Vivian McConnell knows the value of a little hard work. She’s planted many seeds over the years (metaphorical ones, yes, but she does seem like the kind of thoughtful person who would maintain a small herb garden in her sparse downtime) a testament to her keen understanding that creative collaboration is a powerful, enlightening tool. The musician is poised to see those seeds, like the creative partnerships she’s been nourishing for years and her artistry she’s meticulously crafted for the better part of a decade, bloom into their full potential in 2017.
The songbird is an integral part of Chicago’s indie darlings Santah, a consistent producer of cryptic, dreamy folk songs. She’s spent much of 2016 perfecting the batch of songs that will comprise “Bathing Peach,” the debut LP for her solo endeavor V.V. Lightbody. She’s played across the United States with her solo project, whether it be dimly-lit basements and dive bars in the rural south, or the contrasting atmosphere of crowded venues in sprawling metropolitan cities on the East Coast.
Most recently, though, it’s the hard work of the prolific songwriter’s project Grandkids that is cause for celebration. The Chicago-based four-piece, formed in 2010 while they were students at the University of Illinois, will release their newest LP “This Guitars,” Dec. 16 via Heirship Records. The record blends folk, rock and electronic sensibilities, as McConnell’s tranquil vocals are juxtaposed by jilting bursts of dizzying guitar riffs and distortion.
Grandkids “really jagged, really raw, unabashed” sound draws comparisons to acts like St. Vincent and The Dirty Projectors, McConnell said.
“This Guitars,” is the band’s second official LP and McConnell, the group’s front woman, said the band successfully created the record they had lofty intentions of making from the beginning.
‘It’s really neat, this record captures what we wanted Grandkids to sound like,” she said. “A lot of bands can’t achieve that. Everybody’s voice speaks out on this record, I feel so happy about that. Our second LP is very much what we wanted it to be. Our live sound has evolved so much, we wanted to capture that live energy in this record.”
The record was mixed and recorded by Dave Vettraino at Public House Recordings.
Thematically, the album deals with the plight of being a twenty-something, whether it be the struggle of fumbling towards adulthood or navigating the pangs of coming to terms with crumbling relationships.
“Seamripper,” the first single from the LP, is one of the album’s strongest moments. The track was written during a period when McConnell was working a dead-end office job. She details the malaise of an uninspiring 9-to-5 occupation and the battle of fending off an inner-dialogue crippled with self-doubt in relatable, poetic fashion.
“How do I get darkness out of my mind/ How do I sit still for a long time?” she contemplates at the beginning of the song, an anthemic line for anyone familiar with assimilating to the mundane trappings of a cubicle.
“(Seamripper) is really special to me,” McConnell said. “It came out so naturally. I wrote it in a period of deep confusion. It is a pretty dark song.”
Over the course of the 3:48 track, McConnell’s confessions grow increasingly tense. She quips about self-soothing with a cold brew to temporarily dull the pain and anxiety bubbling beneath the surface of a romance going awry. Does she come clean about the troubling dreams she’s been having? The ones that swirl in her mind in painstaking detail every night, the unsettling ones that seem to reveal a truth she can barely stomach.
McConnell said she experiences “really intense, vivid dreams” every single night and believes the truth gleaned from them can help solve and shed light on the ruts we sometimes find ourselves in.
“I believe your subconscious is a huge part of who you are,” she said. “You figure things out from your dreams.”
As McConnell details the worries and fears tormenting her work day, the song’s soundscape grows chaotic and moody, weaving frenetic guitar riffs that pair perfectly with the angst detailed in the song.
“I crush the lightbulb in my hand, glass goes deeper and deeper in / I try to scrub the shards of light out, find them when I have the time,” McConnell coos in the song’s most ominous verse.
“Seamripper” is a tale of an artist coming to terms with the ugly realities of growing up. The bad jobs you work that barely cover the bills, the heartbreaks and hang-ups that haunt your morning commute. It’s an ode to the overworked, underpaid artists that fill communities and music scenes across the United States. Musicians more concerned with authenticity, the ones who book small DIY tours and are never featured in the glossy pages of music publications. The ones who crave the brief moments of clarity that soothe the weariest of spirits, the hard-fought triumphs that recognize joy isn’t possible without a little darkness.