Q&A: Pat Grossi of Active Child on Choirboys, R&B, Zola Jesus, and Romance"/>
Pat Grossi of Active Child released a gorgeous debut album called You Are All I See last month; tomorrow night he'll be gracing the Crocodile with a live set. I recently caught up with Grossi via phone; here's what he had to say about his childhood as a choir boy and his adulthood as a self-professed romantic.
You learned to sing as a kid when you were in the Philadelphia Boys Choir. How old were you when you joined?
Pat Grossi: I was 9 years old. I was really little.
Did your parents make you do it?
No, it was something I pursued. I was in choir at my elementary school, and the woman that was directing the choir pulled me aside and said, "You're a good singer. You should go try out for this bigger choir in the city." So I went home and was getting really excited about that and convinced my mom to drive me into Philly for the audition.
Do you remember what you sang for the audition?
I showed up and I didn't realize I had to prepare anything! So I think I ended up singing "Silent Night" and maybe two other things that I knew. And then that night my parents got a call, and I got in.
I always think it must be interesting to be a young boy who sings, because boys go through that awkward voice change. Do you remember when that happened for you?
I do, for sure, because I was a Soprano I, the highest high of singers. As you can probably tell, I'm still a high singer. But what ended up happening was I moved to California for my dad's job when I was 13, and I was still in the choir at the time, I'd been in it for about four and a half years at that point. And I had seen people come and go because they'd been in the choir for a while, but their voices changed so it was essentially like retirement. But I ended up leaving before my voice changed.
So you didn't have any awkward moments in a performance when your voice cracked?
No. When I moved to L.A. I stopped singing, pretty much. Other than singing to the radio in the car, I didn't have a whole lot of musical output.
What got you back into it?
I think it was mostly the people that I was surrounded by. I was in college and just hanging around people that were making music, and I think I just kind of rediscovered my interest in my own voice, and I was playing a lot of guitar at the time.
You can definitely hear the choral influences on your record. Do you ever go to the opera?
I have been to the opera before. I'm not a huge fan of opera itself, but I've been to a few.
The opening track on your album sounds like it could be a modern-day opera.
[Laughs.] That's cool, I like that.
What's your favorite thing that somebody has written or said about your singing voice?
There's been a lot of really nice things. I get a lot of interesting comments at shows. I think it's cool that a lot of people have written that what they think is really interesting about it is the overall range that I can get, I can get low notes and I can also get really high notes. I think a lot of people don't really hear that as much until they come to the live show. I feel like I belt it out a little more than I do on the album.
As well as the choral influence, the new single, "Playing Houses," has a pretty obvious R&B feel to it.
Yeah, it wasn't a conscious, intentional step, that's just kind of the way it came out.
Do you listen to a lot of R&B or soul music?
I definitely listen to a lot of old soul artists like James Brown and Al Green, that era. But not so much modern R&B. I never really dived really deep into R. Kelly. I listened to some D'Angelo and a few other artists, but it was never something I really searched out. I think where a lot of that [influence] might come from is just radio, growing up in the '90s with a lot of R&B like Boyz II Men, Ginuwine, Jodeci. I wasn't necessarily buying their albums or keeping up with their music, but it was just kind of everywhere for everyone.
I read an interview where you said you were getting tired of always being compared to Bon Iver and James Blake. But then in your official bio on your official website it says you sound like Bon Iver and James Blake.
[Laughs.] I appreciate you doing the work to figure that out! Damn, I didn't even know that! Is that used in some sort of quotation from something?
No, it's says your vocals are "not far removed from Bon Iver or even James Blake."
Well, I think people latch onto that, including the label, as a way to propel me forward, I guess. And it's a flattering thing to be compared to artists like them, I'm a fan of them, I have a respect for their music, they are inspirational to me, just like artists. I guess where I start to get a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth is when people say you're imitating, there's nothing authentic about what you're doing.
The specific combination of genres or styles that you use to make your own songs, the choral and the electronic--do you think there's another artist out there that's doing similar things?
Right now, I mean, no, I really don't. Can you think of anyone?
No, I can't, that's why I was wondering if you could. People are combining electronic music with a lot of things these days, but not with the way you are, with the classical operatic feel.
I think you're right. I think maybe Zola Jesus, she has a very operatic tone to her vocal style, and I think she takes a classical approach to it. But I think we're all doing very unique things at the same time.
The title of your record You Are All I See seems very romantic. Is that how you recommended?
Yeah, definitely. I definitely hope it's romantic in every sense of the word. [Laughs.]
Why are you laughing?
It's kind of a cliché term in a lot of ways. But it's true! I see it in my own life in the way that I deal with my relationships with past and previous girlfriends. The way I write songs and the things that inspire me tend to come out with a moody, romantic vibe to them.
Is that title or the song that shares the title about somebody specifically?
Originally it was definitely written about someone specifically. It was written in a way to be like, "You're the only one I want. I'm not interested in anyone else. You're the only one I see." That was the initial basis of it; I think it spawned into something kind of bigger than that. I wanted to be able to reach out beyond that specific personal thing and hopefully other people could touch into what I was saying and it would resonate with them.