Dublin-based multi-instrumentalist and producer Ronan Carroll, aka Grouse, releases his new album Interpolate today on Babyfly Records, his first LP since 2016’s Oslo. The record, recorded amongst last year’s covid lockdowns, seemlessly mixes atmospheric instrumental pieces with collobarations with vocalists including cult Irish singer Deaf Joe, Australian vocalist Leslie P and singer/songwriter Jessie Roche, taking influences as wide ranging as Sun Ra, The Cinematic Orchestra and Massive Attack.
We caught up with Ronan for a track by track guide to the new album.
There have been previous tracks with vocals but you would probably say Grouse is mostly instrumental. As I worked on the music for this album, the tracks naturally had more space and I decided early on that I would approach some people I’d never met and ask them to collaborate and sing on the tracks. Being a fan of his, I had sent 3 demos to Irish artist, Deaf Joe and ‘Days’ was the first one he sent back. I had expected one main melody line, possibly a couple of harmonies but he really puts a huge amount of thought and work into his vocals with lots of little bits and parts, harmonies and multiple tracks. He took the track to a new level. Joe had taken the demos with him traveling around Asia and according to him, ‘Days’ was “apt music for the ‘uncanny valley’ vibe I felt in Singapore!”
If I’m watching TV, I’ll usually have an unplugged electric guitar in my lap just noodling away. I’ll grab my phone to record if I stumble on something that sounds like it could form a song or melody and that’s what happened with the opening of this song. The intro piano sound actually came first on the guitar and the simple minor arpeggio fell in behind it. From there, I added the tribal beat, percussion, bassline and sampled vocals and it turned it into an more electronic sounding groove. The rising synth melody was the last thing to go on and, from there, the track made sense as an instrumental.
The most accessible song on the album. The keyboard melody had been around from early on and, as I was thinking of who I might ask to sing on it, I came across Jessie Roche’s tracks ‘Under the Radar’ and ‘Sunshine’. Grouse live band bassist, Fjon, came up with a lovely melodic bassline, which matched the drums I recorded at home, and Jessie came back with a beautiful laid back melody that fit perfectly.
Even though playlists and single tracks are the way these days, anyone who releases an album will tell you a lot of thought goes into the running order. The is the track that probably caused the most difficulty in deciding the running order! The interesting and challenging thing here was combining a very jazz-influenced drum beat with the most non-jazz bass line you’ll ever hear. Sax player-extraordinaire, Antonello D’Orazio, put the icing on the cake with his brilliant solo.
This track had ‘Interpolate’ as a working title, which I switched to be the album title late on.
This is probably the song that harks back most to the last Grouse album, Oslo. For that album, I had been listening to a lot of instrumental hip-hop and sample & beats stuff and Oslo was more like a prog. version of that type of music! Joe did some vocals for this which I ended up cutting up quite a bit and sampling on this and another track. This track was featured in a short film called ‘Stir’ which played around the Irish film festivals in 2020.
Another early track from the Interpolate sessions. You could say, whenever I sit down to work on a Grouse track, I have Massive Attack’s later albums somewhere in my mind. I particularly love how they use guitars. I was going to sing on this myself but, with lockdown in full effect, it made more sense to get a musician with a home studio to do the vocals for it. Much wiser move. Since it was impossible to have somebody in the same room belting out the vocals, I didn’t deliberately go to the other extreme but with Leslie P sending her vocals from Australia, it’s about as far away as you can get.
So Much To Tell
This one was originally written and demo-ed many years ago on an acoustic guitar. I updated the music and Jan Blanc, who sings with the live band, sings on it. Much better than my warbling all those years ago. I’d written the lyrics about the nature of tragedy and whether fate plays a hand or not. The recording was victim of the lockdown. Every time we made a date to record the vocals, the government would impose a new 5km restriction and we’d have to hold off. Eventually, with restrictions lifted, Jan was able to come over to my studio and it was the last thing to be recorded for the album.
Oddly, considering how it sounds now, this originated as a ‘tapping’ bassline on a jazz guitar. It was also one the three tracks I sent to Deaf Joe. Of the three I sent, I really hoped Joe would do something with this but he was feeling very uninspired by all things musical as Conoravirus took hold. I kept tweaking and re-tweaking, even sampling some of the vocals he had done for ‘Intermission’ which, bizarrely, fit really well. Finally, Joe was up for trying something. One morning, he very quickly sent me 41 tracks of vocals! Unbelievable. It’s an unusual track in 3 parts, going from a 5/4 time signature to a straight 4/4 and his euphoric soaring vocals at the end are glorious to hear without the music. Someday I must release an a cappella version.
This track actually started life as remix. I was asked to remix a now-defunct Irish band’s track and it never got released. I hadn’t used any of the original music but I’d messed with Tracy Friel‘s vocals a lot and sampled them. I always had it in my mind to release it at some point and, as I worked on the album, I thought it would be the perfect closer.
Find out more on Grouse’s official website.
Introduction by Paul Maps
Photograph by Brian McNamara