INTERVIEW | Manatee Commune
I listened to one of your latest singles, “What We’ve Got (ft. Flint Eastwood)” — it was incredible! How was the process of making the song?
G: Thank you so much for checking out the song! It was one of the weirdest ways I have ever made music before. Have you worked with vocalists before?
Yes, I have. It can be challenging working with vocalists! That’s why I am taking vocal lessons so that I can record myself instead.
G: Yea totally. I’ve always worked with my girlfriend, Marina. That’s been always a huge part of our relationship, making music together. So working with other vocalists has been a struggle for me and it sounds like [it is] for you too. So, Flint Eastwood hit me up a while ago and said, “Hey, I love your music.” I checked out her music, she released an EP [that] I really loved listening to. So we decided we should try to work together in the future. We ended up sharing our tracks, and I ended up remixing one of the songs off her EP. And I gave her a snippet of a track, just a chord progression it was about a minute and a half long. She chopped it up and she made it into her own thing. She did her own production on her voice. She knew exactly what she wanted to do and she sent me back her vocals. I thought the track I sent her originally was so bad. So I completely restarted the song using her vocals as a framework. I [didn’t] just make a beat and then put vocals over it — instead we made a song together.
I understand working remotely can be a challenge, but it seems like you handled it well! It’s inspiring to hear that you were able to adapt and feed off of Flint Eastwood’s vocal work, shifting the entire framework of the song to improve the end result.
What are your strategies for dealing with a creative block in the studio?
G: The last year before I started making this record back in January, I was going through a block. It was classic block, one where I experienced self-doubt. I am not entirely sure how I actively got out of it.
For one, I recommend reading Eat, Pray, Love [by Elizabeth Gilbert]. She has some mystical ideas on how to combat creative blocks. My favorite thing she says is to not make it about yourself. Instead, realize you are a vessel for whatever creative endeavor that’s about to hit you. I really like that sentiment because it takes so much pressure off of creating something. Instead you ask, is it with me? How do I feel about this? How do we move forward together with this thing called inspiration? How do I work together with creativity in a non-verbal contract to create something? When you think of creating from that perspective, you don’t have to worry about being good because it’s not your fault.
Although sometimes I end up in a situation where I question where should I go from a certain point. My favorite thing to do to deal with this is to stand up, find something in the studio, and record it. And then I’ll take one part from everything I’ve just recorded and I will turn it into an audio track. From there, I will put it on a different part of the song and mix it together with something else I’ve recorded in the studio. Imagine it like throwing in a new flavor and you have to work around it to make something good. I really like doing that, so I am no longer stuck in this boring train of thought.
It says in your bio that you live in Pacific Northwest. Are you in Washington state near Seattle?
G: I live on the border of Canada and Washington. Seattle is about an hour south of me.
How is the music scene in your town and then in the respective Seattle area?
G: I live in Bellingham, it’s a college town. There’s a ton of house shows and aspiring indie bands that play around, which is fun. It’s a bunch of silly people playing music together and having a good time. Everyone is very supportive of each other. That’s partially the reason why I started making music in the first place. I’ve had so many people cheering me on in my hometown.
In Seattle, it’s a beautiful, diverse music scene. There’s obviously an amazing hip hop scene. There’s plenty of electronic musicians and folk artists that are blowing up. The funny thing about Seattle is that it is really isolated. The location makes it kind of difficult for a musician. For a musician from LA, you’ll probably play in San Francisco pretty soon. Or if you live in New York, you might tour along the east coast. But for a musician from Seattle, the nearest [big] city is Vancouver or Portland. Both of these cities aren’t considered “super hubs” for music. I guess that’s why for those making music in my community, we all make music for each other.
Who are some of the other artists/bands in your community that are of note?
I noticed that you are coming to DC on August 20 on your upcoming “Sync or Swim” tour, performing at the Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe in Adams Morgan. I am excited to see you tour the East Coast because I haven’t seen you perform live yet! I’m curious, how do you successfully do this one-man band?
G: One of the things I do is play a lot of instruments. I bring a lot of instruments with me and I play as many as I can. And I try not to do be the DJ boy standing around and dancing like a weirdo (but I do that quite a bit). I play viola on stage, also guitar, I have a stand up drum kit I play. It works … sometimes. I feel like the audience has to be pretty drunk to get it to really work. Recently I made my own visuals. So I bring a projector and a screen with me. The visuals are important to the whole performance because I built them specifically for the performance. I also wrote this program that syncs the video with the live audio.
For the high toms in my drum kit, I installed these LED lights that respond to sensors so that when I hit the drums the lights flash. It might seem gimmicky, but being that I am a one-man band, I need to have those things that [take the audience’s] attention away from me [so] instead [they] start checking out their surroundings. I am still trying to figure it out though, and [I’m] considering bringing on a vocalist and drummer for the future.
Do you sing?
G: No, God no! No way [chuckles]! I have some vocal loops that I bring with me. I launch those live along with my songs. I can’t sing, so I would just rather [have] the vocals reside on the track.
I find that your instrumental tracks are just as captivating! I don’t think it’s necessary to have vocals on the track. One of my favorite tracks off of your Thistle EP was “Interlude” because it was so captivating as a listener. It was a catalyst to your next piece on the EP, “Contain You.”
G: Aww! That’s really sweet. When I write with vocals, it’s a song. But when it’s an instrumental piece, it’s a freeing experience for me to write without vocals. I feel like I can actually make what I really want to make and I’m not constricted. I’m glad to hear that!
In terms of your past shows, I was completely astounded that you’ve played with Bonobo on several shows. How was playing shows with the one and only Simon Greene?
G: He inspired me to start making music by myself in the first place. You can imagine, you’ve met some heroes of yours, as well. It’s terrifying! I tried to talk to him, but I don’t think any words really came out. I think I just said some stuff, and he said, “thanks man!” I think he was just being nice, so I didn’t really get a good chance to talk to him. He was performing DJ sets, hanging out and having a good time. The audience that comes to shows to see Bonobo are [one of] my favorite audiences; they are excited about music the same way I am. In that sense, playing with Bonobo is probably my favorite way to play music, because the audience is having such a great time.
Bonobo has influenced me too — he put out video of making Kiara in his home studio and it inspired me.
G: When I first started making music, I watched that as well. I know exactly which one you’re talking about. He’s using Logic and an old Mac. That was one of the most inspiring interviews on the internet.
It’s sad I can no longer find that video online anymore! But I am glad you got to watch it.
G: When you put it that way, it sounds really eventful. But from any artist’s perspective, there’s a lot of wait time in between releasing songs and working on songs. I’ve had tracks done for months and I wasn’t able to release them right away, knowing that it would be something everybody would really enjoy. This is just what happens with any career, where you have this vision in your head of what “being big” means. You get to that point. You realize then “I need to get to the next step.” For example, have you ever heard of Sasquatch Festival in Washington?
Yea! A few of my friends have been to that festival and I would like to go soon! I know you’ve performed at Sasquatch too.
G: It was really special! All my friends go there and I’ve gone there a lot in my teens, because I grew up right next to it. The smallest stage is the Yeti Stage and it’s a little baby stage, but I’ve seen some of my favorite bands there. I always dreamed of getting a chance to play on that little stage and I thought I [would] be so happy if I could play there.
I was so amazed that when I did get booked for Sasquatch last year, instead of playing the Yeti Stage, I was booked for the second to largest stage in an 8,000 capacity capped tent. I was blown away I had a chance to play there! The whole place filled up, and when I finished, Slow Magic went on stage for his set. After the show, I had this sensation where I was like, “Wow, that was awesome!” Then immediately after I thought, “What’s the next step? What do I need to do next?”
It’s that feeling of recognizing you’ve accomplished something, but you still need to keep working. There’s no end, it’s just a continuous process. It’s nice to have these accomplishments in the bag. But I find myself hungrier and hungrier every day to discover new ways to make music and get noticed.
If you had to choose only one piece of gear, what would it be?
G: Besides my computer, which is how I make most of my music, I’d probably pick my field recorder. I use that thing everywhere. I always have it on. I am always looking around. Right now on my laptop, I have a folder of 85 GB worth of field recordings taken in the last year.
What kind of places do you visit to record field recordings?
G: In the beginning, it mostly started with outdoor field recordings. I would go to the mountains and record birds and get those outdoor settings. Then it turned into anything and everything that sounded cool. I’m kinda embarrassed to admit that most of my samples are of nothing in particular, it’s just me hanging with my friends. We’ll be playing ping pong, and then I notice the sound of the ping pong ball hitting the table and I’ll record it. It’s really arbitrary stuff, but I love that sort of thing. Or we’ll be out at the bar, and I’ll hear the fizz of a beer and put the microphone to it to capture that sound!
I like the fact that you’re sourcing your own samples and I have a quote which I would like your take on:
“I thought using loops was cheating, so I programmed my own using samples. I then thought using samples was cheating, so I recorded real drums. I then thought that programming it was cheating, so I learned to play drums for real. I then thought using bought drums was cheating so I learned to make my own. I then thought using homemade skins was cheating, so I killed a goat and skinned it. I then thought that that was cheating too, so I grew my own goat from a baby goat. I also think that is cheating, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I haven’t made any music lately, what with the goat farming and all.”
G: Oh my god! That is so funny! I think this argument is really old but it’s in a new context, so it’s very relevant right now. Samples are something that people have made, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn it into something fresh. You’re putting them in a new orders, you’re putting them in new places and it makes it completely new and interesting. I’ve come offstage before after a show and people will come up to me and tell me that what I do isn’t real music! Which is absurd! I really hate that argument! [Chuckles]
I do agree with your perspective on samples, and how they can be completely reworked and transformed into something completely new. So, what’s a day in the life of Grant? In a typical day, what are you up to?
G: My life right now is like the life of a teacher, where I have a bit of an on season and off season. Right now I am coming down from all the work I had been putting into the record, and I am emotionally detoxing and getting an idea of what I am doing next. I’ve been taking trips. I’ve been going camping. I’ve been cleaning up my life and getting healthy again. When I was writing the album, I would wake up and make breakfast for my girlfriend. We would take walks in the morning and I would help take her to work or school. I would work on music for at least six hours a day. But usually I work on music for 4 hours and take a break and I’d keep working until I would suddenly realize it is midnight. It’s really amazing and fun to work on something you love and are so passionate about that you lose track of time. But it’s so exhausting! My sleep schedule was all messed up.
That makes sense you have on and off seasons as a full time musician. Also, I’m really glad you’re one of the few people (that I know of) who collaborates with your significant other. I think it’s great that you make music with Marina. She has a great voice, and as a listener you can sense the genuine chemistry in the music you make with her.
G: Dude yea! I can’t really help it. We fall into the studio together and end up making music. It’s really passionate and sweet. I love it so much!
Is she doing any solo works of her own?
G: She’s actually recording a folk album right now and it’s really, really good. I’m excited for her to share it with the world!
What is your main priority for this year? You have a new album coming out September 16 and that’s a HUGE accomplishment. But, what’s next for Manatee Commune?
G: The main priority is getting my live band together. Marina has been doing some live singing with me in performances, and I work with a drummer. So we are trying to put together [what] looks and feels like the project. It’s been a process and I am trying to see. Secondly I am focused on branding. I really want to have a coherent place where people can go to find out what Manatee Commune is up to other than a website with press shots and album art.
I really love your album artwork! Did you do those paint splatters? It’s so dope.
G: Jason Darge did the artwork for the last EP. He does incredible and unique art. It does fit the music!
It complements your music, for sure. I can see what you’re saying about how it’s important for artists to pull together a cogent media page. Will you have the full band on this “Sink or Swim” Tour?
G: It will just be me performing. But if the new album does really well, I would like to pull together a full band for a future tour.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I greatly appreciate what you do as a multi-instrumentalist and producer! It’s so surreal to be speaking with you, because as a member of Oceanids Collective, we remixed one of your tracks, “Wake.” It was one of our favorite remixes to work on.
Best wishes on your tour and I’ll definitely check out your show at Songbyrd Music House and Cafe on Saturday, August 20.