By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
By Ray Cummings
By Nicholas Pell
Grass Widow needed to lighten up.
Touring with their 2010 album Past Time, which plumbed the topics of death and loss, caused them to learn that getting behind the mic every night and reliving a deep sadness while a roomful of people stood and stared could be pretty brutal. It was time to walk toward the light, and that meant working on their new album, Internal Logic (HLR), with a simple mantra held as a directive: Does it feel good?
"[Past Time] was a therapy album. We had to write those songs," explains bassist Hanna Lew, who worked through her father's death with the record. "They were hard to perform because despite the metaphors—we knew." With Internal Logic, it became crucial to make music—songs, sounds, and lyrics—each member could enjoy. "This time around, it's about acceptance of the unknown rather than the shock of the unknown," Lew says.
Internal Logic floats, never quite touching down to earth. The trio harmonizes about space, their voices clear and sweet. The songs are swift and ephemeral—they chime and then zip away. The hooks don't linger, and the trio's pop feels purposeful, fleeting, and sunny.
Space isn't just an easy metaphor; the three members of Grass Widow consider the universe often. "In my daily life, I don't think of the multiverse that literally, but I do think a lot about moments where a shift could have taken place, something that sets you on another trajectory," guitarist Raven Mahon says.
"After my dad died, there were things that I thought I believed about existence and things I thought I would like to believe and they just melted down," Lew says. "We exist in ways we don't understand." How did all of that show up on Internal Logic? "We don't write on-the-nose lyrics. We try to get at discrete aspects that are not on the surface. We are definitely using the songwriting process to nonverbally describe our experience."
Internal Logic is about the more cosmic type of space, but musical space is just as crucial. "Writing these songs, with the instrumentation, we wanted to make something we could relax into, that they would feel open, instead of making songs where we were always processing," Mahon says. Although plenty of jutting, angular un-solos are present, Internal Logic breathes rather than hyperventilates.
Having gone through rough personal times while in the band, working in metaphor rather than confession allows the group to get into what Lew terms the "hairy shit."
Internal Logic works as a direct emotional rebound from its elegiac predecessor, the product of a band that has moved out of the shadow of grief. "It's about a future that is better," drummer Lily Maring says. "You might be stuck in the tunnel, but you can see the light—you know it is there."
"There is a cathartic moment where it all comes together in the lyrics and the song and the instrumentation—it's like a shared hallucination," Mahon says.
The group takes being a unit quite seriously. Since their formation five years ago in the Bay Area, the three have been careful about how they handle the band and one another. Being in a band can be fraught with resentments and power struggles, but Grass Widow's m.o. sounds more like that of an idyllic commune.
"We make a lot of choices together and in our individual lives, and so we have to think a lot about personal muse versus our group needs," Maring says. "Working creatively in a group that is also a business, you really have to trust yourself and the other people. You have to give a lot of consideration to [asking], 'Is this our path?'"
That's in keeping with her idea that Grass Widow is a matter of destiny: "I like to think that even if we made alternate choices, we still would have ended up together."
Grass Widow play the Knitting Factory with Black Belles and Gap Dream on June 16.