The Grahams

 Interview: The Grahams’ Self-Titled Album Artfully Reimagines Ten Years of Songwriting


The Grahams photo by Alex Berger

The Grahams

The Grahams’ Self-Titled Album Artfully Reimagines Ten Years of Songwriting

The Grahams will be releasing their fourth album, which is self-titled, on September 8th via their own 3Sirens Music Group. It’s an album with a very special concept that builds on the projects they’ve been creating for the past ten years. Alyssa and Doug Graham, who are musical partners and life partners, crafted each of their previous albums with a focus on certain sounds and ideas that led them on research journeys and tremendously impacted the results of their songwriting and recording, and each explored a particular area of Americana music. Now, their self-titled album collects ten songs from across their previous albums and a ten year span and reimagines them in a fairly sweeping way to speak to their life-experiences and musical development across that period.

Though the approach to each song is a bit different, you’ll notice a shift towards a musical identity that the Grahams feel fits them best right now, harmonizing the areas they’ve explored rather than just sticking to one focus point. Choosing the songs for the album is something that, in part, they allowed others to curate, and when it came to recording the reimagined tracks, circumstances conspired to bring out their energy, versatility, and an expression of “resolve.” I spoke with Alyssa and Doug Graham about The Grahams, their past albums and adventures, and the inception and rise of their own 3Sirens Music Group in Nashville.

Americana Highways: Something that I was really struck by was the story of these three albums that you created, from which you’ve drawn the songs for your new collection. I didn’t realize that you essentially did research trips and immersed yourselves in the concepts for your albums in order to create them. That’s an amazing idea.

Alyssa Graham: Thank you! We lived on a houseboat on the Mississippi, we got our motorcycle licenses in order to drive cross-country.

AH: I’ve heard of novelists or poets who have done things like going to live in a cabin to write about a landscape but I haven’t heard of musicians doing this, exactly. I think you took the path of most resistance, though! [Laughs]

Alyssa: I like that! “The Grahams—they take the path of most resistance.” I love it! To your point, my brother and sister-in-law are both novelists.

Doug Graham: Our sister-in-law had her first novel come out and was nominated for a Pulitzer and is a finalist.

Alyssa: We actually did take a lead from them.

Doug: Being from New York, since we wanted to play music that we associate with the center of the country or the South…

Alyssa: We thought, “We can’t write the songs that we want to write, that are in our heads, unless we are in that environment.”

AH: I can definitely see wanting to be immersed in certain traditions to work with them. It’s like immersing yourself in order to learn a language. That must have influenced not just what you were writing about, but your sound development, since you were exploring.

Doug: That’s exactly right. And we were open-minded about working with other musicians and producers who we knew had good ideas, like Malcolm Byrne, who we knew could deliver a swampy sound. We wanted that on our first record, as well as a Carter Family vibe, and the feeling of recording on tape.

Alyssa: It was all analog. Being there didn’t just inform the songs that we were writing, but it also informed how we wanted the records Produced. For the second album, we wanted it to sound more fast-paced, like train beats. For the third record, it was really interesting because we went across the country on motorcycles. That record was all written during the election of 2016, too, so it was a very tumultuous time. As New Yorkers riding across the center of the country, we came off as hippies and it was not always amiable. That was fascinating and informed the way that we wrote and Produced.

AH: At that exact time, I would have been surprised if you didn’t see signage and evidence of intense contrasts on that trip.

Alyssa: It was the beginning of the dichotomy of this country.

Doug: We saw it so clearly and bold-faced that when we came back from our trip, we had stories to tell about how things were probably going to be in the future. But friends back home didn’t believe us about what was coming.

Alyssa: We came home a little terrified about what the country might have in store for us.

AH: When it came to approaching these songs again, which were written from such a specific time period, was it hard to change them or find a way to encounter them in a new way?

Alyssa: When you play songs for ten years in one way, with the melody, lyrics, and instrumentation the same, that’s difficult. I have a unique talent that’s also my downfall, at times, which is that I’m very good at mimicking things. I can sing just like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, but I can also sing like myself ten years ago. That’s why we enlisted Danny Molad to produce. It was hard to actually reimagine the songs. We needed help from Danny and Dex Green.

Doug: But we were also so excited to do it and ready to get uncomfortable about it. We were ready for those ideas and we had a definite motivation to relate to these songs in a new way. We want our songs to sound like we are now, at this maturation point, and not just like they used to be.

Alyssa: Something I also appreciate, looking at this new album, is that we are ten years older, and you can hear that. It’s not in the sound of my voice or in his guitar playing, but you hear a sense of resolve which I don’t hear on that first record. We were so green and young. It’s not better or worse, I just love the feeling of resolve.

AH: To me, this record is radically different, but I don’t mean to overstate that. These are still the same songs, but this is a very different record. I pick up on a different tone towards the things that you’re talking about in the songs. You know about what you’re talking about in a different way.

Alyssa: I couldn’t agree more. Doug and I write the songs together with childhood friend Brad McCann, who’s someone we grew up with from the age of 7 or 8 years old. We’ve written together since high school. And they both know that it’s hard for me not to just concentrate on the singing and sometimes I don’t concentrate on what I’m singing about. Especially after singing songs the same way for ten years, I focus on singing in pitch, but I don’t emotionally connect, and that can be a problem for me. On this record, I haven’t revolutionized my singing, but I think I can connect a little more to what I’m singing and not how I’m singing.

Doug: I think it was a chance to look at the songs seriously and look at each lyric and each verse. We removed some things that were specific to a time and a place. For “Wild One” and “Carrying the Torch,” those songs are a little voyeuristic and we wanted to make them more real as stories. We set out to do that. Alyssa set out to do that with her vocals, too.


AH: How did you cover this terrain? Were these changes all happening in the studio as you looked at the songs, or did you work through them beforehand? I feel like it must have been a tailored approach to each song.

Alyssa: The first part of that is that we did curate the songs. We stayed out of it and asked people that we trusted to pick songs out of a set of 20 or 25 songs from our catalog. We sent them to people that we trusted, like David Garza, our manager, my parents and more. We didn’t want to be the curators. We had about ten people pick their ten favorite songs and 98% of the choices were the same.

A song like “Carrying the Torch” was not one that we would have thought to do over, but everyone chose it. Everyone picked “Lay Me Down.” I don’t think that we would have picked “Glory Bound.” We went in with 12 songs. Then we had such amazing help from creative people in the studio.

Doug: Every time we heard a new drum take, or a synth, or piano sound, it was recorded. That brought us all into the spirit of adding things. We definitely built the sound for each song in the studio. Alyssa had her parts that she recorded on the first day, before she got Covid, which included guitar and voice, and we were able to move them and cut them.

Alyssa: That was the scratch vocal that we used. It was a strange coincidence that we had ten days to record ten songs that spanned ten years. On Monday, I sang scratch vocals for everything, and on Tuesday morning, I woke up with Covid and was out for four days. I didn’t think I’d have my voice, but I sounded okay and I sang all the songs in a day and a half then. There was no preciousness about it. We were resolved to do it.

Doug: We were anti-precious. We took out whole sections of songs. While she was at home, we were working in a hyper way, too.

AH: I think it’s cool that the different instrumental layers had been built up in your absence, Alyssa, so when it came time to do your final vocals, they were more fleshed out. That explains to me how it is that the vocals go with the sound so well.

Alyssa: It’s funny because I sang all the songs on that first day just for the hell of it, not knowing that would be useful. If I hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have had a record. They needed some kind of road map. When I came back and put the headphones on, I thought, “Wow! This is cool!”

AH: This is an interesting hybrid, in a way, between a live album and a studio album.

Doug: I like to paint in my spare time, and I can paint a face pretty clearly and realistically. There are a lot of times where I decide not to do that every time, having done it already. That’s the same thing with music. We know how to play live and tour across the country like mad dogs. Alyssa got Covid, so we brought as much soul and hyper-activity to the album as we could to complete it.

AH: That’s a good point, that without all your live playing experience, this situation might have caused more panic for you.

Alyssa: Ten years ago, I definitely would have panicked more. But now, we can’t be so precious with things, except our daughter!

AH: I wanted to make sure to bring up your studio, 3Sirens, and how that plays into your lives. It seems like you must have been putting it together for a while before you began recording and releasing music from there in 2021. Was it something that you started for yourselves and then opened up to other people?

Alyssa: It existed, virtually, since we recorded John Doe in Austin with David Garza. We had the concept for it one stormy night in 2017. Me, Doug, and Garza are such hippies, that were sitting cozy on the couch in New York during a snowstorm, and we said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was this space where artists came together without ego, without cellphones?”

Doug: We came up with this idea of doing three songs in three days with three musicians. We thought we’d create sessions with no cellphones, no cameras. We were like, “Let’s do it!” We got John Doe to do the first one and we created the label to release this session.

Alyssa: Then we thought maybe we really can bring this to life as a physical space where people can come together and make music together the way they did in the 1960s. When it wasn’t all about social media. So in 2018, we bought the space, and we started building it. It was like Field of Dreams. We built it out for a year, and then we hit a pandemic.

But the idea was never to be a studio. It’s an artist’s salon, not a studio, really. It’s not a place where people call up and say, “Hey, can I have three hours of studio time?” Instead, it’s a place for people to come together and collaborate and kind of let go of everything else. After the pandemic was easing up in 2021, that’s when we first opened our doors and the Luck Reunion partnered with us and our debut. That’s when people started hearing more about us, but for us, it goes back to 2017.

Thanks very much to The Grahams for chatting with us!

Find more about The Grahams including tour dates, here:



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