Using unique sounds spanning decades and genres, establishing their own eccentricity into their music, and using out of the box methods to create a true lockdown record, The North Country has proven themselves to be a truly special band in the alternative and experimental music space.
The North Country is based straight out of our nation’s capital, and consists of members Andrew Grossman (lead vocals, lead guitar, synthesizer), Jon Harmon (guitar, electronics), Laurel Halsey (keys, vocals), Margot MacDonald (vocals, loops), Austin Blanton (bass, vocals), and Kirk Kubicek (drums).
The experimental group showed the world their own brand of creative pop when they released their first album, You Can Never Go Home Again, in October of 2012. Since then, the band has released three more albums and multiple singles.
The group was planning a tour for the release of their latest album, Chains of Love (On Prisoners of War), but unfortunately COVID had other plans. Having to cancel their shows, the band did what bands do best in times of hardship: hunker down and start writing more material. Using a unique method of sending each other song ideas to add bits and pieces, the band would soon form their upcoming EP, Born at the Right Time (Exquisite Corpse), set to drop July 15th.
And today, the group has released their socially relevant video single for the record, “Procrastinator.”
We got to chat with The North Country about the new single, the creation of their upcoming EP, and what their plans are for the future.
So how did y’all get together and start making music as The North Country?
Andrew Grossman: We’re just a bunch of weirdos who are friends. Making music together just seemed like the logical choice!
Laurel Halsey: We all just kind of met through the grapevine. I’d say it’s the friendships as much as (if not more so than) the musical abilities of each member that give the band its sparkle, at least from my perspective.
You’ve got your new video single, “Procrastinator,” out today. Can you talk about what inspired you/the group to write this track?
LH: I wrote my portion of “Procrastinator” just a few hours before I’d agreed to finish it, after having put it off all week. For me, a love of music coexists with chronic inertia around songwriting, so I decided to write a song about avoiding writing a song–and, more broadly, about the power of mere distractions to derail us from what’s valuable.
It doesn’t take long to comprehend the theme of the song, but is it meant to point out our mindless scrolling as bad, good, or neutral? Perhaps trying to create mindfulness/awareness?
AG: I think all too often we engage with these technologies without thinking. We’ve been so thoroughly trained that at this point opening up your phone and scrolling is just like a reflex. I personally do it all the time, and the longer I do it, the worse I feel emotionally and psychologically. And yet I continue to do it every single day without fail. It’s completely absurd. With the video, more than saying it’s good or bad, I think our intention is just trying to examine this thing that so often goes unexamined in our daily lives.
JH: Social media came into the picture when we started thinking about the video. Procrastination takes many forms, but I think one we can all relate to and feels very timely is social media usage. The outro in particular conjured this image in my mind of just a flurry of clips, without context, rapidly changing. A manic scroll was an obvious mechanism to capture that energy.
As we were ideating for the video, we did ask ourselves the question, “Are we criticizing people who engage in this behavior?” A previous North Country music video for ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ explored a similar theme, but was more explicit in its critique of social media and ‘influencers’.
We didn’t want this video to be redundant in that sense. So it was more of a neutral examination of this phenomena. And I think if we had pursued a more critical message, we would’ve shown more of the negative consequences. Instead, we see our protagonist engaging in this procrastination, but we don’t have a sense of what they are avoiding or what the end result of that is. Maybe that procrastination was actually self-care, you know? And they were better off after procrastinating. So I think by leaving it more open-ended, the video is more ‘still life’ than a pointed and scathing cultural critique. And that was intentional.
LH: So many distractions that prevent us from doing what’s truly fulfilling or productive are not in themselves harmful, necessarily. Animal rescue videos and dance TikToks are pretty innocuous, even wholesome. The question is just, is this really how I want to spend my time? Is this really what I want my life to consist of? Might I feel happier on a deeper level if I stopped using this distraction as a means to avoid whatever I’m avoiding?
The video has a really cool aesthetic and feel. Who all helped the vision come to life, and what was that process like?
JH: I pitched the idea to the band after doing a LaMemeYoung exercise where you ‘play’ the newsfeed like a sampler. I thought that we could do a cool video where the video and the song were the result of swiping through a bunch of IG reels. The band was into it, but I think there was some skepticism as it was a hard thing to conceptualize. I had been building the motion graphic treatment on my own for a while, not really sure if it would be enough to keep people’s attention. I think a crucial moment in the creative process for me was working with my friend, Colin Faust. He’s a cinematographer in Baltimore who came down for the film shoot with Laurel. We were able to get on the same page really quickly on the look we were going for.
Originally, that footage was just going to be cropped vertically and used as clips in the graphic environment. But it ended up looking so beautiful that we really wanted to reorient the approach to center the footage and have the graphic treatment be an added garnish. Andrew did a lot of content creation 😉 that riffed off of certain themes we had identified as motifs such as unboxing and cooking videos. We also sourced footage from friends and that helped support the social media feel. That these weren’t heavily produced moments. Also big shout out to Kennard Blackwell who shot the live footage at the end and also provided some much needed reassurance in a moment of self-doubt.
The instrumentation in the song is definitely unique and experimental. Is this the band’s usual trademark sound, or did it just seem fitting for this particular track?
AG: I think each song calls for something different, but we definitely are getting more and more interested in deconstructing our sound and reconstructing it in new and interesting ways. This record is definitely in a more experimental vein than previous records.
JH: This song started with Laurel (singer / keyboardist). She wrote a really beautiful and comforting organ part and then some lyrics. And I think at that point, it was basically already a song, albeit in a different genre. As it made its way through the band, it got increasingly chaotic. My musical impulse by the time it got to me was to kinda destroy it. For the outro, I ended up taking Kirk’s drum track for the whole song and playing it at 2x the speed as well as sending it through all kinds of beat repeaters in Ableton. That gave a really frenetic foundation for the guitar riff that I had been working on, but hadn’t yet found a way to integrate into the song. Once that outro was done, it became obvious to use that same riff earlier in the song.
LH: I do love me some nice organ tones.
How does the songwriting process typically work within the group?
AG: In the past I would write the songs, record a demo, bring it to the group, and we’d work out the arrangements during rehearsals as a group. The writing process for Born at the Right Time (Exquisite Corpse) was completely different.
And you have your upcoming EP, Born At the Right Time (Exquisite Corpse), set to drop July 15th. What can you tell us about the album?
JH: This record is basically the result of an experiment and originally had no intention for release. It was more of a team building exercise. A trust fall. We each were tasked with coming up with a seed for a song. That seed could be a drum beat or a chord progression. It would then get handed to another band member in a way that was predetermined. Andrew did some crazy math and found a way to have each seed take a different path through the band so each song has a really different feel as a result.
AG: Whereas previous records all had only one songwriter, this record had six collaboratively working in as mathematically equivalent a way as possible. The result is basically an experiment in collective thinking.
LH: At the risk of over-explaining: after I wrote my part for “Procrastinator,” I sent it off to one of my bandmates, who added to it, and then sent it off to someone else, who then added to it, and so on. (Andrew did, in fact, make a chart detailing who would send what to whom and when; see chart!.) Meanwhile, another band member sent their composition to me so that I could contribute to it, and then I sent that off to someone else. Each person wrote an initial layer, and each of those layers accumulated more layers as it passed through six pairs of hands total. After I sent off my song-let, I had no idea what was being done to it. I didn’t get to find out until the very end. We had a listening party over Zoom when all six compositions were finished, party being the operative word. It felt as though we were all opening presents.
Is there an overarching theme or motif behind the record as a whole?
AG: The record as a whole is a testament to the importance of having people in your life who you care about. I don’t know if I personally could have survived the lockdowns of 2020 with my sanity intact without having the rest of this band to work with, and this record to work on. This record was a life raft.
Might you have another video/single or two ready to drop prior to the EP release?
AG: Yes! Two more singles, one more video. For the next video we’re working with a really talented VR artist. I’m very excited for people to see it. It’s gonna be real weird!
What might you have in store post-album release? Touring, regional gigs?
AG: We’re doing a short string of shows in May including some single release shows in Philly and DC, and then a longer tour in July up and down the east coast. We also have another album in the works, that’s about 70% done being recorded that I’m really excited for people to hear.