Grant Duncan // Feature Friday
Written by: Kayla Lee
Singer songwriter Grant Duncan has been playing music since his high school days, and has fronted the indie rock/experimental band Pavement Candy since 2005. In addition to Pavement Candy, Grant also releases music as a solo artist and records at his home studio in Inagi, Tokyo.
On Solid Ground is an EP that was released on June 1st and has about a twenty minute run time. In those twenty minutes, you'll be immersed in thoughtfully composed music with Grant's vocal delivery setting the mood for each of the five tracks. In a world of copycat songs and styles, On Solid Ground is a break in the repetitious cycle. It becomes abundantly clear right from the get go that Grant's music is the result of someone truly enjoying what they do and creating music from the heart.
"How Good Love Is" opens the EP and surrounds the listener with pure classic rock and a simple chorus of "Let her know how good love is." Short and sweet, this song has what it takes to be catchy without being too redundant. Meanwhile "A Storm In Paradise" has a trippy aspect to it and is highlighted by light guitar chords.
"See Her Tired Eyes" sets itself apart from the rest of the tracks with a distinct distorted sound to it that meshes and mixes with Grant's vocals which play with pitch throughout this groovy number. A hearty jam session ensues towards the end of the song, calling attention to the track's melody and rhythm. The following track, "Make It Happen," comes with a significant bluesy energy and My Morning Jacket-esque vocal layering and melody.
As the EP closes out with "It's Always Too Hard To Find" you're hit with crashing drums and climbing chords. This is a track with immense potential to win over the crowd at live shows. When performing live, Grant is accompanied with a minimum of three musicians, with the option of having additional members join from show to show. You can watch the music video for "Make It Happen" below, and continue reading to check out an interview with Grant where we talk about Tokyo's music scene, favorite tracks from the EP, and more!
Q: Your latest EP On Solid Ground was released not long after your full length, Alliance. What determined which songs made the album, and which made the EP?
A: Great question Kayla, I'd written most of Alliance over the past two years here in Japan, and had performed most of the tracks live a lot with my band Pavement Candy here in Tokyo, so the album was really just a case of getting master versions down of those tracks.
The recording process for Alliance was pretty straight forward. Over a period of about three months I recorded 18 tracks and after playing all the tracks to friends and family I culled it down to 12 for the album. I got a couple of reviews and some airplay on playlists for some of the tunes from the album and so while I was still in the mood, the tracks for the On Solid Ground EP were all written after the release of Alliance in March.
These tracks are all pretty fresh and not road-tested at all. When we resume rehearsing with the band after the World Cup finishes it'll be interesting to see if they either take shape as possible live tracks or in fact don't work in a live setting!
Q: "See Her Tired Eyes" is a personal favorite for me. Which track from the EP is your favorite to perform, and why?
"See Her Tired Eyes" came about after I heard a quote on internet radio along the lines of "the forest is a mystery and the desert is the truth" which I thought was a cool analogy. I noted it down and started working on a riff while searching for a melody singing that couplet over and over. The rest of the track sort of just followed once I had the changes for the chorus.
I haven't performed it live yet, but it's one I'm looking forward to trying out soon. The other one I'm keen to try out an arrangement for is "Make it Happen," which is a ballad on the EP but with it’s riff and chord structure, l’m hoping there’s potential to work it up into a mid-tempo indie rock number with the band.
Q: You've been performing music since your High School days. What pivotal moments in your life solidified your decision to pursue music as a full time career?
A: I think music is just such an essential element in our everyday lives that the joy and process of creating and adding to that landscape is so appealing to me. I never thought l would or could write songs because in all the bands l was in at school we played covers and at that point l didn’t think l had the tools or experience to be able to combine lyrics and melody in a meaningful way.
It was only when l moved to Japan for the first time in 2004 that l began to feel my way around songwriting and l aimed to write a song every week detailing my experiences and new discoveries in a completely alien environment. Then, l formed Pavement Candy with colleagues from the school l taught at in Tokyo and it gave me the platform to air my tunes in a live setting.
We've performed at a lot of different types of live venues here in Tokyo as well as school functions and small clubs. I’ve not reached the stage where it’s full-time by any stretch and in some ways l think that’s what helps keep it fresh and in perspective. The simple joy element of writing, recording and performing is at the core of why l play music.
Q: What do you hope listeners take away from both On Solid Ground and Alliance after their first listen?
A: I just hope listeners get a good, positive vibe from the album and EP the first time. I think generally, the songs are upbeat and cheerful. For example on Alliance, songs like "Blue Sea, Blue Sky," "Back to the Place" and "Such a Long Time Before We Made it Home," all touch on that feeling of remembering the beauty and landscape of familiar homely surroundings.
There are a couple of social messages on "No End in Sight" and "Too Much at Stake" too that I hope give balance to light and shade. With On Solid Ground, I aimed for bouncy riffs and bigger choruses but the overall aim was much the same, to hopefully get people coming back for a second listen!
Q: What should people know about Tokyo's local music scene?
A: If you want to get a proper Japan tour with a professional promoter, the first thing you should probably do is get famous somewhere else – ideally the UK or US. The music market in Japan is dominated by domestic artists, and touring acts from overseas occupy a vanishingly small part of the industry's sphere of interest.
Venues tend towards the intimate as well, with most boasting capacities of no more than 100-150, which can sometimes make for a ferociously intense live experience. And it's in these tiny black box venues that you can find much of Tokyo's most interesting underground music from power metal slashing to techno-pop to just about everything in-between!
The first thing to understand about all these bands is that none of them are making any money. In fact, the situation is typically the reverse, with every aspect of Japan's music infrastructure set up to extract money from musicians. While pay-to-play venues and events nibble away at the fringes of music scenes in places like Australia and the US, in Japan it's easily the dominant system on which the live circuit operates, with bands guaranteeing quotas of between 10 and 25 tickets to the venues in return for their half-hour stage slot. It's a lot of word-of-mouth and jumping on other bands bills here in Tokyo. So, to sum up, the scene, whilst it's regular and progressive, is difficult to feel you are making any serious in-roads on the live circuit.
Q: Are there any plans that you're looking forward to within the next few months?
A: We are back rehearsing soon and the plan is to road-test the new tracks from the On Solid Ground EP in live venues during the Summer. We've talked about doing a week-long road trip/tour down in Osaka also during the Summer but that's just reached the idea stage at this point. I've also been asked to record a new album by an American Producer living here in Tokyo, who caught a couple of our live shows at the end of last year. He is still refurbishing his studio and sorting his new equipment. In the meantime, I'm just continuing to write and record new demos and posting from time to time on my webpage.
Stay up to date with Grant Duncan on Facebook