Manatee Commune: A Solo Violist Hears Symphonies In Wires Electronic musician Grant Eadie was one of the many Tiny Desk Contest entries that caught our attention. He tells NPR's Rachel Martin, "I feel like I could play with a symphony if I really wanted to."

Manatee Commune: A Solo Violist Hears Symphonies In Wires

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A man stands in a small room. His whole body moves to an electric beat he is creating. It's a pretty typical room - a bookshelf, a lamp, dark curtains on the walls. After a few minutes, though, something unexpected happens. The walls are lifted away to reveal a breathtaking view from the top of a cliff. It's not a projection or green screen. It's a real-life vista.


MARTIN: The man responsible for that scene and that sound is Grant Eadie, also known as the electronic artist Manatee Commune. That video was his submission to NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert contest. Eadie didn't win the final prize, but he was 1 of 10 artists highlighted by NPR Music as musicians to watch. Grant Eadie of Manatee Commune joins us from the studios of KUOW in Seattle. Thanks so much for being with us.

GRANT EADIE: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: You filmed this video in this park with this amazing scenery. Why was that important to you to have that backdrop?

EADIE: Well, the project has actually been inspired by, like, the Northwest scenery since I began making music in the first place. I grew up in Spokane but Seattle was obviously my backyard - The Olympic National Park, Cascades. And it was the place that my head went to when I was being creative in any way.

MARTIN: I understand you started out as a classical musician. What did you play?

EADIE: I started playing violin when I was very young. I was about 6. And it didn't stick too much, but then I picked up viola in fourth grade. And that was definitely my main passion. I ate up every chance I could get.

MARTIN: What was it - maybe this is a naive question, but why did the violin not stick, but the viola, now, that was your instrument?

EADIE: (Laughter) Oh, man, I don't want to offend any violinists that might hear this. But violin, it seems almost, like, egotistical in a way. It's very, like, look at me, I'm the soloist. And I kind of wanted to do something that was more on the sidelines. And at the time Dvorak was actually my favorite composer. And he was a violist before he was anything else. And so I kind of wanted to follow in his tracks, and I also wanted to be kind of on the sidelines. I didn't want to be in the spotlight. But it's funny because then I ended up playing as a solo violist which is really unorthodox.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Also a little antithetical to the whole reason you got into that instrument.

EADIE: Exactly. I know and now I'm a solo musician. So joke's on me. But, yeah, that was kind of the whole reason why I got into the viola thing.

MARTIN: All right, let's get back into the music a little bit. This is a track from an album that you put out on your own last summer. This is a piece called "White Smoke."


MARTIN: So what moves you about this kind of music, this kind of sound?

EADIE: I'm a pretty nervous person just in general. And I think when I make music, it's an escape. I just experiment as much as I can, and then something will stick. And the thing that sticks is usually something that puts me in a world that I just craft by myself that's not reality.

MARTIN: Is there a common thread between classical music and this kind of electronic music?

EADIE: Yeah. Absolutely. I think I have to share a lot of qualities with classical music just because that's how I was trained. Obviously the range of instruments that I use - like, I have bass parts and then I have horn parts. And then I have the midrange and then I have these, like, sweeping violin parts that I design. But instead of using those instruments in particular, I'm using, like, synthesizers. And they all add up, like, together to create something huge and sweeping.

MARTIN: How do you build the layers of one of these pieces?

EADIE: It usually starts with doing something I've never done before like trying to sample something I've heard in nature or something that's just in the studio. Or like the other day I was just wiggling around different kinds of keys in front of, like - literally, like, keys that you put into cars and locks and stuff in front of a microphone. And then the feeling that I get from putting reverb on that or having a specific cord to go with it will end up kind of dictating where I want the song to go.

MARTIN: Have you ever experimented with vocalists or lyrics?

EADIE: I have experimented with them. I'm not much of a poet. But when somebody has an idea, it's really fun to pass it around. I mean, words are basically the same as instruments. You're just picking which ones you like and which ones sound best.


MARTIN: I can imagine that when you do that - when you impose lyrics or a vocal track over something does that catch the ear first? I mean, is that what people listen most clearly to? And in some ways do you like having a more blank canvas?

EADIE: Yeah. That's actually been a really big learning process with electronic music. I personally listen to a lot of classical music that's lyric-less and then also a lot of jazz. And that's just because I'm an instrumentalist, and I was into the instruments more often than I listen to the lyrics. But after basically playing a lot of shows and, like, listening to people's comments, I've noticed that if I do have lyrics, that's how people communicate with the music. And I find that really interesting because instrumentalism is more of, like, a really nice bed to lay on. And then the vocals are kind of more like the pillow and the blanket sort of thing, where it's - that's really what people are experiencing the most.


MARTIN: In doing some background reading about you, I found a quote from The Seattle Weekly that said your electronic music sounds like, quote, "plants growing." I don't really know what that sounds like. Is that a compliment?

EADIE: Totally. I mean the samples that I use in the atmosphere of the music that I make is the sound of, like, me dragging my hands through, like, bushes and, like, trees.


EADIE: When I make music and, like, when I listen to my music, I feel myself standing taller. And I feel myself, like, warming up as a person. And in that way, like, I could imagine that's symbolic for growing plants or, like, the growth of life or something like that. And I mean, if I have achieved that for one human being, I'm so excited.

MARTIN: Grant Eadie of Manatee Commune - thanks so much for talking with us, Grant.

EADIE: Hey, thank you so much for having me. This was a pleasure.


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