Seattle’s Great Grandpa was formed with simplicity in mind. Four years ago, while playing in a math rock band, guitarist and primary songwriter Pat Goodwin grew tired of the slog that was required to make such complicated music and began forming an outlet that would emulate the ’90s guitar pop he had loved as a kid. Pat’s now-wife Carrie Goodwin joined on bass, and they recruited friends Alex Menne (vocals), Cam LaFlam (drums) and Dylan Hanwright (guitar). The band’s first LP, ‘Plastic Cough’, came out in 2017; most of the band shared a house during its writing process, working on the songs collaboratively in their basement practice space. True to Pat’s vision, the record is a fun, uncomplicated burst of slacker pop.
“It was just something to do for fun that was low-key, low-pressure, easy, simple songs that we could practice and learn in one day,” Pat tells NME. “Just take some stress off, and the pressure from the other group. At the time, I never imagined it would become my main project and a serious thing.”
This month they release the follow-up, ‘Four of Arrows’, and it’s anything but simple. Produced by Modest Mouse collaborator Mike Vernon Davis, the progression is astounding; gone the Weezer-esque four-chord crunch, and in its place a gorgeous, expansive sound that draws from folk rock bands like Big Thief and Hop Along. The lyrics, opaque and at times silly on ‘Plastic Cough’, on ‘Four of Arrows’ are vulnerable and gutting. There’s moments of joyous emotional clarity, and almost simultaneously of deep pain and despair. “Because Great Grandpa started suddenly becoming the main project for all of us, we realised this is our platform now,” Pat explains. “We wanna actually use it to make something more serious and more artful.”
Pat and Carrie are speaking to NME over the phone; they’re at home in Milwaukee. They moved there, with Carrie starting nursing school, as the band wrapped up touring for ‘Plastic Cough’. The rest of the band still lives in Seattle, about 2000 miles away. The move was circumstantial, but, Carrie tells us, it also needed to happen. They’d been touring non-stop for a year, and they’d all “overdone it,” she says. “Everyone just needed a break.”
The isolation from their bandmates meant that, instead of working collaboratively at every step, Pat and Carrie had months to work on their songs in solitude, presenting them to the band only once completed. That allowed for them both to cultivate a vulnerability they never had before with Great Grandpa. Carrie’s writing in particular grew towards sombre and moving storytelling; in ‘Rosalie’ she reflects on an elderly patient she had looked after as a caregiver, and in ‘Split Up The Kids’ she tells the story of her grandparents’ divorce, how it tore their family apart. It ends at her grandfather’s funeral, the two of them finally together.
Pat, meanwhile, was drawing on the complex emotions that come with marriage and growing into adulthood. He describes lead single ‘Mono no Aware’ as being a spiritual “anchor point” for the rest of the record; it deals with the Japanese concept of the same name, an awareness of the simultaneous beauty and sadness found in life’s impermanence. “As I’m getting older and having more peace and quiet in my life, it’s afforded me a space to have this deeper level of nostalgia, and feeling like a lot of my life has slipped away from me,” Pat says.
“There’s this deep sense of loss and sadness at how everything has slipped away. But then also, it’s at the same time very beautiful and profound. I think as we get older, it’s become wiser to sit with complex emotions. As a younger person, you feel one thing very intensely, but it’s harder to sit with conflicting feelings and let them wrestle and share that space together. And so for me, a lot of the album was exploring that.”
“This was really the first time that Pat had had to move to a brand new city and make new friends,” adds Carrie. “And that feeling of isolation and feeling lost when you’re in a new place, and having to adjust to that, I think probably created a really good opportunity for a lot of self-reflection.”
It’s also easy to hear how the space and time they took allowed room to grow musically, the songs more patient and wide-ranging than those on ‘Plastic Cough’. ‘Bloom’ is a standout example; the way it coolly blends glossy country-pop with bold, distorted rock, the instrumentation pulling back where it’s needed and punching where it’s needed, before the outro slowly builds to a grand, cinematic finish. Alex Menne’s vocals brilliantly translate the songs’ emotional heft, too, breathtaking in a way never really utilised in the band’s earlier work. “One of Alex’s greatest strengths as a vocalist and performer is how vulnerable they’re willing to be,” Carrie says, “and how well they can channel these really intense feelings.”
As far as what’s next for Great Grandpa.“We’ll probably do something that’s a mixture of both familiar and radically different.” He adds, Pat says. “I really admire when artists take their time and wait for their change to be organic, as opposed to trying to force it. I’m at the point of my life where I’m in no rush to put out new music. I wanna see when inspiration strikes and then follow that, and I’ll wait as long as it takes for that to happen.”