It’d be a bit of a stretch to find contemporary points of reference to adequately qualify Pat Grossi’s music; we’ll go out on a limb to suggest a club-tempered melding of Jimmy Somerville-meets-Andrea Vollenweider at a trip-hop rave, and if that sounds improbable, well, that’s about the best we can do. We’ll leave it to others to find a way to throw a flag on that.
Trained as a chorale vocalist in his youth and the son of a rap music label executive, the 28-year-old Grossi, who goes by the moniker Active Child, lofts a stratospheric, high-register tenor over a glistening bed of harp (yes, actual harp), slow and mid-tempo house beats and an alchemistic broth of electronic textures, some of them tactical and melodic, some ambient and largely formless. The effect is … well, we hate to say it, because everyone else does, but we kind of have to … a little like a summoning of angels. Simultaneously chilly and intimate, evocative and alien, Grossi’s craft is defiantly unique and unlikely to spawn many imitators. For one thing, outside of Mormon Tabernacle Choir grads who actually keep up with their drills while twiddling Ableton patches, there aren’t many dudes out there who can actually sing like this.
Grossi is out on tour — leading a three piece band — behind his second proper release (after a cassette-only EP in 2010), You Are All I See, and we caught up with him last week just before a set in Washington, D.C.
We noted that, in a prior interview, he referred to Active Child as a project, something that suggests a finite ambition within the music’s context — a beginning, a middle and an end.
“Well,” Grossi says, “it has that sense of a project in that it has that sort of pseudonym moniker attached to it. But in a lot of ways, it’s really just me making music. … I didn’t sit back and kind of formulate what kind of sound I wanted to make, and this is the name and this is the imagery I wanted to associate with it. It was much less planned out and just me evolving as a musician and progressing into this sound I have.”
Grossi actually went into the studio with Ariel Rechtshaid (former Hippos singer/guitarist and producer for Usher and Plain White T’s) acting as producer, a first for Grossi, who has been self-produced until this release. Working with a producer is usually a dicey proposition for a fully formed artist, but Grossi says he nonetheless found a kindred spirit in Rechtshaid.
“We just connected on so many levels, as far as what we wanted sonically, and when it came to choosing specific sounds, and reverbs and delays and drum samples,” he says. “So in that sense, we really worked well together, I’m looking forward to working more with him in the future.
“I wrote the tracks and produced them like I would have normally done and kind of finished them, and then I took them into the studio and we really went through them. Dissected them, took them apart piece by piece, figured out what parts we loved and what parts we didn’t love, re-recorded the vocals, changed the drum parts up. … It was kind of intense, but we ended up agreeing on pretty much everything.”
No one is likely to regard You Are All I See as a recorded-live exercise in spontaneity. Apart from the glimmering of the electronica throughout, the offering has plenty of signature studio craft goodies — the creepy pitch-bended multi-tracked vocals leading out of “Way Too Fast,” sampled voices marking cues on “Ivy,” the sheer arch of club-prog numbers like “See Thru Eyes” and “Shield & Sword.”
We wondered how all this translated into a coherent stage thing, but surprisingly, Grossi says that the music part — with a bassist/keyboardist and percussionist moving between electronic and conventional kits — was handled, while the attendant hardware was breaking his heart.
“Oh man, I wish I could fill you in on the nightmare of bringing up this light show; you have no idea,” he says. “Before we left for this tour, we spent about 72 hours designing lights for every one of the songs. And the hardware that used to run the whole thing decided not to work. We got another one, and that one broke, so we kind of went back to square one with the lights. We’ll keep pressing on and hope we get some good house light support.”
And Grossi, who’s lived in Los Angeles since getting his art degree from CU in 2008, says he’s looking forward to returning to Colorado, even if a Boulder date would be that much sweeter.
“Man, I would love to play a show in Boulder, that’d be a great homecoming for me, to be able to do a show at the Boulder Theater,” he says. “That’d be a beautiful thing.”
ON THE BILL: Active Child plays the Larimer Lounge on Saturday,
May 19. Doors at 8 p.m. Balam Acab and Superhumanoids open. Tickets are
$13.50 in advance, $18 day of show. 2721 Larimer St., Denver,