For those who are familiar with Grand Mal, then you might be slightly shocked by the musical maturity found on their newest album, Love is the Best Con in Town. Instead of the trademark crunchy, glammy rock and roll, the band (which is essentially Bill Whitten at this point) has taken a turn towards a mellower, more melancholy sound. Interestingly enough, this is the first Grand Mal record not produced by longtime cohort Dave Fridmann, and the recording process for this record was a different experience, as you'll read below. Love is the Best Con in Town is a subtle affair, but it's one that's worth the time to experience. It's a lovely, pretty album that's worth seeking out.
Fallen in love with the piano?
I have! Part of the reason I started writing and recording on it was it sounds a lot better than the guitar I have. The gear I've been using over the years, it…I dunno, it sounds so good and the recording sounds so much better on piano, spread across channels, and plus, I wanted to get away from my guitar.
Had you done any writing on piano before?
Um, just one song on Bad Timing…
One of the criticisms or observations made with Grand Mal is that it's never really had a solid lineup, especially with your last album, which you didn't tour for. Do you think that with you writing on piano, you were creating songs that weren't reliant upon having a band, so that if you wanted to play live, you could do so by just having a piano?
No, actually, I'm not good enough on piano to play live. I mean, I'm not terrible. The reason I don't usually have a band is because there's no money involved with me. The guys I play with are so good I couldn't have them. They can write songs with me, but not when it comes to playing live.
Do you think of yourself as much of a live performer?
No, I guess I've always had ambivalent feelings about playing live. I like playing music, or playing with people in a band, and sometimes a show I could enjoy playing and singing. It can be a cathartic experience. I've always been kind of mortified about people "rocking out," people who jump around in energy. That's always made me kind of ambivalent. Nick Cave, he says when he gets onstage, he becomes the person he always wishes he should have been.
It seems some people—like, you'll meet a frontman who is really energetic onstage, but when they step off after the show, they're shy and introverted. The energy of performance takes them over.
Some people like to be the center of attention, think they have to do that to get the love of the fans or they have to vie for the attention of their audience or their parents or their whatever…
I read on your website about how you were enjoying the writing and recording of this record, as opposed to previous recordings. Do you think it was because you weren't spending an amount of time working on it? Like, when a band is on a label, they get sent into the studio for two weeks or three weeks or however long it may be, where they do nothing but work on their record intensely. I get the sense that you just worked on this record whenever you had free time to do so, with no set goal in mind.
Yeah, whenever I had some friend around, or I'd call and ask them to stay for six hours one afternoon, and we'd just do it.
Do you think this method is what helped make Love is the Best Con in Town sound the way it did?
Yeah, definitely. It's like you said, in the past we'd spend time in the studio and knock it out. Ive never made a record at home like this. I got to enjoy the sound more. I've never really done that before. I never really understood engineering and production. I'd hear things in my head but never appreciated bringing them to fruition.
Was it scary, producing your own record for the first time?
Yeah, it was pretty scary. You know, you have to wonder how much self-delusion is involved in what you're doing, or understanding reality.
Grand Mal's Love is the Best Con in Town is available now on New York Night Train