THE GRAND UNDOING
The 2020 album release of In A Vigil State is the highly anticipated 4th album by the Boston area band known as The Grand Undoing. Group founder, lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Seth Goodman, with the help of a handful of like-minded musicians, has advanced to a foothold still further up the mountain. The critically acclaimed 2016 Grand Undoing album—Sparks Rain Down From The Lights Of Love—was going to be a hard act to follow, but with its own vast array of catchy pop hooks and driving beats, In A Vigil State proves to be a most impressive return and then some. Swooping in on a signature sound rooted in the 5-P’s —power-pop, prog, psychedelia and punk-rock, Goodman deconstructs and reconstructs his way into a visionary space beyond the past, present, and future. What grabs you right away are the inventive arrangements, each infused with an array of sonic surprises woven into a dazzling studio sheen. One thing is clear—with In A Vigil State, The Grand Undoing has crafted a 21st century masterpiece. A song-cycle of ten Seth Goodman originals that unites an array of reenvisioned classic and contemporary pop sounds, In A Vigil State explodes into a heavenly ‘Glam-Nouveau’ orbit as rock music blasts into a new decade.
mwe3.com presents a new interview
with Seth Goodman of The Grand Undoing
mwe3: How did the album develop and was there a difference between recording In A Vigil State compared with the first three Grand Undoing albums and why the vigil state? Do thoughts of death and the impermanence of life inspire some of the urgency behind your latest music?
Seth Goodman: In A Vigil State developed in much the same way as the Sparks record. This one just took a bit longer than the last one. From start to finish it was about three years of writing, preproduction, experimenting, recording, and mixing. I also had some extra help with this one. Ted Powers wrote and tracked a good number of the backing vocals himself. The record definitely deals with impermanence and mortality, and the dread, acceptance, and grief that those things bring. Hence the title In A Vigil State, and possibly the more urgent than ever tone.
mwe3: Tell us about the concept you had in mind for the new album. Did you want to move past the first three Grand Undoing albums? I thought Sparks Rain Down From The Lights Of Love was going to be hard to top but I think you’ve done it on In A Vigil State. Some tracks have your signature sound but some of the tracks are quite different, yet the whole thing clicks. Did you strive to break new ground on the new album?
Seth Goodman: Though I wanted to build on some of the strengths of the last record, I was very intentional about not repeating myself. I think that you really have to make a conscious effort to broaden your horizons or you run the risk of defaulting to comfortable familiar ground. Some more complex background vocal arrangements, heavy use of the Mellotron, and a more involved production aesthetic and some more creative mixing helped to set this one apart from the last one.
mwe3: How was the In A Vigil State album recorded and were there a lot of overdubs? What studio did you use and who did the engineering and mixing and will it be available on CD and other platforms too?
Seth Goodman: Most of the drums were recorded at Andy Plaisted’s studio with Dave Westner playing bass and me playing guitar. Then I tracked most of the guitars, vocals and other overdubs at my home studio. I also went to Dave’s home studio to track some keyboard parts, more vocals, and to try some production ideas. BJ Cole, Chris Nole, Dana Colley, and Ted Powers mostly tracked remotely at their own home studios. So, lots of people took on some engineering duties but Dave tied it all together and made it make sense. The record has already been mastered and will be available on CD, vinyl, and digitally.
mwe3: For this latest lineup of The Grand Undoing, you mentioned that you had Andy Plaisted on drums, Dave Westner who mixed, played bass, keys and percussion. And also, BJ. Cole, Dana Colley and Chris Nole. Also new contributors Tom Henneberry on guitars, Chris Coughlin on keys and Ted Powers who sang backups, helped with production, and wrote some of the vocal arrangements. Did I get everyone in there? What a great band. How did you arrange such a fine crew to take part in the 2020 album by the Grand Undoing? Being that there’s some excellent vocal arrangements on In A Vigil State, how did you work with Ted Powers?
Seth Goodman: Thank you! That is everyone. The band is a combination of some amazing players, some of whom I’ve worked with for many years, and some old friends who wanted to contribute too. Ted and I would get together and work on songs and try some ideas, but largely I just left him the Pro tools files and he would try production and background vocal ideas on his own in his own studio.
mwe3: What guitars and other gear are you playing on the new album? Sounds like you also had some great Mellotron sounds again. How about keyboards you played on the new album? You mentioned you spend more time on the songwriting and less on being a guitar techie but there’s still some great electric guitar playing on In A Vigil State.
Seth Goodman: Thanks! Things have actually changed a bit since I said that. While the majority of my time working on this was still spent writing and experimenting, I’ve since developed an interest in guitar sounds/effects and renewed my interest in guitar playing. Over the course of the last year I even started taking guitar lessons again for the first time in a crazy number of years. And guitar-wise I think this record was made much more interesting because of both of those things. There’s lots of tremolo, fuzz, delay, flange, and phase, among other things on this record. Although I mostly used the same guitars that I’ve used for years, Tele, Strat, a Les Paul like Gibson, and an acoustic, I also used Allen Devine’s electric Fender 12-string on a handful of tunes. Dave did most of the Mellotron stuff with Logic and I also did some of it with the EHX Mellotron pedal on a guitar.
mwe3: “Into The Glitter” is a great way to open In A Vigil State. Is “Into The Glitter” an upbeat song? You speak about how glitter may be a metaphor for life itself? There are some heady lyrics in there. Are we always “combing the yards for a trace of any signs”? Are we the frozen and broken ones and the departed souls and ancestors are like the glitter in the sky?
Seth Goodman: Mostly yes! It’s a bit of a laid back, breezy, high-strung, darkly upbeat song. The glitter being a metaphor for the stars/heavens as they may relate to the mystery of death and mortality. Where do our friends and loved ones go when they stop living? “Into The Glitter” is mostly about how difficult it is for us to grapple with that ambiguity. Frustration, powerlessness, and confusion all inform that song as well as set a tone for the record.
mwe3: Is “A Little Piece Of Ground” a plea to survive as a human being? What’s that weird sound effect at the end of the track? It’s almost like we don’t ask for much as human beings, then the circular loop goes round and round. You also speak about your mother. It’s really a song about contrast and dichotomy. In Vedic astrology and they speak a lot about ancestors. One thing is, why the song so short… another metaphor for life itself?
Seth Goodman: This is a funny one. You’re right it really is a plea for survival. It’s largely about trying to find meaning and peace amidst an unending cycle of making progress and then being thwarted. In an unlikely twist, Mom makes a “guest appearance” at the end of the song as a symbol of more things that could be mentioned here including security. It’s a little Don Quixote on meth. Let the good times roll! This one seemed to say what it wanted to say in close to two minutes, and when that happens, I like to let the song end rather than let it go on. Brevity is the soul of wit and a lot of my favorite songs are quite short. The sound effect is a sample of an old reel-to-reel machine.
mwe3: Is “Highway” a song praising individuality? Is the legendary steeler BJ Cole on that track? Those sumptuous steel strings… Love it… We’re all one but “you can burn it yours, I can burn it my way”… It’s a song about freedom. Plus is that your blazing guitar solo? It’s quite an orchestral track.
Seth Goodman: I did play that guitar solo. And that is BJ Cole on the pedal steel. I tend to write from the position of being trapped in a corner. With this song, I wanted to do the opposite and paint a picture of freedom and expansiveness. There’s also a lot of space in this song which I think contributed to the orchestral feel, in addition to the mellotron parts. There’s some influence from my favorite Cross and Ross song, “The Last Ocean Rider”, from 1972, which also happens to feature BJ Cole.
mwe3: “Wave” is pure power pop. Sounds like life is beyond our control. It’s all done in the blink of an eye or like you say it’s all just “whimsy, whipped cream and fizz”. I love the bizarre fake ending and then the guitars come back from the void to re-attack. It’s not a short track but it’s still fleeting or very fast…
Seth Goodman: That’s a fun one. And my first foray into something with such unapologetic Motown leanings. It’s mostly about collective experience, the other side of the impermanence coin. Despite how fleeting the form of all things is, there’s actually a finite number of players/energies in play. And there is real joy in simply being a part of that, however impermanent and rapidly changing its face may be. “It’s like we’re all being carried away on the crest of a wave”
mwe3: “He Sees All I See” is one of my favorites on In A Vigil State. Is that another other worldly song? I thought it was about ancestor worship. The Mellotron sounds gives the track a progressive, cosmic kind of sound.
Seth Goodman: “See All I See” is another spiritual song. It’s really just about the notion of being fused with other people, both living and dead. It’s a stance to counter the modern epidemic of unrelenting loneliness. In hindsight, this track evokes the Chris Bell solo record, which I’ve been a big fan of for decades.
mwe3: “Darkness” is another favorite song from In A Vigil State. The vocal arrangements are great as is the Mellotron keyboards sounds. It’s a very positive song yet the “looming darkness” is always on horizon.
Seth Goodman: “Darkness” is really about the inevitability of death, and the grief, helplessness, and beauty that typically accompany it. Its mood is more one of resignation rather than positivity. Ted did an amazing job with the background vocals.
mwe3: Is “Sun Setter” about global warming? “The mercury is climbing a smidgeon” lol The guitar solo again is filled with angst! The UV index is rising, I like the gospel ending… time to pray for Florida.
Seth Goodman: Ha! “Sunsetter” is literally about a patio awning company. They’ve been running a 20-year-old ad on TV that I always thought looked outlandishly dated. This past year I read an article that detailed how they had tried to take the old ad off but realized that whenever they did, sales would drop, so they would put it back on. They’re now sort of prisoners of this unlikely dated low budget cheesy infomercial. I liked the story and thought that a nod via a rock song was appropriate. I’d like to say that a Sunsetter might help with your situation in Florida… but I’m not banking on it. (lol)
mwe3: I love “Silver Songs”. I mentioned the vibe of the album that blew me away and I was taken right back to the new world vision (order?) of the 1980s.
Seth Goodman: This one does have a pretty prominent 80’s vibe to it. It just kind of came out like that. It’s about losing sight of a bigger existential picture amidst the stress of surviving daily struggles. Never figuring it out, never seeing beyond the immediate, all too common a thing in this day and age.
mwe3: “Step In” is a perfect track to follow “Silver Songs”. Are they connected a bit? It’s another stormer of a track. This track kind of reminds me a bit of the early 1980s era.
Seth Goodman: I’m hearing the Damned really prominently in this one, which might explain more of the 80’s vibe a bit. It’s a bit of an invitation to disregard caution and face the unknown, to face the foreboding with optimism.
mwe3: Is “Giving All My Things Away” another philosophical song? I have not heard that phrase “Child is the father of the man” used in a song for over 50 years. It’s upbeat but deep. Sad but positive is a rare combination. What about that ending? It’s sort of like a flashback. How did you get the special sonic effects?
Seth Goodman: This one really was about my father. He loved poetry and often quoted the Wordsworth poem as I looked after him in his final years. He had to let go of his life and I had to let go of him. It was a massive leap and letting go for both us. Fortunately, we were able to go through it together. This song deals with the gravitas of that. The outro relates to how dreamlike that final stage was. We got that by using a few different delays, out of phase, and in stereo.
mwe3: Clearly you have made another great album by The Grand Undoing. Do you have any inklings how In A Vigil State will be accepted by the fans and the world press?