Hot Dayte: Sex, Friends & Keeping It 69 Smooth – A Gayngs Interview

Al Denney slips on something more comfortable to talk to Ryan Olson about why his Gayngs project is far from ironically smooth, and why getting the likes of Bon Iver to contribute to an album of the music they all jerk off to was no sweat

Ryan Olson wants you to know he’s not into soundtracking his own sexual exploits. "I mean, if our music makes people want to make out then that’s cool with me. But I couldn’t put music on that I’d made myself, I’d just end up analysing it too much. Plus," he adds thoughtfully, "that would be a bit fucked up."

It’s a fair question, though, given the record he’s just had a hand in creating – Relayted plays like a cross between the yuppie emoting of the 1980s blue-eyed soul brigade and the sort of seductive urban jamz peddled by the loverman likes of D’Angelo and Maxwell. Initially the plaything of Minneapolis producer Olson and his buddies from Solid Gold Zack Coulter and Adam Hurlburt, the project quickly blew up into a thing of epic proportions as a who’s who of musicians from Minnesota and beyond queued up to get involved.

What was the appeal, exactly? "I’ve known all of those players for, like, ten years," says Olson, "and I knew they all jerk off on this shit, so it wasn’t difficult getting them on board. It wasn’t like a job or anything, it was fun. There were no agents involved getting people to play, it was just like ‘what are you doing Thursday?’"

The concept for the record, dreamt up by Olson himself, is at once inspired and completely ridiculous: to make a collection of tracks inspired by 10cc’s maudlin masterpiece of creative multi-tracking, ‘I’m Not In Love’. In addition, each of the songs was to be recorded at – ho, ho – 69 beats per minute. The results are better than the joke implies.

Gaudy sideof town – gayngs by meastar22

‘The Gaudy Side Of Town’ evokes George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ in its smooth employ of tenor sax and bluesy progression, while ‘The Walker’ perhaps comes closest to fulfilling the stated brief; a lovely, late-night crawl lit up by thundercrack shots of drum. If there’s a slight tendency towards museum-piece static at points, it’s pretty well compensated for the terrific attention to detail and an all-round faithfulness to the spirit of the source material.

But how did the idea come about? "We were just jamming on some stuff and we thought we should get some kind of band together," says Olson. "Zach came to my house on a Friday night in February last year and we laid down the map to ‘Gaudy Side Of Town’, and we set the rules for the tempo and the sound and started writing more stuff in that vein. One every couple of weeks we’d kind of flush out another song. Pretty soon after we did the first one we thought we should get [Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon’s former bandmates] Megafaun in on this and it sort of went from there."

From ‘there’ to here takes in a cast of some 25 musicians including Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon himself (plus Bon Iver guitarist Mike Noyce), Rhymesayers’ POS and fellow Doomtree artist Dessa, The Rosebuds’ Ivan Howard and Jake Luck and Nick Ryan of Leisure Birds.

"Most of the bands I do normally are like hardcore noise or rap shit, just really aggressive or abrasive things and I just felt like I wanted to steer clear of all that," says Olson, although he’s keen to stress that Gayngs was never only a goof, and that winking in the direction of the guilty pleasures goons never figured highly on his agenda for the record.

Gayngs – Cry by synthemesc

"We had a pretty good idea of how this was going to go. I mean, we didn’t approach it the same route [as 10cc], we weren’t in the studio like 700 hours or anything, that was never the deal. It’s not that it was labour-intensive, it was more that Justin wanted to be on board mixing the record but he was incredibly busy last year so it was more a matter of him being around long enough.

"It’s definitely not ironic. Well maybe there’s a bit more understanding where we’re coming from, like these tones have a certain place in people’s psyches, certain things will make them feel a certain way, so you try and find a place for those things. Like the song ‘No Sweat’, the piano tone on that is just atrocious, no-one in their right minds should be using this. But you know it works, and that’s maybe the only instance where we’ve used something that’s a little bit ironic.

"I wouldn’t want people to be laughing at it, I don’t want this to be a kind of ‘what the fuck’s going on’ album."

Irony or no, Olson freely admits there was fun to be had with recording sessions for Relayted: "None of those guys are allowed to do those things in their own bands," he says. "When Phil [Cook, of Megafaun] laid down the keyboard part for ‘The Ride’ he just flipped out, like ‘I can totally get away with this shit!’ A few people we asked to get involved didn’t really know where we were coming from with this, but for the most part people seemed to know pretty intuitively what would work and what wouldn’t."

Relayted isn’t merely painstaking homage, however: tracks like ‘Crystal Rope’ and ‘The Last Prom On Earth’ take improbable cues from the soulful end of ’90s hip-hop, a fact Olson says he was completely unaware of until it was pointed out to him in strange circumstances:

"The r’n’b stuff kind of crept in, I wasn’t even thinking about that. I first noticed it when I was in New Jersey at my cousin’s wedding, and this dude that was his friend, he was a real r’n’b motherfucker, his ears just pricked up. He was like ‘what the fuck is this’, and he just started grinding out on it."

Olson talks enthusiastically – if vaguely – about the prospect of a second Gayngs album, and a remix project of some description may currently be in the works: "We’ve got different stems from all the songs – like a sax or a keyboard part or whatever – and boxed ’em all up and put names on them. We sent the different parts to different producers and asked them to make songs from them it’s turned out pretty well so far. I’m hoping to remix them at some point, but we’ll see what comes of that." Whatever their future might hold, as a high-concept bit of slap-and-tickle with genuine emotional pull, Gayngs offer more bayng for your buck.

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