Nana Grizol: Tales of Friendship, Punkrock, and Growing Up

November 5th, 2009  |  Published in Music

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

 By Mariel Loveland

Honesty is always the best policy.  This is a saying that Theo Hilton, front man and mastermind behind Athens, Georgia based Nana Grizol, lives by—at least in his music.  Nana Grizol’s 2008 release, Love it, Love it, is littered with lyrics admittedly written as self help literature, and this is perhaps what makes them so believable.  With lines like “Is this why city life feels so awful? It should be unlawful to live where you can’t see the stars” and “Will we be able to call one another, my, my surrogate sister and brother,” Hilton artfully captures the pains of growing up.  His wistful vocals clamber over pop punk guitars and brassy horn arrangements while he laments about the loneliness found in city life and missing the people he loves.

For Theo, this band is so deeply rooted in friendship that his voice nearly squeals with excitement whenever he mentions making music with his friends, whom happen to be some of indie-pops most revered artists.  The band itself is an amalgamation of members from Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, and Music Tapes, and after having multiple D.I.Y tours under their belt, Nana Grizol manages to capture the long forgotten spirit of punk rock.

 Independent: How did your band start?

Theo Hilton: How did our band start? Well I guess a long time ago, like 5 years ago plus.  It was in 2003. I started writing songs and playing shows by myself, largely because I wanted to travel with my friends and play shows.  So, I guess it started being an entity at that point.

About two and half years ago, our friend was playing a show, our friend Madeline; several of us have played with her in the past, and we all put together a band to write songs and play the songs that I had already been playing.  We all wrote parts to the songs, then did a record, and went on a couple of tours.  Then we started writing as a band, and now we are going to write more.

Independent: So, were most of the tours up until now sort of D.I.Y?

Theo Hilton: Yea, I guess I would say so. I would say that now we sort of have the same process. We all like having as many different kind of show playing experiences as possible, you know?   I think that is really reflected in the tour that’s going to go on. We are playing at some colleges, some clubs, and some D.I.Y. spaces in Maine and Vermont—a lot of new places we’ve never been before.

Independent: I’m excited for your show at the Cake Shop!

Theo Hilton: Yea, we played there once before.  I like that place a lot.

Independent: What are you most excited about for the upcoming tour?

Theo Hilton: For the upcoming tour? I don’t know; there is really a lot to be excited about.  I mean really— the whole thing. It’s hard to break it down. I’m really excited to go back to Brattleboro, Vermont.  We haven’t been to Vermont in the longest time. Our first two tours we played there and we have a lot of friends there.  They owned this really great space called The Tinder Box that’s not there anymore, but there is this church that has shows.   I think it’s where our show is but I’m not entirely sure, actually.

Independent: That’s really cool.  I remember going to a lot of shows at churches when I was younger. So, it’s been a bit over a year since your last release. What have you been doing during that year?

Theo Hilton: Well, as a band we sort of wrote a new album together and recorded it and got everything done and put it out.  Now, I’m really excited because the records are in the mail and otherwise we are all in Athens, Georgia.  Some of us are really involved in the Orange Twin Conservation Community Project, so now we are trying to spend time gardening, and we put together a big show up here a couple of weeks ago that ended up being a lot of work but rewarding.

For me, it’s been a really music heavy year, which I really like. I play in another band called Defiance, Ohio and we went on a couple of tours this year, and yes, I guess we all are playing in a couple of bands that have been really active. It’s great to go off and have all these different experiences and then come back together, you know?

Independent: So, you said you were doing a lot at the Orange Twin Conservation Community. I read a bit about it, but can you explain what you do there?

Theo Hilton: Well, the Orange Twin Conservation Society sits on 155 acres.  We are trying to keep it from being developed, which is an increasingly realistic possibility if you look at it. The mass of the county we live on is large and one of the biggest parcels of land in that area.  It’s sort of a growing and constantly frustrating thing to deal with, you know?  The road that goes out toward our house is becoming a truck corridor from Athens to the highway. 

I guess the idea is that there are twenty-six people that are shareholders or members of the Orange Twin Conservation Society. The idea is that one day we will build little log cabins and all live out there together as self sustainably as we can. So, you know, it’s a slow process in that direction, but you can see that we have a lot of gardening going on and we are trying to increase those 155 acres into what one day will be like farmland.   We are trying to figure out how we can bring people out, like school groups or any sort of age group, to have a place to come for educational purposes and what not.

Independent: That’s so cool. That sounds really amazing. I’m going to ask you now about Love It, Love It. I first heard it when I was in New York City sort of squatting in my sister’s apartment and I listened to it like almost every day.

Theo Hilton: [laughing] Aww.

Independent: But I wanted to ask you, which song are you most proud of?

Theo Hilton: Most proud of from that record?

Independent: Yeah.

Theo Hilton: Hmmm, that is a tricky question.  I am definitely really proud of the record and I’m proud of…I don’t know. It’s really exciting; like me and my friends got together and made this thing that we were really excited about.

I think the first thing that comes to mind is just the people arranging that one song, “Tambourine and Thyme.”  I think they were really good, but yeah, all of it. I think it blew my mind to have these songs that had just been played with guitar for a long time, and it’s just like, “Oh my friends wrote this orchestration to the songs, and it’s just like so cool.”

Independent: And I know your lyrics are personal, but what is your favorite lyric you wrote on that album?

Theo Hilton: Oh, I don’t know.  That’s tricky.

Independent: I know, it’s really hard.

Theo Hilton: Again, I’ll go with the first thing that comes to mind, which is [in] that one song, “Stop and Smell the Roses”.   It has that part that’s like “remember to eat dinner and feel better, and your friends will think you forgot them if you only write secret letters,” at which I would only say, because I feel like usually songs I write end up being almost like self help literature for myself.   You know? If I am having a weird time or something, and I have to say, “Theo, you’re trippin’ and this is what you have to do,” then, usually that’s the end result. [Laughing]

Independent: What inspired the song, “Broken Cityscapes”?  I know it’s about a city, and I always thought of it as New York; I guess since I was there when I first heard it.  Is there any certain city it’s about?

Theo Hilton: I guess it’s largely about the city of Detroit,  Michigan, but  I think it’s about, really specifically, a conversation I had with my friend on tour in Detroit, Michigan.  You know, I think it’s about trying to like comprehend things that don’t come easily.  That’s largely what it’s about— like a big fight that you have with somebody, and it’s really frustrating because you know  you can’t understand where they are coming from and vice versa, but you really love them too and try and make sense of that.  Also trying to make sense of like, that it’s Detroit— I mean it’s so crazy.  It’s like you go and there are so many buildings that are beautiful, beautiful, but the condition.  [The buildings are] like enormous right in downtown Detroit, but [they’re] completely gutted on the inside.  It’s like crazy to think about these giant things, like…I don’t know.  You know?  I don’t know if that answers the question.

Independent: Yeah,  it did.  I only have a couple more questions, because I don’t want to keep you, but what did you do before you did music? I know it’s sort of a strange question.

Theo Hilton: Huh, well, [in a southern accent] in high school I was the president of the drama club, so that was my main outlet for my creative endeavors. Uh, [laughs] I don’t know why I just used that voice for that. I don’t know, I feel like I’ve been, I feel like all of us, everyone in our band, have been playing music for a long time with each other  in various forms, and we came together and played together in our big form as our band. It has definitely been a focus for a very long time.  I mean for me, like, I played with Jared, the bassist in our band, since I was eighteen, which was like 8 years ago.  I dropped out of college after one semester to go on tour and we only went on tour for a week [laughs], and then I didn’t go to college.

The Independent: Where did you go to school?

Theo Hilton:  I went to a school called Gainesville College, which is a community college here in Georgia.

The Independent: Yeah, I know that school.

 Theo Hilton: Yeah, my friend is actually going to Gainesville College right now.

The Independent: Speaking of school, what were your favorite bands in high school?

Theo Hilton:  There was this band from Athens that I always idolized in middle school called, The Woggles, and it was my older sister’s boyfriend’s band, and they were really great. They were really garagey, you know, and Janis Joplin was a huge one, and what did I listen to? All kinds of—I feel like in high school I learned about all these bands like, Bikini Kill, and you know,  that music scene, that stuff. There’s so many –like holy crap, and also, my first ever job was [working] at a coffee shop that was really close to my high school.  We had shows and I think that was my first introduction to a lot of bands, like many bands that you’ve never heard of, and just having my mind blown.  I would see like five shows a week just because I was always there.

Independent: Have you had any other cool jobs like that?

Theo Hilton: Well, this past year, I helped a lot with the Orange Twin Record Label, and that’s really—I really enjoy it. It’s fun work for sure, and you know, I get really excited about it.  I feel like recently there is like this shift that happened.  I was working at another coffee shop, three years ago, and then I kind of realized, or it was brought to my attention, that I could get odd construction jobs and work at the kayak rental place and stuff, and more reasonable jobs than that.

Independent: My friend also had that realization and worked in construction over the summer.

Theo Hilton: Yeah, it’s pretty nice. I haven’t been doing much stuff like that recently, but it’s nice, you know?  I don’t know.  You’re gonna work and work out at the same time.

Independent: Yeah and you’re making something too.

Theo Hilton: Yeah, for sure!

Nana Grizol is playing on Saturday, November 7th at the Student Center.  Their second release, Ruth, is currently available for digital download and will be available on CD in January of 2010.

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