“It will leave you feeling inspired and loved.”
Pat Grossi of Active Child promises much from next week’s show with How To Dress Well.
And he says of the two artists, from Los Angeles and New York, respectively: “I think there will be a nice balance and contrast between the two of us.”
Some people see music classification as a way to dismiss the music before listening to it, something that frustrates Grossi. “People see that label, ‘chillwave’ and are sick of it. But I’m pretty numb to any genre or micro-genre.”
Whatever you call it, and way before you even get into a cliched debate on genres and divisions (influential music website Pitchfork called “You Are All I See,” Active Child’s debut full-length, “timeless, monastically minimal R&B”), on first listen it’s hard to even put a decade to the artists’ brand of swirling pop, the ethereal, haunting vocals, the disarming cool, and that harp.
Grossi’s voice, it is clear, is born of extreme natural talent, but any superlatives or assertions of raw innovation do a disservice to his upbringing. Once a 9-year-old choirboy, Grossi says that “in a lot of ways, two decades later I am still the same singer. I have managed to retain my soprano vocal chords somehow,” and while he says he and his music have — “in anything but a clear direction” — changed dramatically, “the choral style of singing that I absorbed as a boy has remained with me. It’s something I’m incredibly grateful for.”
This may be a standout feature, but Active Child’s music is far from one-dimensional. In fact, the orchestral-like arrangements are so complicated they make you wonder how he re-imagines them when he’s on stage.
“For me, when I’m writing I focus solely on creating the best piece of work possible. I try not to dwell on (questions like) ‘How will I bring this string section to life?’ or ‘Where will this choir of voices come from?’
“It’s important not to limit oneself, to let my mind run with ideas, sounds and textures. Then, when I take to the stage, I can attack them one piece at a time.”
Grossi’s 26-string lever harp is “an integral part of the live sound”, and something he never tours without. “I’ve installed a nice pickup into it, which helps translate the full warm-bodied sound.”
When I ask Tom Krell, of How to Dress Well, about the vocals on his 2010 album, “Love Remains,” he says, “to me, the voice is my instrument … there’s a very special and undeniable connection between the human voice and the human spirit. It’s where I start all of my songwriting.”
So is he a vocalist above all?
“Yes, absolutely. It’s weird to say that I’ve ‘found my voice,’ or whatever, but I do feel I’ve done so. I’ve found myself through a certain voice. And I feel like I’m really doing me now. And the love I’ve got for that has been astounding.”
With these vocal-heavy stylings, both artists are certainly in tune with one another. And though the two, says Grossi, “will attack the live setting in Tokyo in a completely different way”, when he sent Krell a track, “maybe two years ago now” proposing to “combine forces”, he says “the next day I had his verse (sent back). Soon after that he flew out to L.A. to record in the studio.” Krell is “very, very excited to play live with Pat,” and Grossi adds that they will “definitely be performing (the resulting collaboration) ‘Playing House’ together in Tokyo.”
It takes only a few low-beat synths and simple strings to bring Krells’ “instrument” to life. The complex rhythms he seems to spin, the high-pitched melodies he can weave with his vocal chords, and the spirit he conjures with his introspective lyrics are so perfectly balanced there’s no need for anything else on stage. The presence certainly forms part of what Grossi means when he says that, from both acts, “musically the songs will be expansive, surprising, and heartfelt.
“The atmosphere will be heavy no doubt. And as far as the crowd, well we’ll just have to wait and see.”
How to Dress Well, Active Child and Ponytail’s Dustin Wong play Daikanyama’s Unit in Tokyo on Dec. 12 (7 p.m.). Tickets are ¥4,500. For more information, call (03) 3444-6751 or visit www.activechildmusic.com and howtodresswell.blogspot.com.