Grandpa Was A Lion: Reveries of Abstraction

Grandpa Was A Lion is the creation of 24-year-old Justin D’Onofrio, a wondrous solo project in the grand tradition of Sparklehorse and Elliot Smith.  Based out of the small town of Goshen, Connecticut, much of what is heard the full-length The Whalestoe Tapes was realized within a year the artist chose to call he wilds of Brooklyn, New York a temporary home.  Songs such as Hello From The Farm and Mobile Alabama Blues are wistful reveries that will enchant and tantalize your senses.  We recently sent a few inquires to Justin D’Onofrio to learn more about the absolutely dazzling Grandpa Was A Lion tapestries.

Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Grandpa Was A Lion, and how long you have been doing the project?
Justin D’Onofrio. I play guitar and I sing and i write all the songs. Grandpa Was a Lion is a year old but I’ve been playing since I was 15.

Where are you based out of and what is your music scene like there?
I am based out of Connecticut and the music scene is a lot of party bands playing “Run Around Sally“. No, I don’t know. I’m sure there is a scene or a solid core group of underground bands here I’m just not apart of it.

Were you involved with any other bands or projects prior to Grandpa Was A Lion?
No.

Is there any story or concept behind the title The Whalestoe Tapes?
Sort of, but I’d rather not explain it. And honestly I couldn’t explain it if i wanted to. My writing process is hasty so sometimes I’ll listen back to a song weeks after I had written it and say “Oh, that’s what that line means”. There is a narrative but its abstract enough to be elastic, meaning it means different things to different people. I could say what it means or what it means to me but I’d rather just let it be what ever it is to whoever is listening.

How inspirational and instrumental was living in Brooklyn when it came to writing and recording the songs on The Whalestoe Tapes?
Brooklyn is amazing and although its not mentioned on the record its written all over it. I lived there with my cousin Kyle Hale. He was pursuing acting and I was pursuing music and though neither of us attained our goals I would not trade that year for anything. It was a complete submergence into a world of creatives. It seemed like every girl I met was a actress, painter or singer. Every dude was an actor or a director or was starting a band or writing a play. The hunger was palpable. And the town was eating itself, you know. It was just fucking amazing. Williamsburg would be sweet if there weren’t so many hipster’s running around too cool and bored for anything, but all and all there is no place like it. Its magic, you know. A place you read about in books.

How does the music on Archiac compare to what was created on The Whalestoe Tapes?
Archaic is more distinctly light and dark. Also I was listening to a lot of Sam Cooke, and while there is not a direct link between his music and mine, I wanted to make a person move, Even if it was just a slight tap of the toe. I wanted to experiment with rhythm and groove.

How inspired are you by Sparklehorse and how did the passing of Mark Linkous affect you?
Dreamt For Light Years In the Belly of a Mountain was my introduction to Sparklehorse and I worked my way backwards with his albums. I tend to do that with bands. What struck me was the simplicity of the music while also being very powerful. And layers, oh man layers. His music is so singular in its approach that there will never be anything like it again. Same thing with Elliot Smith.

If Grandpa Was A Lion was invited to appear on a tribute album to Elliot Smith, what song would you want to do and why?
Oh brother. That is a real good question. I would say “Between the Bars” because it was my introduction to him in 1997 via Good Will Hunting but its been done so many times. I would have to say “Kings Crossing” off Basement on a Hill. There is something about that song and it being the record he was working on when he died. I don’t know what it is but it kills me.

Where did you find the Wurlitzer Custom Funmaker Organ and how easy or difficult was it to play and record?
I bought the Wurlitzer at a Salvation Army in Branford for $75. There is a component on the inside off its track so there is a constant ticking on a loop every time you turn it on. I did my best to take it out in editing but I can still hear it in some parts.

Has Grandpa Was A Lion ever played live or plan to do so in the future?
I’m playing my first show at The Delancey in New York City on September 12.

Any final words of wisdom?
Be excellent to each other.

(Interview by Kenneth Morton)

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