So I recently spoke with Ellis Ashbrook’s bassist Jonathan Granoff in this Q&A. And we speak about the earliest origins of the band from their formation to their days as students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, the band’s influences and even about their possible new album. And in one brief instance vocalist, Natalie Lowe chimes in, too.
WRH: How did the band meet?
JG: John B[arber] and Alex M[ajor] began playing together as kids. Guitar and Drums needed a Bass and after several switch-ups they landed Jonathan G[ranoff], who put the band into warp drive with his home Studio G in Cranston, RI. Natalie [Lowe] joined them 3 years later in Boston whilst studying at Berklee College of Music with John and Jonathan. That was 2006.
WRH: How did you come up with the name for the band? Was there any other names you considered?
JG: Ellis Ashbrook is Alex Major’s “Porn Star” name (first pet name + street he grew up on).
WRH: Who are your influences? And how would you describe your sound?
JG: Sixties Psych + Seventies Funk Slop, Glam Prog + Eighties Synth Clock + Nineties Grog Rock + Zer0Zer0 Indie Pop Scraps and anything else that sounds good to your soul.
WRH: I understand that the current lineup – John Barber (guitar, vocals), Natalie Lowe (keyboards, vocals), Jonathan Granoff (bass), and Alex Major (drums) – formed while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and that the band developed a reputation for playing basement parties in the Allston section of Boston. Playing there and playing all over the New York metropolitan area, is there a noticeable difference in the music scenes, and their crowds?
JG: Basement parties were the only wild shows you could have then and there, maybe now still. Mostly it was because no one had any money to pay cover charges and bar prices. In New York people have money but the bar scene is a known entity, so we keep throwing basement parties here too. People want to party underground, wut kan eye sae?
WRH: What was behind the decision to move to Brooklyn?
JG: More clubs to play, more people to meet, and it’s the best city in the world.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
JG: I’ve got an obsession with producer James Blake and singer Miguel, Dennis Wilson’s solo album is on my desk [Pacific Ocean Blue], next to Danny Elfman’s Serenada Schizophrana.
NL: The new Fiona Apple [The Idler Wheel …] has been sending shockwaves through our apartment too.
WRH: Ellis Ashbrook has released three full-length albums now. How does each record differ from the other? Are there any similarities?
JG: All albums are a snapshot in time for any band. Ellis Ashbrook (self titled and sans Natalie) is an exploration of song form and recording techniques applied to some early songwriting examples. Assemblage was a coming of age experience for the four of us, started in the last year in Boston and completed at Excello Recording in Williamsburg after we moved to Brooklyn. Meridia became our main goal after we settled in to New York and it showcases the flow of the city and our continuous exploration of new sounds describing familiar sensations.
I had a conversation with Natalie Lowe after a set at the Croton Reservoir near Bryant Park last year, and she mentioned that the band had been living and working together for the past five years, so there was this sense that everyone really knew each other to the point of almost wordless communication. And because of that the band’s sets were mostly improvised. Does that apply to the songwriting process in general when you’re in the studio?
JG: Some great ideas come through improvisation naturally but we are also willing to break things down to minutia and find the right combinations. Knowing each other really well helps us bring out each others’ strengths in expression, improvisation, groove etc. Its a balance between the heart and mind which the body plays and the soul sings.
Where is your favorite venue to play in NYC? Why?
JG: The Space Palace because we book all the bands and it’s such a relaxed atmosphere. The musicians can stretch their sets out a little bit longer and it’s just a great party. There is usually live painting going on and stimulating visuals to supplement the music. It’s an incredible, surreal experience that seems to get better and better every time.
WRH: As an independent band, what advice would you give to other independent bands trying to make a name for themselves?
JG: Play and practice, go to shows, meet bands, meet people at shows you like and carve a place out for yourselves. Don’t wait for someone to find you.
WRH: Are you guys working on any new material? And if so, when will it be released?
JG: Always, the next album is on our minds constantly and we’ll be demoing in January. Release date TBA.