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May 3, 2010 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Graceful Gilmour

In the seven years since the release of his DIY debut, Grayson Gilmour has firmly established himself as a leading light in New Zealand’s underground music scene. He has released four albums, an EP, and has been one quarter of Wellington’s peerless synth-punk powerhouse, So So Modern. Flying Nun has just announced that his fifth LP, No Constellation, will be their first release since their re-acquisition by its original owner, Roger Shepherd.

If that doesn’t deserve some press then we don’t know what does, so Salient sent Kim Wheatley on a mission to track down the famously hermetic musician and procure the low-down on the Flying Nun alliance, a recent mix up in the Dom Post, and on the rumoured So So Modern break-up(!).

I met up with Grayson in the back room at Olive, where he explained the intricacies of a little bit of a press mix-up.

Turns out a recent Dominion Post article on Grayson was published over a week early, messing up the press schedule for his new album, and forcing the crew at Flying Nun into a scramble to bring its promotion forward. To compound matters, The Dom Post misquoted him in their article, creating the impression that Grayson didn’t know who Flying Nun’s owner, Roger Shepherd was.

We laugh about this, and I assure Grayson that I’ll do my darndest not to misquote him, while also promising to use the images Flying Nun provided Salient with in their press kit (The Dom Post used a six-year-old press photo for their piece instead). Once all this has been cleared up, I ask Grayson if he can explain the backstory to signing with Flying Nun.

“It started about two years ago, just in little drips and drabs. My friend suggested I meet up with Roger, and then [flatmate and former VBC head-honcho] Matthew Davis [ended up] taking on a bit of a role within Roger’s working circle of friends. It was kind of an uncanny development, and it makes for funny living arrangements now.”

Intrigued, I ask how far in advance Grayson knew about the iconic label’s potential rebirth, and if he had recorded the album in the knowledge of it being released on Flying Nun. 
“The initial [expression of interest by Flying Nun] was in the loop about a year ago. And then I started recording [No Constellation] itself in about May last year, and I finished it in about July. It’s been a long wait to release this album!”

So why didn’t No Constellation come out sooner then?

“Well, it wasn’t set in stone at the time, but after hearing it a few months later they were like, well, we’re going to come back, and we’re keen to work with the album, let’s see how things go and we’ll try and have it out before the end of [2009].”

Unfortunately, the re-purchase of Flying Nun was held up, and Shepherd was forced to find new backers, a delay which had knock-on effects for the release of Grayson’s fifth LP.

“It was definitely weird [sitting on the album]. My subconscious was thinking ‘Maybe the album’s already been released, and that maybe no one liked it, which is why nobody’s said anything about it yet!’ … It’s definitely been a wait, but at least it wasn’t fatal or anything.”

I asked Grayson about the possibilities for international distribution through Flying Nun, and whether the label will be able to draw on its considerable reputation to get albums like his out beyond New Zealand’s shores.

“Because all of those relationships have been reformed we’re now in the process of finding out who we’re going to go with in the United States and in the UK. At the moment New Zealand is confirmed, Australia is confirmed, Japan is in the works, America is almost confirmed and Flying Nun and I are comparing forces for Europe because I’ve got a lot of friends over there through the connections So So Modern has made, so we’re trying to set up a complete network.”

Exciting times ahead. But Grayson is careful to stress that the new international outlook won’t fully compromise his DIY aesthetic or work ethic.

“One of the reasons why I went with Flying Nun was because they had the same approach or attitude to the music industry [as me]. You share the load, and you all know what’s involved. It isn’t like [adopts a faux-serious voice] ‘Oh, we can’t have the artist understand management!’ The music industry is a weird industry, but it’s not that hard to grasp.”

Case in point is the album’s cover, which Grayson explains is a photocopied scan of an image he found in an old Time magazine in his teens, and which he’d re-discovered on his hard-drive while trying to come up with a new cover. “I guess it has a zine-ish feel. You can even see the trim of the photocopier.” Grayson also assures me that he will continue to provide a DIY lyrics zine (as he has for prior releases) to those who want to purchase something with a little bit more of a personal touch. “It’s just a nice addition… and it’s still applicable for this release.”

As for the sound of No Constellation, Grayson explains that he’s careful to avoid pigeonholing himself. Although the album features a return to his piano-driven sound (which he left behind on his previous release, the largely acoustic Chapters EP) Grayson explains that some of his self-imposed limitations have ensured that there will be some degree of progression from its predecessors. For instance, the recording of No Constellation was the first time Grayson had recorded an album himself. In addition, So So Modern’s intensive touring scheduling ended up impacting on the album’s writing process.

“The way I wrote No Constellation was to start on one instrument and then transmogrify into another. I’d start writing on a guitar and then [when I went to record the part] I’d switch to another instrument… Quite a few of them started as ideas on the guitar because I was on tour and obviously wasn’t able to lug a piano around.”

Finally, I turn to a question which I’m slightly nervous to ask Grayson about: the small matter of the rumoured So So Modern breakup. I needn’t have worried though, as Grayson was happy to clarify matters.

“So So Modern is pretty much on a life sabbatical at this moment. The band has been playing shows for five years now, and we’ve done a hell of a lot. Especially in the last year with the band having to do things as a three piece [while fourth member Aiden Leong completed a medical internship]… I guess all the signs just point to: hey, let’s just have some fun. And this was probably the right time to take some time off. We’re all going to jump into our respective corners of the world in the following months… So we aren’t even going to be in the same country.”

But are they ruling out a reunion in the future?

“It’s hard to say whether something will happen again, or in what sort of capacity, but it’s not off the cards either.”

Grayson Gilmour is playing at Bodega on Saturday 8 May with Seth Frightening and Secret Knives opening. Tickets are $10 on the door or $25 for a ticket and a copy of No Constellation.


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