From swelling orchestral strings to saxophone layers to meticulously programmed drum machines “Grenier Meets Archie Pelago” evokes a feeling of warmth.
The vibes of the east coast and the west coast have come together in perfect and natural form with the collaboration of Brooklyn trio Archie Pelago and Bay Area born producer (now LA local) Grenier. The full length album, fittingly titled “Grenier Meets Archie Pelago,” is a 13-track product of Dean Grenier traveling to New York for a DJ gig and meeting Dan, Zach, and Greg and simply deciding to work together – resulting in the Archie Pelago guys flying to San Francisco later that year to finish what they started. The album reflects the styles and production methods of each one of the highly skilled multi-instrumentalists involved, but the combination of everyone together makes for a sound unlike any of their previous individual efforts. From swelling orchestral strings to saxophone layers to meticulously programmed drum machines, “Grenier Meets Archie Pelago” not only showcases the extensive musical knowledge and creativity of the artists, but most importantly evokes a feeling of warmth. Both Grenier and Archie Pelago have managed to create something that is heady and conceptual, yet still more than friendly to the masses, which is definitely a rare feat. To celebrate this record, I decided to interview both Archie Pelago and Grenier separately to discuss upbringings and thoughts regarding the process of the release. Here is part one with Archie Pelago.
What’s up guys? Let’s start off with your musical backgrounds. What were you listening to in your most formative years prior to meeting each other and how you got introduced to dance music?
Dan: Basically, we all have varying backgrounds. I played trumpet growing up and moved into Jazz. I went to college, convinced I didn’t want to be a fulltime performer, so I studied music. I was listening to a lot of hip-hop and eventually a lot of electronic music like dubstep – I would go to Dub War all the time. And then I started a radio show and branched my electronic music interests – that’s how I met Greg and Zach.
How long did you do the radio show for, Dan?
Dan: I did it for about two years while I was at NYU and it really helped me jump into doing DJ gigs around the city, and like I said it eventually helped me meet people like Greg and Zach who both independently saw me DJ at one point or another before this project even started.
So when you were DJing around New York, were you playing the same vibe as the radio show, or were your selections for the club different?
Dan: I mean, I loved dubstep but I found when DJs spun it, it was like a 45 minute set of one sound, so I feel my stuff was a little more eclectic than that, and obviously since then I’ve moved away from that heavier sound and more into house and techno. I was reaching for whatever; it could have been anything. I’m willing to take risks.
Just being in the city and having all these parties to go to must have played a pretty crucial role in shaping all of your tastes.
Dan: Yeah I think just being in New York City was enough musical inspiration to get the project up and running once we all got together.
Zach: I kind of got into electronic music via IDM and a bunch of the weirder shit back when I was in high school – Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, you know. Not really the most dance-centric stuff but I was only 15 or 16 and wasn’t exposed to that sort of thing yet. Other than electronic music I was seeing a lot of jazz back then. I went to school in Westchester Country, which is about a 45-minute train ride outside of the city. So my friends would go check out jazz bands in Manhattan usually twice a week. These bands would be playing electronic inspired stuff with synths, but I wasn’t seeing much of it being done on saxophone. I started messing with guitar pedals in college, and kind of figured out how to make this electronic jazz hybrid sound, which was an extension of what I was already doing. After I graduated I moved to Brooklyn, and was 21 at the time, and I was getting into dubstep, jungle, and garage. Just by going to parties, I met Dan and since he was a like-minded dude around my age we hit it off.
Greg: Basically, I ‘d been playing cello around the city for a number of years after college. I studied classically and had some audio engineering and film scoring interests. But I started going to Dub War out of curiosity looking for new sounds and eventually saw Dan DJ and was like man, I need to do this and step up. Dan and I linked up right around that time and he came over on a whim to just do something fun and see what happens in the studio. We hit it off and then Dan told me about this kid Zach he just met and said to get him over to jump on a track with us. That’s kind of how we all came together. But I’d say my background was squarely in classic performance, jazz, experimental, stuff I was doing as a cellist. The production skills emerged from going out to club nights and stuff.
Dan: This was all around spring 2010, maybe early summer.
Zach: Yeah even though I saw Dan DJ a few times, we didn’t strike up a dialogue until a bit later.
So when you all finally sat down together in the studio for the first time, was it basically just an open ended jam session or were there existing ideas or concepts in mind prior to the first session?
Dan: It wasn’t really much of a jamming out thing. Greg and I had already started a couple of sketches and then I was like “I don’t know how to finish this track so I’m going to bring Zach over.” And as the story goes, I didn’t even tell Greg that I invited Zach over and we just showed up. Zach laid down one take on the track and we were like “ok it’s done and it’s fucking awesome.” From there it was an instant relationship. [laughs]
Is your studio setup pretty similar to what you guys have going on when you perform live?
Greg: The studio stuff kind of went through its own evolution as we moved apartments, upgraded gear, and started writing more in a lot of different ways. Our live set took a whole other path. Serato came out with The Bridge around the time that we formed, so I saw that as an opportunity to fuse what Dan was doing and link it up with what I was doing on Ableton. I had been messing around with my cello with Ableton for years before meeting these guys. So I knew right off the bat that I wanted to play in that context and that was it. And since then we’ve been refining this way of playing. We almost look at our studio setup and our live setup as two arms of the same body.
That’s pretty cool because I feel like when The Bridge launched, a lot of people were either intimidated or couldn’t find an efficient use for it right away. You guys must have been really excited, on the other hand.
Zach: Pretty much!
Dan: And what’s funny is that I’m pretty sure nobody uses The Bridge
Zach: It got to a point where we were actually on a call with the head of Serato telling him how we were using it and he was like “huh,” all surprised. His whole take was “we tried to do it this one way but you guys repurposed it for your own use.”
Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to catch Archie live, but I remember seeing the live videos you did for Mary Anne Hobbs about two years ago and being blown away. Has your set evolved much since then?
Zach: Well it’s a bit different since when we actually perform we’re not sitting down…
Zach: We face the audience and play with the energy that comes with a real live setting. And since that period in which that was filmed, we have morphed and upgraded our live setup in several ways. We use different interfaces and instead of using a midi controller I now use an ipad. And Dan is really using Ableton Push in the live set now…
Dan: I’m not using turntables anymore.
Greg: At this point it’s more to do with logistics. A lot of the gear we used to run has large footprints, which makes travelling tough.
Now that you guys have been doing this for a while, would you say that you’ve all chosen individual roles in the studio or do you all kind of rotate and do whatever as ideas emerge?
Zach: It kind of depends on what the project is, sometimes one of us will have some parts that we brought to the table, and other times another one of us will have a nearly completed song to work on so it’s entirely collaborative without any defined roles. Nothing’s ever the same and no rules are set in stone. I feel like our roles are more fixed for our live performances but still open for interpretations.
Greg: It’s less about creative roles and more of technical roles. In terms of creative spot it’s always an open forum.
Are there any contemporary acts that you guys are heavily influenced by or at least find inspiring in terms of what they’re doing live?
Zach: I think we just take in so much music and I would say that I’m not influenced by anyone’s live setup or anything that anybody is doing live right now. I’m more influenced by whatever Dan and Greg are doing. I buy a lot of records and listen to a bunch of disco and classical music, free jazz, minimal techno, and even avant-garde – but there are no groups that inspire me live to do what we do. What inspires me the most is interacting with the other two guys from Archie. We are expanding and stepping up our game individually and collectively so as long as we keep our conversations open then that’s where we get our inspiration.
Greg: I’ll say that there are acts that we certainly respect. We all saw KiNK at Decible and we were like “oh yeah he kicks ass.” But it’s not like we want to be just like him – it’s more like he knows how to rock a crowd and he’s one with his tools. What’s inspiring about somebody like that is his ability to deliver a quality experience. World class acts like that have their performance down and we’re still developing our own.
So how would you say your performance has changed in recent times musically, not technically?
Dan: The biggest change has been the demand to hear our original music more. When we started doing this, it was a lot of me DJing minimal selections – tracks that inspired us but had room for Zach and Greg to expand upon with their improvisations. Now we’re starting to incorporate a lot more of our original material. I think that’s the one big thrust, and the way we do that is changing – having Ableton Push now allows me to launch certain parts of one song and recreate on the fly. The original material has come out to play and it’s different every time and our audience seems to love it.
Greg: We’re always trying to keep each other challenged and on our toes. That’s how we get our best result.
You guys have released music on a few different labels but you’ve also self-released on your own. What lead to the decision to do it through your own label?
Greg: The labels that we were sending music out to didn’t seem to express the same enthusiasm that we were feeling, and we had this opportunity to show that we could do it on our own and have a bit more control over our narrative.
Zach: Like we were talking about earlier, we don’t really fit into a mold. And a lot of labels want you to fit into a mold – even if it’s a cool mold they still want it their way. And we’re putting out tracks that are sometimes 15 minutes long with tempo changes – you can’t really pigeonhole us. For us to have these songs come out the way we intended without shaping to another person’s needs, it was important to have full control. We knew it was going to be hard but the time was right.
Do you see yourselves releasing music from other people on your label, or is it going to remain just you guys for now?
Greg: Well actually…are we allowed to talk about this? [laughs]
Zach: Haha, yes we do have plans to release other artists but we are going to be involved in a way, whether it’s making overdubs or covers of their material to go along with the releases. We definitely have some ideas that will be kept in the aesthetic and sound that we’ve been providing with the label. But yeah it’ll be with friends and respected producers who come along that want to join the fun.
Greg: We’ve got an EP from LA’s Sage Caswell coming out on our label. We’re still figuring it out but it’s happening and it’s the first release from another artist on the label, so stay tuned for more news on that!
Your collaborative LP with Grenier is coming out soon. How did you guys come together and how would you say the record is different than your previous work?
Dan: Basically, I had been housing people who were in town to play a party here called Turbotax, the promoters are friends of mine and sometimes they didn’t have couch space for all their bookings. This producer from Atlanta, Distal, stayed with me at one point and we ended up doing a remix for him that got a little buzz. Later down the line, Distal hit me up and told me about Dean (Grenier) and how he’s into Archie and wants to meet up. He swung by when he had a gig in New York and we worked with him on a couple tracks and they sounded great. After that he laid out an offer and just said, “hey I can’t really pay you guys but you’re more than welcome to come out to my place in San Francisco and pick up what we started.” So yeah, we went out there for a long weekend pretty much, it was my first time in SF and it was a fuckin’ blast.
Zach: Dean’s contribution felt very mutual, he’s a real musician and we were able to have a level of conversations about what we were feeling and hearing at certain parts. Everything was run through Dean’s sonic palette – us filtered through his sound. It was a very natural feeling and process. His production chops are kind of at the forefront and in terms of musicality we all had different ideas so it’s a collab in the fullest sense. Dean was definitely the engineer in this and that’s what makes it different than previous records.
Greg: Also, we started working with Dean on those tracks about two years ago, so it really is it’s own thing. There are obviously elements of our personalities in it, but it is it’s own experience.
Zach: It’s a polished and smooth record, but introspective yet dancefloor friendly. It’s a thoughtful and uplifting record that doesn’t get too dark.
Would you say that being on the west coast producing the record played a role into that uplifting vibe?
Dan: Oh for sure, absolutely!
Zach: Yeah man you know whenever we’re not in our comfort zone, but it’s sunny and we’re being shown this world that you’re not really familiar with…things just come out differently.
Greg: Eating tacos, drinking amazing beer!
Dan: The beer scene out there is insane. We love beer.
Haha when are you guys coming back to the west coast?
Zach: We don’t have any set plans so it’s pretty open. We have a Euro tour next month. We got a gig in Montreal at the end of May but we’re definitely down to return!
Well, before we wrap this up do you guys have any final things to share or mention?
Greg: Apart from the Europe tour and Mutek Festival Montreal at the end of May, there’s not a whole lot else we can share just yet. There’s a lot I wish I could say right now, but it’s just too soon. Tour dates can always be found on our site and we have a SubFM show in which we play the first and third Sunday of every month at 6pm Eastern Time.
Visit the Archie Pelago website for more info