MusicMusic Features

Grass Giraffes

On a particularly blustery afternoon, the members of Grass Giraffes sit cross-legged on the manicured lawns of North Campus in a circle of mutual admiration. The band seems to field each of Flagpole’s questions by spinning a web of compliments that crisscross among each other. For example, there’s the matter of the album art for their debut EP, Transportation. Singer/guitarist Eddie Whelan offers up multi-instrumentalist Steven Trimmer’s “fabulous drawings of tapes,” done in bright marker in his ubiquitous notebook. Trimmer is quick to suggest that the band use a still from Whelan’s “awesome” music video before expounding on bassist Javier Morales’ talents as a visual artist. Drummer Robby Casso, the youngest member by a decade at age 16, seems in awe of the whole proceedings, and Whelan in turn remarks on the positivity that comes from Casso’s “fountain of enthusiasm.” This is the nature of Grass Giraffes’ warm and fuzzy beginnings, a loving collaboration that has spawned Athens’ next big buzz band.

“I am really inspired by what each of these guys do individually,” says Whelan of his bandmates. “There is no king… We’re like this team or these brothers or something.”

And to some degree, that was always the intention with this project. Trimmer and Whelan had initially envisioned Grass Giraffes as a recording club inspired by the rotating Toronto collective Broken Social Scene. But the chemistry between these four artists extended onstage and on the road as well, and Grass Giraffes has enjoyed a rising profile in town as a killer live act that turns rock shows into dance parties. Their propulsive brand of rock is equal parts shoegazey atmospherics and ’90s college-radio jangle.

“We like to think of what we write as experiments in pop music,” says Whelan.

Trimmer, Whelan and Morales in particular are bound by a shared art school aesthetic that puts emphasis on exploration and experimentation. It’s the journey that excites this band, and Trimmer’s face lights up when asked about their creative process.

“If I think back to it, wow, [all our songs] were all written different ways…” his eyes drift up to the clouds in reflection before he exclaims again with sincere awe, “Wow!”

As the band begins to describe some of its studio trickery—digital dictaphones for vocals, transcribing guitar parts from songs originally written electronically, ’70s compression pedals and old Radio Shack synthesizers—Trimmer juggles his art notebook and another notebook dedicated to lyric composition before pulling a camera and some photographic slides out of his bag. He’s taking arty photos of Morales as the conversation continues—it’s like he literally cannot stop creating art, even for an hour.

It’s a beautiful thing that these fellows found each other, and the acts of serendipity that brought the band together make their success even more impressive. Whelan actually left the state after graduating from UGA, but returned last year with the intention of staying just long enough to record some songs with producer/musician Nate Nelson under the name Eddie the Wheel. While in town, the digital media grad spent some time assisting photographer Jason Thrasher (this week’s cover photographer), and was invited to play in Thrasher Photo & Design’s Athens Business Rocks band, Brian Enotown Massacre. That’s where he first played with Casso, who was actually recruited by accident.

“I used to play in a band [with Thrasher intern Ian Keane], and he thought my name was Chris for a couple weeks,” says Casso. “He had been playing with this kid named Chris Harper, and he never changed my name in his phone from Chris to Robby. And he called and said, ‘Oh wait, I meant to call Chris, but, do you want to play with me and my friends at Athens Business Rocks?'”

Meanwhile, Whelan had reconnected with college buddy Trimmer, whom he enthusiastically refers to as his “favorite songwriter in town.” The trio were recording some demos one night when they were interrupted by an ominous knock on the door. It was Trimmer’s roommate, Morales.

“It was like eight or nine, and I was like, ‘Aw crap, man, Javier is gonna tell us we need to quit and go to bed,'” recalls Whelan. But instead, they opened the door to find Morales with Danelectro in hand, bashfully offering to add a guitar part he composed while eavesdropping from the couch outside. With that, he was officially in the band.

If Athens knows Grass Giraffes best as a live act, that is likely to change soon. The group has been recording for a year now, and they are eager to share the fruits of their labor. Transportation, the first of what will likely be a series of EPs, is set to be released via the new artistic co-op Athens Provisions both digitally and on cassette, with CDs possibly to follow when the band hits the road again.