Spotlight Interview With Graztopia
A new EP release from Graztopia brings out a rustic blended folk-based EP that takes what feels like a live performance and puts a graceful spin on it all with some outstanding guitar work and a gorgeous blend of instrumentation.
The Barebones in the Attic EP feels quite big for a release with only 4 tracks on it.
The performance on these songs is nearly perfect and everything is done with a certain passion behind it from percussion to vocals and everything in between.
That live performance factor is there always and it's because it feels like the players are feeding off of each other energies as the songs play on.
The songs have some tasteful vocal harmonies and massive choruses usually followed by guitar hooks and at times there are some great almost ethereal psychedelia that peeks its head through giving the songs added color.
Everything on the EP sounds personal and one on one. It all comes through with this really cool attitude and swagger especially vocally.
The music is lush with layers of textured sounds that fall together seamlessly and the best part of it all is that for the most part, it's all pretty damn catchy.
With the release of the Barebones in the Attic EP, we wanted to have a talk with Graztopia to find out where this came from and what may be next for them.
Here's what happened.
RAG: Let's kick things off with Bare Bones in The Attic. This record came through with loads of energy and a true folk-rock feel! Where did this EP come from?
This record and/or EP went through a mild sonic metamorphosis with a couple of different stages. It actually started out as a full record. I recorded about 11 songs for the project that was obviously cut down to four songs. The rest of the songs or versions of those songs might see the light of day at some point, maybe as a B-side to a future single release. But all of them have been played live at least a couple of times so it's not like they've never been heard. Initially I wanted to do a very stripped-down record with a live feel, so no click track, minimal overdubs, and no drums to really focus on the songs and the songwriting in its most primal state. And it was purposely meant to have kind of retro old timey sound mixed up with some present-day noises, to sound very different from today's cliché, very overly processed, auto-tuned vocals, overly superficial recordings of present day. Hence using the older sounding microphone on the vocals of “Summer Rain” and other tracks. After the basic tracks were finished such as the rhythm guitar or banjolele, acoustic bass, and lead vocals, the songs kind of called for some more instrumentation. Thus began the next phase of the project. Then there was some interest from a producer who heard the songs and convinced me to add drums and even more instrumentation. But unfortunately, that producer kind of disappeared on me, so I just decided to finish the recording myself. I got my friend and drummer extraordinaire Dom Barranco to add drums to a bunch of songs. Much to his chagrin there was no click track but he knocked it out of the park with his drum parts. After that, I added a few extra guitar parts, some effected acoustic guitar parts where my acoustic was run through some effects pedals to get some weirdness on the songs, some percussion, and a few synthesizers. Then my friend Jess DeBellis stepped in to add some amazing accordion to “Summer Rain” and “El Bohemian” And last but not least my other good friend Johnny Nale added some CSNY styled backing vocals as only he can to “El Bohemian” and “Marooned In Solitude” The songs really came to life after everyone else added their musical touches to them.
RAG: There are certainly some different styles on this release. Who can you say are your biggest musical influences?
You just opened a can of worms with that one, lolol there are so many influences from my formative years till now because I listen to a wide variety of music as long as it’s played with passion. So, with that being said my spectrum of music listening goes all the way from Woody Guthrie to Slayer. But here’s a bunch of the big ones. Here we go…::insert drum roll here: The Beatles, Nirvana, The Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, moe. Widespread Panic, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Townes Van Zandt, Stone Temple Pilots, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, Traveling Wilburys, Phish, Credence Clearwater Revival, R.E.M, Pink Floyd, Green Day, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, Jane’s Addiction, Roy Orbison, Beck, The Clash, Buddy Holly, Bob Marley and The Wailers, Django Reinhardt, and the list goes on and on. All of them in one way or another influenced my music. There’s a bunch I’m sure I’ve forgotten but that’s what I came up with off of the top of my head.
RAG: When and how did this all start for you as an artist?
Probably since the first time I heard music when I was a child. From that moment on I knew music was very special and I wanted to play it or hear it at all times. But probably the moment that hit me in my archetypal center was seeing The Beatles movie “Help!” Especially the scene when they’re in the studio, recording the song “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”. The recording studio was so fascinating with all of the tape machines, the console with the buttons and faders, the cool looking microphones, and all of the outboard gear. It was like wow this is so cool that’s where the magic on the records actually happens. After that I was singing songs into a handheld tape recorder my parents gave me and then later bashing on my toy drum set singing my imaginary bands made up songs into that tape recorder, pretending I was in a real studio like The Beatles. One day something clicked that made me want to write songs with an instrument instead of singing them into the tape recorder. My dad played guitar and luckily there was always guitars around the house. So, when I was around 8 years old I ask my dad to show me a bunch of chords on the guitar and I think that day I wrote my first “real song” lolol Then anytime I would learn something new that was musical, a new song was always written around whatever that was. The same goes for present day. Since then, I’d like to think I’ve improved a bit. I’m always trying to be a better musician, player, songwriter, etc…
RAG: What else really inspires or influences you to write?
Really anything happening at any given moment can magically make an idea for a song appear. Whether it be hearing a word or a phrase in passing or just everyday noises in whatever surroundings I’m in, can do it. The same could be said for just picking up a guitar, usually an acoustic and by happenstance just kind of start playing something out of nowhere like a chord progression or riff or whatever and if it sticks creating some type of sonic earworm then a song could possibly be written around it. Usually music almost all of the time comes first and then the lyrics second, for my own writing personally. The music usually kind of influences the direction of the words. Insofar as lyrics go, sometimes a cool lyric might pop out of nowhere as the music is coming together, in the sense where the words fit the rhythm of the melody really nice or its just interesting combination of words or rhyme scheme. So that might inspire more lyrics on whatever that initial line was referring to. Or if it’s just music and melody without words, I’ll try and think to myself what does this music mean? Insofar as what are the best words to express what the music is saying. Though I’ve always thought of myself as a very lucky and receptive cosmic sonic antenna so to speak. Insofar as songs get sent from the far reaches of the universe or wherever, out to the songwriters. Anything can inspire a song and/or give influence over completing an unfinished tune. I’m just trying to be open minded/receptive enough to welcome any type of inspiration as long as it serves the music in the best way possible. Just like there’s nothing better than playing live, there’s equally nothing better than writing a new song. Either for good or for bad and/or finishing an incomplete song that’s been on the shelf for a while, writing music is such an intoxicating feeling.
RAG: Will we see any videos this year from you?
Yes, there will hopefully be a bunch of different videos released over course of the rest of this year and into the next. I can say for the next record release I’ll probably do another video maybe two for the singles. Doing the “Summer Rain” music video was great fun. So, it looks like my videography guru/friend Bruce Faulkner of Bruce Videography Services, and I have to get cracking on some music videos. And also, there will be some live videos released too. Whether it is full shows, partial sets, and/or individual live renditions of songs will be put out. This year one of the goals is to increase the amount of content on the old YouTube page. So please don’t forget to “subscribe” to the YouTube channel to stay updated with all new video releases.
RAG: Are you performing live right now?
I’m like a shark, I’ve got to keep swimming or in this case playing music. I’m always performing live and to be truthful there’s nothing better than playing music live for the people. When everything was shut down with pandemic about 2 years ago, I would do a weekly live stream and the occasional “weekend couch tour” where I would do 3 nights in a row of live streams, all different setlists of course. As per tradition, no Graztopia setlist/show is ever the same to make each show its own unique experience. There are a bunch of shows coming up on the horizon, locally and out on the road as well. Over the next year or two I definitely want to play more shows out on the road/touring. Though you can usually catch me singing, strumming, and soloing at “my home base venue” Mr. Beery’s in Bethpage, NY. The best way to describe the place is its CBGB’s meets the TV show “Cheers”. They champion live original music in the land of cover/tribute bands by providing a venue for original artists to present/perform their craft. It’s always a good time at Beery’s.
RAG: You perform most things yourself even live right?
Yes, that’s correct on the records and live I perform most of the instruments myself. For the recordings if it’s an instrument I cannot play or if the music calls for a different musician to lend their musical touch for the part or parts, then I bring someone else to do it. It’s always nice to have other players on the recording because it helps take the music to places, I would have never thought of, or they just magically hit all of the notes I'm thinking of in my head for the part of the song without even telling them what to play. Kind of like a musical telepathy of sorts, lolol for live shows, I mainly perform solo. As a live looping artist, I run my acoustic guitar through a bunch of effects pedals that all go into my looping pedal, thus making me like a one-man band so to speak. And all of the music is looped live too. But there is a duo version of Graztopia, which is Dom Barranco (the drummer who plays on all of my recordings) on percussion and myself. There’s also a full band electrified version of Graztopia, which is basically all of the additional musicians on the albums accompanying me. So for the full band the lineup is Dom on drum kit, Johnny Nale on bass/backing vocals, sometimes when his schedule allows Jess DeBellis on keyboards, and myself on electric guitar/vocals. For the future I would like to do a fuller band Graztopia shows because it's always great fun playing music with other people, especially friends.
RAG: Who are you listening to right now?
At the moment, I’ve been listening to a lot of Sirius XM radio so no one artist in particular. Though I do frequent The Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, The Beatles, Tom Petty, Spectrum, Phish, Bruce Springsteen, Jam-On, XMU, and Coffeehouse channels when I’m tuning in. There’s such a fantastic variety of music at our fingertips nowadays, so naturally as a person who loves all types, styles, and genres of music I’ve been gravitating to that at the moment. I’m trying to find some new artists and bands to listen to as well, so when I go through these searching for new music phases, I usually just go through all of the other channels until something catches my ear. Then it’s off to the record store for a gargantuan music haul. For my next trip to the record store, I’m looking to purchase records from these bands or artists…Kamasi Washington, IDLES, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, Goose, Sturgil Simpson, The Linda Linda’s, and Haim. Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of Nirvana live shows recently, mainly from their last European Tour on YouTube and Stone Temple Pilots shows from the 90’s too.
RAG: What are you doing when you're not working on music?
Sometimes I’m eating, sometimes I’m sleeping, sometimes I’m day-dreaming , sometimes I’m being lazy watching TV, usually drinking really good coffee, most of the time listening to music, sometimes I’m painting, sometimes I’m researching and reading up on effects pedals, sometimes I’m watching hockey games Let’s Go Islanders! sometimes I’m watching movies, sometimes I go to concerts local bands/touring, sometimes I run live sound for bands local/touring, sometimes I’m fashionably late, sometimes I’m miraculously on time, sometimes I’m copiously writing the word sometimes, and I’m always trying to have fun.
RAG: What's next for you as an artist?
Quite a bit. There are about 6 records currently in the works in various stages of completion. All of which will be released at some point. But the goal is to get at least 3 or 4 of those out over the next year and half or so. But the next release will be a full album and hopefully that will be out sometime in the late spring/summertime. As of now the next couple of records will be acoustic based but eventually there will be electric full band albums released to feature electrified versions of some of the songs. Luckily there are a lot of original songs to choose from and certain songs will be recorded different ways. Insofar as there will be acoustic and electric recorded versions. Mixed in with all of that there is about 3 albums worth of instrumental songs waiting in the wings as well. The songs on those records would be extremely difficult to pull off live without a large ensemble. At the moment there isn’t a plan on what to do with each of the instrumental albums other than they will be released somewhere down the line. Recently, I’ve been able to get multitrack recordings of my live shows (All of my shows are recorded/archived in some way, shape or form) so now I can finally put out some really good quality bootleg live recordings in the future. It’s a lot of material and it will all be released accordingly.
RAG: This EP feels like it was a great undertaking. What advice would you have for other up and coming artists out there?
Always have fun, play when you feel like it, always have fun, when the moment of creativity strikes try to get the idea either written down or quick recording of it, preferably both, always have fun, always write and make music for yourself, always have fun, everything always starts with a good song, always have fun, sometimes mistakes actually can sound good, always have fun, the better you get the more fun you will have, always have fun, D minor actually might legitimately be the saddest of all keys so you might want to write a somber/sad song in that key, and always have fun!
RAG: Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?
Thank you so much for listening. From the bottom of my heart, I really appreciate the support. Please keep your ears to the ground for news on upcoming releases/live shows etc... And to quote Viv Savage of Spinal Tap “Have a good time all of the time”