By Gabrielle Bohrman
Nick Granelle. Photo by Leo Avo.
After hours of remixing vocals and testing drums beats, Nick Granelle is perplexed by the triangle. Sitting in his home in Smithtown, Long Island, headphones donned and perched over a laptop, he replays a percussion effect.
“I’m trying to manipulate it to make it sound less cheesy, put some cool effects on it like-” he pauses to mimic the triangle’s repetitive chime with his voice. “Who knows if I’ll end up keeping it in?”
In a few weeks, the triangle may make an appearance on his debut EP titled Small Town EP, a culmination of seven months spent composing, recording, and producing his original music. Although he hadn’t released a full-length solo project before graduating Purchase College in May, you’ve probably heard Nick Granelle, even if you didn’t know it.
Maybe it was his production work on Citizen Serenade’s indie-folk EP. Or you heard his electric guitar riffs at a Koalamode dorm concert. You might have even seen him singing on the campaign video for Persona Non Grata.
Granelle draws influence from a variety of genres, utilizing skills acquired as a studio production major to incorporate hip-hop and electronic elements into his classic-rock foundation. His Small Town EP, which features glockenspiel and flute instrumentals in addition to the triangle, demonstrates his newfound freedom discovered while quarantined, without group-dynamic constraints.
“With my band, I didn’t want to record too many keyboards or synths because we're not going to sound like that in real life,” he says. “That's the fun thing about my solo project. I can record whatever wacky sounds I like.”
A pan of his Zoom camera offers a view of his parents’ garage, which he’s transformed into a home studio. Various-sized speakers surround the desk where his laptop sits, with an electric guitar pedalboard at his feet hand-customized to better manipulate his sound. Seven years ago, he used the space to rehearse and produce music for his high school band, The Little Red Men. Lately, he spends around six hours a day there, recording and mixing his EP alone.
A pair of guitars, acoustic and electric, sit on the red leather couch beside him. He started playing at 12 and was immediately hooked. “I never thought of it as a hobby. It was always my focus in life,” he says.
Early on, he was inspired by his cousin, whose reggae-rock band opened for 311 and The Wailers; as well as by guitar legends Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. At one point, a family member walked into the garage to tell him that another one of his role models, Eddie Van Halen, had died. “That’s crazy,” he says, shaking his head. “I remember learning ‘Eruption’ when I was 13. It’s one of the greatest of all time.”
The Little Red Men gigged at bars and rock clubs across Manhattan and at Long Island festivals, including the Cedar Beach Blues Fest. On top of playing lead guitar, Granelle learned to operate recording software and produced the band’s original songs, which received airtime on local radio stations. He considered forgoing college to continue performing, before discovering Purchase’s recording-production program on a last-minute tour.
“I actually didn't realize I could major in in recording music,” he said. “When I saw the atmosphere and energy on campus, I was like, okay, I definitely want to do this.”
He fit into Purchase’s creative student ecosystem, networking with musicians and artists. Koalamode bass guitarist Mark Perkinz recalls spotting Granelle in his freshman year carrying a guitar outside the Big Haus dorms.
“I was like, ‘Yo, let’s jam,’ thinking I’d never see this kid again. And then he comes up ready with his guitar like two minutes later,” Perkinz says.
After an impromptu recording session with Perkinz and three other musicians in 2019, they formed the indie-alt-rock band Koalamode. With Granelle on both lead guitar and vocals, the band played Long Island, Manhattan, and New Paltz, in addition to appearing at the Stood and hosting their own apartment concerts at The Neu. Granelle also wrote many of the songs that appeared on band’s first EP, released in April.
Granelle’s drive and willingness to collaborate have attracted a variety of campus creatives, from rapper Evan Lesoule to fashion-designer Ryder Ishikawa of Persona Non Grata.
“Not a lot of kids have that self-assurance of what they want to do after college,” says Ishikawa, who asked Nick to rearrange Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” for a video campaign. “I recognized that within myself and in him, and I gravitated towards him for that reason.”
Though in different fields, the two developed a mutual respect, offering each other constructive criticism and career advice.
Ishikawa says, “I told him, ‘You want to do something for yourself after school, you must forsake everything else. Yes, you can be there for your band and your projects, but you really need to prioritize and put your art first.’”
The pandemic forced Granelle to finally focus on his solo project, a silver lining in a storm of cancelled concerts and band rehearsals. This resulted in a collection of songs reflecting his journey from college student to stay-at-home graduate. While personal, the record touches on themes relatable to most Gen Zs in 2020, such as missed opportunities and the return to childhood homes.
With Koalamode on hiatus, Granelle had time to upgrade his studio and improve his recording sound quality. In May, he learned to operate a chop saw and built wooden acoustic panels to surround his desk and line the garage walls. He set a November release deadline for his solo project to keep himself on track.
“I’ve always been writing songs and releasing singles, but I wanted to have a whole body of work that shows I’m taking myself seriously, that introduces people to who I am as an artist,” he says.
The EP showcases Granelle’s experimental compositions. Its titular track “Small Town”, a haunting ballad chronicling the struggles of reconnecting with hometown friends, has classical undertones featuring cellist Christopher Bedoya. “Stolen Days” laments the experiences and relationships lost to quarantine, through a blend of acoustic guitar, lo-fi electronic beats, and upfront vocals.
“His rhythms are often very sophisticated and syncopated,” says Jonathan Jetter, a Studio Production Professor who advised Granelle’s junior project. “The tracks could almost fall off the edge into chaos, but the distinctive vocals stabilize and tie it all together. That kind of tension, musically, is really interesting.”
After months of studio work, Granelle is down to the final stretch of recording each song’s instrumentals together, while adding new sound elements. On this day, he is working on “Make It Glow,” a poppy homage to his personal growth and the creative energy at Purchase. He scrolls through Logic Pro’s mixing interface, removing effects from one of the song’s vocal samples. A friend listened and suggested he remix them because they sounded distorted.
“It’s easy to get too married to the song,” says Granelle, who finds it challenging to be unbiased about his work. He uses the analogy, “If you’re by a stream you’ll hear the water flowing. But after a while you’re not focused on the details. Then, if a tiger growls nearby, you’re going to block out the stream. The same thing is true with listening to your music.” He relies on his friends to point out details he misses. For “Make It Glow,” he worked with sociology-major Jacob Ehrlich, who initially produced the song’s trappy backbeat. During quarantine, the two exchanged music files via email and discussed production techniques on the phone.
“I was just listening to an older version of ‘Make It Glow’,” Ehrlich says. “It was cool to see how its progressed and how Nick added to the original, simpler beat.”
The cover of Granelle's upcoming EP. Photo by Ryder Iwata
With weeks left until the EP release, Granelle is already thinking of his next steps. He’ll have to livestream performances of his new music, promote the record on social media, and send press releases to music blogs. He looks forward to performing when more live venues open, and he will likely enlist a drummer and bassist to accompany his produced backing tracks.
Still, a recent live gig allowed him to perform some of his EP’s songs for the first time and reminded him of the musical autonomy he sought through solo work.
“I could make certain decisions on the spot, like to decide to stay on a chord for a little longer and there was no one else to say, ‘Wait -- what happened?’,” he says. “At the same time, there’s no one to remind me to rehearse except myself. It’s like being your own entrepreneur, but I have more control over my life.”
Granelle's EP releases November 19th, 2020.
About the Author:
Gabrielle Bohrman is a senior Arts Management and Journalism Major. Prior to attending Purchase College, she danced professionally with the Orlando and Richmond Ballet. She has interned at the Performing Arts Center, The Stood, and the Neuberger Museum on campus and is excited to contribute to The Beat this semester.