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June 2020

Great Grandpa: In bloom

In 2017, Great Grandpa wowed us with their slacker-infused grunge-pop, but just two years later they've reset the clock and delivered a genuine album of the year contender.
Published: 11:42 am, October 25, 2019Words: Rob Mair. Photos: West Smith.
Great Grandpa: In bloom

"So much of this album is about destroying expectations and surprising people," considers Great Grandpa's Pat Goodwin.

It's a bold claim, but one which 'Four of Arrows' more than backs up, confirming the group's leap from grunge-flecked slacker punks to indie-rock darlings. An immeasurable and intangible shift, 'Four of Arrows' is a record that signifies personal and musical growth, driven by a desire to produce art that is emotionally powerful and universally relatable.

Yet such growth is not without its challenges, as a chat with the quintet's Wisconsin-based duo Carrie and Pat Goodwin reveal.

"We knew we were going to probably lose a significant number of fans who really love that sort of garage rock," says Pat, when discussing the pressure to follow-up 'Plastic Cough'. A highlight of 2017, it's an album that earned the then-Seattle based group (completed by Dylan Hanwright, Alex Menne and Cam LaFlam) tours with a diverse bunch of acts including Citizen, Diet Cig and Rozwell Kid, as well as placing well on numerous end of year lists.

But it was also something of a millstone for the group, written and recorded more than a year before its initial release. A stick in the ground, by the time it came out it no longer represented the group accurately – even if it was taken to heart by thousands of fans thanks to an irreverent sense of humour, a breezy attitude and songs about zombies and the munchies.

"It's funny that it's become this defining thing for the band for the next four years," laughs Pat. "Even by the time 'Plastic Cough' was released, we wanted to be the band that we are now, so it's almost frustrating we've had to wait so long to get to this point."

Yet 'Plastic Cough' also possess moments of emotional power and poignancy, which went overlooked when set against the record's zany, primary colour immediacy. Yet, this emotional heft is front and centre of 'Four of Arrows', building on the foundations laid by its predecessor to create something far more ambitious – and intimate – than a basement punk record.

One of the main reasons for this was the Goodwins' move to Milwaukee, principally for Carrie to go to graduate school. In Seattle, Great Grandpa lived and worked together, allowing the fun and light-hearted vibe to translate to the record. Finding himself isolated in Milwaukee, working remotely for an LA-based company and without many friends in an alien city, Pat's lyrics became more considered, personal and introspective.

"For me, it was a really good thing to move away from Seattle for a while," says Carrie. "I just needed to do something that was on my own. We'd been spending so much time together as a band, and we'd been touring so much. Our lives were chaotic all the time, and it was nice to get a little bit of a routine back in my life and do something outside of music that made music feel exciting again."

"Whereas I was sort of dragged along because we're married," continues Pat. "But it took me a long time to really build a community or find friends, like it does when you move to a new city. I was isolated and alone a lot because I was working from home, I had no co-workers here in Milwaukee and didn't really have many friends for a long time. And I think all of that had a big influence on the songwriting."

“It's hard to make art that's really personal and really introspective as a group”
Carrie Goodwin

Geographically removed from the rest of the group, Pat was able to write more personal lyrics, and this, in turn, informed the contributions of Carrie, Alex and Dylan. Even though Great Grandpa worked collaboratively – and continue to do so – the collaborations are now much more subtle, rather than having one person write a song or a verse.

This time, Pat found himself writing most of the songs and lyrics, with Carrie serving as chief editor and co-writer. Dylan and Alex would then fill in gaps when needed, writing lyrics to a couple of songs and completing the album. While 'Plastic Cough' reflected the group's idiosyncratic approach to songwriting, 'Four of Arrows' feels much more cohesive; the product of a principal songwriter and willing conspirators all on the same page.

"I think it's hard to make art that's really personal and really introspective as a group," considers Carrie. "When you're by yourself, you can get the songs to a place where you're more comfortable sharing them, and by that point, you're often further along in the writing process.

"From the beginning, when we set the tone for the band, it was going to be something that we didn't take very seriously, and the more collaborative process dictated that as well," says Pat. "But then, we all also wanted to make more serious music.

"I think some of that leaked into Great Grandpa's earlier stuff because that's what we all ultimately wanted to do, but we were maybe afraid to explore in too much depth because, as Carrie says, that's a hard thing to do in a group setting. It's hard to be vulnerable when you're trying to make music as a group in a band room or practice space."

This move to a more emotional and introspective band certainly plays to the strength of vocalist Alex Menne, and it shows on the likes of gorgeous lead single 'Mono No Aware', the brooding opening track 'Dark Green Water' or vulnerable and honest 'Bloom'. The emotional heartbeat of the band, there's a push and pull to Alex's delivery that makes Great Grandpa arresting at the best of times. Here, there are moments of such power and potency 'Four of Arrows' feels like a landslide of emotions.

To wring every emotion out of the songs, Alex made the decision to record their vocals separately. Pat and Carrie were stunned when they heard the results. "I cried a lot," says Pat.

"It's just really special to hear the things that I've written, performed in a better way than I could ever hope to do it on my own," says Carrie. "It was very powerful for me."

The response to singles 'Mono No Aware' and 'Digger' reflects this too. While both Carrie and Pat admit to feeling more than a little apprehensive about debuting their new sound, their decision to back their art has been vindicated.

"We were worried that some people would be really vocal about the change of style, but everyone's been very kind to us," says Carrie.

"We were definitely expecting more negative comments from people who were expecting 'Plastic Cough' 2.0," continues Pat. "I mean, there were a couple of those, but overall we were surprised at how many people were willing to go with us.

"I think that's a testament to the fact that we made the music we wanted to make. And, you know, there might be some people who love this record and will go back to 'Plastic Cough' and be like 'Oh no, I hate it!'" 

Taken from the November issue of Upset. Great Grandpa's album 'Four of Arrows' is out 25th October.

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