By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Although Mat Brooke isn't anxious to talk about his departure from the highly acclaimed Band of Horses, he is still amazed at how quickly his former band gathered critical acclaim and how his new one, Grand Archives, has also managed to appear on the indie radar so rapidly.
"Maybe someone sold his soul to the devil," says Brooke from his tour van as it travels through Indiana to a gig in Cleveland. "As far as the good press and fan reaction, I'm just as surprised as anyone."
Perhaps Brooke shouldn't be. Hailing from Seattle, Grand Archives' recently released debut is a marvelous melding of alt-country and indie pop, equal parts Eagles, Bee Gees and Neutral Milk Hotel. Songs such as "True Blue Foam Couch" and "George Kaminski" retain a thematic element similar to Band of Horses, but with a wider sonic scope—a la Wilco.
"We're always diving in over our heads," admits Brooke. "We definitely reference records such as Pet Sounds in that we layer on the harmonies."
Harmonious almost to a fault, on record, the songs can almost become overburdened with voices competing with one another. Thankfully, well-placed (and non-filler) instrumentals, such as "Breezy No Breezy," provide the album with some needed respite.
"When we first started, the vocal harmonies were hard to reproduce live," says Brooke, who started the band in 2007 as simply Archives before a lawsuit brought about the "Grand" addition. "I realized that doing four-part harmonies was a lot tougher than we thought it would be."
Nearly consistent touring has tightened up the band's sound, though, and Brooke feels the band is coming into its own—that is, so long as each venue has a good sound man.
"This tour we are headlining, so we can get a pretty good sound check," says Brooke. "The sound stinks in our rehearsal space in Seattle, however, so we are pretty much used to not hearing each other."
Brooke is quick to recognize the musical heritage of his hometown, but also makes some assumptions about the sounds that have come from the Pacific Northwest.
"We didn't want to keep doing the same old, dramatic, sad Seattle sound," says Brooke. "We wanted to do something optimistic."
However bright those harmonies might be, it's a reach to describe songs such as "The Crime Window" and "Miniature Birds" as exceedingly optimistic. "Cautiously positive" would be a better fit as Brooke's muse lies somewhere between Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and legendary oddball Brian Wilson—not exactly stable ground, but an area of great insight.
"The depressing climate sparks some kind of creativity," says Brooke. "It's a weird town because every single person is a musician."