"We changed things up a lot in how we work..." - Gengahr talk new album Sanctuary
Experimental indie types Gengahr have built a stellar reputation over their seven-year career, blending psychedelia and dream pop for two well-received LPs.
Now though, it's time for something different.
A change of style and a change of sound arrive with new album Sanctuary, which is on hmv's shelves from today (January 31st).
As the album arrives in hmv stores, we spoke to guitarist John Victor about why this album is a radical change in direction, working with Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman and their plans for £40,000,000 laser-fuelled live show...
When did you start working on the songs for Sanctuary?
"Summer 2018. It was just before we finished touring Where Wildness Grows, but there felt like a clear line between the two writing processes. We changed things up a lot in how we work. From A Dream Outside to Where Wildness Grows we hadn’t stopped writing and the two records feel very connected to me. There was a clear line in the sand for Sanctuary."
How did you want this album to move on from what you did on Where Wildness Grows? Did you have a goal of how you wanted it to sound?
"Good? Or maybe professional? A Dream Outside has a very strange production that I like, I think it sounds cute and Where Wildness Grows was meant to be a bigger indie rock sounding record that didn’t really work out sonically. With Sanctuary we wanted to make sure it sounded big with a nice low end and way more diction in the vocals."
"We started writing on the computer which changed things quite drastically, original ideas were all based around drum loops, synths and samples. We finished the record for the most part as a full band but we kept some of those pre-production parts that give the album a certain feel and sound."
You did the album with Bombay Bicycle Club's Jack Steadman, how did that collaboration come about?
"We knew him from college so we approached him about working on a single in between albums and we all really enjoyed the process. It came together really quick and was really exciting to have a new workflow and new ideas."
What did he give you as a producer?
"It’s the first time we’ve worked with such a hands-on producer, it was great to have someone so invested in the songs and to really help with pre-production and song structure. He was an amazing ear, he’s an amazing musician and has great taste musically and sonically. His biggest influence was saying 'No' to our stupid ideas."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"A lot of the songs on the album are centred around separation, uncertainty and the desire to regain comfort and control."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"Probably 'Icarus', it was one of the first songs written and one of the last finished. It went through a lot of different styles, starting like a Joy Division/New Order type track, became this really funky UMO-indebted track. But, by the end, we were all really happy with it. I played it to my friend and he just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘sounds like Foals’."
And which came together most quickly?
"'Heavenly Maybe' had a slow start and we went through a lot of production ideas like having a marimba instead of guitar but once we started playing it as a band we pretty much finished that one in a day. It was really fun working on all the different sections as we knew it was sounding really good."
"I spent a night locked away in a room and added a load of glitchy synthesisers to the track and they all made it onto the finished track. I made this really elaborate disco string arrangement for the bridge which was kind of hilarious, I’ve been assured you can still hear it in the mix, but I think the other guys are humouring me..."
It’s a 10-track album, did you always want to make a concise record or is that simply how the songs worked out?
"This is the first time we’ve worked with a proper producer and that shit is expensive so it was always going to have to be pretty concise. There were maybe three or four songs that didn’t make the cut. We got some advice from our publishers and old label Transgressive as to what should go on the record and I think the 10 tracks give the album a coherent mood and loose story."
When did you decide on Sanctuary for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"Whilst writing the album, the title I had in my head was ‘Post War Blues’ but towards the end of the recording process I thought that Sanctuary was a far cleaner summary of what the album was all about."
What are your plans to take the album out live?
"A £40,000,000 laser rock show! Felix (Bushe, singer) has to play keyboards and my pedalboard keeps threatening to get bigger. I have to do a load of backing vocals now which isn’t something that comes naturally to me. All my favourite live shows, regardless of genre are seeing artists playing with energy, having fun playing even if the music is downbeat and believing in what they are doing."
"We don’t need any extravagant staging to make that work. I think we’ve never been better live so come check us out on our tour, please."
You’ve got three records now, which officially marks the point where you can’t play everything anymore, how will you decide what songs make it into your live set?
"My Dad says we ‘now have a body of work’ which I enjoyed. We’ll still be playing old songs but looking forward to working out some of the more production-based new tracks. Maybe we’ll try and make our set suit what environment we're in."
"We can play a very rocky, heavy set or a very chill set if we’re doing festivals that would prefer one or the other. Our headline set will be more of a best of with some deep cuts and maybe even a cheeky cover."
How are your festival plans shaping up for the summer?
"Busy! We should hopefully be ready to start announcing things soon."