The Los Angeles-based rock band talk about their newest EP, Yesterday’s News.
West Coast rock group Grand Canyon make music on the same wavelength as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, and Bruce Springsteen.
The band’s name obviously comes from that world-famous Arizona landmark, but why they chose it is less obvious: “We took a look at the musical landscape and saw that there was a huge hole where good music used to be,” says vocalist and guitarist Casey Shea. “When we thought of giant holes, the Grand Canyon is the only thing that could really compare.”
Following up their acclaimed 2018 album, Le Grand Cañon, the six-piece group — composed of Shea, Amy Wilcox (vocals) Joe Guese (guitar), Darice Bailey (keys, vocals), John Cornell (bass), and Fitz Harris (drums) — continue to find inspiration in the sounds and arrangements of classic rock for their new EP, Yesterday’s News.
Recently, we caught up with Shea to talk about the new record.
Cowboys & Indians: You just released the EP Yesterday’s News. Tell us a little bit about it.
Casey Shea: This was a big leap forward for us sonically. I’m really proud of this batch of songs from a writing and recording standpoint, and I think it showcases some different sides of the band. I think anyone who’s paying attention will get a better understanding of where we come from and where we want to go. The response has been overwhelmingly positive so far, which is great. Hopefully, the people who like it will spread the good word.
C&I: What was the production process like?
Shea: We were sort of guinea pigs for our producer Jamie Candiloro’s new studio. He’s an incredible talent, and luckily we worked really well together from an idea and vision standpoint. A lot of the songs started off with a discussion of a visual or scene, and the goal was to paint that picture sonically. I think it gave the songs a more cinematic feel.
C&I: For our readers who may not be familiar with your music, can you give us three words you would use to describe it?
Shea: Rock AND Roll.
C&I: You all come from different backgrounds of music. How does this compilation of work compare with each of your individual musical backgrounds?
Shea: Luckily we also all share a deep love for ’60s, ’70s, ’80s classic rock. We started the band with a very clear concept, which was, what if Stevie Nicks had left Fleetwood Mac and joined Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (as she claimed she would have in the Running Down a Dream documentary)? So even though we’ve all done very different things in our past, we were all on the same page for what this was going to be. All those different viewpoints, styles, and points of reference make Grand Canyon the unique beast it is. The biggest asset we have is that we are all very experienced. As long as the song is halfway decent, it doesn’t take long for things to come together. Also, we’re all good friends. It can’t be overstated how important it that is. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
C&I: As a group with so much collective experience, how did you go about finding a nice balance between your individual strengths?
Shea: We don’t really hold anyone back from expressing themselves, so I think we’re just lucky that everyone has similar enough tastes. Back to being experienced: Anyone who’s been around the block a few times knows it’s all about doing what’s best for the song. When you have a bunch of great musicians who respect each other working toward that goal, anything is possible.
C&I: Is there a track on Yesterday’s News that you’re most proud of? Shea: For me, it’s probably “21st Century American Man.” We generally stick to a very classic song format, so it’s rare that songs are much longer than a few minutes or so. We wanted to push ourselves sonically, lyrically, and lengthwise with that one, and although we didn’t record a 20-minute version (which was our initial goal), we did almost hit the 7-minute mark. Thanks to some sonic wizardry from Jamie, I think it ebbs and flows incredibly well and hopefully keeps people’s attention in this bite-sized world we live in.
C&I: Are stories about how certain songs on the album came together?
Shea: With the “November Rain” cover, we wanted to make something that had a roomy feel to it, so we packed up some gear and recorded a relatively straightforward acoustic version in Jamie’s living room. We took the track home and a couple of days later everyone had the same sinking feeling. It was fine, but there was nothing really special about it. We took a week off and threw a lot of ideas out over email and text. Maybe it should be piano-based? Maybe it should have different chords? Maybe we should change the melody completely?
About a week passed, and Joe and I pulled up to the studio on a rare rainy L.A. morning. After all the discussions, we were more unsure than ever how we were going to approach it. We walked in, and Jamie informed us he’d had a death in the family, and he was going to have to leave town the following day for a few days. There was a very somber feeling in the room. Mixing was scheduled to start the following week, and I started thinking maybe this track wasn’t meant to be. Just as that possible reality started to set in, Joe, who was on the opposite side of the room, started delicately picking through the chords on his grandfather’s 1939 black and white Gibson L-00. The sound he was making was the perfect soundtrack to how I was feeling at that moment; there was a beautiful sadness to it. I started sort of singing to myself, not much more than a whisper. And Jamie said, “Yes, guys ... keep this going. This is it.”
Jamie quickly got some levels on the mics that were set up. When we finished that take, I was thinking surely we’d do a few more passes and iron out some things, but Jamie excitedly said, “I think we might’ve got it.” We had to recut the first couple of lines, cause of the talking and getting the levels set, but other than that, the acoustic and vocal is the live pass of Joe and me guessing our way through it. When we heard it back, we knew it had that something special we were looking for.
C&I: Is there a specific song that fans have really taken to?
Shea: “Shangri-La La Land” is generally a crowd favorite from a live standpoint. It’s become a bit of a performance art piece, so I think singing it crawling along dirty bar floors, stealing drinks out of people’s hands, and standing on bar tops has something to do with it.
C&I: Are there any songs that didn’t make it on the album that we can expect to hear down the road?
Shea: There are a lot of songs that didn’t quite have the right vibe for this EP. We wanted it to be a darker and more rock-centered thing cause of what our last release was and the vision we have for the next one. We knew this group of songs fit well together, and we wanted to get something done quickly, so we didn’t second-guess ourselves too much.
C&I: What’s next?
Shea: We’ve been recording a bit and hopefully should have a new full album to release next year. If we can get the right team in place to put it out and get on the road playing to millions of adoring fans, that would be ideal. Ha!
Photography: Amanda Rowen