Sydney-bred indie rockers The Griswolds celebrated a milestone last week, dropping their much anticipated debut full length album ‘Be Impressive’. The album was recorded in New York City with M83 and Phoenix producer Tony Hoffer and followed the band’s signing to US label Wind-Up Records.
For an honest look into the process of putting together a debut record, we’ve enlisted the help of bandmates Christopher Whitehall and Danny Duque-Perez to give us a rundown of each track on the album. Together they share with Music Feeds readers everything from who wrote which tune, to where they were written and the life experiences that inform the music. Have a read while you stream the album in full below.
1. 16 Years
Christopher Whitehall: We started this song up at the cabin two hours out of Sydney. It was two in the morning and we had long since wrapped up song-writing for the night. Dan was playing Mortal Kombat on the Xbox and I jumped on the electric drum kit to fuck around a bit. Dan heard something in one of the beats and quickly jumped up and turned on all the recording gear and we started laying down tracks until 4am that morning.
We got a fair bit of the track written that night, and then we finished the rest of the track in NYC, but it was very guitar driven. It wasn’t until we got this song in to Tony Hoffer’s hands that it really took shape. Tony drilled us harder on this song that any other song on the album. He had a really strong vision for it.
No-one was really convinced with how rock’n’roll it was sounding, but Tony went and fumbled around on his laptop for five minutes and came up with the most amazing synth sound/sample that is now the leading instrument throughout the track. We finally got the right chorus for this song on our very last day in LA and we tracked the vocals down and literally got straight in the van and headed to the airport. It was crazy.
Danny Duque-Perez: To me personally, the song is about two things. One is playing music since being a kid and how the music industry is crazy. But to me the song is more about my time in New York and how lonely I felt in one of the busiest cities in the world. It was the longest I’d been away from home in my life and I was really missing everyone I loved. Being away from them was getting harder and it was driving me to rely on substances to be happy.
CW: This song is basically about the massive life changes we’ve been going through since we started playing music “16 years” ago. For me it’s about the transition into band life and the crazy shit that goes on when on the road. It’s about never being comfortable in one place and sacrificing everything for the band. It’s missing our families and loved ones, but pushing forward and hoping not to lose ourselves to the harsh music industry.
2. Right On Track
CW: Right On Track is an idea our drummer came up with. We couldn’t believe it when we heard it. He’d been sitting on his laptop for a few days and it was quite funny, he showed us this idea that only went for about 20 seconds but we saw a lot of potential. This one was actually really easy to work with. We were in the studio in Times Square and the creativity was flowing really nicely. This was a really fun collaboration between a lot of the band members coming up with ideas.
I think lyrically this one for me is about the struggle our relationships go through because of our love for the band and our love for music. The band is our first love and it’s difficult to find where a partner fits in to all of this sometimes. But we still try to make it all work, and either way as long as I’m right on track with the band, there’s not a lot else that matters.
3. Beware The Dog
CW: This is the first song Dan and I ever wrote together. It’s about losing someone we were really close with to heavy drug use. Beware The Dog is about that journey – the good and the bad times.
DDP: This song was written about a friend of ours, and her slow descent into madness as her drug use got heavier and heavier, and the drug of choice became much more intense over time. Years of trying to help her resulted in nothing but hatred and sadness, and eventually she burnt every friend she had and tried to blame everyone else. Beware the Dog is kind of a way for us to remember that there were better days between us all. We loved those days.
4. If You Wanna Stay
CW: We were in the bush cabin writing, we’d been there for about three weeks and at this point we thought we were in pretty good shape. We got a call from Tony and he said we should be going into pre-production with around 20-30 songs. We started freaking out. We were right in the middle of a dry writing patch and we only had about 10 songs written.
We’d started so strong at the cabin finishing songs like Down And Out and Be Impressive in the first couple of days. We thought we were so on top of it all. It started with the piano, then the big deep synth got added, a hip-hop beat and a few cool melody ideas later and we had this song done within 24 hours. One of the quickest songs to come together on the entire album. A lot of the ad-libbed lyrics we wrote ended up making the final product too.
5. Down And Out
CW: I actually really disliked that opening synth riff when I first heard it, but once the beats and melodies came into it, it became one of the coolest tracks on the album. This one is a little hard to talk about, it’s about the death of a best friend and her struggle through mental illness in her dying days. I literally held her in my arms as she took her last breath.
DDP: This song was an experiment in trying to take a traditional pop dance hook that you’ve heard a million times written in a lot of upbeat ways, and to try and turn it into an anti-pop indie banger. We tried to take such a traditional synth line and turn it dark and put it in a context it’s never been heard in before. This song took a long time to get right, because the lyrical direction we wanted to take it in was really heavy, so the music had to really do its best to compliment the lyrics without it turning into a heart-aching ballad.
6. Be Impressive
CW: This song almost birthed our electronic element. We were working on this one and Down And Out around the same time. We were all thinking, “Are these songs actually usable? Are they The Griswolds?” But we just rolled with it. Once we wrote melodies and recorded vocals on top of these new electronic sounding songs they always ended up sounding like The Griswolds again.
DDP: This song was written back in the days that we were working on the EP. It was a fun experience learning how to incorporate more electronic elements into The Griswolds’ song writing and it’s had a lot of different incarnations since it was first started.
The kids’ vocals were initially robotic and there was a huge intro to the song which is now morphed its way into the outro we currently have. This song is about a few things. It’s about youth and the love of freedom that youth brings with it. The insecurities you feel growing up and the pressures of needing to be different and to stand out and hoping you’re impressive enough.
7. Live This Nightmare
DDP: This song was a very weird experience for me. It was written under the influence of possibly way too many downers. It ended up being an all-nighter. I tried to sleep in the studio this night but the lights of Time Square were shining through the studio window so bright that I couldn’t sleep and I ended up just working right through till the next day. I think that feeling of absolute exhaustion really showed in how the song feels. When I sent the song to Chris he took it away and added a chorus melody to the song that was perfect.
CW: I really reckon this is one of the coolest tracks on the album, it’s so far from where The Griswolds started out in our song writing. It’s really hip-hop influenced, a lot of our stuff is, but this one is really obvious. Dan started this one when we were writing in Time Square NYC. I think he stayed up until really early one morning in the studio by himself.
Dan showed us all this opening synth part and some ideas for a chorus and we were all sold. There was a certain darkness about the ideas Dan brought to us and I really wanted to capitalise on that. There’s been plenty of relationship issues amongst the band members since we’ve been on the road more and more and I wanted to write about some of the pain of infidelity and trying to make long distance relationships work.
CW: We wrote this one a while ago simply because our set was too short and we needed more songs, as we were playing more and more shows. We quickly rushed through and wrote this one in about a day. The only problem was that we hated it ever since the first day we played it live. We just didn’t connect with it at all. Everyone on our team loved it though, it was driving us mad. The label and our manager kept calling it “our best song”, and “the next big single”.
There were discussions for about six months in the lead up to album recording as to whether this song should be on the album at all. The four of us were voting no, then Tony Hoffer heard it and loved it. We told him honestly that we have no love for it. He kept saying, “Trust me, trust me, I can make you love it again.” This was a discussion that came up about five times in pre-production, it’s quite funny looking back. Anyway, Tony won in the end and we decided to trust him on it, and funnily enough now we love it. A lot.
9. Thread The Needle
CW: Thread The Needle has probably had more “versions” than any other song we’ve ever written. When we first wrote it, it was a faster, kind of punk-surf style song. It was actually really juvenile in its early stages. We ended up merging the chorus of this fast-paced beachy song with an idea that Dan had come up with prior. Dan’s song idea was the “Oh my god, I tried” section. It was a pretty different kind of an idea for The Griswolds to use, but it just worked to nicely in this song.
DDP: The song is all about about nostalgia of the good times of being a young kid and about the things that were priorities then – smoking, hanging with your friends – and how easy and breezy everything was. But priorities and worries change as you get older. “Am I going to be OK alone? I’ve decided what I want to do with my life but time and time again it hasn’t worked out. Will I ever get it right?” It’s about those reassuring words that only someone like your mother can give you when the chips are at their lowest, and you’re ready to walk away, that help you get up and try again.
CW: We freaked out for a very long time about the use of this song on the album, like “fuck, you can’t say God in a song. Who’s gonna listen to it?”. We loved this song so much and now all of a sudden it had a really deep meaning which we loved and we never want to be shy just because a song “means something”.
10. Aurora Borealis
CW: This is one of the early songs we wrote and we’ve been playing it in our set since day one. It’s about a very loveable and constantly drunk friend of ours. His antics are always crazy and very entertaining and he is also an amazing singer/songwriter. He has a filthy mouth and even filthier drinking problem which earned him the nick name, “The Pirate”. It’s like he sails around the city playing music and plundering bars of all their grog and everyone loves him for it.
11. Not Ready Anymore
CW: This one really delves into the fears and insecurities of signing with a big US label. We all of a sudden had this huge team working with us and providing a shit tonne of money for us to create music. It was a really surreal feeling. We kind of went through a stage where we were really freaking out about making a shit record and it flopping.
Despite all those fears though, we made a decision to stop caring and to just create music. A lot of the lyrics in this song talk about that decision. We were really feeling the pressure of recording with a big name producer and delivering the best record we could. Everything seemed really different from the times we wrote and recorded the EP, it was a whole new ball game. We were really excited to rise to the challenge but it wasn’t without its fears and pressures. But they were good fears. They drove us to write better songs and produce a stronger album.
The Griswolds’ debut album, ‘Be Impressive’, is available now. Read their sort-of helpful guide to sort-of making it in the US here.
The Griswolds’ US Tour