Name: Nolan Green
Occupation: Musician / Multi-instrumentalist
Bands/Projects: Grassy Knoll
Labels: Electric Verde Records, Nettwerk
Musical Recommendations: JoJo Mayer and Helen Breznik
When did you start writing music, and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started playing music in the 8th grade when the choir director suggested I give the bass guitar a go. I think she made the gesture because it was obvious I couldn’t sing a lick.
I instantly connected with the bass. It sounded so cool and I loved how the low notes resonated with my body. Soon after that I was playing in bands. Our set consisted of Thin Lizzy, UFO, Grand Funk, Captain Beyond, Starz, Montrose, Blue Oyster Cult, etc. I didn’t start writing music until I discovered bands like The Cure and Echo and The Bunnymen.
Robert Smith’s gift of taking very simple parts and creating hauntingly beautiful songs really resonated with me, especially after years of listening to heavy rock records. Upon discovering Seventeen Seconds and Faith I borrowed a friend’s 4-track cassette recorder and started messing around.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
The Grassy Knoll is both a collage of and homage to the music that moves me. I feel that what comes across as originality is in fact the way that various musical genres are melded together and live in a rock setting. Once I accepted the fact that I didn’t want to be in a rock band but instead wanted to create sonic soundscapes that’s when I was free to discover my own voice. The mid-1980s was a time for exciting experimentations in sampled sound—Malcolm McClaren, The Bomb Squad, Art of Noise, Rick Rubin—what these artists were doing musically made perfect sense to my ears and provided an introductory road map.
What were your main compositional and production challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The real challenge was finding time to create the songs. Song writing is a time-consuming process, and when I started making the first Grassy Knoll demos back in 1993, I was sheet rocking houses in Oakland. I would leave work after an 8-10 hour day and have a couple of hours each night to work on music. That was a huge challenge. Today, I have structured my life so I have more time to create.
Tell us about your writing environment/studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
Creating a mood is important. Electric Verde Studio is a simple room with cork flooring and panels of acoustic foam strategically placed on four walls. The room sounds great.
The front and back walls are painted green; the same green that is used on the cover of Electric Verdeland Vol.1. I prefer to mix at night with just the glow of the computer screen and a single green bulb hitting the back wall.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using?
Logic, iZotope (Iris, Alloy, Nectar and Ozone) Fender Jaguar Guitar, 1975 Fender Precision Bass, and a USB Turntable.
How would you describe your relationships with technology and what role does it play in your pieces? In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Are there any promising solutions or set¬ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
The Grassy Knoll depends on technology. I create in an electronic world but it’s essential that it doesn’t sound like it. For all the technology involved, the organic element is its musical heartbeat.
The software I use expands my creativity because it’s a chosen tool. iZotope’s Iris is a sound design tool just like a Fender Jaguar is a sound design tool. A promising solution for triggering new ideas would be if a program like Ableton Live could loop, time stretch, pitch shift, add as clip in the sessions window a video clip like it does with audio clips; that would be a game changer for a Grassy Knoll live performance.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
"The Definitive Manifesto for Handling Haters" off of the new album contains all the elements of my process. It starts with a solid grooving rock drum track with a driving bass. I add dissonant noisy samples in the background, random breaks that shouldn’t work but feel seamless, an arpeggiated synth electronic bridge, and an incredible improvised horn by Brad Houser in three takes, with one panned left, one panned right, and one centre on top of it all. There are a lots of things happening in a short amount of time. My hope is that the listener will continue to discover new elements on each listen.
With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
It means that there will be more great stuff to experience, more sources for inspiration.
Knowledge influences creation, so I get inspiration by learning every day, having an open mind and by being receptive to what others create, by reading books, watching films, flipping through Instagram or listening to music. I live in an incredible musical community.
On any given night in Austin you can soak in a variety of local artist like Jon Dee Graham, Jesse Dayton, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, Black Joe Lewis, Laura Scarborough, BLXPLTN, Bill Callahan, Lincoln Durham, etc ... In addition, we have KUTX, which plays an eclectic mix of music, and they are a fierce supporter of the local scene. There is a lot of juice in this town.