In the Studio with January Grit
While January Grit geared up for the release of their debut album, Here in Fahrenheit, Pure Nowhere sent band members Rose Devika and Maddy Monjo a disposable camera to document their time in the recording studio. In the gallery below, Devika and Monjo introduce us to Sean Poe, their drummer, Garret Graves, their bassist, and Antoine Arvizu, their producer. We got to discuss how the recording process both excited and terrified them, the new album described as a whole movie, and which track was most difficult to write.
Tell us a little background on you both.
MM: I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. From day one creativity has always surrounded me. My mum is a singer, musician, and actress, and my dad is a screenwriter and actor. They met at acting school. My older brother is also a singer and musician, and my little sister is an actress. I’ve always loved to sing and would play my old, out-of-tune piano for hours on end. When I was 14, I started songwriting. It’s always been a daunting thing—performing my own songs. The hardest test of this was in March of 2017 (4 years after I began writing) when I was chosen to perform an original at The Sydney Opera House in front of 2000+ people. I remember being backstage and genuinely not knowing if I could walk out into that spotlight. I did though… and the funny thing was, it was over much too quickly. Before moving to New York City for college I studied jazz at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. Then, in July of 2017 I moved to the U.S. with a suitcase and my baritone ukulele to study writing at school.
RD: Music has always been a very important part of my life. Since the age of 5, after a short-lived dream of becoming a farmer, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I was born in Toronto and grew up in Ottawa, Canada. I am lucky enough to have been born into a very creative family. My mother is an artist of many mediums. My Bauji (grandfather) was a Bollywood actor. My Papaji (great-grandfather) was a famous Indian film director, a painter, poet, photographer, and writer. My older brother is a violinist, composer, and conductor and my little brother is a ballet dancer. Unlike my siblings, who have been pursuing their art since the age of 4 it took me many years of pursuing a wide variety of hobbies, including tightrope walking, playing the flute, soccer, highland dancing and more to truly find something I was passionate about. In 10th grade, after taking a poetry course, I absolutely fell in love with writing and decided to pursue spoken word poetry. I started out by performing at Da Poetry Lounge, a weekly open mic held in Los Angeles. At age 18, I won a slam poetry competition held by Say Word LA, where I received a book publishing deal and joined their poetry team. We toured Southern California and performed at multiple venues. In July of 2017, we competed at Brave New Voices, an international spoken word poetry competition. We performed on final stage in front of an audience of more than 3,000 people. During that same summer, I found my mother’s old classical guitar. I started teaching myself how to play, began writing songs in my bedroom, and I absolutely fell in love with it. When I moved to New York for school, I started to pursue songwriting more seriously. Songwriting continues to be my favourite aspect of being a musician, as it allows me to pursue my passion for poetry with my passion for music.
What was your mindset going into recording?
RD: I was incredibly excited going into recording, as well as slightly apprehensive. One of the things I was nervous about was how big of a project we were undertaking. We had a very expansive vision for this record and only five days in the studio to complete it. Luckily, we were blessed with a very understanding and invested producer/sound engineer and musicians that were equally dedicated. I’m so happy to say that we completed everything we intended to and even had time to add more than we had hoped!
MM: Terrified. And excited. Really ready to crack on with it. But I couldn’t shift the feeling of UTTER TERROR. What if we didn’t like the end result? What if I got too much in my own head about it all and didn’t sing/play as well as I could?
Describe your music in a movie scene.
RD: All I can come up with for this question are a bunch of terrible clichés, so I’m going to let Maddy take this one.
MM: Can I describe the album as a whole movie? Two lovers where you just don’t know if it will work out… but by the end you’re sure they will… maybe (think Woody Allen’s Manhattan)—oh, and it’d be set in New York.
What was the most difficult song to write? And why?
MM: Rose wrote the majority of this album (we both work out harmonies and other extra musical elements) but we wrote “Styrofoam City,” “Listen, Let Me Tell You,” and “Halfway in Love” together. Out of those I’d say “Styrofoam City” was the hardest because we wanted to make the lyrics as unique, ambiguous, and original as possible. It was a challenge, but I think we got there in the end.
RD: The most difficult song to write was probably “Styrofoam City.” Maddy and I wrote this one together. What made this song especially challenging was the fact that we had a very clear intention of what we wanted to write about. We knew that we wanted to write a song about addiction and apathy and we knew that we wanted it to have undertones of something like sarcasm or recklessness. However, it was very hard for us to decided exactly what angle we wanted to approach it from. We wanted to keep the song somewhat vague and fairly simple, while still maintaining our own unique perception. It is both a catalyst and a challenge to write something when you are in the heat of emotion. The other reason this song was difficult to write is because we wrote it right after we moved to Toronto. We were sleeping on a mattress on the living room floor of my Bauji’s one-bedroom apartment. He went to sleep early, and we wrote “Styrofoam City” at 12pm, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Once you’ve heard “Styrofoam City” you’ll know it isn’t an easy song to do quietly!
What set of lyrics means the most to you? What’s the story behind that?
MM: “Tragic Child.” Life gets hard, you know?
RD: The set of lyrics that mean the most to me are the lyrics in “For Her.” This song means so much to me, for so many reasons. Honesty is and always will be what I want to portray through the things I create because I believe that for a song to truly resonate with others it has to come from a place of authenticity. And I believe that “For Her” is the most honest song I have ever written. In the second verse, I took one of the lines from my Papaji, Kidar Sharma’s autobiography, which is titled The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma. The line I used was “God writes such cruel short stories.” He wrote this line in reference to one of his best friends passing away at a very young age. The first line of the chorus, “The world’s a war torn orchestra,” comes from a poem I wrote in December, 2017. I was writing the poem in my head while Maddy and I were driving down to 241 on our way to Idyllwild, my favourite place in the world. Maddy had just received the news that one of her dear friends had passed away in an accident. She was writing a goodbye letter to him in the passenger seat. While both of these lines are closely associated with grief and loss, I wouldn’t call “For Her” a song about sadness. To me it is a song about resilience, overcoming, and about the way love, in all of its forms, is the thing that carries us through, time and time again. And of course, I wrote this song for Maddy.
Take us inside the recording process, that period of time in which you were creating something this personal. What was that like from your perspective?
RD: The recording process was a wonderful time! For me the recording process was more of a time to really fine-tune the songs, to get creative with instrumentation, and to challenge ourselves to record the best possible songs we could. It was funny to see how even the actual recording of the songs reflected the essence of the feelings we were trying to convey. For example, Maddy and I recorded our vocals for “Hollow Hallelujah,” into one microphone, which really challenged us to find that perfect balance between our voices, since the levels couldn’t be adjusted much in editing afterwards. It’s one of our most intimate songs, so standing together late at night while the wind was going absolutely crazy outside really allowed us to get into the headspace we needed to be in for that song. Additionally, being in such a beautiful space surrounded by so many guitars, a stand up bass, a grand piano, an old Wurlitzer, and more really helped in getting my musical excitement and passion going. And, fun fact, Sublime recorded their 40oz. To Freedom at that same studio, The Compound Studio, in Long Beach!
MM: It was a completely surreal experience; recording these songs that Rose and I had wrote and worked on for the past year. We also wrote them in tiny rooms—small apartments, small dorm rooms—and the studio was a BIG space. So to play the songs in a space like that was wildly exciting. The whole recording process was a really beautiful thing. Our fellow musicians were so passionate and gave their all. Our producer, Antoine Arvizu, was magic. He treated us with so much respect and really wanted to see the album become the best that it could be. After the end of each day, I didn’t want to leave. I want to start working on album number two now!
What was your favorite memory tied to this album?
MM: That’s hard. There really are so many. But if I had to choose one I’d say when we got the first mixes back of all the songs. Rose and I were driving and we played them in the car. It was so exciting. I was quite giddy and had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t believe that they were a real thing. When I think back to a year ago, I in no way would have expected us to have an entire album done. But that moment with Rose, sitting in her car listening to the tracks was just beautiful. It started with us, grew into something that could be shared with wonderful artists (and now you, our beautiful listeners), and there we were: driving through Southern California listening to the songs we only hoped that one day could be heard by others. And now here we are.
RD: My favourite memory tied to this album is probably the writing of “Listen, Let Me Tell You.” This was the first song that Maddy and I ever wrote together. We wrote it sitting on her carpet on the floor of her dorm room late at night in November 2017 in New York. We recorded it on a portable mic a few weeks later in my dorm room, under a red exit sign. We came up with the idea for the bridge while we were sitting on the steps of a church in Bronxville. I love the fact that Here in Fahrenheit ends with this song, since it’s the very first song we ever wrote together. It was also my first time co-writing a song with someone else, so it was a very special and delicate moment where we were just starting to learn how to balance each other out and how to bring our own experiences, emotions, and visions together.
Anything else you would like to mention?
RD: I just want to add how very thankful I am to all of those that helped us bring this album to life and I want to give credit to the many people that allowed Here in Fahrenheit to become what it is. Thank you to our bassist Garret Graves, our drummer Sean Poe, our violinist Carlos Felipe Silva, our cellist Rebecca Yeh, and our trumpet player Nic Chaffee. And thank you to our sound engineer and producer Antoine Arvizu, and to Matt Lynch for mastering the album. And a thank you to Danielle Cohen for photographing our album cover! And of course, thank you to you for listening to Here in Fahrenheit and for supporting us. Also, we’ve got a zine out on our website with all of the lyrics to the album, behind the scene photos of the recording process, and more!
January Grit’s debut album Here in Fahrenheit is out now. Stream it here.