Adam Greuel, guitarist and singer for Horseshoes & Hand Grenades had recently released his first solo album, Low Income Porridge, at the beginning of March. Then the world got sick and closed down for business. Greuel took that quarantine time at home that was imposed on us to become inspired.
Channeling the feelings and emotions that swirled around all of us, he set out to record another album and gave himself a self-imposed deadline to release it. The resulting album, Quarantine Tangerine, is full of lush musical soundscapes, gentle string arrangements, heartfelt lyrics, and the beautiful music we all need right now. Greuel took some time to check in with Slide & Banjo to discuss Quarantine Tangerine, full moons, and what comes next. Conversations with Greuel always leave you feeling better than before, and this one was no exception.
Slide & Banjo: You just released Low Income Porridge a few weeks ago. How did Quarantine Tangerine come about so fast?
Adam Greuel: Basically, after going through the process of recording Low Income Porridge, a couple things dawned on me. I realized I would love to sit in my house and have a drink or two and record when the flow is conducive, as I yearned for a little bit more flexibility in my recording life. There are some really awesome things about going into a spectacular recording studio. There is an awesome energy. But, there is also time and energy in getting there. There is this added weight to the recording process. We are going on this day, we have booked these days three or four months in advance, and these dates are now up on a pedestal as to when we have to create. And while there is a degree of excitement with that, it is also full of expectation. With that in mind I thought I would like to record in my home if I could get the sonics really good.
SB: Have you ever done any recording at home before?
AG: Years and years ago I got this thing called the Boss BR 600 digital recorder. I had done some recordings on it. It dawned on me I could use that as the recording device in conjunction with some nice microphones and instruments and get a really good sound. Sure enough, I found I really enjoyed being able to have complete control over the process. Not only being the one turning the knobs and making the decision on tones and whatnot, but also that I can record whenever I feel like it. I could sit down and think this feels good and keep going, going, going and then realize it is 5am.
Then there were nights I would sit down and realize there is a bad energy and know I need to go do something else, go take a walk or something. It was comfortable to have that freedom, but it is also nice to be in a studio and be forced to a timeline, because like any art there are so many artistic decisions to be made that you can sit and ruminate over the smallest of things for days or months if you wanted to. So that is why I set a schedule for myself. I said I intended to release this album on the next full moon. I was born on a full moon and I have always felt a pull towards full moons. I love the metaphor of planting something on the new moon, and harvesting on the full moon and that is why I wanted to release this album on the full moon knowing that full moons bring a great sense of personal release and heightened emotions and music helps those emotions. And you know what, I did it. I pulled it off. I hope people like it, that’s the main thing.
SB: Despite being recorded at your home, you were able to recruit a number of guests (Andy Thorn from Leftover Salmon, Andy Hall from the Infamous Stringdusters, Dan Kimpel, Kenny Leiser from Wheelhouse, and Jeff Leonard and Tyler Thompson from Fruition) to help out with the album. How did that come about?
AG: I was communicating randomly with the Andys. We had been texting about some funny stuff, and it was right around when “Wildlands” was birthed, and I just asked them to be on the album. As far as bass and drum stuff, I have always thought very highly of Tyler and Jeff as a rhythm section. They are super tight. I didn’t know either of them very well so I just texted Mimi (Naja from Fruition) and asked for their numbers and called them and explained what I was up to and asked if they were interested in being a part of it. They agree and were stoked to be doing some work. Kenny and Dan I just think of them every time I make a recording. I really value their ears and hearts as musicians. They are just really good people. I like where their musical intuition goes. Where they go is often what I had in mind, only better. I initially did not intend to work with anyone on it, it just happened that way and I am really happy with it.
SB: How many songs were already written and how much starting from scratch did you do?
AG: There was a balance between the two. About half the songs were things that had been swirling around for months or years, that just percolated to the surface right now. I have been writing a lot with a lyricist and poet from Milwaukee, Pete Kahn, who is my college buddy. He still lives down there and I live in central Wisconsin so we don’t see each other a lot, but we collaborate frequently. When this idea percolated, I explained to him I was thinking of making a record and having it tie into the quarantine thing. He is such a wordsmith. He is cultivating literature constantly. At times many songs a day were lyrcially were coming in from him.
SB: Does he write with melody and the song in mind or does he just craft words?
AG: He writes words and then sends them to me and I write the melody, chords, and music. But we work together on the creation of the song. He suggests music aspects and I might change words. There is not a hardline between who does what. There is flexibility on both of our parts. He would send many more lyrics that I could use or process, but the ones that really hit me hard I would just start recording. In a couple of cases I would start without even thinking how the song goes and just let the process take over. Songs like “Wildlands,” which features both Andy Hall and Andy Thorn, I just started recording. Sometimes I feel there is a strange connection with Pete where I will just read the words and I feel the melody writes itself. It’s both beautiful and spooky to me in a way.
It’s the cosmic nature of music you and I have talked about before where things just align the special way they do. The song “Same Train, One Car Down,” just feels like right now. We are all on the same train just different certain circumstances. I started recording that song and I had already decided to release the album on this pink moon. And no kidding, the second verse of that song is, “Here we go dancing away to a full pink moon hanging, Nick Drake and Tom Russell sure to get you thinking.” I was like what the hell just happened, because that was entirely not intentional.
That kind of stuff, those serendipitous moments, I take as affirmation that this is what I am supposed to be doing right now. A lot of things with this album go against the grain of what you are supposed to do.
SB: That’s the difference between being home and in the studio. In the studio you could not just let things happen, you would be on the clock.
AG: Exactly. The lack of expectation is so helpful for the artistic process. I mixed this from my home. I had never mixed from anywhere.
SB: Did you like that process?
AG: [Laughs] I did. But I now know why bands rarely mix their own records. You have so many choices. I found every day I mixed being overwhelmed with all the choices I could make. I don’t know if I will do that again, especially on a self imposed rigid timeline.
SB: It’s interesting the difference you mention between working at home versus being in the studio yet you gave yourself a timeline, almost like you still needed that restriction.
AG: I think that had to do with me personally wanting to feel like I am continuing to pursue my career. Ten years ago I decided I was going to make an unconventional approach to making a livelihood. Being a musician is that. It’s strange. It’s difficult. I know having some things would make my life more comfortable like having insurance from an employer, but that is just not going to happen.
When this virus hit, it was a great moment for a lot of people who are skeptical about making a living as a musician to say that is the end of that. I looked at things and without a doubt that thought crossed my mind. I was forced to process that feeling and my conclusion was no, I’m going to continue to be a musician and do what I love. It brings me love and seems to bring people joy, and those are the two things I value most highly in life.
It was a very cool learning experience though, putting this together and something I needed to do on a personal level. Partially I think one aspect of it was to use my energy and mind and put these difficult feelings we are all experiencing into something, and to be able to create, especially since we cannot create on stage or publicly. A lot of us feel so helpless right now and you want to be there for people, but we are used to being there physically for people, and we can’t right now.
SB: It has been a tough transition to not be able to have physical contact with people.
AG: Yeah, like not being able to give someone a hug. Those love languages. It is physical or gift giving and we can not do it at this moment, and I am feeling that a lot. It is especially tough for people who are losing their loved ones and cannot be there with them or next to them at that moment. Seeing that is heart wrenching. I can’t wait to see people and smile at a stranger. I wait to hi-five the dude raging in the front row who I don’t know without feeling like I am doing them harm.
SB: It’s going to be weird until that becomes comfortable again. Can you smoke a joint someone hands to you or do you have to wipe it down first?
AG: [laughs] I think there is going to be a lot of personal joints going on. There is going to be a lot of pinners at shows. Still, we will have twice the fun when we get back together.
SB: It has not been easy. We have all had those days where we wake up in a miserable mood and lash out at our significant other for no reason. You forget how important conversation and physical connection with people you love is.
AG: Yes, fellowship. The absence makes the heart grow fonder concept. Those relationships you had at music festivals or shows suddenly hold more weight because they are not there. I have found that I am thinking about various people I did not think I would be missing. There are so many silver linings we can all try and embrace and be more mindful of.
I guess part of me finding my own inner light was to take on a project like this. That was another reason for me to make this album, to help somebody feel something, and make their day better. Some of the tracks are heavy and are designed to help people embrace some of these difficult concepts running through our brains that we are maybe scared to put words to. Other songs, like “Coronamunication” and “Quarantine Cuddlin’ Time” are made to give people some light, joy, and laughs out of an otherwise troubling topic.
The biggest thing we can do is find our own light that can help that darkness to give. I love making music and it seems to make people happy when they hear it and I hope it helps them. That is my journey right now and for the past few weeks. We will see what tomorrow holds.