I had been working on Fountain. I guess you could consider them outtakes for that reason, which is not to say I didn’t feel they stood on their own. When sequencing the album, I was very conscious of avoiding redundancies, making things flow, and most importantly… not overstaying my welcome. The last thing I want to do is tire or bore a listener. This also applies for live sets. I take the less is more approach. Better leaving folks wanting more than fatigued by the experience.
How did you come across the kora, and how has it influenced your playing? Does it appear on any of the records, or has it changed your approach/technique?
DPG: I first heard the kora through the collaborations of Malian musicians Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. Love at first listen. It recalled the sound of gut-stringed guitar and harp; warm, hypnotic, and at times melancholy. I started to explore Toumani’s catalogue as well as works by other players related to the Diabaté family and beyond. Very inspiring stuff! I’ve never used it on any of my recordings and don’t really intend to, unless of course I happen to meet a player who’d be interested in collaborating.
Any takers out there?
If you’ve come across such an interest from Malian music, what other things of note have you heard recently that you found interesting?
DPG: There’s definitely been a renewed interest in the realm of Kosmiche/Krautrock or whatever you want to call it recently. Artists such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Emeralds, and Arp to name but a few have channeled pioneers of the cosmic past and I’ve definitely been enjoying the resurgence. It’s given me reason to revisit all my Cluster/Eno records as well as mine the plethora of folks that charted similar territories such as JD Emmanuel, Laurie Spiegel, Ash Ra Temple, and on and on. It’s definitely seeped into my own work too… particularly with Believer and Moholy-Nagy.
You mentioned that the space you record in plays a large role in the character of the records; is that a result of how the space sounds, or a reaction to your environment?
DPG: Absolutely. The room plays a huge role in the outcome of a recording. You’re reacting to the acoustics of the space. In the case of my current studio, there’s hardwood floors and high ceilings. Then you have elements like light, windows, views, plants, and smells – all of which play a big role for me.
How did you come to guitar?
DPG: I was gifted an acoustic and electric guitar around the age of ten by a friend of the family. Little did he know, I’d continue to play those same guitars to this day.
No joke. I’m superstitious in some ways. There are tons of guitars out there, but for some reason I’m content to use these two.
You’ve been playing the same two guitars for all these years?
DPG: Yep. It’s like a good chair or pair of shoes. You grow into them and they to you. Nothing out of the ordinary…. the acoustic is a standard six string Yamaha probably made in Taiwan, and the electric is a classic Fender Stratocaster made in the USA. Love ’em!
‘In Search Of Light” drops soon.
It is similar to its cover art; a reflective object that you can look into and see different reflections every time, over time. Very highly recommended, and a certainty to feature on end of year best-of lists. Thanks go to Margo Moritz for the use of her photography.