Supersonic 2010: In Gnod We Trust
Simon Jay Catling
, October 21st, 2010 06:19
Salford’s psych metal renegades break radio silence, just before their show at this weekend's Supersonic Festival in Birmingham. Simon Catling has his third eye cleansed
Meet Gnod, well, some of Gnod. An ever evolving creature that sheds its skin and grows anew, it’s hard to pin down precisely who, or what, Gnod are. This bleeds into their music as well; steeped firmly in psychedelia but drawing from influences as disparate as Afro-beat, krautrock, drone, jazz and dance music, their recent release with White Hills, Drop Out, is a deeply immersive illusion of repetition whereby its motorik rhythms underpin a myriad of hypnotic textures. As a band they’re always creating, hours and hours of jams of which they occasionally see fit to release to the wider world. I say occasionally; since their formation in 2007 they’ve had at least twelve full-length releases and claim to have had many more. These appear out of nowhere though, with no fanfare or attention; Gnod aren’t wilfully elusive, but there is a mysticism that surrounds them nonetheless, an ever changing cast and a lack of information about them – this, they tell me, is their first interview. They keep themselves to themselves mainly, in a collective residency at Salford’s Islington Mill – a creative arts space where they live and rehearse.
It’s here where I’m given a warm greeting by Paddy and Chris, two of the band’s guitarists and founding members, they talk openly and enthusiastically about band members who’ve existed in the past, band members who might’ve never existed, their love of touring and what makes them tick musically.
Paddy: So are you going to ask us questions? You probably should otherwise we’ll ramble on about shit.
Well that’d be fine to be honest; I’ve come here not knowing what to expect from you guys, I did the lazy 21st century music journalist thing and went on the internet and there’s not a lot about you; but I did find that you’ve put out twelve releases in three years, that’s prolific stuff.
Chris: I think we’ve done more than that; we did a lot of self-release stuff. The first year we were going we had about nine CD-Rs of just live rehearsals and edits. We got bored of making them individually though so we compiled them all onto one and that became Volume I, II and III for that year; but we tried to package them interestingly, with DVD cases and inserts, all hand made. It used to take forever.
P: He does all the artwork.
So you’ve got a completely DIY operation
C: Well it was but then we got a bit lazy - well, it was only me doing it.
P: That’s bullshit; you had the computer so you were doing that bit. Anyway, people started wanting to put out tapes and CDs for us which is great as we’ve now stuff to sell when we go on touring.
You can sense a free flowing nature of behind your releases, as though jam in the studio then retrospectively pick bits out that could be released rather than going in with a pre-set plan.
C: It’s just what we get asked to do really. We don’t really put stuff out of our own backs anymore because we’ve got offers from different labels to do things.
P: Rocket Recordings have been a good crew for us.
C: And a few little tape labels like Who Can You Trust, Slow Tapes…
Do you have much of an issue with certain formats?
C: I don’t like CDs, but then if they’re packaged nicely…
P: It’s all good man, but tapes and vinyl – especially vinyl, that’s where it’s at. We need more vinyl, put out more oil into the world [laughs] use up a bit more of it. We’re supposed to be getting something together for Rocket Recordings now – fuck knows what it is yet.
C: We’ve just booked some recording time with Carl out of A Middlesex. It’s expensive to go into studios and do stuff though, especially if you’re trying to improvise for most of it. Time ticks and you don’t really get time to put down what you want.
P: We jam so much and record nearly all of it. Every now and then you get really lucky and get a good recording that you can do stuff with. That kind of makes the whole getting in a studio just… nah, fuck it.
I interviewed Drum Eyes a few weeks ago and he was saying all of his stuff comes from jamming with his band and listening back over it after, and that way just lifts the restrictions much more. He finds himself tied down with a proper template.
P: It’s good yeah, and the more you play the idea out the more it evolves; and by the tenth or whatever time you’ve played it live then that’ll be the definitive version and it’ll be amazing, and you’ll never play it that good again, so you’ll fuck it off and move on to the next thing.
Does that song continue to evolve in a live setting as well after recording it?
P: Yeah, obviously you have the live aspect where everything’s sounding a bit mad anyway, but yeah it’s always changing. We very rarely play the same set twice in that sense.
C: We recycle a lot too, we play with different rhythms over it for example. It depends who we’re playing with on stage as well because there’s a core of four people.
Well, I was going to ask; you’ve got 15 members down on your Myspace, some sources say you’re a 9 piece, others say 7 core members.
P: It changes all the time. We’ve been lucky to meet loads of sound people who are up for making a racket.
C: There’s some people on that list who aren’t in the band yet who one day might be. Town Gas, I don’t know who he is.
P: And some of them we’ve not seen in years, but they’ve all contributed to the cause.
So when did you start as Gnod as you are now? Have you existed in various incarnations before?
P: We played in a few bands years ago, me and Chris played in the same band Strangerson of WB for a bit. I was in a band called Sundowner who… yeah… [laughs] but then Gnod, three years ago, out of boredom really. We were originally called Sleeve though; we stopped playing with Stranger Son and we had nothing going on. Chris lent me this Sunburned Hand Of The Man record called Jay Bird which just fucking blew my mind and I just thought, “Fucking yeah, I wanna just smoke a joint, go to the same room and play the same thing over and over again for as long as I can, and get loads of weird sounding shit on it and see what happens." So that’s what we started doing like.
It doesn’t surprise me to hear you’ve made a drug reference there with the psychedelic nature of your music – not that you have to exclusively be on drugs to enjoy Gnod
C: It’s the best compliment we get actually that people say they feel like they’re on drugs when listening to the music.
P: We’re not mad druggies or owt though are we?
C: Well, we’re not addicted to anything anyway [laughs.] Maybe cigarettes.
P: Caffeine, always low. But, yeah it’s good when people say that and I know what they mean .We feel it as well; there’s a lot of repetition involved and if you allow yourself to get into that headspace with any band you’re going to get a little buzz aren’t you.
The album The Quietus have really been liking is Drop Out with White Hills, which has repetition, but it always feels like you’re just waiting and working out where to go next, it never feels static.
P: We recorded that nearly three years ago so that stuff’s really early. At the time we were playing fucking crazy sets with nine people on stage that didn’t make any sense. Sometimes it was good and other times it was just a complete shambles. We managed to get into this studio in London though and found this really clean sound.
C: We actually had a vague idea for every part, but the finished thing, it became something else when Dave from White Hills took the original recordings we did. He turned it into the album that it is.
The music was all your input though?
P: Except three short tracks Dave’s did…erm… ‘The Secret Society of Ants’ was one of them. He did a few overdubs over certain tracks, but mostly he made everything come out in the mix more. The drum sound was already gorgeous and he just made them sound even better.
How did the collaboration come about?
P: Our drummer Delboy went through a phase of booking gigs, and he booked them in to play Saki Bar so we went and supported them. They were sound and we stayed in touch. We did a first collaboration which was Aquarian Downer, and again we just sent him the tracks and he mixed them with some of his own tracks and did a weird 40 minute droney thing. And he then said, “Well just send me everything over you record,” so we did but we didn’t expect him to sit down and look at all the data and sort it out. A year later he got back and told us he’d been playing the Drop Out masters and that they were great. Two months later they were done, it’s crazy really. We were sitting on it for three years thinking ‘What the fuck are we going to do with them?”
C: We did try mixing them ourselves. We went and paid for a full day of mixing and we came out about three spaces back from where we started.
P: I fucking hate that shit though man, sitting around the desk and with those types of people too.
C: If you haven’t got the skills it’s hard. You’ve an idea of what you want but it’s just how to get there.
I guess there’s that pressure as well of having to get stuff done in a certain time if you pay for it.
P: Yeah, it’s all pressure. It’s the same as if you go into a proper recording studio, especially if you’re paying for it. I can’t play music in that sort of set up. Unless it’s a gig pressure which is great, but then normally you just drink loads of beer to handle that.
I think your music comes across as quite isolated in a way, hard to pin point one or two clear influences; they’re very much sounds entirely of your own making – where would you say your actual influences do come from both musically and otherwise?
P: Sunburned [Hand Of The Man] was the big one to get the ball rolling.
C: When I heard Sunburned I wanted to copy that set up in a way, by which I mean just be a collective of people together making music, ideally we all wanted to live in the same place.
P: Well we did for a bit, The Castle Of Doom.
The Castle Of Doom? That sounds...
P: The Castle Of Doom’s a flat above a bargain boozer in Chorlton, we couldn’t go wrong really.
C: But the guy who owned it hadn’t done anything to it in more than twenty years so the décor was all like early 80s, brown leather and stuff; but you could have a great party there.
P: Huge party house, big front room and kitchen… yeah… but anyhow, what were we talking about?
P: Oh God everything man…
C: From Sun-Ra to Sun Araw [laughs.] At the moment I’m obsessed with the Mardi Gras Indians.
P: I like a lot of African music, North African – the traditional stuff. A good reference I suppose is the Sublime Frequencies label. West African music…at the moment I’m listening to loads of Moroccan stuff because I’m going out there soon and when I was there last time I recorded shed loads of music, mostly from these same guys. If you’ve seen that record that’s come out on Sublime, Ecstatic Music Of The Jemaa El Fna’ it’s the same guys as I recorded. They must sit in the same spot night after night doing their thing and people come and record it. But it’s always amazing.
There’s a keen motorik to a lot of your work but it does come across more Afro-beat than krautrock.
P: The drones as well man, we’ve got like an Arabic keyboard it’s got all this like [tries to replicates Arabic call]…crazy sounds, and then putting that through delays and distortions.
How difficult do you find it putting everything together with so many different styles to attempt to fit and draw together?
P: Sometimes it’s like banging your head against a brick wall, but that’s what you’ve got to get through to play two hours of bliss where you can’t remember what the hell you just played - but luckily you recorded it. Yeah, it’s not too hard, and we have loop stations and that that we store ideas on and come back to it.
Do you have a chief one or two who lead the direction or is it very much an equal thing?
C: There’s four people who pretty much turn up to every rehearsal which is me, Paddy, Del our drummer and Marlene our bass player. So it’s usually us four working stuff out and getting the others in.
P: As far as people calling shots I guess it’s a kind of collective thing.
It does have that big collective vibe to it.
P: Everyone’s got their own qualities like; we don’t have a record label giving us money, we don’t have anyone speaking about us in the press really – especially not in Manchester – yet we’ve managed to tour Europe three times, England and Ireland. Everyone comes together, one head on the emails sorting out the gigs, one making sure the van’s doing alright, someone getting contacts…
You’re doing well in Europe, with full tours. What do you think makes people ‘get it’ more over there than perhaps they might here?
P: I’ve not figured that out. Europe just seems to be full of loads of people who want to go to gigs, and there’s bands who’ve got funding and certain governments have money so they can put these shows on and it’s less pressure for everyone because no one’s losing money.
C: I think if you’re a band from England in England it’s hard to get paid, but if you’re going somewhere else you’ll get paid. It’s just harder in England.
P: If you’re an American band coming over to England it must be so different; they get like a can of beer and a packet of crisps and they’re like “man, where we staying?” and you tell them to ask the promoter; “where’s the promoter?” he’s away down Café Nero or something. But Europe’s great, there’s a lot of people doing good stuff out there and there’s not as many rules and regulations and if you’re willing to go there and do a good show then they’ll love it.
How do you find touring?
P: Love it. It’s the thing I look forward to most all year round.
C: It’s why we’re in the band.
P: The biggest one we did was eighteen nights on the trot. France, Holland, Belgium, Hamburg, Copenhagen, down to Berlin, Czech Republic and all the way to Rome, Naples, back up to Switzerland. It was crazy man; we had some big drives, we were doing like twelve hour drives in the van and we’ve got this transit that we’ve converted so you can get six people in it and the gear and it’s a bit of a fucking squeeze, cosy like. It’s great…but at the end of that one we were fucked up.
P: Well you get your free beer and you can smoke indoors and shit, of course you have a party. How could you not? You’re in some crazy city and people are throwing beers at you, it’d be rude not to join in!
When were you across there last?
P: Oh we did April, then a little one in July doing some festivals and gigs in between. That was great.
Festivals in Europe just seem so much freer and unconstrained, I went to Glastonbury this year and even though it had this sense of community, even that felt quite regulated.
P: I might’ve fucking seen you man, did you come up to a Lebanese food store and have some food?
P: In The Park area.
I think so actually, yeah
P: Maybe that’s it then. I definitely know you from somewhere. But did you go to the stone circle Monday morning? There wasn’t much rules and regulations going on there. It was mental; because it was so hot as well everybody was fucking bollocksed. And this guy came up to my stall at about 4am with a chunk missing out of his head, proper skinned, size of a 2p piece, and I was like “fucking hell mate, do you want to come in the back and I’ll get you First Aid? So he said “I’m fine, just give me a plaster” so I did that but we were like “you really need to get that looked at.”
C: What had he done?
P: He said he was jumping a fence and slipped and he hit his head down a wooden fence. But then the next day we’d finished and gone up to the stone circle to chill out and who we did we see? Only your man completely sunburnt, still with this scabby thing on his head, rolling around on the floor absolutely K-holed to fuck.
C: [Laughs] But yeah, that’s something we’d like to do, get on the English festival circuit, though I don’t know how to get on there.
There’s just so many becoming identikit now as well though, I thought it was a real shame when the Big Chill got taken over by Festival Republic.
P: Oh mate, that killed it. Festival Republic really ruined it. I really used to want to play Green Man, it seemed like they were leaning towards a more weird and psychedelic thing a couple of years ago, but, again, it seems pretty sewn up and I don’t know what you have to do to play these fucking places . At least we’re getting to play Supersonic Festival. We’ve been to it before; the [Supersonic promoters] Capsule lot are doing some good shit and we’ve hassled them for a couple of years to play.
How many members are you taking down with you?
How much does the music change live in relation to different members playing?
P: Massively yeah; the last tour we did - the eighteen date one - we had a guy called Marius who came with us on that and he’d never played synthesizer before. He plays flute and he knows about rhythm.
C: He’s a Hare Krishna.
P: But he’s a natural music maker, but he came along with us and we stuck him on this synth and none of us knew how to work it. We gave him a delay pedal and vocal mic, and he was fucking brilliant. We sounded completely different because of it; he added a whole other element.
Where do you pick most of your members up?
P: They just show up! You meet someone and you have a bit of a buzz and you’re interested in the same stuff and you get them down for a jam. That or we’ll be jamming and someone’ll hear it and stumble in.
C: We’ve got a big circle of friends though who are all interested in music, and they bring people to us.
P: Loads of people want to go on tour, and there’s always someone can’t come or whatever so we need a replacement.
C: People do reckless things like get married and have kids…
P: They’re dead to us [laughs.]
Have you ever picked people up while on the tour itself?
P: Yeah we did actually, we had Max from High Wolf who ended up doing a couple of gigs in Cherbourg and Paris… anybody else?
C: What about Obelisk?
P: Oh yeah, we did a huge mammoth tour and recording session with this band Obelisk when we were there; don’t know what happens to the recordings.
What would you say ultimately drives you to make music together? It seems quite cyclical – the people are there to make the music and the music keeps the people together.
P: I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do really with my time than play music with the people here, that’s it really. Everything else is cool, you’ve got to work to pay the bills but ultimately I just love going in the room, having all the toys there and thinking, “Right, how can I lose myself for six hours?”
What were your formative experiences of getting into music?
P: I love telling this story man, I remember it well. It was the time when it weird for me, I was about nine years old, and I remember listening to Neil Young’s After The Goldrush and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and thinking, “What the fuck’s going on here man?” and I pretty much learnt all the lyrics to After The Goldrush in two days so I could sing along… yeah… crazy… just being blown away by Van Morrison’s voice and the weirdness of the music and how it all sounded all wrong and shit. That was it for me I reckon - that and the Beastie Boys License To Ill’ which my Mum bought for me on tape when we lived in America.
C: I was just into pop music until I was about 13 and then got heavily into metal in the late 80’s, thrash, death metal, black metal - stuff like that. I just realised I was missing out on a lot of other music though. The first gig I went to where I thought, “Wow, other music that isn’t metal!” was Happy Mondays at Heaton Park! [Laughs] I saw everyone dancing to this “new” music
Was that around their boom period?
C: Yeah, ’91, after their big break - I was still into metal then.
P: Did you get your flares on?
C: I did have a pair of baggy trousers… yeah they were sweet… but yeah, just got into commercial psychedelia like Pink Floyd and The Doors, and dance music for a bit, but then there were also things like discovering Joy Division in the 90s and realising that was related too – just following up connections.
P: I had a mate who when I first met him was the guy in school running around like an aeroplane, and everyone thought, “He’s fucking weird him.” He used to get a lot of shit. I ended up hanging out with him though and his Uncle had given him a record collection; he had all these Crass and Sex Pistols records and at the same time he was mad into pirate radio stations and getting bits of hip hop and jungle. He gave me tapes of like Wu Tang Clan, that first album, when we were 13. He definitely had a big impact on me.
That’s what I find myself when trying to explore new stuff, there always needs to be one or two people who know that much more than you and can guide you to find incredible things.
P: We need those people man, those people who can do that and just spend their time searching for stuff.
They’re becoming rarer too, people now just quickly link something on a blog then move on; they don’t really get to know the music they’re championing. I think those that do still are really important guys to have around
C: Blogs are good though, there’s one called Chasm Filler that I love which is just a mix of loads of different stuff from obscure world music to commercial stuff. When you look at something like that you can’t really put a label on what that blog is or what that music is, which is great.
You guys seem to have found the internet has been a great help, with all your material being made available online.
P: Oh, is that Wine, Women And Song? They’re doing a good job man, they’ve got everything on there by us - I haven’t even got any of that shit! It’s all good though, I just think it’s great that people are listen and download it. I’d love for Wine Women and Song to say, “You’ve had 2000 downloads,” I’d think that was sweet – there’d be a crowd out there to play for, and that’s how it goes. A few years ago I was still figuring how the fuck we’d get over to Europe and play there – I just like getting the fuck out of England.
I take it you prefer being out abroad than over here then?
P: Yeah, I reckon. It’s nice to get away anyway isn’t it, there’s that aspect of it. But then the gigs are always better. You play to 10 people like you would here, but you still have a great time - you sell five records – people want to buy records over there, so far anyway. We’ve played a few nice gigs in England mind as well. We’ve played some shit arse ones too though; every time we play London it’s a fucking nightmare. It either gets cancelled, or - we did a gig in Hoxton once, on Easter Monday for some reason; that was our first UK tour – we didn’t even have seats in the back of the van, we just had gear and people on blankets. We went to Hoxton and they hated us man. We were pretty random at the time, it was when we had eight or nine people and were all dressed up as women and wearing costumes; there wasn’t much music going on really, more confrontational jams wasn’t it?
C: It all went wrong when someone put a snare…
P: That was me wasn’t it, I took a drum kit out into the crowd and I remember some guy going, “You’re fucking shit, you’re a cunt!” And we started throwing things at him, and it kicked off. They stole our beers and kicked us out on the street and we had to drive down to Bournemouth and sleep in the car park next to the beach. Funny thing was we played a brilliant gig in Bournemouth and our spirits were lifted and we were like, “Where to next!” We went Lewisham, which was shit. We played to 10 people, the promoter did a runner and that was heartbreaking.
I don’t understand how some promoters can call themselves that, they ask you to play then do nothing after that.
P: We did a cool mini-tour in November with Teeth Of The Sea and Thought Forms and that was really good. But everything was set up nicely, one in London for Teeth Of The Sea, then Thought Forms in Bristol, then in Manchester we had it here at the Mill.
Do you tend to sort your own gigs when you’re playing at home?
P: Yeah, we might have a booking agent sorting us out in Europe which’d be fucking great – less time on hotmail, emptying our soul out into the server.
C: We can connect it up a lot better with a booking agent who knows someone in every town.
P: We could do it more DIY and play a lot more squats if we wanted to but we want to go and sell some records too…
Have you got an ambition to go and get bigger?
P: We just want something to be able to tour on the back of really, and to be able to play around whenever. Three or four times a year release an album on a label.
C: Albums a year!?
P: Whatever, you know, like a label who’ll put a nice bit of vinyl out for you and they’ll pay you by giving you a percentage of the record, it’d be nice to maintain that. It’d be nice to play America at some point and get to a point where it’s completely self-sufficient, not go out there and suck Satan’s cock or whatever, just keep it going and always have an outlet for the music.
I probably should have asked where the name came from right at the beginning, but I’ll ask now - and how does it get pronounced?
P: Silent G. it’s just a good word, I like it. I was trying to think of a silly but good name that was short and could have a cool logo- something that’d stick. There was like No God, Agnostic God and I thought… Gnod…with a silent G. And then Chris did some cool artwork for it.
Do you make the artwork a really important part of what you do?
C: I just have phases of going through it, sometimes I’ve an urge to draw a lot and it comes once a year when I’ll draw a few things. I wouldn’t say I’m an artist or anything like that, I don’t have the will to, like, “I need to put this down.”
P: Pain… suffering… violence…
I’ve not seen you live yet, but I’m hoping to come down on the 7th (where they support Dieter Mobius)
P: Come down to the 21st with Sun Araw too man, that’s going to be a party, we’re getting the Gnod Disco out for that.
The Gnod Disco?
P: You’ve not heard of the Gnod Disco!? We have a 70s disco hire with a twist like.
What’s the twist, or are you not allowed to say?
P: Well you’ll have to find out on the night. We’re available for hire, we’ve got a video on Youtube; put it on the Quietus, it’s already been there in fact. Teeth Of The Sea put it on there didn’t they – legends. We’re trying to tout the Gnod Disco, we’re trying to play all over the world with that. Help us out man, get it on the website.