We’re very pleased to bring you this exclusive interview with Grandkids, an up-and-coming indie folk outfit from Chambana, Illinois.
We had the opportunity to speak with vocalist/guitarist Vivian McConnell about all things Grandkids — from their most recent effort, Timeshare, to their influences and SXSW experience, as well as what they have in store for the future. Read through the break to get the in-depth scoop and enjoy some Timeshare goodness post interview.
How did Grandkids originally get together and how did you decide on what type of music you would play?
The formation of Grandkids was a piece by piece kind of thing. Adam, our cellist, lived above me in our freshman year dorm. We started playing music together and had one show together, and then we found Evan. Evan and I met at the mandatory alcohol awareness class and then luckily had a class together where we would often chat about our musical interests. I invited him to an open mic night and then we had a jam session in his dorm room — we still have recordings from it — they are really bad! Well, they sound bad now, but there were definitely some moments that made us want to keep playing, and I’m really glad we did.
Phil had been friends with my older brothers who both went to school at UIUC, and actually had played drums for Santah (my brother’s project which I also play in) for one gig. We hung out with the same crew and were doing dishes once and talked about him playing with the project that had been starting up. Initially the band started with me bringing the dudes songs that I had already completed — and you can tell that in our earlier recordings (Grandkids EP). I’m not really sure about the rest of the band, but when we first started I was pushing hard on the indie-folk vibe, but now we just kind of do whatever we want. Things have really changed — I mean, we used to practice in this funny living room with crazy paintings all over the walls that my friends did, I was putting my acoustic guitar and vocals out of a Roland piano amp, etc. But honestly, we worked really hard, got along really well, and love making music and I think that’s why we are still doing it right now.
Besides you all obviously being grandchildren, any specific story or reasoning behind the band name?
Before our first show ever (which was just labeled as Vivian McConnell and her band, or something of the sort), we all just sat in Phil’s bed for a really long time because we desperately needed a band name. Grandkids came up, and was something that wasn’t offensive or lame like a lot of the other things we thought of. (I have a list, it’s pretty embarrassing). It has an honest ring to it, and is generally pretty neutral. I’ve realized over the last couple of years that we’re not really good at naming things, but I’m okay with that.
According to your Facebook page, you have some very classic influences such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, but what other influences in your lives contribute to your sound and lyrical themes?
I’ve found that our different musical backgrounds really add into our overall sound. I come from sort of a singer-songwriter folk stance, Adam is classically trained on cello, Phil got his minor in jazz studies for drums at school, and Evan is just our little shredding sponge. I’m not really sure if that makes sense, but for some reason the fusion of all of us makes sense. Lyrically, I’d say I’m really driven by relationships, extreme emotions, traveling, animals, and the elements. Sometimes I’ll latch on to a certain lyricist’s writing style, but then I’ll just use it as a base or inspiration for my own lyrics.
So your newest effort, Timeshare, just released last month. How would you say it differs from your previous works? Anything specifically that you put into it to set it apart from your other material?
Timeshare has been such an awesome thing for us. I think, for a while, we were really pulling our weight as a live band but didn’t have an accurate representation in a recording, which was really tough. I’d tell people, “Hey! check out my band! But that’s not really what we sound like anymore!” And that’s a hard thing to do. Timeshare took us approximately 2 years to make and some of the songs that are on it are even older than that. I really like this about the album because it captures a lot of our maturation and growth as a band. It’s much more mature than previous recordings — it’s way closer to what we want Grandkids to be sonically. At the same time, it’s super eclectic and all over the place sometimes, which I also love. We put a ton of time and effort into it and it’s definitely a huge step for us. We set out to make a killer album, or at least something we are proud of, and I think we did.
As far as your Bandcamp, it looks like the album is only available digitally. Any plans for physical CD or vinyl releases?
Yes! Indeed. We have been slow workers due to school and life in general. A CD/vinyl release is in the works right now, but I can’t say any more than that!
Have you already begun writing for your next effort to follow Timeshare?
[laughs] This is funny, because long before Timeshare was out, we started writing new tunes. So many of the songs on that album were conceived long ago, so naturally we started to get a little batty playing them all the time. It’s pretty normal, I’d say, to start writing new stuff even before the album is released. We have about 5 and a half songs in the tank right now and we are weirdly ready to hop into a studio somewhere and start LP2.
I see that you have a couple of one-off shows coming up but do you have any full touring plans in the works?
I’ll be trekking to Spain for a month in the summer to finish school, so before that it will probably just be a lot of writing, demoing, and random shows in the Midwest. It hasn’t been planned yet, but a big tour in the Fall is what we are shooting for. We’ll all be out of school and all be really ready to devote some pretty hardcore time to Grandkids.
You played a set at SXSW too, right? Was that your first time? How would you describe the experience?
All I can say is that I think SXSW has gotten a little too big for its britches, and we were just a small stitch on those pants. The weather was gorgeous, we met some awesome people, and ate some mean tacos, but I think in general we were confused, sweating, and flustered. Going there as a guest is one thing, but having to take care of a van, worry about your gear, haul shit across town, etc., can get you pretty dark on this “industry.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful, but I think I can say that we all enjoyed the touring part more than hanging in Austin. Except for seeing Thee Oh Sees, twice!
How would you describe a Grandkids live show to someone who has never attended one?
Unpredictable! Dynamic! Fun! Coyote! Depending on the venue, I’d say we put on a pretty exciting set. We always play a couple of tunes that everybody knows, but the dudes in my band are really good at taking our songs to new levels in the live setting. Phil’s crazy on drums and Evan could whammy for hours. We’ll get crazy at the end of a tune, but then we’ll bring it down and get really intimate. Those are my favorite moments of shows, when you make the room get really quiet because they recognize that the mood of the set has shifted. I think we really shine as a live band — and sometimes we even have a real stuffed Coyote, Jennifer, accompany us on stage.
If you guys could have scored and film in recent memory that would have fit your music perfectly, what would you have chosen?
Remember that movie Flubber? Maybe a weird silent adaptation of that where Robin Williams is played by Tilda Swinton and it’s set in feudal Japan, directed by Harmony Korine, music by Grandkids. There is a huge joke in my band that I “don’t like movies.” Just going to put this out there, that’s not true at all.
Back to Bandcamp a bit — what are your thoughts on the site and how it has affected bands much like yourself?
Bandcamp is the most radical thing for bands. Seriously — it has allowed us to do so many things — reach a large audience, be supported by random people who stumble upon our album. It helped us with a really smooth online release. It even lets us play Defender when we are checking our stats (if you don’t know about this, it’s one of my favorite Bandcamp features!). It’s so nice to have a website that is so straightforward and focuses on the music — and it’s so easy to support a band that you like.
The folk and indie genres seem to be getting more and more saturated with unoriginality and recycled ideas. What do you feel sets you apart from your peers?
I think that recycling ideas does not necessarily equal unoriginality, but in some bands it’s definitely their biggest downfall. A lot of musicians, naturally, think “I want to sound like THAT band!”, which is healthy, normal, and something I do quite frequently. I don’t know, I just think people should quit worrying about what people think and how popular this song will be and start writing music for themselves. Those are my favorite types of artists. What sets Grandkids apart (maybe?) is that we are a group of really strong personalities that each bring something to the table. It’s really democratic, which takes our songs to the next level.
Outside of the band, what do you all have going on in your personal lives?
We are really busy people! This last year has been a whirlwind. Outside of Grandkids I play guitar and sing alongside my older brother in the band Santah. They are based in Chicago now, so it’s been a lot of commuting over the last year or so — I’ve become pretty comfortable with Greyhound bus. Evan and Phil graduated from UIUC, I have 9 more hours (that I’ll complete in Spain, so it doesn’t really count!), and Adam is floating around a little, figuring things out. The boys are all baristas and dig comics and write a lot. I play music at a sandwich shop and babysit to make some extra cash. Now that school is over I’ve been writing and playing music every day! I’m really happy school is over for now — I think it will give us a lot more time to focus on Grandkids.
What would you say is the next big goal for Grandkids?
Moving to Chicago, big tour in September, making LP2, then maybe getting out of the Midwest for a little! We are excited to break out of the “Champaign-Urbana to Chicago” cycle that a lot of people get stuck in. Not that we don’t love Chicago, but we’re ready for some coasts!
Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter
Stream Timeshare here in its entirety but you can purchase it at Bandcamp for only $7 (which you should certainly do if you enjoy it!)