Some people consider an album of various musical styles to be the mark of an immature band. While The Golden Republic’s eponymous debut album [Astralwerks] might be guilty of appealing to too many; incorporating pristine pop, glitzy glam, electronic 80s influences and hep hip-hop—this CD is wise beyond its years. Unlike so many bands that can’t make up their mind, The Golden Republic is cohesive and well-structured, the lyrics are smart, and the harmonies and background vocals are right-on. Plenty of musical groups can do some of this, but few can do all of it. Here’s where The Golden Republic leads the pack—doing it all and doing it well.
“We’re a very, very musically diverse bunch of people. If you got all our iPods in one room you’d be very surprised,” laughs lead singer/guitarist, Ben Grimes. “I’ve always been really big on glam rock, as much as hip-hop, as much as Johnny Cash. A lot of stuff—I’m always kind of frustrated by the idea that I have to choose something.”
Growing up in Chicago, Grimes began the band, then called, “The People,” in 1999 after a move to Springfield, Missouri. The band moved to Kansas City in 2000 and have since called KC home. Referring to The People his “amateur hour,” Ben Grimes describes the early experience as a continually changing line-up of non-committed musicians. After label interest, a name change was in order since several bands had previously laid claim to The People. Ben turned to his fans for ideas.
“We decided to do a concept submission through our website. We got literally thousands of names,” he says with surprise.
Every one in a while, the guys found something they liked, but then it wouldn’t pass the legal searches. After spending a considerable amount of money on lawyers, they had a list with a few stand-out possibilities:
“One was The Golden Band, which was a little too snobby,” he laughs. “The other was the Republic Tigers, which was a little too indie-rock, or something.” He says a friend glanced at the two names together and misread it. “The Golden Republic’s not bad!” they said. Finally, it cleared with the lawyers. “So, we were very nearly named by our fans,” he says, sounding a little guilty that he couldn’t give them full credit.
Over the last four years, the band has toured North America hard under both names, with friends like Ultimate Fakebook, Motion City Soundtrack, and Nada Surf. Festivals have been talked about, but that’s not where Grimes wants to put his energy.
“The festival circuit is such a pain if you’re not hugely recognized. For a band of our youth, most of the festivals wouldn’t pay us anything to be there. We’d be losing money just to participate. Then, we’d be playing at the same time as, like, Limp Bizkit or whoever. It’s like, what’s the point?”
Festivals or no festivals, the CD is garnering critical praise and small clubs are filling with hundreds of new converts. Is Ben Grimes starting to feel like a rock star?
“I hope I never feel that way. I hate that idea,” he says with disdain. “But we’ve got really, really cool fans. I’ve been amazed at how many people have been loyal and total cheerleaders for us. It’s been really encouraging. Anytime there’s a critic who doesn’t like us, well, we can just turn around and know that we’ve got fans who make their own Golden Republic t-shirts to wear to our shows! Stuff like that, it’s kind of crazy but I think it’s so cool.”
Singing in his church and in nursing homes since he was a toddler, Ben Grimes knew he would be a singer of some kind his entire life. With his cousin Ryan, the drummer of The Golden Republic, he practiced performing to cassette tapes.
“When all the other kids were out in the woods, we were building stages, putting on concerts. It was pretty rad. I was into the very typical kiddie stuff. My parents bought me a lot of those Christian sing-alongs. But yeah, I was growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in a not-so-great area. There was also a lot of hip-hop and I got into that pretty young. When I was 12 or 13, I started rapping with this group of guys, former gang members in their 20s and 30s—way older than me. They’d seen me rapping at my church and I’d do stuff with them. That’s how I really got my start performing. We’d go down to Cabrini-Green in Chicago, the projects, and I’d be a 13-year-old white kid.”
So rap and church went hand in hand for Grimes?
“Well, sort of. Although rap is one of those things that leads directly away from church!” he laughs. “I never thought that it would ever be real. When I started the band, it was just another distraction from actually growing up. Once things actually started to work with it, I had to take it seriously.”
Today, The Golden Republic takes the music they make seriously, if not the business of adulthood. Grimes says that now that the band is home, they are spending some “serious time working on new music.” But the business of being grown-ups? That shit can wait. They’ve got stages to build and new genres to explore and conquer. And why the hell not? Something tells me that mortgages and cubicles and rush hour will still be around if they ever get bored.
Catch The Golden Republic at one of these dates:
June 2 Troubadour Los Angeles, CA w/ Caesars
June 3 Cafe du Nord San Francisco w/ 50 Foot Wave
June 5 Doug Fir Portland, OR w/ 50 Foot Wave
June 7 Crocodile Seattle, WA w/ 50 Foot Wave
June 21 Juanita's Cantina Little Rock, AR w/ Motion City Soundtrack
June 22 Green Door Oklahoma City, OK w/ Motion City Soundtrack