Interview: The Electric Grandmother
This Saturday, September 5th at 10pm, I’ll be playing a show with good friends, The Electric Grandmother at the Pine Box Rock Shop. Link. The last time we performed together was at the venerable Goodbye Blue Monday, which sadly closed in that in-between time. I got to catch up with Pete and Mary Alice before the show and talk some shop: reminiscing about Columbus, their exploration of sitcom-core, the nature of nostalgia, and an upcoming release. Fittingly, I caught them as they were sitting down to watch re-runs of Full House.
st. lenox: how has it been performing and being a musician now that you’ve left columbus? i guess it’s been a few years for both of us.
Pete: It’s been interesting, a challenge at times getting accustomed to a new scene. I honestly wasn’t as prepared mentally as I should have been. It took a little while, but I’m beginning to settle in.
Mary Alice: Playing in front of a Columbus crowd was second nature for a few reasons. We got accustomed to playing at the Treehouse and in front of the same people show after show so it didn’t seem all that different than playing in our living room. Speaking for myself, who has more performance anxiety and less experience than Pete does, I find myself worried about what other people think. You would think that would be an understood part of it, but because we’d played for Columbus crowds for so long, I kind of forgot an audience had the power to judge us.
st. lenox: aaah hah yeah that makes sense. yeah, that transition to playing in front of strangers can be tough to deal with.
st. lenox: i remember being in columbus, i thought (and still do think) that the columbus music scene has a very strong field of musicians there. do you find a similar dynamic in terms of the music scene in d.c.?
Pete: It’s tough to say at this point, because I had a lot more time to gauge all the talent in Columbus. There were some great bands in Columbus for sure – if you’re referring to skill level, I haven’t yet come across too many that can play guitar like a Joe Peppercorn or a JR Fisher, but I’m also not too picky when it comes to that stuff. Just give me something unusual and energetic, and I’m good to go.
Mary Alice: One thing I noticed about DC and this kind of fits in with other stereotypes of the area, but there are a lot of really talented musicians who were, for example, virtuoso classical players in their youth and went on to follow a rock n’ roll dream. I kind of like that about DC.
st. lenox: haha interesting. good to hear other people transition back and forth between classical and non-classical.
st. lenox: so, how’d you get into this idea of sitcom-core? i mean, i think a gut-reaction that someone might have is that it’s a kind of gimmick. but you actually do a lot with the concept, right?
Pete: We could be here all night with that one. It started with me transitioning from writing sad poems as a teenager following a car accident in 1995, to slowly incorporating contemporary TV sitcom characters into my writing because I wanted to laugh. I guess it just went from there, kind of organic.
As far as it being a “gimmick,” people can look at it however way they want, it’s fine with me. On stage we’re concerned with putting on a fun (usually drunken show), and we want to have a good time and make people glad they came out. When creating the songs, there can sometimes a few different layers to what’s going on. You don’t get called a “post-modern genius” by just falling out of the fucking bed, hahaha.
st. lenox: in some sense, you feel that making distinctions like that is too serious given what you want to do on stage? i definitely did have fun when i saw you perform the last time at goodbye blue monday.
Mary Alice: Another grave mistake people make is to accuse us of getting off on this stuff because it’s nostalgic. Um–no. We really dig it. I’d say we watch Full House 5 nights out of the week to varying degrees.
st. lenox: ha yeah, i can understand that. i mean, i think sometimes people ruined the idea of nostalgia too. made it into a “thing”.
Pete: Sure. Ya know, I actually kind of enjoy it if someone looks a little deeper, because it does go deeper sometimes. Sometimes I’m merely giggling to myself like a moron when writing a song, but other times there’s another force driving it. We occasionally get people after a show who seemed genuinely moved – not because of the literal content of a song, but of how we made them flashback to their childhood, to a warm comfortable place in their mind. And I think that’s pretty cool.
st. lenox: so in some sense, you don’t really have anything against nostalgia per se, but maybe nostalgia can get kind of fetishized in ways that make it kind of too on-the-nose?
Mary Alice: I think people tend to talk about nostalgia in the same way they talk about illusions. As if it doesn’t matter and it’s an easy way to write things off. I like my adult life. Part of my adult life is the ability to watch whatever stupid shit feels good on my brain after work. It’s the aesthetic that we like. There is nothing like the calming, cooling, sensation that is Will Smith as the Fresh Prince.
st. lenox: hahaha. okay i think i get that.
Mary Alice: Another good example of this is Space Jam. I never saw Space Jam when it was out, but watched it for the first time a couple of years ago and it was like they genetically engineered a movie to suit my sensibilities.
st. lenox: you’re watching it because you think its just really good.
Mary Alice: To put it simply, yes. Haha.
st. lenox: that makes a lot of sense. so, last question. speaking of Full House – there’s supposed to be like a made for tv Full House movie, or an attempt to redo the series. what do you think about that?
Pete: Shit dude, we’ve already watched that movie, and it sucked. As far as “Fuller House,” goes? We’ve already written a song about the show, in advance of it even airing. It’s the first single off our new album, and we’re about to drop soon. And honestly, making a new series about Full House can only be a success, they can’t really fuck it up like they do some other shows. And least I presume they can’t? We’re really excited for it, and we’re probably going to have multiple parties in it’s honor.
st. lenox: hahahaha. noice.
Mary Alice: I’ve been following it very closely on social media. They called episode 1 Our Very First Show, which was the same title as the first episode of the original series. I wanted to cry when I saw that.
Part of my excitement about it is the small hope that our society’s dreams of a Lori Loughlin/John Stamos real-life union will come true. I know she’s married and all, but that’s why pencils have erasers.
st. lenox: lolol. i will have to keep an eye out for it.
Mary Alice: Netflix 2016, baby!
st. lenox: aah, okay cool. last thing – we’re going to give a shout out to my main man wesley. he introduced me to your stuff when we were in grad school. love that song “England Man America”. i don’t know how to give a shoutout over text, but i’ll figure it out.
Pete: Excellent! Wesley is great, I love Goatbucket. I also like what you do, looking forward to doing another gig together.
st. lenox: yes, look forward to it.