Some of today’s most alluring pop music is made by independent artists, working at home and layering sound upon sound until they’ve created something bigger than themselves. Until it sounds cool.
Such is the case with Aaron Graves, a Columbia, S.C. singer/songwriter who writes, plays and records as Those Lavender Whales. The music is sweetly whimsical acoustic pop, blended into a pleasing sound using lots of disparate instruments, and topped with airy vocal harmonies.
The live incarnation of TLW —which includes Graves’ wife, Jessica Bornick, and family friend Chris Gardener — is booked at Screamin' Mimi's July 22, along with Savannah’s electronic wizard Magic Places and Columbia’s other indie–pop heartthrobs, Coma Cinema.
Tomahawk of Praise, the first full–length album by Those Lavender Whales, was released in January.
When this project began, with your first EP, it was all you. Has that changed?
Aaron Graves: It’s kind of mostly all me. With live shows, I would just be playing with whoever was around, so the live lineup has changed all the time. But now it’s a set live lineup, with my wife Jessica and our friend Chris. But we all live together, so they’re way more involved in the recording process now. I’ll get an idea, and I’ll start recording it, and then me and Chris will sit down and do stuff, Jessica will throw in her two cents, so it’s kind of more of a band feel. But I still come up with a lot of ideas, and we’ll work through it together.
How did you get interested in the recording process?
Aaron Graves: I grew up playing drums, and was playing drums in a couple bands. And we got a four–track, because we didn’t have any way to record anything. I got it off eBay and just started messing around with it. Building up four tracks real fast and finding out about mixing. And then somebody gave me a really crappy Best Buy program, and I could do 24 tracks on that. So we would all record on that, and mix all the drums down to just one input. Then everybody would do everything separately and I’d be figuring out the overdubs. “Man! We filled up 24 tracks!” So I’d mix that down and start a new project.
That recording process kind of turned into my writing process. I’ll come up with 30 seconds of an idea, I’ll record it and flesh it all out, and then I’ll go “I’ve got to finish this song.” So I’ll cut and paste, or come up with a new part, something like that. It’ll start with 30 seconds of a fully fleshed–out part.
Can you articulate exactly what it is you’re striving to achieve?
Aaron Graves: I help run a label in Columbia, with Chris, who’s in the band, and our friend Jordan. I think that’s the main goal I really want to work out. That’s super fun, just being able to help people put out their music, and trying to find more ears for that music. That kinda goes hand in hand with having a band, you always want that for your band. And we’re really focused on the community aspect of music. That’s always been really important to us. And playing shows in new towns is great because you get to meet so many people you wouldn’t necessarily get to meet. And a lot of times you keep in touch with them, trying to build bridges between music communities.
“Indie folk,” “quirky acoustic–pop,” even “hugging music” ... people in print and online seem to define your music in different ways. What is it to you?
Aaron Graves: Especially on the last record, the themes, the lyrical content, was like a little bit darker than the song actually sounds. When I was making the whole thing up, it was before I met my wife, I was living by myself and spending a lot of time alone. It was a way to cope with feelings and sadness and stuff like that.
So I tried to make up melodies and parts that were fun, and would make me laugh. If was recording something and it was goofy enough to make me laugh, or sounded goofy enough, I would just want to do it over and over again. It would bring me out of that state.
What’s with the fake beards?
Aaron Graves: One time I was about to play a house show, and I made a beard mask with clouds on the sides, and a rainbow connecting it. And Jessica makes kids’ clothes and sells them at craft shows — so she made the green beards off of that design. Green is supposed to symbolize personal growth in general. My own beard is really weak, and I’ve always wanted to grow a gnarly beard. But it can’t happen because it’s just clear and stringy. So it kind of symbolizes this way of growing something I can’t physically grow — and that’s where the green color comes in, too.
Those Lavender Whales, Coma Cinema, Magic Places
Where: Screamin' Mimi's, 513 E. Oglethorpe
When: At 8 p.m. Sunday, July 22
Hear the band: thoselavernderwhales.bandcamp.com