How a Rocker Went Solo, Evoked Phil Collins, and Brought Adult Pop back again

No, I’m not searching for myself. This record is about basic things... the same things that every song should be about: love, sex, death, drugs, and myself.”

Sebastien Grainger, calling from his live-in studio in Toronto, has been awake for over 24 hours by the time we speak. He’s exhausted, but committed. “I haven’t slept since 4pm yesterday,” he says. “I can go for as long as I can keep my eyes open.” This is no surprise coming from a man who has hardly let up since the release of his former band Death From Above 1979’s critical masterpiece, 2004’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine.

That outfit has since disbanded, and Grainger has found more satisfaction on his own. His solo debut showed songwriting chops and catchy rock qualifications, earning him the cover of Exclaim’s Best of 2008 issue, in addition to countless year-end top ten lists.

His commitment to his work is impressive. Grainger spends so much time crafting a song that he becomes bored of it, and shelves it for another. “Some songs I was super into in the summer, and now I don’t care for at all, so I wrote new ones,” he explains. This process results in Grainger becoming too familiar with the tracks and shelving them.

But he refuses to stop there, with an upcoming (get this) self proclaimed “adult pop renaissance” record, and the need to see himself going even more solo than he’s gone before. The album started out much like Grainger’s last effort, but evolved quickly. “I thought I would make a big loud trashy heavy record, but the thought of going through that live every night is terrifying, and unsustainable. I’m thirty, and the older I get, the less I want to kill myself on stage, and the less angry I am.”

When explaining the new sound, Grainger uses the word “pop” so many times I lose count. When citing a comparision, he says “Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, that came from a weirdo band like Genesis, all of a sudden made these tremendous pop songs.” In a similar vein, Grainger evokes these 80s adult pop icons in his new sound.

Grainger’s ‘awakening’ of sorts came at a good time, right before he started writing this record. “It's the first time in my life that my thoughts and goals have been so clear. It's undeniable. My job since then, has been trying to interpret those thoughts.”

For a man who’s been living the musician lifestyle long enough, Grainger knows what he wants out of the experience, and even more, what he doesn’t. “I'm sick of watching bands wear their life on their sleeve. They get on stage talking about how long the drive was, and how hard things are. It's a slum, it’s not sexy.”

After forming a standard rock outfit, Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains, to tour on his last album, he insists this time around will be entirely different. “Everyone has been trying to be relatable for so long, and honestly, I'm not a regular guy. I was up for nearly 24 hours drinking and recording a huge pop song. That’s not what the work-a-day world is like, so why try to be relatable, when I can be weird and give people something new and special?”

I'm not trying to do anything except make a record that I want to hear. I don’t have an agenda lyrically. I don't care if it makes sense as a statement. As long as it conveys ideas, and it sounds good,” he explains. “Lyrics are always second to rhythm and melody for me. It’s just the way it's always been. I can listen to a song for years and years, and not know what the song is about, and it can be my favourite song.”

The relationship between Grainger and his lyrics may not be on the front burner, but his commitment is evident. Even into the editing of my interview, I received an email from him, where he felt the need to clarify. “It occurred to me this morning that I may have sounded like I didn't take my own lyrics seriously,” he professed. “I do. They are my greatest challenge.” He elaborated in detail, explaining complicated intricacies in his lyrical style. “I am more interested in how phrases are presented and how they make you feel. A great singer can say something so simple and make it sound profound. If I had regrettable lyrics, it would be hard to perform the song.”

Grainger denied my use of the word “evolution” but definitely sees moving on and changing his sound as a huge part of the creative process. “Call it what you want, but at a certain point over the summer I saw myself with great clarity for the first time.” He elaborated with “A friend of mine was telling me that I should write a couple of [Death From Above] type songs, just to pacify my existing fan base, but it would be so cheap. I’m not the 21 year old that co-wrote that stuff. I don't eat soup from a can anymore, you know?”

//JJ Brewis

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