Q&A: Spermwhalesâ€™ Brent Grant on Casios, the Time Warp EP, and Danny Glover
Spermwhales songs have titles like â€śDaydreams,â€ť â€śDwell Forever,â€ś and â€śSurf Out Of Foreverâ€ť that telegraph the cerebral, blunted atmospheres that Spermwhales’ Brent Grant taps into with little more than a guitar, effects pedals, and an impeccable melodic intuition. His prismatic, hypnotic drones, tonal-pond ripples, and Wavves-esque surf-noise is nothing short of beautiful.
Occasionally, as on last yearâ€™s Time Warp EP, Grant and his muse are inexplicably able to defy time itself. Most Spermwhales releases are available free online and Grant plays out occasionally, but the project is largely–and criminally–unknown in the underground Baltimore music community.
In a late-October/early-November e-mail interview, Grant discussed the origins of the Spermwhales project, how his musical approach has changed over the years, and the fact that his new bassist is named Danny Glover.
City Paper: How did you decide on Spermwhales as a stage name?
Brent Grant: When first starting Spermwhales I had no intention to be serious with this project. It derived from the original name, â€śspermwhales came in the ocean and thatâ€™s why its salty.â€ť I started to get lazy with writing all of that out and shortened it to â€śSpermwhalesâ€ť–one word, no space.
CP: When and how did Spermwhales become a serious endeavor for you?
BG: When the sound changed from cutesy keyboards to drone. It made me feel whole musically. I will never stop now; Iâ€™ll be doing this for the rest of my life.
CP: Tell me about your earliest experiences or experiments with making music. What were they like, and how old were you?
BG: I had a keyboard at the age of 8 years old. That would have to be my first experience with music. Pre-set drum beats and me dancing to them. In 10th grade I got an electric guitar; immediately picked it up and started making up stuff equaling mass amounts of “noise” and “racket.â€ť
Back then, I never wanted to ever know how to play a traditional or conventional style of music. I was totally immature, aggressive, and didn’t give two shits. Never played the same song twice, always improvised–which all kind of changed when I got a little bit older.
CP: Was the keyboard a Casio SK-1? That’s the one my mother got me when I was a kid; really basic and rudimentary, but still an amazing piece of equipment to my 10-year old mind.
BG: It wasn’t an SK-1, but it was a Casio. It was one my dad found at a yard sale. I can’t really remember what model it was. That keyboard ended up getting smashed in a brother vs. brother battle royal.
CP: What instruments and programs do you use for Spermwhales recordings and performances?
BG: A guitar and an 8-track recorder. Live, mostly Fender Telecaster and Boss/Roland pedals; recording, I use different Fender guitars/bass and more FX.
CP: Of all the Spermwhales recordings I’ve heard, the Time Warp EP is far and away my favorite. Tell me about the conception and making of Time Warp.
BG: Life and death. The Time Warp EP was an online album I put up for download last year, which was intended to get me more listeners. It turns out this is the most downloaded album of mine. This song was recorded on Nov. 20, 2009. It was the most difficult time period in my life. My favorite cousin just past away from diabetes. My whole world was coming apart with a bunch of other shit. Wanted to get away from everything, was taking a break from music at this time. I had a show the next day with Shy Violet and Prom Concussion, who both use prerecorded instruments on cassette 4-tracks live–which completely inspired me to do the same.
Never doing prerecorded stuff live before, my sound meditation started calling me, sending me into a blank state of mind where time doesn’t exist, where nothing matters. A dream within a dream. No physical body. Complete emptiness. the sound lifted me away. I was free from everything. I derived Time Warp from leaving this life, which only felt like a five-minute meditation but ended up being hours. I recorded two tracks for the show.
Nov. 21, the day of the show, I played along with the tracks on my old Tascam. Nov. 22 I recorded the third track and mixed it, making it the final product. I put the song online and started posting it. A month later my friend sent me the live recording; not that many people have the live version, so here it is. This is a very meaningful piece for me.
CP: Given that Time Warp represents something so deeply personal, does it feel weird or unseemly that so many listeners have gravitated toward it? What sort of responses or feedback have you received?
BG: No, not at all weird. It was my intention to be heard more. Anyone who listens to it can perceive it in any way they want to. No one would ever known those meanings if it wasn’t for the question, you know? I have seen it posted other places. From what it looks like people enjoy it: friendly write-ups. Still donâ€™t get that much feedback. Just another sperm trying to get the egg.
CP: What differentiates the entries in your Bootleg series, conceptually, from other Spermwhales releases like Natural Echoes and Easy Visual?
BG: Less ambient, more pop–trying to switch it up. I started doing stuff people can recognize: drum, bass, guitar, and vocals. People get bored easily.
CP: Did you grow up in Adamstown?
BG: Yes; I’ve lived in the same house my whole life.
CP: Outside of recording, writing, and performing, do you ever listen to your own records? A lot of musicians don’t, in my experience; Robert Pollard is the only example who comes immediately to mind.
BG: It doesn’t happen that often. Sometimes, I wonder what it sounds like in the car. So I’ll drive around and listen to stuff I’m working on. I’ve done a lot of stuff in five years. Itâ€™s hard to remember it all, so itâ€™s nice to refresh my memory with past recordings: different stages of my life, all documented.
CP: So it’s kind of like a sonic yearbook, then?
BG: Yes! I was 19 when it started; I’m 24 now. If I live another 20 years, this will be an enormous year book.
CP: This isn’t really a question, but the effect playing all of the videos on your MySpace page at once is fucking insane.
BG: Haha! I’ve been told that a couple times before.
CP: The Spermwhales MySpace page lists “Danny Glover” as the other member of the band. You should hire the co-star of the Lethal Weapon series to show up at a gig and demand proceeds from record sales–unless there actually is a guy named Danny Glover who performs with you. Is there?
BG: Danny is my bass player; he just joined two months ago. He could be the actor, or it could just a coincidence [that] he has the same name–or the fact he watches Predator 2 on the regular. He will be joining me on the northern tour with Shy Violet. I finally have structured stuff I play live now, so he’s been a big help with me writing these new songs. Still doing the nice ambient improv stuff, adding the `90s surf-y constructed fun jams in the middle with more ambience at the end.
I’m trying new stuff; Iâ€™ve been doing the same thing pretty much for the last couple of years and wanna switch it up. Been having friends play with me live; this confuses the fuck out of some people, though, cause then they think they’re definite members in the band when it was a one-time thing. As of now, Danny Glover is a member of spermwhales. He wonâ€™t be at every show before or after tour. He will always be part of this continuous whale journey, in visible form or not.
Spermwhales play the Hexagon Nov. 13 as part of the MT6 Fest with Human Host, Band Liquor Pond, FUN, Narc, Needlegun, and many others.