Interview - Ganglians
Towards the end of my chat with Ganglians mainman Ryan Grubbs, we start talking about what makes his home city of Sacramento, California so different to San Francisco or Los Angeles. ‘People go to San Francisco or LA because there’s already a scene established there, but in Sacramento everyone in a band’s from here anyway, and it’s constantly in peaks and troughs. You have to make it work for you here and make your own kind of scene – there’s a bit of wildness here. It’s inland and kind of swampy here: you get mosquitoes and wild bugs here, there’s the palm trees and all but then there’s this other side…’
It’s an apt metaphor for the changes afoot within Ganglians. If their debut album Monster Head Room was a work of breezy psych-pop fun, their new record Still Living, from its black-and-white jungle front cover to its longer running time (this bad boy runs to four sides of the black stuff, you know) to, of course, the darker and more tense songs that lie within moves away from cliché Californian dreaming to something far stranger and more foreboding. Try not to get stuck in the swamp.
Fortunately, Ryan’s as laid-back and charming as ever when describing the new record’s genesis. ‘Making an album is always a big statement – it’s not like making a 7 inch single, it’s got to cohere and make sense. We knew we wanted this one to shift tones as it went along, but you don’t know until everything’s been recorded how all the pieces fit together. We wanted to come out of the gate strong on this one though, and then move onto something different later on.’
As the album goes from the Beach Boys harmonies of opener Drop The Act to the deep grooves of Things To Know and the foreboding The Toad, the journey becomes apparent. ‘There wasn’t any specific idea of where to go’, he continues, ‘when I’m writing it’s just individual pieces. But gradually it just got darker, and I’ve always loved the darker, gloomier side of pop, The Walker Brothers and stuff like that, so we explored that darker, junkie kind of pop sound.’
Ryan cites producer Robby Moncrieff (best known for his work with Dirty Projectors on 2009’s Bitte Orca) for helping the band to achieve the wider ranging sound of Still Living. ‘He’s been a friend of ours for a long time, and he’s always been bugging us about doing some recording, so when we got back from tour last year, we just thought ‘now’s the time to do it’. Robby really helped us a lot: we knew we wanted to make it stereophonic and he knew what to do when we had ideas and sounds that we didn’t know how to describe, he understood some of the more esoteric concepts we had. We’d say we wanted something to sound like a scene from The Shining or something, and he made it happen.’
The on-going evolution of Ganglians isn’t done yet, even though there’s been a few mishaps along the way. ‘I’m in the process of songwriting now, but I don’t know where it’s going to go. I had twenty demoes recorded onto my iPod, but then that went missing in Amsterdam!’ Let’s hope the next batch gets kept a little safer then.
Originally published in NARC 65 (August 2011).