Interview: The art of songwriting has been given a boost by The Grund Club. Founder Lata Gouveia explains how he wanted to bring an essential element of the American midwest music scene to inspire Luxembourg artists.
The founder of The Grund Club, Lata Gouveia’s journey as a musician has almost come full circle since his formative years singing in a band while ostensibly studying and working in London.
Having learned to play guitar, he spent much of his time around the Denmark Street area visiting vinyl shops, guitar shops and trying to get to perform at open mics. “Even then they were quite elitist, so it was difficult to get in.” But eventually he got noticed and, at the age of 32, Gouveia went to the US at the invitation of piano player Rocky Frisco.
“I didn’t think twice, because he had played for my hero, JJ Cale. I thought this was my ticket, actually. That I would be rich and famous. But when I got there, I realised Rocky himself was really struggling.” The experience proved to be rewarding in other ways, as Gouveia discovered the influential Tulsa sound, to which Frisco had contributed so much, and the so-called Red Dirt music scene which spreads throughout Oklahoma and Texas. “Musically it was life changing. Everything I have done since was moulded by that, maybe not stylistically but philosophically in terms of what is music about, what is it for?”
Gouveia spent a total of four years out in the States while maintaining a base in London. But finding some cultural differences insurmountable on a permanent basis, he eventually returned to Luxembourg.
He soon noticed that while the musicians in the local jazz scene would often play in each other’s bands, there was no such interaction on the rock scene. “Musicians and singers would often see each other backstage during the festival season, or at a CD release, but kept pretty much to themselves and their bands.” This presented a challenge to Gouveia, who had become accustomed in places like Tulsa to joining a group of musicians sitting on a porch all day swapping song ideas.
“But you realise that Oklahoma is one of the poorest states with high unemployment, which means that they have nothing else to do all day, except play and get better as musicians.” Luxembourg is very different--“people use their free time much more efficiently”--and it took Gouveia two years to come up with a concept that would work here while also working on his own career (he released a studio album, Radio Nights, last year).
Showcasing local talent
The first Songwriters in the Grund event took place in September 2013 in Liquid. Twelve months later Gouveia had set up a backing band and created a rotation system to allow the growing troupe of songwriters to have their songs performed by guest singers and give audiences and musicians a chance to discover new talent.
The club now represents a collective of more than 25 musicians and songwriters, who perform official Grund Club Songwriter season shows at neimënster. It also holds less formal sessions to give club singers the opportunity to perform longer sets or to showcase the best songwriters in an unplugged setting.
The Grund Club has also become a “resident artist” at the Red Cross’s Hariko building in Bonnevoie, where it hosts workshops and music lessons, as well as career counselling for aspiring singers and singer-songwriters.
The club itself has a formal structure as a non-profit organisation. “I knew I could not run the club in the same risk-taking kamikaze way I run my personal career.” The board is comprised of non-musician members, to ensure there is no conflict of interest. But there seems to be little bickering or jealousy among the songwriters when it comes to choosing whose songs are performed at the shows.
“We now have a catalogue of around 30 or 40 original songs, written in Luxembourg. That is what is really important.” One of his proudest moments was when a singer, who had just sung a crowd-pleasing performance of one of those original songs, came up to him afterwards and asked who had written it. “She knew it was one of us, but she didn’t know who. That was a moment I had been waiting for, it was a validation of what I had wanted to pursue.”