Grandfather, comprised of Josh Hoffman, drums, Jon Silverman, bass, and Michael Kirsh, guitar is a New York based three piece who pack a massively powerful sound of a band twice their size. Grandfather has pushed their way into the indie arena with powerful melodies and unadulterated arrangements. Suffice it to say, Grandfather is not your typical mash-up. With veteran record producer Steve Albini of Nirvana, Pixies, The Stooges, Mogai, and Cheap Trick fame, among countless others, who Grandfather can credit with some of the magic behind the EP, Why I'd Try, they are sure to be one of this year's hottest bands.
antiMusic caught up with bassist Jon Silverman for an in-depth look behind the music of Grandfather.
antiMusic: Can you give me a quick background on how you all met, what inspired you to play together, where you were before you formed Grandfather?
Jon: We first met through a mutual friend of ours in 2005. At that time, I was in another band and Josh and Mike were already making music together with him. They asked me to play bass on their EP, which at the time totally blew me away. Between Mike's sitar playing and Josh's intensity on drums, I was convinced. It encouraged me to think outside the box and grow as a bassist.
antiMusic: Where do you draw inspiration?
Jon: We naturally draw from our influences, live music, and the daily struggle, but most of all we get inspired by each other's ideas.
antiMusic: How do you handle creative blocks?
Jon: Sometimes all we need is space apart and time to be creative individually. We then come back together with a fresh perspective and tackle new ideas much more efficiently. When all else fails, we try to use musical devices and techniques learned from our favorite artists that don't necessarily depend on spur-of-the-moment creativity.
antiMusic: How many incarnations has the band undergone before you came to this lineup? Or are you fortunate enough to be the original?"
Jon: This is the second incarnation of Grandfather. For about a year we were working as a four piece and did not end up with a completed record. We ultimately slimmed down to Josh, Mike and I. Then the three of us got working on what became Why I'd Try.
antiMusic: Talk about working with Steve Albini? How did that relationship form?
Jon: We were all familiar with his work and thought he was the right man for the job. So we simply called up Electrical Audio and booked a session with him. Of course, we had to sell all of our own audio equipment and have a Kickstarter page to afford it – but we were confident in our decision. Watching him work was fascinating and he was happy to answer any questions we had in great detail. Throughout the session, he also pointed out different sounds and parts of the music that reminded him of bands he recorded in the past. It was a lot of fun hearing him tell stories about the people he's worked with. Despite whatever you hear, he's a really nice guy and it was an honor working with him.
antiMusic: You recorded in Chi town, what was that like and did the landscape influence you at all while you were there?
Jon: Chicago is an amazing city. Since we're all natives of NYC and had never been to Chicago, we were happy to see that Chicago holds its own. We arrived at 3am so we didn't see that much at first, but I remember saying, "This is a REAL city!" The next day we got to walk around town and checked out Millenium Park, which seems like an amazing venue to see a show. Everything was so clean, and the architecture was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the landscape didn't influence the music. We were under such strict timelines that we had to execute our game plan with no room for error. Although, we did finish a lyric of "The Outcome" at a park near the beach on Lake Michigan, before a cop told us to scram.
antiMusic: You sought to work with Albini to get some of the rawness he puts into his records--a la Nirvana, the Pixies. What did he do for your sound?
Jon: He made us sound as big as we hear ourselves in our heads, without sacrificing the natural sounds of our instruments and amps. It was absolutely no surprise to hear how we sounded once we recorded the material, because to us, that's just how we always sounded! In mixing, he took what we did live and accented and highlighted areas of songs. For instance, at the end of "You're Strange", you can hear a very powerful explosion of sound when we enter the outro. He mixed the whole song up until that point, printed it to ½" tape, and proceeded mixing the outro in a different fashion, printed that and cut the two together precisely. He just boosted the room mics and changed the levels to achieve a grander and more spacious sound for that part – a technique he called a "mix-let". When hearing the two together in the final product, we couldn't have been more excited. It's things like that, which make Albini a strong presence on a band's record.
antiMusic: Talk about recording on 2" analog tapes and how that has changed the quality of your sound?
Jon: When first conceiving the album, we recorded every song ourselves using our digital gear. Granted we didn't have a world-class digital recording facility, but we used what we had and made it sound pretty decent. When recording to 2" tape, we definitely noticed a big difference. Suddenly, there was more room for the instruments to breathe and there was a greater sense of punch and transparency. Hits felt harder, dynamics of each player were more noticeable, and the clarity was shocking.
antiMusic: Why analog? Will you use protools or digitized recording in the future?
Jon: We used analog simply because our engineer of choice used analog. Was that a major plus? Absolutely. However, we don't hold a vendetta against the digital recording world. Digital recording is very useful: It's convenient, user-friendly, and helps artists develop new ideas easily. We can't say for sure whether we'll use a digitized recording in the future, it depends on the engineer we choose.
antiMusic: What kinds of differences do you hear in your recording from using analog that you think may have gotten lost if you went the more recent traditional route?
Jon: The recording probably would've been less dynamic and not as warm and punchy. It's definitely not a make or break type of thing. It's a matter of aesthetic.
antiMusic: What was the hardest track to record and why?
Jon: It's different for each of us, but if we had to pick one it'd be "Tremors". The intricacy and spontaneity of Mike's guitar lines in that track proved to be difficult when recording live with the band (to the point of satisfaction). That's a very physically draining drum part as well so playing multiple takes in a row got very tiring for Josh.
antiMusic: Tell us a story behind one of the tracks?
Jon: When coming up with "You're Strange", Josh conceived the progression and melody on piano. When brought to the band, it was difficult to arrange for guitar, bass, and drums. After a couple of tedious weeks playing it, I wasn't happy with my bass part and it seemed like it was missing something. We then jammed out on E for a while, and that allowed for the creation of the bass line in the beginning and ending. That was a great moment because the song came full circle with that intro and outro, and that sparked other great ideas for the rest of the song.
antiMusic: Was there someone or something in particular that inspired a favorite track?
Jon: No, nothing comes to mind.
antiMusic: What is your favorite track and why?
Jon: "Caught Off Guard" is definitely one of my favorites. The vocal melody over those guitar lines gets me every time. I also love how the second part is in a different meter and each part of the song never comes back again, the ol' ABC form.
antiMusic: What is your pick for a single?
Jon: Tremors. It has a strong beat that catches your attention right away, and follows a traditional rock song form. It also has a monster guitar solo.
antiMusic: Talk about (one of my favorites) the song, "No One Knows No One."
Jon: It's definitely one of the tracks that came together easiest. Josh came up with the melody at the piano in one session, and Mike wrote the lyrics on a bus ride. When it was brought to the room, we jammed it out and that was that. The ending is a lot of fun to play!
antiMusic: What is the best part about your job as a musician?
Jon: Performing live. There's nothing like being on stage and expressing yourself in front of a lot of people – especially when they're receptive.
antiMusic: You strike me as a band that goes for purity of sound, talk a little bit about what influences you and motivates you to find the perfect sound?
Jon: We each have a very strong and precise idea of how we want our own instruments to sound, combining those sounds gets us to a point where our musical statement is clear and gets across well. Bands that we love all do this extremely well, and that's what influences and motivates us to do what we do.
antiMusic: Do you think melody, lyrics or arrangements are most important to your recordings?
Jon: Arrangements are most important to us.
antiMusic: Who does the majority of writing?
Jon: We each have a skill in the writing process that works well. Depending on who came up with the initial idea on what instrument dictates how we'll proceed with arranging it. Once in a while we'll come up with something together during practice and that always yields the best results.
antiMusic: What kind of collaboration do you employ with each other? Are you more of a democracy or a totalitarian rule?
Jon: We're definitely a democracy. It's a principle that we've abided by ever since forming a band. With an odd number of members, votes are a lot easier. However, come to think of it, we really don't need to vote that often. It's pretty cool that we're on the same page most of the time.
antiMusic: What have you learned about yourself as musician's through this process? About each other?
Jon: We've learned that making music your business requires determination, ambition, and most of all diligence. We are constantly learning, but so far staying true to ourselves and making music with authenticity is most important.
antiMusic: What would you do differently in the future? Do you see yourselves branching off into a similar or different creative direction?
Jon: Creatively, I think what will come from us will be a little different than "Why I'd Try" but with the same vibe and attitude. It's tough to say, but however we're feeling at the time will direct our path. I can't see us turning into Lady Gaga anytime soon.
antiMusic: Who were your influences growing up?
Jon: Is it still ok to say The Beatles? Nirvana and the Chili Peppers were definitely some big ones, but there's so many more.
antiMusic: What was the music scene like growing up and what did you hate about it?
Jon: For me it was kind of weird. I was in a hardcore band called Without Reason in high school and the scene was a bunch of older dudes looking to crowd bash innocent by-standers. The music was pretty intense and awesome, but shows would be completely shut down due to the idiots ruining it for everybody. The flip side to that was of course the hip-hop generation. I grew up in Queens so there was naturally a huge boom in rap in the 90's. For a minute, it seemed like everybody forgot who or what a band was anymore and only wanted to listen to hip-hop. I definitely love good hip-hop, but it was pretty strange how me being a "rock kid" put me in the minority at the time where I was from.
antiMusic: What do you think about music today and where it is headed?
Jon: There's so much music out there and so many music fans that it's very hard to say in general. Most of the time, it's like finding a needle in a haystack when we come across a good band. If you mean pop music, you're asking the wrong guys because we stopped following a long time ago.
antiMusic: What's next for you?
Jon: Performing live and getting our album into the ears of potential fans is what's next. It's important that people experience our live show to get the full effect of the music. Although Steve did a great job capturing our live performance on record, there's nothing like seeing it right in front of you.
antiMusic: Can we expect a studio album?
Jon: Definitely, we're in the process of writing a batch of new material. As soon as we solidify them and filter the ones that we want to record, we'll head into the studio and release our sophomore effort. We're extremely excited with what's to come. To keep up to date, follow us on facebook and twitter and we'll let you know what's happening.
CD Info and Links
First Look: Grandfather