Monday, July 16, 2012
Interview with musician Pat Grossi of Active Child
I recently chatted with Pat Grossi, aka Active Child, about his musical career—from singing in choirs and chilling with Snoop Dog and Dr.Dre in his youth, to currently eking out a living through touring, remixes, and oh yeah, actual albums.
I read a lot about you doing the choral thing when you were younger. Was it religious, or was it just a public chorus? What was that experience like?
Well, it wasn’t religious at all. I was just singing in my school choir. The director of that choir inspired me to try out for this bigger choir in Philadelphia, because I was living in New Jersey at the time, so I went in and auditioned and got in, and it was amazing. I didn’t really realize how big of a deal it was until I had been in it for about a year. It was kind of a big choir, a hundred boys my age—I was nine years old when I got in—and then there was about seventy-five in the chorale, men who sang bass, baritone, tenor. I mean, we toured the world for four years. I traveled to Australia, South Africa, Europe, and really toured as a performer for the first time, so it was pretty amazing.
That’s really unbelievable as a nine-year-old. That’s amazing. How much did that inspire you to go out and become a musician, you know, having your first couple tours under your belt and an idea of what it was like?
Yeah, it’s funny, I didn’t really think about those days as a touring experience until I started touring with Active Child, and then I started doing a lot of interviews and had questions like this, and it made me really recollect all that stuff and think back on what that was. It was a tour, but I was so young at the time. I grew up, and a lot of the memories from that period kind of just faded away naturally, like a lot of things do, but yeah, definitely, I think it had a massive influence on at least the way I sing now and just the fact that I chose to pursue music in this way. I’m not sure I would be where I am now if I hadn’t been in that choir. Who knows?
Yeah, that makes sense. I read that your dad was working at Priority Records early on, so you had a chance to meet rappers like Snoop and Dr.Dre. Was that around the same time? What was that like for you?
That wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles. My dad was working out of the house in New Jersey for Priority, and then in Hollywood. That’s actually when I left the choir, at age thirteen, then moved to Los Angeles for his job. Once we were out there, it was really flip as far as lifestyle and setting and just everything you know. I went from going to public school to a kind of small private school, and ended up going to his office fairly often in Hollywood, which was pretty cool. You know, I was just this young kid and seeing different artists that I was listening to, like Mack 10 or Ghetto Boys or whoever it was, random artists who don’t really put albums out anymore. I met Bone Thugs, Eminem early on, when he was just getting his sart. It was pretty cool to be into that music, and to be able to connect with artists was a really, really cool experience.
Did you learn a lot from your dad and seeing how a musician’s career works?
You know, I didn’t really get much, as far as that kind of angle on the record industry, until I had record contracts and publishing contracts and lawyers and all of these things falling into my lap once my music starting taking off a little bit. Then he really came in and gave me advice and became my number-one fan, and helper, as far as anything that happened to come in as far as the record industry. He’s been doing this job for thirty-plus years. Still to this day he is my number-one man, other than my manager, of course. We all work hand in hand with whatever is going on, which is great.
That’s great to have that support and that knowledgeable background.
Yeah, it’s amazing because I have my manager, who’s a little bit more my age, and he’s very much on top of what’s current and the reality of the industry now, and my dad’s a little more old school, and so I get a good mixture of both.
Yeah, you might be able to answer this question better than anyone. How much has the industry changed? Active Child is a pretty big name, and you’ve had a lot of success. How difficult is it making a living as a musician?
You know, it’s tough. I always let everyone know that things have changed drastically as far as sales, and it’s just not the same level of people actually going out and buying actual records because everything is digital. When that all changed, the ability to actually make an income from selling your music dropped drastically, and there’s such a tiny fraction of people who can actually pull it off. But you know, there’s still a lot of ways to make it a career and make it financially feasible, and the way that we’ve been doing it, touring nonstop and just playing a lot of shows, trying to build a name. There’s just a massive market for live music, so festivals, obviously, merchandise…There’s all these things. I do a lot of remixing, a great way to keep creative on the road and brush up on production skills and also make a little cash on the side.
But yeah, it’s definitely not easy. I’m not stacking any kind of money in my bank account right now, but I’m definitely surviving, and it’s paying my bills, so I’m happy with that. I’d like to put a couple more zeros in my bank account, but yeah, that might be a little ways off.
You know, you mentioned remixing. One of the things that led me to hear your music in the first place was the Cold War Kids “Louder Than Ever” remix. Who are some of the people you’ve worked with in terms of remixes, and how does it come together?
I’ve done a dozen or more remixes for artists all over the place. I did a recent remix for Julia Stone—she’s kind of a big Australian artist—Anna Cohen, Marina Skyvan, Beta Band, just a lot of different people. It seems like the whole remix world is kind of a polarizing thing with the artists and musicians. Some people are down with it, and they’re cool with the music being remixed, or they are cool with doing remixes. Other people seem very kind of concrete in what they made and they don’t want it touched or reworked in any way or any fashion. I’ve always been very open to having my own work remixed and rethought, and having a chance to rework someone else’s stuff. I just find it interesting. I just have a fun time doing it, and I have a lot of fun listening to what other people have done to my music.
But as far as how it all goes down, I get the e-mail from an artist, or my manager gets an e-mail from someone who is interested and feels like I can do something good with what they’ve got, and we go from there. When I want remixes of my own album, I usually try to put together a list of artists I am listening to or people I think would do something cool or more interesting, and I reach out to them.
When I hear you described, it’s usually “this guy who does this choral thing, and he’s mixing electronic music and harp.” How did you even come about learning to play that these days?
You know, I just approached it the same way I approached playing guitar or any other instrument that I’ve played throughout the years. I was very curious about it, and living in Denver at the time, and I sought one out, went and picked it up, and just taught myself how to play it. I’ve always been pretty adept at picking things up, whether it be a music program or an instrument or whatever and, not necessarily being trained or a mastermind at it, but using it in a way that I think is interesting and that works with the music. Now that I’ve been touring so much, I’ve just grown leaps and bounds from where I started because I play the harp every night and it’s become a big part of my life
That’s cool. One thing I love about your music is it seems to embrace an ’80s pop electronic sound, and it’s funny, because that music gets a little bit of a bad rap these days, and I don’t really know why. How aware were you of an ’80s pop influence when you were figuring out your sound early on?
Yeah, I don’t know. I think maybe it’s gotten a bad name because people look back on it as kind of a novelty. It’s something we can throw on and all laugh and dance to, and have a good time to, but we don’t take it seriously or something.
Yeah, someone like Peter Gabriel was so influential. It’s funny that ’80s pop has such a bad name even though people are ripping it off all the time. It’s crazy.
Yeah, in the future, I will continue to play with those sounds, but really be a little bit more picky in what I choose. I don’t necessarily want to be pigeonholed into this ’80s vibe, which I kinda think I stepped into briefly early on. I don’t know, we’ll see where it goes.
Yeah, I can tell it’s already changed. Your sound has developed from the EP to the full album quite a bit, actually. One thing I wanted to ask is would you ever consider covering one of the classic sort of choral songs, like something you spent all that time singing back in the day? Would you ever do one of your own versions of one of those songs?
Yeah, I’ve been messing with that idea for a long time now, but haven’t seem to put anything together that I like.
I would love to hear it. You seem to know it, and live in both worlds, really well.
There are definitely a few pieces that stick out in my mind that I would like to try to work into the style I’ve kind of created, so hopefully I can put something together. That would be really cool.
Looking forward to it. So I know you are on tour. Where are you right now?
Yeah, we’re wrapping up a five-week tour. We’re actually driving right now to San Francisco. We have a show there tonight, then a show in L.A. on Thursday, and then were done. So we’re finished up here in the US for about three weeks, and then we go to Europe for a couple weeks, and then we’re pretty much wrapped up for this album and can start writing music for the next release.
Oh excellent. Do you have any ideas for the next release? Have you guys been working on the road, just coming up with the stuff, or you’re going to wait, put that off?
I usually don’t do anything on the road, so I’ve been getting a little bit anxious to get home and start diving into some new ideas, new recordings. I really don’t know where it’s going to take me. We’ll see what happens.