The Grand Southern photo by Ela Thompson
No matter how far they look into the future, Laurel Canyon duo The Grand Southern plans to keep writing and recording songs. For those who have heard (and hit the replay button) on their mood-altering debut full-length Don’t Say Anything—available today—that is a welcome premonition.
I recently sat down with Jesse Tyre Karp (vocals, guitar) and Dash Hutton (vocals, drums) to discuss creative beginnings, documenting their complete thought, and healthy distractions during the darkest of days.
AH: Don’t Say Anything is The Grand Southern’s first full-length. When you look at your own personal timeline, where does giving life to this record land as far as personal/professional accomplishments?
JTK: It would be fair to say this is the greatest thing we’ve ever done.
DH: Agreed! These are my favorite songs we’ve written together so far.
JTK: It was honestly really fun to make. We started with an EP at the end of 2019 and 2020 kinda shut down us finishing it, so we took some of those songs, wrote some new ones and went back in the studio.
AH: The album involves three years’ worth of songwriting and studio time. With such a big span covered here, do different tracks represent different periods—or chapters—of your life? Is Don’t Say Anything a bit of a compilation of where your mind has been these last three years?
DH: Some songs we’ve had for a long time, like “After All’ and “Love Will Find a Way.” They kind of represent the initial style of the band. Other songs like “Don’t Say Anything” and “Born to Break” were a more recent development and have a different feel altogether, so we are touching on quite a few years of heartbreak and inspiration—so many different experiences and feelings. I would say it reaches even deeper than just the last three years. We go all the way back to the beginning up to where we are now.
JTK: We have such a collaborative process that so many songs change and evolve as we work on them together. For example, I probably have 50 different demos of the title track, “Don’t Say Anything.” After we looked at all the tracks, some didn’t feel like they were part of the story for whatever reason, so we had to make some tough choices. I’m really proud of the 10 that made the record.
AH: With that said, what would someone learn about the two of you in sitting down to listen to the album front to back?
JTK: Just that we put a lot of work into making these songs the best we could. In terms of how people interpret the songs, if they relate or whatever, that’s not really up to us. In its purest form, I think a song or any piece of art reveals something about the listener or observer, not whoever made it.
AH: What I always love are records that feel like a complete journey. That is the case with Don’t Say Anything, which makes it even more interesting that it represents three years of your lives. To the listener, there are no gaps or jumps. How much time did you spend deciding track listing and the overall flow and feel of the record? Was that important to you?
DH: The sequence of the record was very important to us. We spent probably a month or so passing different options back and forth, trying to decide how many songs should be on the record and in what order. We see the record as one complete thought, and we want our listeners to be able to enjoy it from top to bottom and feel connected.
AH: The two of you came together in Laurel Canyon, which is an area of Los Angeles with a vibe all its own. How much of that city and your creative origin is present in the music that The Grand Southern creates?
DH: I grew up in Laurel Canyon. My family still lives there, and that’s where Jesse and I wrote our first songs together. We’ve recorded a lot of our music there—even on this record. We’re also influenced by a wide variety of artists from all over the world, but there is certainly a heavy dose of Laurel Canyon in the DNA of the Grand Southern.
AH: So often we, the listener, only focus on the end product. We hear the songs and that’s what we take away. But for you, there are not only years, but sweat and tears that go into making a record. What will you carry with you through the rest of your career when you look back on the process of making Don’t Say Anything?
JTK: It’s hard to ignore what was going on around us, and I think that will probably be something that always stays with us. The opportunity to make this record, have the sessions, work with other musicians, all of it frankly. It was such a blessing and a healthy distraction during some pretty dark times.
AH: I love music, but even more than that, I love music that makes me think when I sit back and dissect the words I’m hearing. Lyrically, what is The Grand Southern’s approach and what is a line or two that stands out from this album that you are particularly proud of?
JTK: We really focus on writing songs that speak to us, even if we’re not sure what exactly we’re saying. Just try and stay out of the way of the process and let it develop as we keep at it. When we wrote “Don’t Say Anything” with Barry Zito, he kept asking, “Who is this about? What is the imagery we’re trying to paint?” He really wanted to know the characters in the song. That was a cool approach. He came up with, “There’s a far away feeling/In your painted on smile.” I really like that. Also, “Lately I’ve noticed/Just how strong our love grows/When we leave it/On the vine”.
DH: “Afterthought” is one that we wrote in an afternoon I think. “The fighting’s never done if the war is never won/And your battle plans, are drawn under siege”.
JTK: Oh yeah, I love that one too.
AH: A number of your songs have been licensed for television and commercials. How important is this revenue stream to artists today in 2022? Is it more important than album sales and touring?
DH: For an independent band like us, revenue from licensing is really helpful. It helps with the costs of being an independent artist, like putting out your own records, making videos, and touring. Touring could also be lucrative, but there are many expenses that come along with that, so you have to get to a certain level to come home with some money.
AH: You get a phone call tomorrow saying there’s an opening on a massive multi-city tour, but the fun part is, they tell you to name the headliner. Who would you two want to hit the road with if you had the choice?
DH: Probably has a pretty cool lighting rig.
JTK: We’d be the only act with pedal steel on the bill. OK, if Wilco, The Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder all called, who would you say yes to?
DH: (Laughter) He knows I love Wilco. Gotta go with Stevie, no wait, the Stones… hmmm, I dunno, man.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
DH: Nah. No matter where The Grand Southern is 10 years from now, I can tell you we’ll be here writing songs and making records, and that’s all that matters.
For all things The Grand Southern, visit www.thegrandsouthern.com.