Thursday, November 15, 2012

Interview: Graph Rabbit

Graph Rabbit's Austin Donohue (L)
and Shy Kedmi (R)
Even in this age of limitless access and no-holds-barred exposure, music retains the capacity to surprise and delight like no other art form. A little over a month ago, I was all set to engrave my imaginary 'Album Of The Year' trophy with the name of The Walkmen, whose supreme latest offering Heaven had sat virtually unchallenged atop my mental list since it's release back in May. That, however, was before I was alerted to the existence of Snowblind, the debut LP from Brooklyn's Graph Rabbit that's currently converting all lucky enough to stumble upon it. A glorious hub of stark minimalism, still ambience and superlative beauty, the group's primordial sonic venture is the type of elegant, enveloping masterpiece which only crops up every so often, and even less so courtesy of practically unknown novices. It was my pleasure, then, to quiz singer/songwriter/ guitarist Austin Donohue concerning the group's origins, the making of the record and their future plans, all of which you can read below.

How did Graph Rabbit come about?

I was working on what was going to be a solo EP with producer Allen Farmelo, but as our collaboration grew and we started writing together the album was just leading to something way beyond a solo record. Shy Kedmi and I met after the record was done, and we bonded over the work of Valgeir Sigurðsson, who is friends with Allen and who mastered the record. Then he joined Graph Rabbit full on shortly after that.

Congratulations on Snowblind, it's absolutely magnificent. Did it take a while to forge the record's sound, or did you arrive at it straight away?

Thanks - sincerely. It took forever to get the concept of the record together, and then forever to really write the songs, and then all of a sudden we recorded it and it was done. The big breakthrough sonically was the Pocket Pianos, which Allen got obsessed with and introduced me to. Then there was the sleigh bells, which caused a lot of havoc in the production - like how to use them in an innovative way. Fits and starts really.

Could you explain the concept in a nutshell?

The concept. Well, the songs all work together to tell a singular story, and if you follow the album as a whole in order it's there. I don't really dig spelling it out, though, you know?

As mentioned the record was produced by Allen Farmelo (The Cinematic Orchestra, Talk Normal) and mastered by Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Rós). What did they bring to the table?

Allen is a fucking nutcase. Passionate and kind of crazy obsessive. It really was a collaboration from front to back with him. Allen is extraordinarily driven and has great vision, and he had a hand in crafting every detail of Snowblind. Allen and Valgeir seem to really be on the same sonic page, so Valgeir mastered it with no revisions from us at all. I know that for Allen to give no revisions means he's found his man. People forget how important mastering is, especially for a record as blurry and ambient as Snowblind. The tracks came back from Iceland with this beautiful haziness that really put you into the world of the record, but it was also more clear. Just perfect.

Is there anything at all you'd change about the final product?

I wouldn't change a thing. It's kind of crazy to say that, but I really wouldn't change anything. And I can't.

What have you made of the initial reception?

Its been overwhelming. I'm delighted, really. But I try to tune out opinions a bit, to be honest, because I have to make more records and I don't want to get tripped up by outside-think.

Were there any tracks which didn't make it onto the final album?

There was a lot of writing that took place prior to the recording that didn't make it onto the record, but the songs you hear on Snowblind were the only ones we recorded. We were quite economical in that way, and because we were working with a linear narrative it wasn't like "oh this song fits and this one doesn't." We knew the record in full before we recorded it.

You've been performing the record in its entirety at your live shows. Is that something you're going to continue doing?

Absolutely. We made the album knowing we wanted to perform it faithfully and I'm really happy at how close to the album our live show is.

You recently announced quite emphatically that your music won't be appearing on Spotify. What are the reasons for your opposition, and do they apply to streaming services as a whole?

There are two models for how recorded music can get to someone. The first model is the old record store model, where you buy a record and then you own it. That's what iTunes does. Then there's the Napster model, where you don't pay a thing and you have access to everything. That's the Spotify model. Napster fucked everything up. They were thieves. Spotify is using the thieves' model, and they're not paying artists and labels much of anything. We're just totally into the record store model, into paying for an album. And we're not alone. Lots of people are starting to realize how streaming subscription services are trying to rewrite the laws that govern fairness. Grizzly Bear is talking our language now, publicly.

Finally, do you have any future plans with regards to the band?

We're going to tour this album extensively and plan to make another record that'll be out next year, and we just plan to keep making records and tour as a duo, but we're already bringing in new folks to round out the sound, and we're pondering the lineup for the next record. We also have two really awesome collaborations we're working on that will be released in the next couple of months, one with Mikael Jorgensen of Wilco producing a cover of "Ode To Street Hassle" by Spaceman 3, and another cover tune that Allen is producing that'll be out pretty soon.

Thanks for taking our questions, and once again well done on Snowblind!

Thanks for asking the questions and supporting the record.


Snowblind is out now. You can download the record or purchase a physical copy here.

Read Muzik Dizcovery's review here.

Official Website

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