Salford Lads Cult: A Day In The Life Of GNOD
, February 25th, 2013 07:04
Following the recent release of their mighty Chaudelande album, John Freeman has an audience with Gnod and ends up playing sonic table-tennis and talking about astral travel, crazy Belgians and Eric Cantona
Gnod are, quite possibly, the best band in the Universe. This bold proclamation can be based on the fact that no other group could soundtrack a supernova as convincingly as the Salford-based collective. And, that witnessing a Gnod show is a transcendental barrage of volcanic psychedelia; the gig equivalent to having your amygdala replaced with a palantir and letting Sauron’s will smash your future and your past together with hellish zeal. Gnod will make you dance like St Vitus. They are that fucking good.
For those remaining unconvinced of such bullish jabber, Gnod’s Chaudelande album could still well recruit a new legion of converts. Initially released in 2011 by a small French label, Tamed Records, as two separate slices of vinyl, the six-track leviathan has recently been relaunched for the masses on CD and download formats by Rocket Recordings. For the uninitiated, Chaudelande is a crunching mix of Krautrock beats and scything guitars funnelled through 17-minute voodoo-jams. It’s music to kick-start a revelation – a mind warp through the zodiac.
Today, I’m on a mission to meet Gnod. I’ve been invited to their inner sanctum at Salford’s Islington Mill. On arrival I’m met by Paddy Shine (one of the original members in Gnod’s continually changing line-up) and taken up flights of stairs to the band’s nerve centre. And the Gnod HQ is an incredible sight. Part-living area, part-music room and part-distribution centre for the band’s newly-formed Tesla Tapes offshoot, the impressive space is where Gnod work, relax and make music. Along one wall a huge stack of speakers surround a formidable vinyl and tape collection, while across a truly gigantic dining table an old organ sits next to a collection of puppets and a faded doll’s house. There is no TV or internet access and the only heat is created by a tiny wood-burner. It’s fucking freezing, but as the winter sun sets through arch-shaped windows it bathes the back wall with a soul-warming burnt yellow glow.
The other ‘core’ members of Gnod are in attendance; Paddy and the magnificently-bedreadlocked Chris Haslam do the majority of the talking, while Neil Francis and Marlene Ribeiro mostly listen and smoke roll-ups or chop logs for the wood-burner. As we chit-chat, Paddy offers to teach me how to play his beloved Irish Handball (“it’s like squash without a racket”) and after I rave about the song ‘Wonder You’ from the new My Bloody Valentine album, he plays me a booming Yellow Swans’ track, which instantly debunks any notion of embeevee being the first band to make a song that sounds like a jet engine taking off. When I turn on my Dictaphone, the interview quickly becomes a wonderfully unstructured chat with a myriad of tangents explored. Perhaps naively, I’m prying and trying to get a sense of what this incredible band are about – but it’s like asking Usain Bolt what makes him run. He just does. As Paddy and Chris talk, all I can do is group the Words of Gnod into some general themes.
After our ‘interview’, things become a tad more surreal. Paddy takes me down to the bar area of the Mill. In the centre of the room is a table-tennis table and I’m handed a bat. Paddy and I start to knock a ping-pong ball between us and every time it hits the table, a fuzzy, distorted noise messes with my mind. The table has had sensors taped to the underside, which have then been rigged to a series of effects pedals. As Paddy and I play out a rally, a weird little tune is created. I realise that, perhaps, I’m finally experiencing the essence of Gnod.
How did the Chaudelande albums originally come about?
Chris Haslam: It was two years ago, in March 2011, and we got an offer of some studio time in a place called Chaudelande in Normandy. As we were about to go on tour, we were getting together tracks to play live. So, when we had the recording time we just laid those tracks down. We spent two days recording the tracks. The place had a good good vibe. That’s all it was about. All the Chaudelande tracks were all pretty much first takes as we wanted to put down as much stuff as possible. The first takes are usually the best ones; after two or three times you can kind of lose something, even if it might sound a bit tighter, the spark can be gone.
Paddy Shine: It was a good energy in the room – we had a good sound and we were in a nice place and we were at the right level of being beered-up. Actually, the longest track on it was when we were pissed out of our minds – we were totally greased on ‘The Vertical Dead’ and luckily recorded the jam. But everything else we’d fucking hammer out as we had a good, tight set. We wanted that tour to sound a bit rowdy and we managed to capture that in the studio. We knocked out nine tracks in two days and ate cheese and bread and drank red wine in the French countryside. We did a lot of rolling around in the grass as well and talked to a lot of chickens.
The Chaudelande albums were originally released on vinyl via Tamed. Why re-release them now?
PS: Rocket [Recordings] really wanted to do it. The vinyl has sold out and I guess the CD release means people can get a physical copy at a decent price without going on Discogs and spending stupid money on vinyl. Also, maybe more people will hear it and it might be the only Gnod album they ever like.
You talked about the concept of ‘Gnod-ness’. How would you describe what makes Gnod so different to many other bands?
CH: It is hard to explain what Gnod is in one interview, unless you want to start writing a book and we can go more in depth. It’s hard to explain – we live how we live and are in each others' pockets for much of the time. Gnod is our life and we love what we do and want to keep doing it for as long as we can. It’s great if people see it or hear it and like it – that’s a total bonus.
Is Gnod an ambitious band?
PS: Right now, it’s really exciting to be making the sounds we are creating. We have ambition to play way more shows in way more countries and meet new people, and forge links with those people. We want to release more records and with each release get a bit closer to where we are going. That’s the ambition – we haven’t got a five-year plan or anything like that. Our music reflects that – it is always about where are heads are currently at. We are in Gnod for life. Gnod will be an outlet for us, for as long as we want it to be and as long as we make it happen.
Is Gnod a politically-motivated band?
PS: We are not outwardly political but it is pretty obvious that we are aiming to be subversive in some way. If you listen to the music and see some of the artwork, you can see that we are definitely anti-establishment. We are a bit topical and we are poking fun at it. We are not politicians, but if you have a certain idea of what you want your life to be it is always going to be affected by politics.
Also, it’s pretty obvious when we meet people on tour and the people who listen to us, they tend to have the same line of thinking as us. They see the world in a similar way and they are the type of people who are not easily fooled. They know the system is a pile of crap and that we all exist in that system but are trying to push against it. However, we are not going around ‘flying the flag’, but we are secretly having fucking little digs.
As someone who doesn’t take hallucinogenic drugs, am I missing out on the full Gnod experience?
CH: Not at all. One of the best compliments we get is when people say after gigs that they weren’t on drugs but they felt like they were. We have had that a few times and it is good to be able to get that feeling over. More than likely you will see us at gigs and we will be off our heads but Gnod itself is not really about that. People can do what they do, without drugs or with drugs. But, it’s not like you have to take drugs to get our music. Maybe our banner should be “Gnod – taking drugs so you don’t have to” [laughs]. We are trying to get that escapism, so that the music can totally change things for you and take you some where different. That’s the same as with drugs, but it is not to say that this is a drug album. Although a lot of great music has been made while the artist was on drugs. Take 13th Floor Elevators - they were basically tripping every day throughout their careers.
PS: I liked it when Julian Cope called it useful. I loved the idea of someone taking something or listening to our music and it serving some function for them, maybe to transcend or astral travel or whatever, and they view it as a useful thing to do.
Does Gnod have a spiritual side?
PS: We are all Gnodly – but I think that is as far as it goes. I think we all have our own personal ideas about that sort of shit. None of us are total atheists. I read loads of stuff and see loads of stuff and experience loads of stuff but still haven’t got a fucking clue about that side of things. But, there is an aspect to Gnod, when we were doing a show and it is 20 minutes in and going well, that there is something emitted between us that could be seen as spiritual. But that makes us sound like fucking hippies.
Who are Gnod’s heroes?
PS: My hero is Eric Cantona. The first tape on Tesla has a cover of Cantona playing for a French team when he was a kid. I love the whole ‘I am not a man, I am Cantona’ shit. He’s a hero for me, for the obvious reason – he is a cool bastard. As for musical heroes, Luke Kelly because he had a great big ginger beard and he had one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. When I hear him sing, that’s it for me. He has similar qualities to Cantona – both are big, tall men with loads of confidence who did really good things and both are not dickheads. They have hero vibes about them.
CS: Sunburned [Hand Of The Man] were a big influence on Gnod. They were the first band that we both talked about and thought it would be really good to start a band like them. They are the only one worth mentioning.
PS: Seeing Sunburned live in Manchester was huge. They played to about 80 people who just stood back with their hands in their pockets. We were there and we were quite excited and inebriated and Sunburned had picked up some junk along the way and built a Temple of Shite in a wigwam. They came out and played in it and it was almost ritualistic. The music was a bit sinister and the vibes were good. We ended up getting fully involved, wearing masks and dancing around the wigwam.
Does Gnod have disciples?
CH: Well, we all have our projects within Gnod as well. We are starting up a tape label called Tesla Tapes which will be an outlet for all the solo stuff we are doing and for other people who we may meet on the road. We have lots of members and lots of people pass through Gnod and we are all making music. Maybe the Chaudelande release will mean people will be interested to hear what all the separate entities of Gnod are getting up to.
PS: Also, the Tesla Tape money will go back into Tesla. There will be no profit made from it but at least it will be a nice little outlet and people might score some gigs out of it or whatever. It keeps us busy and creative and gives us something to do apart from the drudgery.
Where do Gnod’s disciples come from?
PS: Place like Belgium, Germany and Denmark seem to go for us more. It seems like people there are more up for having fun – especially Belgium where everyone seems to go a bit mental. It does happen in England but we have come to realise that it is really tough for bands to tour over here. When European or American bands come to the Mill, or to Manchester, their dream has been to “come to the UK – the mecca of the music world”. Then they get here and are playing in pubs to 15 people for two cans of Carling and £50 if they are lucky. There are no basic elements of hospitality in this country, but in Europe a lot more is subsidised from arts’ funds so there is not as much gloom in the air.
How have you developed the live Gnod experience?
PS: We are taking steps to making our live show more of an experience for the crowd. There is a certain amount of energy in seeing a band get into their stride and giving it some balls. With electronic music there can be less moving around but that’s why we have invested in a new sound rig so we can rock up to any venue when we tour and have the rig as our backline. What we’d like to do is take the gig off the stage, have the rig onstage as an extra sound source and have us on the same level as the crowd. We’ll get a strobe on, turn the lights off and make it as loud as we can. If people want to dance, great. If they want to stand in the corner with their eyes rolling, then fine. We want that energy transferring between us and the crowd. We see that they are buzzing off it and they see us buzzing off it – that’s fucking electric and contagious shit. Everyone comes away from it feeling good and that’s the point of it.
CH: Also, we talk about how great it would be to broaden out our live show and not be stuck doing one particular thing. I love Wooden Shjips but we couldn’t be like them as their albums all sound pretty much the same and they play to the same crowds in the same venues every time they tour. We’d like to be able to play to a bunch of techno-heads at three in the morning and also bring people who wouldn’t normally go into a club to see the gig. We’d like to mess around with that – there is too much separation with people who like music and who won’t go to certain places. It would be more interesting to start blurring the boundaries.
Is Gnod a control freak?
C: At the moment we have a lot of control in what we do. We control everything – with each album, Rocket won’t put it out until we are happy with it. We make all the decisions and that’s how we’d like to keep it. It is easier these days to retain control. You don’t need a label and can pretty much survive doing your own thing. That’s where it is heading – bands will be in control of themselves. The idea of giving any level of control up is not an option for this band.
What does the future hold for Gnod?
PS: What we are doing now is a lot more electronic-based – not that we are hunched over laptops or anything – and we have been getting into using analogue gear, midi and sequencers.
CH: We’ve realised that guitars can sometimes have limitations. The sound in our heads of what we think Gnod should be doesn’t always involve guitars and it has to involve more electronic analogue equipment to get those raw sounds we want. We didn’t want to carry on doing Krautrock-with-guitars-style songs as it has been done a lot. There are more interesting places to go. We are trying to progess to be more Gnod-like – or getting closer to Gnod [laughs].
PS: The gear has changed but the vibe we are putting out there is still the same. We played some shows recently and, as we were playing, it sounded like Gnod to me. It’s almost like where Gnod has always been trying to go – but still with a fucking all-encompassing sound. Also, me and Chris have done a thing called ‘Gnod Presents’. It’s weird techno - us with a drum machine and some synths and it is not fully representaive of the new Gnod sound when we are all playing, but it’s coming from the same place. That comes out this month. For Gnod, we are working towards doing a special kind of release with the set-up we have now. We are getting the concept together for something amazing.
Chaudelande is out now on Rocket Recordings