Mayo didn’t produce an All-Ireland football championship this year, but it did churn out one of my favorite groups. Mick Lynch and Kevin May formed Guggenheim Grotto back in 2003, an innovative folk-rock duo that has landed on my Best of the Year list every time they release an album.
They’re back with a new disc, a new publishing deal and a new name! They are now working under the name Storyman, but fans of Guggenheim Grotto will still find a rich banquet of complex and deeply satisfying songs to sink their teeth into.
“We loved the name of our band,” May says. “It was odd and mysterious, like us.
“The other side of it as well is that although we loved the name, it had its problems. People had a hard time spelling it. We felt it was a good time to change it.”
As soon as they changed their name, May says things started to click. “Mick was overjoyed,” May says. “It felt right. THIS is the name we always should have had. We ARE storytellers. We talk a lot onstage. It helped focus us about what we are about.”
From the new inspiration came a need to expand their sound. They raised funds within their fan base through PledgeMusic and wrote compositions that demanded a band sound. This is a radical departure from the folk duo songs they’ve produced onstage.
“This is the first album that we worked with someone on the outside,” says May. “We used producer Chris Kuffner. We put on more layers, and this is a bigger sounding album. It was something we always wanted to make — a big album.”
This Time Round paints a bright musical canvas using many palettes. Songs like “Here Is My Cup” and “Electric Life” have the kind of classic synthy alt-rock cool you’d find on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack back in the 1980s.
“Imogen Blue” has that ethereal, introspective artiness of a Coldplay album, while “For a Cat” has the same navel-gazing lyrics and ethereal acoustics that made Guggenheim Grotto fans fall in love with them in the first place.
Storyman gave the PledgeMusic patrons an opportunity to vote for the tracks that would make it on the album, and the twisted love song “For a Cat” (a song May said he wasn’t going to put on the album) was an early fan favorite for good reason. A sad string section is paired with a ukulele to produce a gorgeous lullaby-like song in desperate need of a romantic comedy soundtrack.
“The PledgeMusic definitely influenced us in the studio,” May says. “It’s hugely gratifying and empowering to know they (the fans) believe in you out there.”
Storyman invested money wisely in a producer, a first for the duo.
“It sped up the process having Chris there because it brought a third person into the mix,” May says.
“We are also big personalities and we didn’t always bend. A third person could take the helm and we trusted him and his instincts. I really like to do everything by myself and I can see how much more can be done by working with other people. There is a give and take there for sure.”
In “IMUIMI,” over a criminally infectious synth rock beat, the lads do their best Leonard Cohen deadpan vocal in between cheery “uh-ohs” from the all-female chorus.
“So driven in skin/Oh what a lovely smell we spin/Draw the animals in/Every bright and shining whim/I am you I am I/This is a higher love/The boundaries are blurred.”
This new beginning is exciting and refreshing to the band and that is obvious by the fantastic twist and turns on the triumphant This Time Round.
Storyman signed a joint publishing deal with Cabin 24 Records and Secret Road Music Services. Cabin 24 is the record label owned by successful independent singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson.
“We first met Ingrid when she invited us to join her on a coast to coast American tour in 2010,” May says.
“The tour offered the perfect pairing of artists, but beyond the stage magic there was an instant affinity with the whole Michaelson organization.
“The feeling is mutual,” Ingrid Michaelson writes on her blog. “Storyman’s new record is one of my top records of this year. I am blown away by their musicianship and creativity. And live, they are incredible. I am so proud to be working with them to release this amazing music.”