Athens, GA's Nana Grizol have their new album Ruth out now digitally with a physical CD due in January. In support the band play the Dakota Tavern here in Toronto on November 12th. I had the opportunity recently to speak with singer/songwriter Theo Hilton about the album, tour and more.
Here's our conversation:
T.O. Snob: First off, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Who is Ruth?
Theo Hilton: 1 : compassion for the misery of another
2 : sorrow for one's own faults
T.O. Snob: What attracts me to your music is that you have a much broader and deeper sound than most of the folk/roots based indie artists that permeate the blogs these days. Something like “Blackbox” is about as far away from say Bon Iver as you could get (i.e. actually interesting to listen to). How did that sound develop?
TH: My (and I would venture to say “our”) favorite music always has a feeling of urgency; a sense that the performers are playing music as a means of survival, and because they have something to say that matters more than anything else to them and they urge you to listen. I would say that is what we’re going for, but I really mean that’s where we find ourselves. I feel fortunate to play music with a group of such passionate people who share their intensity so well through music.
T.O. Snob: What inspires a Nana Grizol song?
TH: Um, I generally write lyrics when I’m really bummed out and trying to explain the situation to myself, be that due to friends dealing with messed up situations, the world dealing with messed up situations, myself… and honestly I write a few songs about having a crush on somebody now and again and being real shy and having to tell SOMEone about it, and also when everything’s great! I think our songs are generally about the people we love.
T.O. Snob: Most of the press material I’ve seen points out connections between the band and Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, and other Elephant 6 groups. Based on that association do people approach Nana Grizol’s music with certain expectations? If so, what do you believe they are?
TH: I don’t know... I guess we share some personnel with those groups in particular, and pretty much all of us were part of the latest incarnation of the Music Tapes; I love those folks and I feel like in a lot of ways we’re going for the same things with our music. I guess what I’d say is that it’s so nice to have a LOT of friends who are really fun to collaborate with on musical projects. I don’t feel like we personally go out of our way to affiliate or disaffiliate ourselves with any organized collectives or anything, not that Elephant 6 is an organized collective. I just really want to play music with my friends! And share cool weird experiences with them!! I don’t think people approach our band with any specific expectations, at least I don’t know what they could be, but if anyone decided to check out our band because they like our friends band, and they like our band, then great!
T.O. Snob: Your Myspace page lists 6 members of the band, but taking a closer look at some of the pics and press material it looks like you’ve really got double that. How many band members is too many?
TH: Well we are 6. In the past, before we realized that we were a band or that we were so dedicated to being a band, we had something closer to an open invitation policy to friends who were musicians to come be a part of things. I guess at some point we realized there were more people than we could accommodate if everyone wanted to come, and there are communication breakdowns and so many hard things that come with having so many people… So we’re back to the six of us. It’s cool to realize that I’ve been playing music with everyone n this crew for a long time now!!
T.O. Snob: Your label, Orange Twin, is involved with an interesting eco-village conservation movement in Athens. Can you tell me more about that and how artists on the label fit into that?
TH: Well, we have 155 acres just north of Athens, GA. Our goal, simply put, is to live as self-sustainably as possible. To this end we have an ever growing garden (we’re going to be farming 4 acres pretty soon here), we keep chickens and bees, and this winter are planning to build a pole barn, which will allow us to keep goats as well! 100 of the 150 acres are placed in a conservation easement, which insures their safety from development for basically the foreseeable forever. It’s crazy the amount of land that has gone to cookie cutter houses and stripmalls and big business agriculture where we live and all over the place. Yeesh. I think right now we’re all trying to find ways to stand up for our food rights. I keep observing situations where people are reminded by the Dept. of Agriculture or whoever that it is literally illegal in one way or another to live outside of the grociery store infrastructure. As far as artists go, there are 26 members of the conservation community who hope to live on the land one day and make land stewardship and sustainable living their number one focus of our lives. Laura Carter and I (who play in our band) are both heavily involved in the project, as are Heather McIntosh (The Instruments), Deonna Varagona, Art Rosenbaum (he won a Grammy!), as well as a number of artists. Overall there’s no inherent connection between land members and record label artists, though we recently had a show in our amphitheater featuring Neil Hamburger, Vic Chesnutt, Elf Power, Scot Spillane and our band as well. We definitely strive to create spaces for our friends who are doing cool stuff to, umm, do cool stuff in a unique place where they feel welcome and comfortable. Right now we’re definitely focusing on trying to create more contexts for the public at large to see the land and learn about it with us.
T.O. Snob: I noticed that there is currently no Wikipedia entry for Nana Grizol. If you had to write one how would you start?
TH: Nana Grizol is the fictitious matriarch of Athens, GA based punk rock band Zumm Zumm (2001-present). According to local legend, she penned several essays on a vast array of topics, most notably one on Anarchy, written at age 10. This essay is the first to refer to another character, The Principal Dr. Snodgrass, who is cited by many as an inspiration for artistic endeavors spanning the last century.
T.O. Snob: If someone were to look at your CD collection or iPod playlist what would they be surprised to see?
TH: Ummmmmm probably not surprised to see the Kinks or Otis Redding or Betty Harris or Dinosaur, Jr but maybe surprised to see Songs for Moms because they’d never heard of them. Songs for Moms is the best band. So is Grass Widow. So is the Max Levine Ensemble as well as Michael Jordan’s Touchdown Pass, Your Heart Breaks and Hot New Mexicans. And Landlord. Sorry for the sprawling answer, I understand if you pick one at random.
T.O. Snob: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us I look forward to seeing you on the 12th.
TH: Thank you!!
Nana Grizol's Myspace