By Clare R. Lopez; photo by Ricky Chapman on September 20, 2011
Despite the waves of heat beating down on the pavement outside, a cup of black coffee sits on the table before Pat Grossi. A solid choice in most coffee shops, it’s still a surprising one for a summer day in South Pasadena, California. But that’s just Grossi, really, and the music he composes as Active Child is just as full of the unexpected.
From top to bottom, the café pulses with vibrant colors, lunchtime conversations and the occasional passing Gold Line train as Grossi discusses his initial experience with musical expression. Although this time spent as a part of the Philadelphia Boys Choir undoubtedly made a lasting impression, he did not discover that music might hold more for him until 2008. During a period when he found himself between jobs, he also found the opportunity to create music rather than just playing it. Focusing on guitar and vocals, Grossi wrote a lot rather quickly and his efforts were well-received as well as heartily encouraged by those around him. But when he came across Bon Iver’s storied and stately For Emma, Forever Ago just after recording some stripped-down songs, he reconsidered the minimalist approach.
“I can remember hearing it and thinking, ‘This guy nailed it.’ I’d never been so envious of anything in my life,” says Grossi of Justin Vernon’s album. “That was a big change for me, where I was like, ‘I need to move on because I can never, ever touch that.’”
With the release of the Curtis Lane EP last June, he did more than move on and went in another direction entirely as far as instrumentation goes. Through the harmonious union of electronic work, shimmering harp and his lilting falsetto that recalls his years as a choirboy, Grossi fashioned a six-song collection inventive enough to turn heads and carry itself farther than he had expected. The EP treads between sprawling (“I’m in Your Church at Night”) and dancey (“Where Your Love Is Safe”) numbers with notable flecks of harp sprinkled throughout. Not merely present for good measure, Grossi considers that less-than-commonplace instrument a good fit for more than one reason.
“I think it’s important to have something organic mixed in with all the programming, so it doesn’t feel too static. It’s boring for me unless it has something you can actually grab onto that’s real,” says Grossi of the harp’s place in his music. “When I first got the chance to play it, the way it felt—just having it resting against my shoulder—it felt like I had always been there with it. It struck a chord with me, no pun intended.”
Fresh from finishing his debut full-length, You Are All I See, with Ariel Rechtshaid (Foreign Born bassist and producer of Cass McCombs’ Wit’s End, among others) at the production helm, Grossi applied this same instinct as they added the finishing touches to the record. Making a last-minute track change, they replaced a song written way-back-when with a completely instrumental track called “Ivy.” While Grossi’s new label, Vagrant, favored the older track, he thought it did not work as well within the gradual build he strived to create among the record’s nine other songs.
Where the Curtis Lane EP is more of a wider introduction to Active Child, You Are All I See does indeed succeed in crafting a stronger sense of continuity from song to song. A thread of nuanced grandiosity links the R&B-tinged grooves of “Playing House” (featuring Brooklyn atmospherist How to Dress Well) and the shape-shifting vocals on “Way Too Fast.” As he works on another cup of coffee, Grossi admits that the latter track encapsulates his intentions for the entire album, from its abstract soundscapes to perhaps the greatest strength of this lofty debut: its ability to wed seemingly disparate elements.
“I think I’ve been lucky because I tend to do that a lot,” says Grossi, reflecting on the nature of his music. “I’ll unknowingly throw these things together that really shouldn’t work—like ’80s drums, a harp and an arpeggiated synth—and I manage to put them together in the right way so it works.”
A true manifestation of sonic synchronicity. F
3 albums that inspired Active Child to make music
I can remember buying this, going home and listening to it all the way through. I had never heard instrumentation like it, never heard a voice quite like Sufjan’s—easily the most inspirational album as of yet for me.
He Poos Clouds
I was immediately blown away by its depth, complexity and genius arrangements. Like Illinois, it really tells you a story and takes you into these other worlds.
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN
I was always really inspired by the mysterious power of this record. It has a way of taking you into this dark and somber space without feeling depressing. Truly a timeless album.
This article is from FILTER Issue 45