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Unlocked: Q&A with Grandchildren mastermind Aleks Martray

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“The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.” - Willem de Kooning, 1968

Everybody deals with getting older in different ways.  Some people get motorcycles, others opt for meditation retreats, but everyone faces it regardless. It is the constant struggle to age gracefully, and Aleks Martray and the members of Grandchildren are all dealing with very essential times of their lives. One of the results of the past few years is their new album Golden Age, out May 7th, which The Key is exploring for Unlocked series this week. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the daily routine we caught up with Aleks Martray to chat about the recording process, growing older, and defining the Golden Age.

The Key: What is the Golden Age? 

Aleks Martray: It has sort of become a catchall.  I tend to write a bunch of music and not really know thematically what I’m working with, or what the message is, it’s all music first.  I work a lot more like a composer or an arranger. I have all of this material that I compile, and then I sit back and listen to it and create songs out of it. The lyrics, the words, the concepts, they all come at that last phase once the music has come together. I never really know what I am writing about until the end, and “Golden Age” happens to be the last song I wrote for the album. I think of it like how an author writes an entire book, and then they write an epilogue, and somehow, the epilogue becomes the arc of the story.

For me, that specific song (“Golden Age”) was about the feeling of getting older, and those moments where you feel a narrowing of the openness and possibility of anything happening in your life, and the excitement of it all. And it was about having an experience that was renewed, where you no longer have to see things that way, and things are still open and possible.

It was also about having gone through a lot of things the past few years with family and friends. The past couple years have been weddings and funeral and babies being born, so it is just that time in my life and my band members lives where there is this generational shift, and you are just in the middle trying to place yourself in it. As an adult, and as an artist, and when you are around your parents and grandparents shifting to old age and you have your friends shifting to other phases of life, what happens is everything comes to the surface. It is a sea change moment. “Golden Age” was really revolving around this idea, that everybody, no matter what age or generation, has this magical, golden reference point of the way things used to be, or aught to be, but that is always just a figment of ones imagination.

TK: There seems to be a relationship between the song “Everlasting” from your last album and the new album.  Was the thought process that went into “Everlasting” a jumping off point for the new record?

AM: The song “Everlasting” was written, not only at the end of the first record, but a few months after the whole thing was finished. I was actually writing “Everlasting” to start a new record. I think it was the beginning of the process of starting a new record.  Two things happened, stylistically I was going in a really different direction. I was a lot more interested in singing and putting the vocals up front, because I have never been a natural singer before, I have always been a songwriter and the singing just came as something I had to figure out. And then beats, being very beat oriented.  Those are two things that came together just from writing that song “Everlasting,” and I think that definitely was the beginning of the new album.  I see that song “Everlasting”, as a link or bridge between the two albums, and I think you can sort of hear that.
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Unlocked: Explore the artwork for Grandchildren’s new album, Golden Age, with frontman Aleks Martray

Several of the members of Grandchildren are artists in additional mediums besides music. Some of them went to school for painting, while frontman Aleks Martray studied film. Needless to say, the album art for Grandchildren is not a simple after thought and was conceptualized with a keen visual eye. This week for our Unlocked series we’re exploring Grandchildren’s new album Golden Age, and today we take a look at Golden Age’s nostalgic cover art with some commentary by Martray.

Front Cover:

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“Yeah I worked for months and months on album art, had a bunch of different drafts and ideas but nothing really worked.  I didn’t even have a grasp on what the album was about yet, but I think when I wrote “Golden Age” and realized what the album was all about, right away this little photo that I had found a few years back came into my mind. I thought, that’s it, no question, no intentions, that’s the image that all this music is about.

My grandfather passed away a few years back and I was in his house with my dad just cleaning it out, and I am kind of a history buff, particularly when it comes to my family history, so I was just collecting hundreds of photos that were all over the house, and out of these hundreds of photos I found this one photo and I never before looked at a photograph and in one second everything was just put into perspective and everything just made sense and was so clear. To me, I know all these people at an older age, so I could already see into their character, so it looked really true to life, but on the other hand, it looked like a staged photograph with costumes and blocking involved. But really it was just this moment in 1969 when my father had graduated from West Point where his family just stood there, and somebody took the picture.

I think it is a really intriguing image, and when somebody who doesn’t know these people sees it, it is even more powerful because they can inject it with their own experiences, their own ideas.  It is a very open photograph in a lot of ways.  I like anything that borders the line between fact and fiction, or reality and imagination, so for me, the photo is really powerful in that way.”

Back Cover:

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“The back cover is at a place called Battle Monument, which is actually a Civil War monument. It is an outlook over the Hudson and I have dozens of photos and videos of myself hanging out there as a kid, but it’s at the same location where the front photograph was taken. It’s the idea that the front is a photo from 1969, and then the back is a place where I spent a lot of time as a kid in the 80’s. It was a weird, surreal place to grow up, because, it was a military base so I was surrounded by military culture and these monument cannons, but I would just sit on these cannons and look out over the Hudson. It was a really calm and beautiful place, and it was a weird paradox to have all this military culture in such a beautiful place when you are a kid.” 

Gatefold Art: 
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Unlocked: Download “End Times” by Grandchildren, stream their new album, Golden Age (playing Johnny Brenda’s this Friday, May 3)

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When talking to Aleks Martray, singer, guitarist and band leader for the orchestral pop band Grandchildren, he said, about his role in the band: “I feel kind of like The Wizard behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz.”  The cinematic allusion is fitting, given the small stature of the front man and the massive, sweeping compositions he creates. Grandchildren’s new album, Golden Age, finds the band both refining and expanding upon the distinctive sound and dynamics from their 2010 debut album Everlasting. The album, produced by Chris Powell (Man Man) and Bill Moriarty, is coming out on Ernest Jenning Record Co. on May 7th.

This week, we are delving into Golden Age for our Unlocked series, where we feature in-depth coverage of new releases from notable Philadelphia-based artists. Today, we are getting the ball rolling with the pulsing, hypnotic track “End Times”, where Martray’s commanding tenor and the bands fervor reintroduce you to a reinvigorated Grandchildren. Below, download the track below and stream the full album via here via Allmusic.

Grandchildren celebrate their record release this Friday, May 3rd at Johnny Brenda’s with support from The Lawsuits, Laser Background, DJ POW POW (Man Man’s Chris Powell).

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Laser Background record a new song for Brighton Sound Sessions (playing Johnny Brenda’s on 5/3)

LBNorth Wales recording space Brighton Sound Studio pulled in Philly psych / pop band Laser Background for their latest video series, produced by local venture Seven Knots Productions.  The first of three recordings originating in the recent session, “Fizzy Lifting Drinks” is a song that will be featured on Laser Backgrounds new LP Super Future Montage.  The Andy Moholt-led project looks and sounds great in the video, and you can be sure they will look and sound great at Johnny Brenda’s on May 3rd when they support Grandchildren‘s album release alongside The Lawsuits.  Tickets and information for the show can be found here.  Watch “Fizzy Lifting Drinks” below and stick around for the rest of the Laser Background series.

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Grandchildren premiere video for “Sunrise” on Consequence of Sound

GrandchildrenTaking some much-deserved downtime until the May release of Golden Age, Philly chamber-pop outfit Grandchildren rolled out a new video for “Sunrise” via Consequence of Sound this week.  The video seems to parallel that of 2010′s “Saturn Returns” with a protagonist, in this case a young girl, making her way through a reality-blurred forest with taxidermied animals and mysterious figures in a technicolor structure.  Check out the video below and stay tuned for the impending release of Grandchildren’s sophomore effort.

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Watch Grandchildren perform “End Times” for the Choice/Cuts Session Series

Grandchildren | Photo by John Vettese
Grandchildren | Photo by John Vettese

Philly art-pop seven-piece Grandchildren is taking it easy a for a bit – their sophomore album Golden Age doesn’t come out until May, and the only shows on their agenda between now and then are two gallery appearances in Brooklyn – but that doesn’t mean there’s not more new music to be heard. Last week we got another taste of the album in this performance of “End Times” from The Deli Magazine and HotBox Studios‘ resurrected Choice/Cuts session series. Check it out below, and watch their performance of “Sunrise” (part one of the Grandchildren feature) here.

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The Week So Far: 11 must-read stories on The Key (incl. Amos Lee, SXSW and Purling Hiss)

Photo: Gary Miller/FilmMagic
Photo: Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Dave Grohl gave an inspiring and insightful Keynote Speech at last week’s SXSW [link]

Cursive and The Good Life frontman Tim Kasher came to Folkadelphia in his solo acoustic capacity for this week’s live session [link]

Mondays’ My Morning Download featured L.A. five piece The Lonely Wild and their track “Everything You Need” [link]

Florida / NYC duo The Saint Johns were highlighted for XPN’s Gotta Hear Song of the Week with their song “Your Head and Your Heart” [link]

Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five and Guster announced a date at The Mann for July 18th [link]

Purling Hiss are the focus of Unlocked this week; their major label debut Water On Mars was released on Tuesday through Drag City [link]

Philly bands Vacationer, Grandchildren, Lantern and more invaded Austin for SXSW with an impressive showing of hard work and talent [link]

Appel Farm announced a line-up for the June 1st festival that includes Brandi Carlile, Low Cut Connie and Delta Rae [link]

The Philly Drum Project will celebrate its first anniversary at World Cafe Live on April 23rd [link]

Get an exclusive listen of Amos Lee covering “Some Days Are Diamonds” from The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver [link]

Slingshot Dakota‘s positive, upbeat pop / punk songs shine in this week’s Key Session [link]

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Go H.A.M. or Go Light? Philly favorites take different approaches at SXSW (incl. Grandchildren, Lantern, Free Energy and more)

Free Energy | Photo by John Vettese
Free Energy | Photo by John Vettese

The SXSW PHL showcase wasn’t the only place to see musicians from the Delaware Valley last week. A wide variety of musicians from the region made the trek, with a wide variety of approaches. For instance, Wilmington’s New Sweden took the barn-burning powerhouse approach, not only playing a packed tour on the way down, but jamming in an impressive (and as yet unquantified) number of SXSW showcases into its itinerary between Monday and Saturday. Other artists took it light, by comparison.

Vacationer | Photo by John Vettese
Vacationer | Photo by John Vettese

We caught Kenny Vasoli’s Vacationer in their last show of South By Southwest on Saturday night at the infamous Hype Hotel venue, sponsored by The Hype Machine. It was the breezy electronic pop band’s second of two shows, and the relaxed pace left Vasoli in the most exuberant of exuberant moods during their set.

“This has been the best experience I’ve ever had at South by Southwest,” he reminded the crowd at uber-frequent intervals. Like, seriously, in between every song of their 30-minute set. “It’s been such a great few days, and I’ve got all of you to thank for that.” Back in his old pop-punk band The Starting Line, Vasoli probably got swept awat in the hammering gauntlet that the industry festival can be – hence the easygoing approach this time. He’s not alone. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Grandchildren at Underground Arts, Black Horse Motel at Kung Fu Necktie, Up The Chain at Milkboy and more

GrandchildrenTonight at Underground Arts, local experimental pop band Grandchildren will kick off their spring tour and give fans a taste of their new album Golden Age, which is slated for a May release. Yesterday, The Key’s Adam Gould talked to Grandchildren about five things that have changed about the band since their 2010 debut Everlasting; read the interview here. Opening the 21+ show are Buried Beds and Son Step, more information is available at the WXPN Concert Calendar. Below, watch Grandchildren performing “Sunrise” for The Deli and Hot Box Studios’ Choice/Cuts session series.

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Five things that have happened to Grandchildren since their last album

GrandchildrenIt is pretty surprising that Grandchildren are still a band given what they have been through since releasing their cinematic debut Everlasting back in 2010. Others would have thrown in the towel, but instead Grandchildren have come out re-energized, with a clearer trajectory and a intuitive, collaborative new album called Golden Age (out May 7th on Ernest Jenning Record Co.). In anticipation of their show at Underground Arts this Friday we met up with Aleks Martray, Roman Salcic and David Fishkin to talk about what has changed in the Grandchildren camp since their last album.

1a. Label Disintegration

Aleks Martray: Our original label (Green Owl) ceased to exist. That was a rollercoaster, nightmare scenario. We had finally got this new label on paper and in our heads it was a great thing. You know, Warner imprint label, Ben Bronfman, MIA connection all these name-dropping superficial opportunities. And we were able to tour, put out a record. We were finally able to make to make a little money get a little licensing opportunities and within months it sort of disappeared. And you realize it is smoke and mirror when people are name-dropping that much, so it is all just an illusion.

So the worst thing that happened at the time was we went from feeling like everything was on track, to being back to square one, but the way I look at it now, that was really the moment when I decided to start writing a new record, and I was going to do everything I wanted to do with the first record but didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I had a clear vision for what I wanted to do, so it was real momentum to get back to the drawing board artistically and be like, you know, “all this other industry bullshit aside, what kind of music do I want to make?” So it was a real motivating force. Maybe for a few weeks it was a little disillusioning, but then I got back on the horse and I was like, this will be good, this will ground me again.

Grandchildren performing at The Ox in 2010 | Photo by Justin Roman
Grandchildren performing at The Ox in 2010 | Photo by Justin Roman

1b. Finding A New Home

AM: We had been on the radar of Earnest Jennings for a couple of years now. We had been talking and indirectly crossing path with them. When the record was finally finished they were the first people we connected with and they were really excited about it. We were really looking for a label that didn’t care about how many names you can drop or connections you have. We wanted somebody who is psyched about it who has the experience and track record of putting out good music and it was just the perfect fit.

Roman Salcic: Our contract this time was two pages, last time it was 46. Continue reading →

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