Artscape: The Americana sounds of Torn Shorts


Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

Meet Torn Shorts.

(Guitar Strums.)

It's the project of Josh Grabert.

Gonna paint a picture pure and true

He's 26 years-old A native of Rhode Island.

Gonna paint a picture as pretty as you

He sews canvass for a living.

Gonna write a novel the whole way through

But his real passion? Song.

Gonna write a novel that's all about you

Grabert is an earnest young singer with a simple desire: to travel about the country playing music. To fulfill it, he's packed chords and lyrics into a balanced sound that's ready for shipment far from the waters of Narragansett Bay.

Gonna sail across the ocean all night and day


But right now he's standing outside the Dusk bar in Providence. He can't get his lighter to start.

"Thank God!" he says. "There's a little piece of paper stuck in there I couldn't get it going."

Grabert takes a couple hard puffs off a rolled cigarette. He just finished a sound check for his upcoming show. His band plans to play a long set cause why not? It's a new outfit, playing an old style of music that's kindled in bands all throughout the Ocean State: Americana.

"It kind of blew-up all of a sudden. It's weird. It's not weird. It's good. It's great actually," he says. "The Americana thing kinda took over for a while now. Because, you know you got bands like Deertick, the Low Anthem, and Brown Bird-- I really like them too-- They just kind of spawned this whole new wave of musicians "

Musicians like Grabert; Fans old-time sounds that contain elements of our country's sonic history. Torn Shorts plays a mix a folk, blues and telecaster twang. Think Bob Dylan mixed with the White Stripes.

"What's the hope with Torn Shorts?"

"Well the hope is to get out and play for more people, new ears, fresh ears all the time," he says. "We just want to get out there and "

Tour. He really wants to tour more.

"There's something about just getting in the van with your buddies and a bunch of gear and just driving up to the show and just being like, alright, let's just rock this place tonight and have a blast!"

In many ways, Grabert is a product of our state and its frail economy. His songs emit feelings of pain and abandonment. But they also include a tiny thread of unbreakable hope. He makes due with the financial drought drowning the aught generation. Take this show: he needed extra light on stage, so along with the guitar and amps, he packed his living room lamp.

"Dust and all," he says. "Right off the end table and into the bar. Yeah. Yeah. I like that. Bring a little bit of your home. It makes you feel comfy up there, on the stage, knowing that, well, at least I got my lamp next to me.

Grabert snubs out his cigarette and heads back inside. Torn Short takes the stage. The living room lamp shines bright.

"What's going on everybody! We're Torn Shorts! Nice to see everybody!"


"I think Torn Shorts would be in my handful of bands that I would I would put my money on right now."

Chris Conti has followed Grabert from his early days busking on street corners. The music editor for the Providence Phoenix says Torn Short's first LP "Life on a River" stood out from the piles of records that stack-up in his office.

"There's something just kind of just honest about it without sounding kind of contrive," says Conti. "Or just that same old indie folk thing that people want to throw around, around here."

Conti pegs down the band's secret to Grabert's voice. He says it sounds worked-in, sorta like an old catcher's mitt. Grabert also has an engaging stage presence at live shows despite owning up to being somewhat of a loner, and relatively shy. At his Smith Hill apartment he held the guitar between him and the microphone.

"You know I hate going to parties. I hate having to talk to people I don't know and making small talk. So if I'm going to a party I always want to play at the party because it's the only way I feel like people are going to get to know me better if I sit down and play a song for them instead of it I just sit down and chit chat. I'd rather just sit in the corner with a guitar than just talk to people. I guess I'm anti-social a bit.

" So is this kind of torture for you as I'm asking you questions?"

"No. No," he says. "I like you Bradley, you're a nice guy."

Grabert has that way about him. He can patronize you like a good friend, even if you just met him. And he's always up for singing, even the day after his late night gig at Dusk.

Grabert recently added two musicians to the band. He wants Torn Short to sound more textured and powerful. Although, at its core, Torn Shorts is made of simple chords and deceptively simple lyrics. But they paint a picture of Americana music pure and true to the area they call home.

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