Grand Resort

As part of the release of Digcast VIII, the second episode to focus on NYC music, I'm posting on each band in the podcast over the course of a few weeks.

Follow the link above to listen to Andres discuss "Night Is Dark," where he would like to go away, and what he loves about New York City.

Grand Resort is the songwriting vehicle of Andres Pichardo. He plays live in a band that includes drummer Rony Bonilla, guitarist Paul Laughrige, and bassist Rich San Luis. He started making music last year as Grand Resort and has released a long EP (or short album perhaps) called Vanguard Dreams that does not sound like a debut by any means. Andres story has some slight echoes of the genesis of Bon Iver – a young man in isolation in a cold setting putting out a heartfelt record with an immersive sound. Only, instead of moving from North Carolina back home to Wisconsin like Justin Vernon, Andres moved from his home in the Dominican Republic to Boston. Also, his sound of choice is rooted in 1980s British music.

The interview below reveals that Andres is searching for the perfect mixture of New Order, My Bloody Valentine, and The Smiths, at least to name three of his most prevalent influences. I can hear what he means on Vanguard Dreams. There is ample evidence that those bands have worked their way into his songs, like the jangly guitar tones, the electronic drumming, the atmosphere and vibes. Between the feelings of nostalgia and the musical textures, it's hard not to think about these songs fitting perfectly into a John Hughes soundtrack.

It is a really well-crafted album, one that is a pleasure to listen to and has a strong emotional resonance. I feel that the personal journey Andres was going through, which is at root something many young people experience – leaving their homes to go out in the world and figure out their lives – even if his case is a bit more extreme than most others, is what provides the universal appeal. There are moments of connection, but a lot of moments of isolation and loneliness. As I discussed with Andres, the songs hit that perfect sweet spot right between optimistic joy and pessimistic doubt.

The album opens with the grandiose "Buena Vista." I like the really big drum sounds and crashes of guitar and synths. Songs like "Running Out," "Microscopic," and "Never Ever" have wonderful guitar tones with jangle and a little bit of delay and the kind of propulsive drum beats that give an almost dance-able momentum. They are infectious. I especially like the little pauses of phrase in "Never Ever" as a way to make the melodic hooks even stronger. "Empty Spaces" is an instrumental track that reminds me of a something from Kid A by Radiohead. These are just some of the highlights. You can stream Vanguard Dreams here.

As of this writing, Grand Resort plays tonight at 285 Kent with several other bands and opens for Class Actress on Wednesday 10/24 at Brooklyn Bowl. Go here for more details.

I met Andres at Union Pool for our interview. I was very impressed by his story. He left his home in the Dominican Republic at age 17 to see what he could make happen in the US. We talked a lot about the evolution of Grand Resort, the challenges and excitement of leaving behind the old and familiar for the new and unknown, the culture of the Dominican Republic, and more.

TWD – The project started as just you and you added a band?

Andres – When I started last year it was my first attempt on writing songs. I played in bands before, but it was mainly guitar. I had never sung before or attempted to write songs. Last year I listened to a couple of bands that got me into the style I'm into, stuff from the 80s in Britain like Close Lobsters, C86. I got really into that stuff. I've actually always loved British music in general. Anyways, last year I started experimenting a little and I found a format I felt comfortable with when it comes to songwriting. I wrote the first one, which was "Night Is Dark," and I was like "Wow, this is pretty cool. I can keep making songs like this." My goal was to have an album, a batch of songs I could show and be proud of. I kept writing in the same style and recorded it at my place. This was when I used to live in Boston, last year.

When I had stuff done, I moved here to New York and I met a couple guys to play live. I don't want to play shows by myself, it doesn't have the same energy. For my stuff, in the end, it's still a rock and roll band, despite that it's pretty electronic on the recordings. I found Rony, my drummer. He's actually Dominican like me. He's a pretty good friend of mine now. We got two other people and we started playing shows. The core of Grand Resort is me and the drummer. We're working together now. But still my work flow is pretty individual. I work at home a lot on my own, experimenting with sounds. I like recording at home, I feel pretty comfortable. We have a bunch of new songs we are recording now, it's about 50% done. I show ideas to Rony, we practice, and then we go to a studio. A month ago, we went to a studio here in Williamsburg owned by Converse. They have this really sweet studio so we went there and recorded drums. Now I have that and I'm at home working on the new songs.

TWD – Before you met Rony, did you record your own drums?

A – I used drum machines. All the drums on Vanguard Dreams are drum machines. Which I kind of like. For the new record, despite having a real drummer, there's still songs I want to have that futuristic or machine-like sound. I am still collaborating with Rony. If there's a song that has a drum machine instead of real drums, I bring him over to do fills on the toms or something. It's pretty cool to have that balance between electronic and organic elements.

TWD – I think that balance is interesting. He plays it all live anyways, right? You don't use a drum machine?

A – No, when it comes to the live show, it's pretty much organic. I still use a bunch of keyboards though. I want to play all the instruments, but what I can't play, I just put it on the sampler. If I found someone to play all the keyboard parts, I'd rather have them play.

TWD – Not that there's anything wrong with electronic stuff, but usually that's a better live experience, when everyone's playing.

A – Yeah, at least for me, I like guitar bands a lot. One of my favorite bands is New Order. On the record, they're pretty electronic but they have that balance between guitar rock and electronic. Besides that, I'm really into shoegaze, like My Bloody Valentine and stuff. That's pretty out there, very surreal music. On the other hand, I like jangly guitar bands like the Smiths, Stone Roses.

What I'm aiming for on the next new songs, it's basically like putting all those bands in a blender and then adding my touch. I envision the songs with the electronic feel of New Order, the shoegaze-y, washy sound of My Bloody Valentine, and the jangly guitars of the Smiths. That's the three elements of music that I really like right now. And besides that adding my original touch. I really think the next album is going to have a more futuristic approach. It's going to be a weird mixture of elements that are somehow meant to be together, at least in my head.

TWD – You have a sound in your head that you're chasing?

A – Yeah, in my perfect world, that would be pop music, mixing those elements. That just resonates right away in my ears when I hear something like that.

TWD – I read that you were born in the Dominican Republic and lived there most of your life. What was your gateway to this music? How did you discover it?

A – When I started playing music, I was 14. I'd be hanging out with my friends who went to this British school and I guess they were exposed to British music. After I was introduced to a couple bands, it was just a matter of doing research and finding out more. I did that and found the stuff that I like and it's been non-stop ever since.

TWD – So those three bands are probably your most prominent listening right now?

A – I would say New Order, My Bloody Valentine, the Smiths, and maybe the Field Mice, which I really like as well. That's the kind of pop music that I like.

TWD – What's popular in the Dominican Republic? Is there a folk music?

A – Yeah. If you go to the countryside, there is a folk music we have. But it's losing its force because people, especially in Latin American countries, they look up to the United States, like top 40 stuff. There's also local hip-hop and reggaeton and meringue. I think my country has a really rich culture but it's dying. They're losing their values.

I really value the folk music of my country. It has so many influences, like African influences, Indian, Spanish. But you can only find that in the countryside nowadays and only very old people like that. Not that many people appreciate the folk music in my country. It's not really something that I really feel identified with musically because it's not the stuff that I like to play but I do respect it and embrace it.

TWD – The songs that I heard, I didn't really detect something that I would imagine as kind of like that. But that's still part of you, I'm sure.

A – I've been listening to that unconsciously for so many years, so I'm guessing that it eventually affects my brain, melody-wise or sound-wise. There's a lot of stuff that I've heard for countless hours that probably people here or in the UK haven't. You're going to see that in my music, even if it's not that obvious.

TWD – At least speaking of the album that's out, Vanguard Dreams, do you feel there's any elements on there that reflect that or do you think it's more straightforward of your other British influences? Are there any subtle things you could say, you didn't realize at the time maybe, but looking back on it?

A – I don't know. Now that you say it, I haven't really thought about it. I'd have to dig deep. I just took what I was exposed to and attempted to write my own songs in my own style. It's still a pretty eclectic mix of sounds that I like. It's kind of a sad record, but it's disguised in happiness.

TWD – I was going to ask you a little about that, actually.

A – This record was recorded last winter and fall, and it sounds like summery stuff. Everybody that listens to it talks about the beach and the summer and having fun. It's weird. I was in this apartment in Boston and it was fucking cold, just recording music. That other stuff wasn't really the mindset. I don't know why people associate that. I don't know if it's because I come from an island or something, but I wasn't really going for that on the inside. Even my new record that's probably going to come out next year was recorded in the summer and it still has a pretty melancholic feel. Because it's weird being in a big city on your own, it's so overwhelming. You might as well know a bunch of people or not know anyone.

TWD – That must have been quite a difference to move here.

A – I moved here three years ago to go to school in Boston. I'm pretty used to living here but still, I wasn't born here. I'm different to everyone else, like all my friends. I have a different cultural approach. Even though we share many things in common.

TWD – We'll dive into the tracks a little bit. "Never Ever" is a good example of what you were saying about the music having a fairly optimistic feel with that clean jangle, but when you listen to it more, when you take in the lyrics, you're wondering, "Is this really a happy song?" I think the listener is going to decide that, there's probably going to be one that'll say "Oh, this song makes me feel really happy and I really think it's good," and I think another would find something sad in it. That ambiguity is really interesting.

A – I can be very optimistic or very pessimistic. One day I can wake up and everything's great, "Everything is going to be alright." And the next day, it's "Oh, shit. Everything sucks. I don't want to play music, I want to move back home." And the next day, "Shut up dude. Do your shit, it's so cool. You're in Brooklyn."

This song in particular, it says "I feel so high." It's not about drugs. It's mostly a reference to anything that can hook you up or bring you down or make you feel a certain way right away. Whether it's a drug, a person, a habit, a situation. Even though you can't let go of things, that's the feel. I don't want to write straightforward dark songs because I don't like dark sounds to be honest. I like happy sounds, even if on the inside it's pretty dark.

TWD – Speaking of letting things go, it that's a discussion in "Recreation." I think that concept is hard.

A – Hell yeah.

TWD – Especially when you know you might need to. Do you think of yourself as a person that can let go easily or do you cling to stuff?

A – No, I'm always clinging to stuff. This is what I wanted to do – move to the States, play music, hang out. Hence the words, I had to let everything go because I had to leave and not look back. Forget about everything that I knew. I was going to start fresh here. But especially in the winter, I'm like "Shit." Nobody knows me back home, it's like "What happened to this guy?" I started thinking about places and people and sometimes you got to roll with yourself and forget about everything else. I'm pretty sure that applies to every situation in life if you want to start fresh. That's what I like about big cities, especially New York. It doesn't matter who you were, who you knew, you can always come to city like this and start fresh, meet new people.

TWD – That's true. So you came by yourself when you moved?

A – Yeah, I was 17 when I came here in 2009. I went to school for audio and recording in Boston. I moved here early this year. It was pretty fucked up, I was 17 and I came here on my own, I didn't know anyone. I guess those feelings reflected later on in my songs. I had to write songs because I had so much stuff to say and let go.

TWD – You probably don't have it all planned out, but do you ever think you'll go back? Do you visit at least?

A – I can't really go out of the country until probably next summer.

TWD – So you haven't been back since you've left?

A – No, I've been back a bunch of times. Every time I had a break I used to go back. But every time I went back, I felt out of place. I felt like a tourist in my own town. People change, but places stay the same. That's a really fucked up concept that I've been thinking about. If you go to a certain place, in my case when I go back home, and you have very fond memories with people but the people aren't there, it's like a ghost town. That kind of hurts a little. It's my main issue when I go back home. I feel very, very depressed cause it reminds me of when I used to live there but it's not the same anymore. I just pretend that place disappeared. I'll be here for the unforeseeable future.

TWD – So the kids you grew up with down there, are they gone? Did they go to other places?

A – A bunch of them are here in the States going to college. Some of them are still on the island going to college. Some of them I don't know where they are. I don't really share anything with most of them anymore. It's like I used to be someone else before I left. It's kind of weird.

TWD – Was that your intention? Did you expect that?

A – I had to, yeah. I had a different vision of life compared to most people that I used to know. I needed to go away. Even though it was cool growing up there, I totally felt out of place because of my love of music and arts and other stuff. Most people, unfortunately, don't understand. With the exception of my very close friends. That's why I feel I don't really share that much with my origins anymore. I'm planning on staying here. I love it here, it's perfect for me. My girlfriend's here, I'm playing music here, I'll be here for years hopefully.

TWD – That's got to be interesting. I didn't leave the country to go to college, but just leaving home at that age, 17, 18, it's different. What you leave disappears. There's the internet, which helps, but once you go somewhere else, you really are in that other place.

A – Definitely.

TWD – I haven't been anywhere in Latin America or Central America. If I were to go to the Dominican Republic, what would be something you would encourage me to see that may not be so obvious? I don't really know a lot about it as a country.

A – There's several sides and shades to my country. The thing that I'm most proud of is its natural resources. There are so many places I could take you and you'd be really, really amazed. It's such a beautiful country. On the other hand, there's really fancy places. Especially my town, it's like a tourist town that's really exclusive. The Kardashians go there, George Bush goes there. It was normal for me growing up seeing celebrities in my town and being surrounded by them.

TWD – Really?

A – Yeah, but listen. 10 minutes away in a car from that place, there's this huge amount of poverty. It's so unfair. I don't really like that gap between the poor and rich. But still, people are pretty optimistic despite the issues. I know people here complain about those gaps, but most people here don't know shit about poverty. You don't imagine the gap between the rich and poor in my country. It's crazy. At least people here get access to public services. Down there, you're on your own. If you don't have money, you're going to stay like that forever. That's the only thing I don't like. And with poverty comes less culture and bad stuff. That's what sucks. The rich want the poor to stay that way because that's how it is in countries like mine.

TWD – Is there anything you find influential in other parts of culture, like visual arts or books that shape your songwriting and what you try to do? Do you have any people that inspire you as artists? We talked about your musical influences, do you have others?

A – When it comes to art, I have a pretty abstract approach. I don't like being straightforward with things. I remember in high school I used to be in art class, everybody was drawing trees and portraits and fruit and stuff. I would just take paint and throw it into the canvas and I would make something crazy and abstract. That was even before I read about art like Jackson Pollock. I've always had a very abstract approach to art. I like it like that. I don't like predictable stuff.

TWD – So how did you feel when you saw the abstract artists?

A – After I moved to New York, I went to the MOMA and I saw Jackson Pollock and that other stuff. I was impressed. I've always had an abstract approach to art because I like challenging people and making them feel weird and a little out of this world. I don't like reality. I like surreal stuff. I don't like straightforward stuff. I like blurry stuff. And when I'm recording or writing a song, I can definitely see it in my head visually.