Bassist John Grigsby's Debut Album Nods to Surrealists

John Grigsby releases his debut solo album on June 1.
John Grigsby releases his debut solo album on June 1. Courtesy of John Grigsby.

Long before John Grigsby played bass for Gregory Alan Isakov, Dragondeer, Otis Taylor and many other local acts, he was a guitarist who wrote songs and sang. But he wanted to make a living at it, and early on, he realized that bands were more in need of a bassist than a guitar player, so he ended up playing bass in mostly funk and jazz acts.

“While I still love playing in those genres, I've also been moving back toward rock and folk,” Grigsby says. “I love supporting and playing with a variety of musicians, and at this point in my life, I feel like I also want to develop my own voice. This album is a collection of music that I’ve enjoyed creating and listening to, while hoping that it would resonate with others.”

That album is Nothing Is New, his excellent debut solo recording that he’ll release on June 1. Grigsby says he’s written and recorded a lot of his own music over the years but never released any of it. He says the album’s title is taken from the song “Forget Toulouse-Lautrec,” which includes the lines, “Now we’ve all got robots for that/Hand-drawn cigarettes/Disintegrating cardboard silhouettes.”

“It’s kind of an homage to Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, but then it’s starting to get into other things like we’ve all got robots for all that,” he says. “There’s probably an app that could do a Toulouse-Lautrec painting or something. I mean, I feel there is so much good stuff happening and so many great artists and musicians in the world, but it’s just kind of looking satirically at one aspect of the progression of art and music.”

In the song, Grigsby also mentions Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s 1929 film Un Chien Andalou before going into a passage that’s somewhat Beatles-esque right before singing, “nothing is new.”

“It’s kind of meta in a way,” Grigsby says. “Like using these elements and saying nothing is new. But I like the phrase, too. 'Nothing is new’ can be interpreted in multiple ways, like the absence of everything is new or nothing is new these days. I kind of like that it can be looked at in a few different ways.”

He says the album’s title could also mean that everything has been done before or it could mean that getting rid of everything and having nothing can feel new. “Or at 4 a.m., when I’ve been writing and recording for hours, it could mean that space and time are infinite,” he says, “and that maybe everything has existed before or will exist again.”

Grigsby says when writing songs, he’ll come up with a melody or chord progression first, and then after absorbing how a tune makes him feel, he’ll try to find the words that fit the mood. Sometimes he’ll just use free association or musical phrases that he likes.

“It’s thinking more in terms of making a musical piece. Then there’s somewhat of a story that comes with it, too. The lyrics are based off stuff that has happened to me – but I'm just kind of making up a little story in addition for some of them,” he says. “Trying to be somewhat philosophical and thoughtful with them.”

Grigsby, who’s also a filmmaker and animator and who has made music videos for Isakov, Andy Palmer, Rossonian and other local acts, says writing music is different than the way he approaches making videos. He says he’ll listen to the song over and over and just try to create a story in his mind, visually imagine what it will look like and then take it from there.

Grigsby recorded a good part of Nothing Is New in his house while having friends, including Zack Littlefield and Greg Harris, replace drum and keyboard/vibraphone parts respectively. He sent a few tracks down to New Orleans-based keyboardist Beck Burger and also had his father Paul, who’s in the Kansas City-based JPT Scare Band, play bass on “Home,” which also includes vocal harmony from sister Katie, formerly of the Hollyfelds.

“I say, ‘Here’s the tune, play what you feel on it’,’ Grigsby says. “It was a nice way to do collaborative stuff with friends and family that aren’t necessarily that close geographically.”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon