2019 ALBUM PREVIEW
Reviews for Grayshot's 2016 album Borders:
"lush warmth and gentle '80s pop sensibility... in an atmosphere that works in both those late-night magic moments as well as the hazy morning afterglow"
Grayshot was able to create an album that stirs the sounds of The Blue Nile, Doves, Aqualung, and Keane.
-All Access Music
Heading into the studio to record an album can be a stressful process that involves months of preparation and then additional time laboring over sounds or a direction. For the Minneapolis-based electropop duo Grayshot—vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Aaron and his brother, bassist Christian Ankrum —spending an extended period of time recording their third album, Surface, was liberating.
That's partly because the band has their own studio, which means they can record on their own timetable. But this freedom also stemmed from their creative approach: The members of Grayshot embraced their penchant for sonic tinkering—a process that tends to involve layering on sounds and seeing where inspiration sparks—and gave their music even more space to grow.
"There were fewer parameters that existed—no quote-unquote rules," Aaron says. "And we really followed our guts and our instincts. I don't think we had consciously been doing anything differently in the past, but when I recognized this was something that felt important to me for this record, I felt really free to just go after some stuff that maybe we haven't explored in the past."
On some songs, this meant that Aaron would glean ideas from musical clips Christian sent to him. "That's 'Anthropomorphic,'" the latter says. "I sat down with my phone and played a little piano line. Aaron's like, 'Oh, I love that. That's a song right there.'" Grayshot also dusted off some older songs and figured out how to finish them ("Aerial"), and had an outside mixer, Bryan Cook, tackle a trio of songs ("Shine," "Ordinary Love" and "Mountains") for the first time. Aaron views the latter collaborative experience especially as an extremely beneficial one. "It brought a fresh wind into the sails of what of what we're doing," he says.
To shake things up a bit, the brothers exchanged vocals and Christian took the lead on the first single from Surface, the '80s alt-rock-reminiscent dancefloor-filler "Misinformation." "With this album, I feel like we just wanted everything we had to be put out there," he says. "Doing a song like 'Misinformation'—and having me actually sing it—is different, because in the past I would've said, 'Aaron, you're the vocalist. You do this.'"
Musically, Grayshot's approach to electropop is also sharper and sleeker—and absolutely more confident—whether the songs are more meditative (the R&B-inflected, John Hughes movie soundtrack-esque nod "Anthropomorphic") or brisk and upbeat (the Killers-meets-New Order standout "Aerial"). "I feel like as we build these songs, it's not like, 'Hey, let's make a song that sounds like Franz Ferdinand or Empire of the Sun,'" Christian says. "But in certain moments, it's like, 'Oh, I need this feeling I've heard on this record.'" Adds Aaron: "We're chasing a feeling more than a sound a lot of times. The temperature in the room changes when you find the right thing."
"It's reminiscent of maybe a less connected time, where there was more mystery or nuance to everything that was going on," he continues. "That's the era of music that I was hearing with all these little references that were starting to rise out of the songs. I felt like that was the through-line connecting the sound on this record in a way that maybe was different from the last two records."
Yet Grayshot are by no means dwelling on the past. Take the forward-thinking video for "Misinformation"—a one-shot take filmed in the band's hometown that features a friend of theirs portraying a man who deludes himself into thinking he's in the band. "This guy starts out pretty normal," Aaron says. "But as it goes on, the swagger picks up, and his arrogance picks up as well, which I thought was really true to where Christian went lyrically with the song—which is maybe the false sense of competence we get from our own perspective and our own worldview, that we fill with whatever informational source we subscribe to."
Paradoxically enough, however, Aaron views Surface as a record focusing on communication and "the intense desire to be understood, and then also to understand everyone—especially your loved ones and the people around you—and to express the reality of what you feel in an accurate way." That comes through in a song such as "Ordinary Love"—which takes the view that all kinds of love are unique and meaningful.
"I don't necessarily expect that our thoughts unite the world in understanding," he says. "But I think of it more as, 'This is me working out in a succinct way the things that are pretty deeply rooted inside of me.' Things are less scary when you know you're not the only one afraid of them, or vice versa. Things are more joyful when you share it with someone."
Both brothers developed this deep passion for music (and a unified front) while growing up in Fargo, North Dakota. "It was a pretty big cultural void at the time," Aaron says. "We were always hunting for anything that was inspiring or relevant to what we wanted to hear, what we wanted to say musically." Their early efforts were inspired by groups such as Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis, although their ambition distinguished them from others. "We had some years where it was just us, as far as bands our age go," Christian says. "There weren't too many other bands—and if there were, they were just doing it for fun, and we felt, 'This is really what we want to do.'"
After moving to Minneapolis, they soaked up the vibrant concert scene there and found career paths steeped in creativity. (When not focusing on Grayshot, Aaron produces records, while Christian is an established session musician and videographer.) However, as the band evolved and grew, Aaron in particular saw how their Fargo upbringing had an enduring positive impact. "We didn't have people around us we could emulate or that could help us grow," he says. "But what we did have is a really unique set of influences—and chemistry. Sometimes when it happens, it even surprises me, the ability to communicate on a level that is pretty telepathic."
This chemistry has resulted in some rather impressive momentum for Grayshot. The video for "I Break My Heart" has notched over 1 million views on YouTube, while the band's music has appeared in Brooklyn Nine Nine and been used on CBS College Football broadcasts. Grayshot has also toured the U.K. and Europe and played shows all over the entire the U.S., including appearances at SXSW and shows with Citizens!, The Boxer Rebellion, Empires, and Switchfoot.
Through it all, however, the brothers have kept their heads on straight—and been mindful about how lucky they are to find themselves on the same wavelength so consistently. "Even in the studio now, we can both really not be feeling something," Christian says. "And all of a sudden it's like something clicked and it's like, 'Yes, this is why we've enjoyed playing music together for all these years, because of this moment right here, where we're both on the same page, we both know the song needs to go somewhere, and we both know that we're just a hook away from it or something.' We don't need to talk about it. It's a really cool moment.”
• 18 date north American tour with Citizens! (Kitsune Records)
• 4 weeks in the UK/Europe (2 London shows, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Berlin, multiple Poland dates)
• independent tours of the Midwest, West Coast, East Coast & Canada
• Multiple appearances at SXSW