It's been a long day. The madness of SXSW is nearing the end and my mind, my feet and my ears are tired. Austin, Texas can be a taxing place this time of year and I'm feeling it all over. And just then, as I'm seriously starting to wane, it happens. I'm standing on 6th Street outside Bourbon Rocks and these incredible three, four and even five-part vocal harmonies float above the crowd and through the open windows, easing their way into my blood and pulling me closer to Seattle's Grand Archives. Where minutes earlier I was dreaming about bed, now all I want is another Lone Star beer and more time with these beautiful compositions. It's no secret that music holds magical powers. I'm often drawn to the darker stuff, but something about this band fills me with energy, light, perhaps even hope.
31-year old guitarist-singer-songwriter Mat Brooke formed Grand Archives in 2006 after leaving one of the hottest bands on the planet, Band of Horses. The general assumption was that Brooke and main Horse Ben Bridwell had a falling out, but like most of what we hear on the street, that just wasn't the case.
"I never really even looked at it as leaving Band of Horses," says Brooke. "I wasn't in Band of Horses when Band of Horses started. It was always Ben's [band]. It's his baby, his project. He asked if I wanted to help out on that first record and so I did, and it was fun. Me and him and Phil [Ek - producer] and everybody else had a really good time making that record. But that record took off so darn fast, and it looked like it was about to become a full time thing. And so, yeah, I guess you could say I left, but I never really felt like I was a full time member from the get-go."
Bottom line is, Brooke just wasn't feeling the music. While it was Band of Horses that introduced most of the world to Mat Brooke, after graduating high school he had toiled for almost a decade in Carissa's Wierd (yes that's how it is spelled) and he was ready to move past the melancholy rock these bands were building. "Carissa's Wierd was super, just depressing music," sighs Brooke. "Band of Horses wasn't necessarily depressing, but [Grand Archives is] kind of aiming for this record to shoot for a little more of a life-doesn't-suck-that-bad kind of feel."
In retrospect this makes a lot of sense, because life for Mat Brooke doesn't suck. After splitting from BoH, Brooke focused on opening The Redwood, a bar in Seattle's Capitol Hill area. With the bar proving to be a great success, Brooke was feeling a little older, wiser and more well adjusted. It seemed the right time to start exploring this bright new outlook in a band. First he called on old friend, bass player Jeff Montano, who then suggested drummer Curtis Hall. Soon they added guitarist-keyboard player Ron Lewis and eventually another guitar slinger named Thomas Wright and they began to bang out Graham Nash and Beach Boys covers. Shocked at how well it was coming together, the obvious next step was to record an album.
Grand Archives by Hilary Harris
Moving between three different studios during the summer of 2007, the eleven dreamy songs on The Grand Archives (released February 19 through Sub Pop) appear simple upon first listen, but show tasteful complexity upon repeated spins. There are no massive guitar solos, drum workouts or fast-paced finger picking; that's not what this band is about. But, there are flugelhorns, French horns, trombones, violins, pedal steel guitar, ukulele and other interesting sounds.
"We just recorded the songs in a typical guitar, drums, bass rock fashion, and then eventually tried to take out all those tracks and replace them with something a little different," explains Brooke. "Like get rid of the bassline and do it on a cello, you know, kind of plucking it with your fingers, just to get kind of a different sound. I think we were probably at the time referencing tons of Brian Wilson's tricks, or Neutral Milk Hotel tricks. We had one rule, which was no synthesizers, so we couldn't rely on that as a crutch. For every sound we had to make, we had to manipulate piano strings or things like that to try to get unique sounds."
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