Gang Gang Dance
Gang Gang Dance is performing tonight at Lola's in Ft. Worth, and we were lucky enough to get to speak with Brian Degraw about the band's music, his visual art, and the thought process he enters into when writing songs. Here's our discussion:
When I was preparing for this interview, I thought about one of the first times I ever listened to your band-- it was a couple years ago, and I listened to God's Money on my ipod at Shedd's Aquarium in Chicago, and it seemed absolutely perfect for that setting since that record almost sounds like it was recorded underwater. I was wondering if you ever think about things like that when you're making your music-- visual things, settings in which your music will be heard, etc.
Yeah, but not really in terms of other people, more just environments in which I picture myself listening to music. But yeah, I often think about underwater scenarios when I'm making music, so it's lucky that you were able to experience it in that situation. I really do think about a lot of visual things when making music, its really more about visualizing shapes and colors than specific imagery, but it is a really big thing for me when we're making music-- sort of visualizing patters of color, more so than paying attention to the actual notes and things like that.
I read that you are a visual artist yourself. What kind of stuff do you do on your own?
Yeah, I do all the artwork for the records and stuff too. But on my own, it really depends, I try not to do just one thing. I used to do these sort of big drawings on paper, but making music has sort of altered what I do with visual art because the two just sort of melt together. I used to only make these black and white drawings, but because of music I got more into color instead of just that black and white, and I do less figurative drawing now. Now I kind of just do whatever I feel like doing at the time I have a show. I just did a show in France that was more of an installation sculptural thing that had a lot to do with DJing, sort of revolved around that. I DJ regularly, so I made an installation dealing with the more negative side of DJing. I don't know why exactly that happened, but that is just what I ended up making at the time.
Do you try to address any of the same things in your music and your visual art?
Not really. If anything, there is a spiritual aspect of both that is maybe similar, but it depends on my mood really for both mediums. I sort of let my mood dictate what I do in both, I try not to preconceive too much.
Do you think that the nature of music as a medium, the way it is produced, marketed and sold, etc., makes it more of a commodity than visual art? Do you feel like you're dealing more with a commodity when you are making music? Does this have any impact on your work?
I think they're both sort of the same in those respects. If anything, I think I struggle more with showing art in galleries, I have a bigger problem with that than I do with being in a band, just because I feel that showing artwork is sort of limited to a certain class of people, whereas music is a more diverse audience, I think its heard in many different places and venues. There's radio, live shows, and video, whereas as a gallery is sort of a more incestuous community of people, a little richer, and I have a lot of problems with that actually. I feel very uncomfortable showing my artwork because I know that it is only being seen by this certain group of people who are in the know, as they say. I feel better knowing that music is experienced by a broader group of people.
Well the elevation of pop music into higher art is a very recent phenomenon, it's a relatively new thing for such large groups of people to experience things that are considered "higher art."
Yeah, totally, I like that. I kind of stopped making artwork a few years ago because of that, I could only really relate to making music because it was more immediate and direct, and playing shows was more interactive. And then I'd have these art openings and it was a bunch of people drinking champagne and not really looking at the work, like it was more of a social thing or something. That started to really bug me out. I got over it, but I really do think music is more effective in that sense, it reaches more people in a more real way.
I was thinking back to the first Gang Gang Dance material, which consisted of much longer, more collage like pieces, and of course what you do now is very different, a lot more song oriented.
Well we used to really just improvise everything, the older pieces are more just improvisations that are edited down into some sort of sequence, and lately we do a little less of that. Improvisation is still the basis of everything that we do, but I'd say we spend more time refining the bits we record, whereas before we'd sort of roll tape and let it be. Now we try to structure the pieces a little more. We're a little more into pop structures now than we were before.
Do you think that what you're doing now is what you've always wanted to do, or have your interests changed as far as the kind of music you want to make?
I don't think it's either, again it is not very conscious. When we started playing, we just wanted to be loose and be free and we were listening to a lot of improvised music and we were around a lot of people making improvised music, free jazz and things like that, so it just gave us the confidence to just play and not really worry about what the hell we were doing. But after we were doing that for a while, I think it's a natural progression into sort of getting bored with how free it is to just improvise. It sounds sort of the opposite of what the terms "free" and "improv" mean, but it does eventually get a little limiting in a way, to only improvise. To get ourselves excited, we started taking this music and structuring it, and we had never done that before, so it became an exciting thing and we continued to do that gradually. I think the next one will be even more structured and melodic and pop.
And with God's Money, you guys sort of tapped into a particular sound and feel taken in different directions, whereas the new one is much more stylistically diverse, kind of all over the place. What do you think accounted for that difference?
A lot of it had to do with the recording process, which was a brutal nightmare to be honest. It was three years between records. We tried to record this new record a bunch of times, but we kept throwing it away for various reasons. We never really spent enough time in the studio at once for this record. We would record for like a week, and we'd go on tour, and when we came back we wouldn't really be happy with the music because it wouldn't be refined enough, and we'd throw it out and the whole thing would happen over again. Eventually, the record we ended up releasing is little bits of all those previous attempts, but for the most part it was done last December, we just decided to take a month and just do it and not really be too critical. We were being way too critical about it before, and I think that has a lot to do with how all over the place it is. And we struggled with that. We weren't too sure we liked that at first, but now I'm glad because I think it makes for an interesting record, and I don't think we'll ever make a record like that again.
I know you said you were a DJ, and I think you can hear the influence of hip hop and dubstep and reggae in Gang Gang Dance.
Well DJing really influenced me with the new record for me personally as far as the sequencing and transitioning between the songs. I used a lot of the same techniques that I use when I DJ live.
What do you like to spin when you DJ?
All over the place really, I like to play everything. The majority of it is maybe sort of reggae based music, like dancehall and grime and dubstep, but really I play all sorts of things. My whole thing with DJing is trying to find connections between drastically different genres of music and sort of find a way to melt them together and form a bond between different genres.
And it seems like that theory applies to Gang Gang Dance's music as well.
Yeah, definitely, like with this record, there are obviously very drastically different sounding individual pieces, but the best part for me of making the record was the sequencing, finding a way to put these drastically different pieces together.
I read a headline on you guys the other day in some English music magazine, and the headline was "Gang Gang Dance: Hot Chip and Klaxons Favorite Band!" I started to think about all the coverage you guys get in fashionable magazines, etc., and I was wondering what it means to you, if anything, to be considered a "fashionable" band.
I'm glad that it happens to us because I don't think the music we make is very accessible, so I feel very privileged to be put into context like that, where people may be tricked into listening to us. Like if someone reads that we're Hot Chip and Klaxons favorite band, and they like that sort of music, then I don't think if they researched us and listened to us that what they'll find is exactly what they thought they would find. In that way, it's really good, to expose people to a type of music that is a little more out there, whatever means it takes I guess. I think it's a good thing for sure. Like those bands are pretty pop and accessible and mainstream, so if their fans can check us out and be weirded out by us, that is a good thing.
So what can we expect from your live show? What is your set up?
We have our usual set up, it's Josh playing guitar and synth guitar, and then a live drummer, and then I have a table with various snyths and effects and electronic percussion, and then stuff for vocals. On this tour, we're not really playing much from the new record actually, and except for one song on God's Money, the rest of it is all newer stuff that we're working on for the next record. It's strange sometimes because people seem to want to hear what they know, but we just get bored with our music and we want to kind of move on to the next thing. The record was done so long ago so we just started playing newer stuff. We're recording again in January, so we're doing a lot of that stuff now on the tour.