Common Grackle is about as uncommon a group as you’re likely to find. A collaboration between indie songwriter Gregory Pepper and the hip-producer Factor (who are both Canadian), Common Grackle’s debut album The Great Depression is a spry little rap disc that is dominated by acoustic guitars, acidic and cynical lyrics, and a Kool Keith cameo that’s as fun as it is totally unexpected. When it is not lyrically dissecting all the hipster kids on tracks like “At the Grindcore Show”, the band find a dark heart beating at the center of the album’s title track, which features a morbid, snarky narrator facing uncertainty about taking his own life. The band is unabashedly quirky, but unashamedly fearless, crafting an album that’s as funny and gut-wrenching as it is wholly unique, which is why The Great Depression remains one of 2010’s hidden musical gems.
Yet those who enjoy intelligent, wry pop music have gradually come around to Common Grackle, and just as its career is starting up, the band managed to take some time to respond to PopMatters’ 20 Questions, here discussing the “bored housewife” method of relaxation, why Bruce McCulloch was a brilliant actor, and how the works of Erik Satie has deeply affected Pepper himself . . .
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
I pride myself on being a reasonably tough fuck but that climactic scene towards the end of Tim Burton’s Big Fish—where the son has to finish his father’s tall tale—gets me misty around the eyes every time. Don’t tell anybody.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Bruce McCulloch used to play this character named Bobby on Kids in the Hall.
Like me, he wasn’t the most practical or talented guy, but he made do with what scarce resources were available and held honesty and love in the highest regard. Also, he once defeated the Devil in a battle of guitar prowess.
3. The greatest album, ever?
It’s impossible to say for sure, but Elliott Smith’s XO is about as close to flawless as I can imagine. Melody and movement, confidently longing. He was the best.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars, but not emphatically. When I was 16 I was going to get a Rebel Alliance symbol tattoo but then I remembered not to.
5. Your ideal brain food?
I know it’s a tired rock-and-roll cliché, but I still think my most profound moments have materialized with the help of illicit substances, though it can become a somewhat tricky tightrope act.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I really try to avoid the whole hubris thing, especially since I’ve still got some tall mountains to climb. That being said, it’s pretty validating to make a chunk of cash off, say, a monolithic software company licensing a song for some video game I’ve never heard of.
7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?
My incredible physique, obviously. I have a pending trademark on the name “the state of affairs”.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
You gotta give it up for those proud souls who managed to produce genuine works of beauty despite relative obscurity. It’s always really exciting to find out about people like Roy Wood, Judee Sill, or Emitt Rhodes, if not a tad perturbing too.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie No 1”. He wrote lots of heavy stuff but that one piece just overflows with a sort of enchanting sadness.
10. Your hidden talents . . . ?
You should see me drive a car in reverse with a utility trailer attached. It’s an overlooked staple of manhood that few can boast about.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
“Good luck is the result of good planning”. I once read that in a fortune cookie.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
I bought a Yamaha MT-50 four-track tape recorder when I was 15 or 16 and that was, for me, probably the most beneficial tool in terms of learning how to write and arrange music. There’s a freedom and mobility to the old, compact cassette four-tracks that seems to breed experimentation and bursts of creativity that you just can’t get with big, lumbering digital recording gear.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?
The iconic 1950s teenager had it all figured out: Chucks, slim pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. Can’t go wrong.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
A good way to hit it off with someone you’ve just met is to talk shit about shared subjects of loathing. I shamelessly adore Morrissey and he seems to have contempt for just about everything this world has to offer, so that would be a pretty safe bet. Plus I looked into it and the Ritz offers a “vegetarian du jour” menu, so no problems there.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
The house in Guelph, Ontario where I live was built shortly after the turn of the 20th century. I would go back there and check out what kind of color palette they were using because I can’t quite decide what to do with these storm windows.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
I know it sounds sorta “bored housewife” but booze in a hot bath can be pretty effective, especially now that winter is upon us. I’ve got a little TV and DVD player in there and everything.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?
I’m pretty partial to food. I find that if I don’t eat anything at all I start to feel really shitty.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Ideally some hidden plot of land that has not yet been recognized by Google maps. Trees, please.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I’m not your friend, buddy.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m always drawing lots of stuff, mostly for bands and records labels (see www.camppepper.com) Just started on some production work for a new artist on the Fake Four roster, and of course, quietly contemplating the new Gregory Pepper & His Problems release with a cold beer in hand.
// Short Ends and Leader
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