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Grounders guitarist Evan Lewis talks coffee, jam & swimwear

Dan Webb
Toronto indie rock band Grounders have just released their second full-length studio album Coffee & Jam, featuring the ridiculously catchy and danceable lead single “Bringin’ It In”. We spoke to guitarist Evan Lewis about how it all came together.

Congratulations on the release of your new album, Coffee & Jam. This is the group’s second album, and first with your new drummer, Kurt Marcoux. What prompted the change in lineup?
Um, it’s kinda tricky. It was basically the lack of ability in our last drummer that we kinda felt was holding us back a little bit. When we went into kinda record after playing for a few years – initially got the opportunity to, we realised he was unable to kinda do a lot of the things we wanted him to. Andrew, the singer, would write a lot of the drum parts and then when we’d go into the studio (to) record them, Rob, our initial drummer was kinda unable to do so. So when it came time to do our last record, we kinda realised he couldn’t – we tried, but he couldn’t play the parts that we wanted. So we kinda kicked him outta the band, unfortunately. And then for that record, we had a session drummer called Kieran Adams who’s really great, play on the last record. But he was unable to join the band for touring or anything like that, so we kinda went on the quest to find a drummer and found Kurt who’s amazing. So he really helped us out and we toured a bunch with him and then by the time we came to make this record he was all ready to work on that.

When we went to make this next record, the idea was it would be a bit more upbeat and fun to play live…

Your band seems to be constantly touring. As a guitarist, does your live rig differ greatly to the one you used for recording?
Somewhat – we kinda experiment a lot in the studio, so it’s like, song by song we’ll change it up and then after the record’s done, we’ll start rehearsing and be like, ‘okay what do we need to be able to play on every song?’. So definitely the pedal boards changed. I’ve still got the same amp and guitar that we used, but then like, certain songs we might have used different amps and some things are like, DI’d guitar. So yeah, it’s kinda song by song, but yeah definitely different pedal board than the last record.

In very broad terms, it feels as though this album is very much influenced by 80s music, whereas your debut was rooted in more of a 60s psych rock sound. Do you feel this a natural evolution for the band, or are you just following trends?
I think it was kinda natural, because we recorded the last one without Kurt, our drummer, and we hadn’t done a bunch of touring. And then we went out on the road and most of the song were mid-tempo, and we kinda realised, like, as much fun they were to record and to listen to, once we were playing them, they weren’t as exciting as we maybe wanted them to be and as fun as it would be for us to have it live. So I think when we went to make this next record, the idea was it would be a bit more upbeat and fun to play live and we definitely thought of that when we did. It was also really influenced by the things we’d been listening to in the van on the tour from the last record. So there was like, tonnes of 80s stuff we were listening to. Tonnes of Talking Heads and ESG and things like that. We had that Soul Jazz New York Noise compilation in the van with us, that we listened to death. So we kinda like, came out of it being like, ‘let’s make something that sounds like this’. So yeah, kinda happened organically I guess.

I’ve read that you chose an interesting location near Sacramento, California to record demos. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
So I unfortunately didn’t get to partake in that, because of visa issues. I was unable to go into the States. But the guys basically – we had a big tour across Canada and then down through the States and there was like, four days off I believe, in California. So they decided to book an Airbnb and just set up instruments. It was kind of just in the middle of nowhere where they could play loud and just set up instruments and just jammed. So a lot of like, this record came from us just kind of coming together and actually playing as a band. Just whatever kinda came from those jams we’d then whittle down into songs, the best ones we liked we kept and kind of kept working on. So I would say like, 50% of the record came from those jams at the house in Sacramento. So when they came back to Toronto and I’d been there, they kinda showed me all these little demos they’d recorded on their iPhones. And then we started chewing away and turning those into songs.

I would say like, 50% of the record came from those jams at the house in Sacramento.

I’ve also read that the album was hastily produced by “whoever was in the room”. My worry would be that this scenario would result in an inconsistent sound across the album. What did you do to ensure that there was consistency?
I don’t know if we consciously thought of that. I think we hoped that at this point we kind of trusted each other’s playing, that we have an overall sound now, so hopefully just the fact that each of us are playing on all the songs, that kinda glues it together and that makes us sound like us. Yeah, we try not to consciously, I guess, make all the songs sound the same, cos the records we love are kinda certain ones that, you know, no two songs necessarily sound the same. So yeah, it’s interesting to hear you say, cos somewhat I think that maybe it does sound a bit disconnected in my head because certain songs are like ‘let’s just try doing this’, or some start with a bassline and others might start with a guitar line or something. So it’s definitely not a conscious thing, we just hope that it being us, it kinda sounds like it is one band playing all the songs.

I think we hoped that at this point we kind of trusted each other’s playing, that we have an overall sound now…

Can you tell us a little bit about the first single, “Bringin’ It In”?
Yeah. So that one is probably our favourite on the record and it’s been really great to play live the past few days where we’ve been out on the road. I think it’s kinda influenced by that band ESG. And yeah, that was definitely I think one of the jams that they came back with from that Sacramento house. We had it for a while and we’d chip away at it. I think it was kind of like a, mainly synth and drums at first. And then right at the last minute I kinda played some guitar on it and Andrew did the vocals later. Yeah, that’s basically it.

Can we expect a second single soon?
Yeah, I think hopefully in maybe a month or two. We’re kinda like, starting to work on a video now that’ll hopefully come out, with a song called “Mickey Can’t Move”, which I believe is the first song on the record. So that’ll hopefully be the next single.

Are you aware that “The Judge, The Cook & The Clown” sounds remarkably similar to “It’s No Game” by David Bowie?
I didn’t know that, that’s very interesting. I think it was us kinda trying to do a Television-esque song. Which song did you say, “It’s No Game”? I’m going to go listen to it after this.

Are there any local Toronto bands or artists that we really need to check out?
Yeah, there’s a guy called Carl Didur who’s kinda like a psychedelic keyboard whiz, that’s definitely worth hearing. Another band called Mimico, that are really great we love, like a post-punky kind of Kraftwerk meets early Pink Floyd. You’ve probably heard of U.S. Girls, they’re doing pretty good, great band from Toronto. Have you heard Cindy Lee? It’s the guy who used to, did you ever hear that band Women, the Canadian band from maybe ten years ago, he’s the singer from that. It’s really good stuff worth checking out. Yeah, I’d say those guys.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
Oh, good question. Um, let me put that to the band, they’re all here right now and we’ll see what we come up with, just give me one second… Okay, Andrew says Ralph Lauren… a clothing line? What are we creating? …okay, a two-piece male bathing suit with Ralph Lauren, is the answer that we’ve come up here (laughs).