Grand Analog Brings The Headphone Music
After conquering Canada’s hip hop scene, Grand Analog is now coming for the world. Off the heels of their SXSW appearance, the Toronto-based band is touring through Europe to promote their third studio album Modern Thunder, out this month in the US under Jillionaire’s (known as one half of Major Lazer) Feel Up Records. Life is good for MC Odario Williams, DJ Ofield Williams, bassist Warren Bray, keyboardist Alistar Johnson and drummer TJ Garcia, who are preparing to perform at UK’s The Great Escape Festival in May. Frontman Odario Williams sat down with Milk Made to talk about being a “buzz band,” their lo-fi approach to producing Modern Thunder and their unique brand of hip hop.
Milk Made: First, congrats on releasing Wild Animal Print. It’s really good.
OW: Thank you!
MM: You guys were at SXSW. How was that?
OW: Yes! SXSW was good. The first time we went to SXSW, it was seven years. It was still an up-and-coming festival more for industry types. It was a cute city, Austin. The Austin locals are quite friendly and welcoming. We went this year, and now all the Austin locals get the hell out of the city. They leave for a week, because they can’t stand the fact that their city is literally invaded by musicians, artists, whatever, all over the world coming to… whether it’s to share ideas or hopefully play for someone that can possibly get them to the next level.
I just said, “Wow, man. This is overload.” But we did three gigs that were all well-attended. It’s nice to be a buzz band. You gotta soak that in when it’s happening, you know. It’s nice to be that and have people come and check you out.
MM: Is it a different vibe performing for an American audience?
OW: Well, SXSW was a mix of all different kinds of audiences. There was quite a few Germans in there. A few Americans in there. You Americans like to differentiate yourselves. San Francisco specifically was in the house that night, I gotta give a shout out. [Laughts] New York was in the house. Of course, fellow Canadians were in the house so it was nice. It started to spread and then build, so by the third show it was pretty hyped. I think the sound is pretty universal. A lot of people didn’t know we were from Canada. The San Francisco kids thought we were from California.
MM: What can we expect from the new album?
OW: We take pride in making what I like to call headphone music. I’m not knocking earbuds. You can put on earbuds if you want to, but this is headphone music. You put the headphones on, whether you’re going to work, going to school, riding on the subway, riding a streetcar, riding your bike, whatever. Put your headphones on. Put this music on and it will make you feel good. You’ll find all kinds of nice little nuances happening that you didn’t catch the first time. We’re nerds like that. We’re a collection of music geeks. We sit down and use all this old analog gear. Not because it’s easy. It’s difficult. [Laughs] It’s a challenge we take upon ourselves. We use a lot of very cool gear from the ‘60s and ‘70s and because of that we really wanted to make it musical. And me being the MC, I had to do my part and actually supply the visuals to these beats and supply the poetry to the music. In that sense, it’s a nice little package. It’s for the nerd in you.
MM: Explain the sound of the album because it’s a blend of things.
OW: Well, it still has a foundation of hip hop. I do watch a lot of people try to come up with a genre name. They don’t have to be doing that. It’s still hip hop. It’s just that we’re a live band so we have the freedom to do whatever we want. I’m not locked to a sample machine. If we want to try something we can. There’s nothing stopping us from doing that. There are very few hip hop bands out there, I’m still surprised by that. I mean, there’s a lot of MC’s out there or a lot of artists who make their music synthetically in the studio. Then when they’re going on tour they have whole full bands. The songs don’t sound the same when you do that. So we want what you’re hearing on the record to match what you’re hearing live and vice versa. So whatever you find first, it will be the same experience, the same energy.
MM: You wanted to take a different approach with Modern Thunder? What are some of the things that differentiate this album from your other releases.
OW: I’m learning. I read an article by Feist, who’s one of my favorite artist. I remember she said for her third album, “I did my best to approach this with a clean slate.” And I knew exactly what she was talking about. Because you don’t necessarily want to be caught bringing things from older albums onto your new album because it worked last time. Just because it worked last time doesn’t mean it’s going to work this time. You don’t want to get into that mindset. And it’s very difficult. That’s why I approach it with a clean slate. That was the lesson I learned. And that’s what we did with Modern Thunder. Because we knew there was going to be a new audience as well.
MM: What has been your favorite thing about producing this album?
OW: I told the guys, "Let’s be kids. Let’s bring our inner child out. Let’s honestly be a bunch of adolescents." [Laughs] "Let’s not be adults about the creation of this music at all." I just like to experiment. One of the guys in the band said to me, “How about we make music that we want to hear.” I thought that’s a great idea. And I thought it was very free-minded of him to say that. We don’t have any pressures from anybody.
MM: You’ll be performing at The Great Escape festival in May in Great Britain. Will this be your first time in the UK?
OW: It is! And I’m not going to try to emulate that accent. [Laughs] I have a friend though, Peter. When I talk to Pete I try to emulate his accent. He always says I do it wrong. “You’re still incorrect with it.”
MM: There’s actually a really good trick to nailing the British accent. You’re supposed to talk like you have a hot potato in your mouth.
OW: “Talk like you have a hot potato in your mouth. It seems my mouth is burning.” I like that. That’s a good one. OK, I’m going to work on that one. But yeah we’re looking forward to that. We’ve done other countries. We’ve done France and Germany. But we haven’t done the big, bad London. We’re doing our thing.
MM: That’s great. Hip hop is going through a resurgence right now. And it’s great to see it. Especially since the younger generation has a different take on what hip hop is.
OW: I know what you mean. There’s a generation that’s so serious about it. The thing is, hip hop is young. What I like about it is that it changes so quickly, more so than any other genre. Jazz is still always jazz. Country is still always country. But hip hop is still uncovered ground when you think of the beginnings of it. And we have those early cats, like Run DMC and LL Cool J and Ice Cube, looking like, “Wow I had no idea hip hop could do that.” [Laughs] When you listen to an old school guy talk, his mind is blown because he didn’t know that hip hop could still have new ground.
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