Grant leans dark with latest album
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.