Smile Politely

Grandkids set to break into the business

Local band Grandkids have had a big week, which is the main reason why I was pulling out every journalistic trick in the book to try to figure out how to sit down and chat with them. Between playing house shows, their new album release, preparing to tour, and getting ready for its catalyzing kick off to be held at Mike ‘N Molly’s tonight, these kids are catapulting into success, but keeping balanced. 

Though I could not track down Grandkids in their entirety, I was able to get in touch with Vivian McConnell, their lead singer, who was happy to answer some questions about the tour and her feelings on Grandkids.

McConnell will certainly say that their roots here in C-U have helped them grow, and that she’s lucky to have what she calls “a lot of comical and relaxed boys around [her] that keep things from getting too uptight,” when working with the band — a factor that, she alludes, lends to her happiness as a member of Grandkids, where she fits right in with Evan Metz on guitar, Adam Gorcowski on cello, and Phil Sudderberg on drums.

Grandkids: “Collegiate Peaks”

[[mp3 grandkids_collegiate_peaks]]

These four categorize themselves as “humblecore,” as they harmonize and flit somewhere along the edges of new folk and indie pop. A favorite in the C-U music scene, their “humble” beginnings as a group of University of Illinois students proves to have been a great start as they venture into their first big tour and first full-length album. When I asked McConnell if the Midwest and C-U have influenced their music at all, she was not afraid to give me a detailed and honest answer, that may very well be relatable for a lot of our readers:

A lot of themes in the album are kind of about escaping the Midwest, but not necessarily in a bad way. I’ve craved coasts and the ocean ever since I was a child. I like to imagine myself near the water or even mountains, I feel pretty at home in those landscapes. I’ll never lose touch of the warm-hearted Midwest, though. Champaign-Urbana has cradled me like a baby and watched me grow up into a pretty cool toddler in the music world, and I’m so thankful for the really supportive faces I see every day.

Even though McConnell reveals something that incites the bands’ creativity — that oh so inexplicable sense of longing for somewhere else — Grandkids is savvy, appreciating their roots. She recollects how they’ve grown musically and what she sees for the future:

I’d say that we’ve grown up a lot. The other night we sat down and listened to our first recorded songs as a band before we listened to songs off of our new album, and it was ridiculous! We weren’t horrible, and I think we were heading in the right direction, but listening to our album now, there is a complete shift in mood and themes. Things have gotten more mature, darker, and sonically way better. There are some definite themes that you can follow in this album, but since it was created over such a long time, I think sometimes it comes off as a little hodge-podge, but I like it that way. I’m not sure if these changes in our sound were intentional, but at one point, I think, we just kind of figured out the direction we wanted to head … That direction, at the same time, is always changing, and that’s what I like about Grandkids so much.

In the long run, I’d just love to be able to keep making music with my best friends, putting out albums, and touring the country in a minivan.

As McConnell looks back on their musical past, and notes how they are evolving as a band, she was able to shed some light on how the process for Timeshare, which will be their first full-length album, differs from their EPs. Their initial EPs — self-titled 2010, Sister Walls in March 2011, and Time Sensitive Material in November 2011 — are proof of not only their consistency as a band, but their growth. What begins as pop beats in Grandkids and includes the old school, talented twang of a voice like McConnell, turns into some serious strumming and percussion in Time Sensitive Material.

Photo courtesy of Troy Stanger.

It’s not just that Grandkids have grown up, it’s that they’ve been thoughtful and dedicated, acknowledging their need to goof around during the process of making the full-length, just as much as the need to take part in some big commutes to Chicago to get to work:

Generally, it just took a lot more time [with Timeshare]. Some of the songs on the album are almost two years old, and that’s kind of scary that it took this long. We were all so busy with school and stuff, and we recorded the album in Pieholden Suite Sound in Chicago, so that added [an over five] hour commute when we wanted to go up and work on things. It was awesome though; we often spent two weeks straight together, going crazy with cats, mellotron, and watching Lord of the Rings at night to clear our minds (I’m acknowledging that often I would have to turn off LOTR to go to bed, Adam and Evan!).

We spent a huge chunk of time in January of 2012 in the studio, and then would go up [to Chicago] on and off in the spring and summer. Finally, here we are. We got it mastered right in our neighborhood by Jonathon Pines of Private Studios, and we are so excited. We feel like we owe C-U a big one. Especially our Kickstarter backers; they were really the ones who made this album possible. Thank you!

While Grandkids will be showcasing the success that the C-U region has helped them foster, McConnell explains that this tour will be the first time they really step out of their Midwestern territory and into something with more breadth.

“One of the reasons that we are so excited to go on our tour,” she says, “is because our shows have mostly been in the Midwest. We love playing Chicago… We’ve [played] your standard rock clubs in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Iowa … an odd variety of graduation, high school reunion, and business parties […and] Pygmalion 2012,” which was the largest festival they’ve conquered yet, and has undoubtedly prepared them for the territory into which they are about to step. In addition to C-U, they’ll be playing SXSW, Fort Worth, Jackson, Atlanta, Newark, and Philadelphia, just to name a few.

Excited to make new friends and connections on the road, McConnell also adds that she “think[s] this tour will answer a lot of questions” for Grandkids, and includes that Timeshare will be “a huge milestone for [the] band,” adding her hope that “something will open its arms … and give [Grandkids] a huge slice of cake because of all of the hard work … put into this album, but all [they] can do is just keep doing what [they] know how to do, which is play music.”

This photo (and top photo) courtesy of Chris D. Davies.

There you have it. If anyone wants to bring McConnell a nice slice of angel food cake (not sure why, but that seems to match her personality best), she sounds like she is more than willing to take it. Conscientious not to speak too much for the other band members, she did add that all of them are stoked to be celebrating at Mike ‘N Molly’s: “We love Mike ‘N Molly’s from the deepest fig pits in our hearts. We wouldn’t be celebrating anywhere else. Come give us a worthwhile farewell!”

So to all you in Champaign-Urbana, come give them a farewell and a wish for good travels as they kick off their tour. And for any aspiring musicians, come see how it’s done.

Timeshare, will be released by Heirship Records (a local record label in C-U) tonight, just in time for their show. Information on Grandkids’s tour, previously released EPs, as well as their general whereabouts and information that they want to feed their fans, can be found on their website, Twitter, Soundcloud, or Bandcamp.

Apart from Grandkids, who we’re rooting for as they grow out of their roots here in C-U, Phox of Baraboo, Wisconsin, will also be playing at Mike ‘N Molly’s this Thursday night, along with Minor Characters, and Cold Fronts. Cold Fronts will be representing Philadelphia with their Pop-Punk Rock sound, and will doubtlessly get you moving with their irresistibly dance-inciting beats and catchy lyrics.

Phox is a super funky group that they’ve self-dubbed “experimental,” a name that they are living up to, but also surpassing. Your ears will be in awe listening to these cats as they never cease to surprise and delight with their pop character complemented by raw vocals that both soothe and surprise.

And finally, Minor Characters will be throwing down, as well; a good ol’ Midwestern band from Chicago, they take a more smooth and soothing approach to their sound, doing well to represent through their sensitive lyricism and a dark side that seems to have been born of a summer storm.

Remember, come Mike ‘N Molly’s tonight, doors at 8 p.m. and show at 9 p.m., if you want to see Grandkids, a band born and bred by this community, take the C-U stage before they take on the nation. Not only will you be in for the treat of seeing a great local band who is making their way in the world, but Phox, Minor Characters, and Cold Fronts will make this night a boisterous brew of tunes to keep your toes tapping and your souls alive.

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