Strings in Space

    Combining delicate harp harmonies with dense electronic textures and a sense of melody borrowed from contemporary R&B, Active Child’s Pat Grossi makes music that sounds both otherworldly and corporeal. Next Thursday, Active Child will play at The Loft at UCSD. 

    Grossi took the time to talk with the Guardian over the phone Wednesday, discussing R&B, pop music’s past and the difficulties of playing his delicate pop music live.

    The combination of harp and electronic beats is certainly an unusual one.

    “Originally I was doing both separately, and suddenly I realized ‘wow, maybe I should just try to put these two things together to get something really interesting,” Grossi said. “I would listen to the electronic stuff and feel like it was missing something a little more tangible, there was something just out of reach. I couldn’t really connect with a lot of it, and as soon as I started playing harp on top of it, it started to feel like much more engaging music.” 

    However, making the transition between this intricate approach to production and the often-unsteady realm of live performance has proven to be tough. 

    “It was difficult,” Grossi said. “We’ve been touring pretty much non-stop since the album came out. I think the songs are changing and we’re playing them a little bit better each tour. We’ve figured out how to break down a lot of the orchestration and make it happen live.”

    As though his approach wasn’t inventive enough, Active Child’s debut album, last year’s You Are All I See, saw the band flirting with the kind of buoyant pop melodies one might find on a Beyonce track. Grossi attributes this shift to increased vocal skills. 

    “I feel like I found myself moving more and more in that direction the more confident I became with my voice, Grossi said. “It’s more fun for me as a singer, and I think it carries a lot more soul and a lot more melodic diversity. There’s just a lot more flow to the voice and flow to the melodies.”

    Grossi is also inspired by the way pop music has evolved over time, finding the ’80s to be a particularly motivating time.

    “I think naturally when you write a song, you’re drawn to certain aspects of old music that you listen to,” he said. “I’ve always been really into the sound of the ’80s — gated drums, toms and lots of reverb. I like a lot of the synthesizers from that time period as well, the classic analog pads and synths. I think that to not be influenced by some musical creation is pretty much impossible.”

    Last time Active Child played at UCSD was in late 2010, supporting School of Seven Bells. Grossi is excited about the progress the band’s made since that show.

    “We’re obviously touring a lot more and becoming a stronger band,” Grossi said. “We’ve also added a drummer and percussionist to the group who’s been playing a mixture of live drum kit and a full electronic kit, so he’s back there doing a lot of work, helping the songs come to life. It should be a much more engaging show than when we played there last.” 

    The development of Active Child’s live setup isn’t limited to the musical, either: “It should be a pretty all-encapsulating performance where you hopefully feel lost in the music,” he said. “We’ve added a lot of lighting, lasers, smoke and things that will help enhance the mood. It should be pretty powerful, hopefully.”

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