When Snow Villain came across our desk here at The Celebrity Cafe, we had no idea what to expect. What we got was an EP covering a wide range of rock subsections. From '90s grunge to late-decade angst and upbeat near-folk themes to pointed political statements, this collection covers the gambit. However, despite the variety, it is clear that these are all facets of the same creative force. It rapidly became apparent that frontman, songwriter and guitarist Grant Goldsworthy has something interesting to offer the modern music community.
Goldsworthy has been singing and performing since the age of about four. A seeming example of the art choosing the artist, it was a given that music would be an intrinsic part of his life. The singer/songwriter began forming bands in middle school and continued to play until college. At that point, life took him down a side street toward a more traditional corporate career. However, Goldsworthy inevitably found himself drawn back into making and performing music.
About two years ago, this artistic drive caused him to form a band that evolved into what is now Snow Villain. In advance of their new EP release on April 27, the musician sat down with The Celebrity Cafe to talk about the modern music industry, politics in art and what audiences can expect from Snow Villain.
We are pleased to introduce Grant Goldsworthy, our Spotlight Artist for March.
Who is Snow Villain?
The Celebrity Cafe: Where did this all start for you?
Grant Goldsworthy: I remember really early, when I was four, just singing with a whole class. And I remember I didn't even know what it was, but I just knew I sounded better than the other kids. And I know now I was just on-pitch and I just knew what this was sort of naturally. Honestly, music was just a thing that I just got into. It was something that largely, over the whole span of my life, music has been in my life. It's always been an outlet for me to not only just vent, but it's an outlet for me to just sort of get a lot of anxiety, energy, and all of my feeling just out in a really tangible way...
I think I’ve been conscious of, most in recent years, that I'm a fairly complex person emotionally. And it's not like if you're really angry, you write angry songs, if you're in love, you write love songs. Most of the time, I'm never one particular emotion at a time. So it's always kind of a combination of a lot of things. I like a lot of different kinds of music in that way. It's always been like there's a lot of people who ask what genre I'm in or what kind of music I like to play and I don't really know how to answer that generally.
Because I grew up and fell in love with music in the '90s, so I love alt-rock. I love guys with guitars, and I just like drums, bass, guitar, vocals. It's simple as that. But my music has changed a lot because of technology-- we used to just record demos in previous bands that I had just on little four-track tape recorders that you could only put four inputs into... Music inherently used to be a lot more valuable to people, because it was a lot harder to get...
Now that music, it streams all the time. I think, if it's streamed then you're giving it away for free. The music industry is just so different, sadly. It's hard, I think, for independent artists. Especially if you're from sort of a different -- not from a millennial generation so that you could sort of geek out. Like, what the hell to do? Because successful bands nowadays are successful networkers and successful marketers. And they understand digital marketing strategy, and they know social media marketing. And they know how to manage. They have to make their own music videos. They have to try to sell themselves to record labels. And that's just like the total inverse of what the music industry used to be, and the total inverse of what the music industry was when I was familiar with it...
And that's something about that era too. Sort of pre ubiquitous smartphones and internet, was that you used to do shit without knowing what you were doing, right? And you have such a fresh and different perspective with that mentality then you do nowadays with living with such a data-driven world, where we're so risk-averse and we're trying to mitigate risk in everything we do. So we use data to formulate strategic decisions to make sure that we don't fail. But that puts you inherently in a safer spot and you're not as much of an explorer mentally. You don't try to fix a lot of things. You're just trying to mitigate risk. And play it safe. I think that's a big reason why a lot of music nowadays is so disposable and it's so, sort of, common and similar. I think it's because we just live in a safer world.
And I'm still trying to make music that I like. Because I have to do so much of the other stuff, right? I have to wear the marketer's hat, I have to wear the band leader hat, I have to wear the booking person hat and I have to make music videos, which I had no idea how to do, obviously, of course. I have to wear so many different hats. So I better sure as hell still like the music. Otherwise, all I'm trying to do is become famous or something. And I actually don't like that whole part of this anyway. So that is not at all what I'm trying to do here...
Snow Villain itself has been around or about two years, but it's gone through a couple of different generations throughout that time. And I feel really really confident now that I have the best lineup, the best strategy and the best plan moving forward… I now have shifted to sort of structuring it around, that for every album cycle, I can work with a different configuration. Similar to a Saint Vincent or a Nine Inch Nails thing. Similar to Bon Iver. Those kinds of things where different album cycles they sort of get different genres. They play different genres and they experiment with different band members…
This is my project that fortunately, I have the autonomy, given the way its structured now, the autonomy to have a lot of freedom and liberation through genres. I can sort of maneuver different genres, different sounds, and different things that I want. So I can continue to be an evolving artist. Now, I think that's another thing that doesn't happen as often, is I feel like part of how they sort of put out is very polished and professional same looking thing. I mean, it's not yielding that much because they just look like every other band and then the bands just sort of die after one album or so.
Shifting tides in the industry
GG: I would say that another really interesting shift that occurred is with venues, too. There's not as much of a built-in audience at venues as there used to be. And venues now are making much more analytical business decisions. And they're asking bands “You can play here, but you have to bring 100 people,” or something. Or, “You have to sell tickets.” And that, obviously that's the goal. But for bands just starting out, especially in the geography that's different from where they live, different from where they have a built-in network of friends and supporters, that sort of where the rubber meets the road and where the challenge is. And I think that that is hurting the music industry, too...
In the '90s is when I first started being in bands and introduced to that. We used to just get together and be like, "Yeah. Let's four of us get in a room and just start making music and put a band together and start playing shows." And now people aren't willing to do that because it's much more of, like I said, a safer world where we're data-driven and we're trying to really make sure that things will work out. It's almost like people are saying, "I will play with you once you sort of get your brand and your package together and it seems like a safe thing for me to do." And it just really the music-- that is ruining the music industry…
I am the oldest member of this current lineup in Snow Villain by almost a decade. So I have four people that are really young playing with me now and it is really interesting to see the difference between playing with somebody in their early thirties, like myself, and playing with people who were born and raised in a social media generation. They are much better at opening their phones. Maybe just taking a snap of a practice, a SnapChat thing or a story on Instagram. And again that is something that never enters my mind when I'm in a band practice.
The politics and comedy of Snow Villain
GG: There are two singles out so far and they're both from this first EP. “Torches” I am particularly excited about because it's very over the top and facetious, but also intentionally aggressive and sort of like it's political satire, you know? For me, that is something that I really enjoy making. I enjoy being able to sort of delve into that and have a foray into a satirical kind of music because those are really some of my favorite bands. Bands like Ween, bands like Rage Against the Machine or Seether. Nine Inch Nails too. I mean, some of them are aggressive on purpose and it's etched to sort of speak to a larger issue that's happening in the world.
And “Torches” is one of those songs for sure where it's just sort of a-- I would say I wasn't trying-- obviously, I'm trying sort of do a not exactly a Rage Against the Machine thing. But it's hard for any kind of rap and rock to not get associated with Rage Against the Machine because of the fact the did so well. And I try to sort of do a blend of a Beastie Boys/Rage Against the Machine/even early Kid Rock like “Bawitdaba” days. Back when he was good too, for like one year [laughter]. And we've had a lot of fun with those songs. “I Don't Know” is another single that we have out that we have a really highly produced cinematic music video for.
That again is political satire to the extreme. It's that thing where all this other stuff is very foreign to us and I'm trying to make sure that I still am able to have fun with the creative part and that I'm still able to enjoy it, get behind it. I mean, “I Don't Know” was being recorded and we were trying to make that music video right around the time that Donald Trump was getting elected.
And it was, you remember, but America was highly, highly, highly politically charged. It still is, but definitely even more so. And particularly in the arts. There was, I mean, yes, the man's a total maniac. There were a lot of people that were just very upset about that. And we were just sort of thinking about not only were a lot of the songs sort of politically inspired, but we figured Donald Trump's worst enemy would be some trans superheroes. So we just sort of made a satire about it and so I figured that we would have fun with this.
We wanted to sort of do a little throwback to Ninja Turtles-type of thing. And we just had a lot of fun with it. We invited a lot of our friends out and sort of created this whole new storyline and dynamic where we were the superheroes that were captured by a mad scientist [laughter]. When I say it out loud it sounds ridiculous.
But yeah, we were basically captured by the CIA. We were given experiments on and we broke out of an insane asylum and became social justice warriors. Literally social justice warriors and sort of made this superhero pact and try to defeat social injustice. So we defeated racists. We defeated guys trying to attack a girl in a parking garage. And then we defeated the biggest enemy of all, which was Donald Trump...
Comedy is important to me. Laughing, I guess, is valuable. And, again, in music, I am a guy who likes to joke and I like to laugh, like I say, too, and I think for me to really to present myself as a most honest and pure artist I need to really have some sort of comic value, at least woven into some of the songs and videos to some degree. That's something that I've always really-- I think comedy is just as much as an art form as music or video arts, certainly too.
And I think it's something that it seems like now like I've been explaining, being a musician nowadays, you have to be a visual artist, you have to be confident enough, and know yourself well enough to be able to be honest with people and give them that real you for them to connect to. Some of that stuff just takes a lot of time for people to realize. And even so, your music could just be boring to people, even so. There's a lot of different things that you have to do, but one thing that I try to maintain is the integrity of how I feel as an artist.
When art and commercialism fight
TCC: This ties back to something you were mentioning earlier in regards to acknowledging that at any given time you're not necessarily experiencing only one emotion. And that music doesn't have to say “here's this one thing.”
GG: Absolutely... I think that's something that music I feel used to have. It used to sort of span a much larger gamut and much larger emotional spectrum than it does now. Now I feel like it's a very specific thing. Do you want to be a rock band? Sound like a rock band. Or if you want to be a rock band you guys better have guitars and basses and now there’s even bands using-- what disappoints me is seeing… tokenism used in marketing and used in art I think is an upsetting thing. And while I understand it, I think again, that just speaks to how the music industry is now versus what it used to be. I mean, do you remember when bands used to have ugly people in them, right? Remember when there was just-- the whole band was just like ugly dudes?...
I don't want to just say, "F--k it" to all that because I know you need to incorporate a little bit of that. But… I'm not trying to sort of follow any specific rule, and I'm not going to wear scarves and gel my hair back. You know what I mean? We were looking at this band… and they were walking down this city block, and they all had those long peacoat jackets on and scarves, and they all sort of looked like the guy from twilight [laughter]. And we were just-- and were saying “We got to get scarves, we got to get jackets and something that makes us look like halfway cool,” because we're really just a bunch of music nerds. That's what we are. We're a bunch of music nerds that really love music and I love to laugh and have fun, and I like to do that in my music too.
TCC: Where art and commercialism meet. And when they fight, who wins.
GG: Yeah, this is a commodity. I mean, at the end of the day, even when record labels were big, way, way, way back, like a couple of decades ago. Obviously, there was still some commoditization happening, but it was a lot broader, and there was a lot more room for things to be artful. I feel like it was still considered that the art was really valuable. And now I feel like it's a little bit more valuable if the band looks hot and is flirty with people after they play. That seems to be what a lot of bands do, and that's something that obviously I think is-- Again, I think might mitigate the integrity of the industry at an aggregate level.
I think a lot of people are afraid to say this stuff too. I will say that, and I 've got nothing to lose because the alternative is me just playing the game and having some fashion person put a scarf on me. I don't really want to do that. Then what am I doing? I want to try to do it my way, and I hope that people are responsive to that and receive it that way, that it's an organic thing… I have a lot of good music in me, and the band Snow Villain has a prosperous future if we can really get organized and understand how to navigate the current music industry versus what I'm familiar with.