Establishing an empathetic bond between artist and audience requires honesty, fragility, and engagement. Active Child demonstrates all of the above. Releasing his atmospheric debut album, You Are All I See, in 2011, Pat Grossi has taken his sweet time realizing, writing, and recording the follow-up, Mercy—a brilliant showcase of his originality, intuitive production skills, and masterful musical craftsmanship. Named after a low moment that forced him to his knees in need of a savior, the piano-led LP stands alone and unparalleled, showcasing a definitively unique side to the harp-strung, slow-wave sound Active Child has become best known for.
Recording in a home-built DIY art-space, the new music resonates like a soundtrack to some dark and brooding motion picture. In truth, many of the tracks on Mercy surfaced after Grossi worked on a commission for an independent Australian film. Complex UK talks with the L.A.-based, ex-Philadelphia Boy's Choir member to find out exactly what it takes to make an album this deeply personal.
Interview by Milly McMahon (@MillyMcMahon)
During the four years since your last album, were there experiences or goals to achieve that were important before you began working on the new material?
I really felt after the success of the previous album, I needed to go away and focus on having a personal life; seeing my family, watching my nieces and nephews grow up and my parents grow old. After the unexpected success of my last album, I needed to find somebody to fall in love with. It was important to live a life full of the things I related to before; that gave me a sense of authenticity and centered myself. The central influence for this album was the relationship I am now in, and how that happened, and how I felt in those early moments.
How does it feel to know you've affected people by communicating your own emotional experience?
It isn't painful to listen to now, I don't think, because it all worked out. But I had to go to those places and experience different things to arrive there. For sure it's life-affirming to play to people and share something which is so personal. This album is about falling in love with a girl, and I'm still in that relationship now so that makes it a lot easier.
Now that you're touring with this new material, will you be continuing to write while on the road, or has the experience left you somewhat creatively drained?
I actually feel more creatively invigorated, now, than ever before. But I never write on the road. It's never worked for me; mostly because being on tour leaves me exhausted and impatient. That's not to say it doesn't inspire me—I just prefer to move at my own pace and ensure that I have plenty of privacy. I'm really looking forward to getting home next month and working on new material.
Is Mercy what love or loss feels like for you, or just an emotional blend of the two?
This album is a little bit of everything for me: love, loss of love, faith, loss of faith, lust, regret, guilt, anger, hope, curiosity, infatuation.... Every emotion that I identify with the roller coaster of companionship is wrapped up in this record.
How do you feel after performing such intense and emotional material? Do you need time to escape that place after spending so much time revisiting deep memories, or do you remain more melancholic?
In the past, I've been able to go off the stage and have a good time. But with this one it's been pretty intense and I've just had to process the whole thing and "be" a bit more. It's going to take a bit of time to get used to playing live, I think.
How does this album progress you fundamentally, as an artist?
To me, it feels grown and confident. It is, without a doubt, my most personal and mature expression through music thus far. I must continue to progress forward or else there is no point in continuing to write.
How is the live show geared around the artwork and lyrical focus of the album?
The production and aesthetic of the live show mimics that breathy, consistent heartbeat of the album. I wanted the show to swell and pulse just as the music does and focused on whites, blues, and reds to express the different emotions throughout—halo white for the more hopeful moments like "1999," blood red for the lustful passionate "Mercy" or "Temptation," and ocean blue for the more solemn "Darling" and "Too Late." I initially wanted to include the neon Mercy sign as part of the backdrop, but it proved too fragile to take on the road.
Were you inspired by any films during the making of this LP?
One film that does stick out as an influence is The Great Beauty from 2013. I remember watching it and hearing the opening sequence of music and thinking I want my album to sound like this: pure, full of air, hope, and light. It turned out to be a piece by Arvo Pärt called "My Heart Is in the Highlands," and it is still one of the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever heard.
Have you ever had a mentor encouraging the deeply emotional direction and honesty that lay within your music?
No, this has been my own creative journey and my own instinctual vision throughout. I've been my own guide for the most part, but Van Rivers encouraged me to push forward in moments when I doubted myself, which I think every artist needs. When I doubted my directness and emotional honesty, he gave me the confidence to let it go.