If you want to listen to local singer-songwriter Grant Summerland’s recently released debut album Bigfoot Museum in the most ideal setting, he offers a few suggestions. First, head out to Highway 9. Hit play at exactly 11:30pm and drive north up the highway for the duration of the record.
Summerland doesn’t think anyone will go to these lengths, but he did design the album with this optimal listening experience in mind. He came up with the concept for the record years ago when he was a teenager and would go on late-night drives up Highway 9. He wanted to capture the creepy vibe of the Santa Cruz Mountains at night, while also nailing the experience of listening to KZSC and other college radio stations in the off-hours when programming gets strange.
“Santa Cruz is a pretty weird place,” Summerland says. “I think that there is—in the mountains—definitely a dark undercurrent that could make for a good horror movie.”
Bigfoot Museum is a horror concept album featuring a wide range of musical genres like jazz, hip-hop, pop and indie rock. There is a narrator that drives up Highway 9 at night who is replaying the events of the summer that’s just ended, and his story involves evil forces, which may be real or imagined, that kept him locked in the house most of the summer. There’s also a sinister character named Charles that pops up now and again.
“Who he is, I will not say,” Summerland says of Charles. “What I think he is—he’s a really malicious figure. The narrator is constantly talking about how they’ve been inside all summer and they want to go out, but they can’t for some reason. Dealing with paranormal creatures, dealing with being trapped and shut-in.”
The record was also inspired by classic teen horror movies and shows that Summerland loved, especially the weirder ones like Donnie Darko and Twin Peaks. He wanted to make a distinctly Santa Cruz version of this horror style.
“There have been horror movies made in Santa Cruz like Us and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, but I wanted a different type of horror movie. Something more surreal, more of a psychological horror movie,” Summerland says.
The overriding theme of being stuck indoors all summer due to scary forces oddly was conceived years before anyone knew that Covid-19 would make this scenario a reality for people this summer. But Summerland wasn’t grappling with the realities of a pandemic shutting down society, he was thinking about the paradox of the “perfect summer,” a fictitious notion in films that’s impossible to achieve, and in many ways, hampers people from enjoying the summer they do get to have.
“You want to live life to the absolute fullest, and there’s a feeling that you’ll never actually get to live that full experience, ever. No matter what you do, there will always be something that prevents you from actually having the perfect summer,” Summerland says. “A lot of the album is coming to terms that there is no perfect summer. There is no perfect life. That’s not how you should think about life.”
The album’s title, Bigfoot Museum, is a reference to the very real Bigfoot Discovery Museum in Felton. However, there’s nothing in the album that has anything to do with the museum. For Summerland, the Bigfoot Discovery Museum was the perfect example of the weirder, creepier side of the Santa Cruz Mountains that he wanted to bring to his album, so why not name the album after it?
“There’s definitely the Santa Cruz summer. Usually, it’s images of surfboards, and the beach and burritos,” Summerland says. “I think there is a whole other side to the Santa Cruz experience, for people that live outside of the city. I wanted to flip the Santa Cruz summer upside down and show a different take on what that could even look like. And of course, it’s a really extreme take with monsters and the boogeyman and violence. That’s one part of Santa Cruz that I really wanted to include.”
Check out ‘Bigfoot Museum’ at grantsummerland.bandcamp.com.