New Gazelle Twin album Pastoral
Gazelle Twin’s stunning new album is a multi-faceted work and we interview her at the time that the ‘Glory’ video is released. Directed by long time collaborator Tash Tung, it powerfully highlights ‘Pastoral’s potent and timely examination of England’s rotten past, shining a light on its ever-darkening present – in a full blown cinematic epic shown, in part, through the lens of the English crusades. In it, a Knight meets a series of familiar and less familiar characters deep in the forest. Gazelle Twin says she wrote ‘Glory’, thinking about the plundered and violent heritage of Britain’s Religious institutions, and how our wrung-out National traditions / celebrations still attempt to glorify it.
How did the idea for the album form in your mind, and what are the key themes?
It was a very long process and a real mixture of experiences that happened when I was thinking about making an album themed on something entirely different. My experiences ranged from everyday mundanity (always a strong source of inspiration) to extreme things like being in the middle of a terrifying terrorist attack. All of this was happening after moving county during a really huge shift in disturbing Political events, and then giving birth to my first child and raising him to a toddler. Ultimately I was asking myself a lot of questions about identity - what does it mean to be a White British middle-class female? What does it mean to be English and British? What does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be an artist in this century? What is happening to the country I live in? Why don’t I trust my neighbours anymore? etc.
Lyrically it’s incredible - you’ve turned the unlikeliest of words and phrases into hooks and choruses. Can you tell us about that process?
Thanks! Well, the lyrics are always something that seem to come out naturally, and for this record they flowed really easily. I wanted it to feel like multiple voices, from multiple centuries, and taking on the personality of those identities. A lot of the phrases are mocking everyday sayings and cliches that you might hear in any part of the world really, from an older generation, such as “much better in my day”. “Get on your Hobby Horse” is probably the most bizarre, I’ll admit! But it just came out that way. Inspiration for that line, initially, was as simple as me buying a few old hobby horses off ebay (with the intention of using them in photo shoots instead of a real horse - because getting a real horse to use wasn’t really within my budget). They were sitting in my studio whilst I made the album and bam, it just all made sense really, the stupidity of it, the folkloric aspect, and the creepiness.
New sonic palette and simple instruments
What were your key tools and instruments on the album, and what new things did you experiment with, for example with your voice?
Very simple indeed. I used Ableton Live 9, together with a selection of very cheap plastic descant and treble recorders, a range of percussion such as jingle bells, cabasa, shakers, and my kid’s plastic tambourine. Vocally, I ventured into a range of singing styles, again, sort of caricatures and used Ableton’s standard pitch shift for some of that, but generally, the treatment of that was fairly light. Recorders haven’t featured in my Gazelle Twin music before, but they’re not a new instrument for me, they’ve been around since I was at school, probably even before. I loved experimenting with simple electronic filters like adding a bit of chorus and shifting the pitch so you get interesting widening of the wave form to really hear the breath vibrations separate out. You can get some really nice glissandi and quarter-tones on recorders quite easily too. I used a lot of that kind of thing to create that sense of eerieness, and a to double up with my vocal bends too.
Did you consciously set out to have a different sonic palette from your last album?
Yes. I always do, for every album. It has to fit the theme and encompass everything I want to say. I never play old music or mix old and new songs in a live set. It’s only ever the album I’m touring, and when that’s over, that’s it forever. I don’t see much point in my covering the same ground sonically, at least not for too long. I get easily bored and it’s far more exciting trying to go against yourself as much as possible, that’s always when I get to the best stuff.
Video and phone recordings
Field recordings are also a feature, what kind of things did you capture?
I wanted to help build the landscape and the picture of the rural. I mostly just took videos on my phone on various walks down the village streets where I live whilst pushing my son in his buggy, or on other outings in to the city or to churches or National Trust sites (there are quite a lot where I live). The crow song at the end of ‘Tea Rooms’ is from one of those walks.
I also captured a busker in Nottingham singing John Tam’s “Over The Hills’ - I never found out his name, but he had a very traditional folk voice and was using a little puppet that was dancing along to his song. It had a great quality as it was on my phone (I like phone recordings a lot). I took that video really early on in the making of the album, but I instantly knew it would fit somewhere. Other recordings were from walking through churches during choral practices or sitting at my computer typing emails and making phone calls (well, a reenacted phone call) to the local police.
Recorder effects and looping
You have managed to rehabilitate the recorder as a contemporary instrument! What was the thinking around using it on the album and in such an extraordinary way?
I think there are many who would argue that it’s still a contemporary instrument, or at least still has a place in contemporary music! I adore it. Especially the lower register ones like the treble and bass recorder, they’re stunning instruments. Baroque recorder music particularly, is one my favourite types of early music, and including it in the album made a lot of sense in terms of the theme and periods.
Before I had even included the recorder in my album demos, I actually had it as part of the prototype red costume, very early on. I was taking photos to try a few things out, and I felt I needed some sort of pipe to hold and tootle and skip along with or sit down and wistfully play, like a shepherd in a pastoral painting, or like a jaunty folklore figure like the pied piper. It made sense to make it a central feature of the production, it features in all sorts of ways - mostly as dirtied up, looped samples of myself playing, or as wild howls covered in delay, or just as very straight melodic passages with lots of classical vibrato. It’s the perfect performative instrument for this album, because of the period it’s from, but also because of its simplicity. Run through my VE20 pedal for live shows, it can sound immense, but I also enjoy a spot of totally acoustic soloing with it too - it always commands the audience into silence.
Gazelle Twin - pic Terry Tyldesley
Creating in the home studio
You’ve written, recorded, produced and mixed the album. What were your favourite moments working on it, and what were the biggest challenges?
It was extremely satisfying when I got towards the end of the mixing, especially having initially thought I would not be doing that solely by myself. Practically it just had to be that way as I was under so many restrictions with my time. I was nervous about whether I could achieve what it needed, in my tiny little home studio, with its very basic gear but I’m glad saw it through and pushed myself to have total authorship. My husband Jez was crucial in the process however, as he was my only other pair of ears to really get the best out of each mix and ensure they were technically clean for mastering. Once finished, of course, I wasn’t convinced I had done my best or that it would be at all well received (I do really try to not concern myself with these kind of thoughts but it’s nearly impossible not to have this inner dialogue when at this stage because you’ve invested everything into it and you DO want it to provide some fruit at the end). The whole thing was a true struggle to create, because I was working on it in very short and constantly interrupted fragments of time - which is what is happening writing this interview, in fact! I constantly have to break away to domestic life. But this is all I know now. When my son was born in May 2016 I had to adapt the way I work entirely, but it definitely pushed me to work to my strengths.
Gazelle Twin - pic Terry Tyldesley
The live show at Rough Trade East was brilliant and compelling. How easy was it to create a performance of this album?
Thank you very much. I’m glad it came across well in that environment. When I was at the mixing stage of the album, I was already starting to move my body to the music in a certain way whilst listening and could visualise how it was going to look onstage.
I try to keep live shows simple enough to fit to any space, small or large. We don’t require an enormous lighting rig or visuals. I think simplicity is key. It’s always about the bare bones of the performance; the voice, the movement, and the message. I personally do not care how this happens or how simple the setup is, just as long as it has the right impact. I learned this simple rule when touring ‘Unflesh’ for two years, with an almost hiphop setup - just one other person triggering samples / backing track (my husband Jez), and me doing all the vocals live. We performed in so many different places, from concert halls to tiny cocktail bars in LA, and it always felt like it had an impact. I really didn’t feel like ‘Pastoral’ would need too much more than that treatment, as I knew the movements and performance style, and the costume would change things enough.
Movement is an important part of the performance and is really stark and evocative, did you work on that on your own, studying people very carefully, or do you work with a choreographer?
All the movements have come from my own reaction to the music and how I have felt I’ve needed to deliver it physically. There’s been no choreography or anything remotely sophisticated. I would never have had the budget for that. I watched a few old British Pathe films about rural folk traditions - just as inspiration for costumes and to see some of the folk dances, maypoles, or morris dancing etc, but that was about the extent of it. Bizarrely taking the first press shots allowed me to get into the spirit of the Red Imp with the full costume on, and that’s when it all really came together - including the grin - the movements are still developing with every live show that we do, they just seem to come out of nowhere and I find myself doing things I never planned to. A lot also depends on the audience reaction as well. I like to get in their face if I can but it’s not always possible on certain stages.
The costume appears to be a progression from Unflesh, what does it symbolise and what does it enable you to do?
The Blue Hoody and Red Imp costumes both utilise similar elements but for very different reasons. The face covering method (using tights with a hole cut for the mouth), and the sportswear elements connect them, but I used those elements in my proxy project ‘Kingdom Come’ performed by other people (Natalie Sharp, Stuart Warwick and Jez Bernholz). The tights have become a costume staple because of the function that acts as a face blurring tool with enough give to allow movement, and they’re cheap and easy to replace. The Blue hoody was very personal costume to me, but the Red Imp is more of a symbolic medley of eras and styles all working to create a modern day depiction of a social demon/s.
Still from Gazelle Twin Glory video - by Tash Tung
How did the PRS Foundation Momentum Funding help the project?
They enabled it to happen at all, it’s a simple as that really. Such a huge amount of money is required upfront to release a record to indie industry standard, which is why so many labels struggle. As a self-released artist, there would have been no other way of me realising the album at all.
What is coming up next for you?
A lot of touring with Pastoral, and some off-shoot projects including a collaboration with NYX Electronic Drone Choir coming up on 9th December at the Pickle Factory in London. The new year is already looking busy with plans, but I’ve no idea when I’ll contemplate the next album proper.
Gazelle Twin performs Pastoral at Somerset House in London on 16th November as part of Assembly.
On 9th December she performs a drone choir collaboration with NYX at The Pickle Factory in London. Tickets on sale now.
You can buy and stream Pastoral on different platforms here.