At one point, we were certain to crown the recent album by Gnod – “InGnodWeTrust” – as our absolute favorite of the year. Consisting of two stupefyingly brilliant, towering tracks of utter madness, “InGnodWeTrust” immediately captured our full attention and refused to give it back.
But then something unexpected happened. Gnod released “Chaudelande Volume 1” and – horror of horrors – we became even more enthralled and obsessed than we were prior.
We find it nearly impossible to express in words what makes the music of Gnod so compelling. By turns, it is punishing, dramatic, ecstatic, frenzied and – wait for it – danceable. It is rarely the same thing twice and, we have learned, works its magick perfectly well whether the listener is laying absolutely still with headphones on, or piloting a vehicle at high rates of speed, screaming all the way.
In his essential Krautrock essay, our pal Erik Davis opines:
“When we gaze up at the night sky, or when we analyze the sacred geometry seemingly carved into the planetary orbits or our astrological natal charts, we can still sniff the atmosphere of beauty and perfection that inspired the old Greeks and their craftsman cosmos … But another quality has entered our experience of the cosmos as well: a stern and sometimes self-immolating feeling of immensity and awe mixed with disorientation, loneliness, even fear. The cosmos, it seems, is no more beautiful than it is inhospitable … In the sublime dialectic of the kosmiche, titanic and inhuman struggles are mysteriously pared with a serene acceptance of an underlying unity.”
A better description of Gnod’s music you may not find … but if you prefer an alternate, we’ll co-sign the description of one Julian Cope as well: “really just one helluva fucking mind-X-panda.”
We are grateful to share this interview with two Gnod-heads, Chris Haslam (bass, guitar, and keys/synths) and Paddy Shine (guitar, vocals, drums, synths). Gnod-speed!
Is there a push-pull relationship in your mind between the desire for a repetition-driven, trance-inducing musical experience and the immediacy of unleashing a tight, simple riff? How do you balance these two forces within the music of Gnod? Is there even a balance? Should there be?
Chris: We don’t really think about it too much. We jam on riffs that we like to play and we play them for a long time because the longer you play a simple riff, the more you lock into a trance state. You find the same thing (repetition of a simple act) in many other things (e.g. meditation) that try to achieve a higher state.
Paddy: Riff + Riff= Riff.
Following through on the theme of balance, the Gnod live experience has the reputation of being a relatively unbalanced affair. Not in the sense of being mentally unbalanced (though – fair cop – that may be present as well), but rather that Gnod seem to be well in favor of tipping the scales toward the audience having an ecstatic experience, toward letting go of the ordinary performer-audience-applause narrative and truly connecting with the music. Was this a stated or understood goal of the band when first coming together, or is it a perspective that developed over time? Do you have concern for performances to slip out of your control – to the point that it’s no longer a Gnod performance but a bunch of people banging on drums, walls, pots and pans? Is it important to retain control of the music? Is it possible to do so and still have that ecstatic experience?
Chris: Again, it’s not something we intentionally set out to do. We were listening to a lot of krautrock and experimental bands such as Neu, Can, Sunburned Hand Of The Man & African Psychedelia and wanted to play music which was free of the constraints of conventional songwriting and more of a collective jam. I already had a bass stack and G (the first Gnod guitarist) had a Sound City stack, we wanted the music to sound loud and powerful.
At shows we just try to make it sound as powerful as possible and when you are playing simple riffs repetitively at loud volumes, it has a certain effect on the audience. They can hear it is a pure thing, nothing contrived. I think this makes the audience feel more connected to the band. Like punk when it first happened, it was pure energy and everyone had the feeling that it was something that they could do, too, because it was so simple and dealt in no frills primal energy.
Paddy: When we first started out it was pretty much a free for all with the emphasis on volume and madness. When we played house parties there would more than likely be pots and pans getting banged by penny whistle playing elves and the like. People properly losing it and dancing with us while we played for as long as we could take it … all that good shit. Playing “proper” venues around UK and Europe, that kinda thing doesn’t happen as much but the six or seven playing the music still put in the same energy as they would playing a party or whatever and if all goes well, heads in the crowd feel it and then we’re all in it together. I don’t think we are ever in control of the music when we play it – we just try sending it in the right direction.
Our understanding is that Gnod operates as more of a collective than a proper group, allowing for an even wider range of ideas and outside influences to find ways into the music. What is one perspective from your own musical listening habits that you feel you add to the music you create and perform, one that you feel might be missing otherwise? Can you pinpoint an artist or band that you may have never explored without the push from another Gnod member?
Chris: It is a collective and members come and go and come back again. There are also constant members who have been there from the start or joined us later on. We are all friends so we play each other new stuff that we discover all the time. For example, Paddy introduced me to Fela Kuti and I introduced him to Sunburned. I wouldn’t say that the music has many influences because of the amount of members that have been in Gnod – it’s due to the fact that we all have pretty diverse music tastes as individuals.
Paddy: Gnod is a haven for illegal immigrants and if it wasn’t for them I’d have never REALLY listened to Fat Larry’s band, ZOOM.
Your album “InGnodWeTrust” is an absolute stunner, certainly one of the more compelling musical riots we’ve ever been fortunate enough to wrap our ears around. Did you set out to create a sonic assault on Catholicism or was it an evolutionary process? How did Tony get from his first disco to his first communion, and what did he wear to each? Would you ever disco-dance in the Vatican?
Chris: We came up with the riffs for “Vatican” around the time that the Pope was visiting the UK. While we were recording the track later that year we decided to add some Latin chanting and church organ to give the track more of an association with the subject. We were trying to come up with this image we had of the Catholic Church being a dark, creepy, terrifying place (…which it is!). I was a Catholic and got out of it in my early teens and since then I have thought about it a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a trap to help keep people under control. There are many other things I could say about it but I’m not going to go into a full on rant so, next question … ?
Ah, “Tony’s.” “Tony’s” started as us bastardising Tony Conrad and Faust’s excellent “Outside The Dream Syndicate.” We basically took the drum beat from the first track and played over it, trying to keep it stripped down and simple. Over time it evolved and became a good final track to play in our live set. We captured a good recording of it in rehearsal early on and sent it to Justin (Sonic Meditations/Expo70) for side B of “The Crystal Pagoda” tape he released on his label. We called it “Tony’s First Disco.” On the tape it came out as “Tony’s First Disco,” but for some reason, on the sleeve it said “Tony’s Last Disco,” haha! Side A to that tape was our alternative soundtrack to “The Invasion of Thuderbolt Pagoda (which is an ace psychedelic film by Ira Cohen),” which we did at a festival in Salford. Find a Pink Floyd fan and synch them up! Later on when we were recording “InGnodWeTrust,” we decided to do a studio version of “Tony’s,” as we had been playing it so much live and it had evolved again into new areas. We put some Gregorian chanting on it and decided to call it “Tony’s First Communion” to fit into the religious theme of the record. There you go, mystery solved. It was the guy with the white cap and cloak on all along!
Paddy: Check the Drumcunt and Pupilar Remixes of “Vatican” out on Soundcloud. Heavy shit.
Can music be an effective tool for highlighting societal ills propagated by religion, by governments, by corporations, by people? Or would it be more effective – if less dignified – to take a page of direct action out of the book of early Norwegian black metal and just set a few churches ablaze?
Chris: Yeah, if any subversive stuff ever got any mainstream coverage, but we live in times when it’s hard to see if anything good will ever get through again. We are bombarded with so much shit every day. The Internet helps but is also filled with lots of utter shite. I think that this is part of what makes people go out and do extreme things in order to get noticed or highlight things they think are wrong. Violent expressions happen when the voice is ignored. I’m not saying I agree with it (especially when innocent people suffer, not the real targets) but I can understand why it happens.
Paddy: Music is the weapon.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that for your next show, you will don seven-inch leather-heeled boots, bat-wing make-up and cod-pieces, before treating the audience to a twenty-minute interpretation of a Kiss classic, now entitled “Gnod of Thunder”?
Chris: Not really. We don’t take ourselves that seriously.
Paddy: Circle beat us to it, but they’ve got the good taste to leave out the Kiss classic.
We are completely entranced by the sounds presented on your latest release, “Chaudelande Vol. 1” – can we take from the title that there will eventually appear additional volumes of this title? What can you tell us specifically about the origin of the song “Tron”? Could the inspiration truly have been Disney movies and light-cycles?
Chris: Yes, “Volume 2″ should be out in early 2012 and will feature another three tracks from the same session. “Entrance,” which we have played live quite a few times so people will recognize that one. “Man On The Wire” was a track we have played live a few times but it never really stuck. A good version of it came out in the Chaudelande Sessions so that’s on there, complete with neo-psych-folk intro. The “big” track on side B is a grand dub version of “Genocider,” which is an old favorite from the days when we were just uploading jams and rehearsals onto MySpace. I think we have managed to do it justice on “Volume 2.”
Paddy: The track was originally called “Fuck Off, Tron.” I recorded it on four-track with a Casio keyboard and had access to a V-kit and drum machine. Gnod took it and twisted it into the beasty it is now.
What music have you been listening to lately? Is push comes to shove, what is your favorite White Hills song of all time and why?
Chris: Reggae & dub, dub-step, grime, 80′s pop, Berlin techno. “Oceans of Sound” is probably my favorite White Hills track – lovely structure.
Paddy: Loads of old old shit from around the world, Drunk In Hell, Gnawa and Tamachek stuff, loads of tapes of droney and noisy shit like Drunks with Guns and labels Brave Mysteries and Sloowtapes. As far as White Hilld, I’m gonna say “Glitter Glamour Atrocity” as a whole is my favorite. Just imagine it as one big track.
The book “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy (who we believe loves Napalm Death) contains the following passage:
“The truth about the world … is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue or precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tent show whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.”
Chris: 21st – 23rd December, 2012.
What’s next for Gnod?
Chris: More of the same until world domination.
Paddy: Touring, recording and stayin’ alive. Also, possibly the loudest techno record ever made in the works.