INTERVIEW

It’s never too late to start planning. Grass House just don’t want to.

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Words by Daniel Dylan Wray | Photography by Elinor Jones

Grass House, who consist of Liam Palmer (vocals, guitar), Steven Dove (guitar, vocals), Nicholas Jones (bass, vocals) and Ross Hall (drums, vocals), have been a slow-burning, albeit burgeoning talent in London’s underground for around two years now. Keeping well off the terrain of industry – and sonic – convention, they have existed and flourished against a rise of fads and fashions of which their musical output and collected aesthetic has stood in stoic opposition. They started their own small label (Holiday Club), released their own records, gigged hard and focused inward, sharpening, refining and honing their indistinguishable sound even further with lush textures, choral vocals and an ever-expanding lyrical palette.

More recently, their vast experimentation of melodies and time signatures has seen them abandon almost everything they have recorded in their earlier, more primitive guise.

“I think you spend a long time trying to figure out what you sound like and I think we sounded like a lot of other people for a good while,” admits Liam.

“I don’t think we play anything from the first two EP’s at all anymore,” adds Ross as we huddle up on the bunk beds backstage at Manchester’s Deaf Institute, post a support show with Cold Speck.

What this means is that aside from the excellent current single ‘The Boredom Rose’ (out now on Dancing Coins), and the delightfully infectious, Johnny Cash croon of previous single ‘A Cradle, A short Breath’, the band exist in an ever-expanding, ever-changing, almost unknown quantity.

“We’re quite ruthless,” says Liam. “If something’s not very good, we’ll just cut it. We wrote a song that we thought was amazing about a month ago and played it three times and then cut it because once you play it live you begin to figure out what it’s like and what we thought was incredible turned out to be too simple and pointless – it was rushed together.”

“We’ve played a lot of gigs,” says Nick, “so it’s also pretty easy to gauge an audiences reaction to a new song too, which can often help in working out what goes and what stays.”

As Liam puts it, “There is always a song in our set hanging below the guillotine, waiting to be cut.”

There are, however, many instantly recognisable sonic characteristics to Grass House, from Steven’s melancholic (and melodic) guitar lines that weave and glide through the song’s cores to the inescapable, purred vocal delivery. Liam has an undeniably distinctive and idiosyncratic voice – it can be dense, coarse and syrupy all in the space of one song, however, in the wrong hands it could prove to be both an overpowering and overshadowing element. Thankfully, in the hands of Grass House it sits alongside three other equally important voices that collectively act as one, albeit one that manages to avoid sinking into the gloopy mire of twee, superfluous harmonising.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,” Ross tells me. “I think as we’ve grown closer as a unit and become more comfortable with our vocals it’s become a lot more prominent, to the point where I feel we can succeed with that sound.”

“The backing vocals are supposed to be like monk chants,” Liam says, then rather solicitously frowns at himself and asks his band “is that right?”.

“Sort of,” comes the wry, deadpan response from Steven.

“Maybe more operatic?” Liam rethinks.

“I think more like a church choir,” says Ross as Nick chuckles at the back and forth.

Perhaps the point being made here, even unknowingly by the band themselves, is that the Grass House’s sound is difficult to pin down. It can’t be compartmentalised, nor is it easily definable or instantly familiar by genre association, which has led to an often bizarre series of comparisons from journalists that have ranged from Captain Beefheart to Bon Iver to ‘horror rock’. “Whatever that is,” quips Steven. “It’s nice to be quite hard to pigeonhole because it means we’re in some way carving it out for ourselves,” he says. “If every song is considered a different style, but at the same time still recognisably ‘us’, then we cannot be accused of sticking to formulas in any way.”

Indeed, resting on their laurels seems an utterly abhorrent concept to Grass House.

“The moment you believe you’ve got to where you thought you’d go to, the whole thing starts to rot,” says Liam when speaking of his band’s perpetual and irrefragable desire to experiment and move forward. “I don’t think you can stop creativity progressing the sound or output of the band, and when you try to, you end up working to bland formulas that probably only succeeded because they were once new and exciting to you. There is nothing worse than reproducing the same trite ideas, year-in year-out, in a bid to keep the listener onside. It is patronising to the audience to think that they would want to listen to the same song wrapped up in a slightly different guise over and over again, and in truth, they are not the kind of audience we want.

“I also feel I’ve a long way to go as a lyricist,” continues Liam. “I want the words to stand on their own without music and not read as clichés or quasi-philosophical bullshit. At every point throughout our lives we reckon we know it all, it is only with time that we realise how naive we were, while at the same time believing ourselves to now be privy to all the secrets of the universe… and so the cycle continues. What I am going a long way round saying is that I do not want us to ever stop moving and evolving in every direction. If we continue to challenge ourselves we can really start to justify our reasons for doing this. Music is an art-form and should be treated as such, though hopefully without pomp or pretension and, most importantly, without boring the audience.”

At the end of October the band will hole up in a studio in Wales for a week and whittle down a potential “seventy or eighty” songs to make their debut album, and in typical music-orientated fashion, the pragmatics of the process come low down on the priority list. “We’ve got this far without too much planning so it’s probably best we don’t start now,” Steven reasons. “All we want to do is make a great record, and hopefully people will get what we’re trying to do. That way we’ll be able to make another one.”

Originally published in Loud And Quiet 43. Read the issue in full here.

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