The rumors are true: After seven long years, Athens folk-punk band Nana Grizol is back with a new album.
Following Love It Love It in 2008 and Ruth in 2010, fans of the band have been left wanting for new material, aside from a 2014 EP and a few hidden gems in the form of live footage on YouTube. But on Mar. 31, Nana Grizol will release its third studio album, Ursa Minor, via Orange Twin Records.
Currently consisting of Theo Hilton, Jared Gandy, Laura Carter, Robbie Cucchiaro and Matte Cathcart, Nana Grizol started from humble beginnings but has grown into a beloved icon for the punk and queer communities, due to sentimental, honest lyrics paired with a C86-reminiscent, yet totally Athens, sound.
While the band keeps everything relatively low-key, the surprise release of a new track, “T.V. Song,” and an accompanying music video in January sparked interest, netting over 4,100 views and a feature on the A.V. Club. Musically, the track showcases a new energy, thanks to engineer Andy LeMaster, who mixed the album. The video for “T.V. Song” is based on a funny, nostalgic newsroom aesthetic—think Anchorman—and the song’s lyrics feature references to real-life events like the Orlando club massacre.
Band leader Theo Hilton—the only member who doesn’t currently live in Athens—says Ursa Minor will expand on themes developed on Love It Love It and Ruth. Hilton explains that while those albums primarily dealt with conceptualizing queer identity and building community, the new record will explore notions of growing up outside of the heteronuclear family dynamic.
“Back in 2007 [and] 2010, I was definitely more in a place of feeling heartbroken and confused all the time, drunk and in love with straight boys—the usual,” Hilton says. “Over the last few years, I guess I’ve been lucky to find myself in larger queer communities. I stopped feeling hopeless about that stuff.”
Ursa Minor’s track listing masks the album’s heavy content with ambiguous, boppy names, keeping in tradition with previous song titles Hilton calls “twee-cute,” like “Tambourine n Thyme.” But one title, “Tacoma Center 1600,” has a different feel to it. Hilton cites a detention facility as the main inspiration for the fiery track, a version of which was included on the band’s 2014 EP.
“There’s a direct relation to a larger struggle in these songs. [‘Tacoma Center 1600’] is about the Northwest Detention Center, a really terrible place run by a terrible company called GEO. I had gone there for a protest and saw how it was nestled in an old industrial park, with all these billboards around advertising lawyers and politicians. I really wanted to write about how clearly there were these forces coming together and wrecking people’s lives.”
Along with subtle (and not-so-subtle) themes of destruction and moving forward, Ursa Minor is laced with literary devices. Considering that Love It Love It and Ruth were full of clever, intricate verbiage, it’s no surprise that a slew of authors inspired the new album’s syntax. Hilton cites Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Tom Spanbauer’s The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon and Richard Wright’s American Hunger, to name a few books. (He also says the band listened to Beyoncé, Fugazi, Vic Chesnutt and others while brainstorming.)
The cover of Ursa Minor features a painting of a bear by Patrick Sprague, which partly inspired the record’s name.
“Ursa Minor is the constellation depicting Arcas, who is a pretty interesting figure in Greek mythology, if one wanted to go down that road. It’s also the constellation containing Polaris, which is a really great star,” says Hilton. “I like the idea of being a lesser bear, too.”
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