Interview: Algernon Doll

Early on Ewan Grant, aka Algernon Doll, tells me his girlfriend is a palaeontologist, a fact that deserved an Alan Partridge style “Jurassic Park!” response, it sadly didn’t, but once we get past destroying childhood dream jobs with reality – maybe one day you’ll find a dinosaur but the rest of time it could be pretty mundane – we get onto what happening with the Perth boy’s project.

What isn’t dull is everything that’s happening to Grant and his band just now, when we catch up it’s just before the launch of this third LP, Omphalic, after that they’re off on tour, there was a slot at the Radio 1 Big Weekend a few weeks before and album number four is pencilled in to be produced by the one and only Steve Albini later in the year; exciting stuff in fact Grant’s bandmate Wull Swailes admitted to one of our contributors just prior to this that he’s living the dream.

Living the dream is something that Grant doesn’t want to play too much on, there’s no doubt he’s happy with where he has found himself after starting Algernon Doll as a bedroom project a few years back, but he doesn’t want to let the hype get to him and he’s very humble, if excited, about what’s happening with his music.

Algernon Doll has evolved from being a solo bedroom project to a full band in recent years with the inclusion of Swailes along with Tom Mitchell and Owen Wicksted but Grant still likes to think of Algernon Doll as his solo project so he can take whatever creative turns he fancies: “I feel I can change the style and instrumentation drastically at any point if I want to, I don’t want to stick with the stuff that just works and pleases people”.

Omphalic by Algernon Doll

In terms of sound Omphalic isn’t a massive escape from his two previous efforts though, the same grunge effected themes and occasional Elliott Smith meanderings are splashed throughout, as are the darker tones that emanate from Grant’s past, losing friends at a young age and dealing with bipolar are big note points his life, but as was evident from the title of his last release, Citalo-pop, a nod to how the medication Grant takes, he’s now in a much happier place.

Grant feels like he has a better understanding of his condition and this has helped him move on, he also sites his girlfriend and dog, along with the music and ability to perform, as the biggest help in doing this.

“I have a lot of it under control, I have blips as everyone does, bad days, bad weeks but overall I’m in a better place… performing is great because I can snap on stage and do it in a healthy manner.

“I guess I am more settled, it helps to have a routine with things like depression, but my life is still more hectic and haphazard than most others”

With Omphalic Grant feels the songs are written with more foresight so the band can do them justice live, something clear from past Algernon Doll shows where the band’s better songs from the first two records seem to disappear live, something Grant claims is majorly down to the array of tuning he uses throughout his recorded material.

“I’ve tried not to change how I approach music too much, I like the child-like approach where I have a better grasp of what I’m capable of and what works well, but it’s still important to try things I’m not comfortable with.

“For Omphalic  I purposefully wrote all the songs, bar one, the night before recording so I couldn’t overthink anything.

“I think you get really honest and clear results doing things this way, people overthink music when to me it’s quite a primal experience.”

Algernon Doll – ‘Spilt Milk Perfume’ Official Video

Omphalic, which is out now was mastered by Shellac’s Bob Weston, somewhat of a coo for the relatively young band, still it’s all come down to the band’s own graft and there’s no doubt it has led to even more promising situation with Weston’s bandmate Albini going to produce album number four.

On Grant’s previous music there are clear nods to records that both Weston and Albini have been involved with, but the relative ease in which he managed to get in contact with them was surprising.

Although Grant’s never actually met Weston, he still seems to enjoy the experience of working with him: “he’s just as I though, very humble and true to his ethics.

“He just wants to do the best he can for you, I think he’s got this sort of stuff down to science, he talks straight at you and not down to you and that’s what I love about these guys.”

Of course if Albini is to produce to produce the next record it will mean the band flying out Stateside, something that will be costly but Grant is eager to do everything he can to fund it.

“I think it’s the best way to go for the next record, Albini catches live recordings on tape and that captures a true moment of where and what we are.

“I have the greatest respect for Steve and I’m very excited about recording this… I have a few ideas, it’s going to be a big change compared to this record.

“The music industry is going in the opposite direction, so we’re going to zig when everyone else zags,” he laughs.

Of course this isn’t Rave Child’s first time encountering Grant, we have ran reviews on his two previous efforts and his track ‘Cassini’ made it onto our tracks of 2013 list, but one thing that hasn’t been address is the almost drastic appearance change from the shy almost emo, skater boy that used to date a girl I went to school with to where he is now.

The most notable change in Grant’s appearance is the pretty unmissable neck tattoo he now sports, Grant doesn’t play it up to much, quite frankly stating “free tattoos” as the main reason why he has them, but a neck tattoo is a big decision it cuts off plenty of avenues of employment, something that Grant is all too aware of.

“I got my neck tattooed so I had to make a life out of music or art, I burned a lot of bridges with that.

“Image isn’t important to me though, I like drawing so it’s nice to have some on my skin to look at but with all my experiences with depression and anxiety I never thought I’d live this long, so I didn’t think about growing old with all these tattoos, I don’t see the point of planning for an uncertain future.”

Still, the thing on the horizon just now is the impending launch of the new album and Grant has grasped a set of posters he’s eager to get up, the posters feature a rather interesting family polaroid with all the people painted over in pastel shades to resemble comic ghosts, Grant reveals the image, which fronts the new album, was from an artist named Angela Deane who takes old 35mm photos and paints ghosts over them.

“I love the image and have my own ideas on what it means and what it means in the context of the album, but I’d rather leave it open to interpretation – it’ll be interesting to hear what people think of it.”

Throw this artwork in with the vaguely titled Omphalic  you could accuse Grant of being too cryptic after spelling his situation out with his last album title, still he is happy to give his input on the title and share the scrapped idea of the initial cover being some crude drawings of faluses, but whether this was in a controversial nature like a Death Grips’ cover or like a well memmied school jotter is left unclear.

“Omphalic is umbilical, cut the chord and paint with the blood and nutrients, that’s the gross idea, it’s artistic ejaculation.

“The album, on a whole, is just as personal but with more people listening to it, I thought I owed it to be a bit more universal.”

Glasgow DIY hardcore specialists Struggletown Records were the ones who branched out to put out Omphalic  and it was an easy decision for Grant to go with them with being good friends with label runner Steven Hill.

“Struggletown share a lot of the morals and ethics I have and are also a great label, the massive bonus is that we could get Steven to do the art and promotional graphics, he’s the best guy I know for that job.

“It’s great to be on a label with like minded people too.”

So, if it’s a choice of digging up dinosaurs bones or recording with Steve Albini there’s only really one choice here; both incidentally can be done with a neck tattoo!

Words: Iain Dawson


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