Paul Mayer: vocals/keyboards
Paul Hicken: guitar/vocals
Dustin Wood: bass
Jeff Moore: drums
Key to the understanding of the essence of Grand:PM is a case of mutual musical rescue. His three comrades lured Paul Mayer away from a solitary existence that focused on classical music study and his piano prodigy status and introduced him to the pleasures of rock ‘n roll and being in a band. “I was stowed away in my parents house, practicing by myself for hours on end. I never played with anybody else until my early 20s when I realized classical music was dead,” Mayer laughingly recalls. Say goodbye to Chopin and hello to The Clash, Paul.
In turn, Mayer’s serious skills as a singer, songwriter and keyboardist opened up new musical terrain for Jeff Moore, Dustin Wood, and Paul Hicken. “We were so burned out from being in bad punk bands that when we found someone who could actually sing and write songs with great lyrics, we were thrilled,” explains Jeff.
The happy outcome of this meeting is an exciting young band with a genuinely fresh and original sound. That is strikingly showcased on the Uxbridge, Ontario, group’s full-length debut album, Party In Your Basement. Out via Curve Music/Universal, it is destined to turn heads and thrill ears via its compelling combination of snappy, hook-heavy pop tunes, smart lyrics, and superior yet never showy instrumentation.
After a short stint as Danforth, Grand:PM coalesced three years ago, when Paul Hicken rejoined the fold. He’d previously played in punk bands with Dustin and Jeff, and was lured back by the strength of Paul Mayer’s songwriting. “Just seeing the type of pop songs Paul was writing, coming from his classical background, was very interesting to me. I quickly saw they were fun songs to play.”
The Grand:PM sound has evolved rapidly yet organically. Mayer defines it as “modern pop-rock with synthesizers. Our aim was not to jump on any kind of indie scene bandwagon but just to make something that had solid songwriting, with strong hooks and melodies. We’re not trying to buck trends either, but just want to accurately reflect how we feel about music.”
Mission accomplished with Party In Your Basement. Those craving reference points may detect traces of the likes of The Cars, Talking Heads (if they had a sense of humour), New Pornographers and Franz Ferdinand, but chances are you’ll be too addicted to these compulsive tunes to play sonic detective.
To create Party In Your Basement, Grand: pm actually set up shop underground, in new Toronto studio Subterranean Sound. There, they teamed up with noted producer Ziad “Zee” Al-Hillal (The Weakerthans, Simple Plan, Our Lady Peace) and worked painstakingly on crafting the pop gem now in your hands.
Band members may compare the sessions to a difficult childbirth, but the creative labours involved have paid off. Paul Hicken praises the ‘big picture’ approach of Zee, noting that “as the layers get put on, you realize the whole masterpiece Zee has had in his head for the whole time. You can’t see it til its done, but it all fits together like a puzzle.”
Dustin Wood explains that “Zee wanted to make it more of a rock and guitar record, with keyboard hooks, and that changed the landscape a little,” while Paul Mayer astutely observes that “it has more longevity that there are synthesizers there, rather than having everything revolve around the synths. It’s more a Tom Petty than a Depeche Mode way of using synths.”
The interplay between Mayer’s warm-sounding analog keyboards, Hicken’s rhythm-oriented guitar style, and the tight yet fluid rhythm section is just one of Grand:PM’s manifold musical weapons. This is one highly-schooled outfit, but they never flaunt their technical prowess. Mayer has a music degree from the University of Toronto, while both Wood and Moore studied jazz at Humber College.
Rather than dumbing down their chops, they concentrate on smartening up the pop genre they’re all passionate about. As Mayer stresses, “it is important to recognize pop is a format deserving of just as much respect as jazz or classical. You have to realize the style and genre you are writing within and address it properly.”
They do precisely that on Party In Your Basement, an 11-song collection devoid of filler. The contagiously frisky “God Save The Scene” takes a perceptive look at the dangers of faddishness (“just when you get it right, you know you’ve got it wrong”), while the equally catchy opening cut, “Red/Black,” sports the immortal line “I’m a loser but I ain’t no quitter.”
The gentler yet equally dynamic “One More” showcases a softer side of Grand:PM, while the closing title track brings the album to a triumphantly raucous call-the-cops conclusion. “’Basement’ is very different from the rest of the album, but it’s something we’re very proud of,” stresses Mayer. “It’s like hard-edged club music with guitars and real drums.”
Their choice of band name works on multiple levels. Grand:PM may sound like a new title a Third World despot would confer upon himself, but it’s best to go with Jeff Moore’s interpretation. “We see it as being about having a good night out, a grand pm.”
That’s exactly what you’ll get with Party In Your Basement!