At the heart of this creation is Seattle musician Meagan Grandall, who has been receiving heavy acclaim for the past few years in Seattle and recently the rest of the country has been taking note. In 2015 Lemolo released its second full length, Red Right Return, and went on a house show tour across the US to promote it. I had the chance to meet Grandall last spring in Saint Paul, Minnesota, when she toured as an opener with The Soil and The Sun and From Indian Lakes. After regrettably missing her house show in Minneapolis this fall, I wanted to continue our previous conversation, and have a chance to discuss the latest release and the process of achieving it.
It’s a minimalist endeavor: a construction of vocals, guitar, synths, piano, and drums. Percussion and beat hold a heavy presence, the album as a whole focused on complicated rhythms while keeping the melodies straightforward. Red Right Return is beautifully abstract, like its cover art, with strong ethereal elements that remain round and full; harmonies pulling at one’s emotions, aiming straight for the heart. Grandall’s vocals are clear and direct, and as well trained live as they are recorded. Enhanced solely by resonance and echo, each instrument speaks for itself, coming together more like a choir than a band.
While this sophomore endeavor does not stray far from its predecessor, it takes everything up a notch, asking more of the compositions and of the listener. The pace, however, has increased only modestly, the fastest track being the aptly named “Runner.” Yet tempo does not impede meaning, and where Red Right Return may lack allergro’s, it succeeds in its forte’s. Lemolo rocks out loudly in “Fuel,” “Low Halo,” and “Watch the Moon,” loud beats and guitar driving these intense moments. Single “Low Halo” is a slow burn, with a loud emotional center. And in “Casting Call,” a late gorgeous piano line fills in for what, in a typical indie tune, would be a noisy and boisterous climax. In Red Right Return, Lemolo proves that compositional and emotional depth can be just as, or more powerful than a distortion pedal.
Lyrics play a key role in this album - purposefully chosen, yet some very personal and some more vague and concept based. The influence of songwriter Emily Haines (known more for her lead role in Metric) announces itself evidently to me, after learning of this from Grandall. Where Haines' music can emphasize the depressive, however, Grandall leans toward inspiring confidence and optimism. Opening with “One to Love,” she delivers a pep talk to oneself: “you are the one you need to love.” Later in “Fuel,” Grandall ponders, “seeing where I wanna be, I don’t know what’s stopping me.” She plays with words and syntax in “Movers and Shakers,” calling out “keep your promise, promise-breaker / say you’re sorry, sorry-faker / be a mover, not such a shaker.” But Grandall says it best in "Aglow," proclaiming: "little soldier you're a warrior, you just don't believe it yet."
In The Kaleidoscope, it felt like the story was about surviving one’s current situation, to achieve a sense of stability and work on somehow maintaining that. It seems this time around, Red Right Return wants more out of life; dissatisfied with the status quo, the storyteller looks to achieving future goals and gains. In the same way, Grandall’s music and musical career appears to only be moving one direction: forward.
So take a listen for yourself to Lemolo's latest album, and see what we got to talking about below.
MG: Thank you for your kind words! I feel like Red Right Return is definitely a jump as well, because I feel like I grew a lot between the release of The Kaleidoscope and this new record. I really tried to honor that growth and challenge myself when making this new record. It felt risky and I was definitely scared of the "sophomore slump" when I was making it. I struggle with self doubt sometimes so I always worry that people won't like what I make. Releasing music to the world can create a very vulnerable feeling! But now that it's finished I feel very proud of it and that it is my best work yet.
KS: If I remember correctly, you were initially creating music as Lemolo from about 2009 with another band member, and the line-up has since varied. This year I saw you live with a talented drummer who you were touring with during the spring or summer. Can you expand a bit on what we talked about at that show - on how being the sole consistent member / main creative mind in a band, with changing collaborators in studio on tour, affects the creative process and your end goals? In comparison with the typical rock band of many long-term members, I think you made the point that your music is not about sufficing with fewer people in the process, but honing the aspects of minimalism in personnel and in sound to make a kind of music that is truly yours.
MG: I feel really grateful for the people who have played with me over the last few years. I think each person has brought a unique element to the table. It is definitely my end goal to have a consistent band mate who can tour with me and record on my records. It is just tricky to find talented people who are available to be away from home for months at a time on tour. It's definitely not a glamorous lifestyle as some might think! Luckily for me I've started working with a drummer this past year, Adrian Centoni, who loves touring as much as I do. So hopefully we have a nice long road of making music together, both in the studio and on stage.
KS: On kind of the opposite note, is there anyone you've worked with this time around for Red Right Return who has been a big influence on its creation or production? It looks like you're still unsigned, and I know that freedom in recording and producing can lead to either strong, purposeful choice or some unexpected turns.
MG: I worked with Seattle producer and engineer, Shawn Simmons, on this record as well as on The Kaleidoscope. He is very talented in the studio and has a breadth of technical knowledge that I do not. So he has brought a lot to the table with both records. It was great for me to work closely with someone I already knew and was comfortable with. Sometimes in the studio I feel intimidated or shy, so being comfortable with my engineer was really important to me! And then I worked with a new mixing engineer, Jeff Stuart Saltzman. He produced records by Menomena, one of my favorite bands and biggest influences when recording Red Right Return. So to have his creative input on the mixes was a treat for me. And I was also lucky enough to have my friend, Emily Westman, record drums on the record. She plays drums for the Seattle Rock Orchestra and her band, Sisters. She is a true talent and has some of the most impressive drum technique I have ever seen. So she contributed her brilliance to the record in a huge way that I am so grateful for.
MG: I grew up taking piano lessons since I was three years old. And my biggest influence on the piano was Yanni! He was my first concert and I remember thinking of him as a god when I was a kid. Plus, he has great hair. Once I started writing songs of my own, some of my biggest influences were Elliott Smith and Emily Haines. I've always been blown away by their songwriting. Other bands that have truly inspired me include Radiohead, Cat Power, Feist, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, Wye Oak, Warpaint...the list goes on!
KS: Having been a part of a pretty major one now yourself, what are your thoughts on house show tours? What has gone well, what have you liked about the experience? I imagine the intimate experience fits with Lemolo's music very well.
MG: The house show tour was such a blast. It was like playing at my favorite house party every night. You are spot on when using the word intimate, which was why each show was so cool. We really got to know the people we were playing for each night...hanging out in the kitchen and eating breakfast together the next morning. We made a lot of new friends and were able to truly connect with people through the music. So I would definitely do a house show tour again.
KS: This fall you've been pretty busy with the release of Red Right Return, and touring to support it. Any hints as to exciting developments for the upcoming year?
MG: In 2016 I plan on playing more shows and continuing to support the new album. I'll be releasing vinyl this year as well which is an exciting step for me. And in between all of that, I'm already writing songs for the third album which is my favorite part of it all.