The Golden Republic
…As a songwriter, I am very prone to musical schizophrenia.
story by Justin Marciniak
photo by Mark Peterman
When his band launched its first tour at The Fireside Bowl in Chicago, Ben Grimes was amazed. “Wesley Willis was there, so I was dumbstruck,” Grimes says. After releasing a solid self-titled debut album and growing up, Grimes and his band The Golden Republic (formerly The People) are less dumbstruck and more prepared for and realistic about life in a band. Grimes spoke to Chicago Innerview about the group’s focus on reconciling boyhood dreams with adult reality and moving both hearts and hips.
The Kansas City band has had plenty of time to mature musically and personally. Grimes, who sings lead and plays guitar, and his cousin and drummer Ryan Shank have been playing music since their teens. Bass player Harry Anderson and guitarist/keyboardist Kenn Jankowski completed the lineup by late 2001. In early 2002, Astralwerks Records expressed interest in the group. The band finished recording its first LP in late 2003, which finally appeared in stores in February 2005.
Several songs on the subtly dark album, which the band recorded with Interpol producer Peter Katis, stand out immediately. “You Almost Had It” breaks down to crunching, dueling guitar chords. The T. Rex homage “She’s So Cold” does everything but bang a gong for Marc Bolan. “Rows of People” swoops like Jeff Buckley’s most theatrical moments. Grimes delivers mechanically rhythmic verses in the danceable “Robots.” Variety among the songs is the fertilizer that helps the album grow on people. Pardon the lofty name-checking, but like Sgt. Pepper’s and other revered records by The Who and Grimes’ idol David Bowie, The Golden Republic contains 11 distinct explorations of the rock galaxy. There are falsetto and harmony vocals, jittery electronics, ghosts of glam, nods to Nada Surf and bits of Pulp and other Britpop acts.
The Golden Republic embraces the freedom to try different styles, Grimes says. “…As a songwriter, I am very prone to musical schizophrenia,” he says. “I like a lot of different things, and I really hate to decide on one or two things that are going to be my influence and have all the songs go that direction.”
Between first talking with Astralwerks and recording more than a year later, The Golden Republic limited its possible artistic directions. “We had punk songs and country songs along with what we have now,” Grimes says. “… I think that we managed to trim off a little bit of the extremes of it just to keep it a little more focused.” Faced with the opportunities and responsibilities that accompany a record deal, the musicians realized their “boyhood pipe dream” had become a job. To deal with the “big, scary prospect” of reaching more people around the country, “we would go out to a local pub and talk for hours and hours about these big ideals and all these things, how we wanted to change people,” Grimes says.
Relieved upon realizing it cannot change the world, the band chose its sound, which would allow Grimes to compromise between the “two schools” of music: affecting, meaningful, soul-baring music and the fun, booty-shaking kind. “The thing that I always say – it’s like my own little motto whenever I go to write songs – is that I want to write songs that move the heart as much as the hips,” Grimes says.
Overall, Grimes succeeds. Despite the occasional awkward growing pains, The Golden Republic and 2004′s People EP definitely are encouraging, thoroughly enjoyable first steps for any band. Considering the band’s maturity on its first record, The Golden Republic’s turn to leave people dumbstruck might come very soon.
The Golden Republic :: with Aqueduct :: Schubas :: April 19.