Miss Fliss 26/08/2008
Grammatics Spell Out Rock
Normally sleepily quiet, the garden of the Portland pub in Cambridge is currently reeling from the electric attack of dramatic rocking out this afternoon. Grammatics have been sound checking inside the nearby pub backroom for the whole half hour since we arrived, and it's clear that their polished sonics are far above and beyond the subtle set up, heaving at the very seams unable to contain it as it is.
After a hearty welcome dinner on the house, courtesy of the venue, waif-thin singer Owen is energised to talk. His youth lends him a vibrantly keyed up look in his eyes.
He's keen to join up the dots between the band's present moment and the initial incarnation, informing us that Grammatics were born into their native Leeds when two of the clan graduated from their 'wildly popular' new rave/electro club night called 'Grammar' - hence the band name. Jaded by the vigourless rigour of typical angular indie fare on offer in that era, the quartet strove to be and do something a lot different. So was created the ethereal, epic grandeur shot through with genuine individuality that their music comprises.
'We got sent DJ promos for the night', explains Owen, 'and we'd go through them and think "We can do better than that. Why does every single band sound the same, like The Libertines?" And American bands like Arcade Fire and Cursive were doing things that were much much bigger but no English bands were doing anything like that. So many elements of English pop music that weren't being represented and also people aren't doing this big sound with strings and stuff, so that was what we wanted to do.'
The plan was to make the most 'overblown' debut album, in the intriguingly intermixed veins of Suede and Tears for Fears, with male equivalent vocals of Bjork and Kate Bush. GIITTV is not so sure that these are the most accurate framework of references (especially Tears for Fears, Lord help us!). Grammatics certainly inhabit the same magnificently dolorous anthemic gloomscape as Arcade Fire, with a dash of Kate Bush operatics, but there are twists of other-worldly nuances at work - the way no song is structured the same (rarely does a chorus-free zone sound so chaos-free and melodically interesting), and the interplay of cello and keys dominating rather than guitar. Grammatics are a grandiloquent proposition, alright.
When it comes to lyrics, Owen immediately reveals his admiration for Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. 'I like a mixture of cryptic and open lyrics. Kurt Cobain is an obvious choice, he's wonderful - no one really knows what he's thinking about, he uses so many metaphors.' Owen is modest about Grammatics beginning to compare in those stakes. 'I'm not sure I'm proud of any of my lyrics,' he says.
As to the innovative approach that Grammatics take to music making, Owen explains: 'Music's got to the point now where it's this disposable object. You know in Nevermind the Buzzcocks where they have to act out the intro - well, songs don't have intros anymore, because radio only wants two and a half minutes, two verses, two choruses, a middle eight. I'm just so bored of all these post-Libertines bands. The music is too succinct, there isn't any time for breathing or anything. I can't be bothered with that. It felt really restrictive. So I just write songs in sections. And going back to where I'd started from just feels really restrictive - I like things going in a straight line rather than pulling them back all the time.'
Another thing that sets Grammatics apart is the way they are so open to embrace weird and interesting instruments on their songs. Owen enthuses about an Indian squeezebox that is ambient in sound as well as smell ('It's got the curious scent of a foreign country'). Sadly it cannot be used live as it cannot be plugged in or mic-ed up especially well.
Owen tells us what it's like to be in a band in Leeds, the camaraderie between bands - lending each other instruments, producing one another's records - all sounds really positive. 'Fashion is non-existent', he explains, 'and there are no bands where style rules over substance.'
Owen concludes things by responding to our request to recommend GIITTV a bunch of new Leeds bands that we should cock our ears to. The list clocks up: Pulled Apart by Horses (with whom Grammatics have joined to play live), Dinosaur Pile Up, Wintermute, Paul Marshall, Fran Rogers, The ABC Club.
Photo by www.jonnywaltonphotography.co.uk