Sounding something like Dilla via Philip K. Dick, Perth band Grievous Bodily Calm (GBC) make music one Camp Doogs wag called “jazz for your azz”. ZOE KILBOURN caught up with GBC drummer Alex Reid and keyboardist Josiah Padmanabham ahead of their Sunday, April 29 set at the 25th anniversary of In The Pines.
How did you all meet? What are your musical backgrounds, and what does each member bring to the band?
Alex: I brought the band together in late 2016. The idea of making an instrumental-based beat music band had been floating around in my mind for a while. It wasn’t till meeting Josiah that I saw the opportunity for it to come to fruition. Josiah and I were put together in a band for an improvisation night curated by local experimental label Tone List. His sounds and interactivity floored me and it was a very profound experience. Matt (McGlynn, Trumpet), Zac (Grafton, Bass), and I had been playing together for several years, playing jazz music at university and in various bands. I knew Edo (Ekic, Guitar) from the local band scene and had been jamming with him for a few months. I saw an opportunity to bring these players together to pull us out of our comfort zones and create something unique.
Alex, you’re the drummer and the main songwriter for GBC – what’s it like to lead from the kit? How does the band’s composition process work?
Alex: Our writing process definitely varies from tune to tune. I tend to spark the writing process, usually through demoing beats and small fragments, some chords or a melody, then the collective process begins in the jam room. This might mean creating new melodies, chord progressions or whole new sections. Our tunes are refined over extended lengths of time. We still take old tunes in new directions live to keep them fresh for ourselves and the audience. Leading from the kit really just involves me yelling some instructions now again to help smooth out improvisations and dealing with the managerial side of things.
What’s your approach to improvisation?
Alex: Our approach to improvisation will change depending on the kind of gig. We’ll improvise a lot with extended and open sections if we’re playing two sets or if it’s more of a sit-down listening gig. If it’s a shorter set, we’ll tend to get through the material a little quicker to keep the ball rolling and the energy high.
You decided to record Thought Tapes, your first release, live at El Grotto. Was there anything in the recording that surprised you? Would you change anything if you did it again?
Alex: I think that record gives a good overall vibe of where we were at that time. Those were the first batch of tunes we ever wrote and a lot of it was written during our residency at El Grotto. Those regular gigs forced us to take songs in different, sometimes stark directions, rhythmically and harmonically. Each of one us would recollect special moments and use them as material for development. The record is a result of that process.
Josiah: Sampling is a skill I long to grasp – it fills me with wonder. A big reason I’m in GBC is Alex’s textual and visual influences. These are two beloved instances where that bled onto a track. We were rehearsing an early Replicant, with a Krautrock influence, when Matt starting playing with a harmon mute. It evoked a sci-fi neo-noir aesthetic, and Alex and I had been talking about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. So I overdubbed myself singing a great monologue from Blade Runner to a melody I found. Alex named Embla, which is the primordial feminine character in the Poetic Edda, formed from trees. So I took a recording of the stanzas discussing their origin from the Edda. Beautiful text.
A big part of the GBC sound are the synths, running live through Ableton. How do you develop those sounds?
Josiah: It’s just basic synth knowledge and active listening. Programs like Ableton are conducive to change, self-defined, and, with the internet, are open to the world. My brother taught me lots about Ableton. That the sounds I dreamed of when I listened to nerdy progressive rock and jazz fusion records as a kid can be achieved so easily is enthralling. Our sounds develop as an enthused response.
What’s your relationship with RTRFM like? What’s your plan for In The Pines?
Alex: RTRFM have been extremely accommodating and generous to us since we began this project. Thought Tapes Live was the local feature and we played a packed-out Radiothon last year. There might also be a little something in the works as we speak, too. They really are a fantastic organization and we are stoked to be playing In The Pines this year. We plan to put on a very pleasing set of music and get the audience moving.
What’s coming up for GBC? Has your sound changed since Thought Tapes?
Alex: We are currently in the mixing process of our debut studio release. We’re going to be launching that in the coming months – very exciting! The sound has changed and been refined since Thought Tapes. We took quite a different approach to writing the new material, some of it being composed entirely in the studio as compared to in the rehearsal room. Our aim was to use the recording process to liberate us formally, to come up with unorthodox song structures whilst retaining melodic focus. The songs are united in mood with an overall theme. More on that soon!