Combining choir music with hip hop and R&B isn’t typical for pop music, but Active Child isn’t typical. Active Child’s debut LP You’re All I See ventures into unforeseen musical territory, unless perhaps you knew Active Child’s story. Active Child, born Pat Grossi, as a kid sang in choir, but his love for music spawned from his father who worked for Priority Records. Growing up Grossi toured the world singing, but through his father’s work he was exposed to Ice Cube, Ice T, and N.W.A. at the height of their careers. Grossi’s natural curiosity blended his orchestral skills with his youthful experiences and resulted in Active Child. Before his performance tonight at The Independent, SF Critic spoke with Pat Grossi over the phone while he was touring the East Coast.
SF Critic : Your name is a reflection of yourself as a youth putting your ear to a speaker. Whatever that embodies, when you look back on that now is there a similar action you do as an adult that encapsulates that curiosity?
Pat Grossi: Yeah I think there is definitely is. I see it when I notice small details or really latch onto music and when I find something that I really love. I think it’s also a reflection of when I’m writing music, I find myself getting lost really quickly in very simple sounds. A lot of the songs I’ve written started out with me just holding a major chord and me just really sitting there and listening to it.
SF Critic : I read your father worked for Priority Records and you were listening to explicit rap at a young age. Did your mom ever have any issues with you listening to the content of these rappers?
Pat Grossi: Occasionally, there were things that came along that pushed the envelope a little bit. There was a lot of really negative press around Ice T’s record when it came out. He put out a song called “Cop Killer.” I can remember a little bit of a backlash from my mom at that point.
Looking back on it, I think she was more concerned with my friends coming over and me distributing this rap music to them, and then them going home to their parents and having them say “Where did you get this CD!?” I remember Ice Cube putting out a record called Lethal Injection. As a promo they created this pen, which was actually a hypodermic needle filled with red ink, so it looked like there was blood in it. I thought it was awesome, so I brought them to school and started handing them out to my friends. It didn’t go over so well with the school, and my mom got pretty upset.
SF Critic : And what role did your dad play in this?
Pat Grossi: He usually lay pretty low. My mom was always the one who cracked the whip. He had a big influence on me in terms of music that I listen to outside of rap. He was in that industry, but it wasn’t like he’d come home and put on N.W.A. He listened to a lot of the classics like The Beatles, James Brown and Fleetwood Mac.
“Looking back on it, I think she was more concerned with my friends coming over and me distributing this rap music to them, and then them going home to their parents and having them say ‘Where did you get this CD!?’”
SF Critic : Who was the one that got you into choir at a young age?
Pat Grossi: That was a mixture. Like a lot of people I sang in my elementary school choir. My choir director pulled me aside and said, “I think you’re talented. If you want you could try out for this choir in Philadelphia.” I got really excited by that that I was singled out and she told me I was really good. I got home and convinced my mom to drive me to Philadelphia to try out for the choir. Now my mother tells this story that she was really worried that I wouldn’t get accepted into this choir, and I’d be crushed, because she didn’t really know what kind of singer I was at that point. Once I was in the choir I was singled out for the solos. Then I ended up touring in Australia, South Africa, and Europe.
SF Critic : Did you continue on with choir when you were in high school?
Pat Grossi: Once I moved to LA, I didn’t really do much singing at all. I continued to listen to music, but I didn’t pursue joining a choir.
SF Critic : Did it have anything to do with your peers? Were you ever teased for being a choir singer?
Pat Grossi: No I wasn’t. There was never any blowback from being a choir dork. I had a lot of friends. I chose to do the choir thing, then I chose sports and then I’d come back. It never stopped me because I didn’t think it was cool. I just chose to do other things.
SF Critic : When you picked music back up what was going on?
Pat Grossi: I was in college. I was going to school more. I was in art school and had some cool friends that were into making music, and sharing music together. I slowly rediscovered how much I enjoyed writing and being a part of music making. Once I graduated, I really started to dive back into it.
SF Critic : When you dove back into it, did you try to sing in any other style then what is currently Active Child?
Pat Grossi: I did for a little while. When I was living in Denver, I had some good friends that we’d kind of mess around in their basement. They tended to be more thrasher, a little more hardcore vibe. I naturally ended up being a singer and trying to sing along to their style of music. I remember thinking this is not my style of singing.
Eventually I broke off and started doing my own thing. I had no business in a slightly punk band at all. When I started writing my own stuff, I naturally went back into this choir style because I think it’s naturally the way I sing now.
SF Critic : Has anyone heard in the record industry your previous work as a thrasher singer?
Pat Grossi: No. I don’t even think we have any recordings. It was more like having fun, drinking beers, and making music. Hopefully, no one will ever hear that. [laughs]
Listen to Active Child – “Playing House” ft. How to Dress Well