Life-long partners Doug and Alyssa Graham of The Grahams are back with a new sound. Their third album Kids Like Us transcends past their Americana roots into a pristine pop-rock world inspired, yet again, by their fascinating travels. The eclectic duo hopped on motorcycles in 2016 — two weeks after learning how to ride — and embarked on a journey across the US on Route 66. Kids Like Us is concurrently a product of this wild, politically charged trip in some of the most iconic, but forgotten parts of the country and a love letter to their shared past.
Before breaking into the Americana music scene in 2013, the Nashville based group were once two kids from Jersey, running around the suburbs and getting in trouble. Their new album pays homage to this reckless youth as Alyssa’s stunning vocals narrate a touching, truly American story over glittering melodies.
Bandsintown has an exclusive first look at The Graham’s new video for title track “Kids Like Us”! The music video truly captures the cinematic feel of their genre-defying album. Check it out below!
We caught up with The Grahams where they shared what it was like to work with famed producer Richard Swift and revealed the inspiration behind their new album.
Check out the interview below and be sure to stream Kids Like Us!
Congrats on your latest release, Kids Like Us. What has the reception been like?
Doug: People expect us to be Americana sometimes and it’s not, so that’s really awesome. That’s the only comment we’ve been getting “Whoa, it’s really awesome” or “Oh, I like it better” is sorta the general consensus.
Ayssa: Yeah, I think people are surprised because Doug and I always like to mix it up and we know everyone expects a certain sound from their favorite artists but you know you gotta go on the journey and so we really took... I don’t think it’s a left turn on this record but I think we stretched our wings and experimented more in the studio. You know, played with a bigger playing field, a bigger box of tools than we did on our last records.
You’ve definitely incorporated a new sound on this one. Could you describe what it was like to discover it?
Doug: We are journey people, we like to put ourselves out on a limb in order to write our records. We always found that when we were sitting around at our house writing music, we ended up writing about our house and writing about smaller details in our relationship — which was fine. But we wanted to write bigger songs so this is our third record in a trilogy. The first one we lived on the Mississippi River and we wrote some swampy songs. The next album was on the train and it was much faster, train-beat songs. We’re always looking for a difference. This time, we felt like “Okay, we’ve written every three chord song that we could write for a while. Let’s start writing some songs that as we’re writing them, we’re writing them in parts rather than writing them whole.” This way we could have bigger orchestration, bigger sounds. It wasn’t until we met Richard Smith and Danny Molad that we knew how far it could be stretched.
Tell me about your experience working with the legendary Richard Swift.
Alyssa: We sought out Richard because, like Doug said, we wanted to stretch our wings and really incorporate some of the soundscapes we had been inspired by, which were a lot of the ‘60s girl group bands. We rode a motorcycle for the third album, starting in the Chicago/Detroit area and ending in the Beach Boy land in Los Angeles...We thought who better to marry that retro-pop world with modernity than Richard. He’s just a magic man and he wrapped his arms around us with his mellotron and took our music into these magical, beautiful, lush worlds of sounds that we barely could imagine. We’re sad that we lost him during the project and we’re hoping that he’s hearing the final sounds because he’s a huge part of it. I think anybody who knows Richard Swift’s work knows that he’s really amazing at capturing history and giving it a new twist, and that’s what he did really well. Everyone talks a lot about Richard Swift because of who he is but I just always like to mention Dan Molad also produced this record...He was really able to keep Richard’s integrity and bring this record to another level.
You describe yourselves as “life long lovers,” how does your relationship affect your creative process?
Doug: We get together and sort of spitball ideas with each other and usually the most important, greatest ideas that one of us has, the other one rejects. That always somehow makes for a better song because we’re always trying to prove the other person wrong, and we end up pushing the song to another level. We always include our dear friend, who we also grew up with, Bryan McCann. He’s a co-writer on a lot of our songs. After we spitball for a while, we send it along to him and he’ll spitball some ideas back at us and then we’ll take what he sends us and we’ll change it around and come up with something.
Alyssa: Doug and I came from the same background, same with our friend Bryan McCann. We all grew up together and we’ve known each other since we were 7. This record in particular, Kids Like Us, is appropriately titled because the whole record encapsulates our childhood: all three of us growing up in the Jersey suburbs and what that was like. It was a lot of ditching school and smoking weed, going into New York City, and just fucking around on the suburb streets because there’s not much to do except rebel. So this songwriting process was really fruitful because of where we all came from and the childhood we shared together in Jersey. [The songs] have a political undertone from our experience writing them during the 2016 Election but they always come back to songs about love.
You took long trips across the US before making all three of your albums, why does traveling inspire your creativity?
Doug: I read something somewhere about the definition of how to be creative was having new experiences and having time to reflect on those experiences. So with that sort of idea in mind about creativity, we try to max out our creative experiences. We spent this trip while we’re experiencing totally new things, including being on a motorcycle everyday for about a month. It’s just the most life-changing thing, we can’t believe we’re expeditioning across America on motorcycles.
Alyssa: The contrary to what Doug is saying… I’ve heard this quote from Isabel Allende when she was talking about her process, saying “inspiration is for amateurs” and we also subscribe to that. We go out and do these things that are for inspiration, but also just for our mental stability, and then we come home and we get to work. You don’t sit around everyday and say “I can’t write a song until I’m inspired.” You wake up, just like everybody else, you go to work and some days you get something and some days, you don’t. That’s always been part of our philosophy as well.
What was the craziest story from your Route 66 motorcycle ride?
Doug: There’s one that we wrote a song about called “Bite My Tongue”. There’s a lot of really great people we met but occasionally you run into people that you don’t like and that don’t like you. We had to get our motorcycle light fixed since we were about to go through the [Mojave] desert and we knew it was going to be brutal so we wanted to make sure we had all the safety features in line. We pulled into this motorcycle shop and they were like “Yeah, no problem.” As we were sitting around waiting, we started chatting with people at the motorcycle shop and all of a sudden they started throwing out some racist epithets and nasty things about people in California randomly. We told them “You don’t have to say nasty things” and they were like “What are you guys, Hillary supporters?” As soon as that conversation started, the guy from the shop came out and said “We can’t help you.”
Alyssa: We had to ride through the Mojave Desert with one headlight. We don’t get scared easily, we travel a lot. But it was really scary because we were in a small town surrounded by people who thought we were crazy liberals. (We are.) So we quietly walked away because we didn’t want to get into it and wrote our rock ‘n roll revenge song.
What were some of the top songs you played while on the road?
Alyssa: We were listening to songs like “I Shall Be Released by [Bob] Dylan. A lot of The Ronettes too.
Doug: We definitely listened to a lot of the Easy Rider soundtrack because that had sort of been the ideal of this motorcycle trip across the country. There’s a lot of songs like “The Weight”. I know we were jamming to a couple songs that were inspiring us on the journey like that one..
Alyssa: “The Heart That You Own” by Dwight Yoakom!
While traveling, did you spot any cool, untapped cities you wanted to play on tour? What were they?
Doug: Flagstaff was surprisingly cool. We definitely had a nice time in Amarillo, Texas. That was a cool little spot, we had no problems there. Santa Fe is always a cool town. Also, Winslow, Arizona the town from that famous song “Take It Easy” by the Eagles is a really cool town right near the Painted Desert.
Like many artists you’ve had to postpone your upcoming tours. What do you plan to do to stay connected with fans during these uncertain times?
Alyssa: We are live streaming a lot. We had to cancel a 6 week tour in Europe which was depressing. I think a lot of musicians are out there playing and live streaming and rescheduling when they can but we’re actually playing a lot of other musicians tunes on our Instagram and our Facebook, supporting other friends of ours and artists we know whose records also came out during this time and just covering them. We’re trying to bond together with everyone because everybody is hurting in their own ways. We love our songs and want to push our own record, but we also want people that we love and think are beautiful artists to have a platform also so we’re trying to create that as well.
Doug: We’re trying to share the music and host other artists on our Instagram and have them talk to us and play music for us. We even did an interview with author Andrew Altschul and had him do a reading of his latest novel The Gringa. We consider ourselves artists, we both paint and write songs and do all this stuff so we’re trying to be as creative as we can at all times.
Has this time isolated from the world hurt or helped your creative process?
Alyssa: It’s made us be more “everyday” musicians. Like Doug said, we do other sorts of art as well but I think that because of the stay-at-home order, live streaming, and interviews, we’ve been playing music everyday. So I think it’s helped in that way that we’re more regimented.
Doug: Our creative flow in songwriting is definitely slower. I feel like I’m writing a lot of bits and pieces that aren’t going very far. It’s interesting how the pandemic has created this sort of wall.
What song from Kids Like Us are you most excited to play live when you get the chance? Why?
Alyssa: My favorite song on the record is “Mr. G” so I’m really excited to hear that one with the full band. We haven’t done it live yet.
Doug: We also haven’t done “Love Letters” live which is a really epic, odyssey kind of song. Once we start getting that in the flow of a live show it’s going to start being an extended jam. It’s much more of a rocker. I was hoping on the European tour that we were going to put it into the setlist and start stretching it out but we didn’t get that chance yet so I look forward to that one the most.
Can we expect a documentary about your Route 66 travels like the others you’ve done?
Alyssa: There’s a documentary that’s going to come out called Searching the Milky Way...
It’s different filmmakers. Rattle the Hocks was done by Cody Dickinson and this is done by David Johnson and Natalie Brasington. Searching the Milky Way is more about the adventure itself rather than the music we were experiencing during the journey...We were trying to talk to people who lived and worked on Route 66 and see how they were feeling. So we talked to artists, motel owners, and souvenir shop keepers just to kind of get a sense of what that America was like.
Doug: The main difference is this is documenting us interviewing other people along the journey and some of our riding and cruising. It includes some of our more philosophical concepts whereas Rattle the Hocks was much more just getting together and jamming with strangers. We do that in this film, but not nearly to the degree that we did then.
Anything else you'd like to say to fans?
Alyssa: We hope everyone out there is being safe and that they make it through with their sanity.