- by Rob Taylor Release Date: Label:
Gold Celeste have produced a wonderful debut, The Glow (review to follow in coming days), which is sure to attract international acclaim, at least amongst those sites and publications that celebrate adventurism in music. Although the band are at great pains to describe themselves as experimental or exploratory, this is only a portion of the story. The Glow will definitely challenge for end of year ‘best of’ lists, particularly for those writers with a predilection for dreamy psych-pop.
Eirik and Simen proved to be very intelligent subjects when talking with Soundblab.
SB: It’s always possible to take a stab at musical influences, yet your brand of dreamy pop casts such a wide net, and there’s no definitive reference point. I came up with Deserter Songs era Mercury Rev because of the beautiful fragility and ‘castles in the air’ whimsy in your compositions. There’s also the Beach House/Tame Impala comparison. You’ve crafting a very distinctive and, dare I say it, original sound here.
Eirik: We've spent the last two years writing, producing, recording and mixing this album, completely on our own, in Simen's studio. During this 'isolation time' we've listened a lot to bands like Tame Impala and Beach House (and a bunch of other bands!), but we're not trying to replicate something already done.
We've spent countless hours reading and searching the net for techniques that can provide new exciting sounds, and we've discussed this in and out, but we always end up with something other than what we initially had in mind. I think we've spent more time on tweaking knobs on analogue gear than playing, so the band's sound is really important for us.
Simen: Our common musical influences from the start was Radiohead, Sigur Ros and Motorpsycho, and those bands have definitely set a base for our songwriting and soundscapes. But on a purely sonic level our ideals tend to go back to the late 60's and early 70's (Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, wierd lo-fi Thai-psych and Ethiopian funk, old soul records, The Velvet Underground and so on). I agree with Eirik regarding not trying to replicate something already done.
SB: How would you describe your own music ?
Eirik: I think "exploratory" is a good description of our music, both musically and sonically.
Most of our music is made when we jam out and wait for a person to hit a note or chord that turns things upside down. When that finally happens we make a loop of the "mistake" and add vocals and other instruments. These mistakes are often the basis for the songs. This stream-of-consciousness approach is the essence of our music and lets us make music we could never have come up with on our own.
Simen: Since it's often hard to put words on your own music we spent some time trying to jot down something people could understand: "A wonderful blend of melancholic lo-fi grandeur coupled with laid-back elegance, and lyrics that delve into injustice, and an increasing pacified community. The «fast food culture» of modern society where short term solutions and lack of depth, insight and dedication dominate.
Our expression draws inspiration from the crispy lo-fi sounds of peers from the 60s, the eccentrics and adventurers of the 70s, the DIY indie-gazers and dissident hip-hoppers of the 80s and 90s - a tropical haven you can bring your culturally and socially alienated friends to."
SB: You’ve said that album title ‘The Glow’ is an allusion to the yin and yang in all of us, a capacity for evil, as much as love and acceptance. The mood of the album is tipped very certainly towards the positive end of that spectrum though, isn’t it ?
Simen: Well, i’m glad that’s the feeling you’re left with! When you look at both today’s current events, and history in general, we’ve all been through so much shit. We’ve never seemed to crack the code of just thriving. Even when the most fortunate of us got all our basic “needs” covered, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays got the brilliant idea of driving the economical pipe-dream onwards using the media to create “wants”. This idea grew into what’s known as the “PR”-industry, and was the psychological blueprint for what would become infamous propaganda. The ability to control public opinion, using psychology to insert profitable traits into culture for people to mindlessly devour has been maintained and enhanced for too long. It’s about time to cut the crap, am I not right? Let the search for yourself be an internal self-ransacking journey alongside the rewarding challenge of trying to be a tolerant, warm and understanding social human being.
SB: On a slightly different theme, your band name, Gold Celeste is a reference to the golden hours of dawn and dusk which inspire thought and contemplation. Is that why there’s so much great psych-pop/rock coming out of Northern Scandinavia, because you guys get so much of that light ? I guess there’s little difference between navel gazing and star gazing.
Simen: We recorded the album in Trondheim, in the middle of Norway (which is pretty far up North, really!), and we’ve both witnessed the beautiful auroras forming in the sky at night and the light and warm summer nights that really just feels like an extension of the day. Though this was greatly appreciated, we spent too much time indoors in my studio to put too much credit on other surroundings.
I can only speak for how i perceive the Norwegian music scene, but I think since we’re so few people up here that there are fewer bands in the more niche categories of musical expressions. The sub-cultures are so small, it’s easier to get an overview. The social networks of like-minded people are smaller. This can be both negative in the way that few dare to speak their minds for fear of losing friends and potential fans and/or collaborators, but it is also positive in the sense that if you’re good you’ll most likely get noticed. Getting in touch with like-minded people can be easier since there aren’t too many chasing the same carrot. I think it’s a good thought that everyone should be able to go on stage and perform something, but demanding to be taken seriously is not.
SB: I read somewhere that you’re partly influenced by shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. I have to say though, it’s a long bow, I’m not really hearing it. I guess the gauzy sound and laid back vocals share some of those characteristics. What I’m hearing is some really beautiful mature pop music with great arrangements. You guys are fairly proficient on your instruments, right ?
Eirik: I guess MBV's not a major influence on the songwriting, but Kevin Shield's use of the tremolo arm has been a huge inspiration for us. He taught us how noise can be beautiful.
Hehe. "Mature pop" is something we associate with Sting! The pre recorded 1/4" tape we used for "The Glow" was actually a Sting album. We intended to keep 4 seconds of Sting at the end of one of the songs, but we bailed (luckily!)
Anyway, we focused a lot on the arrangements of the songs when we recorded the album: Instrumentation, structure and how to make room for everything. Sometimes it's hard to restrict yourself when you're in the studio. You just want to add more and more instruments - a bad habit that is hard to break.
Simen: When you hang around in the studio all day playing all the instruments in sight you get a pretty hands-on approach to the instruments. They become creative tools you can use to form the moods amplifying the songs. You can tweak your ass off, but as the saying goes "shit in, shit out".
I also think the maturity you're referring to is simply the five year long process we've been through just honestly and empirically seeing what right for us and what isn't. I think with maturity comes a responsibility to think outside the box and try to see, hear and think like a child. If you don't, you'll end up a boring old fart.
We also recorded most of the songs live as a trio at first so that the structure of the song would be vital, lively and not too constructed. Then, we added the rest of the instruments trying not to overshadow the basic structure too much. Sometimes parts of the songs sound better when you mute layers and layers of tracks revealing the structure and main melody. We really like layers, like the masters in MBV, but we've tended not to let it go completely inside this lush, dreamlike universe, keeping one foot in this unforgiving, stinky but beautiful place we call home.
SB: The start of ‘Pastures’ could easily be mistaken for a piano lead ‘Blue Note’ release from the late 1950s. Very tasteful experimentation.
Simen: To start out, the last couple of years i’ve mostly listened to jazz and soul music from the 50’s to mid 70’s. Just being really tired by the myriad of bland and unoriginal music surfacing the web and flooding most media channels harvesting easy money, this music has something timeless and unique about it. Listeners appreciated musicianship, a pretty niche area at the moment. The cut came after me and Eirik recorded this jam for hours over a drum loop. Suddenly we kinda hit something and found a loop worth stuffing into a folder of nuggets. Two years later we dug it up and put it on the record! We experiment a lot, but within an area we’re both mutually curious to expand. If we’re perceived as having a consistency in arrangements it’s most likely just a natural symbiosis of our preferences and tastes, and a sense of constructive limits.
SB: You’re not going to do a Radiohead, and get all gloomy on us next time, are you ?
Simen: I have this feeling that the next time we’ll try to see what really lurks on both sides of the spectrum. Without any direct agreements or disputes I ended up writing all the lyrics on this album, and in hindsight I see that all the songs are really strongly connected thematically, even though that wasn’t the intention initially.
For this album, a driving force to actually pull it through was the thought of spreading a message that was all about the beauties of human diversity. Gloominess most certainly is part of that, and I think the songwriters in Radiohead went through some kind of reality check followed by a period of disillusionment, and needed to get it out of their system, and into the ears of their fans (Hail to the Thief era). I love Radiohead for having the guts to put the truth out there, even though some might say it affected the music too much. I think that the position you’re in as a musician and songwriter to speak out what you’re thinking of is both scary and empowering. Being a know-it-all serving up instructions and lessons is really not the way to go. Try to put yourself into the listener’s position.
Encouragement, warmth and open-ended wonder doesn’t preclude the need for challenging and criticising authority, who through history have excelled in pinning us against each other, and force-feeding us with institutionalised religions.
Gold Celeste's latest video can be found here :
'The Glow' is released on Friday 11th September through Riot Factory.