Golden State

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Golden State

A decade ago, James Grundler was a “media darling” with his new band Paloalto. The California quartet had ties to Rick Rubin and that epic sound intended for closing credits. Then the music industry crashed and, with it, all that potential. Paloalto closed up shop in 2004 and Grundler was nowhere to be seen.

Seven years later, Grundler is officially back with Golden State and a debut album that conjures the same epic sound you might have missed. Great melodies never go out of style, and the debut LP, Division, has them in spades. Grundler is glad things worked out the way they did, despite the difficult times, since he’s having more fun that ever before. As he waits again for the music to reach the masses, he’s holding out hope once again. It’s hope well placed.

SSv: I had both of the Paloalto albums and so it’s great to see your reappearance with Golden State. It seems like no matter what outlet you choose, everything is influenced by the epic hook.

James Grundler: I am influenced by great songs, and the songs that stick with me are the songs with the great melodies and the big hooks and the progressions and rhythms that go along with that — it’s bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Catherine Wheel, the Beach Boys and U2. I love that kind of music. I know other people do to and that’s the kind of music that really strikes that chord, so that’s what I want to make.

SSv: Does that run through to your childhood?

When I'm writing songs, if I think it's a great song, it also strikes up a visual concept in my mind. It almost plays like a movie or music video in my head, even as it's just being written.

When I'm writing songs, if I think it's a great song, it also strikes up a visual concept in my mind. It almost plays like a movie or music video in my head, even as it's just being written.

James: Oh, yeah. The music that I gravitated towards really painted a picture for me musically. I don’t know about you, but I think when you listen to this music, you get a cinematic soundscape. I think that’s what I gravitate towards. When I’m writing songs, if I think it’s a great song, it also strikes up a visual concept in my mind. It almost plays like a movie or music video in my head, even as it’s just being written. If I can see it, I know it’s going to maybe become a strong song. I think with those big melodies comes that large, cinematic aspect to it. So it definitely goes all the way back for me.

SSv: I alluded to Paloalto, and I’d love for you to help bring us to speed of what went on during the years since then. Not so much about the bio, but I’m curious about your own heart and vision in that time?

James: I think when a lot of people find themselves thrown into some wasteland or no man’s land, you definitely have that feeling of giving up. I struggled with that early on. I think it was that fear of losing something that I cared so much about that actually made me fight to keep going. I didn’t believe that it was the last you’d heard from James Grundler. I never believed it was the last thing I had for the music industry or people to listen to. I didn’t want to believe that was the last straw.

But there were definitely times when I wondered what would happen or what I was going to do, because the music industry just changed so much. Everything changed and the cracks in the industry started to show, and we fell right through them.

SSv: In what way?

James: I just think we got stuck in that spot where the powers-that-be didn’t really understand what they were going to do next. Consequently, instead of spending more money or more time on trying to develop the situation, they shut everything down and concentrated on what the industry was going to do next. I think, therefore, we got lost in the mix of it all.

It wasn’t any one person’s fault. It wasn’t Rick Rubin’s fault, because he was there struggling to keep it alive. He was a strong component to the whole thing. It was the whole industry though. A lot of artists fell short; we certainly weren’t the only ones. But I will say it was definitely a hard time and a dark time to figure out what we would do next.

What saved it were these big melodic songs, these cinematic tunes, that caught the eye of a lot of film directors and TV shows. Because they conjure up that cinematic feel, that’s what gave the music some new life. That’s what saved me. I started to get more licensing through that and writing more. It helped me to find a new avenue, so I could get back on my feet and pursue a new project.

SSv: How long was that time span?

James: Paloalto formally discontinued its activity around 2004. We tried putting something back together and getting it going again, but it wasn’t the same. We just needed a new fresh start. It was about four full years of figuring things out and working through the quagmire of this apocalyptic looking city of the music industry. Everything was blown up and trying to rebuild from the ashes of everything being destroyed. Eventually things started happening where I met someone who really believed in the music and helped me license the music. One thing led to another and I got pushed back into the limelight, if you will.

SSv: Do you remember one of those first glimpses of light?

James: Well, it was the moment when I wrote the song, “All Roads Lead Home.” That was the moment that changed for me. There’s a director named Mark Pellington who directed the movie Henry Poole Is Here. He called me in as they were doing all of the underscore and mixing it down. He’d heard some of my other track and he asked me to write a song for this scene. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I took it home and wrote “All Roads Lead Home” in about 15 minutes. It just kind of happened. I think it’s because it was this visual concept that we were talking about.

I came back and showed him what I had and just flipped out. He realized that he’d given me the wrong piece of film that I was supposed to write to, but it was such a strong song that he wanted it still for the part that he was hoping for. So that was the moment when things started to turn around.

SSv: How did the song come so fast?

James: It was all how Mark Pellington described this moment. He just made it really easy to pull something out, because he basically set a great blueprint or idea for the song. When I saw the visuals and things like that, it really sparked the vibe of the track. It wasn’t forced at all. It just happened, and I love when that happens. I think it’s a real miracle.

SSv: During that in between period, what does that do for your own songwriting? That friction that you felt, do you feel it comes out on Division?

James: Yeah, I think so, because you grow and mature during a time like that. You start to see things a little more clearly. Being in that bubble in Paloalto and being this media darling band, you had everyone blowing smoke up your ass. Now you can take the time to find your perspective. You can find out who you really are. Before, Paloalto, I’d write these types of songs that I really love, but as soon as they finished, I started writing these other songs trying to get back to where I was. I wasn’t being myself and I was scrambling. But that time allowed me to find out who I really was. It allowed these things to germinate and grow into something that I really am proud of today.

SSv: What’s the craziest thing that you remember someone promising you back in those days?

James: Well, it wasn’t one particular thing. People knew that talent was there, but they were afraid of taking a chance because of the state of the music industry. They wanted something that was just like whatever the hit song of the time was. I can understand that. I don’t have any hard feelings about it at all. I can understand why people took that stance, but I’m glad it didn’t work out that way, because I don’t think I would have enjoyed things as much as I am now.

SSv: For fans who have been around for a while, what’s the surprise waiting for them on Division?

James: Well, I think the big surprise is the songs themselves. The thread of Paloalto is still there obviously, since I’m still around, but it’s a larger sound. The message is different. Instead of this raw, broad paint stroke, it’s this little dedicated theme. It takes time to develop that, and I think you’ll definitely hear that in this record.

SSv: Was it obvious that “All Roads Lead Home” would be the cornerstone track?

James: Yeah, it’s definitely the flagship of the record for sure. But there are other songs on there that stand out, too. I think they all work in hand-in-hand as this keystone to this archway. “World on Fire” is one that sets the pace. “High Noon” is another that sets up a great visual with the slammin’ chorus. “Setting Sun” is another. But yeah, I guess it would be the keystone while it’s also bookended by some other great songs. I’m just really proud of it.

SSv: What sort of support are you giving things now?

James: As soon as we put it to radio, we started getting some good adds, and we’re getting more every week. Right now, we’re setting up a late summer tour. And what I like to do is ask fans who they think we should tour with. People will tell us that we should be out with Muse. [Laughs] That’d be great, but you have to take a number on something like that. Or U2. Those would be great. There’s a few great young bands, though, that we’d love to go out with. Hopefully we’ll have something set in stone soon enough.


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