The Giant Peach
SOME might expect ‘James’ to answer the questions…
but, instead, I get Harrison and Max – members of the incredible Vermont band, The Giant Peach. They talk about their formation and how the music has developed; what one can expect from their album, Pulling Teeth (out on 21st April) – and what they have planned in terms of gigs.
I ask whether they are coming to the U.K.; what the scene is like where they are; how they disconnect from the busy world of music; the sounds they are influenced by; whether U.S. politics has a bearing on what they produce – whether there is a special meaning/story behind their band-name.
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Harrison: Life is pretty busy right now - but things are good. We’ve been running around trying to get the word out about this record; we’re working on new music, we’ve got several shows in the next week and we’re trying to find some time for the studio this spring. It’s always hectic trying to run a band on top of our personal lives – but no complaints.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?
Sure. I’m Harrison and I write the tunes. I got into this all to try and make the kind of music I want to hear more of – familiar songs and stories that you’ve never heard. I realized, pretty quickly, that this is far too big an undertaking for just me - and that’s about when we formed The Giant Peach…
We’re just now ready to release our first adventure together, Pulling Teeth, this spring.
Max: My name is Max and I play guitar. I was along for the ride during the writing and recording of Pulling Teeth - but, also, for everything that went on around it. 'The Peach' is pretty young - but Harrison and I have been making music together for years now...
Harrison: Max really does it all, by the way: he plays bass and drums on a couple of the tracks on Pulling Teeth. The other members of The Giant Peach, proper, are Jacob Shashoua, the younger of the Brothers Shashoua, on Drums; Gloria Breck on Violin and often Keys and Mike Nunziante on the Slide Guitar – he’s currently abroad on the Easter Islands.
Your debut album, Pulling Teeth, is out on 21st April. What sort of themes influenced the songwriting?
Pulling Teeth came about as easily as the name might suggest. It’s a deeply personal story but not one that’s unique to me, I don’t think. I wrote these songs over the course of a tumultuous and ultimately terminal romance; tried to put into them the un-tempered excitement of first love and the inevitable loss of innocence that accompanied its end. We tracked the record ourselves, mostly in my dorm room at Middlebury College (with the exception of Coats, which we did with the wonderful people over at Meadowlark Studios).
We’re very excited about it!
Do you each have a favourite cut on the record?
Used has always stood out to me…
It’s the last song we added to Pulling Teeth. I’d had the melody for years - but, I guess, I didn’t have the words or the experiences to make it right until last year. I finished Used right before facing-down the end of my relationship at the time - and it very much captures where I was.
Max: I love the fifth track, titled (…). It’s a statement of a melodic idea that happens throughout Pulling Teeth in various forms - and it has a mystery and innocence that really draws me to it. When you’re listening to the record the whole way through, it almost serves as an introduction to this sort of B-side (where the record turns a little more inward).
Take me back to the start of The Giant Peach. How did you all find one another?
Harrison: We all met at Middlebury College in Vermont, where we did undergrad. Max and I met my junior year. I was doing a lot of songwriter-y stuff at the time, while he was primarily a Jazz/Blues guy. We hit it off immediately and he really pushed me to develop these songs more. Max and Jacob are brothers. Gloria’s background is as an orchestra musician and classical pianist – I tracked her down after seeing a recital of hers – and Mike and I had been friends for a while. He’s a real-deal Folk musician. He plays with this really amazing, wholesome band, Alpacka (check them out)!
We all came together in service of the songs on Pulling Teeth; trying to bring them to life - and it became clear that we all spoke a common language. We became very good friends: we’re lucky to love one another so much. Of course, there are many, many more wonderful people with a part in Pulling Teeth – even if the music itself is personal, collaboration has always guided the process...
Can I ask about the band’s name?! Is there a Roald Dahl link there?!
It took us a long time to settle on 'The Giant Peach' which, I suppose, does come from the Roald Dahl book, James and the Giant Peach. I’d just had the phrase in my head for years. For a while, we were playing under another literary name, Reader; lifted from Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (a favorite of ours) but it didn’t fit. We eventually settled on 'The Giant Peach’ just because it feels good – although, I suppose there’s some shared narrative in it: a lonely boy in a bad situation leaving his woes behind and facing down his fears; joining some ragtag bunch on a giant peach?
You’re based out of Vermont. What is the scene like where you are?
Vermont, as a state, is very collaborative and supportive – the music scene is no different. It’s a small but tight-knit crowd and there are tons of really talented musicians around. It is a little isolated, but, that said, it’s impossible not to love this state for how beautiful it and the people within it are.
Do politics and the things happening in the U.S. government compel any musical moments? What are your views regarding Trump and his administration?
I’ve always been too wrapped up in myself to be much of a political writer, unfortunately, but the current political climate in the U.S. has prompted us to re-examine our relationship with valuable programs under threat; this was a large part of our decision to donate half the pre-order proceeds of Pulling Teeth in support of Planned Parenthood (after which point the record will be available for free).
The actions and viewpoints of the Trump administration are a clear indication of how divided we have become as Americans on many levels – as people of varying colors and persuasions, as representatives and constituents, Democrats and Republicans – but I am hopeful that from this we can remember that, while the things we hold in common unite us: it is our differences that make us American.
Which musician did you all grow up on? Can you each remember the first album you ever bought?
I had a long Punk phase - and I think the first record I bought was Dookie by Green Day when I was, maybe, twelve? But, before that; I spent many long car rides with my parents listening to Billy Joel, The Beatles and James Taylor. Jasper Sloan Yip has been a tremendous influence on me as a songwriter since I was in high-school – he has a new record out, Post Meridiem, which is absolutely amazing.
Max: I grew up listening to Jazz. My dad loves Jazz. My first album ever was I Can’t Stop by Al Green. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the first musician who grabbed me long-term. I’ve gone through many phases since then: RnB, Rap and Metal. John Mayer has been really influential to me both as a guitarist and as a songwriter. I think Jacob’s first record was a Dixie Chicks (record) – both that and my Al Green record were gifts from my aunt and uncle.
Can we see you tour soon? What gigs do you have coming up?
Harrison: We have a hectic couple of weeks coming up but, looking forward, our books are pretty open. We’ll be playing a couple of schools and heading down the coast for a bit during the summer - and have some exciting additions in the works. In the meantime; we’re focusing our efforts on promoting Pulling Teeth and making plans to record the next one sometime this spring!
Do you think you’ll come to the U.K. soon? Have you ever played over here?
We haven’t had a chance to make it to the U.K., yet - but, we are really hopeful we will do so in the future.
What do you all hope to achieve in 2018?
We want to come to the U.K.!
This year should be a pretty exciting time for us all – Max and Gloria will be graduating from Middlebury; I’ll be entering my second year of grad school; Jacob’s starting his math major…
Things are going to be shaking up a bit. But we’re excited to keep making music together.
Have you each got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?
I have to say getting the masters for Pulling Teeth back was pretty exciting for me. Almost all these songs were born too late at night in my bedroom; just me and an acoustic guitar so, to finally hear them brought to life by all the wonderful folks that worked on this record, was overwhelming. These are really personal songs; so it’s always gratifying when someone can find some familiar feeling or some part of themselves in my music - and then breathe their own experience into it.
Max: Our first show together was a big one for me. I know Jacob feels the same: he always talks about this moment where we were all facing one another and rocking out. It was a kind of excitement I haven’t quite gotten back yet. We recently played the same venue again and it felt very different.
Still fun, but different.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Harrison: For songwriters; this is something I wish I’d learned earlier...
There is no flash of inspiration or divinity in the pursuit of art: those happy mistakes that turn into something special are a numbers game - and they happen a lot more the more music you make. But, you have to show up for work...
You’re going to write a lot of bad music - don’t be afraid to do so. You might make a mistake in one song that works in another down the line. You have to ruin a lot of songs before you can get it right. Also; sometimes it will be frustrating and difficult - and I don’t know that that ever goes away.
It’s worth it though, I think.
Max: Trust the process, trust yourself and trust your music. Trust that what you’re doing is good.
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Harrison: As a band; we spend a lot of our time cooking and eating together, drinking whiskey. It’s always important to spend time with the people you love. We’re all pretty voracious readers. I’m reading White Teeth right now at Gloria’s suggestion - and we like to keep active.
Jacob loves skiing.
Max: After a long day of music; there’s nothing like some more guitar to help unwind. There’s always more to explore…
Harrison: We once played for six hours at a private party (we were having so much fun). Afterwards, everyone was dancing and partying late into the morning; lights off, furniture pushed against the walls. People were yelling, Jacob was going wild on the dancefloor - and Max was sitting in the corner, playing Bach inventions on an acoustic guitar.
Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Harrison: How about Fake Hawaii by Public Library Commute?
Max: Longer Than a Day Without You by Munro the Band
Gloria: Mora by Alpacka
Jacob: New Friends by Pinegrove
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