Sebastien Grainger

Call & Response: Sebastien Grainger

Homegrown rock 'n' roll star Sebastien Grainger is building his second musical empire on the strength of his powerful rawk voice and his debut solo album Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains (Saddlecreek/Outside Music).

Sebastien dropped off the map for a while after Death From Above 1979 broke up in 2005, but he re-emerged first with some self-produced dance tracks as The Rhythm Method and then posted the amazing song "American Names", a self-recorded song he made at Giant Studios (a joint venture with Metric guitarist Jimmy Shaw). That song (and amazing live shows) really got things moving for him.

They opened for huge acts before their record even came out and now Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains are headlining their own tours across North America and Europe. They play the Horseshoe tonight before heading down to rock out at SXSW. I spoke to Sebastien about success the second time around, exorcising DFA79 demons, and he shared a really crazy ferry story that just happened in France.

blogTO: I know people were waiting for you to re-emerge after DFA79 broke up so it's no surprise to me, but have you been surprised at all by your success thus far with The Mountains?

Sebastien Grainger: I've been more conscious to not take these new opportunities for granted, and to be thankful for everything we're able to achieve. At the same time, it hasn't been without hard work and a couple of years under our belt of paying dues. I am hopeful for the future and look forward to playing more and bigger shows and then getting in the studio and tearing out some new material!

How does the success you're building now with the Mountains compare to the success you achieved with DFA79? Is it more rewarding this time around?

I am far more aware of the process now and feel like I know what to expect. In DFA I maintained this irrational disdain for our success that was a holdover kind of punk attitude, also maybe a defensive strategy against the unknown. I've pretty much exorcised myself of that and I welcome opportunity more easily.

I know that you purposely left in some mistakes on your record and kept it rough sounding. Do you prefer the imperfections of older recordings versus the precision of most Pro Tool recordings today? Would you record completely on analog gear if you could?

Haha. I don't think I could do what I do without Pro Tools! I am super-contemporary in the sense that I appreciate current techniques, and everything that led up to it. I love mixing old gear and new gear, but I am too much of a compulsive tracker to use tape. Also, I like to work alone for the most part, and I'd find it hard. When I am recording drums alone I have to run back and forth between the drums and the control room, the lead in tape and wasted traveling tape alone would cost too much! Our studio is a fine balance of really wicked old analog and state of the art digital. That way we treat Pro Tools like a sophisticated and cheap-to-maintain tape machine. That said, I LOVE PLUG-INS!

You were already a well-known drummer and vocalist but now you're also getting recognition now as a great guitar player. How long have you been playing guitar? What instrument did you learn first - guitar or drums?

I started playing guitar when I was 12 after losing all hope that my parents would ever buy me drums. Then when I was 13, they bought me some! Technically I've been playing guitar longer, but considering everyone played guitar when I was a kid, and drummers were a rare commodity...I ended up always being "the bridesmaid". It's really fun to be able to play guitar live and I feel myself improving and being able to actually communicate through the guitar which is exciting. I was talking to Adrian Popovich (ex-Tricky Woo) and he was telling me that I should be careful not to get too good or I wouldn't be able to play anything cool anymore. I told him I wanted to play like Prince and he said I should keep playing like Neil Young. I guess that is pretty cool too.

What kind of guitar do you play live and where did you get it? It's not very common, right? Do you have another guitar like that as a back-up?

I play a Reverend Manta Ray 290. I haven't been bringing a back-up recently, but I'll like take along my Revered Warhawk or my Les Godfrey (ex-Illuminati) Amati. That last one is one of a kind, so I don't like to take it out too much but on the other hand, I think it deserves some attention.

I really like that Rhythm Method song "When You Go Out". Have you ever played that on stage with The Mountains?

Not yet. We might start playing it though. Who knows. For me it's all about the 909 in that song and the bells....I don't know how well a rock band could do it. I can't see Nick rocking out on the Glockenspiel.

How are things going at Giant Studios? Aside from the new Metric album - are there any new records made at Giant coming out soon that we should look out for?

Things are great. Josh Reichmann did his LP and EP in there. Do Make Say Think have worked in there. Broken Social Scene. Lullaby Arkestra. Flash Lightnin'...the list goes on!

What do you like best about living in Toronto?

My girlfriend and my dog are here. Also, the summers are magical.

You and your band just got back from a European tour. How did it go? What was the craziest thing that happened to you guys over there?

When we were arriving in France from the UK on the ferry, we were waiting for our tour manager, Ingo, in the van below deck. Ingo, whom we'd just met the week before upon our arrival in the UK was a curious German character. He was prone to disappearing at weird times leaving us to wonder what bizarre things he was up to. We jokingly speculated that he was eating babies, but we're pretty sure he wasn't. The last time anyone saw him on the ferry he was at the Duty Free shop buying chocolate but now he had left us stranded waiting outside the van surrounded by dozens of giant transport trucks. We sent (drummer) Leon up to check if he was still in the shop. While he was gone all the trucks and cars started up there engines and the whole hull filled with [carbon dioxide]. Suddenly, the ship ground to a halt and this alarm sounded with an accompanying voice instructing the trucks to start moving. We had no idea what to do, when suddenly Leon came running down with Ingo's bag, but no Ingo. We were in a panic at this point, and the truck behind us was blasting his horn. In a flash (bassist) Nick grabbed the bag and pulled out the van keys and unlocked the door. At this point Andrew (keyboards) was drunk from the Duty Free wine and I was half-passed out from the [carbon dioxide]. Leon pulled us into the van and slammed the door. Nick, who had never driven a standard vehicle, clanked forward driving frantically around the long haulers and straight for the sunlight. We blasted out into the French sea air weaving around and across this massive lot. Finally, Nick hit the brakes and the van screeched across the black top as Andrew and I puked forward in perfect synch, spraying the dashboard and windshield. We were all kind of screaming and swearing aloud when out of no where Ingo knocked on the window and gestured for Nick to roll it down and with a mouth full of and covered with Toblerone he asked: "Hey, Wha'happened?"

What can people expect to see/hear/feel at your Horseshoe show this Friday?

Wanky guitar solos, Nick's hair! (also Andrew and Leon brew a mean do as well.) and my newly shaved head, a la "Made In Britain". We're gonna turn up the Garage dial and pull back the foreskin. It's gonna be mean.

Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains, Flash Lightnin', Birthday Boys
Friday, March 6
The Horseshoe Tavern
370 Queen Street West
Doors 9pm
Cover $12

Call & Response is a series of Q&A's with artists/bands from or playing in Toronto. Photo: Edwin Tse.

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