Concord musician Andrew of the North, aka Andrew Grosvenor, recently released his debut solo album, “Ursa Verde,” and is celebrating with a two-set show at Area 23 this Friday featuring a couple opening acts and his newly created trio.
Grosvenor grew up in Rhode Island and began playing piano at the age of three thanks to his mom, who is also a musician. He moved to Vermont after college with his band, The Woodshed. After the band went its separate ways, Grosvenor took about a decade off from music before embarking on his solo career as Andrew of the North. We caught up with Grosvenor last week in anticipation of his show to get all the details about his album, life in general and how you can listen to his new tunes.
So we understand you created this album as part of the RPM Challenge. Can you explain what that is and how it works? Every February musicians all over the world create a complete album from start to finish in 28 days, it’s like national novel writing month for songwriters. I had never heard of it, but a friend told me about it last winter and I decided to give it a go! I was already working on another album, but I had a lot of ideas for new songs and I had a feeling I could pull it off.
What was it like to have that kind of deadline looming over you, especially since you had never put out an album before? How do you feel it went overall? I’ve worked on a couple of albums with bands before, but solo was interesting. I can be a perfectionist in the studio (which sometimes drives bandmates crazy), so the time constraint was a mixed blessing. Twenty-eight days is not a lot of time, and as it got down to the wire I had to accept that I couldn’t put together a perfect album for this. I think that was a good thing. It’s rough around the edges, but I love the songs and I like the roughness more as I live with it. I’m a horrible procrastinator, so it was a stressful month.
Tell us a little about the album: What was the inspiration for it? It was an experiment – sign up to do it and see what comes out. I don’t think there’s a clear through line to the album, but lyrically a lot of the songs are about making peace with anxiety and moving forward in life even when it’s not what you pictured for yourself. Instrumentally, I am a vintage keyboard nut, so I really wanted to play around with both acoustic and electric piano sounds. I’ve been really into overdriving pianos to give the sound a little more grit. Those sounds are all over this album. I’m lucky to have some really talented friends – a high school classmate of mine, Chrissy Mitchell Adams of Burlington, Vt. did the art for me, and I had Tank Studios in Burlington mix and master the tracks for the release. They did an absolutely incredible job. I also want to thank my wife, Sarah, for putting up with me that month. I was not easy to live with.
Did you write all the songs in that one month or was it a collection of ones that you had written before but never recorded? A couple of them were mostly written already (“Tell Me” and “11 at 11”), but none of them were really done. I was really nervous about not having enough, but these things have a way of working out. “Atter” is the song that saved the day – I needed one more track and it came to me in the shower on like day 25 and I scrambled to jot notes in my phone with a towel around me! I’m really happy with how that one came out.
Since it’s a solo album, did you play all the instruments yourself? I did. I borrowed an electric bass and learned how to play it just for this, which was exciting. I am definitely not a bassist.
Where did the name Andrew of the North come from? Andrew of the North is a name born from necessity. My last name is Grosvenor, which has a silent “s” in it and doesn’t really have a showbiz ring to it. I didn’t want to make up a fake last name, so I tried to come up with something that would give some identity. Moving to Northern New England is probably the defining decision of my life – I love it up here and I wanted to bring that into the name.
We saw that you play solo shows, as well as in duos and trios, which format do you like best? (And be honest, it’s okay if you prefer the spotlight solely on yourself.) Haha, we’ll see about this trio show on the 29th – that’s a new lineup, so it’s untested, but practice has been great and I’m so excited about it. Honestly, I play solo because I can. It’s nice not to have to coordinate with bandmates to book gigs, but I strongly believe that music is a conversational language and having bandmates to play off of makes things so much more interesting. I play in a duo with the drummer from my old band – we’ve been playing together for over 15 years, and we still have a blast. I enjoy playing solo, but honestly I think it’s much better with a full band.
What do you do when you’re not creating or playing music? Do you have a job? Hobbies? A family? Well I have a 3-year-old, so that’s a good chunk of time right there. I work as a business lawyer by day, which has been great for me, though the time commitment can be tough. Becoming a dad made me really prioritize my hobbies – I used to be an avid homebrewer, but music was more important to me. I still do a lot of hiking and fun stuff with my family, but I’m working on music in all my spare time right now.
What’s the show going to be like at Area 23 on Friday? I’m so excited for this one. Area 23 is starting to become the hub of the local music scene, and they’ve got a great lineup. I think music is starting around 5 p.m. with Don Bartenstein, then the Sensual Sequoias (gotta love that name) are playing a set at 8. I’ll be playing two sets starting at 9. Area 23’s a great venue, good tap selection and usually a good turnout. It’s a really fun room to play in. This is the debut for my trio (featuring Dale Grant on drums and Chip Spangler on bass) and it’s going to be so much fun. I think we’re going to be able to incorporate some special guests. We’ve been working on some funky stuff and some rock, almost all original material. It will be a much bigger sound than my pure solo stuff.
For those who haven’t heard your music, what would be a good equivalent in the music world? Haha, every musician’s favorite question. … I hate to say it, but a ton of people have told me that my singing sounds like Trey Anastasio from Phish – he’s been a big influence on me since high school, and that’s definitely represented in my stuff. I don’t think trying to be “the next” anyone is a good idea, so I try to follow my own creativity wherever it leads. I do try to incorporate a lot of improvisation into my work. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of older jazz, Art Blakey and stuff like that, and a fair amount of bluegrass. I think it’s indirect, but a lot of that stuff comes out in my songwriting.
Where can folks find the album? Everywhere! (except CD) – it’s a digital release, so you can grab it on iTunes, Spotify, Google Music, pretty much everywhere. I may do a small run of CDs to sell around town if there’s enough interest.
Tell us a few fun facts about yourself that people might find interesting: Hmmm… I do yoga every day. My favorite dinosaur is T-Rex. I am a top-notch foosball player. I have backyard chickens. The only childhood food aversion I still have is canned tuna – it grosses me out.