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Escape Velocity

Some-fin Groovy: Joe Gideon & The Shark Interviewed
Niall O'Keeffe , May 14th, 2009 08:03

Brother, sister, bullying, gymnastics, Elkie Brooks. Niall O'Keeffe meets Joe Gideon & The Shark

Viva Seifert is a former rhythmic gymnast, pianist and dancer, corrupted by the influence of Faust and All Tomorrow's Parties festivals. Her older brother Gideon Joel is a grizzled, witty Tom Waits fan haunted by the memory of pushing an unpopular childhood acquaintance into a hole at his birthday party. Together, they're Joe Gideon & The Shark, two veterans of Bikini Atoll who've just made an album, Harum Scarum, that reinvigorates boy-girl blues-punk by way of looped vocals, whirlwind drumming, Hammer Horror keyboard lines, and jokes about Eurythmics and crystal meth. A Quietus type cornered them in a pub in Brighton...

So: how did this all come about?

Gideon: "We got invited to go on a tour with Archie Bronson outfit... They took us along as Bikini Atoll, as the last band, but they wanted us to come as a two-piece, so we had to figure out how to do that, and we enjoyed that so much... [Bikini Atoll] was collapsing into itself. There was just an inevitable end. It just felt right to bring it to a close. That really inspired us to carry on, doing that tour, and then we realised that we could make it work, just the two of us, you know?"

Weren't you at loggerheads over whether to expand the line-up, though?

G: "Yeah, definitely – because Viva couldn't play the drums! She was trying to tell me that she could play the drums – just give her six weeks! So that's exactly what we did."

Viva: "I had been dabbling for about a year beforehand just on my own, so I knew that I had got the basics, and it came to me quite easily. I think that was because I used to be a dancer and I played piano and stuff like that... I had inner rhythm and I was quite coordinated so I knew I could do it, and I just had to convince my brother."

You, Viva, were an Olympic-standard rhythmic gymnast, right?

V: "Yeah. This is true, I can't deny it."

*And you joined Bikini Atoll as a pianist? *

V: "Keyboard player. But I was much more into synthesisers and sound and oscillations and loops. And I did all that, and then I started to pick up the guitar a bit, by the end. I was just always basically trying to create some new sound, and that just led on to the drums... Didn't want to be ever stuck on just one instrument."

Your lyrics seem to veer between autobiography and fantasy, with 'Hide and Seek' [a story of childhood bullying written from the bully's perspective] very much in the former camp...

G: "I really do veer between the two. 'Hide and Seek', what happens to that poor guy... You remember when you were in school, there's always some guy who got into a tight spot, got picked on, so I think probably a lot of people have been responding to that song probably because they can relate to the topic. Maybe I was that guy... I have been the guy who's got pushed in that hole, I've also done the pushing. I've been the villain and the victim."

Your father was Toyah Wilcox's manager, is this correct?

G: "Yeah, among others'."

V: "Marianne Faithfull. Elkie Brooks, in the 70s. Elaine Page later on."

G: "Whenever he was driving me around he had Talking Heads playing in the car and stuff, and he even took me to see them play one time at Wembley Arena, when Tina Weymouth was nine months pregnant. And I got a T-shirt but I lost the T-shirt. It was a 'Remain in Light' T-shirt, which was dead cool... I was pretty young at the time but I loved it. Big fan of David Byrne as well, for many years."

Did you guide Viva into music?

V: "Yes!"

G: "Sorry about that."

V: "Exactly. I was a dancer, but I had started injuring myself and dislocating my kneecaps. One time when you asked me [to play music with you] was when I was injured, so it was, 'Okay, well I'll play a bit of music and then go back to the dancing' – but I never went back to the dancing. So it is all his fault...

"We were very much joined at the hip in the music that we used to listen to, and we used to go to all the festivals, All Tomorrow's Parties – that would be a big influence on us... He basically guided me there, because I had just been a dancer and a gymnast beforehand. That was the number one thing."

I guess it would have been the Britpop era when you first wrote songs, Joe?

G: "When we first did a demo, we weren't quite sure about our demo, whether it was going to work or not, so we gave it to our dad to listen to... We thought, we'd better give it to him anonymous... He played those tapes to me a little while ago and I didn't recognise it: I sounded just like Liam Gallagher... It takes a while to figure yourself out."

V: "I don't remember him ever sounding like Liam Gallagher..."

G: "It wasn't for the love of them, it was more the idea of: 'We're getting involved in music now, so who are the contemporary artists?' So that's where I was coming from. I wish I'd just stayed true to myself, because I also loved stuff like Tom Waits. That was all the must that I only listened to at home. But for some reason I thought, 'No, I won't do the music I like...'

"Bikini Atoll was, to put it naffly, a journey of discovery. We were all shocked and amazed by those first ATPs and the whole post-rock thing back then. So it's just been this gradual thing, getting to this point, and I think we're both very happy..."

It's a weird time in music...

G: "I'm hard pushed to figure out what the hell's going on."

It seems like a transitional phase.

G: "A really long transitional phase."

We've heard about Joe's Oasis flirtation. Were you into any embarrassing bands, Viva?

V: "The Human League."

G: "The Human League? You always just go for the cool ones."

V: "You know, I was so wrapped up in dancing and gymnastics that... If there was pop music going on in the background, that was one thing, but I was training ten hours a day, with my hoop and my rhythm, and that was my life until well into my twenties – 25. I was 20 going to the Olympics and stuff like that. And then it was just a few years after that that we started playing music together.

"Britpop was the most prevalent thing that was the thing that was around when we started to play... And then massive influence was All Tomorrow's Parties and things like instrumental bands like Mogwai... So many bands played: Sonic Youth, Trail of Dead, Sigur Ros... Sigur Ros went on a three o'clock in the afternoon."

G: "Sigur Ros were sort of a bit part. A half page squeezed between full pages."

V: "Yeah! They were tiny... So many bands. And-You-Will-Know-Us-By-the-Trail-of-Dead – well, we've got to check that out, it's got such an amazing name. We didn't know anybody. They were on early, they weren't even the main bands. Godspeed You! Black Emperor... Super Furry Animals..."

G: "The For Carnation played. One half of Slint. I had no idea about Slint at the time. It took me years to figure out that band name..."

V: "Going back to not silly names: Stereolab. I remember being in the middle of the crowd and they had quadrophonic speakers and it was so loud and my feet just lifted off the floor. That was my discovery..."

G: "That was an awakening, right there."

You've played big venues with Nick Cave and Seasick Steve. Are you out to reach as many people as possible?

G: "Yeah, absolutely... Seeing how good they are, how they can reach so many people – that's what we want to do. Not just to be successful like that but also to have that kind of fantastic atmosphere they create in these big places. It would just be amazing really, to go that way. We'll give it our best shot."

Joe Gideon & The Shark play the Great Escape Festival in Brighton this weekend. They have a UK tour in June, and will be cruising the festivals in search of fresh meat throughout the summer