With their rugged sway and catchy bass lines, Grand National has become more than just a couple of mates making their way on tour. The band last performed in New York at Bowery Ballroom alongside the likes of Hot Chip and The Presets to a zealous and sold-out crowd - a showcase that had GN's frontman, Lawrence "La" Rudd, experimenting on acoustic guitar and covering "When Doves Cry." Recently, I caught up with Rudd (who was humorously obsessed with shouting "Flava Flave") and co-captain, Rupert Lyddon, for a chat about their visit to New York, recording and among others things, French subtitles and horse analogy.
T: How's the tour going?
LR: It's cool. It's a mini-tour but yeah.
T: How'd you feel about the show at Bowery?
LR: It was enjoyable.
RL: Great venue.
T: Did you get to hang out with Hot Chip and The Presets?
LR: Not really because we had people coming up to us afterwards, that sort of thing you do after a gig.
RL: You said "toilet" twice and they were very accommodating.
T: What inspired you (LR) to invoke Prince?
LR: It's just a thought I had one day and I just did it. I'd like to do a few people every now and then. Not a lot of people do it live so it was a bit of fun.
T: I understand 'Playing In The Distance' was your first song that you wrote before you got your name. What was the songwriting process like for that?
RL: Quite lots of musical sketches and trying to give them their own sounds and write as many as I can before I explode. And then La comes around and will pick maybe eight beats to fix this thing over. Four will kind of work out, we'll let them sit there for minutes, add some flavors to them and then we'll know which ones work. So we'll have to lose a lot of babies in the process.
LR: It's alright because we lost a lot of babies there. . .
RL: . . .the babies that don't survive end up helping the ones that do. It's kind of a natural process. It happens in nature, doesn't it?
LR: You've got to be cruel to be kind.
RL: You've got to be cruel to be kind. You can't let a bad song survive. That's right, so La does the wonderful singing on top and tries to hold himself out from saying "Flava Flave" too much and then it all works.
LR: Sometimes it works, sometimes I'll stop singing a sort of music and then if it's not working I'll either stop or feel on something that is working because there's no point in going around too long. . .if it's not working, it's not working.
RL: So these computer-with-the-chicken analogy...yeah I write lots of different bits of music that kind of sits. I got the bass of 'Playing in the Distance,' which I thought we just had that lying around. And then heavy chords are coming around and then La will sing over it and we'll see what comes out, but at that point we'll have them re-continue.
T: How long did it take to record this song?
RL: For "Playing in the Distance", I had the bassline, La sang all of the lyrics and all of the adlibs straight away on a day when we came back to it and it was great. And we added the chorus so it was immediate.
LR: It came quite quickly. We really took two or three chunks of pure dreams and stuff like that...
RL: In the dreams we had, the bassline and all the guitar parts were there. We were playing to La - he's going, "Ok, kind of" - didn't go for it and then La was just about to take a bath before we [went] out that night and he said just before he took a bath, he said, "I've got melody!" Pretty much most of the lyrics came out with melody as well. . . came from somewhere else, came from the bathroom, etc.
LR: We've never had an album start and just [take off]. The album came quite naturally really.
T: [to La] You were in the Police cover band, yes?
LR: Kind of a Police cover band. It was a covers band but I played the drums and sang out at the same time.
T: What was that like?
LR: It was great fun. It was a part of my learning process.
T: How did that come about? Was it just opportunity?
T: How has it been building a fanbase for your music?
RL: With the audience?
T: With the audience.
LR: It's the most gratifying thing after doing hard work. It's fantastic.
RL: Yeah, we've been doing gigs all over the place for the last two years now. I feel like we've gotten better at translating what we do in the studio to live.
LR: Where were you [at Bowery]?
T: I was to your right at the corner of the stage.
LR: You're not the one who grabbed my leg were you?
T: I was near the crouchers.
T: I understand it's not the easiest thing for bands to make the transition from the UK to the US. Many bands from the UK aspire to do that. How has that been for you?
LR: That's a good question.
RL: I think there is and has been, God knows how many years now (30 or 40 years). There is a strange transatlantic love affair between the two countries musically. There's a lot of things that we love from America and you kind of choose what you like, don't you? It just sort of happens naturally. You start with the Beatles and it's just kept going hasn't it?
LR: You seem to like us, it's going well.
T: It is going well. I like your album a lot. How did the cover art for your album come about? Who designed that?
LR: We did. Me and a friend of ours who does advertising stuff and we like the old classic covers from years ago - like Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, The Velvet Underground. We like the strong classic covers. We wanted to come up with something with a good title that linked up with the cover. Many train trips going through papers for good quotes and all sorts of names to call it. Good process.
T: So it's not something that just came.
LR: It took a while.
RL: [We got] to a point where we went "Aha we've got to do an album cover now"
LR: It was good fun.
RL: I had quite a lot of fun. We just went through loads and loads of album covers and sort of agreed on what we liked. And then I ended up finding out the guy who did most of them was still working and lived around the corner from me. So we had to meet this guy called Storm Thorkelson. You occasionally see him around. He did the Dark Side Of The Moon. . .He was working so we went up to see him and hung out with him for quite a long time. And then for reasons beyond our control we couldn't use him. He caught a stroke. So we talked about his process for album covers for quite a long time. And that inspired us to get better involved.
LR: We did this ourselves. [We said] "We'll have a go" ya know. So we did it.
RL: We went to a pub where lots of artists, Ponce artists, hung out.
LR: We got a few drawings. It was good.
T: So the woman with the bruise on her foot...?
LR: Make of it what you will.
T: What is your ultimate goal for your band? Where do you see yourself in a couple of years?
LR: Breaking a record would be a good one.
RL: Picking and choosing a few gigs here and there. Cut more albums. When we were in France we were taken to their equivalent horse race called Longchamp. So that'd be quite nice to tour different countries and get taken to nice horse races.
LR: We were taken to the winners' palette where the horse were going around. It was hilarious.
RL: It was kind of nice to take a break from the touring thing, from the sort of fuss to the gigs.
T: What a way to bring it around full circle.
RL: I got interviewed in the middle of the jockey's palette. Then they ended up weighing me and they had all these French-like [devices]. It was very smart...When they get you on a scale they get you on a lot, 52, 48 kilos, 54. And I sat on it and it was like, bang! 99. And the punchline, this French girl went "Ooh la la" as I sat on the scale.
T: Can you speak French?
RL: I can speak a bit of French. Next best I've got a lot of other things I can pull out of the bag. I'm watching movies with the subtitles in French to sort of learn by osmosis. But I don't know if it's working yet.
LR: That's how [people] learn how to speak English with an American accent. They learn from mostly watching [subtitled films]
T: Watch a three-hour film, you learn a lot.
RL: Yeah, but then you end up learning silly things like if you watch Lord of the Rings you learn that Frodo is Frodal.
T: Any other languages you speak?
RL: I can count to 10 in Korean.
[counts to 10 in Korean]
LR: [rambles] that's my language, there you go.
T: Any specific collaborations you'd like to have eventually?
LR: Dead or alive? Or both?
RL: Alive, I heard that Joni Mitchell isn't recording anymore because she's so pissed off at the record industry, which I don't know whether to say or not.
LR: Joni Mitchell and John Lennon.
RL: Dead: Hendrix was always going to record with Miles Davis. So I [would have liked] to be in the studio.
T: Playing with Miles and Hendrix?
RL: No, I wouldn't be playing anything, just making sure that they're making their cups of tea or whatever they need - "Dragonfly tea". I'd get those two together and just sort of sit in and record. Miles Davis was always going to get together with Hendrix, [but] H. [died] in September 1970.
As our conversation ended, I noticed how dynamic the two were in the pairing of La, a dark-featured, spike-haired, leather appropriate vocalist, with Rupert, an externally conservative light-haired guy sporting a sweater and collared shirt. Moreover, it was easy to see how their personalities merged to form a cohesive couple fit for fun and how their music has made them an infectious breed. Naturally.