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Happier Than a Drunken 21-Year-Old: A Conversation With Mat Brooke of Grand Archives

Mat Brooke: So happy, he's just got to chug a beer. Photograph courtesy of Sub Pop Records.

Mat Brooke once made a career out of sad, folky songs—first as the founding half of Carissa’s Wierd and then, upon quitting the band, as the founding half of Band of Horses. But listening to the album from his latest band, Grand Archives, you’d be suckered into thinking of him as a pretty sunny guy. And you’d be right. Mostly. The Grand Archives is full of breezy pop songs with catchy hooks and some surprising sounds. There are some traces of melancholy in Brooke’s voice, but downright gloom is nowhere in sight. Last night, Grand Archives played at the Rock and Roll Hotel and Brooke spoke to After Hours about the band and why he’s a much happier person these days.

After leaving Band of Horses, you opened up a bar in Seattle and took some time off from the music scene. What was it about this project that made you want to get back to the scene?

Just getting along with these dudes so well. We started writing these songs and playing around really casually, with no real expectation.But we all just got along so well that it all just took care of itself, basically.

Did you know the members of the band beforehand?

Yeah. Seattle’s a pretty small town, and everybody kind of knows everybody, so we just put the puzzle pieces together. It started out just me and Jeff [Montano] on bass and Curtis [Hall] on drums, and then we added Ron [Lewis] on the keyboards and guitar and Thomas [Wright] on the acoustic guitar. Seattle is just such a musical town; there’s a big pool of good musicians to pick from and mess around with.

Did you guys start playing with the idea of making a record all along, or was it something that happened more organically?

It started out as more of a reason just to practice playing, drink some beer, and wipe the dust off our instruments. It just turned out to be a lot of fun, so we decided to make a record.

The album is a very pleasant, happy pop record. Is it reflective of your current state of mind? Are you happy, Mat?

I’m probably happier than a drunken 21-year-old. The music we are doing now is reflective of the point we are at in our lives. The more you grow, the more you learn from your mistakes and become a bit more sure of who you are.

Something else about the record: It sounds very polished—there’s whistling, hand claps, and some interesting instruments. Was this a conscious effort on your part?

There was definitely a conscious effort—not to make a “polished” record, but we wanted to keep the tempo of the record going with as many little, interesting sounds or hooks or anything like that we could find. The studios we were working at just had tons of random instruments that none of us knew how to play but just picked up and tried them anyway. We wanted to make a record that wasn’t just your standard guitar, drums, bass kind of thing.

Any bands or music that influenced you while making the record?

Vocally, we referenced bands like the Beach Boys. I think everybody probably references that sound a little bit when they’re making a record. Musically, stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or any kind of project that is a collective effort.

I’ve read that Ron also writes songs for the band. What’s the songwriting process like?

It’s extremely collaborative. Ron and I will show up to practice with just a couple of guitar chords and a couple of lines—just a skeleton of a song—and then everyone gets to give their input. We shape it, mold it, add a bridge or chorus onto it. Sometimes Ron will come up with a part and I’ll have a part and they’ll just glue together to make up a really good song.

How long did it take to make the record?

It took us most of the summer. We recorded it in four different studios, just to keep the process from going stale. We tried to keep it fresh and to make it so we at least sounded like we were having fun. We weren’t shooting for anything dramatic or moody. We just wanted to make a fun record.

There’s been a lot of talk about how you guys got signed by Sub Pop Records after only one show and then went on to open shows for Modest Mouse. It all sounds almost too easy. Has there been any backlash?

Yes, there’s been a little backlash. On paper, being signed on after one show and then opening for Modest Mouse does seem kind of weird. But in reality, like I said earlier, Seattle is a small town; I already knew a lot of the folks in Sub Pop through my work with Band of Horses and Carissa’s Weird, and I’ve known Isaac [Brock of Modest Mouse] for about ten years. He was just kicking around in my bar drinking and kind of on the spot threw me onto the tour. I’m sure some people think we’re some kind of overnight success, but that’s not the case at all.

Do you read music blogs to see what people and fans are saying about the band?

I’ll read legit reviews in magazines and maybe even online magazines, but I try to avoid the blogs altogether.

Do you see yourself sticking around with Grand Archives for a while?

Yeah, like I said, we’re just a bunch of guys who get along well. We keep the process really stress-free as far as recording. We’re looking for longevity over anything else. That’s our goal.

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