How Gengahr Found Wildness In Human Emotions + Nature For Their New Album
We chatted to Felix Bushe from Gengahr about all the team work and sacrifices involved in creating their highly anticipated sophomore album Where Wildness Grows.
Your debut album A Dream Outside was a huge success, allowing you to tour worldwide. How did you refocus and get back into the studio for number two?
I’m always excited about recording and working on new stuff, that’s a huge driving point for me as an artist, always wanting to create new things. There was a moment after the first record where we had to figure out what the next step would be, and how we would move forwards and develop the sound and not just feel like we were repeating ourselves. You have to evolve or die, really, in this industry, or in any field, it’s important that you find ways to reinvent yourself.
Did you have any goals before you started writing the second album? Any influences or sounds you wanted to channel?
No, I don’t think we really had much of a game plan, it was just a case of trying things out. We made the first record pretty much on our own, so we figured that the process for the next one, if we appoint a new producer, that would be the change that is needed. We tried a couple and it didn’t seem to work, so it had to be us, we had to work it out ourselves. It took a little longer than anticipated but I think it’s a worthwhile endeavour. It’s the future of what we do so there was no point rushing it, we had to just keep digging until we found our pot of gold.
You ended up scrapping a lot of work, which must have been tough. How did you reach that decision?
We spent about three months in the studio initially and then we just chucked everything in the bin because it just wasn’t feeling right. It’s a scary thing to do at the time but I think you have to be ready to be bold with these things.
This album feels highly emotional, the lyrics are tainted with existentialism or heartbreak, the music covers huge highs and lows. Is that the ‘Wildness’ of the album? What inspired the title?
Yeah it’s trying to discover more human depths, ones that I didn’t really explore on the first album. I think the ‘wildness’ for me is that passion and drive that gets us out of bed in the morning, you know, why do we bother? If you don’t have something that you feel strong enough about then you’re kind of not really existing. It’s a very human thing for me, the wildness.
It seems like you can never write a simple love song, tracks like ‘Before Sunrise‘ and ‘Mallory‘ balance equal parts romance and cynicism, like love never really works out. What draws your writing to this type of doom? Is love futile or is dissatisfaction just more relatable?
I’m a realist, mostly I like to be pragmatic about these things, this way you’re never disappointed. If you set yourself up for a fall you can be pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it’s a more enlightened way of looking at it or perhaps it’s just more cynical, I’m not sure.
You’ve created these huge walls of sound on the album, especially in tracks like ‘Is This How You Love‘ and ‘Where Wildness Grows‘, but the tracks still sound clear and bright. Did you have to experiment in the studio to find these sounds?
Not really in the end, the initial stages of recording were quite laborious, trying to work out how it was that we kind of found Gengahr 2.0. Our first album is hazy, and low-fi but bright, but it’s also a kind of thin sound, and we wanted to find a way of beefing it up a bit and making it sound heavier and warmer but also not losing too much of the kind of shimmer we had on the first record. It wasn’t very easy to achieve and I think in the end we just have to figure out the best way to get it sounding large and then capture that. The album itself is a very live album, it’s pretty much just four people playing in a room with a couple of bits chucked on top so it started off seeming very complicated and then in the end it became very very straight forward. I think it’s presented in a way which seems a bit more sophisticated and complicated than it really is.
‘Is This How You Love’ features Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on backing vocals. How did you get her involved? Do you come across each other’s bands a lot?
We know Ellie from when we did our first UK tour together and we used to be on the same management label as well so we’ve known those guys for ages. It’s just one of those things where we were trying out guest vocals and they just worked really nicely on that one. She did a couple of other tracks as well but we ended up redoing one of the vocals with a different singer, we used a girl called Billie Marten on ‘Whole Again‘ because it just seemed to sit a little bit better. I think she’s got a more delicate voice and for whatever reason that just seemed to be a better fit for the song, but it’s nice kind of trying those things out, like having a new instrument. It’s an exciting process getting to collaborate with other artists as well, seeing how they do things is always pretty interesting.
All of the songs on the album are quite distinctive, reflecting different moods and influences. ‘Carrion‘ is a particularly driven and almost menacing song, how did that track come to life?
One of the best assets we have as a band which I think probably separates us from a lot of other bands is the kind of collective writing that goes into the making of our albums. We do have a lot of input individually, so I think on that particular one, that was one of John’s riffs that came through, and then there’s tracks like ‘Pull Over‘ where Hugh started with a bassline, so you can see people’s personalities come through on the tracks, and it’s my job to tie the thing together. I think that is one of the things I’m most proud of, I don’t think any of the songs on the album happen again. It was so important that we didn’t repeat ourselves. If two of the songs sounded the same we’d be like “What’s the best one?” “Okay we’ll use that” – it was quite a cutthroat process. What we wanted to end up with was something that pulled in all directions.
The album artwork is also very distinctive, I can already picture how great the vinyl will look on a display shelf. How does the visual side of arts tie into your music?
This was the first opportunity we really had to make a cohesive piece that felt really well-formed. The first album is more of a scrapbook, it’s kind of a collection of fragments and ideas and that’s kind of how the artwork was as well. We just picked a painting which Hugh had done for one of the EPs, and after that we had to continue doing that because that seemed like a nice motif so we kept using paintings, and then we ran out of paintings by the end of that album. So for the new album we sat down and had a real chat about what it was we were going to do. We were talking about the themes of the songwriting and how we would make that match with the artwork. So we came up with the idea of putting together all these zoomed in details of nature which were supposed to be metaphors for how we’re closely looking at human emotions and feelings. That kind of partnership has worked really nicely I think. I’m happy that we’ve actually made something that feels like a full body of work. Something more well thought out this time around, or at least I hope so anyway.
Where Wildness Grows is out now.