Reviews

Sebastian Grainger and the Mountains

Author: Aileen Torres
01/09/2009 | Cmj.com | www.cmj.com | Feature
Sebastien Grainger, former drummer/singer for Death From Above 1979, is moving forward. His debut album, Sebastien Grainger And The Mountains, was recently released by Saddle Creek, and it's a definite departure from his former band's danceable hard rock. For one thing, there's more than just drum and bass on the album. Grainger has returned to his guitar roots, and while he wrote all the songs himself, he brought in some old pals to play on the record.

So who are the Mountains? Well, there's Nick Sewell on bass, from the Illuminati; Leon Taheny, an old school mate of Grainger's mans the drums; and Andrew Scott, who played in pre-DFA 1979 band, Femme Fatale, plays keyboards. "It's fun to have guys beside you that you completely trust," says Grainger. It took time for him to start over again. "Right after breaking up [DFA 1979], the idea of a band kind of disgusted me," he admits. "I was 27. Do I really wanna commit myself to hanging out with a bunch of other grown men all the time? It's just a strange prospect, especially after you've gone through it already. But that was just residual disdain. Once that wore off, I'm happy to have a band and be in a band and have guys to play with every night." The process of regrouping took about a year. Grainger, who is based in Toronto, spent that time working on other projects. He even took a few months to lay low and not do anything at all. But he did not stop creating.

Things started to crystallize in 2007 when he was offered to tour with Bloc Party and Albert Hammond Jr. "It pushed the whole thing into a reality," Grainger explains. "The songs I had been working on alone, I [now] had to come out with, and that's when I started the three-piece band. Looking back it was a ridiculous thing to do, but it was definitely a good springboard for the songs, for myself as a performer and us as a band. But it was ridiculous to play our third or fourth show in front of 3,000 people in Chicago."

Making the record was primarily a solo affair. "I found it easier to just isolate myself, and then get people in as needed," says Grainger. Most importantly, he wanted to be free to create. "I wanted to un-inhibit myself, to be able to be at a place where I was just acting and reacting to what I was doing." The album he ended up making is full of pop melodies, but with a hard edge. While Grainger's no longer the drummer in this band, he hasn't given up a penchant for thrashing and pounding, and that's part of what makes his debut so lively. It's not a happy-go-lucky affair, but there are some pretty sweet hooks and an undeniable, danceable energy.

Lyrically, it's an album about transition. It speaks of death, anger, sadness, but also new beginnings. In "Who Do We Care For?," Grainger asks, "Who do we care for?/Who will remain our friends?" Other song titles speak just as broodingly: "I'm All Rage" and "I Hate My Friends." Bitterness is certainly present, but it's of the redemptive kind. He's getting it all out, questioning himself, questioning the people around him and egging himself on to take action.

With his departure from Death From Above, it's inevitable that Grainger's audience is also shifting. And for him, that's a good thing. "The only intention was to start from scratch and rebuild," he says. "I have friends in bands, and they're like, 'You've already paid your dues. You should ask for more.' But there's nothing I can ask for. I'm trying to start a new band, and I can't do it on the momentum of another. I've been prepared to keep working until the band and record finds its own proper audience. And I know that's not gonna be overnight. That's what the work part of being a working musician is." And of course that work also includes touring, which is in the band's characteristically loose plans for 2009.