With the imminent release of their debut album, 'A Dream Outside', Gengahr's frontman Felix took some time to talk to Contact Music. This involved discussing the creation of their album in an idyllic Devon farm, reading books before shows, and how touring might not be the holiday many people believe it is.
Hey, Felix! How are you?
Very well, thanks. It's just a busy day doing promo and stuff because we're getting pretty close to the launch day.
On that note, your debut album, 'A Dream Outside', is set for release on 15th June 2015 - how long has it been ready?
We finished recording in December and we finished mixing it then, too - it was just mastered in early January. There were a couple of weeks when we went home for Christmas & New Year but we had it all wrapped up as soon as possible, really.
Does that mean you finished writing some time ago?
The album was written within the space of about six months, in between shows and touring really. If we had three or four days, we'd either be working on new songs, or going into the studio to record things we felt were ready. We only ever spent two or three days in the studio at once. We did it in little bits and it was a case of getting as much ready when it was there to record. Before anybody knew who we were, we thought we had three or four songs that would work on an album, so there wasn't any pressure to get it ready; it was only a case of writing another five or six songs that were worthy of being on a full-length, so it was a relaxing thing the whole way through. It's quite a refreshing change of pace to get back into the studio or into the rehearsal room and just work on new ideas.
Did you run into anything unexpected whilst writing/recording?
It's a funny thing for us: recording is quite a smooth process, because we don't write anything in the studio. There might be the occasional harmony or vocal differences we'll chuck in there, or we might tweak some of the guitar solos but the vast majority is written in a room by the four of us. When we jump in there it's often a live take so we'll keep the heart of the song as live as possible, really.
For us, the unexpected stuff happened more at the mixing stage. When we were putting together 'Dark Star', that wasn't written exactly as it's recorded - we knew we wanted an instrumental in the middle of the album to break up the two sides, like on an LP where you turn over the record and it starts something different - and that was the one song we weren't entirely happy. We ended up chopping and changing it, making it into something a little more dance-y and instrumental. I think that was a nice coincidence. Everything else was pretty much recorded as we intended it to be.
I believe you all went to art school before you started the band, are you all into visual side of being in a band?
We are. Hugh has actually done the paintings on the cover art for the releases we've made so far whilst Dan and I do a lot of the graphic design work like our logo. I write all the treatments and Dan and I storyboard all our music videos, so it's a real collaborative effort but we enjoy that side of things. We don't want other people do it, we we'd be missing out on all the fun.
In the relatively short time that you've been releasing music / playing gigs, you've visited a number of countries, which country has got it right with regards to their live music scene?
Most of Europe has got a better grasp than we do in the UK. It's amazing playing some venues in France and Germany; the staff at venues and the promoters go out of their way to make you comfortable and feel like you've enjoyed your experience there. We've played shows in Kingston where you turn up and there's one warm beer on the floor in the dressing room to be shared with two other bands. It's such an amazing contrast and an experience to switch between the UK and Europe.
You've recently signed with Transgressive Records - Do you feel you're a good fit for the label?
As far as record people go in the music industry, they're the nicest people I've met - I'd like to think we're a nice group of people as well. They're not driven by money-grabbing ulterior motives; they just love music and want to put out good quality music, and we want to write good quality music so I think that matches up really nicely. We have quite humble aspirations for ourselves, but at the same time we want to do better, and push ourselves. They're the kind of people that will let us do that at our own pace and nurture us. I do think it's a pretty perfect fit, to be honest.
In the past you've said your success so far has just been a series of "happy accidents" - is that how you really feel?
I think so. I know so many people who have been in music, and I've grown up around people who've maybe had success but aren't so successful now, and some people who have had a successful career. There were moments when I was younger, when I had more of an arrogance about me and more of an expectation, and as I grew older and saw things pan out, I saw that you need a bit of luck in this word. You also need to work hard and focus, though, and keep your own expectations pretty grounded. I know there are better bands out there than we are who probably feel that we've been given chances that they haven't been given; I also know that I've certainly felt that way myself at other times. It's all swings and roundabouts, really.
So was there anything that really surprised you about the music industry when you got involved in it?
I think a lot of the clichés are very true. Everyone's your friend until they're not: when things are going well, everyone wants to be around you. But it's a shame, because it is a real business and people treat it as such. Everyone wants to get paid. It's a funny thing, because as the musician or the artist, you're the last person to see any money and that's always gonna be the case. Luckily for us, it's not really about that - we're just really happy to do that as our job and that's all that we've wanted for the last five years. You've really gotta take everything with a pinch of salt, because there will always be bad people involved in any business, but there are also good people - if you keep your eyes out, you'll definitely find them.
You've got quite a few shows lined up - Glastonbury included - what are you most excited for?
The festival season, itself - I really enjoy it! It's a different challenge to normal touring. It's quite a cavalier experience for a band to just rock up, plug your guitar in, and see what happens. You don't have the luxury of playing a show the day before, and knowing you'll have one the next day to redeem yourself if something happens. This year, it's an added experience, because we get to go back to a few festivals where last year we went as an unknown act that was on the introduction stages. This year, we've got the privilege of playing some higher slots; there's obviously a higher expectation, but it's really satisfying to get invited back to the same festival again, but moving up a stage.
Do you guy have any pre-show rituals to get you in the mood for a gig?
We've watched a lot of other bands on tour in the States who'd get themselves really pumped before a gig, and we don't really do that. If anything, I've been known to dip into a book before we go on and try to relax. We're pretty chilled when it comes to that time; we all deal with nerves in a different way, but we don't bang on any loud music and get all riled up. We ease ourselves in, but I don't think there's anything too repetitive in our strategy to approaching these shows.
You built quite a momentum up last year - is there a pressure to maintain that?
I think with everything, there's gonna be dips. All we can really do is keep working at the same rate we are, keep focussed, and make sure that we are doing everything we can. We're not shy of touring all the time: we're under no illusions of how things work and you have to be a hard working band, especially in this day and age where record sales aren't what they used to be. You're relying heavily on getting out there, playing the shows and putting in the hours and whenever we're not doing that, we'll be back in the studio, back in the rehearsal room, making sure we're keeping up-to-date, ahead of ourselves and making new material. There's not a secret to it, really; you just keep hammering away.
What's next for you guys?
Oh, obviously the album launch is happening and we've got stuff planned for that which is happening at our local cinema, which will be a special evening. We've got a load of shows we're playing once the record is out, so it's gonna get pretty busy. We've got a lot of things that need preparing as we head into the festival season, and then we're doing our headline tour which'll be another huge milestone for us.
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