One band alone, is usually more than enough to consume one's life schedule - from recording to touring, it becomes more than a full-time job with very little spare time. But for Jay Watson, being in three musical projects is just standard practice. As part of Tame Impala, Pond, and his own musical endeavour, Gum, it's hard to imagine how he ever has any time to himself.
But he manages it - and he manages it well. The latest release from Gum (in the form of sophomore album 'Glamorous Damage') is a triumph and testament to his ability as a musician in his own right, combining traditional guitar riffs with 80s synths and electronic sounds to create an entirely unique sound.
We spoke to Jay while he was in New Zealand on the road with Tame Impala, about the release of Gum's sophomore album 'Glamorous Damage', as well as his thoughts on the NZ flag referendum, and more…
"...I'm always so paranoid about doing corny things, or cheesy things in music, that often I probably don't make as good music as I could if I wasn't stifling it so much."
COUP DE MAIN: Congrats on the release of your sophomore album, 'Glamorous Damage'. The record uses a lot of traditional guitar sounds, but the 80s synths and electronic vibe gives it an entirely different feel. How do you go about starting a song idea - does it start with an electronic base, or a guitar riff normally?
GUM - JAY WATSON: A lot of the guitars - in fact, I think all of them apart from like two songs are through a synth, even like all the shred-dy guitar stuff is through a synth. So you can be more guilty and like hair metal, or 'cock rock', but it doesn't sound as cheesy because it has that synth filter on it. I either write songs on guitar, or... I don't ever have a keyboard with me, but like, my keyboard on the laptop. I'm a bit of a gunner on the QWERTY keyboard. So actually, mostly on the laptop. Even if it is rock and roll, I tend to make the chords just on tour or something, and then work it out on guitar. I don't really have a guitar ever with me.
CDM: You recorded the entire album yourself, which is very impressive. How long does it take you to finish recording a song from start to end, with all of the different musical layers?
GUM: I didn't actually record it all myself, my friend helped me record it - but I mixed it myself. I don't kind of do it all at once. I would if I had time, if I had a month to do, like a block free, but I've never had that long free, really. So I just do it as I go along.
CDM: The bass part in 'R.Y.K' is one of the catchiest things I've heard this year - do you experiment a lot when writing? Or are you quite decisive?
GUM: Oh, thanks! Depends what I'm going for. On this album I was basically going to make it super pop, and super bangin', but kind of as fucked up sounding as I could as well. Which is what I'm kind of always trying to do - all of us actually, like Pond, and my stuff especially, and I guess Nick [Allbrook]'s stuff - every time make it more groovy and danceable, but also more whacked out than the last one. All my favourite music is either one of those things, or people doing those things together. And not just weird for the sake of weird, but because I like weird noises. But I also like the new Justin Bieber - you know what I mean.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT 'GLAMOROUS DAMAGE'…
CDM: With your busy Tame Impala touring schedule, I think you've only been able to play one live show so far for this new album? Ideally, if you had all the time in the world and unlimited resources, how do you envision the new album translating into a live setting?
GUM: I'd have a big band, I think. I'd have like six people. I wouldn't play anything - I've never done that - I'd have a headset mic or something.
CDM: Channelling your inner Bieber?
GUM: I was thinking more like 80s Phil Collins, but I saw he had a headset on The Ellen Show, Bieber, this morning when I woke up. I never really liked any of his songs until these new singles actually. It's hard to sing really well when you're playing an instrument, but it'd be great to try and sing really well and have vocal effects and one drummer on a real drum-kit, and one on an electronic kit.
CDM: There's a vocal layer in 'Glamorous Damage' that talks about synthesisers and machines - is that a sample from a film?
GUM: It's from a YouTube video. The content of it was an accident. It's like a cool video of Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones playing with a Fairlight CMI synth, which is Australian - can't remember what it's the first of, it's the first of something. It's just cool, just a really funny YouTube video. I guess I just took the most profound bit from it, but the rest of it is really funny. There's one bit where they're making up a beat, and Quincy Jones is impressed that it's really groovy and Herbie Hancock says something, and makes a joke like, "Yeah, but only if a brother programs it." And they both fall apart laughing for ages.
CDM: I love your cover of 'Science Fiction'. What made you decide to cover that particular song?
GUM: Thanks. I dunno, I just really like that song. Well, I'd always hear it in cabs, it's always on Oz classic rock radio. And I always liked the lead-line and I thought it'd be cool to do. In the first half of the song it's really old-fashioned, it's an old organ drum, it sounds spiritualised or something, and then it goes ballistic into future-rock or some shit.
CDM: The lyrics, "I thought that love was science fiction / Until I saw you today," are quite a romantic notion - thinking that love was unreal until meeting the perfect person. Are you a romantic? Or a realist?
GUM: I was more of a romantic on the first one [album]. I wouldn't write something like that because I'd be embarrassed that it was corny or something, which it's obviously not, but I always hide stuff like that. But because it was someone else's, it was easier to do. But yeah, I guess I am - as much as anyone else. But I'm also pretty shy. I couldn't write an Adele song or something. I could, but it'd be covered in effects so you couldn't hear it. In fact, some of the reviews I've read for this, most of the wishy-washy ones, are mostly about how you can't hear the vocals. So next time, I'll probably mix them louder and take like five chorus plug-ins that I've got on it out.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT BEING IN NEW ZEALAND...
CDM: You've said that none of your songs are literal, but more of an "aesthetic thing". Was that a conscious decision? Or just what comes naturally to you when songwriting?
GUM: I can't write - out of all the things it takes to make music, lyrics are the thing I'm by far the shittiest at. And I can't write story-songs, like I couldn't write a Bob Dylan or Tom Waits song, you know what I mean? I can only write whatever weird phrases come into my head, and hope that they're good. Sometimes I came up with really crap ones in the past, but now I just kind of have to filter them out. Even the most abstract ones, there's always some kind of... and every few abstract ones, I try to have one that's really honest or something. Like one you can actually understand the sentiment of, so it's not just gibberish. I am a big Brian Eno fan - the first few Brian Eno records are just absolute gibberish and he came up with a lot of lyrics by writing down loads and loads of random sentences and streams, and I find meaning in that music, even though he'd probably say it's absolute gibberish.
CDM: The final song on this album, 'Carnarvon', is named after a coastal town in Perth. What was the significance of this place that made you give the song that name?
GUM: I was born there, but that's about it. I only have like one or two memories, I was like two when we moved to Sydney - and that's really short and really vague sounding, really blissed out and like a fragmented memory. Just like trying to soundtrack the one memory I had.
CDM: Have you visited Elafonissi, the beach in Crete?
GUM: Yeah, it's a beach that my girlfriend and I went last year. The only reason it's called that is because I made it up there in the Airbnb where we were, but also it's a metaphor for something I can't really explain.
CDM: In 'Notorious Gold' you sing that you're afraid about getting old, and I think it's quite a relatable feeling, especially in younger generations now. Why do you think our generation has this fear of growing up?
GUM: I guess every generation probably did, we just feel we're that age now. That song is actually about… Did you ever watch 'True Detective'? It's about Rustin Cohle, the Matthew McConaughey, world-weathered... So it's a bit of that, and a bit of me. Because he's so cool in the show, but it's just so depressing. Spoiler, but right until the end, like I don't want to be like that - that cynical, and that over it all.
MY #1 FEAR IN LIFE RIGHT NOW…
CDM: Do you tend to write based on other characters as well as your own life?
JAY: That's actually the only time I've done that I think, I actually used his name in the chorus, it's a cool name, Rustin. It's like, ambiguous.
CDM: What do you think is the difference between a good song and a great song?
GUM: That's the point isn't it? It's unquantifiable. Whenever I think I know something is a classic, or an amazing song, I realise it's still so subjective, because you and your friends could be talking about something, say, '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' - an amazing classic song - or someone would be like, "'Hey Jude' is an amazing song!", and I'd be like, "I don't really like it." You know what I mean? Or like, my housemates are loving that new Adele song, but it didn't really move me at all. But they're all girls, so they're probably more romantic... Sorry that sounds sexist - you know what I mean, I came back at like 2 in the morning from the pub and they were all screaming it in the lounge, I was like, “Yeah, I don't really get it.” That came across the wrong way.
CDM: You've already weighed in on Instagram about your thoughts on the upcoming New Zealand flag referendum, so we'd now like you to draw your suggestion for what the flag should be, please.
GUM: Well, you can't really beat the laser one, the laser kiwi one. What would it be? Have you heard about how there's a guy from New Zealand and a guy from Sydney who're always arguing about who invented the flat white? Do you think New Zealand invented the flat white? Because everyone in Australia thinks they invented the flat white. I live in London now and they're huge, and all the best baristas are either Kiwi or Australian; usually Kiwi. But maybe it should just be this:
IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND…
CDM: Earlier this year, you did a remix of Kuroma's song '20+Centuries'. How does the remixing process for you work? Is it something you like to do compared to writing your own material?
GUM: I like to do it - like the GUM stuff, they're not a huge band, they're mates, we did a tour with them with Tame, a couple of them play in MGMT. I knew that the blogosphere probably wouldn't be scrutinising me or them about it. I do them really quickly, I've only ever done like two, but it's pretty fun. Because I'm always so paranoid about doing corny things, or cheesy things in music, that often I probably don't make as good music as I could if I wasn't stifling it so much. But with remixes I can just go as bombastic as I probably naturally would.
CDM: Are Pond recording a new album in January?
GUM: Yeah, in December and January. It's gonna be really good actually, it's definitely going to be the best one. Kevin is building a new studio in Perth, so we're going to be the first people to record there. It'll be the first time ever that we've done something on our own time, not rushed, about six weeks, which is the longest ever. We've always done them in like two weeks, or something - at least initial recording. It'll be up to us, we can either go in that day or go to the beach, do it for an hour or do it for fourteen hours. So it's probably going to be the most joyful one, I guess. But it's going to be a lot different. A lot more 'beats'... I dunno. We'll see.
CDM: What do you think is the best quote that Karl Pilkington has ever said?
GUM: Oh shit, have you been on my Instagram? He's amazing. I can't think of any off the top of my head now, there's too many. Ummm… I can't think of any of the profound ones, I can only think of the really dumb ones. I like in 'The Moaning Of Life' - "If you showed five photos of various anuses, I couldn't pick mine out from a line-up.” That's a pretty good one. Because he's there getting like L.A botox and anal bleaching, and he's like, “What's the point of anal bleaching?" I don't need to improve the look of my own if I don't even know what it looks like.
CDM: If G.U.M. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
GUM: Good-looking Ugly Man? There you go.
CDM: If you could pick any five people (living or dead) to be in your entourage, who would you choose?
GUM: Karl Pilkington, Larry David, it'd be good to have maybe 3 of The Expendables? Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren. All the trouble that Karl and Larry would get us into, they would able to sort out.
Gum's album 'Glamorous Damage' is out now - click here to purchase it via iTunes.
Watch the 'Anesthetized Lesson' music video below…