Two album titles get tossed around when the singer/guitarist and founding member of Athens’ folk-punk six-piece Nana Grizol talks about records that have resonated with him over the years: the Kinks’ The Village Green Preservation Society and X’s Los Angeles. Although they are wholly divergent albums, both have left a mark on Theo Hilton’s stylistic musical chops. Those influences are heard throughout Nana Grizol’s sophomore full-length, Ruth (Orange Twin).
“I found my dad’s copy of Los Angeles when I was 14 and it was amazing,” Hilton recalls. “Their songs and lyrics were so powerful but never self-conscious. The first time I heard it, I thought, ‘X fucking rules!’”
That sense of excitement shines in his own songwriting, in the sparkling horns heard throughout such songs as “Galaxies” and “Alice and Gertrude.” Other numbers, including “Cynicism” and “Blackbox,” take on a more sentimental approach with strident, punk singing and shouting that ebbs on sappiness. It’s undeniably self-conscious. “I write songs that are self-help literature for myself,” he laughs.
For Hilton, the album’s title means the opposite of the word ruthless. “I think of it as compassion for the misery of others, as well as an awareness of one’s own faults,” he says.
Ruth is more cohesive than the ramshackle 2008 debut, Love It, Love It, which was primarily written as a solo record. Since then, a consistent group lineup has solidified around Matte Cathcart (drums), Laura Carter of Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel et. al (drums, trumpet), Patrick Jennings (Wurlitzer, guitar, trumpet), Robbie Cucchiaro (Euphonium) and Jared Gandy (bass). Their growth culminates in the arrangements of such songs as “For Things That Haven’t Come Yet” and “Sands,” where the creative impulses of several musicians shape the sound but Hilton remains at the center of it all.
Like the music that resonates with him, Hilton’s songs have started reaching their own audience. “I write songs that apply specifically to my life, but sometimes people tell me that my songs apply to their lives,” he says. “It’s cool to know that something I wrote can be used by someone else in a positive way when thinking about their own situations.”