Tapes 'n Tapes' Josh Grier on his new band, Ginkgo: The Ginkgo Biloba is my favorite tree

Ginko Josh Main.jpg
Photo By Charlie B. Ward and Graham Tolbert

Back in 2005, when Tapes 'n Tapes released their celebrated debut album, The Loon, the emerging Minneapolis band brought the focus of the modern, blog-driven music world on the Twin Cities, a trend which certainly continues with the numerous break-out acts enjoying worldwide success today. Tapes have been working hard ever since to not only warrant that initial attention, but to build on it, touring exhaustively over the years while also putting out two successful follow-up LP's in the process.

But towards the end of last year, the band's frontman, Josh Grier, announced that Tapes 'n Tapes would be taking an extended hiatus. Rather than retreat from the spotlight of the local scene, Grier instead has started a new musical project, Ginkgo, which grew out of solo songs that he's been writing over the past few years in between tours with Tapes. And the side-project has proven to be quite a fruitful one for Grier, who finished recording an EP and a full-length with the assistance of TnT drummer, Jeremy Hanson, who added percussion and programmed beats to fully flesh out Josh's songs.

Ginkgo are set to make their live debut playing with Gramma's Boyfriend at Icehouse on Saturday night. In advance of their first show, Gimme Noise was able to ask Josh Grier a few questions about the origins of his side-project, what the difference is between these new songs and his Tapes material, and the local all-star band (featuring Jeremy and his talented brother Jake, along with Rob Skoro and Communist Daughter's Adam Switlick) he's got assembled for Ginkgo's first ever live performance this weekend.

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Gimme Noise: So, how long have you had these Ginkgo songs kicking around?

Josh Grier: I started writing this group of songs in the summer of 2011 between tours with Tapes 'n Tapes. I spent a few days by myself late that summer at a friend's lake cabin to record. I liked the challenge of being responsible for how every aspect of the music sounded -- from writing, to playing, to recording, to producing, etc. So I decided I wanted to try and make a whole record by myself. Until I was done recording in the fall of 2012, I wasn't even sure if I would formally release the songs.

Was there anything specific about them that caused you to think of releasing them as a side-project and not with Tapes 'n Tapes?

These songs are more personal than most of the Tapes 'n Tapes songs. With Tapes, there's four people involved and associated with the music, so there is sometimes a fine line to tow with making things personal. You want to do something that represents the band as a whole. The Ginkgo songs were more personal and represented a more singular vision, so putting them out on my own made more sense.

How rewarding/challenging was it to play every part on these songs initially?

Honestly, it was pretty intimidating. But when I set out to make this record I really wanted the challenge of being responsible for everything. In a band setting there is only so much that you can control or dictate, but when you're working on your own you are 100 percent responsible for the end product. When I write songs I've always had strong opinions and ideas for parts and how I want things to be. I wanted to challenge myself to make a record where I fully realized all of those parts. Now that it's done, it's definitely rewarding to hear how it all came together...because there were a number of times during the process where I was pretty overwhelmed by it all.

When did they reach a point where you felt comfortable wanting to share them with everybody?

It took a while. I wanted to have things in a place where I felt like the intent and the direction of the song was clear before I shared them with anybody. There was finally a point last winter when I had gotten pretty far down the rabbit hole, and felt like I needed some outside perspective on things. That's when I asked Jeremy if he could take a listen, and see what he thought. But other than Jeremy and a few friends, I didn't end up sharing the songs with the rest of the guys in Ginkgo until a few months ago, after everything was recorded and mixed.

How did Jeremy's involvement help turn these demos into something more fully realized and expansive?

I'm not a drummer. It probably took me longer to realize that than it should have. So bringing Jer on board really helped flesh out all of the percussion on the record. I had been programming some simple beats for the songs, and Jeremy suggested taking that a step further by using an old Casio Drum machine that he had, and some drum pads. He ended up playing a lot of live drums on the record too.

You apparently have a Ginkgo LP and an EP already finished -- obviously the songwriting and recording process for this project has proven to be quite fruitful and inspired. What was it that really clicked for you with putting together the songs for this project?

The major factor was time. This is the first time I've made a record without having a day job. It's pretty amazing how much you can get done when you have an extra 40+ hours a week to work on it. I think having all that unstructured time really affected the writing process, too. For the previous 8 years, I'd been working a full time job and been in a full time touring band. Both those things kept me pretty busy and my life pretty well structured. Then all of a sudden, I had all of this free time. It didn't really lead to a full on mid-life crisis, but there definitely some serious quarter life confusion.That ended up being a good source for inspiration and motivation. I kind of used this record to work through a lot of that.

Did not having to worry about having the recognizable Tapes 'n Tapes name being attached to these songs allow you a freedom to experiment with your sound and structure that wasn't quite as possible with your other band?

Not really. The only thing I've ever felt restricted by when it comes to Tapes 'n Tapes song writing is trying to make sure things can be recreated by 4 people in a live setting. Not having to worry about how things would work out live did lead me in some different directions with Ginkgo; using programmed and live drums together, using a lot of "in the box" MIDI sounds, experimenting with time signatures and song structures, etc. Of course, now that Ginkgo is playing a show and we're having to figure out how to recreate the songs live, all those things create some interesting challenges....

You have some true musical heavyweights lined-up for Ginkgo's first ever live show -- how did Jake, Rob and Adam become involved in the project?

Well, the ultimate goal for Ginkgo live -- the way I've always envisioned it -- is that we all switch instruments throughout the set. Some songs maybe Rob will play drums, Jeremy will play bass, Adam keys, with Jake and I on guitar. Then the next song we all switch. This isn't going to happen much at this first show, since we've only practiced together 3-4 times, but eventually, that's the goal. I've been friends with Rob and Adam (and Jake, too) for a while. So when I was trying to think of really great, versatile musicians who might be into switching instruments -- they came to mind right away. I feel really lucky that they've been into playing.

What does the name of the band signify to you and how did you come up with it? I keep expecting you to offer free photocopies with a pre-order of your album or something.

The Ginkgo Biloba is my favorite tree. Yes, I have a favorite tree. I grew up in Oregon, where folks tend to like trees. Ginkgo trees are living fossils, they've been around for over 270 million years. I'm a bit of an old soul, so naming the band after something that has been around since the dinosaurs seemed to fit. Not to mention, anything that can survive the extinction of the dinosaurs is cool as hell, if you ask me.

What do you have planned next for Ginkgo? Any definitive release dates or record labels picked out for the material you already have recorded?

We have more shows booked in April and May that we'll be announcing soon. We're still working out a release schedule because we don't even have the master yet, but hopefully this summer. It's a very summertime record. We do know that it will be coming out on our label, ibid records, like the last Tapes' record. We haven't even sent it to any other labels.

What about things with Tapes 'n Tapes -- is the indefinite hiatus still in effect, and when can we expect to hear more from you guys?

For now I'm just focusing on Ginkgo. So there isn't a timeline for Tapes 'n Tapes to play.

Finally, since I know you're a die-hard Twins fan like myself -- give me something, anything, to feel positive about going into this baseball season. It seems their years of consistently contending for the division are sadly long behind them at this point.

Wow, that's a tough one. At least our losses from the last two years don't carry over to this year, right? I'm hopeful that the return of Terry Ryan as GM can bring the Twins back their glory days. I'm also a perennial optimist when it comes to sports, so we'll see. At least the Vikes made the play-offs this year.

Ginkgo play with Gramma's Boyfriend on Saturday, March 9, at Icehouse. $10. 21+. 11 pm. 2526 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612.276.6523.


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