Active Child (real name: Pat Grossi) is an L.A. purveyor of what we’ll vaguely describe as ecclesiastical pop music. There’s harp involved. Earlier this year we published his track-by-track breakdown of debut album, “You Are All I See”, and today we catch up with the Laneway-bound artist to discuss rap collaborations, getting choked up and hanging out in churches.
Hi Pat, how are you? I’m good, how are you?
Very well, where in the world are you at the moment and what have you been up to today? I am somewhere a couple hours north of L.A. in California. We’re headed up to San Francisco. We just had a show last night in L.A., and had a few days off back in our home city, so it’s been nice to catch our breath for a second. We’re headed up to San Francisco tonight.
How was the homecoming show? It was good. We played this venue called the Music Box and it was packed. We were on tour with M83 so the show was pretty full. There was probably about 1,500 people there, so it was cool to be home for a second and get some love from the hometown crowd.
Every time you play in L.A. does it incrementally get bigger and bigger? It does. I think ever since we did our Echo residence we felt a bit of increasing buzz in the city so every time we go back I think it gets a little bit bigger.
You actually wrote a track by track for You Are All I See for our website. There’s some really great stuff in there. I was just wondering; is it hard to objectively think of your music and critique it like that? Sometimes it is. I think it depends on the kind of mood I’m in at the time, (laughs) whether I’m still inspired by it or whether I think it’s the worst, but in that moment when I had to do that track by track I was feeling excited about the future, and I was really proud of the album, so I wanted to kind of shed a little bit of light on what was going on in the music and what was on my mind at the time. I haven’t read it since I’ve done it but I think it was interesting.
Yeah definitely. We interviewed Classixx recently and they said you did some vocal work for them, and of course you’ve done stuff with How To Dress Well. Is collaboration a key thing for you do or are these all kind of happy accidents? I think it’s a combination. Collaborating with Tom Krell [HTDW] was kind of a happy accident in a lot of ways, in that I’d written this track and me and Tom discussed it, about doing a collaboration a month before then. By sheer luck I put this track together and was like “wow this would be perfect to have Tom on”. I sent it to him and it worked out that he was flying out to L.A. for a show, and so we recorded it. In a lot of ways it worked out well. I did a collaboration with Classixx and we’d done a few remixes, and I think it’s cool to collaborate with other artists and develop different relationships with artists, and hopefully discover something new about yourself and their music at the same time maybe learn some new tricks about production or whatever. I think there’s collaboration in other realms, but not so much in the indie, I don’t even know what you call it, the indie scene. Like a lot of rap artists are constantly collaborating with one another, and rapping on each others’ albums. It doesn’t seem to happen as much in our realm, so I think that’s something I’d like to explore more.
Is there anything coming up? There’s nothing on the horizon right now since I’m constantly touring I haven’t had another chance to really sit back and create anything. Interestingly enough, I’ve been getting hit up by a lot of rap artists looking to have me work on a track with them, and sing a hook or something, which could be cool.
What are the kind of rappers who would approach Active Child for a beat or a vocal? (Laughs) We’re possibly working on a track with the Cool Kids, like a rap duo. There’s a few different options out there and it’s something I’d like to explore a bit more. I think it would be fun.
It’s crazy we live in an era where you can get directly in touch with other artists who you’ve never met before. Yeah, that’s how it happens. It starts with a message on my Twitter or Facebook randomly. Anyone is pretty much accessible unless they’re so huge that they have someone else working their accounts for them.
What’s the most surreal thing that’s happened to you this year? I recently did a pretty awesome show at a church in London, at Old St. Patrick’s Church, and it was pretty much my dream come true show and performance, in that it was in this 1,500 hundred-year old church. The place was completely sold out, about 450 people, and it was completely candle lit and beautiful. There’s kind of this perfect, very surreal, dream-like scene where I was playing my music for all these people. It was dead silent and everything sounded really nice. It was maybe the best moment I’ve ever had as a performer and musician. It was pretty cool.
Have you grown more comfortable with owning the live environment as well? Yeah, it’s definitely been an evolution this whole time, trying to not only be a confident performer and grow in that sense, but just actually perform the music, and be authentic, and feel like you’re really putting yourself out there, and playing the music to the best of your ability. But I think every show I play I learn something new and I get a bit more confident. It’s something I think you’ve got to have when you get up on the stage. You’ve got to own it and put yourself out there in a lot of ways. Every night is me sitting down at this harp, and really feeling a bit stripped naked in a lot of ways, and a lot of times the music itself is not something that you dance around and cheer to; it’s something that you kind of get a lot of people just staring back at me, (laughs) which at first was a bit overwhelming, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it because that’s just the way it is.
Are you the kind of person who is writing constantly or do you compartmentalise your time between album cycles? No, I have trouble writing on the road. We’re either in the van or hotel room and I feel like I can never really sit down and focus. I think I’m at my best when I’m kind of just tucked away somewhere by myself in a solitary zone. I never really get that on the road, so it’s hard to really write. I mostly wait for a break and try to create something new.
What’s your home setup like? At home it’s pretty much me, and my laptop, and mixer, and harp, and a few keyboards, and a drum machine. That’s pretty much it, (laughs) and a lot of different programs, and patches, and stuff. It’s a pretty basic setup. Luckily on the last record I got to work with a producer who had a lot of new toys and other new programs and stuff that we could mess around with so it kind of broadened the horizon of sound scapes and stuff like that.
Do you have a rough idea at all of what you want to do next, or will you cross bridge when you get there? I dabble a bit and think about what might be coming next. I don’t know; I’d like to continue to explore using the harp and electronic sounds, and also try to incorporate a lot of live instrumentation as far as strings, and other stuff that I think complements a lot of the spiritual vibe of the music, a lot of timpani, and chimes, and bells, and metallic sounds. More than anything I want to add more instrumentation, and maybe have less of the wash of synths and stuff like that, and see where that takes me.
It’s funny you mentioned the word “spiritual” because I think that’s an undercurrent that flows through your music. You know, there’s a track on the album called “High Priestess,” and there’s that vaguely – I don’t know if religious is the right word – but a kind of reverent vibe to your music. Is religion something that fascinates you? Actually I didn’t grow up a religious person. My parents didn’t make me go to church. I went through Catholic high school but that was basically because it was a good school, and my parents wanted me to go there (laughs). But the spiritual side itself I think is just something that’s kind of worked its way into the music because – I don’t know; I find myself, when I’m in those spaces – one of the most inspirational realms that I can be as an artist and as a creative person. Without fail, anytime I’m in a new city that’s one of my favourite things to do, is to go find an old church or cathedral and kind of wander, and kind of sit in the space, and absorb what’s going on around us. I’ve felt that way since a very young age, even when I was back in a boys choir, when I was 9, 10, 11 years old, travelling the world and singing in these churches. It was always a very magical feeling. I think it is for anyone, anyone that goes in that space, you can’t help but feel captivated and kind of alive in a lot of ways. I don’t know; that’s the kind of music, that’s the mood that I want to expand upon in my music, without it being a novelty or cliché. I want to have that sense of awe and power and something that makes you feel small in a lot of ways.
You mentioned in your track by track that “Shield And Sword” made you emotional whenever you played it live, and you didn’t quite know why. Has your relationships to these songs evolved as well? Can you now pinpoint why you get emotional when you play that song? I still can’t. I think a lot of it has to do with the vocals on the song which are some of my favourite moments as far as the periods where it drops out and when I can really lay into the microphone. It changes. Just the other night, we performed live on the radio and we played “Johnny Belinda” and I found myself all of a sudden getting choked up and I was like “Oh no I can’t get choked up now, I need to think,”. I think all these songs kind of have that power over me and I think that’s why I wrote them, I guess, because as I made them I saw a very strong connection to the melodies and sounds and lyrics and everything.
Just quickly, what’s the rest of the year hold for you? Once we finish this tour with M83 about two weeks left, we go to Japan for a show which is going to be really cool. Then of course we come to Australia for a couple of week which we’re all incredibly excited about.
There’ll be many beautiful churches for you to sit in. (Laughs) I’m looking forward to it. More than anything, I think the rest of the year and 2012 is going to be a lot of touring and travelling to new places, and meeting new people, and hopefully converting some new fans. I get about a month off in December so I’m going to try to hopefully write a bunch of new music, and get a new release out there as soon as possible because that’s my favourite thing in the world right now, is to just be home, in my space, and writing new music. So I can’t wait to get back there.
Thanks Pat, we can’t wait to see you in Australia. I look forward to it!
Active Child tours nationally as part of the St. Jeromes Laneway Festival.
Saturday 28 January – Laneway Festival – Brisbane.
Saturday 4 February – Laneway Festival – Melbourne.
Sunday 5 February – Laneway Festival – Sydney.
Wednesday 8 February – East Brunswick Club – Melbourne.
Friday 10 February – Laneway Festival – Adelaide.
Saturday 11 February – Laneway Festival – Perth.
Presented by Pedestrian.
With special guest Caitlin Park.
Sunday 29 January – Oxford Art Factory – Sydney (Tickets from Moshtix)
Wednesday 8 February – East Brunswick Club – Melbourne (Tickets from the East Brunswick Club)
Title Image Provided by Active Child