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A child of grunge comes of age

It's 1989, and Nirvana have just released their debut album, Bleach.

Ewan Grant: 'I had undiagnosed bipolar stuff going on ... At that point I thought I was just a miserable guy but now I don't feel sorry for myself any more'
Ewan Grant: 'I had undiagnosed bipolar stuff going on ... At that point I thought I was just a miserable guy but now I don't feel sorry for myself any more'

It's the same year that Mudhoney release their eponymous debut, the year that Soundgarden's Louder Than Love and Screaming Trees' Buzz Factory also appear. It's 1989, and somewhere in Scotland, Ewan Grant is born.

There wouldn't be much to connect these events were it not for the fact that the music Grant makes as Algernon Doll is a blood brother to the grunge bands of that era. You can hear it in embryo form - chorus effects on the guitars, smash and snarl on the drums - on last year's Citalo-pop album; it's now a much more polished entity on new long-player Omphalic. So how did a boy from over here get so into the music from over there?

"When I was about 13, I used to not eat lunch, save up and buy a CD after a couple of weeks with my lunch money," he explains. "And I'd always buy Sub Pop releases. I don't know why. I think I went to Mono and they had a Sub Pop compilation, and that got me into a bunch of stuff."

We're sitting in the appropriate surroundings of Nice N Sleazy in Glasgow. He's sporting a beard, a tapestry of tattoos and has a skateboard on the seat beside him. He certainly looks the part - and, when I caught Algernon Doll at the goNORTH festival in Inverness earlier this month, a riot of noise in a packed Market Bar, sounds it too. But Grant never actually wanted to be the new Kurt Cobain. If anything, he'd rather have been the new Elliott Smith.

The influence of his "favourite songwriter" is all over Algernon Doll's 2012 debut, Camomile. On the surface, it's nothing like its two follow-ups, more woozily acoustic and confessional.

"I did the first album for fun," he admits. "Well, I do them all for fun, but I didn't want to put that one out. I sent it to a couple of people, and they were so into it… although I thought that was really weird. All I'd ever done before that was hardcore punk, and I was kind of bored with that.

"Then I made the second one [Citalo-pop], and it's pretty much acoustic songs that we tried with distortion, and it worked. This new one's got more dynamics, I think, because we definitely set out to make a band record."

I agree with Grant's description of the development of his music: he writes at first as a singer-songwriter then layers up each song with feedback, multiple guitars and other instruments. That's why, I reckon, there's a better melodic core to his music than on many of those original grunge records, which were all about the style but rarely about the tune. Omphalic boasts plenty of potential singles, notably Spilt Milk Perfume and Sweet Nothing. However, I do take issue with his description of doing Camomile "for fun". It's a serious album about serious things.

"It made me feel better," he acknowledges. "I was really sad then and I'm not so sad any more. I had undiagnosed bipolar stuff going on. I realise now it's more of a physical thing rather than me just being miserable. At that point I thought I was just a miserable guy. Now … I don't feel sorry for myself any more."

He laughs modestly when he says this, but there was a tragedy underpinning the emotion of the album. "When I was 17, two of my friends died in the river," he explains. "I'm originally from Perth, and they both died, fell into the river and drowned. So I've been writing about that for three albums. A lot of water things. And that brought on why I got really upset. But I can look back on it a lot clearer now."

Grant has definitely moved on as a writer - the evidence of that is all over Omphalic - and as a performer. Previously, the adrenaline rush of playing live would mess up his mental state and cause panic attacks; now he is relishing a run of bookings that last month saw Algernon Doll open the BBC Introducing Stage at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Glasgow. The band (supplemented live by bass player Wull Swales and drummer Owen Wickstead) have just begun a UK tour, while the Wickerman Festival beckons at the end of next month before their first-ever European dates begin in September and October.

After that, it'll be straight into recording album number four, this time with the band rather than solely Grant and his drummer friend Tom Mitchell, as on Omphalic. The big news is that he's lined up the legendary Steve Albini of Big Black and Shellac to record it in Chicago (it should be noted that Omphalic was mastered by Albini's Shellac bandmate, Bob Weston). How does someone who's still unsigned make such connections?

"With Bob, it was just email conversations," Grant says, matter-of-fact. "I've never met him. I could have flown across to Chicago but I don't have the money. With Steve, we'll do it in a shorter time than a label band would do, but he's not unreasonable. I think it's going to cost something like £2500 to record an album, which is pretty good - more than we'd normally pay - but we'll fund it somehow."

It's 2014, and Nirvana albums are released as limited edition box sets while Soundgarden's Chris Cornell has sung a James Bond theme song. But, somewhere in Scotland, someone has just heard Algernon Doll for the first time…

Omphalic is released tomorrow via Struggletown Records; go to algernondoll.bandcamp.com. For Algernon Doll's Scottish live dates, including Harley's Bar, Ayr on July 2 and Opium, Edinburgh on July 3, see www.facebook.com/AlgernonDoll/

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