Interview: Gengahr give it 100 percent
London-based fourpiece Gengahr have just dropped their debut longplayer and are set to make their debut appearance in Australia. We spoke to frontman Felix Bushe about the industry, their album and about cuddling koalas:
Hi Felix, Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us at Something You Said. You guys all met at school and have been playing in a mix of bands until forming Gengahr. It must feel surreal at times as you are touring the world whilst your old school mates are working their 9 to 5’s?
Yeah, I mean when we first started out everyone had the same kind of goal, but we’ve had a quite a few of friends do things and be fairly successful long before we got in a position to be playing festivals and the kind of shows we are doing now. It is surreal for us because it took us so long to get to where we are that it feels really special for us this time round. At the same time a lot of our friends are really happy for us as they have already had elements of success along the way so they understand what it’s like as well.
Having friends in the music community, have you been able to learn from their mistakes or have they been able to help you as a band?
I think so. One of the advantages of being 25 now and being around for a while now, I have been through some of the trials and tribulations you get with the music industry. We have been through management companies and trying to get signed by record labels. You sometimes kind of get spat out and chewed up a little bit but with the insight I’ve had through other friends who have been touring and who have been signed and put records out, you do sort of learn from that. It has made us slightly cautious and shrewd about how we have gone about things and have tried to make decisions that will benefit us in the long run and not try and rush anything or put anything out to quickly without trying to gain some steady momentum. We are looking for longevity and making records for as long as we can and not disrupt the balance we have at the moment. I think we have our collective heads screwed on now. Some of our friends’ bands have done well and some have broken up for what now seems like really silly reasons. Other bands have gone on and had really steady careers and they are still going strong, so you would be silly not to look at what other people are doing and try learn from it.
You need a strong vision to make it in the industry for such a long time, is there something of a mission statement for Gengahr and how you have sustained the band?
Our work ethic has been what has given us the slight edge because we don’t really mess around anymore. When we are not touring or playing we are straight back in the rehearsal room working on new material or making sure the next show we are playing will be as good as it can be. For us it is all about the music and trying to create the best kind of songs we can put together. Our mindset and our goals are always revolving around that finished product. We take on a lot of responsibility ourselves, which is a good thing, but it can be a hindrance as well because we don’t quite know what to give other people to do at the moment because we are quite controlling and know just what we want and have such a clear vision that we want to do everything ourselves. Perhaps that is the next thing to learn and see what we can divvy out to make our lives easier but for the time being we pretty much have a strangled hold on what we are doing and clued up as to how it should be.
You have put up a lot of your work on Soundcloud, does such a platform give you greater musical freedom than perhaps the constraints of being signed up to a major label and having certain expectations placed upon you?
Yeah, well Soundcloud was initially how we were discovered because we put five demos on there and got a really good response. The reaction was really nice and we didn’t expect that, we didn’t kind of have any commercial motives. We all had jobs at the time and we just put them up there. We weren’t playing any shows, we just had these songs so we wrote and recorded them in a day and from that it just had a kind of snowball effect with record labels wanting to get involved and talk with us. We ended up having meetings over Christmas and talking with labels and thinking ‘this is pretty intense stuff’. Pretty early on we decided we didn’t want to get involved with major labels at this stage in our career, it didn’t seem like a clever thing to do. We were all really happy with how we were working and knew to make a record we would need to take some pressure off ourselves to have some time and breathing space would be the right thing to do. We were fortunate in the end that we had some really nice independent labels, as well as some of the larger ones, who wanted to get in touch and work with us. For us it wasn’t really a hard decision as to who the best fit was and what was good for us as a band. We were fortunate to have those options and not just take whatever we were given.
The reaction to your debut album A Dream Outside has been huge and must be flattering to receive high praise from the likes the prestigious NME?
Yeah, I think you tell yourself initially when you are making a record that you are not going to concern yourself with what people think about it, you’re ultimately making it for yourself but it’s obviously nicer to hear positive feedback than negative stuff. I think it’s kind of funny now because when you get send through something and someone doesn’t like it you shouldn’t care because music isn’t for everyone, but it does hit you slightly and you think, ‘oh man why don’t you like it?’ We’ve been very fortunate with the response we’ve had. It’s amazing that people like it and it’s a great feeling.
How has your full length LP evolved from your earlier recordings?
We tried our best to keep them within the same kind of realm, we didn’t want to flesh things out too much and start chucking in keyboards and start overproducing it, because it should be all about what we are now as a band, as we wrote the songs, as we played the songs. It’s tempting to get in there and overproduce something and to try and make it sound as big and fat as possible but at the same time we wanted the first record to represent some of the fragility and kind of naivety of a band in its first years. I think there is something really beautiful about that and shouldn’t be lost in the record. We just tried to make it capture that snapshot in time of where we are at within that first year/year-and-a-half and I think it does it really well.
Where was the subject matter for these tracks largely derived from?
Most of it I have tried to make as magical and mystical as possible but, with every good song, it has to start from some real emotion. Because if it’s purely fictitious it will be slightly transparent. There is a whole mixture of stuff in there but it’s some classic stuff you would expect from a mid-20’s, male things you go through but hopefully there is an element of fantasy in there and some interesting narratives in there for everyone to pick apart as well.
You have some very slick video clips, is this someone you had a direct hand in or a case of getting your ideas across to a director who could turn your concepts into a reality?
Yeah, I storyboard it all with Dan the drummer. The way I work and the way I write is generally to have a very clear idea of how the story starts and ends. I am really into the idea of trying to tell stories and I think that is an art form I really enjoy and a craft I want to get better at as I go along. For me when it comes to making videos I always have a really clear idea of where I want to go with them and how I want them to look and then it is more so working within the realms of budgeting, how much we can afford and how elaborate things are and refining them or altering them slightly so it has the same impact and message so it’s feasible to make.
I’ve worked with a couple of different directors now and it’s always been a good experience. We always have a lot of fun making the videos. It’s a case, as you say, of trying to find someone who can follow that kind of direction. It’s tough for us as most directors want to do their own thing so being told by us who don’t have the same experience or knowledge of the technicalities of making it, it is probably frustrating for them but we have had some very patient directors working on our videos and they have always been fun.
Something I like to ask everyone I interview is, what does music give you that nothing else does?
Freedom to do whatever you want really. It’s like the best kind of escapism. There are no real restrictions with music, you add all those yourself.
You will be touring Australia in July, it must be humbling to be offered a slot on a festival bill such as Splendour In The Grass?
None of us have been to Australia so it’s going to be a really special trip for us. We wanted to get out there from the off really. We had initial support on Australian radio before we had it in the UK, so it’s been on the radar for some time but obviously it’s an expensive trip so we have had to bide our time till it was feasible, but we are really excited to come out there. Ideally we would like to be playing more shows, unfortunately we will only be doing the three so we’ll be back as soon as possible really.
How do you prepare for a festival spot, do you have a pre-show/pre-festival rituals?
Not really, actually our 2 shows are after the festival this time which is unusual. Normally we do some warm up shows so you don’t go into bat cold as it were. Normally you just get into the swing of these things. It’s nice when you have your slot early in the day because you get to enjoy the festival. If you are playing later on, you are at the festival watching other bands and are inhibited by those nerves knowing you have to play later on, so it’s quite nice when you have the early afternoon slots so you can just rock up, get ready, play and then you have the rest of the day to enjoy the festival… but I’m not complaining about being higher up the bill.
Do you find touring to be inspirational whereby it helps you write and create more material or are you so focused on the task at hand that writing and creating new material takes a back seat?
I think it does, I try and write when I am in hotel rooms and stuff although it’s not the best creative space to be in. Thankfully we always find time when we get back home and work on stuff. I think most of the writing happens when we are in our rest place after the touring is over. Normally there is a lot pressure surrounding the tour and you want to make sure you get that right and give it 100 percent.
What do you bring to your on stage shows that you have learnt from being fans and going to shows yourselves?
Just trying to play the songs the best you can and create an intimate scenario as possible. I think the best guys can make an arena seem like an intimate show and that is a sign of a band who know what they are doing and have that stage craft to make everything seem intimate and personal. I guess that is what we aim to do and we still have a hell of a lot of shows to play and have a lot to learn but that’s the goal, to make every show seem personal to each person who is watching.
What will you be doing in your downtime on your first trip to Australia?
I hope to do some of the touristy things that you would probably cringe at like spot some sharks and hold a koala bear. We have pretty dull wildlife here in the UK, so I want to get out there and see some of the more crazy stuff on the planet which you guys are lucky enough to have.
The band’s debut album is out now. You can get it here. They are currently on a European tour and will be heading to Australia in July to play Splendour and a couple of FREE shows in Melbourne and Sydney. For full tour dates, go to Facebook.
Interview by Courtney Dabb.