Alt-rockers The Grahams play the Hotel Cafe this week, so we chatted about their career so far, and what we can expect…
L.A. WEEKLY: When did the band form, where and what was the mission?
ALYSSA GRAHAM: You could say the band formed the moment Doug and I met when I was 7 years old and he was 10. Though our harmonies may not have been as raging as our hormones at the time, our passion for one another and desire to hang out with one another was immediate and ultimately eternal. Although we started by playing “doctor” together it soon turned into a love of all things music. We turned each other on to the sounds of our big brothers including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Lou Reed, Carole King, Hendrix, Floyd and of course The Beatles. We were in the Jersey suburbs. Growing up there wasn’t much to do for kids like us other than smoke a lot of weed, experiment with psychedelics and play music. So that’s what we did. In the meantime we fell in love and knew at a very young age that we would take this journey together both musically and romantically. When we were old enough we moved in together and started our first band. We started writing music together and learning how to blend our voices. We would go for long hikes and Doug would teach me about harmony. It was a pretty magical time. A coming of age. When we lost Doug’s mom years later we formed The Grahams. We had worked lots of different musical projects together pre-The Grahams but at that moment in our lives it seemed prudent and real just to be who we are. Thus, no creative band name like Lung Butter or Brother Meat was attempted, we just wanted to be who we really were: The Grahams. As for a mission, I don’t mean to sound cliche but our mission was and will always be love. We want to make great music and continue to grow as artists and write songs that our daughter can believe in, but at the end of the day we choose love. Our love for one another comes before anything else.
Describe the sound, and how has it evolved between records?
Like most artists I presume, we never want to make the same record twice. In fact we often jump around too much for some. Just when you think you know what to expect from The Grahams we go and change it. We’ve explored lots of different music in our career. We’ve made jazz records and pop records, Brazilian recordings and psychedelic albums. I think the sound of our new record Kids Like Us lives somewhere between the simple and universal sounds we all loved from the mid ’60s girl groups produced by Phil Spector and the angst and rebellion of the ’70s that we heard from Springsteen and Young. While the sounds and imagery of Springsteen and Young emphasized breaking away from the constrictions of family, economy, society on the fringes of a dead-end town (Jersey suburbs), a lot of Kids Like Us explores growing up and living in towns that are simultaneously confronting climate crisis and environmental damage, opioid epidemics, underemployment and an entire country on the brink of madness. Overall, we were experiencing a need to break free. Break free from adulthood, from politics, from the constant clamor, from Nashville, from Americana, from preconceived notions, and from the music constraints we felt in the past. In some ways the song “Painted Desert,” which explores the forces at work in the universe beyond the reach of our understanding, explains what we were after. Our co-writer and best friend from childhood Bryan McCann said it best: “Perception is a story we tell ourselves, and there is a world beyond that story.” For this record we wanted to explore the world beyond our story.
Do you enjoy performing in L.A.? Any memories?
I know L.A. is a lot more than a great music town but for kids like us who grew up on the East Coast obsessed with the music that came out of Laurel Canyon in the late ’60s and ’70s, performing and spending time in L.A. is always a wondrous experience. Of course we know that books and films have mythologized this small area of town but the romance of Laurel Canyon and Lookout Mountain will always keep us coming back for more. I think as lovers, dreamers and artists we idealize a scene, perhaps more metaphorically than geographically, where everyone can come together and make music, play and write together, have late night jam sessions and support one another. Perhaps Doug and I were born in the wrong era and on the wrong side of the country. As for memories in L.A., we were lucky enough to catch the attention of the extraordinary rock & roll photographer Henry Diltz who of course began his career taking pictures of the Laurel Canyon residents including Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He came to the set of our music video and spent a couple hours talking with us about our influences, our sound and our aspirations. He then took a beautiful series of photos of us that are reminiscent of the images we grew up idolizing from the L.A. music scene. I would say that was an L.A. dream come true.
What can we expect from this Hotel Cafe set?
We are really looking forward to playing the Hotel Cafe again. We are bringing our entire band and we are ready to rock! We are so happy to be playing these new songs from our upcoming record, Kids Like Us that you can expect a lot of emotion and enthusiasm. We have been on a bit of a break since our fall run in the U.K. as we’ve been raising the newest Graham (baby G) so we are bursting with energy and passion. California was such a huge influence on this new music, which we started writing in Chicago during our motorcycle ride across the country on Route 66. The sounds that influenced us along the route all culminated in our adoration for California born music. We’re gonna play you the songs that we love that contributed to changing our story.
What else do you have planned for 2020?
Doug will be bending wire. We’ll both be writing music, raising Georgette and touring these new songs all around the country and abroad. As long as we’re together we always have a great time and we strive to live an artful life. Therefore, to start we are embarking on a 6 week tour in Europe beginning on March 26th, the week the record drops. Do they still say that? Of course we’ll be at SXSW and doing some domestic shows prior. When we return in May we plan to hit the road and perform in our favorite cities and towns across America so that we may introduce Kids Like U to old and new fans. 2019 was perhaps the most memorable year of our lives. We wrote and recorded an album that took us to places artistically we didn’t know existed, we moved three times, we lost our 15-year-old dog Eloise and most importantly “we” gave birth to our daughter Georgette Ida Graham (G.I.G). We want 2020 to honor those experiences and push us to be better artists and better people. I think we’re pretty good people already but hey, there’s always room for improvement.
The Grahams play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 16 at the Hotel Cafe.
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