Your set-up of drums wired up to assorted electronics is unique, as far as I am aware. Could you give a brief impression of how it works?
Most of the riffs, melodies and the like come from a versatile type of synthesiser that we have configured ourselves from scratch. It is in many ways extremely simple yet it is deliberately highly idiosyncratic in its control. To fire it off we use a what's called a drum trigger on individual acoustic drums on the drum kit. When the drum is hit these produce a signal that is essentially the same as a single finger pressing a note on a keyboard. Each drum has its own synthesiser and, in place of a keyboard or other traditional control interface, Jussi uses dials and buttons to shape the sound's texture, frequency and the pitch relationship between subsequent notes, controlling every part of the sound apart from when that sound starts. Both Eastern microtonal scales and Western 12-tone scales are possible, often simultaneously. The process means we're unlikely to be able to cover Smoke on the Water, but are likely to find something no-one would think up using traditional means.
We compare it to two people playing one guitar: one person strums, the other frets the notes. Increasingly complicated and refined technology is often seen as a way of opening up creative possibilities, allowing one individual to do everything. We believe the opposite can be true. Often deliberately limiting the aperture of the window of creative possibilities pushes intuition to lead to far more exotic discoveries.
Drums are physically at the the centre of your music; how important is a sense of rhythm to your music?
Rhythm is at the fundamental centre of what we do. The fundamental electronic sounds and melodies are the non-identical Siamese twins of the drum rhythms. The immediacy of rhythm patterns is essential, primal. We build more detailed poly-rhythms by often playing with a second drummer who is not wired into the electronics to allow more expressive rhythmic space. Rhythm is inseparable to duration. More and more we play in long minimal repetitive cycles to reinforce the trance building potential of the rhythms.
How much of your work stems from improvisation (both in and out of Gum Takes Tooth)? Do you prefer improvisation to more planned compositions, or is it a case of whatever method fits the best?
Almost everything we do is at least initially born of improvisation yet most Gum Takes Tooth tracks are actually fairly closely arranged. Frequently they have sections of improvisation within them or their course is steered on the fly by signals between us. Most of the vocals, their live loops and FX textures, are very loose and go with the mood of the moment. It's about isolating an atmosphere as a springboard for the listener's imagination rather than traditional song writing.
You two have turned up in a lot of bands and collaborations: research is showing Chrome Hoof, Blood Stereo, John Olson, I'm Being Good and several more. Do you believe it is important to work with a wide variety of musical individuals? Does collaboration bring things out of you that you wouldn't have come up with solo?
As the core of GTT the two of us have deliberately developed a way of creating music that is inextricably linked to each other by necessity. We both have equal input into what constitutes the essence of each song and are always both suggesting alternatives and tweaks to our creations do to each other. The process is totally collaborative. That said we are hugely influenced by playing with other individuals, getting to understand different ethics and possibilities and have been extremely lucky to experience working with such a broad range of amazing sound makers. I think we both wish we had more time to work with other people at the moment.
Do you expect audiences at your shows to be moshing, swaying, chin-stroking or dancing? I could see all approaches suiting different aspects of Gum Takes Tooth.
You said it; all of those responses are what we'd expect. Hopefully at the same time from the same individual. That said chin-stroking is never a great way to enjoy music. Let go.
Do you care if you are successful in music or not?
We assume you refer to success in music as the term is often used for pop: of breadth of publicity, rewarding financial investment by management, headlining bigger and bigger gigs.
We just want to make sounds that we are lost in, where we can explore new worlds, making sounds that go against the rules, and offer something unique to the listener. This is success. We consider it something very special when other individuals share this sense of discovery and alien rapture with us and others in a live or listening situation. We certainly never expect it though.
I know you've played in Leeds a few times: will you be back any time soon?
Although to a large extent we're holding back from gigging until we've finished out second album we sincerely hope to be back in Leeds soon.
Article by Tom Bench