Press play above to stream the debut album from Brooklyn feelgood rockers The Golden Grass in its entirety. The self-titled offering (review here) releases Friday on Svart Records, and brings with it the promise of summer ahead. A traditional power trio with warm tones and inviting melodies, The Golden Grass meld psychedelic flourish and straightforward, classic structures and clear, modern production to craft a sound that’s immediately their own. Their debut 7″, One More Time b/w Tornado, was issued last year through Svart and Electric Assault Records, and served as initial notice of the friendly vibes coming through the still-weighted guitars and funked-out basslines, and the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Michael Rafalowich, drummer/vocalist Adam Kriney and bassist Joe Noval set to work on the album with the same engineering and mixing team of Andréa Zavareei and Jeff Berner, respectively, expanding initial ideas for the full-length that would wind up with “One More Time” as its centerpiece.
The phrase “wind up” denotes some measure of happenstance, and while Kriney recalls a series of fortunate coincidences that brought the band together back in 2012, the actual crafting of the five songs on the 37-minute debut is a much more considered process of writing and revising, refining pieces until they’re finally done and ready to be put to tape. A telling moment in the interview that follows here is when Kriney mentions the months The Golden Grass put into their material prior to playing out for the first time, working on getting everything nailed down just so before letting the public see it. If you want proof that the time was well spent, the clarity of ideas on the album and the fact that it’s out through Svart — whose roster ranges widely in sound while keeping a standard of quality that few can match — speak to the success of the band’s vision.
Rafalowich and Kriney sharing vocal duties and harmonizing over unpretentious, easy-rolling grooves, The Golden Grass‘ debut is as stylistically cohesive as it is memorable, each of the tracks making a standout impression one way or another, be it the initial strut of “Please Man,” the more psychedelically boogie-fied “Wheels” — an extended jam which comes complete with a drum solo — the catchy also-highway-song “Stuck on a Mountain,” unmitigated fun of closer “Sugar ‘n’ Spice” or the nostalgia-for-the-impossible of “One More Time.” The band are recent veterans of the Hudson Valley Psych Fest alongside White Hills and It’s Not Night: It’s Space, and will look to tour more in the months that follow the release, bringing a stage presence that doesn’t rely on its heaviness or aggression (there’s just about none of the latter and the former is by no means the basis of their sound) to make an impact, but instead on its positivity and upbeat approach. The Golden Grass are a stirring reminder both of how enjoyable classic rock and roll can be and how just because something’s a good time doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be dumbed down or stripped of personality in the name of accessibility.
I could go on, but you can hear the album for yourself above. No doubt when 2014’s over, The Golden Grass‘ The Golden Grass will have been one of its best debuts. After the jump, Kriney talks about how it all came together and much more.
Well, Michael and I both had bands in Brooklyn, and we had crossed paths several years ago. I had seen his old band Whooping Crane, which was also called Strange Haze eventually, and he had seen La Otracina. I think we were both mutual fans, of each other. This is going back four of five years. And then, after that happened, at one point I was starting a new project, and I asked Michael to come audition for it, and it didn’t really work out, and that whole project ended up not really coming together in any way, but we made a lot of recordings. So then fast forward again two more years, so this is 2012, and I had just gotten back from that two-month European tour with La Otracina, and when I got back, that band seemed completely out of steam. It didn’t seem to have much of an identity – I was trying to do totally different things and it didn’t make sense in the context of the band, on and on and on. And I was sort of dealing with that existential crisis. I had already planned to spend two months on a pot farm out in California, so I went out and did that, and while I was there, I had brought a lot of archival recordings I had made to listen to while I trimmed weed all day. One night while I was getting ready to return back to civilization because I was almost done with my time out there, I was listening to a recording I had made with Michael years earlier, and it kind of blew my mind how good it was, and I couldn’t quite explain why I didn’t want to work with him at the time, but I guess when you’re in these moments, you don’t really understand it, you just say, “This isn’t really what I want to do,” but in hindsight you’re like, “Well maybe I should’ve worked with that guy.” As soon as I got back to civilization, a few weeks later, I hit him up and I said, “I listened to the recordings and they’re really cool and I don’t know what you’re doing right now, but I’ve got all this shit going on and I’ve got contacts and connections now, so let’s put something together, here’s my idea,” this, that and the other thing. We got together about a week later – this was early 2013, like January early – and immediately the ideas he brought were totally what I was trying to do, and we began to talk about, “What are we gonna do about a bass player?” And we went on Craigslist and we put up an ad and found somebody immediately. We didn’t use somebody that we knew because we couldn’t really figure out if there was anybody right for it. We found Joe almost immediately, and he came down, and it was perfect and we just kind of never looked back. But I think that the original idea for what we wanted to do sonically was something we all were on the same page about. I think it was a little bit different than what we ended up doing.
I think we originally wanted to do something that was not quite as hard rock. I don’t know. I mean, I think we wanted to do something that was much more like shorter songs, psychedelic pop kind of music, but it ended up being stretched out. It got a lot funkier, it got a lot heavier, even some proto-metal things thrown into the mix, and I began to just go with it. I don’t think any of us really fought it, I just think sometimes you throw a bunch of ingredients into the blender and you expect to get a certain kind of outcome and something else comes out that’s of equal value but quite different than what you put into it, and I think that’s what happened with us. I’m into that scenario. I like that it worked out that way. But I think we’re still trying to make sure we try to honor some of our original intentions and write music that isn’t quite totally hard rock, etc., and still try to keep its soul and psychedelic influence and not lose that, because it’s kind of easy to get sucked down the hard rock black hole (laughs). So that’s really the story. It’s a lot of synchronicity, a lot of, just by chance I reviewed these old tapes, that I hit Michael up, that he was down to do it, that we found Joe. Just very chance happenings, but it came together quite nicely. We began rehearsing immediately, and we just started working and working and working. As soon as I realized what I was dealing with, I put together sort of a business plan for the band, said, “Alright, this is how we need to go about this. This is what’s possible. This is the timeline I think we should try to adhere to,” and everything sort of fell into place. We took a really long time to get all the music really, really solid and tight so that we could start playing like a band that had already been together for a long time, as opposed to a band that was still nervous and didn’t know quite how their songs went. It seems like all these bands that form nowadays, they have t-shirts and stickers before they’ve even played a first show. But they’ve only been together for like two months. It’s like they’re rushing to throw material together and play shows before they have a band name, just crazy stuff. We didn’t want to get caught up in that. We wanted to really honor what we were trying to do and write really strong music. We really, really review our songs and change them constantly, and review, and review, and review, and try to make them as effective as possible in what we’re trying to communicate. I think it’s sort of a return to really strong songwriting and very melodic and dynamic and interesting. We’re just trying to get better [as] musicians and songwriters ourselves and grow from all the stuff we’ve done in the past.
About the writing. Can you expand on the revision process? Is that how the songs came together for the record – a basic idea that got refined into what they are?
It’s such a beautiful process when a band first gets together and the whole initial slew of material that gets written, because at that point in time, there’s no expectations. There’s no demand other than, “Let’s create a bunch of stuff right now.” My awareness of this couldn’t be stronger than right now as we’re trying to write new material but we’re so busy rehearsing the old material, setting up performances, touring, getting ready for the record to come out, and it’s so difficult to find the mental space to create new stuff. We basically got together and had all these random riffs and disparate ideas, and everybody was very open to how things were going to work.
Initially, we didn’t know what the vocals were going to be like and who was going to sing, and how things were going to work, etc. We just had all these riffs and parts and we slowly began to put everything together. I’m really diligent on recording practices. The proof is in the pudding as that’s how we even got together – I was listening to these old tapes. So we would do these rehearsals and I made a recording and everybody would get a copy to listen to and review and we’d come back and talk about what we did, and I would listen to it and say, “Okay, that thing we’re doing there is not really happening,” and somebody else would say, “I have this idea, we need a little bridge there,” you know, and even today there’s still songs we’ve been working on for about a year at this point that we’re still refining and that still haven’t quite come together and felt perfect. I think as we’re getting to understand each other better and become better musicians and songwriters, some of the ideas we had initially aren’t acceptable to us anymore. We want to do better by them and we want to make them stronger.
It’s just about the process where you’re analyzing what you’re doing and you have a standard that you want to rise to, and that’s kind of where we’re at. It’s very abstract. There’s no way to really quantify what I’m really talking about, but we’ve got a model and a sort of ethic and we want everything to feel really good to us and feel really strong and resolved, I guess. None of our music or none of the parts of the songs should make us feel uneasy. We should all be 100 percent behind what’s happening at all times, and then, when we play it, that’s when it would translate that we like what we’re doing, and I think that we all write the music together in that somebody brings in this, then somebody reviews it and changes that, he changes this, and it’s this constant evolving ball of ideas, and we try to finish the songs as soon as possible, but sometimes you’re working on a difficult piece, and it’s like a puzzle sometimes writing music. You have this really great three-fourths of a body, you’re just trying to draw the right head on it, you’re just stuck or you’re trying to say the final piece of the statement.
Sometimes it takes a long time, but we wrote the initial batch of music in about eight months, which was about seven songs, and they’re difficult songs, and they’re long. Now we’re kind of working on the next batch of music, and doing a lot of demoing and so we’re doing a lot of that review process now. We’re even playing some new stuff now that’s not even working out really, and that’s also interesting to be going through and to be able to be okay with that and understand that some of the new material is not quite there yet.
But we’re kind of throwing it out to the world and seeing what the feedback is, so now our review process is also watching an audience reaction as opposed to just listening back to a tape. So you know, it’s interesting. It’s like a real-life kind of performance art piece, just the writing process, learning and understanding and writing. It’s interesting.
I think it was on the tape there were demos for “Please Man” and “One More Time.” Were those the first songs to come together?
“Please Man” was an interesting piece because I believe that demo that’s on the cassette is actually one of the only ones tracked in the really, really early days before there were any vocals in the band. I think. I think we had not even begun singing yet, and we were completely freaked out about that. We were like, “I don’t know how we’re gonna sing any of these songs.” But we made the demos of them. “One More Time” was the first song we laid vocals to, and it was also the first song that had this kind of funky sort of Southern groove kind of thing that we were not expecting to have in the band. Not that we were against it, but it just wasn’t any part of our initial idea of what we wanted to do.
Joe actually brought in the majority of the ideas for that tune, and we kind of threw it together, and I had some lyrical ideas based on an experience I had before I went out to the pot farm. I met some girl and just palled around on her scooter all day in Portland. I just met her at a park and didn’t even know her and we had this crazy adventure and I never saw her again. Kind of like having a one-night stand or a one-day hang with somebody and you just want to see them one more time, but really it was only about that one time, and so that was the first one we actually had any vocals for, so I laid it down and I was like, “Hey guys, what do you think of the ideas and the style?” and everybody was really into it. It just went from there and I began doing more four-track demos, and we began practicing and incorporating the vocals more, and just going from there.
But those are probably the first two or three songs that, yeah, I guess those are the first two that had vocals to them, and they’re very different styles in a way. Then everything just came together, but I think at first we were just writing these instrumentals and retro-fitting the vocals to them. I think we’re trying to go about it differently now and write with the vocals in mind to make it a little bit stronger. But yeah, those were the earliest ones, and people actually wanted us to release those demos as the first 7”, but we wanted to give something with a little better fidelity than that.
You’ve mentioned it a couple times – the standard, the ethic. On the album too, it’s a professional sound. Crisp, clear, classic, but full sound. Where does wanting to meet that standard come from?
As far as the sound?
I mean, I think that’s just an aesthetic choice that was sort of a no-brainer for us. Obviously based upon our influences, but I think that the musicianship and the compositions that we have in this group are things that have to sound a certain way, that have to be presented a certain way. For instance, some art can be presented on a shitty piece of wood that you find at the beach that’s all messed up. You can maybe put art onto it, paint onto it, that’s going to tell the story you need to tell. But some stories can only be told on a blank canvas that’s been gessoed, if I can use that analogy. It’s sort of the same thing.
I think that we have a very clean aesthetic to us. It’s not sloppy, it’s not messy. It’s sharp. You used the word “crisp” and I think that’s appropriate. I don’t know where it comes from. Yeah, professionalism. We just want things to sound really tight. It seems to I guess be an extension of our playing, that it ends up sounding tight in the end. It wouldn’t make sense for it to sound sloppy or blown out, because it would hide some of the detail that’s in there. I guess there’s so much subtlety that’s in what we do there has to be a level of clarity to convey that. Maybe that’s the answer.
At the same time, the album has this laid back vibe, a very warm, friendly sound. Were you conscious at all in putting it together of keeping that going despite being tight as you’re playing and meeting that professional ethic?
I wasn’t really worried about that. The fact that people are picking up on a lot of the things like the laid back vibe and the upbeat feel or the positive nature of it, that’s stuff that we just alchemically encoded into our music. I don’t think those are things we need to be conscious of at this point. It’s all in there. That’s just in the groove of how me and Joe play together, for instance. We don’t need to worry about how to capture that. It’s gonna be there. We just need to make sure that the recording doesn’t take any of that away. But as long as it stays clear, it’s gonna be super-obvious.
The recording actually went really quickly and very efficiently and effectively. We did all the main tracks in two days and we did maybe three or four sessions of guitar overdubs and five or six sessions of vocals. By “sessions” I meant two, three hours max. We mixed in about 20 hours, and that was it. I didn’t waste a lot of time. I knew exactly what I wanted to do the entire time as far as production and what needed to happen and what things needed to sound like. I went in, and Jeff Berner, who mixed it and helped me produce it, I knew that he would be able to achieve all of this with very little trouble or convincing or explanation. And it happened that way.
It was very easy to get it all done. We had put the nine months or 10 months of work in up to that point. Nine months of rehearsals and then we started playing live and debuting the music live, so we had a few more moths where we could get audience feedback of what needed to be changed to make the songs a little better. By the time we went in, we had 11 months of rehearsing this material and performing it live, so we just went in and nailed it. It was pretty effortless. We just had put the work in. Not effortless leading up to that point, but the actual recording process was just sort of like, “We’re here, we’re ready, so bam.”
You mentioned writing and building on this record already. Where do you want to go? Are you looking to bring in more of that psych-pop influence or just see what comes out?
Yeah, I think there’s a few different areas of music that we’ve toyed with or ideas that we’ve had. Some things are heavier than what we’ve done before. Some things are folkier. Some things are – I think we just want to explore different tempos, not get trapped into playing everything at the same pace and speed, and different dynamics, and just to tell different types of sonic stories in addition to lyrical stories. Like I said, it’s actually really difficult to get the ball rolling with working on new stuff. I feel like we need a month in a cabin Upstate just to have the mental clarity to do it that we did back then, because even if we get a full rehearsal to work on new material, then the next rehearsal is preparing for the next show. We take one step forward and two steps back.
It’s difficult, but we’re shooting for it, only to keep ourselves exciting and moving forward. Like I said and what I keep talking about, this ethic and this standard. We work so hard. We kind of have to check ourselves maybe a little bit and make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves in being too impatient that our record hasn’t even come out yet and we’re already working on literally five or six new pieces. It’s ambitious, but it’s also a little bit unnecessary too. I know why we do it, I understand it. We’re just excited to keep going because we’re excited to get better and do more cool things. We’ve done all we can do with the seven or eight songs we’ve got so far, so we just want to keep making and keep making new stuff because we enjoy it and we’ve got a few really cool sketches of ideas and we just want to keep going with them.
I think it’s an excitement thing and we don’t want to get bored with playing the same songs, even if it’s just rehearsing. Even if we’re not performing the new stuff yet. Just to have the new stuff to work on is exciting for us, because I think we’re going to be a band that works very quickly and is always going to have new material as long as we can get to it. But it’s been an insane so far just since the record’s been finished recording. There’s been so many shows and mini-tours and things happening and now that the record’s coming out, things are really busy, especially for me, dealing with all the management issues and getting ready for the release, which is on the 9th. It’s exciting, but it’s also very… what’s the word… tiresome? (Laughs)
How far ahead do you have shows planned for?
Right now we’re booking into late June. Not that far away, but we’re also trying to keep our eyes on something big for the Fall, and something big for next Spring. We’re trying to have the next year in our sights, but you know, the closer to now that we are, the more realistic the situation is. It’s not really worth it to get too far ahead of ourselves.
We’ve just gotta stay here and now. There’s not too much solid stuff planned, but I already try to throw things into the universe and set things in motion and see what happens. We’ll see what happens when the record comes out, if a lot of those ideas manifest into something larger. Everything’s really awesome and exciting now. I’m just trying to keep my head on straight.Brooklyn, New York City, self-titled, Svart Records, The Golden Grass, The Golden Grass Self-titled