I guess I’m just a stubborn kind of fellow. I know that our focus tends to be on Brit-pop and Indie-rock, but I just can’t help myself from asking you to free your mind. I remember growing up in Detroit, listening to the Canadian national radio station (CBC) and learning about “new wave/punk”. They had a show called Brave New Waves and it aired from midnight to 4am, Monday thru Friday. Whenever anyone disparages Canadian music, I tell them that the entire base of my music knowledge starts with this Canadian radio show. Much to my chagrin, in the late 80′s the show started playing a ‘new’ kind of music called hip hop. Public Enemy, Afrika Bombaataa and NWA were played side by side with the newest Echo and the Bunnymen singles. But after a while, I came to embrace the music and recognize that in the end, music is about passion and the ability to write great songs.
Grand Analog is a Canadian collective that band leader Odario Williams describes as a beautiful mess of rap’ n’ roll, dub and soul. We came across their newest album ‘Metropolis Is Burning’ while doing our CMJ preview. Follow us as Odario takes us on a journey into their beautiful chaos.
TDOA: Music critics are always determined to categorize music into clearly defined little boxes. Grand Analog seems to defy those descriptions. Is there a conscious effort to avoid the cliche’d “genre’s” and how would you define your music?
OW: Not necessarily. I have many musical backgrounds in my life history. First and foremost I consider myself a child of hip-hop, born into the culture itself. Secondly, my father was a reggae DJ in the 80s. That alone governed the way I thought about music, night life vernacular and it’s effect on people. Third, I grew up with fans of punk and funk during my formative years. In those days the average kid found it
important to represent their lifestyle through a specific genre of music and the lingo and style of dress that came with it. I was never solely a hipster, a punk, a hip-hopper, or a metal-head. I think kids used to find it important to represent these types of things. I couldn’t pick one and stick with it!
TDOA: Can you describe the process of making the new record? When you’re working on writing a song, can you talk about how the pieces come together?
OW: I write music and lyrics in a hip-hop point of view …meaning I like to hear the drums and the samples first. After that I get inspired thematically with the music. The minute I hear a beat that inspires me, I’ll know what the song will be about and what direction to take. Rappers write to beats.
TDOA: How did you like playing CMJ? How do you make your music translate live?
OW: CMJ was awesome! Full of enthusiastic indie lovers willing to embrace a new, analog groove. Mind you, I got a speeding ticket on the drive to New York. It really pissed me off because I was only going eleven clicks over! To me, that’s not speeding…thirty clicks, now that’s speeding. I took that frustration out on stage I guess. Aside from that we jam during every performance, especially if the crowd is moving. It’s a great place for us to discover unique ideas to old songs and create new songs…live on stage.
TDOA: I’ve read that you’re an avid record collector. Do you remember the first record you bought? Can you name a few of your favorite records from your collection?
OW: I think it was Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album. I think I purchased that with Christmas money that year. I had three copies of Thriller, but those were all gifts. I still have them in my collection…one is
terribly worn out. My dad had plenty of records around the house…in the basement, living room and bedrooms. My brother and I acquired a handful of them…especially the James Brown pieces. All my mother asked was to keep the records out the kitchen.
TDOA: Can you talk about the video for ‘Her Daddy’? How much of the concept came from the band, how much from the director and how do you feel about making videos?
OW: Videos can be defined as 3 minute shorts if you allow it. And I love film. If we had more time and money I’d make little features! I’m also a professional actor you see, so the more I get to incorporate both film and music the better. I know what I don’t want conceptually in my own music videos, so I like to talk with the director about his ideas and axe out the ones I don’t like. In this particular video Ofield, my
brother and DJ, plays ‘Her’ daddy. He’s an actor as well and has great timing on camera. I thought it would be funny if he played the father figure instead of a hired older actor.
TDOA: I keep reading about more and more great Canadian DJ’s and people who’re creating some great music that share similarities with what you’re doing. We’re trapped down here in Texas, so is their really a burgeoning “scene” in places like Toronto?
OW: I think the world is finally catching on to the likes of Canada in general. We’re just good down home peoples man! Kind of like Texans! We’re the kind of peeps you’d want to invite into your home on a
Sunday evening. Canadian artists have always been inspired by other cultures and ideas outside of Canada…allowing something foreign into their world. I feel all the years of cultural experimentation has come to light and makes sense to a Canadian artist. It’s nothing to a Canadian artist to try something away from the norm. It’s bigger than a mash-up…it’s bigger than a remix. The scene has always been present…the world is just catching on now.
TDOA: One of the things that I think separates hip-hop and dub artists from alternative rock artists is that they generally have a more diverse list of influences. For example; you’ve listed Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, Kanye and Marvin Gaye as artists that you like. For the pigeon-holed alt-rockers, can you explain how bands outside of the hip-hop scope inform your style?
OW: Anything soaked in soul gravitates to me and influences me. Soul music is vulnerable and can be present in any genre of music. Thom Yorke or Tom Waits is just as soulful to me as Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, who is my favorite of all time by the way. Marvin Gaye’s vulnerable soul just floors me every time. Every single time. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Bilal, Gregory Isaacs and Antony & The Johnsons.
TDOA: Conversely, why do you think we don’t hear stories about the lead singer of bands like Grizzly Bear talking about his experiences going to see bands like Wu-Tang Clan? Has alternative narrowed itself so much that it’s marginalizing itself?
OW: I think as artists we no longer get inspired by our peers. I know I don’t. There are probably only two or three hip-hop artists out there that inspire me. QuestLove is one of them. I look to other genres to get a sense of different aspects of writing and performing. Being a student of life is no cliche…it’s real talk. I learn far more from artists assumed as something foreign to me.
TDOA: Where did the title ‘Electric City’ come from?
OW: I got the title for Electric City from two sources… One: The most enduring and memorable Dub Toaster (toasting came before rapping in the early 70s in Jamaica) on the mic was U-Roy. His mumbo jumbo over drums and bass were so catchy it’s no wonder it turned into a cultural phenomenon. U-Roy used to crash the dancehall, grab the mic and holler little toasts like: “Yeah Yeah Daddy-O, I Tell Yaaa… I’ll Shock Ya Like Electric!!!”
He was great. Roots Manuva, for example, is well known for taking some of U-Roy’s mic style. U-Roy is probably the most sampled reggae artist to date – other than Sister Nancy’s legendary ‘Bam Bam’ single of course.
Two: One of my favourite poets, Michael Harper, is the king of short, sweet and heart felt pros. I practically have his ode to John Coltrane memorized. The peice is appropriately titled ‘Dear John Dear Coltrane’… in it he reads, “You Plot Into The Electric City, Your Song Now Crystal In The Blues”. I dig Michael Harper and his intense love for American Jazz.
TDOA: What’s next for Grand Analog? Will you come back to the States to play some shows?
OW: I would love to get back to the old U.S. of A as soon as I can. I mean c’mon… it’s the heart of Rock’N'Roll that keeps beating!!!
Grand Analog has some other great videos that you can watch by visiting their MySpace page here. But we felt compelled to post two more songs from the new album, to make the point. One of the pleasures of the new record, is that each song has a different sound and a different feel. You owe it to yourself to listen to all four of the songs in this article. Now…..scurry over to iTunes and buy the record.