It’s not often you hear Bon Iver and R. Kelly referenced in the same album review, but the wonderfully unique, digitised melancholia of Active Child’s You Are All I See sent critics into a tailspin, searching in all sorts of unlikely places for soundalikes.
Unsurprisingly, we jumped at the chance to speak to the man behind one of our favourite debuts of 2011. Friends: meet laptop virtuoso, harpist and former-chorister Pat Grossi...
Congratulations on You Are All I See, we love it! Can you tell us about the inspirations behind the album please?
Well, thank you so much; I'm glad you love the album! I put a lot of work into it, and my aspirations were very high. I was feeling incredibly inspired from the previous year of touring and travelling and I think the love and attention from people on the road and in the press lit a fire inside of me. In a sense, it gave me the confidence and drive to push myself to make something big and bold. I was really focused on tightening my grip on the sounds that I felt were my biggest allies: my voice and my harp. I wanted those to be the dominating forces and then work everything else around them. But in the end, I just went home, soaked in the moment and wrote for two months. Luckily, it worked out.
Can you pick out a moment or track on the record of which you’re most proud?
One moment that has stuck out in mind since I first wrote it is in the last song, " Johnny Belinda". Near the end there is a bridge that leads into the last section of the song, and right at 2:50 everything drops and this big breath of fire seeps in, before layers of harp and strings take over. Maybe it sounds bigger in my head than it does on the album, but it always gets me.
As someone who clearly knows their way around a recording studio, why did you opt to bring in a producer for the album? And what attracted to you to work with Ariel Rechtshaid?
Well, to be honest, I wasn't confident that I could reach the level of production that I wanted with my skills. And I didn't want to release the album with production that sounded like previous releases (namely the Curtis Lane EP). I wanted to move upward and outward and I couldn't do it on my own. I also wanted to have someone who I respected as an artist to critique what I had written. I had met Ariel months before and had heard his previous work as a producer. I was impressed and believed that we would make a good team. I was right!
You’ve been quoted as saying your debut is “a bridge towards something bigger and truer”. How do you feel your sound’s evolved since the Curtis Lane EP? And what is it that you’re working towards still?
The EP was really an experiment in songwriting. I was creating on a whim, with whatever happened to inspire me at that moment. When I started moving into writing the album, I knew what kind of songs I wanted to create and what the album should feel like. But looking back on the album, it feels like I was still trapped in-between two movements. One that leaned on the previous sounds of the EP, borrowing from the 80s synths and gated drums, and then something more sincere, that didn't borrow from anywhere. I'm planning on moving further into that direction with future recordings.
Your music’s been branded “experimental pop” by critics. Do you think that’s an apt description?
Sure, I can agree with that. I always have trouble describing my own music, but for me it is a lush and passionate sound, that relies heavily on the heart of the listener being willing to submit to the emotion of the songs and longevity of the composition. It’s a dense, magical sound for a patient listener.
You’re frequently compared to James Blake by the music press – do you think it’s a fair comparison? And are you a fan?
I am a fan. We toured together last spring and it was a true honour to share the stage with him. He's a really nice guy: genuine and incredibly talented. And I think we share some similarities in our approach to sound design and the way we manipulate our voices, but in the end I think we are moving in our own circles.
Tom and I had exchanged emails early on, due to us being fans of each other’s work. We had discussed possibly collaborating but we were both busy with tours and never managed to link up. Eventually, when I got home from tour and started work on the album, I wrote ‘Playing House’ and felt really strongly that this would be perfect for him to sing on. So I sent him the track and the next day I had his verse and additional vocal ideas – the man works fast! There are lots of other artists I’d love to work with, and some that I'm already working with. You'll just have to wait and see...
In previous interviews you’ve spoken about being brought up around hip-hop and being a choir boy…
I know, it is a strange combo, but I think both hip-hop and chorale/classical composition have been influential to my music, as well as old soul artists and experimental pop artists like Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush.
Harp’s not the most obvious of instruments to learn, either! When did you first take it up and what attracted you to it?
I picked the harp up about eight years ago. I tagged along with a friend to a music shop and stumbled into their harp showroom. The room was empty, so I sat down and started fumbling with the strings. I was captivated by its shape and tone; it was so unlike any other instrument I had ever played. After that initial crush, I fell in love very quickly and haven't put it down since.
Are there any other instruments you’d like to take up still?
The kora has always fascinated me. It’s described as a bridged harp/lute of sorts, and sounds sort of like a harp, but they look incredibly difficult to play.
Where did the inspiration behind the name "Active Child" come from? And why did you choose to adopt a pseudonym? Is it indicative of the fact you plan to develop other musical projects?
I once played my mom some of the music I had been making and it led to her telling me all of those old stories of when I was really little. Apparently, I would sit with my head to the speaker if music was playing and I was obsessed with sound, memorising any melody on the radio, running around with my toy microphone. The name "Active Child" spawned from that moment and those stories, and I did choose a pseudonym to separate myself from the music a little. And who knows where music will lead, I'm sure there will be new projects.
You’re about to embark on a tour of Australia and Europe: are there any dates you’re particularly looking forward to? And what can fans expect from the live show?
I'm excited about all of it. I've toured Europe before, but I haven't been to Australia since I toured there with the choir nearly two decades ago. The live show is constantly evolving, but fans can expect the grandiosity of the album and then some. Plus, a lot of harp.
What was your favourite record of the past twelve months?
What’s been your highlight of the past year and where do you hope to be in twelve months’ time?
The highlight was releasing a full-length album that I’m proud of. And in a year’s time I’d like to be tucked away somewhere, writing and creating the best music of my life. This is the time, right?!
Finally, what are your ultimate ambitions for Active Child?
This is always a tough one. I never intended for this music to take me this far so my ambitions are constantly a reflection of what I believe I can achieve. That said, my ambitions are growing every day and, ultimately, I hope that I can continue to write, record and perform, and impress myself and the people around me.