Playing Atlanta readers, you’re in for something special this week! Atlanta indie-rock group Lesibu Grand is officially the first fresh find of the fall, and I have a feeling you’ll be just as excited about them as I am.
Founded by lead singer Tyler-Simone Molton and bassist John Renaud in 2017, the group has since expanded to five members as they prepare for the release of their debut record, featuring guitarist Brian Turner, drummer Lee Wiggins, and Chris Case on keys. Combining sharp vocal melodies with the perfect splash of zesty synth, the group channels new-wave influences like Blondie or the B-52s with a poetic hip-hop prowess and enough funk to keep fans movin’ and groovin’ all night long.
I got the chance to talk with the group’s founding members days before the release of their self-recorded debut LP, The Legend of Miranda. Read on for all the details, then kick back and crank up the volume on your new favorite band.
AF: How did the two of you get into music? Did you grow up in musical households?
TSM: I did not grow up with parents who were particularly musical; however, I was always surrounded by music. Whether it be a Saturday afternoon doing chores or road trips to visit family members or just hanging around the house, music always surrounded us. I was also encouraged to play an instrument by both of my parents, which I did (violin) from age 11, so that introduced me to music in a more technical way.
JR: My experience was similar to Tyler-Simone’s. Neither parent played an instrument or sang, but we had music around the house and always on road trips. My folks liked the Beatles, Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, and the Eagles, so I was brought up on classic ’60s and ’70s rock. I’ve been told that my grandfather Felix Renaud was a natural musician who played piano, banjo, ukulele, and harmonica without any training. I also have no training, and so I feel I got any musical talent from him.
AF: Tyler-Simone, you grew up in Atlanta and loved the local superstars like Outkast and Erykah Badu; how did the hip-hop scene influence you in the early days, and how did you go on to combine that with other influences? What do you think you draw from your favorite bands, and how do you use it to create the magic that is Lesibu Grand?
TSM: I think that [one of] the two biggest takeaways that I got from my love of hip-hop is the depth of the lyrics. Hip-Hop can be very poetic and I feel like I use some poetic devices when writing. Secondly, I pay attention heavily to nice bass lines and drum beats. I think that comes from my hip-hop influencers as well.
Regarding the new-wave style’s influence, we love the tight, punchy vocal melodies that typify the best in the genre, like Blondie and the B-52s. Also, the prominent use of synthesizers, making them equal with the more traditional rock guitar. That adds a glitzy shimmer to a recording and can really elevate a song. Of course, new-wave and hip-hop grew up together in late ’70s NYC, so they’re not really all that far apart in some ways. With punk bands like The Ramones and The Clash, it’s the energy and emotional directness that influence us. Punk pushes both of these elements way up from what they typically were beforehand, and we like to create in those zones.
AF: John, you moved down from New England with Ace of Heart Records’ alt-rock band Crab Daddy and ended up in Atlanta. You’ve got quite a background in alt-rock and funk; what do you draw from those influences to create the synth-drenched indie-pop sound of Lesibu Grand?
JR: Crab Daddy was my first serious musical project and I learned tons from that experience, including the basics of music theory, the joys and frustrations of songwriting, and how to deliver a solid energetic performance even to a nearly empty room. Much of what I learned music-wise, I got from Crab Daddy’s singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Matthew Chenoweth, who still performs often in the Atlanta area. So, the influence there is deep, and probably comes through everything I’ve done musically since.
When that band wound down in the mid-90s, I got more into jazz and funk, eventually forming the instrumental jazz-funk band, Cadillac Jones. With that project, I really focused my attention on creating funky and/or melodic bass lines. And while I would not call Lesibu Grand a funk band, I still seek to establish – and then build up – a strong groove with a memorable bass part.
AF: How did the two of you meet? Was it an instant connection? What made you realize “Oh, we’ve got something here”?
TSM: We met a few times very casually at Turner, where my mother and John worked together. We did not connect musically until we ran into each other at a Pains of Being Pure at Heart show at The Earl. From then on it did seem like an instant connection. We quickly became best friends, and through our positive, supportive, creative relationship we’ve been able to write non-stop.
Writing songs with someone else can be very challenging. For example, you end up sharing parts to songs you’re not really happy with yet, or you may want to change some aspect of what your partner created without insulting them. Doing this requires a lot of comfort and trust, and I feel we have that. I’m not saying we never clash over songwriting, ‘cause sometimes we do, but it’s usually fleeting and then we get right back to doing our best to make our songs work.
AF: You’ve just released your latest single, “Runnin’ Round” and your debut LP, The Legend of Miranda, drops on October 4th. Can you tell us a bit about the writing process? Do you tend to write alone, or is it more collaborative?
TSM: Our writing process is inspired by the Lennon/McCartney approach. Some songs I write the lyrics, bring them to John and he comes up with chords, and we develop it together from there. Sometimes, he writes the lyrics and I develop a musical melody. It can spark from one of the two of us but ultimately, the songs are developed with both of us vibing out on our creation. Overall, it’s squarely in the collaborative category.
AF: Can you tell us a bit about the tracks on the LP, specifically the title track, “Miranda”?
TSM: The tracks on this album are all telling their own stories about our experiences figuring out the trials in life — sorting out the dreams from reality and being able to live out some of those dreams.
As for “Miranda,” it tells that story very plainly. If you watch the video you see that the couple shown is facing a struggle in their relationship that their love has, for some reason, died out. This can be because of many factors. Much like in our real lives, relationships go through seasons of love fading and returning to us. It sometimes takes an outside force or event or, in the case of “Miranda,” an alien space invasion. We have to try to fight for what’s important to us and find our way back to our heart/true self.
There’s one line in the song, “Take me by the hand,” that is repeated to show that sometimes you need a helping hand to get back to the place where you belong. I think that teaches an important lesson that we’re all in this life together and experience the same struggles, so it’s okay to need a helping hand. You’re not alone.
AF: How does it feel to be releasing your debut record?
TSM: It feels great! Like the first of many. We are here to stay and we’re just getting started.
AF: Did you record the record in Atlanta, or did you travel for it? What was the recording process like?
TSM: This is a self-recorded LP, so, yes, it was done in Atlanta. Specifically, drums and bass were recorded together in our drummer Lee Wiggin’s home in Doraville, and guitar, keys, and vocals were done in John’s place in Edgewood. We would sometimes take MARTA between the two since they both have stations, listening to the results on headphones along the way. While in some instances we might have been able to get better sounds in a professional studio, we were still in the process of becoming a band, so it was nice not to have the pressure of a rented studio space.
AF: How have the Atlanta and Athens music scenes influenced you as a group?
JR: Atlanta and Athens carry distinct musical brands (Athens being deeply associated with indie rock, and Atlanta being a dominant hip-hop center), but having lived and played in both places, I don’t really think they’re actually all that different. There is great hip hop in Athens (check out Linqua Franqa, for example) and tons of excellent, widely appreciated indie rock in Atlanta (Deerhunter, Omni, and Black Lips come quickly to mind, but there are many others).
I tend to consider both towns to be a part of one big North Georgia music scene, with many bands having members in both places. The best part about it is a willingness to mix styles, genre, and identity. While each town is known for its most successful musical exports, the scenes are not so wedded to one genre that you can’t break out with something that looks or sounds completely different or hybrid. I think Lesibu Grand is a good example of that, but there are others as well.
AF: What’s your favorite venue in Atlanta?
TSM: There are lots of great venues in Atlanta, but if I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to say The Earl. Their stage is a good size, lights and sound system are solid, and it’s got a very rock ’n roll vibe. Despite that vibe, they book incredible musicians from all genres. Not to mention the food is bomb!
AF: Who is your favorite local group?
TSM: There are so many good ones, but I would say Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics. They are a cool, groovy band and you can’t help but dance and sing along at their shows.
JR: I’m partial to K. Michelle Dubois, formerly of Ultrababyfat and Luigi. Her solo work is really fantastic. Her last album, Harness, is spot on. Also, newcomers Rosser made a great debut album.
AF: Last one! What’s next for Lesibu Grand?
TSM: 2019 has been an incredible first year for us thus far. We recorded our first record, released two videos, and have a third video for “Runnin’ Round” on the way in a few weeks. After that, we’ll have a fourth video for “Mi Sueno,” which we are filming in the attic of a 19th century home in Kirkwood. Also, we have already started recording our second album with Dan Dixon at RCRD studios in Peoplestown, which we’ll release some time in 2020. It will be much harder rock than Legend of Miranda, and with sharp socio-political focus. It’s gonna turn heads!
Follow Lesibu Grand on Facebook, and keep an eye out for their upcoming debut record, The Legend of Miranda, out October 4th.