The journey represented on dark wave duo Randolph’s Grin’s first album in 15 years is labyrinthine, spiritual, and uplifting. Fittingly, the twosome has titled this latest release, Dragon Road. The album, out digitally and physically on September 4th on Rough Trade, is a concept record that offers a fresh take on goth and industrial music through channeling self growth, sensuality, and positivity via what has historically been an ominous musical medium of expression.
“When we started the group, the music was a way to vent and channel anger and other emotions not usually welcome in daily life. I don’t need that kind of outlet now. These days, I prefer to uplift people and help them see their experiences in a new light rather than drag them down,” says vocalist and lyricist Adelheid (Heidi) Winkler.
Her artistic foil in Randolph’s Grin, composer and songwriter Robert Andrew Bowman adds:
“Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll had their place in our work, but this album is coming from a more mature perspective. All the trials and tribulations of life teach you things. This album reflects the philosophy and self-discovery we’ve experienced in our personal lives.”
Randolph’s Grin has been favorably described as philosophical sex-wave electronic-based music. The band’s aesthetic encompasses richly layered gothic and industrial soundscapes with unique and undeniable grooves. Heidi Winkler’s vocals are seductive and spiritual, pulling you into her vortex with captivating melodies, sensual vocal phrasing, and poetic and profound philosophical statements. Since 1994, the duo has released three albums—their critically acclaimed debut was distributed by respected tastemaking indie Cargo Records/Metropolis Records. For their latest album, they worked with dark wave legend John Fryer, best known for working with Depeche
Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Cocteau Twins, and his own band, the iconic This Mortal Coil. The dark wave legend produced and mixed Dragon Road, and his gorgeously gloomy and grand touch gives the album a stately sleekness.
Randolph’s Grin is currently transatlantic with Robert living in Detroit and Heidi living in Salzburg, Austria.
Robert and Heidi met in the mid 1990s in Detroit, on the industrial, alternative, and goth club circuit. At the time, Randolph’s Grin was a solo project with Robert singing lead and composing all the music. On her own, Heidi was a sound engineer with her own solo project she was recording in her home studio—at the time, an uncommon pursuit for a woman in the maledominated music scene. The two clicked on shared influences, and when Robert suggested she add vocals to one of his solo tracks, he was floored by the results. “From the moment I heard her work, I decided to take a backseat as a frontman and concentrate on the music. Immediately, we
understood each other and connected deeply. We’re lifelong friends—it’s a rarity,” Robert says. Heidi, who has European and American familial roots, moved from Detroit to Austria 16 years ago, but her and Robert have maintained their friendship and creative relationship. Two years ago, Heidi came back to Detroit on one of her annual visits to see friends and family. At the time, she had a strong desire to work on a new project with Rob where they could focus on the positive aspects of life, and all they have learned from inspiring teachings and offer it to the world with a profound musical concept.
Upon hearing Heidi was visiting Detroit and was interested in working on new Randolph’s Grin music, Robert composed a catalog of songs to be ready. At the time, Heidi had only given Robert a cursory overview of the concept as an artistic guide. “When she came over, it was bizarre and almost magical how her ideas and vocals perfectly fit with the music I created,” Robert marvels. Dragon Road is conceptually inspired by Heidi’s fascination with philosophy, human consciousness, and hypnosis. The album carves out a self-development path from primal thought processes to spiritual enlightenment, which is based upon popular human world-view development theory. Sometimes Heidi chooses to emphasize the positive and healthy aspects of a stage of development, and other times she explores the negative and pathological side of these phases. On the album, Randolph’s Grin appropriates modern theory’s standard of representing each life stage with a color. This convention sends the message that each stage in progression can be beautiful and is important in a full spectrum of light.
The album is darkly cathartic, capturing the visceral and sensual chills of classic goth and industrial, but with conscious, self-development themed lyrics. The lead single, “Amber,” which also features a stunning companion video, is both chilling and comforting. Here ominous synths and call-and-response vocals with taut phrasing yields to flowing melodic vocal passages. This track comes almost in the middle of the Dragon Road, and thus represents a slight progression from the infantile mindset of the opening track. “This level is more absolutist and conformist and steeped in seeing things in black and white,” Heidi offers.
Earlier in the album is the mesmerizing “Magenta” which conjures up nature and magical thinking with smoldering and soaring vocals, and a propulsive and futuristic tapestry of abstract beats and entrancing melodies. The track “Teal,” which is one of the later levels of consciousness and seeing the world, intriguingly posits truth and beauty with the pent-up sensuality of seductive female vocals and ethereal musicality. The Dragon Road odyssey concludes with the title track which grandly summarizes the mood and philosophy of the album. The vibe here is spiritually centered with airy vocals and nuanced melodic grooves that recall Vince Clarke-era Depeche Mode.
Up next, Randolph’s Grin plans on releasing a clutch of remixes, radio edits, and videos for other Dragon Road tracks. Looking back on all that has paved the way to Dragon Road, Heidi says:
“We’re like kids—we get really enthusiastic and motivated by the music. There’s still that ‘wow factor,’” Robert chimes in: “A ‘Dragon Road’ is like a winding road that goes through the mountainside. It describes our musical career. No matter what life has brought, we have always been able to connect creatively and personally.”