Originally based in Boston, Willard Grant Conspiracy has expanded and contracted over the years to include members from all corners of the US and Europe. The first album, “3am Sunday at Fortune Otto’s” was recorded, before the band had a name and was “formed”, by a loose group of friends. When it was finished, it was released on the band’s own label and the German label Glitterhouse agreed to distribute the record thru their mail order catalog in Europe as well as include a song on one of their label compilations.
The resulting interest, allowed the band to do a few shows in Europe and when it became time to release a second album, “Flying Low” the record was picked up by the Slow River label and distributed by Rykodisc in the US and Europe.
This gave the band, with help from the Seattle band The Walkabouts who allowed them to support Chris and Carla on the “Swinger 500” tour, the chance to do their first European tour. This friendship has resulted in many tours and cross pollination of the bands over the years; Chris and Carla have both appeared on WGC records and in concert and Paul, after marrying their drummer and leaving WGC, has played bass with The Walkabouts. There is a live recording called “The Green Green Grass of Slovenia”, recorded in Ljubljana at the end of a Walkabouts led tour and available on Glitterhouse records, that features almost all the members of both touring bands.
“Flying Low” was followed a year later by the album “Mojave”. “Mojave” intentionally stretched the edges of the band sound and included some of the bands most enduring songs like “The Work Song”, “Love has no Meaning” (featuring Edith Frost) and “Another Lonely Night”. Another year of touring, including the US and Europe, and even more writing brought the band home to record “Everything’s Fine”. It would be the last record for Slow River, with the parent company Rykodisc being absorbed by another label. “Everything’s Fine” allowed the band to tour in earnest.
“Regard the End”, was the band’s first release on Glitterhouse (Europe), Loose Records (UK and France) and Kimchee (US). Including songs like “Soft Hand” and “Suffering Song”, the record was well received and resulted in Uncut magazine including it in a decade round up of the most influential records, at the end of 2010.During the recording, Paul Austin left the band, resulting in a move to Seattle where he would begin playing in his own projects and become an important part of The Walkabout family of musicians.
The album “Let it Roll” was recorded in Holland and Ljubljana. The band had written a group of songs that they played during a five week tour before taking the collection into the studio. The record was recorded as live as possible and reflects the sound of a band used to touring and playing together. Besides the epic title track, the album includes favorites like the anti-war ballad “ From a Distant Shore” and “Mary of the Angels”.Over the years of touring, Robert had become friends with the Scottish composer Malcolm Lindsay. Malcolm suggested that he would be interested in working together on a project for the band. One wet Welsh night, while Robert was visiting the brilliant Jackie Leven at a recording session for the album “Elegy for Johnny Cash”, Malcolm played the two a live recording of one of his compositions, played by The Moscow String Quartet. Hearing this music gave Robert the idea that they might compose a record together using the instrumentation represented in the band along with the orchestral instruments Malcolm had been using in his compositions.
A year later, the result of the collaboration is the album “Pilgrim Road”. The tour for “Pilgrim Road” would be the most ambitious the band had ever tried to execute. Twelve musicians onstage, including horns and strings along with a grand piano, to augment the regular band instrumentation. The song “Vespers” is a highlight on the record and was the last song composed for the recording. Darkly moving and elemental, the song is sung over a bed of mournful strings.
With the huge undertaking the tour for Pilgrim Road represented in the background, the band scaled back and began touring more in a stripped down style, closer to the original instrumentation. These intimate but no less intense shows prompted Loose to ask the band to record something similar to the live sets they had been doing.
This request led the band to record the album “Paper Covers Stone” with new versions of old songs being mixed with new. The record was recorded in a weekend and was intended to reflect the loose configuration of a live set. There was no “set list” for this recording and the songs are played and presented in the order they were recorded.
This brings us to the recording of “Ghost Republic”. Done over a period of a year, the recording is a celebration of the working and playing relationship between Robert and David Michael Curry, the band’s long time viola player. All the instruments were played between the two musicians and the album, inspired by the friendship between the two, is the most intuitive of all of the records. They hope to be able to bring it to life in venues during the fall and winter of 2013/2014. “Ghost Republic” will be available in September of 2013.
Over the years, the list of people who have toured or recorded the music of the Willard Grant Conspiracy has become lengthy. The original band never had a set line up, like more traditional bands; the records often contain the credit “if someone tells you they played on this, they probably did.”
This decision to keep flexibility and change as an important part of the musical life of the band, allowed the members to move in and out of orbit, as needed. The band and the music has been enhanced and informed by the influences and generosity of all the musicians who have been a part of the effort. In live venues, both the audience and the band share in the rewards of never hearing the same set or versions of a song twice. On record, the band strives for a sound that closely matches the inspiration contained in the live set. It is often said that the best music is made when musicians are not afraid to listen. Knowing when not to play becomes as important as knowing when and what to play. It is between these margins, where these decisions are made, that we hear the inspiration of the players.
WGC hopes they have captured some of those moments along the way.