We get a lot of CDs in this office. Truthfully, most of them are unloved, neglected, sad testaments of someone’s life’s work collecting dust in an office bustling with students too busy or too cool to care or give them a moment’s notice.
Depressing? A little bit.
Luckily, and also interestingly, The Great Depression by Common Grackle escaped this fate.
A trans-continental project, Common Grackle is made up Guelph’s Gregory Pepper and Saskatoon’s Factor and orchestrated by Ceschi Ramos of Fake Four Inc, an independent label out of Connecticut. The product of this union is difficult to pin down. The entire album was built around a penpal-like relationship between Factor and Pepper, with the two sending files back and forth and chatting on the phone. It was months before the duo met face-to-face for the first time.
“We didn’t really know where it was going to go when we started,” said Pepper. “[Factor] is a pretty prolific guy. He works in these short, hyper-productive bursts. It was a fun challenge trying to keep up with him.”
Released in July of 2010, The Great Depression’s cover features a cartoon grackle smoking a cigarette and holding a rifle having just massacred some other cartoon grackles. A grackle, by the way, is a bird that is capable of perfectly mimicking the songs of other birds. Drawn by an artist known as Ghostshrimp, the dark artwork deterred me from listening to the album for nearly a month.
“I was waxing philosophical the other day and I got to thinking about how the cover is this very cute cartoonish drawing but the subject matter itself is very morbid,” said Pepper. “We thought that kind of mirrored the sound of the album which is very polished and bright sounding but beneath the surface there’s a lot of darkness and brooding. I really love the album cover.”
The name Common Grackle doesn’t really shed any light on the style of the music, as there’s nothing regurgitated or unoriginal about it. In fact, the music has the kind of original sound that is difficult to classify. Factor’s beats are energetic and in direct contrast to Pepper’s vocals and subject matter. You might dance, you might cry, you might even laugh during “At the Grindcore Show.”
“My mom didn’t like it,” said Pepper. “I think that if your parents like the music you’re making you are doing something wrong.”
When I first came across Common Grackle in the fall I was erroneously led to believe that — because of the geographical range of the project — a tour would be unlikely. The group is now on tour along with label owner/label mate Ceschi.
“Ceschi was actually the one who suggested the collaboration in the first place,” said Pepper. “He kind of wanted to do one last Canadian hurrah so we just kind of threw it together on the fly. To be honest, I wasn’t actually sure it was going to happen. It’s one of those things where if I think about it too much I get anxious and don’t want to do it. So I said, ”˜Go ahead and book it.’ Kevin Costner, if you build it they will come.”
The tour is moving westwards and has so far exhibited all the signs of success.
“[London] was sold out. It wasn’t a huge venue but it was packed,” said Pepper. “A lot of sweat, I lost my voice, Ceschi got hit in the face with a microphone and started bleeding; all the hallmark signs of a good show.Â Blood, sweat, tears. The nice thing about this tour is that it is not as low rent as a Gregory Pepper tour where we cram everything into my sedan and I’m like the Dad; I have to do all the driving and consult the map. This time we have a driver so I’m on auto pilot and getting really fucked up every night, but we can’t really keep that up; we’re all getting a little worn down and it’s only been a few days.”
Getting worn down is all a part of the touring process to Pepper, who admitted that he does not relish the touring lifestyle.
“I want to make a tour movie that’s just six hours of people sitting in a van and farting and eating gas station sandwiches,” he said. “It’ll be called The Truth of Touring by Gregory Pepper, it will be an art project that plays in a 24-hour loop in a gallery somewhere. Just bored men listening to music in a van. It’s like being in the van; you have to sit all the way through it. You have no choice, you can’t leave.”