Who’s heard of an instrument called a psaltery? Unless you’re a super muso geek you can be forgiven for not knowing about an instrument that altrockers Grace Solero used in their upcoming single ‘Awake’. I caught up with the band ahead of their music video release this Friday with many a question in mind. Thankfully the band had more than enough to sate my curiosity.
Hey there guys. Thanks for talking to us here at Joyzine. Your new single ‘Awake’ is reminiscent of all things nineties alt rock, is this a good representation of the forthcoming album?
Grace: Yes but there is also a mixture of other influences. 90s alt rock has always been a big part of my life and something that gels us together as a band, although we’re quite an eclectic bunch and grew up listening to all different genres. When I first met Dan I was really happy to find out he was as big a Smashing Pumpkins fan as I was.
Dan: I think that’s a connection point for the whole band, the music of our youth. We’re not stuck there but it’s definitely a period of time that influenced us a lot. It was such a creative time for music. That said, our sound changes a lot over the course of the album and takes in a lot of different terrains.
Bjorn: I never really thought of it as nineties when we were working on it. I was in music college in the 90’s and spent most of my time studying other genres and getting into more technically challenging stuff. In a way I sort of rediscovered the nineties through this band.
Dave: I don’t think it was a conscious decision but I guess a lot of influences for us ,and definitely me, come from that period of time. I think the sound of ‘Awake’ is pretty representative of the album, there are different sounds on there and I hope some tracks might be surprising and a bit different to what we’ve done before. Overall though, I think if you enjoy the track you’ll enjoy the album!
Tell us about your choice of producer and were there any offroad ideas employed in the studio get the sound of ‘Awake’ to a place you consider unique?
Dave: We really self produced with some input of our recording engineer Jon Clayton (One Cat Studios) and then looked for someone who could mix the track to give us the right sound. For me it was important to get across the energy of our live shows in the recorded track and Chris Brown’s mix really fit the bill. We were obviously able to experiment with layering and using some extra instruments like the psaltery for atmosphere but I think the overall sound was really crafted as the four of us on stage.
Grace: It was great for us to have the freedom to craft ‘Awake’ (and the rest of the album) how we like it, production wise. Glad that Dave is mentioning the psaltery, an ancient instrument I’m very fond of. In fact, that was the source of facetious jokes – we do have our fun in the studio! – while I was quite stubborn about wanting to play it in the middle eight of ‘Awake’. They lovingly made fun of me but once the part was recorded, a single long note played with a bow and then looped – it was clear to everyone that it really created a peculiar soundscape for that section. Great to work with both Jon and Chris!
Bjorn: It was mostly about capturing us playing together live and not being too clinical. A lot of ‘feel’ can get lost these days when people spend all that time making things perfectly aligned in pitch and in time. We did introduce some new instruments where appropriate and Jon at One Cat Studios was great for that. He’s got all sorts of instruments there and he also played cello and Hammond organ on a couple of songs.
Dan: Also Dave added a singing bowl to the middle eight to enhance the mystical feel of it.
Jon Clayton? I’ve worked with that guy quite a bit over the years doing live sessions. The world really is a small place. Talking of small places, you guys know the Healthy Junkies, another band that plays the same venues as you. How important is community to you guys as a band and do you feel any compulsion to comment or critique on world events of late?
Grace: Community is vital, there aren’t many female-fronted bands in the circuit, alt-rock is still a more male dominated world. The Healthy Junkies and Nina, in addition to being excellent musicians, are super nice people who really encourage a spirit of mutual support and camaraderie. We need more of that.
We’re lucky to be in London as it’s multicultural and open minded.
Lately politics and certain world leaders show there is a tendency to encourage separation rather than inclusion and that is not healthy in society. The Black Lives Matter movement and the latest protests show that we’re all in this together
The whole Harvey Weinstein and Me Too campaign felt really liberating to me. Alongside bringing up personal memories of abuse of power I suffered from men, it also carried a sense of being finally redeemed by the course of justice and Weinstein’s conviction. At last women speaking out and expressing their sisterhood is paying off.
Dave: As for current world events, wow, where to start! All over the world we unfortunately have ‘leaders’ who peddle divisiveness as a method of keeping them in power. What we need to tackle both national issues such as racism and equality and international issues such as the pandemic and climate change is more cooperation and communication.
Are there songs being written based on real life events, or do you find your voice best works on matters of introspection or less complicated issues?
Grace: The songs are mainly autobiographical, but also inspired by other people’s stories. I’m in love with human beings and the diversity of things they’re going through. I’m like a sponge, I absorb everything around me and translate it into songs. For instance on the album, there’s a song called ‘Shaman’ inspired by a shaman friend.
Is there a specific leader in your crosshairs at the moment Dave?
Dave: Well Johnson and Trump to be predictable, but also people like Orban in Hungary. It’s really worrying to see the incorporation of the far right into mainstream politics. Salvini in Italy and Abascal and the Vox party in Spain to name a couple more.
It’s been noted that such a far right swing is due to the perceived failure of liberalism to communicate effectively to the working class, talking down to them in regards to progressive identity politics. Is there a significant role music has to play in such events?
Bjorn: I don’t think music has to play a part as such. Music can be very political or it can be an escape from daily life or anything else.
Grace: Through history there are many examples of anti-establishment songs, so yes music can have a role in highlighting what goes on. Having said that, music brings people together and transcends political views
Dave: I think music can be a powerful platform to communicate ideas, both good and bad, but I don’t think it’s the responsibility of musicians to do so.
And yet there seems to be a social pressure to do so from a collective understanding as to the artform’s history, particularly the rock and Hip Hop genres. At least you guys are willing to engage in perhaps divisive areas. Let’s go back to ‘Awake’, the song of the moment. Is there a line that speaks to you all emotionally? Perhaps one that you think of first when considering the song?
Grace: ‘Wake, wake up to the day, it’s new life’ it’s my personal journey, an ode to love and new beginnings, also an invitation to spiritual awakening and being aware of the world inside us and around us.
Bjorn: For me it’s more about being emotionally affected by Grace’s performance, be that studio or live. Her performance always takes me somewhere.
Dave: No specific lyrics, more the melody through the chorus. Sometimes it’s difficult in rehearsal to hear small details but I’ve always loved the melody!
How did the song start? A jam, or as a fully formed piece?
Grace: Awake came out of a jam Dan and I had. The melody came out spontaneously and we worked out the parts, verse, chorus and middle eight, almost in one go.
I wrote the lyrics after a while – I normally write the lyrics after the melody.
Dan: Usually I start with a guitar idea and Grace sings on top of it. That’s what’s happened for Awake but most recently we’ve been writing songs with all four of us contributing.
In closing, do you believe that a single ought to be responsible for the representation of an album, and if so, where does ‘Awake’ fit on that spectrum?
Grace: ‘Awake’ is definitely a good representation of the band both sound wise and songwriting wise. I believe that a single has to carry the core message of an album.
Bjorn: I think invariably the first single will be regarded as representative whether you like it or not, so you do need to respect that. I can immediately think of four other songs that I would not consider representative, among them is a ballad and a near 8 minute sonic landscape. I’m comfortable with ‘Awake’ leading the way.
Dave: I think the lead single should represent the core sound of a band. If you lead with something completely unrepresentative you’ll potentially alienate new listeners or annoy them when they hear the whole album! Saying that, as Bjorn said, there are different sounds on the album as well.
That’s just ace, and I’m happy to hear that you’re all writing as a band now too. Where can people purchase the song and when is it out?
Grace: The song came out 10 July. You can listen on Spotify and download it from all major platforms, Deezer, Apple music, Amazon etc. You’ll find links on our official website www.gracesolero.com
Awesome. Thanks for the interview guys. Looking forward to your video coming out on Friday 31st July.
Interview by John Clay