It was an unusually warm Saturday night downtown on Queen Street just North of the Liberty Village region of Toronto, but it was the scene where Canadian group, Grand Analog would be performing also with growing R&B sensation, JMSN, in attendance. When I got to the popular venue for artists to perform, Wrongbar, there was a different crowd that I anticipated. It was around 7pm (the fact that it’s moving closer to Winter, it looked like Midnight) and there was another event going on before the performances happened. As I was outside waiting around, I saw Odario & TJ walk past me, and then we exchanged pleasantries. As we were deciding where to hold the interview (ideally somewhere close to the venue), a cafe a couple of units down was perfect, but they were closing up. Given that we were in an area with a lot of bars and cafes to our favour, the last place you’d expect was a Pizza & Gelato shop across the street – besides, we were a little hungry, so why not? With mainstream radio playing in the background, it set up the discussion with the little-known but quite successful Hip Hop band, who just happened to have released their third studio album.
STiXX – So, I listened to your most recent album, Modern Thunder, and just what was the whole development process with that, because what I heard was an old school hip hop mentality mixed in with some punk rock. So what was that all like?
Odario – Well, that’s just natural business going on there, just because, growing up we were all exposed to so many different things, and I didn’t see no ways about it and each member of the group is pretty much the same way. We weren’t apart of any cliques or social groupings, we were literally just a bunch of people that loved everything, man. Our bass player loved Rage Against The Machine; he loved Reggae, Jazz; David Axelrod. I had some friends who wouldn’t open their minds to a lot of things, that’s just how they were. It was just the Jamaican friends, or it was just the Filipino friends. I give props to my mom, man, I didn’t grow up like that – we give props to our mothers.
STiXX – When you live in a household where you’re exposed to so much different music, like myself, my mom listened to Madonna, U2, Coldplay, etc. And when I went over to my Dad’s side, that’s where I got the majority reggae and the majority Hip Hop. It was all about collaborating with that, so how did the group itself form?
O – It’s a bit of a family affair – the DJ of the band is my brother, so right there, blood is thicker than mud. The owner of the studio that we recorded, his brother is the keyboardist, and I used to work in a record store with the bass player years ago. TJ (the drummer) and Warren (the bass player) are old high school buds.
TJ – Very organic.
O – Just like that. No brainer. I didn’t have to go to Craigslist once
STiXX – “I need new band members!”
TJ – Must be: ‘not a creep’
O – No creeps wanted for a Hip Hop band.
STiXX – So, what exactly is your mantra band? Do you guys have a code or moral that goes on about the type of sound that you project?
TJ – Good question. I think, just what feels good. We filter through all of these influences; whatever feels most natural to us, we’re not gonna try and do something like when we try to express it live, it doesn’t feel like our voice and our sound, although it’s like an eclectic collection of sounds. Once it filters through the five of us, that’s when it becomes Grand Analog and the way that happens is to let it all happen naturally – the same way that the band came together.
STiXX – (To Odario) You’re originally from Winnipeg, right?
O – I was born in Guyana, then my parents moved to Winnipeg. That’s where the foundation happened. I wouldn’t change it for the world to throw this Caribbean boy into one of the coldest places in Canada
STiXX – Seriously, that’s not necessarily an ideal for living choice. How was it living there?
O – [Laughs] It’s a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because it definitely makes you a unique individual. You can’t help that; that’s gonna be a given. The curse is that it’s in the middle of nowhere practically; there’s not a lot of opportunity, but there’s a lot of talent, that’s for sure. I had to get up and go, because I’m an actor as well and that was even worse.
STiXX – so how would you compare living there to moving a province over and living in Toronto where everything is bigger, faster and things are brighter?
O – Well, I took everything I learned from Winnipeg and I moved to Toronto with it. That’s where I feel blessed. If I came to Toronto to learn, I think my learning would have been skewed. I would still be trying to find myself. I’m very fortunate that I found myself in Winnipeg and brought to Toronto to express it. Alistair is American, not a lot of people know that, and the rest of these guys are dirty Scarborough boys
STiXX – Aye, I’m from Scarborough myself, so I can’t even be mad at all that.
TJ – Side note, when I came here from the Philippines, I moved to the Middle East, so I have my little coming up story. My parents got jobs in Oman, and I lived there for 4 years. I came here when I was 12, and those were very formative years. So, yes I’m proud to say I’m from Scarborough.
STiXX – You should be, because it’s a very proud place with proud residents. How do you feel like your backgrounds came together when it came to making music?
O – well that’s the thing that brought us together; the fact that we – I hate the word ‘eclectic’, I need to find another word –
TJ – Potpourri
O – Potpourri?! How do you come up with that? I’ve gotta interview him for a minute now. How’d you come up with that word?
TJ – Like a mix of flowers, right? We bring our potpourri of music into the bowl that is Grand Analog
O – He’s gonna title this ‘The Potpourri Story’ [Laughs]. But it’s our open-mindedness that brought us together. I just wouldn’t work with anyone else if you can’t see beyond a small box, I just can’t work with you. TJ was saying earlier, the word ‘natural’. It has to come naturally & organically. I didn’t even think about it; I met Warren; I met Alistair and I said let’s just make some music. I said we need another guy, Warren said ‘I know exactly who it’s gonna be; it’s TJ. It wasn’t like we sat down and mapped anything out, next thing you know we’ve got a third album we’re pushin’ – it’s crazy.
STiXX – On Modern Thunder, you worked with Shad & Saukrates. What was it like connecting with them, and how did that all come about?
O – Well, I’ve known them both for years so the way we put the music together this time around, I reached out to the guys and said ‘if you had a piece of music you thought my work with this: with my flow and with the next project, definitely let’s sit down and work with it.’ So, we started with some bare bone tracks, we brought it into the studio, we worked them, and as we worked them, I let the sound define what the song’s gonna be about. That’s how I worked it. So instead of going “yo guys I wanna do a song about a kazoo playing a kazoo, let’s try and find a beat for it” it was “let’s see what kind of beats we have and then let me see how those beats talk to me about what the song will be about. So, when I heard The Great Rhyme Dropper beat that Warren did, I said ‘this is like a Superhero – some guy just lands in the city and destroys all things with his rhymes’
STiXX – Which pretty much related to the video – very creative by the way.
O – Yeah! So that was how I saw this beat, and now all I need to do is figure out which guy I’m gonna team up to do this beat with; so it was a no-brainer. I called up Shad, he heard the beat (he basically agreed the minute he heard it), and that was it. The same thing with Rap Sheet with Saukrates, it was a dark kind of groove. I didn’t really know what it was about yet, but I sent it to Saukrates, and dude smoked a blunt and sent back that hook – like, shit…this is what the song’s about. He’s a mastermind, that guy.
STiXX – He’s been around for years and it’s crazy that even with all that he’s done, he’s still flown under-the-radar.
O – As the guy – Toronto’s guy. I’m very honoured to have worked with both of those cats.
STiXX – And, on Rap Sheet, you had a line that said you’re a rapper who’s critically acclaimed but nobody knew your name. Because you’ve had national success, with that line, where did that stem from? Is it the fact that you’re in a Canadian market and so many people are focused on other markets like the Americans?
O – Well…a little bit of that was in mind. The whole song, in general, is about what rappers are about and how rappers are perceived – that’s a whole different story that you and I need to talk about, because it’s a deep situation, and Rap Sheet kind of covers that a little bit; you can’t cover the whole thing. A friend of mine (and it’s a very close friend of mine) – I was telling her I was gonna go home and do some song writing. She goes “song writing? What do you mean song writing?’ I said ‘man, I’m gonna work on a song!’ She goes ‘rappers aren’t songwriters’.’ I went home and wrote Rap Sheet; She doesn’t know that. ‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN RAPPERS AREN’T SONGWRITERS?!’ You know what I mean? And I continued to argue with her about that because she listens to the radio, and she goes ‘come on, you know none of us take rappers seriously, we just dance to them’ and I’m like ‘you’re my best friend, but I can’t talk to you right now.
STiXX – You must have felt really offended
O – Well, I was, but she wasn’t trying to offend me, she was just being honest and I needed to hear that because it made me realize just how a lot of people think out there. When they listen to Big Sean, when they listen to Nicki Minaj – it’s just entertainment right now ‘Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass! Ass!’ (They) just move on and then go home and listen to Arcade Fire and think to yourself that you’re finally listening to some real music. That drove me crazy and I wrote Rap Sheet because of that. I was like why can’t a rapper go home and write some real music, you know? They’re putting rappers just as rappers ‘when I feel like rappers, I’ll get to the rappers, but when I want listen to music, I’ll put on’ – I don’t just want to call out Arcade Fire, but I’m using that example because that’s exactly what she does. She goes to the bar, grind and grinds, goes home and that’s when she puts on her Arcade Fire so she can –
STiXX – Zen
O – [Laughs] It just annoyed me like, why can’t a rapper be someone you go home and put on at the end of the night? Who knows, maybe we’re going to do a Slow Jams album next
STiXX – You never know; bands are so diverse and there’s a lot of variety that comes with having a band, you’re able to do all that. So with that being said, with the future for Grand Analog, where do you see yourself going and what do you guys wanna do?
O – We don’t know, because we approach it fresh every time. We don’t want to over think it.
TJ – It’s nice to look ahead to things, I find, but not too far so that you’re not letting all of these anticipations judge or cloud what you’re going in with the feel. You just wanna jump in and be like ‘oh, that’s what that feels like’.
Modern Thunder is available on Bandcamp and you can check them out on Twitter (@GrandAnalog)