Free jeans! — A Q&A with Caleb Nichols of Grand Lake

Pub date February 11, 2011
WriterJen Verzosa

Hailing from San Luis Obispo, Calif. by way of Oakland, Grand Lake has become an art rock darling among the hip, not only because of its applauded 2010 LP Blood Sea Dream (Hippies Are Dead), but also for its cover of the theme song from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, originally done by Polaris. In March, the group is releasing an EP on Hippies Are Dead. In the interim, you can listen to the its take on Radiohead’s “The Tourist,” below. It was recorded in an art gallery in San Luis Obispo, and all of the reverb on the track comes from the room itself — nothing is digital. Grand Lake is set to rock out with Yuck and with Smith Westerns on Sun./13 at Bottom of The Hill. In advance of the show, I caught up with Grand Lake bandleader (and Port O’Brien alum) Caleb Nichols by email.

SFBG At your last show in San Francisco, Grand Lake performed as a duo. It was just you and John [Pomeroy]. But Grand Lake is usually a trio: you, John Pomeroy, and Jameson Swanagon, right? How did you three meet to form the band?
Caleb Nichols These days, Grand Lake is me plus various people – usually my boyfriend John, sometimes Jameson, and now my friend Josh Barnharn — also formerly of Port O’Brien — is working with us a bit. In the future I’m sure there will be other people involved too. I want some celebs. I have Bieber Fever.

SFBG What was your transition from Port O’Brien to Grand Lake like?
CN It was interesting. I went from playing big shows and touring all over the place to playing small rooms and warehouses in Oakland — not a bad change actually, except that I miss getting free jeans and stuff. I keep hoping to play Noise Pop, and then get invited to play a Diesel or Levi’s event, just so I can get some new pants. I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve ‘made it’ again until somebody gives me stupidly expensive free jeans. Help.

Grand Lake “The Tourist” by elpuma70

SFBG Why the moniker “Grand Lake”?
CN Nothing to it. I was thinking up band names while driving to Oakland from L.A. This one sounded nice and easy.

SFBG Without referencing the names of genres, how would you describe the music Grand Lake puts out?
CN Our newer stuff is steeped in the coastal woods by our house. Birds. I’m listening to a lot of M. Ward, Microphones, Little Wings, even early Port O’Brien — getting back to the roots, you know?

SFBG Do you have a favorite Grand Lake song, and if so, what’s the background story behind it?
CN I really like “It Takes A Horse To Light A House.” The phrase was lifted from a flash card in the household of Mr. Van Pierszalowski. I think it has something to do with physics.

SFBG What’s your songwriting process like? What things/people/places do you draw inspiration from?
CN I write them in my head, and then I begrudgingly sit down and record demos. I’m an intuitive type of writer, and I dig minimalist poetry, especially Joseph Massey.

SFBG Describe Grand Lake (i.e., the music, its members, its overall vibe, etc.) in 10 words or fewer.
CN   Leaves are

SFBG You have a show coming up on Sunday, the 13th, yeah? So, what are you working on now? Anything in the pipeline?
CN Yes, indeed — we are grateful to be opening for Yuck and the Smith Westerns at Bottom of the Hill, one of my favorite places to play in SF. We’re releasing two EPs this year on Hippies Are Dead. The first one comes out this spring, and the second probably in the fall.

SFBG Any last words?
CN Please, somebody, give me some pants.

With Smith Westerns, Yuck
Sun./13, 9 p.m.; $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455