The Grahams discuss their new album, working with producer Richard Swift and what’s next

Although Americana Folk band The Grahams will be releasing their third album, Kids Like US, early next year, the duo has given us a taste of the album with the release of the singles “Just What You Deserve” and “Bite My Tongue”.  Travel and adventure have always been at the heart of The Grahams musical journey.  Consisting of lifelong musical and romantic partners Doug and Alyssa Graham (the two met when Doug was 9 and Alyssa was 7), the duo released their first album Riverman’s Daughter in 2013, an album that was the result of a journey along the Mississippi’s Great River Road.  In 2015, they released their follow up album Glory Bound, a result of their travels across America by way of train, traversing the country’s vast rail system.   Viewing the rivers as the veins of the country and the original way that people got around and shared music, the rail system was also an important way to connect people, music and cultures.  Aside from making Glory Bound, the Grahams also released ‘Rattle The Hocks’, a documentary that focused on their live recording and showcased the relationship between the railroad system and American roots music.  With their newest album, the duo set out on their latest adventure on motorcycles along the historical Route 66 at the height of the 2016 election season. “We’ve definitely written a very political record,” Doug says. “These aren’t protest songs, but some of them are certainly a reaction to the big pile of shit America has stepped in, and our personal fear for the future”.  The album is a blend of dream pop, 50’s mod influenced garage-rock energy, 60’s and 70’s style groovy guitars, and an explosive Morricone-esque cinematic intrigue. “We wanted to just let go and explore, and it made all the difference,” says Doug. “For the first time, there was no self-doubt, no self-loathing – just gratitude, bliss, and a complete sense of satisfaction in the process and the results.”  The couple worked with legendary producer Richard Swift (former member of The Shins who worked with Damien Jurado, Nathaniel Rateliff, Lucius, Lonnie Holley, The Mynabirds, Cayucas, Guster and many more), his final completed project before he died in 2018, and co-producer Dan Molad (Lucius, Elizabeth & the Catapult and The Wild Reeds), who later took over the project.   Alyssa also gave birth recently to the couple’s first child.  Georgette Ida Graham was born while they were still mixing Kids Like Us.  “We set out to write songs and deliver messages that have meaning,” Doug says, “so that our daughter one day can listen to it and say, ‘Wow. They actually had something to say.’”  With Kids Like Us due to be released early in 2020 (via 3 Sirens Music Group/RED MUSIC/The Orchard) and a subsequent tour planned, there are plenty of exciting things ahead for The Grahams.  You can follow The Grahams and stay up-to-date on all album, band and tour news, as well as stream and purchase their albums, via the following links.  Photo credit: Colin Lane.

 

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You will be releasing your new album, Kids Like Us, early next year.  What led you to decide to let go with this album and explore a wider range of sounds?  What was different for you this time around?

Alyssa- I think the first thing is that it was during election season in the country and we were just sort-of fed up with a lot of stuff, including our situation where we lived.  We wanted to get out and ride motorcycles, which was sort-of death defying in our world (laughs).  We wanted everything to be different than what we had done in the past.  After we were done with our motorcycle trip across the country for several months, we decided to reach out to a producer who we knew would really push us outside of any place we had really explored before, and that was Richard Swift.  Between him and Danny Molad, who ended up taking over the project when Richard passed away, we just knew we were wanting to do something completely different just because of the state of affairs in our country.

Doug- Also, the geography had changed for us.  In the past, we had worked a lot in Mississippi and written our songs along the Mississippi River or on the train lines across the country, etc.  For this album, we were riding out West, and adopting that dream of escaping out West.

Alyssa- To The land of milk and honey!

Doug- Yeah, we couldn’t help but think of ‘The Grapes Of Wrath’ or whatever.  As writers, we were trying to explore the idea of a new life out west or something.

 

You have said that for the new album, you spoke with people across America and how they were were experiencing America during that tumultuous time.  Were there any stories that stuck out for you or anything that really surprised you about what people had to say?

Alyssa- The whole thing surprised us to be honest!  We’re kids from New Jersey who grew up in New Jersey and New York and have obviously spent a lot of time, as Doug said, in the Southern states- Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana.  We’ve obviously experienced different opinions, politically and socially, but I think that both of us expected that on Route 66 we would find more like-minded people to how we grew up, just because we were headed out West to this kind-of dream that people had since Route 66 was developed.   But we are always surprised and Route 66 was no different.

Doug- Part of it was that we met a lot of people on Route 66 who had recent changes in their lives.  We have a few parallel stories of people who were out on Route 66 who were sort-of keystones along the highway, who were now elderly and there was only one husband or wife left…someone had recently passed away.  There was this echo of how time keeps marching on.  A lot of the stories we did encounter were how much change has happened over the last few years and how many of the people were either bitter or people were happy with the changes I guess.

Alyssa- Just to add to that, one of the biggest changes we did find was that this mother road, this sort-of glorified magical road to success is now super destroyed and dilapidated.  It’s like one of the things we say in a film that was done about this trip, was that it’s sort-of the heyday of America in ruins.  That was very surprising to us.

 

What can you tell me about working with Richard Swift?  I read that Kids Like Us was his final project before he died?

Alyssa- It was his final completed one.  He might have been working on other things.  It was a pretty quick turn around because we started working with him in October of 2017 and we were supposed to complete the record  in January…we worked with him out in Oregon in his studio National Freedom…and we were supposed to complete it in January after the new year in Nashville and he just kept not showing up several times.  We’d be in communication and then he ended up going into the hospital and got really, really sick and passed away.

Doug- We had pretty much finished the record except for one song, “Milky Way”.  That was a song that we had written for him, as a living person, and we couldn’t wait to play it for him, with the lyrics.  That’s really the only thing he didn’t get to hear.

Alyssa- Working with him was just magic!  First of all, you fall head over heels in love with him instantly.  He wears his heart on his sleeve and is just such a creative force that he’s just magical and brings all of that to the studio.  He was also very troubled, sort of dark, and all of that added to the way he produced other people and their music.

Doug- By magic, we mean that we would be hanging out and he would be leading a very funny conversation.  He’d be joking with us all and we would all be laughing and rolling on the floor.  We’d have a track playing in the background and he’d stop everything and go in the other room and record a part on the organ or melatron or piano and it would just be the best part and take the song to the next level every time.   It would feel like magic because of that.

Alyssa- One of the great things about Richard was his heart.  Obviously everyone knows him for his work and his contributions to The Arcs and The Shins and The Black Keys and his own stuff…his new record The Hex came out after he died.  I think if you don’t know him, you can’t possibly imagine how full of love this man was and how willing he was to share his heart with all of the other artists…well, I don’t know about all the artists but he certainly shared it with us.

 

 

 

 

You albums so far have been inspired by different adventures.  With your first album, you traveled all along the Mississippi River and the Louisiana swamp, with your second album, you rode trains across America and with the new album, you took your motorcycle ride along Route 66.  Are your adventures planned for each album m or are they more spontaneous?

Alyssa- (Laughs)!  It’s pillow talk, it’s pillow talk.

Doug- When we finished our first adventure…we had just wanted to dive into something crazy…

Alyssa- And for a bunch of New Jersey kids, diving into the Louisiana swamp was pretty crazy!

Doug- Even though we didn’t literally dive into it, just to be clear (laughs)!  After the first record we decided that it would be really cool to make a trilogy.  We wanted to do adventures to always inspire us and make our songs feel bigger as we were writing them.  At the same time, we got to the point where we realized we didn’t necessarily need these trips to make these songs, but it just pushed us in other ways to think outside of the box.

Alyssa- And to meet people who inspire us and, like we were talking about before, have different opinions and viewpoints and stories.

Doug- I feel like with the first two records we were trying more to really dig into the geography.  This time, we wanted it to be more abstract and just be sort-of in the back of our minds while we were writing the record.

 

In the past, rivers and trains were what moved people around the country and brought people and music and different cultures together.  Do you feel there is anything comparable to that in the modern age?

Doug- You’d have to say the internet, I guess, right?!

Alyssa- Or it tears people apart.

Doug- Communication has been rumor and heresay forever (laughs).

Alyssa- No, but it’s a good point that you make honey.  Love ya.  The internet has brought people together.  It’s obviously done other things too that are not so great.

Doug- I’m not a huge fan of it these days.

Alyssa- I mean, no one can argue that globalization has come strong through the internet.  I don’t know.  It’s a good question.  I mean, The boats, rivers and trains were such a huge advancement in America.

Doug- They connected communities.  Then there was the telephone and roads and all of things things that connected more and more people.  Now, ultimately, it’s the internet and social media.

Alyssa- Which is interesting because the rivers and the trains connected people in reality.  The internet only connects them virtually and I think that’s part of what’s wrong with the world right now.

Doug- Yeah, we can get into that another time (laughs)!

 

That could be a whole different interview!

Alyssa- Exactly!

Doug- The Grahams rant (laughs)!  We’re trying to keep a little of that old-fashioned communication alive, I guess.

 

You have said that your first experience with a major label was in college and they were more interested in cultivating you into the kind of artist they wanted you to be.  You walked away from that and went in your own direction.  What has your journey been like as artists in the industry who aren’t as concerned with what other industry people want you to sound like and following your own path?

Doug- Yeah.  That’s a fun question.  It’s definitely…I mean if a major label came to us, we’d be like “Aliright! Ok!  What do you want to talk about?” (laughs).

Alyssa- I just want to preface this by saying that the story you’re talking about was about a label that had approached us to make a record with us.  It wasn’t so much this anti-establishment, anti-big record label vibe from us.  It was more that they wanted to turn us into something that wasn’t us.  They wanted us literally to do choreographed moves and hop.  That’s what was unappealing and disturbing about that (laughs)!  That’s not to say that we’re so anti-major labels that we wouldn’t be open to it.  We have managed to stay true to what we want to do and have had help from the right people along the way.

Doug- I guess that ultimately the benefit to that is that we get to sort-of be self-directed and we are very motivated about making art.  Not to sound too artsy fartsy but we definitely…

Alyssa- Don’t say fart in an interview (laughs)!

Doug- Oh my gosh you’re right (laughs).  So, we realized back then that our goal in life as artists is just to make stuff.  It’s not necessarily how well we show it off.  It’s more about making it.

Alyssa- That is very artsy-fartsy (laughs).

Doug- That has sort-of been what drives us through that independent streak.

Alyssa- That being said, we are in the studio right now and we already have a completed record that is coming out, but we’re in the studio right now cutting three new tracks just for the fuck of it.  We don’t know if they’re going to come out on an EP or a new album.  We’re just making content.  My husband, speaking of being artsy-fartsy, all he does all day is bend wire.  Everyone knows from his instagram that he makes wire sculptures all day long.  To his point, we just like to make stuff.  Nobody necessarily understands us, but we just like to make stuff together.  I mean, we made a baby this year too!

 

What has it been like having a baby now in the midst of making the album?  How has that changed things for you and your perspective, if at all, whether it be for touring or recording or things like that?

Alyssa- I think we’ve always had…we’ve lived our whole lives together.  I’m sure you read that.  I think our perspective has always sort-of been the same, that love comes first and heart comes second and the two of them together are the ultimate.  We’ve never really strayed from that, so as far as out perspective, Georgie hasn’t changed it tremendously.  She’s multiplied that perspective.

Doug- We just love her so much and are having so much fun hanging out with her.  That means that our time is just done.  We have no time.  Every parent knows that!  The time is just gone.  That’s the one thing we’re experiencing now, that we don’t have enough time to do it all.

Alyssa- She is a ball of joy!  She smiles al of the time and loves to be around people.  She came on her first Uk tour recently and she was a rockstar.  She was super easy and we’re convinced that she’s going to be a great piano player.  She has huge hands (laughs)!

 

What were some highlights of the UK tour for you?  I saw that you posted a photo of yourselves in front of Abbey Road Studios!

Doug- Yeah!

Alyssa- We got to experience Abbey Road in a very up close and personal way.  There’s more to be revealed on that soon!  The festivals were great.

Doug- We love our UK audiences!  They’re really fun.

Alyssa- They’re just so appreciative and they REALLY love music.  We’ve toured the UK for a while now  and we see a lot of the same people coming back again to hear us and really follow our careers.  It’s always really nice to be over there.

 

Alyssa- You said you started songwriting when you learned the guitar in your teens and have said that as a kid it’s easier to be honest than as an adult.  You’ve had to allow yourself to be raw and honest in your own songwriting.  What has that process been like for you?

Alyssa- I still suck at it (laughs)!  Doug and I just had a discussion in the studio right now.  There’s a lyric in one of the new songs we’re writing that just seemed too raw to me and he was like “Babe, it needs some hairy armpits.  It needs rawness.  Let it be” and was like “Ahh, ok”!  I struggle with it, you know.  Doug struggles with his own issues in songwriting.  For me, it’s really hard to just let the down and dirty parts come out and not want to smooth them over and perfect them.  Doug’s actually taught me a lot about that over the years, that it doesn’t have to be perfect or smooth and shiny.  You can just say what you want to say and in the context of the song it can be beautiful, even if it’s rough.  And I’m sure I’ve taught you things honey (laughs)!

Doug- Well, but that’s not what she asked (laughs)!

 

What can you tell me about your video for “Bite My Tongue”?  It looks like it was a really fun video to make!

Doug- (laughs) It was really fun.  We had a fun group of people on the shoot and it was a really nice day and a really funny idea.  We shot it all in one day and had a blast.  We ran a lot and were super tired at the end of it.

Alyssa- The song was written about the area between San Bernardino and the Mojave Desert and we wrote it with our best childhood friend Brian who writes a lot of songs with us.  The idea of the song was sort-of just being run out of town by a bunch of racists and this was our rock and roll revenge song.  We weren’t out West when we needed to shoot the video so we kind-of took artistic license and decided it would be our rock and roll revenge song against like, you know, the Brooklyn hipster scene (laughs)!

Doug- And we love it!  We’re a part of it.

Alyssa- It was hilarious and really fun to shoot.

 

 

 

 

I think that’s all I have!

Alyssa- One thing I want to mention is that we’re in the studio now working on a few new tunes and we’re actually doing them with producer Danny Molad, who took over our new album after Richard passed away.  I want make sure that Danny gets his credit too, because he had probably 60% to do with the record that Richard Swift started.  He really was a huge influence on the sound of the new record.

Doug- Just to be clear, Danny took over and finished the record before Richard died.

Alyssa- While he was sick and not working anymore.

 

What’s next for you?

Alyssa- I think there’s talk of a radio tour coming up in January and obviously after the album comes out, we’ll do a big US tour.  We’re planning to go back to Europe at the end of March for I think 6 weeks or something.  There will be lots of touring.  We have to get Georgie in shape and road ready (laughs)!

 

Thank you both so much for your time!

Alyssa and Doug- Thanks Emily!  We appreciate it!

 

 

 

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