Longtime collaborators Jack Grace and Christopher Port interview each other for us
They're currently playing shows together for Jack Grace's tour.
Currently touring Australia supporting electro-rock pioneers PVT, Sydney singer/songwriter/producer Jack Grace is celebrating the recent(ish) release of his v-special debut EP, River. When playing live Jack Grace employs the help of good friend/pal in production Christopher Port (who we gushed about plenty towards the end of last year), and rather us coming in from downtown knowing nothing about Grace, we figured why not set up a chat between the two.
As we hoped, things got musically nerdy, with both passionate musicians and producers offering a bit more insight than you might be used to when it comes to artist interviews. Check it out below, and scope those remaining Jack Grace tour dates down the bottom, which also include a show this Friday 27 January, playing Red Bull Sound Select with Kelsey Lu and Bec Sandridge, Paddington Uniting Church, Sydney ($3 RSVP HERE).
Christopher v Jack:
I know your knowledge of harmony is pretty extensive and you're capable of writing some complex music, however your songs always have a simplicity to them that is really powerful. How do you restrain yourself harmonically when writing songs instead of throwing lots of complex stuff in?
I know just enough about how harmony to be a bit of an asshole, so most of what I do is just trying to limit that aspect of it. But as a whole I’m driven by the standards that people such as Bach, Bill Evans, Joni, Bacharach, Nina Simone and Hoagy Charmichael have set. You won’t find much fat on that stuff and if there is any, it’s the type you want.
You seem to be able to create a fully formed song out of so few ideas. Each idea you put in a track has such a huge amount of weight to it that pushes everything forward. You do this on your River EP with tracks like Hills and Save You. How did you develop this?
I had a piano teacher who was a massive influence on the way I make and play music. He was obsessed with minimalism and ergonomics. He would play the melody of jazz standard and I would have to harmonize it. He would make me stop at every chord and explain to him why I was playing the notes I was playing, if I couldn’t explain why, I had to omit the notes. It made for some pretty tense lessons, it was so frustrating 'cause sometimes I loved the sound of what it was but I had no idea what it is and at the time it seemed counter productive but I realized quickly it was incredibly empowering. After a few months I never thought about it again, I just played exactly what I wanted to create the effect I wanted.
When it came to production and writing I just follow exactly the same principle and process. I kind of start with a couple of elements and try and see if I can make an arrangement work with that and then just add stuff as it needs it.
The main synth I use in my tracks is the Juno 6. I know you use a Prophet 8 as your main synth, however you don't use it the way most people do. You seem to use it more like a church organ, as a support layer for your vocals. Do you think your choice of instrument effects the way you write your songs?
Yeah I guess I leant and developed the way I play piano and organ accompanying singers at church so when I write parts I’m often thinking about supporting the vocal, this can be for better or for worse. I think the Prophet is really designed for piano players; it can be a frustrating instrument to build sounds on. My depth of knowledge when it comes to synthesis is embarrassingly narrow. I use my ears and know minimal maths. It’s something I’m developing. I think that instruments definitely can change the way I write a song, but more often it comes down to if its a short sound or a long sound, like if I’m writing on the piano I will write stuff at different tempos then if I would on an organ or on a guitar it's different again. The ADSR of notes effects the way I write more then if it’s a nice sounding pad vs. a shitty sounding pad. Synth sounds come into play for me more in the production process… However in saying this if I can't sleep I might make a synth sound that gets me excited and I have to write a song around it, but I treat those ones as bonuses.
Whenever I start an idea for a track, my emotional state seems to affect the textures and timbres created. I know the River EP was mostly created in times of turmoil and transition. Does your emotional state directly reflect the music you make? Or are you able to access an emotion to write from regardless of how you feel that day?
Yeah this is a hard one. For Jack Grace I haven’t been very successful at accessing an emotion other than the one I’m feeling on a day when I’m working on a track. However when I’ve written with other artists I find I can be more objective and kind of take on a character or try and put myself in their shoes and write outside of the emotion in the moment.
Your music is influenced by the gospel music you grew up on and the music you've discovered more recently like footwork, hip hop and club music. When was the first time you combined these influences into the music your make?
I started mucking around with production when I was in late high school, my friend had a Korg Triton and I used to go over to his house and sample the drums into Pro-Tools LE. Because my laptop and MBox Mini had horrible latency issues I just had to click and drag it up. I think through working out the harmony and rhythms of stuff I loved I would stumble across the thread that joins a lot of genres, and that’s often what I try to exploit. I love exploring that space.
Where do you get the best long black in Sydney?
Mecca has the pengest long black and I know you crave it 'cause when you are up you beg me to take you there.
Jack v Christopher:
Just thinking back to when we first met. You had a project that was centered around improvising but you were also playing with I’lls amongst other things - It felt like I was arriving on the tailend of the journey you’d be on with improvising, what was that journey like and what did you learn?
Yeah I was deep into that for a long time. I feel like my music would sound a lot different had I not gone through that. I really like leaving some things up to chance when I’m recording, just setting myself up to hopefully discover something new. I think it creates an energy that is hard to attain otherwise.
Improvising is something you mostly do in groups, so it was pretty tough trying to transfer those skills into making music on my own. It took a few years for it to really feel as comfortable and natural as it does now.
I often try and channel you when I’m working on songs with a long form - where does your grasp on pacing come from? How did you develop that/was it a conscious thing you worked on?
I have a real passion for long form music. Whether it's stuff like Stravinsky's scores for ballets or live Techno or DJ sets etc. I love things that unfold slowly. I also like playing around with different types of tension and release points, but always framing it in the context of something danceable. It wasn't really a conscious decision, I think it may be due to the fact that a lot of the elements in my tracks are pretty obnoxious, so I guess the only way to make them work in a track together is to space them out.
I know you’ve been into music of all tempos and forms, when was it that you realised you wanted it make music for dancing to?
Dancing is intrinsically linked to music, in particular drums. Being a drummer for about 15 years has exposed me to a lot of different ways to feel and express rhythms. I've always felt a connection to dancing since I was a kid. Both my folks were dancers back in the day, so I guess I was bound to make dance music in some form or another. I properly started focusing on making dance music about six or seven years ago.
I remember the weather was cold AF when we were jamming on My Love. After we finished tracking the synth we drove out to Bendigo for a show with Ngaiire and on the way out there was literally a snowstorm. I feel like its easier for me to make music that’s for the opposite season to the one I’m in, have you ever thought about this?
Absolutely, I feel like both our music has a certain yearning quality to it, maybe it's not always obvious but it's always there, so I feel like when we made My Love we may have had that in mind. I knew as soon as I made the sketch for that track that it was gonna be a summer tune, which is something that I’d never made before. I was definitely keen for that winter to be done, so I’m sure that came out in that track in a way. The synth you played on that track just elevated it to another level for sure.
How did you come across Ronin? What impact has Ronin and ritual based groove music had on you?
My close friend James Gilligan first showed me Ronin in my first year of university. He had just come back from studying with them in Zurich (where the band is based). The compositions and the playing of each of the members in the band instantly blew me away. They make odd time signatures and cross rhythms feel really natural and danceable. I later went back to Zurich with James and studied with them myself. The way they think of movement and music as two halves of a whole was super inspiring. They are a big part of the reason I make the music I make now.
Would you ever considering putting a better sound-system in your Corolla?
Haha yeah, I'm gonna put a Funktion-One in there next week.
JACK GRACE TOUR DATES:
Sat 25 Feb - The Foundry, Brisbane (supporting PVT)
Fri 3 Mar - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney (supporting PVT)
Mar 10-12 - Panama Festival, Lone Star Valley, Tasmania
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