The experimental harp player/singer/songwriter speaks to us about creepy experiences and the spiritual effect of music
Pat Grossi is the LA-based, harp-wielding singer-songwriter creating hypnotic, hauntingly beautiful music under the moniker Active Child. After a stint in the Philadelphia Boys Choir, he picked up a harp and began penning his ethereal, canonical songs, and was eventually inspired to experiment with old electronic equipment.
Since then, he’s performed alongside artists like White Rabbits, School of Seven Bells and James Blake, but the unsettling combination of unearthly-layered vocals and contemporary electro beats makes Active Child unlike any other act on tour right now. We caught up with Pat to discuss his evolution as an artist, creepy cathedral stories and his fascination with the mystical, mythological and macabre.
Dazed Digital: How would you describe your sound to people that are new to your music?
Active Child: I would say imagine just for a second that you are in a futuristic cathedral. One that is 50 stories tall and shaped like a giant pillar of marble. The pews have been removed and replaced with bean bag chairs. The walls are carved out with sheets of stained glass glowing with tubes of neon. And where normally an altar sits, there is a giant harp playing itself and a synthesizer droning over a rumbling beat. In the distance a choir of ten young boys sing a layered harmony in Latin as they float inches above the ground with their eyes closed. Wow, that sounds ridiculous, but might make a good music video.
DD: What were the things on your mind while writing the songs in the album? Was there a question you wanted to answer?
Active Child: I had so many things on my mind when I sat down to write this album. But my main focus was diving head on into a mood, and at the time my mood and state of mind was pretty dark. I was going through a rough time in my relationship and I think I used the music as a way to escape and reflect on what I was feeling. Because in general I think men don't really discuss "feelings" we just kind of bottle all of this shit up and pretend like it's not bothering us. Writing music and especially this album is a way for me to deal with my own worries, its an incredible source of reflection. A chance to stand in front of the mirror and then watch it fog up again.
DD: You've toured with a heap of talented people. Who's been your favourite, and can you share an anecdote from your time with them?
Active Child: Oh man, how do I pick a favourite?! That would just be wrong. It's funny every time I go on tour I'm always a little worried that I won't click with the other band, but without fail every artist I've toured with has been an amazing person. One of my favourite tours was the very first, with a band called White Rabbits. We toured Europe together for about a month and it was easily one of the best tours I have ever been a part of. I look back now and laugh because I had no idea what the fuck I was doing.
DD: Had you tried any of your new songs on tour before the album release, and what has the crowd response been like to them since you started introducing them into your live act?
Active Child: We did a month long residency at a local venue called The Echo here in LA so we had some time to basically rehearse a lot of the new album in front of a crowd. I think naturally a lot of people were more familiar with the songs from the Curtis Lane EP but as we continued to tour the US last month it was clear that people were getting more and more excited about hearing the new album. Which felt good because I feel much more attached to the new stuff than to the old.
DD: You were in a choir as a boy, you play the harp, your music has been described as canonical and you have a song called 'High Priestess'. Is your music religious or spiritual in any way?
Active Child: I would say it is definitely spiritual, regardless of lyrics or song titles, there is something about it that puts you in that head space. Not all of the songs of course, but the songs that I connect with the most have a hymnal meditative spirit about them. Hence, my acid trip of a description from the first question.
DD: Do you have an interest in the mystical, mythological and/or macabre, and, if so, how have you entertained this interest throughout your life? How does it come through in your music?
Active Child: Again you are right on with this question. I most definitely have a strange fascination with the mystical world and religions in general. I studied world religions in college and as an art major my work almost always had some sort of religious symbolism to it. And although I didn't grow up going to church I did attend a Catholic High School which is where my real curiosity started.
It was weird for me being thrown into a religious school setting after being in public schools all my life. Suddenly my teachers were friars and priests of the Franciscan order and they were preaching to me about the creation of earth, morals, and the afterlife. I had so many questions and a lot of confusion, especially when it seemed that everyone else in the class was completely indifferent to what was being taught. I ended getting into lots of heated arguments with my teachers.
DD: What's the creepiest or most spiritual moment you've experienced in your life?
Active Child: I studied abroad in Italy for six months at a university in Perugia about six years ago. I shared an apartment with four other people and we all became very close through those months. Naturally we went out plenty and partied and stayed out til the sun came up. And every time we made our way home from class or a bar we would pass this giant abandoned church that was surrounded by fencing and construction equipment. We always joked about climbing the fence and sneaking in and one night I gathered the courage and led the charge into the dark church. Once inside I was stunned by the interior.
The roof of the church was completely gone exposing the starlit sky. The moon was pretty full so the stained glass windows that ran the length of the walls beamed just enough to make out the religious imagery. The pews had been removed completely and the floor was dirt. Sarcophagi were strewn about in dark corners. The scene was essentially something out of an Indiana Jones movie. After we had explored the area for a while we all sort of gathered in the middle and laid down. I started singing just to see how far my voice would carry and eventually we all started singing together. After the last note, our voices carried out and up the walls into the sky leaving us all in silence. Still get chills just thinking about it.
DD: How'd you get into the harp?
Active Child: Another long story, but essentially I had always had a curiosity for the instrument, since way way back. One day about eight years ago by happenstance I ended up going home with one from a music rental shop. It's been a part of my daily life ever since.
DD: Tell us about the transition from sing-songwriter playing the harp to someone using electronics and being quite experimental with sound?
Active Child: That transition took a lot longer than I wanted it to. Essentially it was a matter of me becoming bored with just playing harp and singing. I had all of the other sounds in my head, but I didn't really know how to bring them to life. Eventually I got off my ass and taught myself how to make it happen, how to use a synthesizer, how to work reverbs, compressors, how to produce really. Once I opened that door, my imagination just ran with it.
DD: What's next for you?
Active Child: Well, a lot of touring. I just got home from a month long US tour and I leave Saturday for Iceland. After that we just keep going, its beginning to feel like things are getting real. Before all of the attention was so incredible, but now it seems that that attention is being translated into some serious work, which I am beyond excited about.
DD: What are three lesser-known books/artists/films/myths that Dazed readers should be aware of?
Active Child: I love films almost as much as music, so here are three that will expand your mind...
1. The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky
2. Brazil by Terry Gilliam
3. Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton