“They look like they’ve been sponsored by the Coen brothers,” one student muttered to his classmate, as five men settled among their instruments in front of a group of eager onlookers.
Grizfolk, a name that aptly describes the grizzly looking, folk-fusion band, graced the Carson sound stage on Friday as guest speakers for the USC Thornton School of Music’s Popular Music Forum. The Los Angeles-based band has been on a steady ascent, circulating the music blogs and being heralded by KCRW as an “Artist You Should Know.”
As a band freshly rising through the ranks and through a fortuitous connection with Universal Music Group, Grizfolk was tapped to perform and speak at the forum, a series that takes place every Friday and invites artists, producers, top record executives and other people in the industry to share their experiences with the class of prospective musicians.
“The idea is for us to go to the source, to really find out what the musicians think, what the industry people think,” said Chris Sampson, associate dean of Popular Music & Music Industry Studies at Thornton. “It’s one thing for me to say it, but it’s another thing for them to hear it right from the source.”
With looks of doubt and humbled amusement, the five band members discussed the business with Virgin Records’ Director of A&R Evan Peters, who signed Grizfolk after watching the band develop over the three years that the members have been together.
Grizfolk frontman Adam Roth and guitarist Frederik Eriksson began as a songwriting team for other artists when they met Sebastian Fritze, who plays synth and keys. The trio pulled in their friends Brendan Willing James and Bill Delia to round out their fledgling band.
The band members come from various backgrounds. Two of the five hail from Sweden, where the music scene is brimming with electro-pop. Roth, on the other hand, is a Floridian whose roots are distinctly American. Their music reflects the unlikely unity of the band members, being termed by the band as an electro-inflected folk-rock sound.
“It came pretty natural to mix those genres,” Fritze told his audience. “We’re not thinking about how it’s going to sound; it’s just whatever comes natural. From the melodies and hooks, we’re just picking out what sound we want.”
Sampson, who moderated the panel, opened up the discussion to questions from the students, who asked the band how they made their passion into a career and for advice to help guide them from graduation into the real world.
“I remember, when I was 14, sending out probably 500 demos that all sounded like crap,” Roth said. “Now looking back, I guess the one thing I would’ve done differently is to have just focused on music and perfected songs. I think people are attracted to that, discovering something on their own.”
Peters agreed, adding that because he’s overwhelmed with work for other projects, he doesn’t listen to the demos.
“I think if you’re making music with the intention of being discovered, I think you’re making it for the wrong reasons,” Peters said.
The members also discussed their motivations, what inspires them and how they were given a new perspective on performance when they toured in Europe with indie electro-pop band Bastille.
“Those guys are unbelievable,” Eriksson told the students. “It’s like every day is their last day. They play every show like it’s their last show. We think about that every day now. Don’t take anything for granted.”
Though their words to the Thornton students were encouraging and confident, in a post-panel interview with the Daily Trojan, Grizfolk shared what it was like to speak to students from the other side of success, especially after all the obstacles they have overcome.
“There were a lot of times where I personally thought, I’m not going to do this anymore. I need to find something else. I need some kind of security in my life,” Fritze said.
Fritze joked about piloting and Roth said he seriously considered starting a pedicab business. But each of the members always returned to music — there was never anything else.
“It’s like catching a cold, getting sick,” James said. “You’ll quit and then a couple of days go back, and you’re right back on it.”
But by no means is Grizfolk willing to state that the band, is at the peak of its career.
“We’re definitely not experts,” Roth told the Daily Trojan. Fritze even noted that a year ago, many of the band’s members would be sitting in a similar position. They hoped that they left the students with encouragement as they head off to face a tough path in a tough industry.
“I definitely think I saw myself in these kids, and it was kind of scary,” Roth said. “I know what I had to go through, and it was it was the most grueling thing ever to go through, and it took forever. Hopefully they’ll walk away and think, ‘He’s right. Maybe we should just worry about the songs,’ because that’s what I would’ve done.”