In September of 2010, a group of friends from Surrey, BC, went to Victoria on a busking trip. While playing on the ferry, one of the band members offered lead singer Daniel McBurnie some grapes.
“Nah, I’m good for grapes” responded McBurnie. Later on that day, the group thought Daniel’s off-hand remark was an awful neat name for a band.
Four years later, and after a fierce competition, Good for Grapes has emerged as the winner of the Peak Performance Project, netting the band $102,700 to fund their next album, the sequel to 2013’s Man on the Page. To put it mildly, it’s safe to say they can put their busking days behind them.
Last time we talked to McBurnie, he was sitting in the band’s van in California as they were driving back from SXSW. He’s in a stable environment this time, but still rocked by the sheer thrill of winning $102,700. We talked to McBurnie about how the band plans to spend that money, how his songwriting has changed as a result of the Peak Performance Project, and the Avengers.
What’s going on with Good for Grapes right now ?
Well, we’re pretty stoked about the win! We’re planning our next moves right now. It’s still pretty surreal that we won and that we have all that money now, but we’re looking forward to making a new record with it.
Everyone knows about the Peak Performance Project, but not everyone know what it entails. What kind of stuff did you guys have to do to win that cash?
There’s a bunch of different aspects, and you’re basically marked out of a hundred: part of it is your live show, which is broken up between your songs, stage presence, instrumentation, and your “X Factor”. 10% of it is voting. 5% is how you spend the five grand they give you. And the rest is the five challenges they give you, which includes a merch challenge, a charity challenge, a “gap” challenge to identify what’s wrong with your career, your marketing challenge, and a video challenge. All together, it’s out of a hundred points– and bands are usually only one or two points apart from each other.
Obviously it’s a pretty comprehensive bootcamp. What challenge would you say was hardest for Good for Grapes?
The hardest part was that we had to do the challenges while we were on the road– we did our showcase, left for a month, and the day we got back was the day we had to hand in our report. It was hard to find WiFi on the road, and we already had touring on our mind, so those were challenges already. But again, the difficult part of the Peak Performance Project was being able to look at the band in an objective way and say something like “I want to write better songs. How do I do that?” You have to set yourself and your ego aside and try to learn and take whatever you can.
You played the Momentum Youth Festival with Jordan Klassen recently. How was that experience for you?
That was a lot of fun! We were actually put together earlier in that day with a youth band called “This Side of Town” and we talked to them and mentored them in such a way we were mentored in the Peak Performance Project. We ended up just talking about the industry and how to really get started as a band– business stuff. That was great, because for us it was almost like learning it all over again. And then the show was awesome, the theatre was beautiful and there was a great crowd.
You guys did a lot of summer touring, including festivals like Rifflandia and Squamish. What was your best festival experience?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. We loved Rifflandia– we played the Metro theatre and it was so full that one of our member’s mom couldn’t even get in. Squamish was also amazing, since we played Squamish three years ago and it was nowhere near as huge as it is now, so that was amazingly eye-opening. I don’t know if I can choose a favourite, because I just love festivals– each one has its own unique festivals and charm.
Speaking of festivals, when I last talked to you, you were crammed in a van driving through California coming back from South by Southwest.
Oh yeah, I totally remember you!
Do you guys think you’re going to be playing SXSW again, and do you have plans for other U.S tours?
Yes to both, actually! We wanna play SXSW again. We’re going to the studio in February, and hopefully we can go down there after we’ve wrapped up and showcased all our new stuff. A big part of what we want to do now is get into the States and get some U.S representation. Part of our marketing plan from the Performance Project is to break into the States and do some U.S touring, get publishers down there, and keep going!
A lot of folk and alternative bands have been moving in a experimental direction lately– Bon Iver and the emergence of Alt-J as examples. Do you see Good for Grapes following that pattern?
I don’t know about following that same pattern, but I think every band hits a point where they just want to push their boundaries. That’s definitely something they taught in bootcamp. Ryan Guldemand from Mother Mother was there, and he was really pushing bands there to step out of their comfort zones. I don’t relate to Bon Iver, but as far as being experimental, I’ve definitely been writing stuff recently that are just a bit weird, and that comes with stepping out of my own comfort zone. And I’m wondering “Could this be a Good for Grapes song at all?” Basically, I’m just trying some new things and coming up with some weird stuff!
You guys released your first song, “My Bass” four years ago. Since that release, how has your songwriting changed?
I almost don’t remember writing that song– I remember the room, and being in the room, but I don’t remember the process. When I wrote songs back then, I just sort of wrote them. I didn’t pay attention at all to the structure. It all just kind of free-flowed around it. That was a cool way to start, but it got to the point where I became a lot more interested in the art of songwriting. I still don’t put too much focus on the structure or on writing works that are radio-friendly. I still usually write the song and the lyrics at once, then arrange around that. But I’m definitely more conscious of what I’m writing, how I’m doing, and most of all how it sounds onstage.
Before you played in Good for Grapes, I know you played in a metal band. The name involved Saskatchewan.
[laughter] I remember we talked about that last time!
So has that history of a metal style affected how you approach the guitar in Good for Grapes?
Yes… and no. I think every part of my musical background shines through just a little bit. Coming from a metal band, I wouldn’t be too opposed to having a crazy metal solo in the middle of a song, just because it’s weird and a lot of fun. We toured with a band recently called Larry and His Flask, who are a bluegrass folk act, but they used to be a punk band, so they would straight up jam on a metal song. I love that kind of thing.
If every member of Good for Grapes was a member of the Avengers who would they be?
Oh man, I honestly don’t know the Avengers that well….. ok, Alexa is saying I’m Captain America…..and Graham says he wants to be Scarlett Johansson.
I can definitely work with that.
I’m trying to think of who Alexa would be….I think she’d be Ironman! I need to study up on the Avengers.
Keep up with Good For Grapes on their website here.