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Interview
Grayson Gilmour

Grayson Gilmour

date
Monday 9th August, 2010 12:57PM

Grayson Gilmour has been a busy man in recent times. Gilmour’s band, the now potentially late So So Modern, have released their long awaited album, while Gilmour has also released his sixth solo album entitled No Constellation. The album is full of Gilmour trademarks – pianos, unconventional riffs, melodies which twist into something unexpected. However, the new album is a bit quieter too than many of his previous solo output – while Gilmour’s dense indie pop making excellent use of rhythmic percussion and harmonies. Gilmour has also signed up to Flying Nun version 2.0, the iconic Kiwi record label which has become independent once more under original founder Roger Shepherd.

It must have been pretty hectic these last two months?

Yeah it has been pretty hectic. Jumping from one release to another release. Both of them have been ready and waiting to be released since July, August last year. It’s a welcome busy period, but it has been busy.

Why the delay with the solo album? Sorting out the Flying Nun stuff?

Yeah, uncannily, having it released in May, means it has been about a year since the album was first recorded. The session started in May last year, and finished up around June, July. And then I organised its release in August last year, but it just took its time with all the legalities, the label getting set up again.

When did you find out about the Flying Nun deal?

It was kind of in the works – there was interest around this time last year about the album. I finished it, and we’ve just been in gradual talks ever since. Probably got to know Roger [Shepherd] and his crew a couple of years ago casually. We just talked it out and developed it.

It seems like your voice is more to the fore in the new album?

Yeah. I think it was a development of getting a bit older and getting less embarrassed by your voice. When I was a teenager, I guess you’re quite aware of how it sounds. You get a bit used to it, a bit more comfortable. You’re not embarrassed by it anymore. I think it comes with experience. On the other end of the scale with So So Modern, when the other guys sing, they have that reaction I used to have, ‘is that what I really sound like?’

I guess with So So you guys went the other way and had less singing

Less voice, more groove.

Still weird putting your voice out there?

A little. I know there are definitely two voices I have developed in the last year or two. There’s a solo voice and a So So voice. They are really quite separate. I’m not shy about it as much as I used to be.

Does this mean your lyrics are thought out more, or do you spend a bit more time on them?

Lyrics are really quite reflective of where you are, and what’s inspiring you, more so than thinking ‘I’m going to write poignant and inspiring lyrics to these songs’. To me, it’s about experiences and environments I’ve been in the last year. For So So, lyrical content has been about touring together.

You’ve recorded in disparate places, was it hard to unify as an album?

The piano and the drum parts were done live – at Mike Gibson’s studio. Everything else was recorded by me in my bedroom, my Mum’s house, and another studio in Palmy. I guess I was behind the record button the whole time, so the idea behind the recording was quite constant. Mike got the barebones of the album, and then I did all the layering and a month or two later he got them back and they had become these giant beasts. There’s a coherency to my ears.

The album seems a lot quieter than some of your other solo work

Yeah, yeah. That’s one thing I think about as a musician is putting rules you can’t break in order to find new territories, in order to progress and learn more about writing music and playing and whatnot. I started banning myself from particular chords and keys – it was like not playing in this key because you’ve got ten or so songs in that key. Likewise for recording with the band, or the band using distortion, or using piano. I like distorted bass or I like piano, but it’s what you need to do in order to progress. It’s one of the main things with this album, is just expanding on that.

Did you have many specific rules with this?

Not so many specific rules, just more a leaning towards things. I don’t want to feel too comfortable in my own sound. It might sound good on a piano or a guitar, but it might sound better on an orchestral xylophone or a glockenspiel, or some other instrument.

You show off a bit on the piano a bit more here as well.

It’s funny because a lot of the songs were written in a relatively new style that came about from being on tour with So So Modern. I didn’t have a specific time or place to sit down. What I was doing was done in small bursts, and then I’d put it on my i-Pod and listen to them when I had the space. A lot of the songs developed quite separately, I’d do the piano part and then the vocal part was done later when I was listening to my i-Pod. While the piano was there, the vocal lines were done down the track. When I played them live, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. When you’re writing on an instrument and singing at the same time, there’s some sort of mental connection between what you’re playing and the rhythms, you don’t think about it. These ones I’ve had to train myself. It’s an interesting way of writing songs but I think I’m not going to use that approach again.

Helpful?

Yeah, something to disconnect voice and hands. I think the vocal lines are quite different to what they would be if I had done it at the same time.

Bit of a glockenspiel and xylophone thing going there in the album?

I had a bit of a newfound love of tuned percussion. I’ve always wanted to be a drummer. When I go to see bands, I always find myself watching the drummer, and listening to the drums. I guess the closest extension from being a piano player to the drums is instruments like the vibraphone, marimbas, xylophones and glockenspiels. I was on Trademe a lot of the time looking for things to hit.

Why did Loose Change become the first single?

I guess it just came up as the album opener, and it’s a short song, it’s only two and a half minutes. It’s got a lot packed into it. It just worked as a first statement for a album. In a way, a lot of that stuff isn’t planned. In the past when I’ve done that stuff myself, I’ve just put the album out and I was like ‘I’m not going to tell you which songs to play’. Choose as many as you would like to play. I guess ‘Loose Change’ came about probably because Jesse [Taylor Smith] made it into a video on his own steam – I gave him the album.

I guess the single came out a while ago?

I sent out a “to be released in 2009 CD” out as a promo, three tracks, around the whole country. Only around 20 or 30. It’s only the first three songs – luckily I didn’t put out the whole album.

Obviously you’d have been aware of the history of Flying Nun, but were you much of a listener of the stuff?

Yeah, not a huge listener, but I certainly appreciated what they contributed towards New Zealand on an international scale. You bring up Flying Nun overseas, in Europe, the States, the UK, they certainly know about it. It’s a welcome opportunity to work with them. I’ve never actively sought label support, or signing anything like that – not because it’s not what I wanted, more it just wasn’t a pang or a desire. This just came about because of timing. It feels good to be with a label that views like me the way things are, and is putting out good music. I hope my music is good.

Could you have gone with Flying Nun if they were still owned by Warners?

Good question. I haven’t really considered that. A lot of effort has gone into reclaiming that independent state. I definitely admire that and I think that’s what I would prefer in a label. I have learnt a lot about labels overseas with So So Modern, I’ve learnt a few dos and don’ts with them, and transparency is the key. If the whole operation is transparent, like Flying Nun are, then that’s fine. But if they were still a Warners thing, then that would be different. I guess I’d put them under a lot more scrutiny than I did with Roger.

Was it tiring constantly having to self-release?

The only thing that was tiring is the idea of self-promotion. I got used to it, but that’s not to say I’m comfortable with it. To say, ‘here’s work that I’ve done, listen to it, tell me what you think, it’s what I’ve put my heart and soul in, in the last few months. I actually enjoy the personal nature of stuff – I like it when people get in touch, and deposit some money into my account, and I sent out my CD for half the price it goes out in shops. It’s a nice way of knowing your CD is going to sit in somebody’s collection and it’s going to mean something to them. That’s what I like about the whole Flying Nun thing – I’m still going to be able to do that, and I’m still going to be able to go with that whole personal touch thing.

I imagine you’ll get more distribution from this deal?

That’s definitely one of the pros that Australia is on the cards, Japan’s on the cards, the States are. I’ve got contacts in the UK and Europe from the tour. Obviously it’s not world domination, but it’s helping it get out there.

I guess it’s quite different to the stereotypical Flying Nun release. Was that ever a problem with Roger Shepherd?

No, and it’s a funny thing to contemplate. You’re in an interesting position because there are some people who are going to be ‘it’s not what my expectations of a Flying Nun record is going to be, I don’t know if I like it’, or people who are going to celebrate it because it’s not. I have been aware of the potential of ‘it’s not quite what I thought it would be’, but at the same time it feels weird saying this, but I guess Flying Nun are putting this out because it’s something they like, or they think it’s good.

Was it hard fitting this in with recording the So So Modern album?

Funnily enough, this album got recorded before So So Modern’s one and released after it. It’s just a juggling act I’ve had to do the last five years with the band. It doesn’t bother me at all, I’m still making music, I’m still interested in it. And it was never hard to do this, or vice versa. Now that So So’s on a break, it gives me free rein to do what I want. With this album, I don’t know, I’ve always had two projects on the go, and it has always been quite nice. After this solo tour and the release, I wonder what I should do afterwards.

With So So Modern on a break, would you spend more time focusing working on the solo stuff?

Because it has been such a long time since it has been recorded and now it has been released, I’ve got an EPs worth of stuff of recording. I might sit on it for a while before I go ahead and record and release it. But I’ve got this great desire to write a whole bunch of instrumental stuff, build a portfolio for film work, but having had the Siamese solo thing [Gilmour’s alter ego] I think under that guise, it has opened up things that are really different. That’s a good experimental outlet, and channelling that into a recording

Brannavan Gnanalingam

Grayson Gilmour's new album 'No Constellation' is out May 10th.

Click HERE for deatils of Grayson's upcoming tour.

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