Text and Interview: Alec Coiro
Photos: Diana Kingsbury & Sean Rayford
The album is entitled “My Bones are Singing.” In it Graves and the rest of the band work through — among other things — Graves’s encounter with serious illness while still in the prime of his life. It’s a subject that’s better understood through reading Graves’s comments on it in our interview below. And it is, perhaps, a subject that is best related to an audience that might not be familiar with the emotions involved through music. Which is part of what makes the album so wonderful.
The music in question is partially a throwback to the best of classic indie rock and partially something folksy, and partially something newly emerging and as yet indefinable. Part of what surely what defines the band as much as anything else is the close-knit relationship between the members. They live a shared life in and out of music, particularly Aaron Graves and his wife Jessica Bornick.
To get the full sense of the music, the band, and their story, Those Lavender Whales were also nice enough to pass along a portion of their forthcoming documentary.
The story behind this album is really interesting, for lack of a better word. Is your struggle with illness and how it informed your writing something you’re comfortable discussing?
Yeah, it’s always helped me to talk about it. I was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor in March 2014. It was really diffuse and on both hemispheres of my brain. I didn’t have health insurance at the time, but my community in Columbia, SC really pulled together and did some amazing things to raise an amazing amount of money to allow me to see some of the best neuro oncologists in the country at Duke University Cancer Center. I had radiation there, and still go for check ups every three months now that my brain is stable.
Most of the songs I was writing and recording for a “new album” up to that point all of a sudden didn’t seem to completely connect to me anymore. In a way, there was so much more I wanted to do in my songs because I felt that I needed to keep my spirits up to help myself conquer the cancer I was fighting. In other ways I was just getting beaten down by side effects from medicine, constant battling with my newly acquired health insurance, and trying to take care of myself and my family. All that stuff started making its way into songs. I reworked a few older ones into ways that made them feel new and right with what was happening.
How did you and Chaz bundick come to work together, and what was it like recording with him?
I met Chaz when we were in high school through skateboarding. We lived in the same neighborhood for a while, our bands would play together, and we would record at my parents house. We’ve always kept in touch, so when I started talking about recording another album after I was sick, he offered to produce and record it. I flew out to Chaz’s with a batch of songs and my friend and band member, Chris Gardner. We recorded “My Bones Are Singing” over the course of two trips.
Chaz has always been really easy to play and record music with. It’s great to have a different perspective on a song, and he always had a fresh look on something. His setup at his house was super comfortable. He essentially had a bedroom studio at the time. The drums, guitars, and keyboards were all more or less set up in his recording room, so it was easy to switch between instruments and ideas. If one synth line wasn’t working with a song, we could switch and try another. If one of us wasn’t coming up with a part that was working, someone else could hop on and try something new. There weren’t any windows in there, though, so it was easy to get caught up in recording, then stop for a break and realize the sun had already gone down for the day.
Speaking of collaborations, if I’m not mistaken the band is a very close knit group to the point of including a husband and wife team. Is there a distinction between your life in and out of the band, or do they begin to become as one?
Life in and out of the band definitely intertwines. Jessica and I talk a lot about the band and music in our “personal” time. Our daughter, Elvie, randomly sings our songs. It’s really great to have each other to balance out emotions and be able to talk about the band. It’s really made our relationship into a new kind of thing I never imagined we would have. Being able to share a creative output is nice too. We practice and analyze our songs often during the week between full-band practice. But we also try to be conscious of having family-time with our daughter. Jessica also has a fashion design business that she has to focus on. There are always a lot of instruments floating around the house and a lot of singing silly songs back and forth about everyday things we’re doing. Elvie and I also have a band called Eyeball. Playing music with her is a whole different and awesome thing.
Those Lavender Whales seem to capture an indie rock spirit that seems to be increasingly elusive. Do you think your influences tend in the indie rock direction or are they something completely different?
There are a lot of albums that I’ve stuck to from elementary school all the way up until now. I do feel I tend to indie, folk, and punk lots of times, though that’s not exclusive. In high school I really fell in love with the Elephant 6 collective and lots of those bands. Of Montreal’s “Gay Parade” had a huge impact on me, and I’m sure you can still hear lots of those influences. In college I bought a Danielson Famile CD that took me awhile to get into, but I’ve really been in love with them ever since. It’s just really different than any other music I had heard before, and he sings about spirituality in a really unique way which is really inspiring. I also love listening to Folkways records and field recordings. A lot of times, I feel like I’m writing a folk song, then as I’m fleshing it out I try to fill it with more sounds that makes it less recognizable as just a folk song.
Your last album was Tomahawk of Praise. What new musical approaches were you going for on this new album?
Tomahawk was all analog in my friend’s basement to 16 track 1-inch tape. It was a really slow process of piecing things together, taking our time, and making things work. While I’ve been sitting on this album for a little bit, the recording process was so much faster. We essentially recorded the whole album in six days, knocking out a song in a half a day. I didn’t have that focus on the first album, and it was great to have that focus with this one.
That was a fun part of recording with Chaz. Instead of being around all of my comfort instruments (like acoustic guitar, banjo, cheap Casios), Chaz had all these amazing synthesizers that I was able to explore and use. It was a mind opening crash course in synths.
Do you guys have a tour planned to support the new album?
We’ve got some dates in March & April around the release of the album. June and July tours are currently in the works, too.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
March 10 – Greenville, SC
March 11 – Athens, GA @ Go Bar
March 24 – Savannah, GA @ El-Rocko Lounge
March 25 – Jacksonville, FL @ Rain Dogs
April 7 – Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern
April 8 – Charleston, SC @ Royal American
April 10 – Richmond, VA @ the Camel