Great Northern

Posted in Music on Apr 09, 2010


My friend told me I’d like the LA-based band Great Northern and I never ignore a music recommendation.

You know how some songs feel like they’d be a soundtrack for a part of your day? Well Great Northern’s music is a soundtrack for your dream state. Much of their music is airy and features voices that elicit a feeling of longing.

Music is best understood through your ears, so make sure you take a listen below. If it sounds familiar, you may have heard their music on commercials for Nissan and the NBA, or in “Grey’s Anantomy,” “Bones” or the film 21 where their music guarantees that you’ll tap into the right emotion for the scene.

As you’ll learn below from Great Northern’s Rachel Stolte, landing songs on soundtracks and commercials is an essential piece of life for independent musicians.

In addition to being half of the creative force behind Great Northern, Rachel also came up with the title for one of their albums, “Trading Twilight for Daylight.” She has said that she would do that…trade twilight for daylight. That sounds like something a true romantic or poet would say. No wonder Great Northern’s gossamer touch creates such stirring sounds.


from the art closet this week…mapping out LA (+17 other cities)-if your kids travel with you, you’ll want this info. get it here.

How do you describe Great Northern’s music?
Somebody described it once as “Cinematic Pop.” I thought that was pretty good. Or maybe it’s like putting on a warm blanket when it’s cold outside.

A lot of your music is beautifully ethereal…how do you and your band create music? What inspires you? And is it music or lyrics first?
You can’t really control what comes out of you, so you just hope for inspiration…and try to remember your dreams at night. Dreams tell you a lot about what’s really going on around you and within you, and they are so non-linear – kind of the way music is – so they can inform and inspire you.

In regards to music or lyrics first, it is always different. If the music starts first, it usually tells you a story and then the words are born from there. But sometimes there are words and phrases floating around in your head that you just have to put to music.

Do you ever write songs that you never use? Is this editing process difficult for you or do you think letting go is part of the creative process?
I have written many songs that were not “used,” but I feel like they are all useful somehow — whether to help you get the next one out or to help you express something so you are able to keep going and get inspired again.

What was your path to becoming a musician and when did you decide to do it professionally?
I’m a professional? Wow!

I was in my first band when I was 16 and I have been going ever since. I was primarily just singing in all the bands and the instrumentation followed after. I was acting in plays when I was younger and I took piano for years as a kid. It all came together after I took a break from music to pursue acting. I ended up going to UCLA and getting a degree in theater. But music kept calling me back.

I decided one day to throw away my headshots and go on tour. It was a great moment of relief for me! I just feel at home in music.

You tour a lot and you’ve said that playing live is like “being intimate with total strangers.” What are the highs and lows of touring? Does touring influence the music you write and perform?
Absolutely! Touring is kind of like an oxymoron. It’s complete arrested development on one hand, where you just perform and drink and party and laugh and feel like a kid. And then it’s like the quickest and most elaborate education on the other hand. You learn so much about yourself and the world around you. It’s pretty awesome and inspiring for writing.

Your songs “Low is a Height” was in the TV show “Bones,” “Home” in the film 21 and in a Nissan commercial, “Driveway” in “Grey’s Anatomy.” How do opportunities like that happen?
We work with a really amazing music placement group called Songs. They have submitted us for all kinds of things and we have had a decent amount of success. They have been really great about getting us out there for the right projects.

Is it true that getting songs on a tv show, commercial or film is helping indie artists make a living and gain broader exposure? And if so, is that path being embraced in the indie music community?
At this point in the music industry, that is the only way to make some money! It’s hard because the industry is changing so much. Touring isn’t as lucrative as it used to be and people are buying fewer records, choosing instead to download a song here and there. So a great way to expose a song of a whole record is to have it placed on a TV show. It gets a lot of exposure quickly and you reach people who might never have heard your stuff otherwise.

What’s coming up for Great Northern?
We are taking a little break from the road right now, but we are playing some shows here and there, and doing a lot of writing.

What’s your Sunday morning music?
Hmmm…it depends on what my Saturday night was! If it was a late one, I might want to hear some Queens of the Stone Age or BRMC. But if I’m mellow, Ray LaMontagne or maybe Sigur Ros.

As a parent, I’m really interested in nature vs nurture…did you show musical talent as a kid and, if so, was it encouraged by someone? Who or what is responsible for sparking your interest in music?
Nurture is really important, I think. But what is inherently in you is going to surface at some point no matter what. I think music spoke to me at such a young age. It was something I felt so much more deeply than other things and I couldn’t get enough of it…I still can’t! Not sure if it was nurture or not for me, but definitely nature!

Proust Questionnaire:
My favorite snack is:  cheese puffs!
Don’t ask me to:  lie for you
I would put into a time capsule:  my love, Solon; my dog, Leo; and, my cat Ricky Penny Pearl
My favorite place is:  Mendocino, CA
When I have a creative block I: freak out…and then just try and go with the flow, cause you can’t force it
My favorite mantra is:  more wine please