Storie Grubb: The Antifolk Ukulele Hero We Don’t Deserve
"I've been called Americana or folk, but I don't consider myself to be a traditional folk artist. There's an element of punk rock I can't ignore. I honestly don't know how I'd categorize the music I make; Antifolk kinda sums it up for me until something better comes along."
You listen to the first few tracks from Storie Grubb, and you’re not sure how to classify his music. At times, it’s atmospheric. At others, it’s aggressive. If you hear the artist himself describe it, you’ll detect a thread of uncertainty that echoes yours. Then, he’ll boil it down to one word: Antifolk.
“I've been called Americana or folk, but I guess I don't consider myself to be a traditional folk artist,” he explains. “There's an element of punk rock in my music and songwriting style that I can't ignore. I honestly don't know how I'd categorize the music I make; Antifolk kinda sums it all up for me until something better comes along.”
Storie Grubb is the latest iteration of an artist who has gone by several monikers. Beyond names, these are personas that are as elusive as his music. First, there was Seton, a clever reversal of the word “Notes.” Then, there were Penman Springs and Harry Tracy, the latter commemorating a real-life outlaw who terrorized Portland and Seattle in the early 1900s.
Ultimately, Storie Grubb became the outlet for his music, as well as his visual art. With the same detail he pours into each track, he creates pen and ink pieces that depict aliens, Medicare, Eurythmics lyrics, and everything in between. These compositions are inspired by his own forays through diverse catalogs of music. “I listen to a lot of instrumental stuff when I'm drawing, like the soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands, or I'll just put on a lecture by Joseph Campbell and soak it in. I’m drawn to originality and a sense of urgency. I tend to be drawn to fearless artists.”
Storie Grubb is fearless in his own regard. His latest album, “The Swill Herds,” takes a bold departure from the conventional. He abandons the classic comfort instrument, the guitar, which doesn’t appear anywhere on the 12 tracks. In its place, he uses the ukulele like you’ve never heard it. He deconstructs it and, through an adventurous trip across the pedal board, he distorts it. There are the typical tropical interludes, but then there are blistering solos and booming power chords. It’s a “ukulele rock album,” as he describes it, and it’s accentuated only by the occasional accordion.
The refreshing repetition of the album’s hooks, beginning with opener “Click,” gives your mind the subtle punch it needs to slip into a delightful trance. You find yourself in a mental state where Storie Grubb has been before. “I hear songs in my head all the time, little tunes that play in loops over and over,” he explains. “Sometimes they sound distorted, and I wanted to try and recapture what I was hearing in my head.”
The resulting album could easily be the soundtrack of a cult indie film that becomes a smashing success. The jangly, yet jittering instrumentation would compliment on-screen jaunts such as a twilight bike ride to an abandoned arcade. And the lyrics would quite literally narrate a plot that touches on cigarettes, AIDS, and vampires. The cover of “Fat Old Sun” would play as the climax fades into rolling credits, sending hipsters scouring record stores for first edition Pink Floyd albums. It would add enough of a trend element to sell reams of hand-numbered movie posters, designed by Storie Grubb himself.
Until then, he’s recording music between shifts at the local pet shop. While this adds to his DIY aesthetic, he’ll trade the pet food for royalty checks any day. And, despite the allure of his instrumentals, he’ll have his vocals to thank. At times, his voice is reminiscent of Conor Oberst; more commonly, it evokes Avi Buffalo or the Polyphonic Spree’s Tim Delaughter. On “The Swill Herds,” vocal tracks like “After Dark,” “Dance Dance Dance (Our Tears Away),” and “Feel (You Make Me)” steal the show. We’d love to hear more of his voice on this release, but beggars can’t be choosers. We’ve always longed for a ukulele rock album with an Antifolk core...we just never knew it.