Pete Faust and Mary Alice Hamnett return to Columbus with a new album that balances the playful and the poignant
For more than a decade, Pete Faust and Mary Alice Hamnett embraced the Electric Grandmother as an outlet for goofball, avant-electro songs inspired by pop culture — largely film and TV. But in 2015, following a dispiriting concert in Philadelphia, the married couple started to question their desire to continue making music in the same form, if at all.
“It was one of those things where we got drunk beforehand and we were all tired and questioning why we were even doing it. It felt like the band was at a crossroads,” said Faust, who spoke with Hamnett from the couple's home in Washington, D.C., where they moved in 2011 following a decade in Columbus. “The night of the show we realized we were both bored and shiftless with what we'd been doing for the past however many years.”
“At this point, we were already starting to write another album in the same format, with just a bunch of random songs about nostalgic concepts … and we were struggling to find ideas,” Hamnett said. “On The Bodyguard Soundtrack, [from 2015], we wrote a song about the movie ‘Mr. Mom,' which came out in like 1982 and we both saw for the first time shortly before the album came out. It was like, ‘OK, here's a song.' But it wasn't anything we cared about.”
Rather than calling it quits on Electric Grandmother, which developed as a Faust solo project in 2004 and has since evolved into a duo with Hamnett contributing vocals and live projection in concert (as well as functioning as a vital sounding board), the musicians started brainstorming concepts to help shake free of their creative rut while maintaining a similarly oddball spirit.
The album that emerged from this Philly road trip, Cancelled, which will be the centerpiece of a release show at Big Room Bar on Saturday, Sept. 23, is still informed by television, though it occupies a fantasy world rather than reveling in plot points from old episodes of “Alf” or “Family Ties,” telling the story of a man who gradually loses his mind after his favorite cop drama is pulled off the airwaves.
“It's an absurdist story … but it's also a universal story about loss and losing your identity,” Hamnett said.
For Faust, the writing process served as therapy, helping him cope with a depression that has been a part of his existence since he was in a childhood car accident — an event that left the musician with lingering post-traumatic stress disorder that was only recently diagnosed.
“Slowly but surely [the album] became semi-autobiographical, as far as my struggles with mental illness,” said Faust, noting that his long-held fondness for more playful songs developed, in part, out of a desire to distract from these deeper psychological explorations. “It was one of those things where by confronting those things that cause you pain, or things from your past, it'll eventually help you grow. I always felt like I had this horror movie inside me I could unleash.”