Gengahr - live@Maze Club Berlin

Gengahr – Getting rid of unnecessary parts – An interview

It was quite a mild but wet Thursday in February, when I met Felix and Hugh of Gengahr two days ago in Berlin Maze Club to have that interview with these two of one of currently best British Indie-keeping bands. In a very rough surrounding of Maze Club we talked about the influences of Jack Steadman. About handling expectations so as pressure and about their mixture of various numbers of genres.

 

 

 

SOML:
The first time I saw you was at the MELT Festival in mid-July 2015. That was around four weeks after releasing your debut album A Dream Outside. You played the Mainstage, with around 100 people in front of you and it was raining. Can you remember how it felt to be in that early phase of the band playing on that big stage?

Hugh:
Yeah, that was a strange show for us. That was probably the biggest stage we’ve played on at that stage of our career. And it was the festival with the fewest people we’ve played on a festival. So, it was a wash out. Everyone was hiding in their tents. And they filmed it and put it on TV which was actually good. But I think we were still loving life back then as we are now and it was a beautiful festival to play and an amazing surrounding. So, love to come back again and do it properly when it’s not pissing down.

Felix:
You summarized that one quite perfectly, really. It was a disappointing opportunity we were very excited about. But sadly sometimes the reality is just not quite what you had envisaged. But yeah, by nothing other than unfortunate weather circumstances.

 

 

SOML:
You guys started your music career in 2014 and 2015 where Indie based music was nearly dead. Especially in the UK and then Haydon Spenceley of the Clash Magazine just called you the saviors of British guitar music. So what interests me is: who has influenced you and where does your interest in guitar music come from?

Felix:
I think with guitar music influences, something that starts very early. We all have kind of similar backgrounds in music when it comes to our parents, I think. They were all that sort of children of the kind of prime time for British guitar music. You know The Stones and the Beatles. So, the hype of their kind have influenced us. And I think we all grew up on the background of listening to that. And lots of other folk music like John Martin, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell. And I feel like that is sort of somewhere the heart of the music we write were those influences still there. And we kind of expand of ourselves growing up, becoming teenagers. Start to listen to things like Nirvana and heavier guitar music where the guitar is less of a kind of a companying instrument and becomes a lot more the lead. So, there is also a kind of that throwing in. I think there was a lot of time obsessing and listening to bands like Smashing Pumpkins and with those guys in particular you can see the guitar is really a very direct lead instrument which I think is less obvious in a lot of the 60’s and 70’s music we like. 

 

Gengahr - live@Maze Club Berlin

Gengahr – live@Maze Club Berlin

SOML:
But you’re not all indie. You’ve started with a mixture of Psychedelic Rock, Indie and an atmospheric singing part. If we listen to your new album Sanctuary, there is still Indie and a few parts of that atmospheric singing. But also huge differences between the songs. Everything and More still has that psychedelic rock feeling, whereas songs like Anime, Icarus and Atlas Please are more Pop influenced and Heavenly Maybe or Soaking In Formula is even going to a Disco direction. What was your intention behind this diversity of sound?

Hugh:
I think we’ve always had aspects of those different genres in our music – in the other two albums. But they weren’t ever produced in a way to draw them out. So, I think with the recent album Sanctuary we made an effort to retain the early direction of the songs and pushed them further. I think we’re trying to make our album as diverse as possible without being too confused – I hope.

Felix:
I think a lot of it comes as well through the way this record was made. On previous albums you go into the studio, you set up the drums, you kinda have that sound of the room when you’re recording things. Despite what the genre the songs might be – there’ll always be that sort of continuous thread where the sound is quite similar. The way we made this record, a lot of time it was written and recorded within peoples’ bedrooms and stuff. So, it didn’t have that sort of linear production sound across the record. So, every song is kind of allowed to be itself a little bit more than perhaps it would had been if we recorded it in a more traditional fashion. 

 

 

SOML:
Also your songwriting has evolved during your band presence. Compared to the early time how does it feel today to write music and what does it mean to you?

Felix:
I think, naturally you always wanna feel as though you’re getting better. What I  certainly feel is though there is always so much to learn. Whenever you make an album you come out the other end a little wiser. With a few more tricks obviously, I think. The whole process of being in a band is one of growth and evolution. We’re always trying to do better what we’ve done before and try to make an album that you can be really, really proud of. 

Hugh:
Yeah, I think you can’t do the same thing twice. You try not to but it might come out similar. We always trying to do something different every album.

 

Gengahr - live@Maze Club Berlin

Gengahr – live@Maze Club Berlin

SOML:
Some songs are surprisingly direct and some others are more vague. You as a British band but also as every single band mate has experienced some challenging time in the past. How do personal or external experiences affect your songs?

Hugh:
Well, personal and external experiences, especially heavily emotional charged ones, naturally seek into ones composing. Whether that would be with lyrics or just tone and vibe of specific notes or chord productions. I think, we all had our ups and downs and I think they all help to the creative melting pot.

Felix:
I think you know I’ve to got to harness those emotions and try to turn it into something positive, I think. Some of the most amazing music is also the most heartbreaking. And I think there is a reason for that. The way a listener can connect and relate is something very powerful. Very different styles of music and of course with big, big pop tunes often there isn’t that connection but it still works for whatever of reason. But the sort of real pinnacle of great songwriting is when you have some which works on both levels: where it can kind of connect musically and emotionally. And that’s when you’re onto  a real winner. 

 

 

SOML:
In an interview you, Felix, described that – in some time – you wanted to put  all the songs you wrote on a solo record. What made you decide to not do this and instead make a new Gengahr record out of this?

Felix:
I’m not so tried to put all the songs onto a solo record. But when we finished working on Where Wildness Grows, I was already writing a lot of in the kind of headset to write and continue working. And we were all a little bit tired and fatigued at that point and I can sort of envisage perhaps the potential that certain band members wouldn’t really necessarily want to be a part of this next record. Or perhaps maybe they had enough and I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t right in that aspect. It did sort of take a few of us longer to kinda get back on board and get their head in the game than others. But we all kinda got there in the end. There was certainly a period where things were slightly more lonesome and less collaborative than they were at the end. 

 

Gengahr - live@Maze Club Berlin

Gengahr – live@Maze Club Berlin

SOML:
Your record label Liberator Music is home for independent bands and artists like Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and RY X but also for big players like Kylie Minogue, CHVRCHES and alt-j. How do you position yourself in that surrounding? And talking about the future. Do you see a possibility to collaborate with one of these artists in future?

Hugh:
Yeah, never say never. Kylie Minogue can always do some back vocals on our tracks if she shows her pleases. We’ve signed to Liberator Music from the start. They’d been our Australian label before we were singed in the UK. And we made the decision with them to do a world wide release. We are really happy with that decision. They’ve been great, very supportive in all different realms. It’s a massive label in Australia and they’re making inroads in the rest of the world. So, it’s exciting to be part of their bigger plans and project. 

Felix:
Yeah, their new horizons. We’re the center of the new horizon. 

 

 

SOML:
You recently collaborated with Bombay Bicycle Clubs lead singer Jack Steadman. He produced Sanctuary. How did you get in contact with him?

Felix:
So, Jack is kind of an old friend of ours, really. Hugh and I both went to sixth form Collage. So, we met Ed, who’s the bass player in Bombay Bicycle Club and we were in the same music class. Music technology class, to be precise. And then we met Jack through going to kind of house parties. So, we met Jack when we were 17 or 18 years old and hadn’t seen a lot of each other, to be honest. We bumped into each other at a few festivals over the years. And we were talking about doing a one-off single. We wanted it to be kind of different I guess to what we’ve done before and find somebody to come on board who’d add something we didn’t perhaps already have within the four of us. So, the selection of Jack was quite an astute one in that sense. He isn’t just a great producer. Having another songwriter in the room I think helps push everybody to just try up their game a bit. You wanna make sure that you’re giving your best self in those circumstances. It doesn’t afford you the ability to sort of like rest on your laurels. It creates a really  a positively charged atmosphere when you have someone that you respect, not just as a producer but also as the writer in the room. After doing that stand-alone single we had a discussion about recording an album. And thankfully everyone was really excited about doing that. And here we are now.

Hugh:
Yeah, it’s a nice combination of old and new with Jack cause we have this familiarity with him because we go so far back. But also pushing ourselves, as Felix said, we never really had a proper producer in the room with us when we were working on records. It was a nice combination. 

 

 

SOML:
As a Bombay Bicycle Club listener I can hear in many songs the vibe of Jacks music. Was that turn in your music planned and what was different in working with Jack compared to your previous records?

Felix:
I think Jack has some very distinctive kind of patterns of play. He has created his own role in our band very efficiently. He’s very good in finding the right place to position himself. I think he never feels as though he was encroaching or in sort of writing any of the songs. But also it’s very astute when it comes to putting together and enhancing the arrangements. A lot the more loopy delayed stuff was come about through Jack I think more than anything. Those kinda little quirks that he does use in a lot of Bombay Bicycle Club stuff. We found to be quite effective tools in sort of spoosing up some of our arrangements as well I think. 

Hugh:
Yeah, cutting the crap. Getting rid off lots of unnecessary parts in arrangements that are not adding to the overall.

Felix:
I think, it’s probably the biggest strength he has, if we had to pick one, it would  probably is his sense of within the arrangements, I think. He’s got a very good ear for what should be in there and what isn’t necessary, I think.

 

Gengahr - live@Maze Club Berlin

Gengahr – live@Maze Club Berlin

SOML:
You’ve filmed the music video of Heavenly Maybe in Berlin? How come and what’s your relationship to Berlin?

Hugh:
We love Berlin. We’ve played many times over the years. We also visited just for holidays. We wanted to do it definitely not in the UK. Somewhere in Europe. And given we have quite a strong connection with Berlin, we thought that we would come here. We have friends here that were gonna help us out shooting the video. So it made sense, really. For Heavenly Maybe, the song is actually kinda disco song. So filming it in a discotheque made a lot of sense too. It’s all about partying to avoid or suppress your problems. And I think a lot of people come to Berlin to do that. So, we thought that would the right thing to do.

 

 

SOML:
Many bands having pressure by setting goals or being confronted with high expectations and failing. How do you work with expectations? That is: in your music, in your success or expectations with personal goals?

Felix:
It is a challenging predicament to find yourself in. I think of everybody will  probably feel very similar. Whether you’re sort of Ed Sheeran, whether you’re a band like us who are on their third album and still working tirelessly and touring as much as possible whilst juggling the rest of our lives. You always wanna feel is that you moving forward. We have our own personal expectations. We demand a lot of ourselves. But I think it’s important often to try and step back and have a look of the bigger picture. You know, you often gotta kinda say to yourself. Would your younger self be happy with where you are now. And I think often, we’re thankful enough to say Yes is the answer. We kinda have done a pretty good job. I think there is no harm in hoping for more and wishing for more.

Hugh:
Yeah, it’s a tricky one with expectations. Also for me personally. I think lowering expectations is always quite useful in all works of life. It can create mental health pressures by giving yourself to too high expectations. But it’s about finding the balance and wanting to progress and carry on doing what you doing in various ways. But without being hung up on specifics. 

Felix:
Don’t beat yourself up

Hugh:
Self compassion

Felix:
But also work pretty hard. (laughing)

 

 

 

 

Interview: Marten Zube