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Grayson Gilmour

Grayson Gilmour

Interviewed by
Martyn Pepperell
Monday 10th March, 2014 8:37AM

Originally from the swamps of Palmerston North, Wellington based singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer Grayson Gilmour has been releasing albums and EPs since he was sixteen. Along the way he's toured the world in iconic Wellington electronic-punk quartet So So Modern, tinkled the piano ivories in hotel lobbies across Japan, attended the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid, scored the soundtracks for noted indie films Shopping and The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, and developed his own restless, ever-evolving musical vernacular in the process. Over a decade into his career as a recorded artist, he currently sits on the verge of the release of his fifth solo album Infinite Life! In the lead-in, I gave him a call to talk about creative evolution, his perspective on lyrics, infinite potential within sound, the unique cover artwork Henrietta Harris created for him and more.

How long ago did you start working on Infinite Life!?

I guess straight after No Constellation was released. There is actually a track on there called 'Pareidolia' from then which just made its way through many album culls to the final track listing. For me songwriting and music making is continuous. In the general scheme of things I never really cease writing. It keeps on going, and keeps on morphing into different things. I discover new things, get into them, get interested again. I guess as a result that track, the oldest track on the album, probably went through four or five versions before I felt like it was good, and where it needed to be.

No Constellation came out in 2010, but you haven't just been working on Infinite Life! the last three years have you?

I'd say I was probably more focused on Infinite Life! over the last year. Between 2010 to 2012 I just did film scoring and touring with So So Modern. As a result this album took a fair bit longer than what I am usually used to. I was trying out heaps of things as well.

Could you describe the conditions under which Infinite Life! came about?

Doing film scoring is kind of the polar opposite to writing music as a musician. It's the polar opposite to songwriting or writing music for music's sake. I think as a result of doing a lot of that I became acutely aware of what you can do to a piece of music in terms of texture, tone, tonality, tonal shifts and whatnot. I think it made me work in a more emotive way perhaps, nothing too heavy handed, just interesting ways of moving around within a song.

From my perspective, your work on Infinite Life! prizes detailing and strong yet interesting melodies and harmonies. It's hooky, but strange. From your perspective though, what were you looking to explore through the record?

[Laughs]. Hooky but strange is a good way to put it. I like that. I think what I was going for on a lot of these songs was just re-approaching songwriting for myself. I would start writing a song from a different perspective like sample based or loop based material. After that I would fashion chords in a structure around that. I never really completely dismantled the song mold. I still always feel it is kind of important if you are writing songs in the pop or contemporary realm to still have the attributes of a song. Outside of that basic structure however, anything is possible.

So you were seeing how many different configurations you could use to build a song?

Essentially. I was just seeing what I could push to the front of the mix, or how I could refresh how I approached songwriting. I can get bored quite quickly with how things sound, which will make me interested in doing something in reverse, or trying to make it sound unique in a different light. For example running a piano though all sort of effects and things like that, things that aren't normally possible on certain instruments that you can do when you've mic-ed up something and jacked in some effects and whatnot. Odd samples, textural loops, things going on the background which build up and make a giant cosmic sound. That is the sort of stuff I was honing in on.

I've heard Kanye West talk in interviews about trying to create music like a three year old. What do you do to allow yourself to approach music from a fresh angle?

I get very aware, and very annoyed by any sort of sense of complacency when it comes to writing music. If I think what I'm working on sounds like something I have done, I tend to push it away. I'll even ban myself from playing songs in certain keys. If you float around the keys you find easy to jam in, you're going to end up writing different versions of the same song. I think that is why I decided to write the songs on Infinite Life! from completely different musical perspectives. It's about rediscovering things about music as you grow and develop as a musician.

There is so much music floating around. There always has been, and there always will be. I think at least for myself, one of the most important things I aspire to as a songwriter is making unique sounds of my own that hopefully stand their own ground. That is why I think it is important to think fresh, and think outside the square. It's important to approach things differently and always work outside of your comfort zone.

Okay, in 2014, how much importance do you place on lyrics?

Lyrics are something that I think everyone builds their own interpretation of when they listen back to them. People interpret lyrics differently based on their own experiences, which makes songs have a different meaning for everyone. I keep my lyrics relatively abstract in that sense because I like the idea that people can hear them how they so choose to. I'm more of a fan of abstract lyric writing because just being told about something in a song in black and white terms, sometimes it is beautiful, but most of the time I find it doesn't leave any room to imagine what is going on. There has got to be an element of poetry at work.

What does Infinite Life! represent for you as a musician?

It continues a running theme I've had for awhile. Without getting to cosmic on it, it's about the infinite potential of anything you do, and whatever shifts you make in music, and how that can react to other things that are going on. I'm talking within a song, within an album, within the projection of where you are going, visions. I just kind of got somewhat into the idea of infinite potential. As a result it put me into a really experimental mindset.

Henrietta Harris created the artwork for Infinite Life!, why did you decide to work with her?

I've known her for a really long time. I've always admired her artwork and was thinking that for once I might put my face on the cover of one of my albums. When I thought of someone I'd like to make that happen, I instantly thought of Henrietta. We jammed ideas for a few months, then she got painting and nailed it in one go. I was pretty excited to see what she would come up with, and regardless of what she did I think it would have been great. It's an image of my head exploding, which is essentially what happened while I was making Infinite Life!.

You've been doing a vinyl LP pre-order campaign for Infinite Life!, where people can get different reward packages based on how much they invest. Tell us about it.

It's essentially driven by the hope that fans will take a leap of faith and pre-order my record. It's really heartening to have most of those pre-orders taken up, and I haven't even released the album yet, or put much up for streaming aside from a couple of tracks. It's also the first time I have done anything like this. Releasing an album on vinyl is an expensive thing to undertake. Doing it this way makes it a lot more financially viable. You don't sink start-up money into a record where you aren't sure if you'll sell the copies. It's very reassuring to be able to think, cool, I've sold one hundred copies, now I can go on tour and sell the rest of them. It's also cool to be able to say, hey, spend this much and I'll give you this. Spend this much more, and I'll give you this much more. It's amazing. I put up an eighty dollar package thinking no one, or maybe one or two people would buy it. After all, you have to be pretty into what I do to spend that much. Surprisingly enough, a lot of people have, and it's quite humbling as a result.

Please introduce us to a few tracks from the new album...

Track 1: Isn’t This Exciting?

…well, isn’t it? One of my favourite things is to drop the needle on a record that I’m listening to for the first time (pushing play, a close second). This track is a collage of found sounds & op-shop tapes, and acts in a way as a sign of sounds to follow. I have no idea who the kid is saying “…isn’t this exciting?”, but I hope they’re excited about being immortalised in this lil’ slice of audio!

Track 2: Lemon Brain

...I once blacked-out during a So So Modern show after being crowd-surfed into a giant concrete pillar! A bump about the size of half a lemon hung around on my head for weeks to follow and during this time Lemon Brain was born. Built on sampled hypnosis blips, Dracula running backwards, orchestral tune-ups and hand bell ensembles amongst other weird noises, this track is an ode to my missing brain cells.

Track 3: Tunnel Vision

…there’s a duality at work here, I’ve somewhat romanticised the notion of having ones vision shrunk down to a circle of its former self (which I’m sure isn’t great), in the sense that you’d only truly focus on one thing at any given moment, and I also love the slightly disorienting feeling of traveling in a tunnel for too long! Together these thoughts & feelings informed a musical obsession with ‘circular’ sounds, there’s a lot of asymmetrical textural looping going on in this track, and when layered they create weird walls of euphoria! Or, at least I hope they do!

Track 4: Lichtung

…a clearing in the forest! I had a near-death experience a couple years ago where my senses temporarily shut down to nothing but the holy lights of the afterlife, viral meningitis ≠ fun. That was, in a sense, a ‘clearing in the forest’ for me, and strangely put into context the odd, jungle-esque samples I’d collected for the rhythms in this track. Guess where the Lichtung occurs in the track!...

Track 5: A Constant Nothing

…ok, so I’ve kinda cheated, this is really a stream of three songs bracketed by two interludes! But aren’t attention spans on rapid decline anyway? If you’ve made it this far then I congratulate you! A Constant Nothing is a lullaby for the airwaves; for better or for worse, there is always ‘music in the air’ so-to-speak. I created the outro drone by sampling noises from a multiband receiver and feedbacking them into my Space Echo! Enjoy…


Infinite Life! is out digitally this Friday via Flying Nun and LP pre-orders are available over here via Flying Out.

Grayson is also touring the album nationwide from this Thursday - see below for details...