Features Interviews Interview: The Best Part Of Breaking Up Is Listening To Gramercy Riffs

Interview: The Best Part Of Breaking Up Is Listening To Gramercy Riffs

Gramercy Riffs at El Mocambo
Gramercy Riffs
Jetset Motel, All Day Driver
El Mocambo in Toronto, ON
August 27, 2010

Interview by: Natalia Buia
Photos by: Pete Nema

Usually, childhood friends rebel and form a band in their parent’s garage as they grow up in a small town. That’s how the story goes, right? Well, for Gramercy Riffs, their story is a bit different.

Mara Pellerin (vocals, keys), Lee Hanlon (vocals, guitar), Daniel Banoub (bass), Adrian Collins (guitar), Jamie March (drums) all call St. John’s Newfoundland home, but as they’ve matured into young adults, they’ve found themselves spread out all over the map. Kind of hard to start a band when some of the members are in a different country, isn’t it? Perhaps due to their undying love affair with music, the five band members managed to overcome the obstacles, and at times the Pacific Ocean, to make fresh and exciting music together. They prove no matter where you rest your head, you can always play from the heart. For a band whose lyrics are heartbreaking and somber, there’s something very romantic I find about their sound.

On this Friday night, Gramercy Riffs and two other bands from out east, All Day Driver and Jetset Motel, were a part of an event at the El Mocambo, called appropriately called The Bonavista Social Club. Bonavista being a community in NL. All Day Driver played a stripped down, somewhat acoustic session. Rajiv Thavanathan (bass, vocals) and Brett Caswell (piano, vocals) were M.I.A. Mara filled in with the keys and french horn which she played so beautifully. I’m secretly hoping she fills in more often. Jetset Motel graced everyone with their alternative country flare, and for a second there, I thought I was hanging out at the Dakota Tavern.

Gramercy Riffs

Gramercy Riffs were the gems of the evening. As a diehard fan of their album, It’s Heartbreak, I couldn’t wait to hear them play my new found favourite songs, “Little One” and “Seventeen”. Do you ever feel like you’ve discovered a great band at exactly the perfect time? Perhaps if I had discovered the band earlier on in the year they wouldn’t hold such significance in my life right now. Either way, I’m glad to have their album, glad to have heard Lee and Mara’s voices live, and glad to have chatted with three of them that very night.

Sticky: How does living in different provinces affect you as a band?

Jamie: Things range from being dormant to completely hectic. But it works out. A regular rehearsal schedule would be ideal but at the same time, it makes things kind of interesting.

Daniel: People have always been living away. Lee (singer) was in Germany for a while and him and Mara wrote a lot of songs, trading them back and forth. We finally got the band together over the summer of 2008. For the first while we were together, we’d only played in summer or Christmas time.

Sticky: I think it’s like a long distance relationship, so when you do get together, it’s special and worth the wait.

Jamie: Back home, what 99% of bands do is overplay and we’re forced to not overplay.

Mara: That’s more so for St. John’s situation. We’re working towards playing as much as we can on the mainland. So far we’ve been playing between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. We’re taking every opportunity that comes up and getting more active.

Sticky: What’s it like being back in your hometown?

Mara: Amazing. I feel like everyone needs to know about St. John’s.

Sticky: How does the scene in the east coast compare to the one here in Toronto?

Mara: They’re both different. It’s always super fun. Everyone’s really appreciative and willing to go crazy.

Daniel: The last show there, when we played our CD release in May, it was a pretty big bar, sold out, hundreds of people there.

Jamie: Got a little out of hand.

Sticky: Your album, It’s Heartbreak, has a lot of elements, a lot of different sounds. I can’t pinpoint one genre specifically. Why the idea to be so diverse in your sound?

Jamie: It’s a very natural thing. Lee’s songs are heavily influenced by old 50’s bands and doo-wop bands. Reimagining that kind of sound is kind of inventive in a way because most people take away from 70’s, 80’s rock, they don’t go all the way back. We just modernize it because we all listen to current music as well.

Daniel: I think we all come from different musical backgrounds. Jamie, in his younger days, was a hardcore punk drummer.

Mara: Daniel’s a bluegrass player.

Daniel: Mara doesn’t even listen to music!

Sticky: You describe your music as “heartbreak pop” – which is a perfect description. Tell me what your favourite heartbreak songs are.

Daniel: There’s a lot of incredibly beautiful Newfoundland folk songs which I really appreciate. For example, “The Star of Logy Bay”. I think it’s because people in Newfoundland have been leaving home so there’s all these really depressing, sad, heartbreaking songs about that. There’s a whole catalogue of Newfoundland songs which is also one of my biggest influences and I try to sneak it in.

Jamie: We love our little island. It’s always a part of us. We’re all here [in Toronto] now, but we love where we came from. Some people move and they don’t care where they came from.

Sticky: I notice you guys post online your weekly placement in the charts. Does it really matter to you guys how well you do on college radio, or is it just posted for sheer fun?

Mara: It’s amazing because this is our first record, and the funny thing about it is you never know where your music is going. We’re selling things on iTunes now. We’re selling albums in New York and the UK.

Daniel: There’s this guy who posted on our Facebook page from New Zealand. I think it’s a testament to the music industry today.

Mara: And how sharing is so easy. It makes us excited and makes us want to play the rest of the country.

Sticky: Any desire to play overseas? I’m sure that guy in New Zealand would be stoked.

Mara: First, we need to get west of Toronto. We’re planning a Canadian tour for the spring.

Jamie: Ideally, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, and work on expanding a bit more slowly.

Mara: I think we’re well loved in Newfoundland and really appreciative of it. We just want to see as much of Canada as we possibly can. We have friends in Regina that we really want to go play with.

Sticky: Who?

Mara: Rah Rah. We’re in love. We’re married actually.

Sticky: Now that the album’s out and summer’s almost over, what’s next on the horizon?

Mara: We’re playing POP Montreal and Halifax Pop Explosion in October. We’re ready to pursue touring and getting distribution. We’re excited to play those festivals. We played NxNE in June which was our first big Canadian festival we did.

Sticky: What about festivals that really attracts you?

Daniel: When we played Bread & Circus, Riaz [their publicist] saw that there was someone from Spinner there, so he made sure that person stayed and we ended up getting a good review. At festivals there are so many people in the industry around. It’s an incredible opportunity.

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Jetset Motel

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All Day Driver

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