The Music Business was disassembling itself in real time. Napster led to Spotify and it was getting difficult to get anyone to buy physical product. This is all we knew, not based on music business experience but based on the sound logic of living through our teens. We were not simply musicians but consumers of music. In our time this was a fairly simple concept: find the bands you like and buy their records. If someone recommends something, they believe you might like, buy their record. If you were looking for new music, hit your record store and see what came out. It is OK to judge a record by its cover. You may not like the record but you tried.
With Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music dominating people’s listening habits, the very idea of making a ‘record’ was a failing logic. It was about singles. The average listener would not listen to anything beyond a song.
Do not confuse this statement for a soapbox. I am not condemning anyone in this. If I did, I would not be curating my Amazon Music list so carefully. I am as guilty as everyone else.
The problem with this was if you wanted to really say something, to really explore, it would take more than a song. It takes a collection of songs to wheedle, confuse, clear up and speak it out loud. I am a music consumer and I love a good single. My teen metalhead leaning of ‘anything Commercial is bad’ wore off a long time ago. I hear good songs, not songs in a style I appreciate, and like them.
The Grimm Generation was a concept before it was a band. We over intellectualized everything we could get our hands on, reformatted it and made it marketing. We wanted people to really hear the words, both Carmen and Myself. And we wanted everyone to hear each other’s words as well. As noted, CC was becoming one of the more interesting lyricists I had even met.
The loss of the album format was a true blow to us, to all of us. But since we were making up the rules (people over 40 do not start Indie bands), we decided to break this rule as well and make a record like we would want to listen to too.
We wrote too much, in general. Now CC and I were getting together about every day to work out new songs. We were always looking for people with home studios who had time on their hands and were interested in recording Grimm.
Due to Facebook, I renewed my acquaintance with Adam of my previous band The Citizen Spy, who would play a big role in my musical life.
Adam came in at the end of my award-winning folk band that no one really cared about and was a good guy. We kept playing until the bass player found out he was having twins and that was that. Adam was a guitar player and a damned good one. He played mainly acoustic due to the group but could tear it up with vigor.
While looking for home studios who would put us with us, I reached out to him and he was intrigued.
We showed up at his home in Collinsville and laid down a guitar and vocal to a click track. And then left him alone. What he created around those tracks was impressive and maybe the best we ever sounded. Due to his learning, and perhaps based on the fact his father was a noted Bluegrass player in the area. There was a sort of Americana sound that neither Carmen nor I cared for, but aside from personal tastes, he was leaving a mark on these songs. I wrote a song called ‘Coming Home’ that was pretty dark and broody. He took that and with his equally talented brother on banjo gave a real down-home Country feel. It was impressive.
The lead off tracking was a song I wrote called ‘Blink, I’m Gone.’ It came to me as a whole story which does not happen a lot. I was reflecting on the name Asher and wrote the opening line ‘Asher wants to come. But tell him it is not happening…’ This turned into a noir song about murder.
A rare thing about this song was that I was singing it. I let Carmen sing as often as possible and took a few lead vocals but mainly counted on my background vocals. It worked well for me not because I was afraid to sing but it was good fun trying to figure out interesting harmony counter points to CC’s lead. Some genuinely well-meaning people suggested that I need to sing more as CC’s voice was unique. Unusual. My more standard voice may carry a bit better.
I really appreciated that but had my job to do. I liked the way things were going.
In another instance, CC and I took a trip down to the shore to work up some tracking with an old acquaintance named Big Dave. I knew him through a friend and he used to drop by his house and hang out. What I liked about Big Dave was he was unusual for the area being that his band played big and ugly heavy rock and there were just way too many hippies in the area.
After I moved out of the area, I did not see him anymore. Our next meeting happened at a Solar Powered Local Music Fest held in a beautiful farm in East Haddam CT. This was a funny gig as we had played a gig in Massachusetts. After the gig, the ride home, the Listening Party, we must have finally crashed about 6 am. The gig was at Noon on Saturday.
To say we arrived worse for wear is an indictment of the word ‘worse.’ We were a pair of twin wreckage. It was all very rock star in so much as we looked like we slept in our clothes, looked still drunk and wore mirrored shades the whole day.
My favorite thing about this Fest was we had a dog running around on the stage which was endlessly amusing to me personally. I may have still been a little high.
Lo and behold, Big Dave was there with his zydeco band that really rocked and we got to chatting. He liked what we were doing and had an excess of recording equipment and we asked if he would be game for a collaboration. He was.
The usual method was we would send interested people some practice tracks and then go back and forth on email. We had some tracks burning a hole in our psyche (another new set of tracks…nothing from any of the records, nothing from what we were currently playing live) and we took a ride out to his Westbrook basement lair. He knew his stuff. With some basic drum programming and skill, he took our basic vocal / acoustic tracks and started making something interesting.
He even knew musicians which was exciting. We wanted to do a track I wrote called ‘Brooklyn Good’ and I wanted a cello on it. And he knew a girl (this is foreshadowing …).
We were pretty excited about what Big Dave was bringing out on these songs. He had a bunch of weird ideas but we were not averse to weird. He wanted to go to Brooklyn and record street sounds as a subtle soundscape behind ‘Brooklyn Good.’ Which was pretty groovy, in concept.
As we went about the business of being Grimm, we reached out to Big Dave without replies. He had a few bands going and started writing protest songs to sing solo. So, he was busy too. But we found it strange how we could not get in touch with him.
Based on what we felt like was the potential of these songs, I scheduled a couple of days so that he and I could get together in the studio and start progressing on these tracks.
There was a boat in the basement. Not a canoe. Not a kayak. Not a boat model. A full-sized boat about 30 feet. This was my first sign I was entering Alice’s Wonderland.
We settled in his studio basement with a wild array of instruments strewn around. Big Dave could play the majority of them which was impressive. He had played with a variety of genre bands starting with the ugly metal he played when we met and continuing through zydeco, protest, a number of solo gigs based on his own songs and covers. He had a great voice.
The vibe in the room with just the two of us was strange. I would say passive aggressive but it was pretty aggressive passivity. We started chatting and he started enlightening me to a huge number of Conspiracy theories I could not care about. Wide ranging, global, 9/11 to local lore.
Anytime I would try and change the subject back to ‘Can I hear the tracks?’ he was launching into something equally new and bizarre. I like a good Conspiracy theory, but this was work. And it was not happening. And I scheduled two days of this with him. On purpose.
It was disappointing but I figured ‘OK, we still have another day…’ And we did. And the same exact thing happened.
During the second day of Big Dave’s Manifesto, he did mention that he had a Cello player that played some on ‘Brooklyn Good.’ This was exciting but of course I never heard it even once. He noted that he had the Cello player play the same few notes over and over and over so she could capture them and build something amazing. Three notes, over and over, for hours.
I felt a genuine empathy for the nameless Cello player sitting in this basement and working on a song I was now convinced no one would ever hear. By the end of that day, I knew there were no recordings coming and gave Big Dave my best.
We did go hunting for that Cello player and found her without too much difficulty due to Facebook. CC and I reached out to her, apologized for wasting her time, and then asked if she was interested in joining a burgeoning Indie rock band.
And she was! Enter Grimm Generation Cello player Julie Kay.
We had a few sessions with her and Lys and we started mining a sound that was something different. It was still Indie (define that as you like) but there was some movement in there as well. Something undefined. We started playing out the 4 of us.
As we gained momentum, we still needed some other players to fill out the sound. We were fortunate that our higher profile interested some players. After we worked through those contacts we were back on Craigslist.
Perhaps the grandest of the GG mysteries was our experience with drummers. We just could not find a drummer to work with and the majority of the Grimm shows were drummer less. We would set up and play and my big stomp foot kept the meter.
We auditioned a bunch of drummers. It was a theme throughout our band life. Kerry started playing with us more consistently as we started gearing up for the next record. Kerry was an excellent drummer but he played fast, which was a total kick on about half of the material cause I liked to strum fast as well. The other half it was hard to corral him.
I remember having a Latin beatmaker based on Carmen and My mutual love of Bossa Nova (this was all CC. When we first started writing the book, she would drop Getz and Gilberto into the playlist and I learned such a love of that sound). He spoke English rather well or at least superior to our Spanish. A very cool guy but it just did not work.
Usually via Craigslist, we would invite drummers in to audition that were total flakes, dicks, a bit of column A and a bit of column B. I remember one drummer who dropped by on a Sunday was such an emphatic douchebag that I had to physically restrain Carmen.
Finding a drummer has been my failure in this life. I have worked with some excellent drummers, but it was always someone doing me a favor as they had other bands that were their bread and butter. I think maybe drummers are the most conscious of getting paid. That is not a critique. It is a fact and since we would never play a cover, we were never going to make those big bank weekend Summer gigs that can genuinely affect your tax status positively.
The majority of musicians that we worked with knew that every penny we earned was going back into the band, financing the next record. We had a team mentality in that respect.
Bass players are just impossible. You will find drummers who are not interested in playing with you, which isn’t fun, but at least you could find drummers.
Bass players were the prettiest girls in the standard band set up as everybody wanted them. We did find one and let me say this: he was a brilliant player. As well as top tier weirdo, but that came with the instrument.
One night in New Haven while playing with Lys, Carmen started getting chatted up by some guy there who said he played bass. With the RedHead Lead Singer, you can never truly know what someone’s intentions are, but if they play bass, it’s worth the restraining order.
Enter Grimm Generation bass God Eric.
In retrospect, I know how this happened though at the time I had no clue. Eric liked ladies. And the Grimm Generation had three of them, plus me, not a lady. I think he came in a bit obsessed with CC but quickly became obsessed with Lys.
A man’s motivations are their own so this is just conjecture. I liked Eric a lot but we never got close. What was undeniable was he was a fantastic bass player and definitely the best I ever played with. Watching him showed me what bass can really do aside from loitering around the beat.
The very first practice with him, just Eric, CC and myself, we knew he was something special. He wasn’t cocky. He wasn’t loud. He was quiet and skilled beyond belief.
So now The Grimm Generation was 5 people: Carmen on vocals, JpK on acoustic and background vocals, Lys on lap steel, mandola, glockenspiel and vocals, Julie on Cello and Eric on bass. And we started putting together what would be our next record ‘The Big Fame’ and started gigging quite a bit.
We did a few gigs at The Bing Theater in West Springfield, Mass which was an old style movie theater repurposed into an arts venue. This was a perfect GG venue. We became very friendly with the owner and his family and we played there with a variety of friends and artists. One notable show was the first time I ever met CC’s Dude and eventual husband, Matt. Matt owns a much-loved burger joint called Goldburgers and he is good people.
We played quite a few gigs in Massachusetts with this line up. A more memorable one was when we finally had the opportunity to play Luthiers in Easthampton. It was a two set show with a couple of friendly bands in the lineup. We were very excited about this as it was a real cool venue.
We played our first set and something was wrong. We could not identify it but we all felt a little out of sync. What I loved about the members of GG was they each had a bit of madness to them. And when we played less than well, all that madness came a calling in unique and individual ways. I would brood. Lys would distract herself with the tuning of many instruments. Julie would be positive. And as I found out, Eric and Carmen drank.
I found this out as we were getting near start time for our second set and no Eric anywhere. We were about 10 minutes out. I took to the street to see if I could find him, looking in the bar windows. I came to the last bar and looked in the window and saw CC and Eric downing some drinks. The whole scene looked like a Fritz Lang movie with all the appropriate gravitas.
I noticed that with these different projects, the band drew lines in terms of what was and was not relevant. Because they were not on the EP, because we were not putting any of the songs in the set, they seemed pretty disinterested in it. It was confusing and a bit hurtful but I realized this about musicians … and I would have to say CC and I operated in the same way: If they are not playing on it, it was irrelevant.
This was something I warned CC about again and again, based on my general pessimism but bore out with some real fact. These people are not our friends. They are not coming out here to help us, to do us a favor. They came out as long as they saw something with potential. I loved these folks who we traveled around the area with, who we saw week after week for months and years, but I could not mistake that for being genuine friends because I knew the moment a better option came, they would take it.
In a sense, this was a bummer. In a far larger sense, we had people traveling the state to play our songs for little cash. It genuinely blew our mind that talented people, all with their own careers, would take this trip out to the House of Grimm. That itself was more important than any offense I could take. I fortified this in Carmen as I knew there would come a day.
Meanwhile we received the EP we recorded with Adam called ‘Coming Home’ with 6 songs total. While listening to it was fairly incredible considering that we had exactly 2 sessions with Adam and left him to his best devices to fill in the rest. And he did, with gusto.
One song on the ‘Coming Home’ EP stuck out which was the song I sang about a crime gone wrong ‘Blink, I’m Gone.’ The song had such weight to it we needed to do another video, and we enrolled Zack into this caper once again.
This video, in concept and execution, was clearly a love letter to crime dramas of the past several decades. The video centered on my character and Carmen, along with Lys, invited to be The Boss. I always remember this one-day shoot for a simple reason: it was hot. Crazy hot. Even at night.
The video starts with CC and I at the famed kitchen table and it was clear that things were bad. At a certain point, we needed to ratchet up the tension so Zack requested CC and I argue. And we went to it. Loud, clearly crazy, clearly angry we lashed at each other. The moment we were done, the moment the camera cut, it was clear that we did it well as the entire room was silent. It made us a bit nervous. Did we fuck it up?
It was clear that everyone thought the fight was real. No one would look us in the eye. No one said a word. We were as proud as we could be.
The narrative revolved around ‘Asher’ (another actor friend of Zack’s, killing it) and my relationship. I have to admit that when I saw the dailies, I was uncomfortable. Looking at myself looking at ‘Asher’ it was clear that I was in love with him. Which worked for the narrative but personally made me icky. It was clear I did a good job as this was a subtle tell of the tale. And it sold the video. Nevertheless …
The video ended in the backyard of the House Of Grimm. ‘Asher’s’ fate had been decided and now he was lifeless in the back of the truck. What really got me was when Zack said ‘action’ I was supposed to carry the body from the truck to the waiting grave. When I started to carry him from the back of the truck, ‘Asher’ went lifeless in his form and it was ghastly and fantastic. I think there were audible gasps from the collected friends assisting with this shoot. It looked genuine and more so, felt like it looked.
After I managed to get the body in the grave (dug on the hottest of all hot days), Carmen paced menacingly by the truck headlights, I fell to my knees and said a prayer for dying criminal. And Carmen slid up behind me and shot me in the head. Fin.
It is a pretty incredible video. Weighty, scary, dark as the night. And shot beautifully by Zack again, whose style was made for these themes. We started promoting the release of it with the ‘What Happened To Asher?’ campaign which became rather popular online. We were playing off of people’s True Crime tastes, as well as our own.
Selling a video is not like selling a record. Mainly because it is untraceable. We can count the hits and the views … we heard the name ‘Asher’ bandied about the Internet where it had not previously…. but like so many brilliant artistic actions that don’t find their audience quickly, eventually you need to put your pants on and go home. And hope someone liked it.
We started playing quite a few gigs with the new lineup. Bars, clubs, multi band bills, consistent Café Nine gigs. As well as starting to play out of Connecticut more, upwards toward Western Mass. We were part of quite a few tribute shows such as the Anthology of American Music show in which musicians were taking tracks from Harry Smith’s seminal field recordings.
The gig that was consistently fun for us was the Best Videos gigs which was a video store/venue where they would play a movie while the band played. Not every musician chose to have the videos play but we would gear the gigs around what movie was playing and dress accordingly. Like the Holiday ‘Diehard;’ show where we all showed up in outrageous 80s fashions. Or the ‘White Heat’ gig where we dressed as noir as Hell.
We played nearly all new songs in these gigs as that was where our heart was. Aside from knowing The Grimm Generation, not as many people who came knew a song or two that they preferred. So it seemed to us that if no one is really paying attention, why not play the new stuff for practice with a crowd? And the songs came together in ways they never had based on the fact that we were playing these songs as a real band and everyone was taking their parts seriously. Previously we would send someone our tracks and ask them to do something. There would be a few practices but we were looking to get that part recorded, ready or not.
The effect of working with the same musician’s week after week made us tighter than we ever had been in any other formation.
And despite the fact Grimm was always about taking moments from our real lives and putting them in Pop songs, after Carmen’s father passed away, she started creating some deep and personal songs that were simply beautiful. My fortunes fared better so my contributions were dirty sex songs with all of the language changed.
We were growing beyond our frame. All the while our name traveled farther but never far enough for our liking. We accepted the gigs that were offered with the understanding that this is how we grow our brand. I was not sure if this was the right path for us. I was not sure if endless gigging would serve our brand well, but to every musician I met in my life (including the majority of the band), this was the path to glory.
In addition, all of our clever word play and leading language which started the whole GG Shebang was starting to trend less. I don’t think it was the language. It was us. We were always game to over expose ourselves and expect that may have been part of the slow chill that crawled into progress.
I really do not remember where the concept of the Radio Show came from. I do know that while we were pushing ‘Blink, I’m Gone’ with all the Blair Witch style faux news reports and hashtags for #whathappenedtoAsher? And we conceived of a way to bring in the new material. A full blow Radio show in the style of the classic radio dramas from the 40s. We were already dropping Noir language and tropes as a matter of course and this seemed like the next logical leap.
We had no idea how to do it, stage it, create it but we never imagined being in a band at this age either. So, with our best ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ we dug in.
I wrote the narrative in a single night. It was a story about Asher and the woman (CC) who loved him. It ended in murder and perhaps redemption, though that is left open for interpretation. Each part of the tale leads into a song from the set/record all tied together with a lovely musical pause from Julie on cello, sweetening the spoken language pieces. This would become one of our crowning glories, The Grimm Generation Big Fame Radio Show.
Once CC and Me conceived of this and recognized it was completely possible, we looked for an appropriate venue to debut this piece. As it happens, Windsor, CT happens to be the home of the Vintage Radio Museum. We always acted as boosters for the town of Windsor, though do not believe we ever got such love in return from this suburb of Hartford. We played nominal gigs in our hometown mainly because all the venues were in another town.
We met with the President of the Museum who was gracious and cool, much older than our target audience but he viewed this as an interesting development. We asked for a date to throw the show and he gave it to us: a Saturday night a few months away. Perfect.
At this point we needed everyone we could get so connected with Killer Kerry Miller again and asked him to learn the set. This was for recording the record, which was starting to come together, but we also knew we would need a full band for this show.
This was good fortune as Kerry kept in touch with Ginger who previously played the angry woman with signs in the ‘Nothing Astral’ video. We need someone to adopt the southern accent and narrate and she was only too game to assist.
Due to our excitement related to the new songs and the Radio Show, it was clear that we had to bring this band to a studio and get these songs down and recorded properly. This was a new experience for us where we were not sending out tracks asking someone to ‘do something catchy’ for the song. We had a crack, tight band who were bringing out colors in these tunes we could have never conceived of.
Where to record it was the question. CC and I had great fun and were quite happy recording the first record with Chris The Scamp, but strictly based on geography this was not convenient. I think everyone in GG at the time lived about an hour away from each other, so something in the middle of that expanse was the smart move. But where?
We were not making enough money to pick carelessly. We sunk everything the band made into recording, but being an original band, this did not total into thousands.
I did what I did when I met a music problem I could not decide: reached out to good ole’ Dave Hogan, who was now gigging out and recording with his three-piece Graylight Campfire. They were good, too. They always reminded me of that period of the 70s that power trios ruled the land.
They had already recorded a few records around town so I inquired about if there was someone good who wasn’t crazy expensive. And he said Tyler Bird.
Tyler operated his own studio outside of New Haven and had experience working at much larger, more renowned studios. He was a good guy out of Tennessee, very laid back, very easy to talk to. This was all important but the Dave Hogan seal of approval basically got him this job.
Carmen and I met with Tyler at his condo and we discussed what we wanted, and the variety of instruments involved. This was not a lo-fi sound with various guitars, bass and drums, keyboards, glockenspiel, cello and any number of tight or counter vocal harmonies. Tyler put us at ease with a simple grin that related ‘Yup, Another day at the ranch.’
It was the right place for the right record but Tyler came with a price tag that was not hefty but more than we had. We had a massive Tag Sale at The House Of Grimm and titled it ‘Kickstart This!’ as so many artists had moved toward Kickstarter as a way to get their projects accomplished. We never considered this, perhaps based on pride but more likely based on the threat of embarrassment that we would not make a dime and the thin illusion of the popularity of our weird project would be outed.
And back out on the streets. We took every gig that was offered as it gave us an opportunity to sell CDs and make a bit of cash from the bar. At this point Kerry was hooking up with us for gigs and for the first time The Grimm Generation had a full band line up.
With the speedy Kerry on drums, every set was a bit faster and more exciting. It reminded me of something to my personal taste: the bootleg recordings of Elvis Costello and the Attractions on their ‘This Year’s Model’ tour where they were young, punk as fuck and coked out of their gourds. You can almost feel them fly completely off the planet at certain points, and that was the approximate power we were playing with in Grimm.
We played a lot of gigs, had a lot of fun and made a little money. One of the most memorable was the Cabaret shows deep in the heart of New London. New London is the classic New England Industrial city by the sea full up with industry, arts and heroin by the bucket full.
New London has a strange and strong music scene, a variety of styles, a number of different bands and a lot of experimentation. More importantly, people in town supported the music scene which made it a rarity around these cover band loving parts. We had played in New London before. Once at a Coffee Shop where no one came. The other time at a Biker Bar that was drinking kicks. Though no one came.
This time, we had The Adult Dose. On the biggest night of The New London Scene, the Hygienic Arts Weekend we were right downtown at 33 Golden Street, a delightful and sort of divey basement space. We played there before with just Carmen and Me and despite our folky sound, people were cool.
The most interesting part of that first gig was the fact that as tradition they had Burlesque dancers. We had played with Burlesque dancers quite a bit before based on a sort of renaissance on the form in the Northeast.
This time, when we were in our dressing room backstage, the Burlesque girls came in and started stripping down with just CC and Me in there. Carmen held a perfectly pleasant conversation while I went red and tried to look in any other direction than at the fine female flesh. It was rather hilarious and never forgotten by CC … used when my britches were a bit too big to remind me that I am fundamentally a real geek.
The next Cabaret was the full band and though the stage was tiny, we got all 7 members on it. And we tore it up. Dressed in wild outfits, playing at lightspeed, more women than men on the stage. It was a good time. One burlesque act tore apart a cooked chicken with her mouth on stage and completely grossed out the vegetarian Julie. I could see her point. The stage was slick with grease which even for a meat eater was … gross.