The Family Grave are from Brighton, England and used to be known as Hiawatha Telephone Company, with two albums of simple lo-fi folk-pop songs recorded straight to tape - 'Harry Smith Was My Father' and 'Passengers Greatest Hits'.
After releasing another lo-fi affair titled 'Everybody is Flawed' as The Family Grave, The Family Grave have recorded their first 'produced' album at the boutique Church Road Recording Company in Hove in the south of England under the careful stewardship of Paul Pascoe (Mudlow, Beat Hotel).
The Family Grave comprises Jon who sings, plays guitar and writes these strange songs that sound like familiar classics, but oddly different, and which speak directly to the heart. He is mainly accompanied on Happy Songs by the talented artistry of Martyn Moss (M. Butterfly) on a variety of guitars and keyboards with additional contributions from other friends.
Jon's songs sound like they've been found under a rock, a secret hidden away from the musical world and known to only a precious few. The album Happy Songs has been described as "an eclectic collection of refreshingly different, thought-provoking songs" and the "storytelling on this album is something you don't hear everyday." It is a unique collection of unique songs, demanding concentration from the listener, but the rewards are great for those who do.
The songs are musically diverse, surprisingly so for a modern album. Stylistically they cover elements of folk (Happy Song, Memories), Garage Rock (I'd Follow The Sun, Mr Train Driver), sadcore (When You're On Your Own), Alt-country (I'm Not Hard To Get Along With) and a strange poetic psychedelia that is hard to pigeon hole (The Birds, The Wild Boys and Colours). However, there's a unity in Jon's singing and intelligent lyricism, and a consistency of style, which is reminiscent of some of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's LPs. There are stories in the songs, there are characters and there is quite a lot about mental health. But most of all there is an intelligence and emotional depth.
The ten tracks on Happy Songs were all written in a single month of February several years ago as part of FAWM, the February Album Writing Month project. Jon always felt they were a great collection and deserved better than his usual straight-to-tape lo-fi approach, so he squirreled them away and although they got a few outings on stage, they were largely forgotten. And then they were remembered again, and it seemed the time was right.
"It's so easy to sing a sad song because there are so many sad songs to sing..."
Opening song 'Happy Song' was inspired by three things: a mid-period Captain Beefheart track called 'Happy Love Song'; the Pharrell Williams song that was ubiquitous around the time when the song was written and the famous opening lines from Leo Tolstoy's novel 'Anna Karenina' - that "Happy families are all alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own special way". But ultimately it is not a song about happiness, but about the power of melancholy, of accepting and owning our own sadness. The accompanying video is by the photographer Jerry Webb.
I'd Follow The Sun
'I'd Follow The Sun' is a simple slab of indie-rock with a crawling aching retchingly beautiful guitar solo from Martyn. It's about yearning for a lover who is on the other side of the world. It's the shortest song on the album.
Memories (Growing Older)
Pop culture is thought of as something for the young. Age can be regarded as an embarrassment, the idea of an older artist beginning their career with life's experience behind them is almost taboo. But everybody grows older or they die. There are no exceptions. So why aren't there songs about growing older, which is such an integral unavoidable part of life? 'Memories' is one of those songs. Because "living today simply takes my breath away".
When You're On Your Own
I wrote 'When You're On Your Own' as payback for a song I wrote on my album Passengers Greatest Hits about a man who was falsely accused of something, although it is never exactly clear what or what the truth actually is. I didn't want to be THAT kind of man, so I decided to write a response song, from inside the head of someone who has suffered pain, who has been a victim and is uncertain they have strength to engage with the world. I hope it gives someone the strength to know they are not alone.
Mr Train Driver
There are 1000 songs about trains listed by Wikipedia but not another one called Mr Train Driver. This is a plain and simple love song for a driver of trains, but more importantly a tribute to train drivers the world over. It was inspired in part by the patience of one particular driver on a train journey I was on, where the train had stopped for an age and the passengers were in a state of rebellion trying to break open the automatic doors. The driver came out and spoke to them with the patience of a saint. I don't know who he was but I thought he deserved a song. My friend Mr James Kendall made a video for 'Mr Train Driver' that I like very much, with the awesome talents of Ms Hannah Wilde.
I once described my song 'The Birds' as being a metaphor for inter-continental geo-political conflict. You can decide for yourself which bird is Russia, which China and which the United States. Or maybe they're just birds.
The Wild Boys
The Wild Boys was inspired by a distant folk memory of the William Burroughs novel of the same name. When I wrote the song it came out as if it was some sort of political metaphor for international terrorism of the Al Qaida variety but now, seven years later, it feels like a description of Russia's armies as they look to invade Ukraine. Maybe humanity's horror and brutality is timeless and omni-present, but I am an optimist and I would like to believe we are better than that.
Anna Maria was inspired by a distant friend who had been going through bad times and wasn't doing all that well at dealing with them. She's better now and thriving. I love the violin and trumpet on this track. The violin is by Maria Marzioli of the band Slum of Legs who has also added her talents to the latest Porridge Radio record. The trumpet on this and The Wild Boys is by Matt Ellis Devitt of the Meow Meows. I asked him to channel his inner Miles Davis and I think he surpassed that here.
I'm Not Hard To Get Along With
This is my classic country song that I think ought to be recorded by someone who is big in Nashville. Just saying. We all need a little sugar in our coffee sometimes. We all need to feel loved, right? Maria plays in an anarcho-feminist punk band but on this track she's laid down some of the most beautiful sawdust-infused violin-playing you're ever likely to hear. I love it.
Roses is like a folk story, with an artificial construct using a rainbow of colours as a cloak to hide its warm and tender heart. At the end of the day it's just a simple love story, articulating the kind of honest and generous emotions we all search for in a relationship.
"I love the colour in your cheeks
When you blush
At the things
You shouldn't laugh at
But it's alright
You can laugh
When you're with me..."
THE FAMILY GRAVE - HAPPY SONGS
Released April 1st 2022 - Limited edition Cassette / Download.
Further information - http://linktr.ee/thefamilygrave
Photo credit: Southcoasting photography
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