Name: Nick Millevoi

Nationality: American

Occupation: Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
Current Release: Grassy Sound's debut record The Sounds of Grassy Sound is out via Destiny.  

If you enjoyed this interview with Nick Millevoi of Grassy Sound and would like to keep up to date with the project, visit Nick on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter. He also has an official website.

Over the course of his career,
Nick has played and collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Nels Cline, Jamie Saft, Kevin Shea, Jason Nazary (of Anteloper), and Charlie Rauh.

[Read our Nels Cline interview]
[Read our Jamie Saft interview]

[Read our Kevin Shea interview]
[Read our Jason Nazary (of Anteloper interview]

[Read our Charlie Rauh interview]

Grassy Sound as a project is said to have been inspired by styles from the 1950s and ’60s. From my European perspective, this era in US history is often represented as conservative and a sort of lost paradise. What's your own angle on this time?

I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, when nostalgia for the ’50s and ’60s was rampant.

TV show re-runs from that era and oldies radio were both inescapable. Some of my earliest favorite musicians were Elvis and the Beach Boys, not because anyone around me was even listening to that music, but because I would see them on television.

And, of course, a lot of contemporary pop culture referenced that period as well, from David Lynch movies to Pulp Fiction, and the music that went along with both.

So, my perspective on the middle of the 20th century is through a nostalgic lens, but it’s nostalgia that I was experiencing for a time I didn’t experience. In a way, when I’m thinking about the ’50s and ’60s, I’m also thinking about the ’80s and ’90s.

What draws you to the music from this era in particular? What role did it play for your own development as a listener and artist?

I started playing guitar in 1992. Before I learned any Nirvana songs, I was learning songs from the ’50s. That music—early rock ’n’ roll, r&b, cowboy songs, that kind of stuff—is the classical music of the electric guitar.

So, for me, no matter how crazy some of the music I make gets in other projects, this has always been the language that I’m speaking.

Speaking more generally, what do artists from the past have to offer today? Is it just that everything old is new again at some point or is there more to it?

We live in a time where, to appropriate Ben Ratliff’s book title, you easily can listen to every song ever. To our ears, there is no difference between music of the past and music today. It all sits next to each other on our streaming services and in our record collections.

Of course, there are many differences between old music and new music when it comes to social reasons musicians make the music they make, and that’s totally important to consider and understand. If Jimi Hendrix recorded “Machine Gun” in the ’90s, or if John Coltrane recorded A Love Supreme in the 2000s, these pieces of music would mean something else.

So, we need to consider what was going on when a piece of music was being made to really understand it.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I’m interested in most of these things and think they should be important—generally speaking—to most creative musicians.

Originality and innovation are essential for creating your own voice but can be defined broadly. Perfection is, on one hand, a fool’s goal. But on the other hand, it just means getting things right, the way you want them, and I think that’s what most artists are looking for.

Timelessness is something that is decided after the fact that, as an artist, we don’t get to decide. But some of the most timeless things are very much rooted in their time. “Only You” by the Platters is timeless, but you could probably guess, almost to the year, when it was recorded.

I love the idea of music of the future that continues to develop and evolve, and I think it’s important to continue musical traditions—both of those things are often the same. I also love the idea of creating an alternate history of music that wonders, “What if things went this way instead?” Within different projects, I’m trying to do all of these!

With Grassy Sound, I like to think we’re continuing a tradition of a certain style of music and blending it with our modern musical concerns.

The last track on the record is “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” first sung by the Sons of the Pioneers in 1934.

In 1962, Grant Green recorded a very ’60s version on his record Goin’ West.

In 1982, the Meat Puppets recorded their own completely fried version.

Now, on this record, we’re doing our version with the Meat Puppets and it’s a different perspective on the song than any of those or any of the countless other versions of the song that exist.

Talk about tradition ….

To me, The Sounds of Grassy Sound was instantly appealing – both comforting and stimulating, with classic songwriting and explorative moments and gorgeously recorded to boot. It is certainly not just a “retro album”.

Oh wow, thank you! I’m glad you hear it that way. As much as we strive for vintage sounds, it’s just because we like them. Most guitarists do. The culture around our instrument puts the ’50s and ’60s on a pedestal to extreme fetishistic levels. And for keyboard instruments, that period is just as out of control and full of great sounds.

But we’re not making a genre exercise or trying to travel in time. This is music from 2022, and it’s meant to be.

For the few more vintage moment, did you do any research to achieve this timemachine effect? What were some of the artists and albums you would listen to?

The research for this record has been a lifelong project.

But in 2019, my band Desertion Trio released a record called Twilight Time. It’s all covers from the same period.

I wanted to see what I could do with my own arrangements of that period of music, which included songs by the Platters, Gene Pitney, Les Baxter, and others. Listening to that record, nobody would mistake it for a time before the late 2010s.

Desertion Trio went on to make our next album (last year’s Numbers Maker) with a modern avant-jazz/rock sound, but Grassy Sound evolved from the Twilight Time project as a way for the two of us (Ron also plays as a guest on Twilight Time) to continue developing that sound, this time with original music that I composed (and also “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” continuing our own covers tradition).

Are you interested in the idea of an authentic practise, of playing things (for example in terms of guitar technique) “the way they were played at the time”?  

Only as far as they sound good. So, not in a way that I feel as though I need to play something “the way it was played at the time” because it’s right. But watching someone like Roy Clark play “12th Street Rag” or listening to Ray Crawford of Ahmad Jamal’s trio play bongo guitar, I want to know how to get those sounds out of my own instrument because they are cool and amazing.

If you want to play like you’re in the Ahmad Jamal trio, Crawford’s technique is essential to learn. But if that’s your goal, then you’ll sound like you’re in the Ahmad Jamal trio. But I just want to learn it because it sounds cool so I can do my own thing with it.

One specific thing to The Sounds of Grassy Sound is a gear thing, not a technique concern. While I’ve always loved surf-guitar sounds and long thought there is more to be explored there, I never had the correct reverb sound. Once I bought a Fender reverb unit, I knew I was ready to explore a surf guitar sound, and that’s really when I was able to explore the Grassy Sound vibe.

Tell me a bit about the recording and writing process for the album, please.

These songs were written as soon as we’d finished recoding Twilight Time. In fact, “Another Blue Moon” is built around my post-modern interpretation of “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and was originally recorded for Twilight Time, but when we mixed that record I realized that this had to be its own project.

Ron and I planned to record this album in the same studio we’d recorded Twilight Time, which is my favorite studio, Kawari Sound in Wyncote, PA. We went in and did our initial partial session. Ron shared our rough mixes with his Meat Puppets bandmates and Derrick Bostrom started texting us recordings of him playing along. We’d invited Cris Kirkwood to sing on “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” and Derrick to drum on “Lu Fran,” “Astronaut,” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” too.

When Ron was in Arizona next, we booked a session for them to record drum tracks and vocal overdubs. That day, I got a text with a video of Curt Kirkwood singing, Cris playing bass, and Derrick drumming in the studio—all three members of the original lineup! A month later, Ron and I headed back to Kawari and recorded our parts for those tracks and finished up the rest.

We had a lot of fun with the studio’s excellent vintage keyboards and I borrowed a friends exquisite 1964 Fender Bass VI to really get vibey.

The psychedelic middle passage in “Flitzer” is one of the highlights of the album for me. Are there actually tracks from the 50s and 60s which sound like this?

There are some weird albums from that period that are in this realm—I’m thinking of stuff like Les Baxter’s Music Out of the Moon, some Twilight Zone music, Les Paul and Mary Ford, and some examples of early electronic music.

How did you achieve these effects?  

We’re doing our version by combining old sounds—a Hammond, a Fender tweed Deluxe from 1949—with, at least in my case, modern guitar pedals.

Grassy Sound could remain a one-off, like a re-discovered classic from the 60s. Or it could continue to develop as a project. Where do you see things going at the moment?

We have some tour dates coming up, so I that’s where I see it going first. I have more music written for this project already, so I’m always planning the next record. But for now, I’m just looking forward to living with this music a bit on stage and having fun with it.