The Griswolds at The Satellite in Los Angeles
For any aspiring international band, a single unanimous question poses itself the second the plane touches American soil - sometimes aloud, otherwise, always unspoken. How will we stand apart from every other contemporary act trying to make it out here?
For Australian pop-rock outfit The Griswolds, the answer is as generic as it gets: work hard, trust your gut, have fun - and hope for the best. Though the band has only been in the works for sixteen months, the results of this mantra are already peeking through the folds of their live act, centered around their four-song EP, Heart of a Lion. After stopping off in New York last month to play their first ever CMJ, the band has collected a handful of shows along the West Coast’s local venue circuit, playing alongside fellow Australian act Strange Talk. With these shows, the group is simultaneously learning and adapting to the approach of playing in small U.S. venues. The hustle provides them with feedback they gladly stow away for the time being: in January, it will all come out to play again when The Griswolds will team up with producer Tony Hoffer - credited for his work with The Kooks, Beck and Phoenix - to hash out their first record in Los Angeles.
While the band was in L.A. this week, Ones To Watch spoke with band members Christopher Whitehall, Daniel Duque-Perez, Chris Riley, Tim John and Lachlin West about their experiences thus far. Read on for our interview!
You recently described yourselves as “tequila inspired party energetic indie pop madness.” You’re conceding to a lot of different categories and genres there, without really caring about being associated with pop. Which made me wonder - what do you think about pop’s position in music genres today?
Whitehall: I love pop music personally.
West: I think we all do. There are certain parts of it obviously that we try to ignore. But yeah, most of what we listen to in the van is pop from one decade or another.
Whitehall: There are elements of us that are pop - I wouldn’t call us a pop band.
Definitely pop in the sense of you could zone out to it, but it’s for the public too.
John: That’s what good pop does I think.
Whitehall: Well, it’s more appealing to more people I think.
Duque-Perez: Pop bands like Vampire Weekend are pop groups - but they’re not pop genre. Britney’s pop.
West: We had “Womanizer” playing in the van today. That’s a classic of mine.
I feel like for some bands who are touring, it’s hard for them to absorb new music and keep up to date with music news. Is that hard for you to do here?
Whitehall: Spotify is pretty good. We’re pretty lucky to have Wifi in the van - so we listen to whatever we can load up.
Duque-Perez: And our tour manager, he has a wealth of knowledge.
Whitehall: A wealth of knowledge about the indie world.
I heard you were all listening to Beach House in the van the other day.
Whitehall: We all love them but not quite as much as Dan here.
Riley: Dan gets emotional.
Whitehall: He does.
Duque-Perez: I cry.
So - the song “Mississippi” seems to be the track that birthed this band. So where was everyone the night that Chris and Dan got together and wrote that song?
Whitehall: Probably in other bands. Those were the early days.
West: I was in diapers maybe…
I’m debating if I should ask a followup question.
Duque-Perez: You probably shouldn’t.
Whitehall: That song was birthed a long time before we even thought about being in a band or thought about being called The Griswolds or anything.
Can you tell me about the feeling you got when you knew you were on to something, and wanted to expand that into a band?
Whitehall: Well, I’m not sure I ever thought we were onto something. I think in the beginning we were just all about just having fun - me and Dan moved in after “Mississippi” happened and were like, “Lets just have fun and write songs together and have a good time.” We didn’t really care about anything else. We weren’t thinking about Australia, or the world or touring. Nothing like that, like I said, we didn’t even have a band name, we didn’t have a band.
Were you guys students or working at the time?
Duque-Perez: Just working. We didn’t stop. We loved it, we were playing rock and roll, and when we heard the sounds of synths - we loved it. I used to go to Chris’ house every Tuesday night and we’d stay up till four in the morning writing and wake up midday and write the whole day again. And then every weekend. And then we were like “Fuck, we need to live together - this is crazy.”
Whitehall: Yeah, and then finally we were like “Oh these songs, they’re alright. We should get a band. I think we should start playing them.” And so we did.
So you guys are coming back to LA in January to put together the album. You locked yourself in a cabin in Australia to write songs. How are you preparing to record this album?
Whitehall: Well we’re still in preparation really. Still finishing off certain things, writing lyrics and showing people in our team and getting them to look over things. And they like different things and they change around others. We’re really in the demo phase of getting these songs finished. We’re just gonna keep locking ourselves away after this tour is finished, and get back into writing mode. Touring mode finishes - writing mode kicks in.
When you get feedback from people how do you process it? With constructive criticism, do you keep it at bay?
Whitehall: There’s been some criticism, our manager actually said when he one of our songs that he spewed in his mouth when he first heard it.
Which one was it?
Whitehall: It’s a brand new song. It’s the first song we’re playing in the set tonight so you’ll probably hear it.
West: Amongst the spewing of the people in the crowd. Hopefully.
Have a little faith!
Whitehall: Well we think it’s good.
Duque-Perez: Our manager plays a lot of piano, he plays entirely different music. Weezer’s “Teenage Dirtbag” is his favorite song in the world. That’s his anthem - so we don’t take his opinion!
Way to stick to your guns.
Whitehall: Well, we’re all about the creativity - it doesn’t really matter.
Duque-Perez: It’s like asking Bill Gates for his opinion on music. Stay in business, man.
You have a new music video coming out for the song “The Courtship of Summer Preasley.” Who directed it?
Whitehall: A guy back home - he’s actually our manager’s friend. He’s done a lot of Australian bands back home. Not sure if their names have made it out here, but he’s done a lot of great stuff, it made a lot of sense to work with him. He had a really cool idea he showed us from the beginning.
Did you have any creative input in the storyline?
Duque-Perez: We were going to drop the whole concept for this video because we just couldn’t come up with something great. When he pitched it we were like oh yes.
What is your take on music in 2013? Any general statements?
Whitehall: Generally, I love music in 2013. I think it’s just getting better and better. I mean I’ve absolutely loved the last decade of music.
Any standout albums from recently?
Whitehall: This year, it’s Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Kanye, Drake. I don’t know if anyone’s heard the new Kings of Leon record, it’s got a couple of good songs.
What’s your favorite Drake song?
Duque-Perez: “Just Hold On (We’re Going Home.)”
John: It’s the obvious one, but you can’t deny it.
Whitehall: We listen to it daily, at least once in the van.
John: It sounds good in here sometimes.
Really. Is it making you miss home?
Dan: I cry to it.
John: He does.
I feel like that’s the case with any music for Dan.
West: Dan cries to Metallica - he just bawls up.
Whitehall: The Devendra Banhart album this year was cool too.
I saw him at First City Festival. He brought out several guests and they were just singing songs in Spanish.
Whitehall: He’s so talented.
Why do you think it’s harder for Australian music to make it out internationally?
Whitehall: I think it’s down to the simple fact that we’re an island. We’re a long way away. To fly a band out costs a lot of money - so it needs to be a worthwhile thing to get over there and get worthwhile offers from people on the other side of the world. It can be difficult, so I think we’re super lucky to be here. We’ve worked really hard, but very happy to be out here.
Duque-Perez: And a lot of Australian bands will sign deals with Australian labels, and those labels don’t understand the normal industry markets.
Whitehall: And their reach just isn’t as big. The American market is just so massive. You can do a tour in thirty states. We’ve only got five states you can play in Australia. It’s kind of hard to get out there and get known and play in front of people.
Duque-Perez: There’s like thirteen cities worth playing.
Whitehall: But saying that, there’s like people who really love it - and a lot of great bands coming out of Australia. There’s an awesome scene there. But it’s just its own isolated thing.
You’ve been touring the States and have done a festival with a couple more to go - how has the band evolved in its live sets?
Whitehall: I hope we’re getting better! I like to think that.
West: Every show you play if something fucks up technically or if something’s just not working. We’re always together, we make note of it and try to fix it the next night. And eventually problems just start falling away.
What’s the most intimidating thing about playing in the States?
Duque-Perez: It’s so funny, you can just go see your favorite bands tour all around here, but it’s an effort in Australia. People see a lot of good music here.
Whitehall: Also being an international act, there is a certain level of expectation, quality and enjoyment the crowd expects. You know, five dudes wouldn’t just fly from Sydney to Minneapolis or whatever and be a shithouse. So there’s a certain standard to uphold. But I wouldn’t call it overly threatening.
These local beers though…we don’t know what they taste like! We ask the bartenders for a recommendation, and they yell at you.