On the Rise
What do you do when you’ve got a song credited to you and Paul McCartney? You sit on it. “Paul McCartney evaluated my music [while at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts]. When I walked into that room and he was sitting there I really did almost have a fit of anxiety. I played him a song of mine called “Carry the Weight” and, at the time, I didn’t realize there was a Beatles song called “Carry that Weight.” He said, ‘I think my band did a song called that,’ and I was like, ‘Really?’ He made some suggestions, and we worked on it a bit, and now I have a song that has Paul McCartney credited on it. I don’t think it’s a Kites song though, it’s a lot more singer/songwritery.”
Instead of cashing in on the notoriety of a Grobler/McCartney credit, Grobler keeps Kites focused on his own exacting vision, writing and recording without a full-time band to help carry the load. The result is You and I in the Kaleidoscope, an EP that features big arena rock choruses woven to a framework of densely layered walls of guitar — a full sound featuring many little hideaways and crannies. It’s the kind of bombast that some of Grobler’s musical inspirations — which include Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Smashing Pumpkins — also share. Still, he’s in no rush to form a band. “I love the idea of a group of people working really well together, but I’ve just never been in a situation yet where I’ve felt that I really connect [in a band] on a musical level. It can get very lonely doing it that way, but then you don’t really have to compromise. Luckily I have a good group of musical friends that I can bounce stuff off of, which often pulls me out of my own ass.”
Even with such a big sound, writing on your own can saddle you with the term “singer/songwriter.” Grobler is openly ambivalent toward the title. “I’m not the biggest fan of your conventional singer/songwriter. I don’t really connect that much with the confessional sort of songwriting, where people are talking about the way they feel as if no one has ever felt that way before and expect that to carry a boring arrangement. I like it a lot more when people transport you somewhere else with the music and the arrangement and lyrics, where every detail seems just as important.” So, songs like “Daylight” and “Easy Now” blast full tilt by the time they round the bend to their choruses, in a much more muscular way than most solo work does, with a stronger pulse than you’d expect, without leaving behind Grobler’s clever sprinkles of xylophone and exotic instruments, like bouzouki. “It’s about having a sort of bigger architectural framework that you’re working to, where each moment is as important as the next, and the bigger picture is just as important as the small little subatomic bits.”
This attention to the tiny pieces had Kites’ Kaleidoscope arriving after a three year gestation period. “I should clear something up now. I didn’t spend the whole of three years laboring day after day over this EP. It was a broken up process, between working and doing other stuff.” Maybe not laboring, but Grobler was very careful to make sure all the pieces fit together. “I’ve been writing all my life, and have made EPs and stuff, but never actually properly released anything that I did. And I’m always writing stuff anyway, but not everything fits together. As a first taste of Kites, I wanted to make the strongest statement I felt I could make at the time, and those four songs seemed to fit.”
So, the tumblers fell into place with Kaleidoscope, a jumping off point for Kites. “I am working on an album. I think I have enough material demoed now, but I’d like to involve more people in the recording process this time round. I like both extremes of sound, the really lean and elegant type of sound, and the really full type of sound, which is what I went for on this EP. Maybe in the future I’ll make some more lean music, and then even more bombastic music with a full orchestra in St Paul’s Cathedral…who knows. The possibilities are endless.”
You’d expect a bit of a restless attitude from a man living between Johannesburg, South Africa, Germany, and New York, and with that kind of raw imagination, it really is anybody’s guess where Grobler’s music goes next. “I’ve been working with a couple UK based artists, Matt Robertson and Mike Reed, on their project which is called Mood Bungalow. It’s pretty exciting and epic stuff. Every song is in some crazy time signature. I did the vocal arrangement and singing on one of their tracks. I also might be doing some remixes for other artists. I’ve got a lot of material that I don’t think fits into the “Kites” realm that might turn into something else at some point, but we’ll see.”
With the prospect of a lot of new material in various forms, Kites is definitely on the rise — with or without the wings of Paul McCartney.