Deep in the Pacific Northwest, an electronic symphony inspired by awe inspiring nature is being composed. Grant Eadie, also known as Manatee Commune, has developed a sound that has complicated our ideas of “organic” and “synth” sounds. His efforts have not gone unnoticed, with festival appearances and collaborations emerging at an ever accelerating pace. We spoke with Grant about the phenomenon that is Manatee Commune, his latest album Manatee Commune and what the future holds.
J: Hey Grant, how are you?
G: I’m great man, just hanging out.
J: You wouldn’t believe how excited I am to speak to you.
G: I’m glad to hear that.
J: I really love love, love, love LOVE the music you’ve been making. Your music is really special to me, I think you’re doing some wonderful things.
G: As a musician, that’s basically the best thing to hear in the world, thank you.
J: So, my first introduction to your music was through Brush, which I listened to in the jungles of Puerto Rico. It immediately resonated with me, because it made sense in that context. I understood immediately that it was entirely organic, even though it was being transposed digitally. It was an homage to real organisms, to real nature, and it just excited the hell out of me. It was so peaceful, so uplifting, so beautiful. And now that you’re progressing into incorporating some more vocals, I thought this was a great time to speak to you about what you’re doing and what’s inspiring you now, and what your own growth pattern has been like. It almost feels like like watching a plant grow. I feel like we’re watching you grow.
G: I’m happy to hear the album translated so well. I think you hit the nail on the head there. I didn’t think the lyric-less music would be so easily understood, I’m happy to hear that.
J: When you made that album, were you thinking about individual instruments and how they would play in the symphony, or was it more like a beat that then developed ambient sounds around it? What was that process like?
G: That whole album started as a collection of field recordings I had taken in WA over the previous year. My music writing process back then was much less intentional. It kinda just happened, which is why, I think, the organic-ness is there. And also why it doesn’t have a lot of structure. Most of the tracks on that album were starting with ambient things, and sometimes a melody would emerge by accident. My goal with that album was to let it happen and not pressure myself to make something intentional. Which is good and bad in some ways. As I perform my music live, Brush is a difficult album to perform because it’s so unpredictable.
J: I feel like Brush really speaks to your classical music roots. It has a meandering quality to it. I feel like your recent stuff, as you start to add more Marina and Flint Eastwood, and (Moorea) Masa, is starting to take on a more familiar structure. That certainly makes the songs more marketable. I think most people do need that anchor, that structure. Are they still fun to make?
G: They’re much easier to play live. Especially since an audience can predict what’s about to happen. The structure and the chord progression is relatively predictable. Marketable is an interesting word. I don’t know if I wanted to reach a wider audience, so much as I wanted to reach my audience faster. Brush is an album that needs to be dug into and mixed around a little bit before it can be digested. This time I wanted to make something that could be like, instant ear candy. It’s very different. I’m learning what makes people excited and what makes me excited.
J: There’s definitely more of a dialogue in these more structured songs. I can imagine that playing these to an audience has a totally different dynamic, and you’re really engaging people.
G: Definitely. You can see it in a very objective way- that I keep getting more plays on these songs than I did with Brush. As an artist who lives off their music, you want to get plays. [laughs]
J: Are you encouraged? Do you see a future for yourself right now, with Thistle (2016 EP) maybe, that these numbers are starting to creep up? Was there an experience that made you think like, “Wow, I’ve made it, I’m an artist now”?
G: I don’t know if it was any particular experience. Honestly, I did this little run down to Seattle and Portland and then back to my hometown in Bellingham, and we sold out all of those 500 cap rooms. And that was when I was like “This is more real than me just sitting in my room making music.” But it’s like any career, I think. You make one stride, then just keep moving forward until you see the next step.
J: In the movies, there’s just the montage and then the guy ends up being rich. In real life, you’re waiting to see if your montage is about to start, when it might have actually already started- or it might already be over.
G: That’s absolutely what it is. It’s funny because for a long time it was just my hobby and passion that I did besides school and besides work. It’s not anything that I could have ever decided to do, it just became something I did to occupy my mind and occupy my time. Then suddenly I became a practitioner instead of a hobbyist. Suddenly I was constantly looking for samples, and buying new instruments. Suddenly I was like “Wow, this is 90% of my life now. I guess this is me.”
J: What was your paper route before- your day job? What were you, a substitute English teacher?
G: I would actually love to be a substitute English teacher. I was studying music in college. I played violin and viola in the orchestra, and my plan was to be a music educator. And I don’t know, I had a passion for creating my own stuff, and not really playing anybody else’s stuff. Once I stopped college, I was working at an ice cream shop. Then this project starting paying the bills, so now this is my jam.
J: I feel like that’s a very natural thing that can happen in the pacific northwest. You don’t have the Brooklyn housing costs and demands on your time. In a lot of ways the suburban and rural artists have it made, where they lay down their roots, and then come into the city and conquer. But you’re sort of the extreme version of that, because your sound is basically your environment. Which begs the question, have you considered how your sound might change if you ever have cause to relocate?
G: Man, that’s a really good question. I’ve only been making music within the northwest, so I don’t know what would happen. I have to admit, a lot of the changes I’ve had in the past year or two in my sound can be attributed to the fact that I’ve been touring and traveling to these bigger cities. I had never been to San Francisco before until about a year and a half ago, and now I’ve been about once a month since then. I think it has to do with the fact that my music has gotten more digestible for a lot of people, and I’m inspired by meeting these different people with different ways of creating. I think if I moved to a big city, it would be a little too fast for me. I have to let things stew. I have to go for walks, and over-think things and under-think things, and then have a cup of tea. I’m that kind of person. I think in a big city I would feel cramped, and my music would turn more minimalist.
J: I offer to you that there’s a pretty good chance that I would be able to put together funding to take you someplace to make music to experiment with that. Take you to Costa Rica or Morocco and have you work in this place for a week or two and see what that environment sounds like. Just as an experiment. I see a 1:1 correlation between the nature you’re surrounded by and the sound you project out the other side.
G: I’ve never made music outside of the country, so I can imagine being in a tropical place would be really really cool. I tend to stew on the same music for a really long time, then someone will show me an album and it will just blow my mind. So I’m sure going these places and hearing this unheard music in Costa Rica or wherever would be similar. It would be cool to try that. What’s that called? A sabbatical?
J: In the academic world, yeah. In the new technology space it’s a sponsorship opportunity. But same difference.
G: That would be really fun
J: Well I was working on putting this together for a while. I was going to do this thing called “bounce” which is of course a double entendre. You take an artist, you go someplace, make a track, and then you bounce. And it’s about how those spaces affect your sound. I think it’s really interesting for particular artists. The other guy who I think has a similar process is Cosmo Sheldrake. Have you heard of him?
G: No, he sounds cool though.
J: Cosmo is British. He would go to the Congo and record someone speaking in their local accent and then take that sound and play with it and turn that into the dominant sample. Then he’ll record an African dung beetle walking across the pavement road, or a donkey, or whatever. Then all those sounds become the root of what you hear in the final composition. I think that you and he would make an amazing collaboration. P.S.
G: Alright, cool. I’ll hit him up. That would be really interesting. He sounds like an amazing artist. I would be very down to get some tips from him.
J: He’s a great guy, making really great music. You guys would be powerful together. At minimum you should be on the same tour. And I think you would be really good friends.
G: Yeah, that sounds awesome.
J: So how did this remix of “What We’ve Got” come together? This is a spectacular remix, I love the steel drum, up-tempo, regae-y thing, the lyricism on it is just perfect.
G: SOL and I have ended up in a lot of the same places for the past year or two and I guess we started talking and getting close. We went to this adult summer camp a year and a half ago called Camp Rock…
G: Yeah, it’s really crazy. So the first time that it ever happened it was on this little island on San Juan Island. It was a kids’ summer camp, but that was all done, and it was about 40 of us. For 3 days we went out there and stayed in these awesome little dorms and ate really good food and did all this classic summer camp stuff like capture the flag and archery and arts and crafts
J: Are you sure you weren’t in Williamsburg?
G: [laughs] Yeah. It’s really cool. It’s put on by this guy named Ryan Oh, it was a dream of his. I got to go for free because I just went out and played the music, and SOL and I ended up hanging out quite a bit and chatting, and realizing we have a lot of the same sensibilities toward creative stuff. And I’ve always looked up to SOL as an artist, so when we were looking for someone to do a remix we were originally going to do an electronic artist, and we have SOL and he was really excited about it. Of course, being an amazing artist, he threw together the entire mix in a day and totally nailed it.
J: Wow. The way he kind of re-purposed Flint Eastwood’s vocals in this, I look at it in a completely different way after this. What does she think about it?
G: She’s really excited about it. She had never worked with an electronic artist before. She’s a really talented producer herself, so she understood the kind of vocal chopping that comes along with remixes. I thought that was cool because I know as a vocalist it can be tough to have your hard work and creativity chopped up and played around with.
J: She’s a hell of an artist and a great performer too. She’s actually in our sort of love-letter to the artist, along with Glass Animals and a whole bunch of people. She’s prominently featured in that little clip.
G: Yeah, I’m really happy that I got to work with her.
J: So who do you want to work with next? Do you have an idea in your head of somebody else you’re anxious to collaborate with?
G: Oh man, that list is so long. Quite a few people. A good example is Bishop Briggs. Amazing performer and an unbelievable songwriter, and a really sweet person. This other girl I haven’t actually spoken to, but it’s a dream of mine to work with her. Her name is Emily King, she’s in New York. She’s probably my favorite female artist right now, her or Bishop Briggs. They’re tied, I think. I need to get some male vocals too, so there’s Evan who is in Chicago. He’s on the up-and-up. He opened for a show when I was there and we ended up hanging out little bit. He’s such a sweet guy, amazing producer and he has and awesome voice. Eventually I would like to work with Shallou, who is also in Chicago. He and I did like a little mini-tour. Same thing for Chad Valley, he would be really great to collaborate with. These are kinda all things I’m stewing on a little bit. Nothing in the works, so much as me just working up the guts to email these people.
J: It would be cool if you could make a playlist and we could run it with this piece as “these are the artists that Grant really wants to collaborate with.”
G: Yeah, that would be really cool.
J: It’s kind of an extension of this “Play it Forward” idea I’ve been toying with recently. Last week I met with this artist, Miwi La Lupa, who is recording on Team Love with Conor Oberst. I found out about him because Conor mentioned him in a New York Times interview, and so I tracked him down, and it turns out he’s recording with Conor on Team Love, and they’re currently living together in Omaha. And I was like “Look, Conor put me on to you, so put me onto three new artists.” So this is kind of a spin on that. A handful of artists that you would love to collaborate with. I really like this idea of DMNDR standing between these artists and audiences and connecting them that way.
G: Yeah, I’ll put together a playlist and send it over. That sounds awesome.
J: Well it’s been about half an hour so I’m going to let you go, but if there’s anything else you want to share and get out there, I think that our audience is super receptive. Typically the people who read our stuff are rabid. These are not casual listeners. [laughs]
G: It would be awesome to have people check out my music. I just released an album so it would be cool if everybody checked it out. I’m really hungry right now, as an artist, to get out there and start touring the world and start seeing new places to play music. I’m excited for the future. Thank you so much for this interview, it’s been really cool.
J: Yeah, and if you need anything, reach out. We have a network of about 150 contributors all around the world. If you need anything, reach out, it’s all love, they’ll pick you up if you find yourself in a strange city, help point you to the laundromat or the local music shop. If you need anything, just hit me up.
G: I appreciate that. Yeah, we’ll definitely be in contact.
J: Absolutely. It’s been great speaking with you, best of luck to you. And thanks again for the music, I really genuinely appreciate it!
G: Well I genuinely appreciate you! Thanks for listening!