THREE-WAY CONVERSATION Grass Widow

It took
external musings to locate the internal logic of the trio’s delightful new
album. The members explain.

 

BY NICK D’AMORE

 

Between the twists and turns of their interlocked grooves,
beneath their seemingly effortless yet precise harmonies, Grass Widow are
constantly checking in – with each other and, perhaps less directly, with the
listener. Each song feels like a three-way conversation between band members,
with no voice or instrument competing or dominating, only complementing. Grass
Widow’s records are a snapshot of the band at that moment, emotionally,
intellectually, musically. Hence, though the words being sung are not always
clear, the harmonies and melodies always seem to strike certain chords and
pluck specific heartstrings, however briefly as the band’s beautifully
claustrophobic songs allow.

 

The band’s third LP, Internal
Logic
, has just been released on their own label, HLR – the name made up of
the first initial of three band members: bassist/singer Hannah Lew,
drummer/singer Lillian Maring and guitarist/singer Raven Mahon. The trio’s
sense of independence, freedom, and limitlessness is evident in the
otherworldly subjects on the record, from the stark moon cover to songs about
space exploration and discovery.

 

It was
a little bit spontaneous,” says Lew. “When we were writing Internal Logic, a lot of songs had outer space themes. I think
because we were able to see past our immediate situation and into a vaster,
boundless scope of the world.”

 

 


Goldilocks Zone by Grass Widow

 

The fanciful and playful feeling behind the record stands in
stark contrast to the ominous and somewhat darker Past Time, the band’s 2010 Kill Rock Stars LP. While it was a heady
time for the group, being signed to a more established independent label, their
own personal crises did not allow them to fully enjoy the milestone they’d
achieved.

 

“My dad had passed away, right before KRS asked us to do the
record,” Lew recalls. “We didn’t play music for about six months. Lilly had a
boyfriend at the time who was sick and Raven was in Mexico for a while. It was just
inescapable subject matter. It was the only thing on your brain for a while. In
a lot of ways, I’m really glad for that process we had. We had to write the
songs; it had to happen. With the new record, it’s been two or three years
since initial grief, and it’s OK to write songs that feel really good.”

 

While the songs on Past
Time
were therapeutic for the band, they became difficult to play live
night in and night out on tour. Internal
Logic
boasts songs that are consciously more fun for the trio to play and
sing.

 

“[Past Time] was
us figuring out the best way to survive, hitting rock bottom in a way – and we
did that together,” Maring explains. “We decided we wanted to write songs [for Internal Logic] that would feel really
good to play live, singing things that we needed to hear every night while we
were on tour. So we thought why not write songs that have positive affirmation,
that are about the place we’re at, that are about opportunity. The whole album
reflects that feeling and it feels really good.”

 

The opportunity for Grass Widow presently is having complete
autonomy and control over their music – how it’s recorded, how it’s released,
and how it’s promoted. The band looks positively at their experience at Kill
Rock Stars, as a learning experience that allowed them to venture out on their
own. The brief stint on the KRS roster also solidified their desire to be truly
independent.

 

“They acted as a good resource for us,” Maring says. “We had
a lot of questions about a lot of industry stuff. Where money is involved, in
partnerships like that, that’s where we want to have full control over
everything we’re doing, so there’s no cloudiness around the logistics of the
release. It’s not a constant checking-in with someone who may be busy with
someone else-and that’s not specific to KRS; that’s working with any label.”

 

“It made the most sense to do it ourselves,” adds Lew. “We
wanted to do it exactly how we wanted to do it, know exactly who we were
working with, and have full control – and we wanted to go into debt.”

 

Having that power allowed the band to record where they are
most comfortable, San Francisco.

 

“The studio we recorded Internal
Logic
in was my favorite recording experience that we’ve had,” Lew says.
“We got to record at home, as opposed to where we’d been recording in Portland. And we got to
make everything sound exactly how we wanted. We didn’t have to compromise
because of any ear or anything.”

 

With the infinite resources of the internet, it’s much
easier for bands to self-release and promote without being part of a larger
label. Though labels still serve a valuable purpose in the music landscape, and
the Kill Rock Stars experience brought the band many new fans, Lew believes
that record companies are not quite as essential as they may have been in years
past – especially if a band has already made a name for itself.

 

“Record labels and music criticism will always play a role,”
she says. “People who pay attention to that stuff probably always will. If
anything, it’s more of a name-dropping thing: ‘Hey, they’re on that label; it
must be good.’ For us, people know who we are, so we don’t really need the
label to say anything about us. People will probably like us because they
actually like us.”

 

Being able to see their sonic vision fully realized is
important for the band. The songwriting process is painstaking, with each
member collaborating fully and lending her voice and instrument to the bouncy
cacophony of sounds.

 

“We all want to contribute and bring our voice to it,” Lew
explains. “If anything, we all are always thinking about how to bring each
other in. It works well for us because then the subject matter is pretty
universal for anyone who’s listening. Really personal things can be really relatable.”

 

While crafting a song, any of the three can fill in any part
needed, using either her voice or instrument; so, one song may have a
particularly vocal bass line or a particularly percussive vocal line. “We use
our voices and instruments to fill in the blanks,” Maring says. “That’s why
it’s a tightly woven thread.”

 

Grass Widow will begin touring immediately following the release
of Internal Logic. They will be
hitting such homes away from home as Portland
and New York, as well as some new locales,
such as Buffalo and Upstate New York, and the
southern United States,
including Atlanta, Durham,
Memphis and Chattanooga. The initial leg of the tour will
wrap up June 16. The band prefers touring in brief jaunts as opposed to being
road warriors.

 

“We would tour all the time if we didn’t have to work,” Lew
says. “We have boyfriends, jobs, and other passions and hobbies. It’s
definitely a balancing act. When we do it in small doses, it can be really fun;
you travel for free and get to share our music with people.

 

“Even if you’re out there with your best friend, just
traveling and being with people 24 hours a day is kind of a lot.”

 

Grass Widow are, indeed, a tight-knit group. The seeds of
the group were sown almost 10 years ago when Lew and guitarist/singer Raven
Mahon were in a different band. Maring started sitting in on drums and soon the
three hit on something special. “There was a moment when I had this harmony
thing I’d written for three people and we all tried it and were like, “Oh, we
have something here, we can do this,” Lew recalls.

 

“We have moments like that still, some chord progression or
some harmony will come together and it’ll be like, “Oh yeah, that’s the stuff!”

 

An
edited version of this story also appears in the current print issue (#12) of
BLURT. Grass Widow’s tour kicked off this week in Massachusetts. Go to their
official website to view the itinerary.

 

[Photo Credit: Aubree Bernier-Clarke]

 

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