Active Child's Pat Grossi on Irony, and Sounds From Another Era

The '80s. Pretty much since they ended, there has been mini-to-full-scale '80s revivals every few years, with New Wave, dance punk, vintage hip-hop and other sounds of the cocaine-decade repurposed by young musicians. But some of 2011's most buzzed-about records share a common bond, utilizing elements from '80s soft rock and New Age, genres never high on the scale of critical respect.

Pat Grossi of Active Child, who released the much-hyped You Are All I See earlier this year, knows that his hazy synths, signature drum sounds, and R&B vocal inflections could come across as disingenuous, or even worse, as "ironic."

"I think it can be pretty polarizing," Grossi says over the phone, in the tour van on the way to Atlanta. "I hope it doesn't just come off as ironic, because that would suck."

We discussed the art of sincerity, listening to music before you know what "cool" is, and the band's rise through blog word-of-mouth and old-school tour ethics.

Up on the Sun: How has the tour been going?

Pat Grossi: Really good.

How has M83 been sounding on the tour?

They sound amazing. They are [really] getting into the groove. I think they've only played a few shows on the new album, so they are still growing into it and stuff. But they sounded huge last night, and definitely had the biggest crowd of the night.

I'm sure it's different for everyone, but is it tough for you guys to get into the groove, performing wise?

There's always a certain rhythm you get into. We haven't really stopped since the beginning of September, back in L.A. [we were] playing weekly shows. So it feels like we've been touring for a few months. We're in a pretty good rhythm at this point. Once you take a break for a little bit, you come back [and have to get] your stage legs back. Get back into performance mode.

It's refreshing that despite all the internet buzz, you guys seem to have generated a lot of fans through real touring. After you played the Marquee with Cut/Copy, people started talking around town.

I think it's been a little bit of both. I think you can only get so many fans through blogs. You have to get out there.

You've toured with a lot of acts, and the record goes all over the place, and it's cool that you can fit in on a bill with School of Seven Bells, James Blake, or M83. There's a lot of room to do different things.

Definitely. We've been excited to tour with some of my favorite musicians out there. Especially M83. We've all been talking since we've been on tour, about how we've all been listening to this band [for years]. It's inspiring to be around people you respect as musicians.

The sounds on the record, the New Wave and '80s R&B influences -- When did you start getting into those kind of record, or have you always been into that?

I haven't necessarily always been into it, but I was exposed to it when I was really young. My dad used to play a lot of music in the house, and when he would drive me to school in the morning, stuff like that. A lot of early '80s New Wave stuff, and it stuck with me. I rediscovered a lot of it when I got older, it became pretty obsessed with New Order and Joy Division right before I started recording a lot of music. It carried over, [in the form of] a lot of the drum sounds I enjoy the most, and a lot of the strange synthesizers I use a lot.

The last Bon Iver record gets brought up in a lot of reviews of your band. There's a shared sensibility. The last track on his record ["Beth/Rest"] featured a lot of soft rock elements, and I don't know that people know how to take it. Do you think people are more receptive to listen to some of these sounds and not dismiss it as ironic? It's not goofy, it's not a prank -- there seems to be a lot of stuff out now, like How to Dress Well and your band, that employs some of those very distinct sounds.

I think it can be pretty polarizing. That song, just listening to it, I was aware of that. We were literally just listening to that Bon Iver track an hour ago, and we were all laughing about the different sound choices: the piano, the sax solos, the big air guitar. I mean, I enjoy it, but you walk a line to a certain extent when you pull from sounds that have already been explored in previous eras. But there's so much from that time that people still enjoy. I hope it doesn't just come off as ironic, because that would suck. They are serious songs...

Irony isn't a bad thing, but sometimes stuff just gets dismissed. You don't know how to take it, so you dismiss it.

I try to listen to it for what it is. Not try to put it in historical context...they are pop songs. It is what it is.

You mention driving with your dad to work, for a lot 20-somethings, it's like, I remember being young and hearing Phil Collins -- I had no filter to judge whether it was "cool" or not. I just heard it, and I liked it.

Exactly. It worked. I feel that's the way it should be to a certain extent. You don't have to pre-judge everything because of all this other stuff that came before it, [though] it's hard not to.

Active Child is scheduled to perform Tuesday, November 7, at The Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.