TAS In Session: Active Child
Active Child, the moniker of synthpop warbler and harp aficionado Pat Grossi, will head out on tour this fall with School of Seven Bells. It's a high-profile gig for Active Child, especially since Grossi, whose dad worked for the rap label Priority Records, home of N.W.A. and Eazy-E, just released his debut EP, Curtis Lane, in June.
A former member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir who went to college in Denver, Grossi dropped the cassette-only release Sun Rooms last winter, some of which made its way to Curtis Lane. Not long ago Grossi and his touring bandmate Stratton Easter dropped by The Alternate Side's Studio A and very nearly performed his new EP in its entirety:
Alisa Ali: What is the significance of Curtis Lane?
Pat Grossi: Curtis Lane is the street that I grew up on in New Jersey. I was born and bred in South Jersey and lived there until I was thirteen and then moved to L.A. because of my dad’s job. So I’m kind of split between the East and West coast.
Alisa: There was so much going on in that song however, there’s just two guys here. How’s that work?
Pat: The magic of a laptop. That was basically the drum loops and composition I put behind it with pads and whatnot. For now the live performance is pretty much heavy backtrack and then Stratton on bass and me on harp with some other tracks on the keyboard. Definitely looking forward to the future of having a drummer and doing it the real deal style.
Alisa: This is very economical though.
Pat: Yep, it is.
Stratton Easter: We’re the soundman’s favorite band.
Alisa: What goes into making sure the harp sounds top notch?
Pat: Well, first of all I need to be playing it at all times. It’s actually been through a lot. I’ve actually just gotten this harp and have traveled all over the place with it. It’s survived pretty well. But as long as you keep it in tune, and give it some TLC, it should be okay. I’ve got a pickup on the inside so that it goes straight into the PA system or the mixer.
Alisa: How many harps have you had?
Pat: This is actually the first harp I’ve owned. I rented harps for a long time. Rent-to-own. Thirty bucks a month in Denver and LA was 60 bucks a month.
Alisa: Wow, expensive.
Pat: Harps get crazy expensive. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Psycho money.
Alisa: Was harp shopping super exciting because you could finally own one?
Pat: It was. It was a little stressful though because I was trying to decide between this size and a little bit bigger. But it’s such a hassle carrying the damn thing around. Just getting here was a lot of sweat. I’ve been carrying that damn harp everywhere.
Alisa: What drew you to the harp?
Pat: I’ve always been fascinated by it and one day I went to a rental center in Denver, where my buddy had rented a viola, and they had a harp showroom. [The saleswoman] said I could rent it for thirty bucks a month and I’m like done. Done deal. I threw thirty bucks in her hand and went home with a harp. And I’ve been playing for the last three or four years. [I play] anything improvisational and anything I make with my programs. Little loops and clips.
Alisa: If you have a harp, I feel that someone should be feeding you grapes.
Pat: I’m down with that.
Alisa: Seeded grapes. You put out an album, we’ll talk about seedless grapes. Tell me about the song “Wilderness.” It was one of the first songs I heard of yours. You released it on the intrawebs somwhere.
Pat: Yeah, the intertubes took control of it somewhere. It’s been around for a while and has seen it’s day, but it’s one of my favorite songs to play. It’s in a good vocal range for me so I can kind of belt it out. The other songs are more in a falsetto range. I can get up there, but it’s nice to have a little drive.
Alisa: Pat, you’ve been singing for a long time.
Pat: I have. I’ve been singing in choirs. I was young when I was singing in a choir, between ten and twelve.
Alisa: How did you end up in the Philadelphia Boys Choir?
Pat: I was just singing in my school choir and my teacher pulled me aside and said that I should try out for it. I went home, asked mom to drive me to Philly and that was that.
Alisa: This is the big story behind you, though. It’s haunting you.
Pat: I’m fully aware of that. I’ve done my share of interviews at this point!
Alisa: You’re a choirboy!
Pat: I am a choirboy! La, la la.
Alisa: Do people make assumptions about you? You don’t steal or lie or covet your neighbor’s wife?
Pat: Of course I do. We do a lot of drugs on tour and frequent strip clubs (laughs).
Stratton: Yeah, between those [catering] meat spreads, there’s a lot of drugs.
Pat: We’re talking proscuitto and cocaine. No, seriously, I do get these questions askings if I’m religious. I’m fascinated by religion, but I’m not religious. I’m not a God-fearing man. I’m interested in people’s faith. I went to a Catholic high school and I was the atheist in all of the classes going, “What are you talking about? I’m not getting this.” And the priest would be like, “Okay, why don’t you step outside for a little bit.” (laughs). Everyone else is just nodding their heads and I’m like, “Wait a minute! I don’t get this.”
Alisa: Did you read earlier this year that the Vatican released a list of church-approved songs.
Pat: Really? I think I would be on there. I might have to get the Vatican’s email.
Alisa: There’s some good stuff on there like Fleetwood Mac and the Beatles.
Pat: I don’t do Beatles.
Stratton: Wait, they put the Beatles on there? Even after that whole John Lennon fiasco?
Alisa: Apparently they looked past that. So you think you’d be on there?
Pat: Yeah. Maybe. Well, maybe not the last song. Are we allowed to curse on-air?
Alisa: No! Not cool.
Pat: I cursed on NPR and no one knew. They played “Wilderness.” I don’t think they understood what I was saying.
Alisa: You know, we’re going to have to cut this whole thing now.
Pat: Maybe I should have zipped it up. It’s too late now. The monkey’s out of the bottle.
Alisa: Does your dad still work at a record label that put out a lot of early gangsta rap music?
Pat: Correct. I was a hip hop head as a youngster. I didn’t really get into all of the music I listen to now until I was in college. So all through high school and middle school was gangsta rap and hip hop and all of the things you’d never expect I’d listen to (laughs).
Alisa: What influences you now?
Pat: I’m into M83; his soundscapes are amazing. A lot of early 80s new wave, Tears For Fears and classic stuff like that. That vibe.
Alisa: How old were you when Tears For Fears were big?
Pat: I was born in 1983 so I was just a little dude. But I rediscovered a lot. We were in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago and I came across a great single from Alphaville. They did “Big in Japan” and “Forever Young.”
Alisa: Do you do any covers?
Pat: We do one Joy Division cover, of “Ceremony.” It’s a great track, very highly covered. Radiohead’s done a cover but we’ve put a different spin on it.
Pat: "I'm In Your Church At Night" is a little bit of a narrative. [Stratton and I] both studied abroad in Italy for a while. Stratton was in Florence and I was a little south in Perugia. And just up the street from my apartment was this abandoned cathedral that the Italians were supposedly fixing, but the Italians tend to be on strike or smoking a cigarette. So we decided one night to sneak into the church one night and it became a place of adventure and refuge for the entire semester. We’d explore. The whole ceiling had been removed so you could see the moon and the stars. It was very magical. We’d go in there and sing. A big group of friends with a couple of bottle of wine. We’d take the sacrament, hold hands, sing songs. Super times (laughs).