June 30th 2014 marked the release of Omphalic by Algernon Doll via Struggletown Records. Omphalic is Algernon Dolls third studio album and is a direct continuation of Camomile and Citalo-Pop. Ewan Grant recorded his first two albums as a solo project with the help of his friend, Tom Mitchell. Currently, Algernon Doll is no longer a solo effort, but a band of three with Ewan Grant on vocals, Wull Swales on bass and Owen Wicksted on drums. Tom Mitchell remains as producer, director and photographer.
Based in Glasgow, Ewan Grant released his debut album Camomile in November 2012. The recording process by Tom Mitchell occurred throughout 2011 at Clearwater Studios, Perth. Camomile is a concept album written by Grant at a time of severe anxiety. Trapped in the four walls of his apartment, the singer/songwriter turned to music as a form of self- expression. Camomile received support from the likes of NME.com, Radar Scotsman and For Folk Sake.
Citalo-Pop is a play on words. Citalo is a shortened down version of Citalopram, a popular anti-depressant. The album centres around a cloud of overwhelming despair as a result of battling with depression. Pop hooks are combined with Italo-pop (Italian pop), hence the “Pop” included in the title. June 2013, one year previous to Omphalic, marked the release of Ewan Grants second production. The Vinyl District claims “Algernon Doll burns a hole straight through the shallow nonsense and Citalo-pop is the sound of something real- Ewan Grant is a proper alt-rock talent who sounds wise beyond his years”.
For fans of Elliot Smith, Omphalic more or less falls under the alternative rock genre. It is true, Grants third album is pop driven, more so than previous albums. Album opener, “Spilt Milk Perfume”, begins with an instantaneous pop hook. Guitar and drums are simply charming. Tone is immediately up tempo.
“Justine” follows the same pattern as “Spilt Milk Perfume”. Electric guitar is skilful beyond doubt here. “Tamed” begins gradually and is quite controlled for the most part. Although loud, the song lives up to its name. Faint backing vocals in line with the rhythm can be heard before lead vocals are released into the airwaves. Start/stop guitar meshes together with lyrics of such passion. The word “tamed” emphasises the hold anti-depressants can have over one’s personality.
“Suicide” contains an acoustic set in the introductory piece. Vocals are somewhat higher pitched and drawn out. A heavy array of noise comes crashing down soon after. Only the beginning is gentle due to acoustics.
“Candy Striped” is not at all as punchy sounding than prior songs. It is a soft and gentle tune with a dreamy like quality. Dreaminess is deliberate and relevant to the meaning of this song. Imagine this; you are wide awake with racing thoughts and emotions that you cannot control. These attributes of mental illness cause you to act in an erratic fashion. Now something has to be evened out. You take medication, these “candy striped” pills, for control over your own irrational behaviour. Unfortunately, anti-depressants make you sleepy. Lines become blurred between the waking world and the unconscious level of sleep. You go about your day in a dreamy-like state and by the end you ask, what just happened?
“Fellate” showcases a hypothetical live performance from Algernon Doll. It’s undoubtedly made for a hard rock jam. Guitars are thunderous and racy while depth is resonated by drums. Vocals and lyrics produce a controlled amount of anger. “Fellate” is just one of the two “heavier” songs on Omphalic. “Relate” is a continuation. Both songs express frustration over homophobia and gender inequality that still exist today.
There is an atmospheric style to “Goodbye, Blue Jeans”. It’s not something I can put my finger on but is unique from all the rest. Backing sounds are smooth yet overtly melancholic.
“Pheromone” ends Omphalic with a heart wrenchingly honest effort. The acoustics contribute to a slow ballad intertwined with echoing vocals. There is a particular atmospheric style here not dissimilar to “Goodbye, Blue Jeans”. All aspects of this song are gentle and thoughtful. Pheromone is a chemical factor animals use in attracting a mate. Human attraction is more complex.
It’s a brave move for anyone to begin a music career on your own. Did you have anyone, such as a producer, behind you in the beginning?
“I’ve always played in bands so writing music has been part of my life since I learned how to. I never really embarked on it as if it was a career; it’s just something I do to keep me sane and it’s exponentially become a bigger part of my life. My friend Tom Mitchell helped record me and we bounced ideas off each other but it was all a very selfish project. We only aim to make music that’s fun for us. It turned out that a few other people enjoyed it too.”
What’s the story behind “Camomile”? Did you have much experience in the music business before this transition?
“It’s a concept album I wrote when I was struggling with extreme anxiety episodes and depression. I couldn’t leave
my flat, I’d even get palpitations when I heard the buzzer go. I wrote an album to relax me and to get some things
out. Camomile is the name of a girl who’s built a prison for herself and can’t get out even though she has the key.
Camomile is supposed to be a relaxing drink but she’s an alcoholic etc. No experience at all! I learned, very slowly, as I went along. I sent the album off to some blogs and A Badge of Friendship liked it and ran the business side of things from there.”
What’s the story behind “Citalo-pop”?
“Citalo-pop is Citalopram ( popular anti-depressant) + pop hooks + Italo-pop (Italian Pop). Basically, catchy songs about severe depression and the Italian part comes from being influenced by La Quiete, Raein and many Italian bands. That record was more refined and I’m really proud of it. It was pretty successful too which came as a huge surprise.”
Who are your influences?
“From Elliott Smith to Italian screamo e.g La Quiete. I like a lot of ambient music and minimal pop stuff like Grouper. I tend not to listen to a lot of music that’s similar to what I do in hope that I don’t subconsciously rip off ideas. I like to take influence from visual artists that I love and, as far as movies, I’ve written about Lars Von Trier films.”
Where does the name Algernon Doll come from?
“It’s from a short story by Daniel Keyes called, “Flowers for Algernon”. Algernon is a lab mouse who is experimented on to gain intelligence. The experiment works but quickly wears off and he dies. Algernon Doll is my idea of being a manipulated entity in life, be it people or events doing this, and writing music from the prospective of a loved and tortured doll. It’s really just my perspective but it’s less boring than my name and it takes the ego out of things a little bit.”
Your music strikes me as very open and honest about your struggles with mental illness. After releasing three albums, as of now, is it easier to be so open? Was it difficult at the start?
“I think people know that’s what I talk about now although they’re still very timid to talk to me about it in person. It wasn’t difficult to start with as I didn’t expect anyone to listen to it or even care what I was saying. I’m so sick of hearing songs about boyfriends/ girlfriends and typical relationships. I just write about what I know. My relationship with my girlfriend doesn’t have enough drama in it for me to write about anyway. It’s pretty easy to write about depression etc. now as people have told me that it’s nice to have songs that relate to their own private struggles. I’m far from alone in this and that’s always nice to know…in a way.”
What inspired the change from solo artist to making Algernon Doll a band?
“I don’t really like playing on my own. It’s just intimidating and I end up making everyone sad and that’s not something I really want to do anymore. I like playing electric guitar as I can improvise and play what I’m feeling at that moment, with a band to back me up and I can fully express myself without having to stick to a plan.”
In your own opinion, how do you feel Omphalic contrasts to your previous albums?
“It’s more refined and poppy. I was trying to write a bunch of 3 minute pop songs and stick some weirdness in too.
It’s more of a continuation of Citalo-pop though and that’s about as close as I ever want to get to doing the same thing twice.”
Who’s who in Algernon Doll now?
“Myself, Wull Swales on bass and Owen Wicksted on drums plus Tom Mitchell as my musical soul-mate who shows up sometimes to make everything sparkle!”
How is the fourth album coming along?
“We recorded the demos in a day and I only need to write a song or two this month and then it’s done. It’s going to
be super simple and all recorded live with no digital editing to make it sound perfect. It should sound like an accurate representation of the band playing live. The music industry, from top to bottom, is going in a horrible direction of over-producing songs till there’s no humanity left in them. There will be several mistakes and bummed notes in this record and I’m hoping it will be all the better for it.”
“One of the most exciting artists to emerge in a while.”– Artrocker Magazine