Grant Sharples is the musical mastermind behind Off-Center, a project featuring the voice of fellow Kansas City musician Kate Cosentino. Sharples's songwriting and instrumentation on Off-Center's debut EP, Transparency, belies his 18 years of age with melodies and hooks fans of Death Cab for Cutie, early Metric and indie pop fans everywhere will love. We are happy to share an interview with Grant about his craft, the making of Transparency,and what lies ahead for him and Off-Center, in addition to Grant's personal recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog and links to his music.
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
My name is Grant Sharples and I’m an 18-year-old kid from Kansas City. I just obtained a part-time job at a clothing store called Tilly’s in Town Center. Considering it’s part-time, I don’t work every day so my typical day always involves music. Sporadically throughout the day I’ll go to my room, pick up my guitar or bass, and continue to work on the project I’m working on. Right now I’m working on new material, so lately there’s been plenty of songwriting to consume my time. I also attend three music lessons a week; drums, guitar, and piano.
The production on Off-Center’s new Transparency EP is quite accomplished. How did you learn to record your music? What do you enjoy the most about the recording process?
If I produced the Transparency EP myself, it would be of much of lower sound quality! I worked with this guy named Duane Trower. He’s the head guy at Weights and Measures Soundlab in downtown Kansas City. Both my friend and guitar instructor were talking about him and telling me to go record with him. I contacted Duane and shared my ideas with him and we met for the first time in mid-November. It was a wonderful decision because Duane is an incredible producer. He’s really good at mastering and achieving a level of sound quality that’s pretty uncommon for most local producers. For example, on “Objects in Mirror Are Further Than They Appear” I was conveying these thoughts to him on how I wanted this grand, bombastic 80’s sound. He got that exact sound I was describing to him and I’m really happy with his production on the EP in general.
I’d have to say my absolute favorite part of the recording process was hearing my music come to life. Personally, songs begin as ideas. They incessantly play in my head until I actually have the opportunity to record them. So when I finally recorded some of them, it was stunning to hear those ideas that were roaming around my mind for a long time blossom into full-blown works.
How did Off-Center start? How did you begin working with singer Kate Cosentino?
I began writing my own music in 8th grade. I didn’t realize at the time, however, that I wasn’t good at it! Nevertheless, I continued writing and subsequently developed my songwriting skills. After three years of writing songs, I had quite the catalog of musical works. Yet, there was one major issue: I couldn’t sing. I could write lyrics, play all the instruments, compose all the parts, but I couldn’t sing.
I was playing drums at a show at Music House (the place I take lessons at) and heard Kate filling in for an absent singer. Her voice was individualistic and stood out among the crowd of vocalists performing that night. I contacted her on Facebook later that week and we exchanged phone numbers. Eventually, we met up and discussed musical ideas and I showed her some of my songs. I’m so lucky I met her because she is an amazing vocalist and I couldn’t have released this EP without her voice.
Describe your creative process in terms of songwriting. What tools do you use? How do you break through creative blocks?
My creative process always begins on the guitar. The majority of the time, I won’t even by trying to come up with a new idea for a song. I’ll be playing for fun and improvising and then I’ll stumble across a phrase that sounds pleasing to my ears. Everything else stems from that one phrase. I’ll come up with chords, a bassline, and drums in that order. The final thing I always do is write lyrics. It has always been easier for me to write instrumentals first and vocals last. I think of the instrumentals as the foundation. It sets up the primary melody you hear in the song and it sets some ground rules for the vocals. I feel that you allow yourself to be more creative with the main melody when you set certain limitations. You force yourself to think outside of the box because you can only use certain tools.
Occasionally, I’ll think of lyrical ideas and themes that intrigue me and quickly file them into the notes application I have on my phone. I also have an application on my phone that lets me record these phrases and chord progressions so I don’t forget them. It’s extremely frustrating when you forget that catchy hook you wrote seven hours earlier that day!
Frankly, I encounter plenty of creative blocks. While it’s quite bothersome and annoying, I’ve figured out a method to break through them: patience. You can’t force creativity out of yourself. In fact, I believe that when you try to force out a song when you’re uninspired, you’re making yourself less creative. Sometimes, I’ll just be watching TV or reading a book and suddenly, I start coming up with ideas. It’s strange really, because I won’t even be trying to write music when I come up with these ideas. It may sound stupidly simple, but it’s 100% true. Ideas just come to me when they’re ready. Yet, some of these ideas take a much longer time to fully flourish into a complete song. For example, I wrote all of the parts for the song “Transparency” in an hour. On the other hand, it took me two weeks to write all of the parts for “Objects in Mirror Are Further Than They Appear”. The individual parts for the latter simply came to me intermittently throughout the course of those two weeks. As for the former, it only took one hour for all of the parts to come to me.
Who or what inspires you?
For me, inspiration comes in two different formats: musical inspiration and lyrical inspiration. First, I’ll talk about what inspires me on a musical level.
Some of my favorite bands to listen to are M83, Twenty One Pilots, alt-J, Bear Hands, and Tame Impala. That list is likely to change next week, but who knows at this point? There is a plethora of artists in this world that make extraordinary, breathtaking music. These artists that I admire and respect are the ones that inspire me to create music. Often, I will listen to a song and fall in love with it. Next, I look up the live version of it on YouTube. Then, I think to myself, “You know Grant, you need to write an Off-Center song and try to make it at least as half as cool as this.” While I’m unsure if the final product ends up even being half as cool as an M83 song, it still ends up being something I’m proud of. It’s something different than an M83 song, it’s an Off-Center song.
As far as lyrical inspiration goes, I’m intrigued by lots of different things. The idea that people’s views can differ to such an extremity is interesting to me. We are all human, but each one of us is an individual. We have individualistic personalities, tendencies, and likes and dislikes. The gamut of my lyrical inspiration ranges from personal uncertainties to my views on how society conditions everyone to virtually be the same person. When I begin writing the lyrical portion of a song, I enter the process with a clean slate and allow myself to be inspired by anything that comes to mind.
What do you have in store for Off-Center fans in the near future?
The difficult thing about being a solo artist is that you have to recruit a band to perform live, which is something I’m currently working on. I’m also going to be working with the videographer who films for a local band called The Greeting Committee. As far as new material goes, I’m working on making new music at the moment. I have several songs already, probably enough to make another EP to be honest, but recording music is expensive and I plan on saving the bulk of my money for my first year of college. I’m going to be heading to Columbia, MO in the fall at MU. I plan on trying to immerse Off-Center in the local music scene there once I head down. As of now though, I want to make Off-Center a staple in the Kansas City music scene, and hopefully I succeed!
1. Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83
2. Morning Phase by Beck
3. An Awesome Wave by alt-J
4. Trouble Will Find Me by The National
5. Torches by Foster the People
1. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
2. The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson
3. A Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon
4. California by Edan Lepucki
5. Cataract City by Craig Davidson