Musician Daniel Grandbois on the Books He Reads
Daniel Grandbois is one of those genuine double threats: an accomplished musician with three bands and a talented writer with a collection of short absurdist tales called Unlucky Lucky Days out in June. In his role as musician, Daniel plays or has played in three of the pioneering bands of "The Denver Sound": Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Tarantella, and Munly. Described by some Amazon customers as alternative "gothic Americana," I'd add descriptors like country punk and some gorgeous gypsy/Eastern European folk music influences as well, especially when thinking of Tarantella. Which really means that this is really original and captivating American music. Other veterans of “The Denver Sound” include bands like DeVotchKa and 16 Horsepower. The latest Frommer’s Colorado guide identifies Munly and Slim Cessna's Auto Club when noting the rising international notoriety “The Denver Sound” is gaining. MTV’s Roadtrip Guide lists Munly’s “Amen Corner” as one of the five songs you have to listen to in Denver. If you haven't heard about Daniel Grandbois yet, you heard it here first: this talented, hardworking writer and musician is someone to watch. Recently, he talked to me via email about his reading habits and how it informs his music.
Amazon: What have you read lately and liked?
Daniel Grandbois: I’m in the middle of a gorgeous textbook from Oxford University Press, called The Evolution of Trees. Imagining the transformative journey plants had to make to leave the sea and colonize land sends shivers down my spine. I love seeing things from alien perspectives. Other nonfiction I’ve loved lately: Cabeza de Vaca’s account of being shipwrecked and stranded for a decade on this continent shortly after Columbus’s voyage, and Bartolome de Las Casas’ Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, which tells, grimly, of the wholesale slaughter of Native Americans by the Spaniards in the name of their “truer” God. Then, there would be Marie-Louise von Franz’s Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche. In the world of fiction: Robert Pinget’s Mahu, Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Coover’s Briar Rose, Grove’s collection of Beckett’s dramatic works, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and Charles Martin’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Amazon.com: How has reading influenced your music?
Daniel Grandbois: For me, it’s the other way around. My brain is naturally wired to appreciate music but had to be trained to love reading, which I didn’t begin doing until about halfway through college. In kindergarten, I got hooked on Elvis Presley after I bought one, then another of his records at a garage sale across the street. I listened to them every day and had a collection of twenty-five Elvis records by the time I was ten. At eleven, I saw him in concert and cried my eyes out the whole time. This is all to say that the brain I got naturally took in a lot of information sonically for my first couple of decades. It’s still hard for me to turn off my ears. I get distracted by sounds--people chewing food or turning the pages of books. So, when I finally began reading in earnest, the work I gravitated towards was based on voice and sound. I had to train myself to appreciate the other things.
Amazon.com: How does being both a writer and musician work in daily practice?
Daniel Grandbois: The two are mutually exclusive in my case. When I’m doing one, I’m not thinking about or doing the other. Sometimes, the cycles are months or years long. Sometimes, days or even hours. Usually, I’ll stay focused on writing, for example, for the time it takes to finish a certain part of a book, or until I’m sick of words because their meanings have all run together. When it’s the other way around, and I’ve been focusing on music, it never really comes to a time when I’m tired of the music itself so much as I’m tired of the life of a musician--the long hours on the road and late nights at clubs, all without much privacy. I prefer the life of a writer--being alone in my hole.