Sitting in the chilly storage room of Legion Menswear on North Main, I watch a few men tinker with a garment steamer. As an onlooker, I ignorantly ask if it’s an iron and get a laughter-stained “steamer” in response from the band’s bass player Brendan James. Congregated, they can’t take their focus off it, likening its long cords to those of an IV and chuckling coolly. I laugh, fascinated by their interest in the funny-looking appliance. The mundane is something they’re not used to — at least, not lately.
Grizfolk, a five-piece band rooted in Los Angeles and Sweden, have been booking it on the road since 2012. After wrapping up two juggernaut tours with British label-mates Bastille in 2014, complete with two sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall, they’re now embarking on their own modest tour and wrapping up a full-length album. I sat down with singer Adam Roth, synth-master Sebastian Fritze, guitarist Fredrik Eriksson, bass guitarist Brendan James and drummer Bill Delia one frozen afternoon before a pop-up show at Legion (and a legitimate one at the Blind Pig later that evening) to talk about all things ABBA and, of course, their own journey.
“We’ve all kind of known each other for, you know, a little bit of time,” Roth said. “I was in a band with Brendan and Bill before this band, and me and Fredrik had like a songwriting team, and we were trying to write for other artists. Then we met Sebastian, and we started writing and ended up kind of turning it into a band. So we hollered at Bill and Brendan and started Grizfolk.”
I asked them when this formation took place. After a little silence, Delia looked to Roth.
“Was that, like, ’79?” Delia said.
More laughter ensued, and Fritze, a native Swede, leaned into me.
“It was like three years ago,” Fritze said.
Grizfolk is on the riper side, but the boys’ relationship with music and their individual instruments stretches back to childhood. Fritze and Roth were persuaded by family at a young age to start playing, as was Delia.
“I started on the piano, and then when I was about eight maybe or nine I really wanted to start playing the drums,” Delia said. “So I built a drum set out of like shoeboxes and tin cans and stuff. And I played on that all the time.”
James’s passion was realized by peer pressure.
“Two of my friends were starting a band, and I’d never played anything in my life,” James said. “They’d both played guitar, so they were like, ‘You have to play the bass guitar.’ So that’s how I learned how to play the bass. I was forced into it, as well. We started a band called Upper Hand. I drew the logo. It was four slashes and then a thumb across.”
I complimented his artistry as Roth lifted his hand into the air to simulate an “upper hand.”
“Yeah, we were gonna be huge,” James said.
Grizfolk released their first EP, From the Spark, in February 2014. Roth said the group’s muse was simply the newness of the experience, as much of the content on the EP was virginal, composed of the first songs they ever wrote as a band. Crafted in the indie comfort of bedrooms and the like, the compilation is etched with raw qualities.
“We weren’t pressured into being in a big studio. A big studio costs a lot of money,” Fritze said. “So the freedom of just like taking our time and figuring out what we wanted to do was a big part of how it turned out to be, the sound.”
Their songwriting process is just as unique — inspiration can strike anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
“When we write songs, we think about a landscape, usually. It could be anything like the barrens to deep, green forests, or whatever. And we figure out what that landscape would sound like and then write a story in that landscape. That’s like the first little spark that happens,” Fritze said.
On “Cosmic Angels,” an acoustic number, Roth summons a cathartic brand of songwriting.
“When I first had the idea for that song I had the woman at the time that I was trying to, like, pull into my life,” Roth said. “So I channel that like inner, beginning-of-love phase, you know, when you’re trying to court someone into your life, and you’re kind of willing to do whatever it takes.”
Expounding on sound, I inquired about the albums that had the biggest impact on each member. Nirvana’s Nevermind was mentioned, as were others from Bon Iver, Aerosmith and The Band. The boys said all have seeped into Grizfolk’s sound — even Eriksson’s selection of ABBA’s Greatest Hits.
Fusion of unlikely genres is a focus on their developing album. The process of making it was a test of faith for the band, who had to place its trust in recording studios and sound engineers as opposed to bedrooms.
“It’s kind of like all over the place,” Roth said, regarding the album. “It’s hard to really put my finger on what it sounds like. It’ll sound like Grizfolk, but none of the songs really sound alike.”
In their song “Vagabonds” on From the Spark, Roth sings about “running away from the little things.” I asked the vagabonds themselves what they were running away from.
“It’s not about running away. It’s about like going to places where you don’t really know what’s going to be there; you don’t know what’s going to happen there,” Fritze said. “I think that’s a cool way of living your life because you’re in the moment, right there. You’re not like expecting anything. You don’t have the high expectations. If you don’t have any expectations, then hopefully everything will turn out good. I think that’s what it’s about — not about just like running away from something. It’s more of searching for something.”
A few minutes later, around 30 devoted fans (mainly girls) trickled onto Legion’s open floor. Subtle gasps and fidgeting hands lined the crowd as the boys came out, one by one. After one tune, Grizfolk asked what the audience wanted to hear next. Someone said, “The Ripple,” and soon the band broke out into their first ever acoustic performance of the song.
I watched the crowd sway as they sang.
“Oh oh, my my, gotta get lost to get it right.”