Grant leans dark with lat­est al­bum

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr [email protected]­mer­cialap­peal.com

Life may have changed over the years for Mem­phis singer-song­writer Robby Grant, but mu­sic has re­mained con­stant.

De­spite a full-time job (as man­ager of in­ter­ac­tive devel­op­ment with archer>malmo) and a grow­ing fam­ily, Grant has re­mained a pro­lific cre­ative force since the demise of his much-beloved band Big Ass Truck in 2001.

Since then, he has recorded half a dozen al­bums with his solo stu­dio project Vend­ing Ma­chine and his in­die-rock out­fit Mouse­rocket.

This week, New York City’s Shoul­der Tap Records re­leases Let the Peo­ple Sing, Grant’s lat­est ef­fort un­der the Vend­ing Ma­chine moniker. He’ll mark the oc­ca­sion with a post-Thanks­giv­ing per­for­mance Fri­day at the Hi-Tone Café.

The new al­bum fol­lows three years af­ter Grant’s pre­vi­ous LP, King Co­bras D o. The long gap be­tween records came partly be­cause Grant de­cided against work­ing in a con­ven­tional stu­dio; in­stead, he chipped away at the al­bum at home, work­ing in his at­tic.

“On this record, I prob­a­bly had 20 or 25 songs that I fin­ished that I kept whit­tling away un­til I had the 11 that I was happy with,” says Grant. “I wouldn’t call my­self a per­fec­tion­ist. But I did want to sculpt the songs, and I find the home stu­dio the only way to do that ef­fec­tively.”

Un­like past Vend­ing Ma­chine col­lec­tions — which mixed a quirky pop sen­si­bil­ity and arch ex­per­i­men­tal lean­ings — Sing finds Grant drift­ing into darker and denser sonic and lyrical ter­ri­tory.

“It does feel a lit­tle bit darker than some of my other stuff,” says Grant, 37. “I think just get­ting a lit­tle bit older, I’m more in­tro­spec­tive and try­ing to find more mean­ing in things.”

Pre­vi­ously, Grant’s more dis­so­nant songs had found a home in Mouse­rocket, his side project with punk/no-wave songstress Alicja Trout.

On Sing, Grant mem­o­rably en­lists Trout to cre­at­ing a sound col­lage coda to “Mo­ments Tune.” “I had this short piece; the first half was al­ready done,” says Grant. “And I’d heard Alicja do some re­ally in­ter­est­ing sound col­lages be­fore. So I asked her, and two weeks later she had the whole end part, which was pretty in­cred­i­ble.”

An­other Mem­phian who adds to the pro­ceed­ings is signer-song­writer Shelby Bryant. Bryant, who has been liv­ing abroad, teach­ing English in China, con­nected with Grant via on­line video hookups, with the two fin­ish­ing lyrics for “Naked as a Jay­bird,” and Bryant con­tribut­ing keys to “I Don’t Think Why.”

“Our sched­ules sort of synched be­cause as I would be com­ing home at the end of my work day, he’d be start­ing his,” says Grant. “We would Skype a lot and talk about stuff, have con­ver­sa­tions back and forth, and he helped fin­ish the verses to the song.”

The Vend­ing Ma­chine live lineup — which in­cludes gui­tarist Quinn Pow­ers, drum­mers Robert Bar­nett and John Ar­groves, and bassist/brother Grayson Grant — chips in on a cou­ple tracks. But it’s Grant’s two young chil­dren, son Five and daugh­ter Sadie, who steal the show.

Grant’s 6-year-old girl chirps high har­monies on “Like a Jay­bird,” while his 11 year-old boy — who sang a duet with Grant at this year’s Rock for Love ben­e­fit con­certs — takes over on “The Com­puter Thing.”

“I helped him dial in a cou­ple sounds, but that’s him writ­ing all the melodies and lyrics and play­ing,” says proud papa Grant. “He plays a lot of pi­ano and is re­ally get­ting into cre­at­ing.”

Grant, who has con­fined Vend­ing Ma­chine to lo­cal stages, says the group may play Austin’s an­nual South by South­west mu­sic con­fer­ence next year. But he’s quick to add that he won’t be hit­ting the road prop­erly un­til his brood is grown.

“I’m not go­ing to be tour­ing un­til the kids get a lit­tle bit older,” he says, “but I’m build­ing up a li­brary of songs. So when I do tour, we’ll have plenty to play.”

On his new record, Robby Grant de­cided against work­ing in a con­ven­tional stu­dio. In­stead, he worked in his at­tic.

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