Grand Analog releases "Modern Thunder " (Kevin Jones)
While 'Canadian hip hop' may not be a clearly -- or easily -- defined genre, Grand Analog is certainly helping to shape it.
—Jen Zoratti, SCENE writer
Grand Analog's third full-length album, Modern Thunder, drops on Aug. 20 -- a date that fans have been eagerly anticipating for a while.
You see, it's been four years since the Toronto-via-Winnipeg hip hop collective released its landmark sophomore album, 2009's Metropolis is Burning.
"We honestly didn't see the time go by," frontman Odario Williams says, on the line from the band's rehearsal space in Toronto. "We toured that album for two years straight, and then we got busy with our lives.
Indeed, the Grand Analog crew keeps busy: bassist Warren Bray writes for film and television; drummer TJ Garcia is a cartoonist and Odario's brother, DJ Ofield Williams, has been teaching breakdancing to kids in Northern Manitoba -- when he's not teaching yoga, that is. "That left lonesome me to write new rhymes," Odario laughs.
That's not quite how it went down; Williams actually changed up his approach this time around, writing lyrics later in the process. "I wanted to hear the music first as opposed to classic songwriting," he says. "I wanted to let the music paint me a picture. I tried to challenge myself a bit more," he says. "Writing is my strength, and I wanted to make sure my strengths were on the same level as these great people joining me."
He's talking about his band, which also includes keyboardist Alister Johnson, but also an impressive roster of guest musicians. Call it a tale of two cities: noted Winnipeg players Damon Mitchell, Aaron Edgar and Andrina Turenne appear on the record alongside Toronto scenesters Shad, Maylee Todd and Saukrates.
For Modern Thunder, Williams wasn't interested in reinventing the Grand Analog sound -- a hip shaking, beat-driven amalgam of old-school hip hop, reggae, indie rock, afro-beat and jazz and a handful of other influences, crafted by a group of obsessive record collectors and voracious music geeks.
Odario's own diverse listening habits began in his Kelvin High School days. "I had a reggae DJ dad and gangsta rap in my headphones. I dated singer/songwriter girls who introduced me to Rufus Wainwright." He worked at HMV and Sam the Record Man in the '90s, a time when music was increasingly moving out of its clearly defined genres. "Putting away music started getting interesting -- the 'alternative' section started getting huge," he laughs.
Fast forward a few years, and Odario is fronting a band that similarly defies categorization and refuses to be bound by genre. As such, Grand Analog's music is also open to interpretation. Odario was recently in Atlanta, visiting a cousin who listens exclusively to rap. "I played her my record, and she thought she was listening to a rock 'n' roll album," he marvels. "She listens to 2 Chainz and Ace Hood and Rick Ross. She says, 'Wow, you guys have a great rock band.'
"In Canada, we don't have a sound," he continues. "If you name five Canadian rappers, they all sound extremely different. It's not like you can listen to 'Canadian hip hop.'"
While 'Canadian hip hop' may not be a clearly -- or easily -- defined genre, Grand Analog is certainly helping to shape it. "By your third album, you've developed a sound," Odario says. But listening to Modern Thunder, it's clear Grand Analog hasn't just developed a sound -- it's perfected one.
Grand Analog releases Modern Thunder at a hometown release show at Union Sound Hall on Aug. 22.
Union Sound Hall fills niche in live music scene