Preparing to record a debut album, Lucas Gorham and his band Grandfather Child seem to be on the cusp of catching fire. Anyone who saw the ensemble — Gorham, guitarist Geoffrey Muller, bassist Robert Ellis and drummer Ryan Chavez — at the Houston Press Music Awards ceremony in August couldn't help feeling like this is a smoking young band on a rapid rise.
Gorham was in local punk-funk rockers Satin Hooks for a while, but his musical sense began to drift towards a different oeuvre.
"Seeing the movie Sacred Steel altered my life, changed the way I play and think about music," says Gorham over the phone from Robert E. Lee High School, where he teaches American history. "I just became obsessed with it. I must've watched it at least 30 times."
Just as Gorham was leaving Satin Hooks, a friend gave him a lap steel guitar. He took his new instrument on a three-week road trip and came back fairly proficient and wanting to play.
"I was going through a really bad breakup and I had this new toy and the Sacred Steel movie. It might seem a little goofy, but I look at the sacred steel thing as being totally unintentionally almost like punk," he says. "They don't have the aggression and violence of punk, but they have that energy that gets people fired up.
"So once I got to where I could play some, I called Ryan and said, 'Do you want to be in a soul-punk band with me, mix gospel with punk?'" Gorham continues. "So we started jamming. And one of my main mentors, Mark Speer, started playing with us and suddenly we had the makings of a band."
Then a year and a half ago, Speer quit. Gorham, who says he's a huge punk rock fan — he cites Black Flag, Minor Threat, Suicide — called Muller (Sideshow Tramps, I Am Mesmer) and Ellis. Both agreed to join the project.
"I was on top of the world, couldn't believe it really," Gorham says. "I now had a band with some of the top players in town. And it just started to take off, grow a life of its own."
A life grounded in teaching isn't exactly conducive to building a band, but Gorham's plan calls for a step-by-step approach.
"Right now we don't gig often because a teacher's life isn't a 40-hour week, it's more like 50 or 60 hours most weeks, and that certainly impedes us, limits what I can book and be sure I can do justice to. On top of that, everybody is in all these other bands," he notes. "Robert, Geoffrey and Ryan, those guys are pros. So, yeah, I picked a bunch of guys who are awfully busy. But they say they're all ready to focus more on Grandfather Child when the time is right.
"Once we have a record, we're going to try to do some touring, push the record, work toward getting a label deal, all that stuff. But for right now, it's just play some gigs and get ready to record."
Ellis confirms Gorham's outlook.
"We all have projects, but at least right now there's nothing that conflicts with Grandfather Child and we are all really into the music," says the singer-songwriter who also fronts Houston honky-tonk sensations Robert Ellis & the Boys.
With Muller's band Sideshow Tramps set to release their new album any day now and Ellis putting the final touches on his new one, Ellis admits it could get a bit crazy trying to balance all the schedules and projects, but for now that's just how it is.
"Geoffrey is really into this music, and he obviously gets something as a player and artist from Grandfather Child that he doesn't get in his other bands," Ellis speculates. "The Tramps are one thing, I Am Mesmer is another thing and Grandfather Child is too. And we all take the lessons we get out of the Grandfather Child music with us to our other projects, so it's win-win.
"Obviously my band is my top priority, and I plan to tour hard the first quarter when my record comes out. But I really don't see that interrupting the progress we're making in Grandfather Child.
"And if I should get so lucky that my deal takes off, then Lucas might have to look at other bass players. But that's down the road, if ever," says Ellis. "We're all highly aware of all the stuff each of us has going on."
Right now the band only has a 7" recorded and available, "Waiting for You" (b/w "Dog Water"), but Gorham expects the band to go into the studio during Christmas break to cut a full-length album. As several other young Houston bands and musicians have, he chose SugarHill Studios and engineer/producer Steve Christensen.
"SugarHill has the gear we need and Steve has the ear we need — he knows what we're going for," says Gorham. "He doesn't just throw stuff at the wall, he's able to come up with truly remarkable sounds that work, so that's the direction we're going on this first album.
Gorham is Grandfather Child's principal songwriter, although he notes the other members are also working on songs for the band.
"I will probably write 90 percent of what we'll record on the first album, but I definitely want the other guys to have material that we record, too," he says.
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As for his songwriting technique, Gorham confesses that "I try to borrow from the acts I love in subtle ways, nothing direct." As vocal models he cites Bobby Womack as "my major influence," but also name-checks Robert Johnson, Van Morrison and John Coltrane. Lately he's been into Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors.
"I also play a lot of improvised stuff with various people, so I even try to incorporate that improv thing into our music to leave us some room for spontaneity," says Gorham.
"I started this band with a concept that springs from my musical history. I've played a lot of gospel music in different churches as a hired musician, so gospel music really started influencing my music," he adds. "I wouldn't call myself much of a religious person, and my spiritual beliefs are pretty open-minded. But I wanted to start an awesome band that was like a church without a religion.
"I just want people to feel connected to themselves and to the universe, and hopefully our music adds to that."