"Winter Creatures," the third album by Seattle band Grand Hallway, was recorded over several weekend sessions this past winter at Scenic Burrows in Portland, Oregon. The band holed up in the tiny studio (where the latest albums by Dodos, Castanets, Richmond Fontaine, and the soundtrack of “Portlandia” were also recorded) with producer Cory Gray over many rain and snow filled days, and worked into the wee hours of the morning fueled by endless cups of coffee. Sometime before sunrise each night, they would retire with a bottle of whiskey to sneak in a game of Baseball Stars 2 on NES and maybe sleep for a couple hours in the apartment (a former dentist’s office) right above the studio.
The relaxed atmosphere belied the frantic productivity of the recording sessions (a couple of the songs were written entirely in the studio, mere moments before they were committed to tape), and provided a welcome contrast to the heaviness of the past year that inspired the album. The illness and death of chief songwriter Tomo Nakayama’s grandparents, the birth of guitarist Jeramy Koepping’s baby, and the closing of the beloved Seattle landmark Neptune theater (where Nakayama worked for the past decade), were just a few of the events that informed the writing of "Winter Creatures'" nine songs, which explore themes of life cycles, mortality, and family.
After the release of 2009's critically lauded "Promenade" (which received airplay from NPR, KEXP, and The Current, and features from Amazon, City Arts, and numerous blogs), and constant touring including a successful stints at SXSW, CMJ, Bumbershoot, and Capitol Hill Block Party, Grand Hallway endured several lineup changes and turned their focus full-force back to songwriting. Aided by Scenic Burrows’ (and its sibling studio Type Foundry’s) vast collection of unique instruments such as pump organ, synthesizers, tack piano, and tympani, Nakayama and company found themselves immersing themselves in a world of sound far beyond the chamber-pop genre which came to define their last record. The band once known for collaborating with a 50 piece orchestra and children's choir chose this time to deliberately shrink in numbers and distill their sound into its bare essence.
The starkly intimate soundscapes of the title track, and the gentle finger picking of album closer “Roscoe (What A Gift),” show the influence of Nick Drake and Arthur Russell, while the dream-like experimentalism of “Fourths” and intricate string arrangements of “Father’s Clothes” and “Little Sister” recall Vespertine-era Bjork and minimalist composer Steve Reich. Elsewhere, the ebullient vocal harmonies on “Wildfire” and the epic album-centerpiece “North Cascades” recall Pacific Northwest contemporaries like Fleet Foxes and the Moondoggies. Producer Cory Gray, one of the busiest session musicians in Portland whose own work as Carcrashlander marries left-field influences with modern pop, provides reggae-like space echoes, vintage synth textures, and layers of horns that could have come straight out of Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis. Added to that are contributions from members of both Seattle and Portland’s vibrant musical communities (members of Portland Cello Project, Nick Jaina Band, and Heatwarmer all make appearances) as well as SF multi-instrumentalist Goh Nakamura.
"Winter Creatures" finds a band maturing and developing their sound, while at the same time exploring and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, tearing apart and redefining their identity along the way.
Tomo Nakayama - Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Bass, Drums, Pump Organ, Mandolin, Vibraphone, Mellotron, Synth, Tack Piano, Timpani, Harmonium, Glockenspiel, Percussion
Shenandoah Davis - Vocals, Piano, Vibraphone
Kevin Large - Vocals, Bass, Banjo, Mandolin
Brian Wright - Drums, Timpani, Windchimes, Vocals
Jeramy Koepping - Electric Guitar, Mellotron, Synth Bass
Jaclyn Shumate - Violin
Alina To - Violin
Cory Gray - Trumpet, Synth, Vibraphone, Vocals
Goh Nakamura - Vocals, Guitar, Vibraphone, Tack Piano
Luke Bergman - Upright Bass
Amanda Lawrence - Viola
Douglas Jenkins - Cello
Samantha Kushnick - Cello
Lauren Waude - Vocals
Written by Tomo Nakayama (Ricebelly Music BMI Copyright 2011)
Produced by Cory Gray and Grand Hallway
Recorded and Mixed by Cory Gray
September 2010 - January 2011
at Scenic Burrows and Type Foundry, Portland, OR
Additional Recording and Mixing by Jeramy Koepping, Jaclyn Shumate, and Luke Bergman
Mastered by Ed Brooks at RFI
Artwork by Heisuke Kitazawa or PCP