These Grandkids have grown up immensely from their “humblecore” beginnings in Champaign-Urbana. December 16th is the release date of their sophomore album, This Guitars, a grooving and spontaneous record that has given the band a more raw, yet refined edge. Songs like “Seamripper” and “Agur” showcase a change in direction when it comes to production and songwriting; a clear intent to craft hard-hitting rock tracks that stay true to their folk beginnings. I got a chance to talk to singer-guitarist-songwriter Vivian McConnell about This Guitars, their growth as a band, and coming home to C-U from the Bridgeport area of Chicago.
Smile Politely: How’s the Bridgeport life treating you all?
Vivian McConnell: We love it, it is so low-key compared to the rest of Chicago, and it feels very neighborhood-y and quiet at times. When we moved we felt pretty welcomed by the community.
SP: The last time we got to talk to you in 2013, you said “In the long run, I’d just love to be able to keep making music with my best friends, putting out albums, and touring the country in a minivan.” Three years later, it seems like things are going according to plan. How do feel about that?
McConnell: That’s so adorable, 2013 Viv! Honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Even though we’ve been going through a lot of transitions, figuring out life stuff, I think that this record felt really natural because we knew what we liked. My life is still going on like that quote, but just a little bit differently; Grandkids has been playing a lot, but I’m also planning a solo record. As of right now, I’m still making music with my friends, and we’re not sure about touring, but we’re doing our best.
SP: I got to listen to the new record, and I’m digging the spontaneity you guys have on these songs. What’s your writing process like when it comes to the music?
McConnell: Our writing process for this record was a lot different then the previous one. To give you an example, all the songs on Timeshare I had written and brought them over as complete ideas to Grandkids, but for this new record, I just had snippets, or little pieces ready and it really was a democratic process. Everyone’s voice is on this record. We all had ideas for song structure, form, and a unique sound and direction.
SP: What makes this record different from your past projects?
McConnell: When we were recording this record, we wanted it to sound much more live. It’s way less produced with a less overdubbing, and captures the feel of the live performance. We kinda took ourselves less seriously on this album, but in the end it created a better product. One cool thing that we did production-wise was that we ran my flute through a space echo, which was really exciting and gave it a psychedelic edge.
SP: Why call it “This Guitars?” Is the guitar the focal point for the album?
McConnell: It just kinda came up in the studio one day. It felt funny at first but then we thought it was cool to have something grammatically-incorrect for the new album.
SP: Are there any specific tracks that you are most proud of?
McConnell: I love “Seamripper,” our first single. I haven’t told anyone this, but there’s a cool moment in the song that occurred when while recording the vocals. We were in our basement studio and had people over for a Super Bowl party. Somebody scored during one of our vocal takes, and you hear this explosive moment of people cheering loudly, and that ended up on “Seamripper” (but I’m not gonna say where!). I’m really proud of that song because of how it came together in a cool way. Our guitar player Evan wrote the music for another song I love, “Dinner Women”. I got to just write the lyrics for that one, so it was a fun challenge. I’m feeling great about a lot of these songs.
SP: I saw on your Facebook page that your genre is “humblecore”. What is “humblecore”? Is that the way you prefer to describe Grandkids to people who have not listened to the band before?
McConnell: “Humblecore” was something that we created in our early years when we were this more chill, mellow group, but I don’t really think we fall into what we thought was “humblecore” anymore. I would say we are more experimental rock, with time signature changes and a more raw sound. In Chicago, some people call us “Nast-Folk”, meaning that we have this edge that is rooted in folk-rock, so I think that’s the “genre” that we would describe ourselves.
SP: You have an album release party for This Guitars coming up. Does it feel different playing back home, or do some of the same good/bad feelings come up here and there?
McConnell: To me, it feels really natural. It’s a sort of homecoming; you see familiar faces that have always been a part of the Champaign-Urbana scene, and I get to see all of my friends at once. I’m excited to play at a house show, mostly because one of our first performances was at a house and most of our gigs since then have been at venues.
SP: What’s next for Grandkids?
McConnell: We’re just really focusing on this record release which seems to be getting a lot of energy and good response so we’re gonna ride it out and see what happens from there.
SP: What is music today?
McConnell: Music today is whatever you want it to be. There seriously is no limit as to what you want your music to sound like today, and I think that is super exciting.
This Guitars comes out tomorrow, December 16th, on both Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Also make sure to catch the album release party the same day, 9 p.m. at Blips and Chitz, also featuring Motes and Jarring.