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Ex-Paloalto leader James Grundler returns with Golden State

Golden State_photo by Janee Meadows.jpg

Exposure through song placements in TV shows, movies and commercials is pretty much the norm these days for both emerging and established rock artists.

What separates Golden State, a relatively new band based in Los Angeles, from the rest of the pack is having a song placement closely connected with British royalty. That’s due to Golden State’s “Till the End” being featured in multiple promos for the BBC’s coverage of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s April wedding.

Singer James Grundler recently spoke about the end of his previous band, Paloalto; the making of Golden State’s debut album, Division; the aforementioned royal song placement and much more. Was the breakup of Paloalto due to conflicts among its members, frustration with the way American Recordings handled the band — or both of these as well as some other factors?
James Grundler: “I’ll tell you, a lot of it had to do with the state of the music industry. It wasn’t even so much hardships with the band members or even with American Recordings because American was doing whatever it could. Rick [Rubin] was doing whatever he could to make it happen. It [had more to do with] the industry itself: They were like, ‘Where is everything going? How do we work this band with the way things are going?’ So we got the brunt end of the stick. It was a major label [situation] because we were going through Island/Def Jam at the time with that last Paloalto record. … Things were just fluctuating, with piracy, iTunes and downloads — people didn’t know what to make of it.

“Rick was so great during that time period. He wanted to keep things moving, but he was in search of a new home as well. He didn’t know where American was going to end up or if it would stay on Island or what. And at that point, the guys in the band were tired of waiting around. Consequently, I was like, ‘Hey man, I’ve gotta make music, and the only way I was going to be able to do that was dissolve this operation and keep on going, somewhere else.’ And he completely understood and let me go, or let the band go, and that began the new conquest in new areas.”

You’ve described Division as bigger and more massive-sounding, calling it the album you’ve always wanted to make. Was this a sound and approach that differed from what American or even your former band mates pushed for?
Grundler: “I think what goes on, especially when you’re a young band working with a new label and an amazing producer like Rick, is so many visions that come into the fold. … Rick tried to lend a hand in creating the vision that he felt was best for the group. Of course, at the time, I was encouraging that vision because he’s The Man. I was just trying to make a record and get it out to the masses — that’s what I was concentrating on.

“So when I say that [Division] was a record I always wanted to make, it’s because when I was writing these songs, I didn’t have the stigma of a label pushing me, saying, ‘Well, no, you should do this,’ or ‘We really want you to go in this direction.’ Or the producer: ‘We really think it should be this direction.’ I got to be the last say on it, and that really empowered me and gave me the confidence to really dig down deep and write the songs that needed to be written for this record.”

That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
Grundler: “It is. But I’ll tell you, if I was younger, yeah, I think I’d feel a little scared. But from the experience I’ve had in the past — working with Rick Rubin [and other producers] — I got a lot of know-how and knowledge from them. I got to go to the school of learning how to produce, and I took all that knowledge and put it to use.”

Talk about your personal and musical relationship with bassist Alex Parnell, who goes back to the Paloalto days.
Grundler: “He’s definitely a key factor in the soul behind [this] band. He and I met for the first lineup of Paloalto; he was one of the first members I met. He has such passion for music, and it’s great to have that wingman who pushes you and keep reassuring you that what you’re doing is soulful.

“He’s been that guy, but unfortunately [around the time of] the second Paloalto record, he had to move back home [to Seattle] because his father was dying. It was a big moment for all of us. … We remained friends, and when he moved back to Los Angeles, I was already working with another bass player. And as luck would have it, that guy had to move on, and the spot opened up. And [Parnell] said, ‘I think I’m ready to do this again.’ And I said, ‘I’d love to have you.’

“He really brought this thundery, eighth-note bass rock, like Paul Simonon from The Clash, and that was something [the music] was missing. When he came in, during the first couple of rehearsals, I thought, ‘Yeah, there it is.’ ”

I have a feeling that calling the band Golden State has more to do with getting to a certain place spiritually than it does a Los Angeles band borrowing California’s nickname. Can you explain the meaning — or meanings — behind the name?
Grundler: “A lot of people joke about it because we were Paloalto, which is a city in California, and now we’re Golden State. So the next band is going to be The Country or U.S.A. (laughs).
“But there definitely are deeper meanings. As a writer, you’re constantly trying to find the best song; you’re constantly trying to find that state, that place where you feel comfortable and you feel the most confident. And Golden State really is the meaning behind that.”

So how does an emerging band from Los Angeles end up with a song in promos for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton?
Grundler: “[In deadpan voice] Well, you know, we’re close friends with the royal family and … No, it was a song I wrote with a friend of mine. The BBC was looking for a track, and I have a great girl who does all of my [song] licensing. She got it to them, they fell in love with the track and wanted to use it, and that’s really how it happened. I think they got the approval from the royal family because they had to for the stuff they used in the promos. They approved it, and we were rockin’ and rollin’ in the U.K. It really was great exposure, I have to say.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Photo by Janee Meadows