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October 16, 2017 | by  | in Music | [ssba]

Interview with Grayson Gilmour

Grayson Gilmour released his album Otherness in July this year, his third to come out on Flying Nun but the latest in a much larger string of solo releases, soundtrack work, and band projects. Grayson has carved out his own sonic niche, creating an incredibly intricate and original sound that makes genre comparisons quite tricky. We caught up with Grayson to chat about the album, his upcoming shows at Bats, and the significance of this musical chapter in his life.


Going into Otherness, what was different about this record? What kind of stuff did you want to explore?

One of the main differences in this record is that I opened up the arrangements to include a lot of people in them. The string quartet is something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time or the resources. Or maybe I just hadn’t trusted myself to work in that scope in the past. My solo stuff has been more of an isolated creative zone. I had bands and other people to work with in the past; maybe I enjoyed that kind of seclusion, but now that my own music is the forefront of what I do, I like having that collaborative aspect. I was also just trying to whittle down my influences and what I was trying to make sound world wise — if that makes any sense.


One thing I have often heard you talk about is the way you tinker with your tracks and the role music gear and experimentation plays in this.

I’m kind of into gear but I would probably not acknowledge that. I’m definitely not a gear enthusiast, but I think that it’s about having the right tools, like an artist has the right paints to paint a picture. A lot of the textures and sounds I like to work with generally come from experiments and improvising and curiosity. I might have a whole room full of instruments, but I can’t really proficiently play anything other than the guitar and the piano. Everything else, I’m just winging it, but that’s the excitement for me.


I’ve heard you say you spend a lot of time on your songs, and the complexity of the arrangements and the layering of sounds seems to reflect this. What’s the process of creating a track like this?

A lot of the songs on Otherness were written since the last album, but they went through many many different forms in the process. I actually just stumbled across an old folder of all my previous mixes for this record. It was crazy listening back to some of the first sketches that I did. A song like “Blowback” used to be double time. It had a completely different beat — it was real afrobeaty. I love afrobeat and I was just playing around with that kind of pace. But I thought “this is really convoluted,” so I just stripped it out completely and made it a half time beat on the back foot the whole way. And it worked, but I really loved the old version.


How do you know when to stop working on a track?

It’s hard to say. When an idea clicks it takes its own shape eventually. But I am probably the worst person for tinkering and changing, which is why I always end up finishing a record with someone else. I get an album to a point where I’ve explored all that I need to explore right now, and then I give it to someone else to open areas to it. Which in turn makes me be like, “oh that’s terrible, this is great.” That’s the most fun part actually.


Do you ever find yourself wanting to step away from the more ambient stuff and do something a little more aesthetically traditional or stripped back?

I’ve enjoyed doing that in the past; I’ve gone and done some acoustic stuff or written music which is for a purpose. I think I get closure on that side of things with the film work. That’s really satisfying in a way, because a lot of writing music on your own steam comes down to a lot of grey area. It is whatever you’re making that into. With film and writing music for other people, it’s very matter of fact — it either works or it doesn’t and that is a bit more black and white as a creative process. I think I like the idea of my own musical world being quite complicated, for want of a better word. There’s a little thing on Kamasi Washington on Pitchfork at the moment and the last paragraph of that interview is just gold. It’s basically like, finding what that music is is a painful process but it comes with the biggest payoff.


Do you find working on the film stuff impacts the way you write for yourself?

I think as a result of the film stuff I’m really sensitive to some of the more subconscious reactions to music that people have; a certain tone or a certain chord progression can invoke a certain response. The more attuned you are to that, the more you start thinking about how people are going to be affected by this piece of music, what it will do to them. Not that I want to be like sonically manipulative or anything, but it’s a big part of film music.


I’ve always wondered what kind of influences you have. Obviously there’s a lot of ambient stuff going on, but then underneath that aesthetic you’ve got these really solid four minute pop songs.

I can’t really think of any artists that you could draw a direct correlation with, which is quite funny because I’m like, “why do I end up making this music?” Is there something inherently about writing music in a pop context that makes those influences take form in such a way? Because a lot of the music I listen to is ambient stuff, electronic music, afrobeat. I do take note of the artists and the sounds I’m engaging with while I’m putting a record together. Maybe some of the bigger influences on this record would be someone like Tim Hecker, or John Hopkins, or Caribou, but equally all kinds of other, more abstract noise and stuff like that.

When I’ve seen you live I’m always a little bit surprised by the way your songs translate into a real shoegaze, alt-rock sort of thing.

Definitely, I love a good dose of shoegaze, and like the Sonic Youth wall of noise. I guess what I like about those bands and those sounds is that it’s all very guitar-centric, but it’s abstracted in a way that I get something different out of it. I really like how My Bloody Valentine just warbles, and it’s going out of tune, it’s this seemingly oppressive wall of noise, but it’s actually transcendental and just floats. It’s beautiful. I think what I enjoy about the guitar is trying to get all kinds of different sounds out of it. It occurred to me that I barely played any chords outright on the whole album. There’s maybe two songs on the whole album where I wasn’t volume swelling or doing looped textural stuff. Refining the way that I’m playing an instrument like that on an album I think is quite an interesting thing to take in.


When you’re writing your lyrics, do you think about them as part of the complex textural arrangement, or as a separate kind of thing altogether?

They evolve along the way but it’s funny, they come together once the track has found its feet. It’s very rare that I’d ever start a song just with lyrics. A lot of my songwriting consists of gradually stitching together ideas and growing them together. Likewise, with my lyrics, I might just write down a few lines at a time and they might join up with other lines that have a similar sentiment, and eventually those rhythms just interlock with certain songs. I hate to use the term “organic” but it all just comes together like that. When it gets to the end of recording a song I’m always quite terrified by how the lyrics will probably be the first and foremost thing that people engage with — that’s just the nature of singing and language — which is why I quite like putting out instrumental versions and other versions to show off the songs.


I just saw a new seven track instrumental album as part of a Red Bull release that just came out; what’s the deal with that?

That’s the first volume of the Red Bull Library music series. They wanted a real fast turnaround, and I did 15 two minute tracks in 15 days. It was under quite a lot of time restriction, and that was self-imposed because I had to meet a deadline and I was going overseas. So I was like, “cool, I’ve got three weeks, I’ll do Monday to Friday, fifteen days, fifteen two minute tracks. Write each track in the morning, record it during the day, and mix it at night time.” It was full on but it was cool, it really stretched my process and that’s what I kind of wanted to do it for as well.


Infinite Life! got a remix album, is that going to happen with Otherness?

There are a couple of remixes that are currently both on the Japanese version of the CD. Silicon did a remix, it’s awesome, there’s a label over in Canada that’s going to be pressing it on a seven inch. He did “Artery” so we’ll be pressing “Artery” from the album, and then the remix as the B side. It’s so cool, Kody [Nielson] basically sped it up double time and turned it into a funky Silicon track. I love it. I’ve always had a bit of a joke that if you speed up my songs and put a good beat behind them you could pretty much dance to them all. They have an inherent poppy, dancey sensibility, but I just tend to play things real slow. So it’s like, case in point, look at it, it can be done! Also Cory [Champion], Borrowed cs, who played drums on the record, did a remix of “Blowback”. That’s more of his housey psychedelic stuff.


What was the reason behind doing these special shows at Bats?

I’m probably more interested in doing different things when I perform now, which is why I’ve booked these shows at Bats and why I’ve just been playing art galleries lately. I still have the band thing ready to go for gigs that need to be short, have impact, and be loud. But I guess my curiosity lies in things I haven’t done before or in challenging myself. The shows at Bats will be with the string quartet, there’s going to be a vibraphone player, and my mate Aidan from So So Modern doing synth bass. It won’t have the volume in that respect, it won’t be “rock” — rock is a word I’m so cautious off which is probably why I don’t end up strumming my guitar or doing anything inherently masculine with it nowadays. I’m doing more of an ensemble, more of a chamber thing. It’s just another way to try and engage with people differently and engage with my music. Ultimately, the long game might be that I can combine those two: the band and the chamber thing. The original idea was to try and get a ten piece band. The drums, the bass, the quartet, everything. But it wasn’t feasible to do that at Bats.


What’s the future looking like for you and your music?

I get really really excited about closing a musical chapter. Finishing this concert and getting these videos cut, the recordings out, that 7 inch out, the remixes. As soon as I’ve put all my cards on the table and this album has done its thing, I’m looking forward to that so much. Otherness is like a fully realised version of me in the realm of being a songwriter. Where I’m excited about exploring next is territory totally outside of that. What that is yet, I don’t really know. Definitely more electronic-centric or pushing out with my arrangements with string quartets and performance. Maybe not necessarily needing things to be song based or lyrically based. There will definitely be a lot more music in the future. I don’t necessarily know if it will be under my own name or if it might be under a different project altogether. Band stuff will probably always be on indefinite hiatus with So So Modern. There’s heaps of unfinished stuff there and who knows what might happen with those guys in the future. It’s hard to say. I’ve been talking to a few other people about starting some bands, but that’s very much a 2018 kind of thing. It’s such an open canvas for me post this record that I can’t wait. 2018 is going to be so fun.


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