A BIGSOUND Chat With GL

The electronic duo finished the showcases off at BIGSOUND, but not before letting us ask them a few questions. We talked perfectionism, backing tracks and the creation of their debut record Touch. Photos by Rochelle Flack, and a big thanks to Bloodhound Bar for lining us up with a beaut space.

How did you guys come to form GL?

Graeme: We’ve known each other for a long time, played in lots of bands and we’re just doing this for a bit of fun. It’s worked out nicely!

Do these different projects allow you to work in different ways or try different approaches to making music?

Ella: Yeah, I think macro and micro samples, but it’s great to be able to explore both realms, and that goes for performance as well.

Graeme: Each have their advantages and different things we can get out of a larger act and a smaller act. It keeps it interesting.

Ella, you were recently announced as a speaker at Listen’s conference. Are you allowed to say what you’ll be talking about there?

E: I think so! It’s about collaboration and those dynamics. So there is Bec from The Harpoons and Nkechi from Saskwatch. A couple of different people.

And you just dropped your debut album. Is there any one track that is important to you at the moment?

E: I really like some of the slower songs as repeat listens, as songs that warm over time. There’s been a couple we’ve added to our set, like ‘Fall For You’. I was like, “fuck, yeah, this is my new fave!”

With the album, did you go in with a recording mindset and then moved it into the live setting?

G: Yeah, we kind of record first and then work out how to do it later, which is always great! But luckily, the advantage of being electronic is you can have the help of computers, so it’s not like being in a band where you’re like “we’ve got strings on the album but there’s no strings! We’re not going to hire a string section.” Then you get into weird things like do we use track or not? We’re using track, that’s part of it. It makes it easier in that way. But then we have to try and work out how to make that interesting and take on roles to be as live as possible.

E: Yeah, Graeme’s playing drums now which is just great. It makes it different to maybe some other electronic acts. It’s good to straddle the line between band and electronic. I think track used to be a bit of dirty word but now people don’t even really think about it much.

G: It’s so common. So many bands use it to some degree so it’s just about how live you want to take it.

E: I feel you do so much of the work in the recording stage that it’s not minimising what you do live. Sometimes when you play everything as a band or completely live it’s like recreating or making the record from scratch every time, which is interesting but also hard to get right.

Do you have any artists who have done a really good job of bringing electronic music and tracks to a live setting?

E: Little Dragon are awesome. They have live band and lots of electronic instruments. Bjork. Chairlift are really great. Blood Orange. Even the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to an extent. Someone said to us “kinda like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs because you’ve got drums and a singer.” A little bit of that!

I’m just thinking with using tracks, it’s a weird paradox. You have so much freedom, but then there’s that restriction if you rely on it too much.

G: Yeah, exactly. It’s [sometimes] like “when does it end again?!” because you might not be able to see it on the screen, you know? It keeps you on your toes. It’s definitely more confined but it also allows you to maybe structure the set in more of the way a DJ would play. One of the things that stresses me out as a musician in bands is sitting around between songs, trying to get everyone’s attention, going “What are we playing next? Do you know what song it is?” For the crowd, that’s boring as shit a lot of the time. I really like being able to just go bang, bang, bang and the songs stop now and again. Mix it together more continuously. So that’s definitely an advantage. Often we focus on the dance floor than other things, so if we can just keep that energy up that’s an advantage to it.

I just see people with all their equipment and I have no idea what is going on or what any of that does. So with tracks, is it just one?

G: It depends, it can be. A lot of the time I use an MPC so every note has been programmed into it and I have control over that machine as it goes, but I can stop and start it. Other people use Ableton where it’s continuous, and you can stop and start it along the way. I personally don’t like the look of laptops onstage, so we’ve found gear that’s a little bit more inconspicuous. There’s certain levels of control. Yeah, but, they’re divided into songs usually. But say a big show, like a Chet Faker show or a Flume show, that’s all set timed, back up laptop side of stage in case one crashes. Once you get to that level I think that they put in all these safety mechanisms to make sure you don’t hit the wrong pad – the wrong song starts and your confetti cannon goes off. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of that built into bigger shows, but we’re still at a stage where we can go “let’s do a different song here” or whatever.

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I’ve had a really bad run with technology so I don’t think I should ever go into electronic music. I’d probably break the computer or something.

E: Break the internet, more likely.

Oh, that’s very sweet! What inspired the title choice for Touch?

E: I think we had another name that was along the same lines. We have a few songs – ‘Body Language’, ‘Contact’, a few things like that. ‘Grip’. You’ll find ‘em in there. Tactile! And then a friend of mine, Albus, did the artwork. I thought, wow, that’s so cool, and the finger touching the lip, I was like “that looks like touch.” Yeah, it goes with the lyrical themes.

Did you realise that you were writing under that theme when you were making the album? Or was it “Oh, we have these songs and they’re like this?”

E: A bit of both. When you’re working with that many songs – fourteen songs, and we wrote lots of other ones that didn’t make it – you need some kind of theme just to refer back to, come back to. All of my favourite albums have some sort of continuity in that way. Like, Currents by Tame Impala. I think it helps. If you get stuck, there’s some sort of limitation or some sort of framework for your narrative.

How long did you work on the album for?

G: It was kind of drawn out. We had a bunch of songs, recorded them and mixed them all. Then there was a gap for some reason or another, then we were like “why don’t we add some more songs?” But there was quite a lengthy gap between. The guy we were working with, he tours a lot and we wanted to work with him. The release date gets delayed so then you’re like “we have a bit more time!” I wouldn’t say that we laboured over it to excess. We put a hell of a lot of time into it but it’s not like we had writers block or anything. Everything was there. It was just we had gaps where we weren’t working on it. Then it was like “It seems a bit short” and then “we don’t want these tracks on it, let’s add some more”. We came up with some tracks we really loved doing it that way. Start to finish it took over a year. It wasn’t like 18 hour days, 365 days.

Would you consider yourselves perfectionists when it comes to music?

E: I don’t think so. I feel like you’re your harshest critic. But you have to go with the overall feeling and you can squash out a lot of character sometimes by overdoing it. You need the direction. Sometimes you don’t know what else to do. I’ve never worked with A&R before or never had that sort of critical feedback apart from working with the collaborator, so you don’t know what else to do.

G: You have to let go of some stuff sometimes. If you labour over every note and every sound, you’ll never be happy. If you put it out and say to yourself “look, I might not be happy with this”, I feel like you’re always improving – you’re always going to hate what you used to do. There’s no point waiting extra time and ending up hating the song itself when it’s like “it’s got a good vibe now, let’s put it out.” I wouldn’t say that I think anything I’ve done is perfect but I’m glad that it’s all out there. You gotta capture a moment. The problem with computer and digital recording, they capture moments a lot less. Whereas in the 60s it was like “tapes are rolling”, everyone plays once, the vocalist gets one go at it. All the best music was made then, in my opinion. So now, when you’re tweaking every little bit you’re not capturing a moment as much. You can just labour over it too much. We try and go “that’s cool!”

E: Often it’s like the first rough guide vocal or the first try of a bassline and that’ll make it.

G: And we’ll go “ah, that first time you ever sang it!” recorded badly, is the one! There’s something to be said for that, trying to capture energy. I want everything to be perfect but you have to let that go sometimes and go “this is cool.”

Can you see yourselves touring internationally anytime soon?

E: Yeah, it would be fantastic. Love to.

Have you had any fans from far off places tweet you or anything?

E: Our first photo that we did was at a squash court, and the Vancouver Squash Society were like “We love you!”

G: It’s funny. These days you can see who likes you online and you find out they’re from Spain. Stuff is reaching Spain! Even if it’s just to that one person. My friend told me he heard one of our songs playing in Zara in Russia.

E: Remember when they had our song on the catwalk?

So you’re a fashion band now?

E: Yes! Didn’t you know? We have played on a runway. That was for VAMFF.

Finally, what are you hoping people walk away feeling after your set tonight?

E: Maybe a sense of release that they don’t have to do anything else for the night. We’re playing last on, so maybe a sense of free?

G: Hopefully everyone has a good time. For a lot of people it’s a really long day, lots of bands, lots of overstimulation. Hopefully we can just help people have a good time at the end of the night and there won’t be too much intense thought.

Watch: Hallucinate by GL.

GL’s debut album, Touch  is out now. The duo will be hitting up St Jerome’s Laneway Festival next year.

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