Foot Village’s Grace Lee

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Foot Village is insane. There’s really no way around it. It’s all by design, of course, all pounded toms, screamed vocals, and polyrhythms that feel more like a Cthulu-esque call to murder than an invitation to dance. It’s music that has a palpable violence oozing out of it. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, well, that’s kind of the point. Now that the LA-based collective has new material on the way, I spoke with member Grace Lee over email, and our discussion took us all over the map, from her earliest bands, to gaining interest from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow. All extra exclamation points are hers.

Rob: What were your first musical memories? What was the first time you really felt connected to a piece of music or sound?
Grace: Actually, the first thing that really comes to mind is Winnie the Pooh, but it’s kind of a scandalous and slightly embarrassing tidbit of information about myself. But, if you really really want to know: My first music memory was the tune from my Winnie the Pooh mobile that hung above my crib when I was probably 3-4 years old. Maybe a bit older. I remember listening to it and then thinking about how cute and sexy Winnie the Pooh is. I still like bears to this day. My first tape was Viva Hate, Morrissey. My first dubbed tape was Oh L’Amour [by Erasure] on a fruity tape that smelled like raspberries. My first vinyl was Thriller, Michael Jackson.

What made you get involved in making music, as opposed to just listening to it? Was percussion the first kind of instrument you chose?
Actually, the first time I got involved with music was the typical garage band with my hot Egyptian boyfriend. I played bass. One day I saved enough money from working at Baskin Robins during high school, to buy a Peavey jazz bass guitar and an itty-bitty amp. I was not that good though. When I tried to turn up and jam out, everyone would stop and look around and wonder if they were playing in the right key. The real entry into touring and making music with an entire community of avant-garde people was due to Brian Miller of Deathbomb Arc. Brian asked me to play electronics for a Rose for Bohdan tour. So, I learned how to play a Roland 707, Dr. Rhythm, drum pads, analog delay, some other fuzzy pedal, and a keyboard. Oh, and lots of cables.

How did you get involved with Foot Village?
I am one of the original members and this all came about from a good hang session. I was with Brian Miller, Jeff Witscher (Rene Hell, Rainbow Blanket, Men Who Can’t Love), and Greg Witscher (Solitary Hunter, Rainbow Blanket). Brian was recording Rainbow Blanket I believe. While we were waiting for the pizza to show up, we just decided to put some drums together and play some songs, ‘cause we all always wanted to play drums!!! IT WAS SOOOO FUN!!! There was even some bloodshed from messed up knuckles!!!!

So the all-percussive style was the intent from the beginning?
And in the beginning, there were drums. And it was good. Yeah, we all wanted to play drums and loved the simplicity and sound of it. Tribal, brutal metal, and naked (without being too hippy! Although, when I was in high school I competed with my friends who could last the longest without bathing). We had no idea how we would be received, but we decided to play a show just for fun. To our amazement, kids loved it, so we kept going and going and going. But now my bones are brittle from old age and from being spoiled by European hospitality (and government art grants that subsidize cushy beds for visiting artists!), I’ve been thinking about busting out some electronic Sheila E drums.

What do you mean by tribal?
The way the drums sounded was/is tribal. Primitive. No electricity. No effects. Just skin and sticks, you know? I guess what I was trying to say is the reason why I love playing drums in Foot Village is I don’t have to be super technical, abiding to rules, I can just loosen up, listen to what’s going on around me, and be myself. I can tap into something more instinctual, like a heartbeat or a purr. And it worked! People are able to connect with our sound I think, because it touches the primitive heart and soul that we all have but may have forgotten in all our hustle and hustling to survive, you know? And what’s even cooler is that my primitive sense is something that other people get, and that means we all share something, on that instinctual, almost cellular level. These types of connections are really my favorite and give me hope that I am part of something bigger, but it’s something that starts from inside me, and even was around before I existed

How long were you all playing together before you started attracting attention from other people? How did signing to Northern Spy come about?
The only real band business that I take care of is food. Otherwise, I leave it up to the dudes to talk shop. Josh Brian, and Dan have been in the biz for so long and pay close attention to labels and stuff. Sorry if it’s cliché, but I wouldn’t even be 100% confident about reciting Foot Village’s discography! Terrible, I know. Northern Spy came about from us just writing to them and asking. It was a long shot, but turns out they are Foot Village fans and were stoked about putting out our next record. And they are super nice and call us family! So rad. But here’s a story for you about why it was so important to me that we release this next LP. We recorded all the tracks at the Portishead studio in Bristol with our good friend Matt Loveridge (Fairhorns, Gnar Hest, Klad Hest, Matt Williams, Knife Liibrary, Team Brick (now no more) & MXLX). Amazing experience. I got to sit on the same toilet that Beth Orton sits on, kinda like my butt touched hers. But what I traded for this amazing experience was to be the saddest exchange in my life. My lovely cat, Batman, died of heartache and kidney failure three days before I returned home from a 30-day tour. I wasn’t there to hold her. Guess that’s the way of good and bad, yeah? I really am indebted to Northern Spy for signing us because it makes Batman’s death not a waste.

How did you end up recording at the Portishead studio?
Really through Matt Loveridge. He’s a big Foot Village fan and suggested to Geoff Barrow that we open for BEAK> when they played at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. After we played, Geoff invited us to Bristol to record at his studio. He even hired Rick, to engineer for us. This is how we got to play the All Tomorrow Parties, curated by Portishead last year. All through Matt and Geoff!

How was playing ATP?

ATP was frickn crazeee! Here are some highlights:
The stages in Asbury Park and Alexandria Palace (or Ali Pali like the Brits say) were so big, I basically ran laps around the entire stage, trying to get over stage fright while forcing myself to face the audience. The concert hall was so big I didn’t see the gang of people hanging about in the great big void, so I absentmindedly picked a wedgie with my back towards the audience, then realized what happened.
The show was so epic, I gave myself whiplash and couldn’t hold my head up to even walk after the show. My performance was so massively a colonic of my insides that back in the dressing room, with my lame-ass whiplash noggin, I collapsed, was paralyzed, and sobbed my heart out. Everything that was wrong with my universe, all my sins were expelled that day. And that’s why I love playing in Foot Village. 😉

By Rob Rubsam

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