words by Felicity Hutchinson
While Melbourne duo Gypsy & The Cat are gearing up for the release of their third album ‘Virtual Islands’, a jovial Xavier Bacash was kind enough to have a chat with Felicity Hutchinson following their gig in Melbourne over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
I saw the gig on Sunday night and have been a big fan since ‘Gilgamesh’, and am so ready to see you guys again. I’m back on board, if that makes sense!
Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s a matter of people forgetting over time I think. There’s lots of music coming out every year, so if you don’t put things out people sort of wander off a bit (laughs).
Virtual Islands is coming out very soon, can you tell us anything about the next single?
We’ll put a song out in the next couple of weeks and that song is called ‘Life’. It’s a bit different, again. It’s a bit blues-y I’d say, and very electronic and sample-y at the same time. We’re pretty proud of that one. I think people will resonate with it because of the lyrical content, but I don’t know if it’ll be massive yet (laughs).
Well it’s good to have high expectations. With these singles did you get your inspiration for them when you were in Japan?
‘Life’ was influenced by it a bit; there are a couple of others that are definitely more influenced by Japan. We came back from Japan and wrote the other half of the record. So there’s a few, definitely.
Japan is really different culture-wise. Everyone is really their own kind of person without interacting; everyone is together, but they also seem to be their own person. A lot of people can learn from that in a way, in which you can still be yourself without trying to conform to how everyone else is.
Yeah, well this is the thing – you’re right – but there’s also a misconception about that, too. There’s a real sort of bubbly darkness underneath the surface in Japan that you feel this pressure – in the youth as well – to honour their families, to get particular jobs and safe jobs. So, just from what I observed they express themselves in their clothing and in their appearance in a lot of ways. They have really wacky interests, like cat cafes and owl cafes, which are really interesting and creative – I didn’t go to those places because I slightly disagree with it – but they have a very interesting outlook on life and the way they see things creatively is so interesting to me. I’m very influenced by their culture, but still very aware of that undertone of pressure that they have and stress.
How would you describe your growing up, and your youth – when did you start thinking “I want to be in a band” or “I want to do something creative”?
I thought about this the other day, actually. I came to the conclusion that I remember lots of moments as a kid, listening to the radio and my dad’s music collection. He would always play songs for me when we went fishing and we spent a lot of time together. I knew what was happening in songs, I just understood the medium. It influenced me in different ways, but I wasn’t really sensing it at the time. I remember I could sing along to things in key and identify what parts of songs were making me feel in different ways. So I remember that, but I was a very innocent kid that played sport with my friends. I loved football, and I wasn’t really hell-bent on learning an instrument. I did play drums for three years in school and towards the end of school I boarded a production program and was making music at school. In the early years it was more about being a kid and fishing, water skiing, playing sports and I didn’t really take a massive interest in music until the end of my school life and figured out “OK maybe I could try and do this as a career” and I was lucky enough that that’s how it worked out.
You just said that you played football and a lot of sport growing up, and I hear you barrack for Carlton. Is that right?
Oh, you’re right, yeah (laughs).
I did see Marc Murphy (Carlton footballer) at Howler in March and was a bit star struck.
He’s a very good friend of mine (laughs). He came into the band room after the show and he was wearing one of our t-shirts and I was like “What are you doing?” and he said “I just thought I’d buy one and support the cause…” and I said “Oh man, you didn’t have to do that – I could’ve given you one for free!” (laughing). He’s a pretty funny guy, we’re pretty close friends.
Do you think Carlton’s going to make the finals?
Well, I wasn’t impressed on the weekend but it’s a work in progress (laughs). I feel like a Carlton player right now, but we just gotta get our strategy right (laughs). Who knows! Maybe. Fingers crossed. Don’t wanna speak too soon, but we look pretty good at the moment, so you never know.
Well, I go for Collingwood, so I can’t really comment.
Oh! There’s, you know what, I don’t hate many things but I don’t like Collingwood.
So you want me to hang up right now. Is that what you want me to do?
Pretty much, yeah! (laughs). See my mum’s side of the family is staunch Collingwood and my dad’s side’s Carlton. I love my mum, but I love rubbing it in to her when we win.
Well, thanks for that!
Cheers for that win a couple of weeks back!
That’s fine. I think we’re just being really nice to everyone. We’re being THAT club this year so we’re helping those in need! That’s what we’re doing, being supportive.
Good tactic (laughs).
You guys got your big break in the UK. What made you start over there? Did you think there was more of an acceptance for younger bands, or was it the vibe and the home-grown music was better over there?
Nah, it wasn’t any of that. Basically for an Australian band to get an international record deal is very, very rare. Probably one band a year will do it. Things were kind of happening in Australia at the time and we felt like we could come back and capitalise on that at some point, but we got signed by SONY in the UK. It was one of those things that helped the band, in a way, because when we came back Triple J and all the media publications were very aware that we had been over there doing that and it helped the appearance of the band being more worldly than just Australian-based. It helped us make connections in the music industry and we made a lot of friends with other artists while we were there. Australian music is amazing and there’s such great music coming out of here but I think the ultimate goal is to make it over there. When we had that opportunity we just, sort of, let go.
After you were signed to SONY, what made you want to start your own record label?
Well…basically, no one really knows this, but we signed to SONY and things were going really well and NME put us in their ‘Ones to Watch’ for the next year and Radio 1 were playing us, then the guy that ran the label left and someone replaced him. Then he left. This happened in the space of 6 months. It got to the point where we got booked for Coachella but weren’t given tour support to go and play that show, so we had to cancel. And they weren’t giving us money to make video clips either. The video for ‘Jona Vark’ came about probably and year and a half after the song was on the radio, so it was all happening too late. They didn’t release our record in England. They actually forfeited their right to be our record label, so we got out of the record deal. It was toxic and it really hurt the band during that release. That record should have done a lot more than what it did but we just didn’t have the support from them, so we had to get out of it, and so Alsatian Music was born and we’ve been doing it ourselves ever since.
What do you think is your favourite song that you guys have ever made…Running Romeo?
Not Running Romeo (laughs). It’s always something off the new record and that’s generally because it’s fresh and you haven’t heard it 5 million times. I have soft spots for ‘Human Desire’, ‘Sight of a Tear’, they’re songs I’ll always be really proud of writing. On this record there’s a song called ‘Life’ and I’m proud of the way it came out and there’s another one, ‘Odyssey of the Streets’ which is like a weird, classical song. It’s sort of modelled on Bohemian Rhapsody and a little rock, electronic opera. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine writing a song like that, but we did it and got it across the line and I’m very proud of that song. There’s a couple, it’s hard to pin-point one though. It’s always changing.
Who are your musical influences? There’s a song based on Bohemian Rhapsody, so would you say Queen is an influence?
That’s a band influence. We have very different tastes, Lionel and I, and that’s more one of Lionel’s influences. For me, in terms of band influences, I’d say Air is a very, very big influence and a very big personal influence and…
You guys have been able to tour and perform at lots of festivals with other big names, so have you been star-struck meeting other artists?
For me there have been international bands that we’ve met. When we played with The Strokes I guess that was pretty cool. I mean, I wasn’t blown away. I’ve been very influenced by Cut Copy and Midnight Juggernauts and when we met them I was very star struck and now they’re very good friends of mine. So those guys, for me, have really done a lot for music, especially Australian music, and especially Midnight Juggernauts. They’re some of my best friends. I hear people are very influenced by their songs and they kind of rip them off a lot too and I always say “Oh my God, this song sounds like this” and they say “Ah, oh well”. I think for Australian music those guys have put themselves in a place where, for me, they’re just as important as any other big international band that came along.
Do you hope that you guys will be remembered for doing something similar? I think you guys were one of the first indie-pop bands that I used to listen to.
Yeah, definitely (laughs). I think so. Lots of people say to us “You guys were the first band that was doing that electronic-pad thing and the acoustic guitar and pianos”. I mean I guess Coldplay were doing piano-rock and what-not. We had a sound that I can hear sometimes in bands, but that’s all the more reason why we had the big genre change with Alsatian Music – we felt like a lot of people were moving into that sound and we had done it. I get people coming up to me all the time and say that, but it’s hard because I don’t think we’re that big of a band so I don’t really see the effect. I guess in the musician world and the music world, when it’s all said and done, some have a soft spot for the band and see our body of work as being influential.
Back when it was ‘indie’, looking back now it was probably, I don’t want to say mainstream, but that’s what a lot of other artists seemed to have that sound as well and that’s when a lot of that type of music started to happen. I think you guys were one of the bands that started to make Australians notice that we didn’t have to listen to overseas bands to make them sounds more alternative. Do you get what I mean?
Yeah, I get what you’re saying. I definitely agree. When I look back on that sound they were interesting indie-pop tracks but at the time it was indie and it was fresh. Now when I listen to it, it’s very pop, but at the time because it was so different it was indie. I find it kind of difficult to play those songs live, when I’m not being a brat about it and I listen back to the music, which I very rarely do. I rarely listen to our own music.
Describe one emotion that you want people to feel when they listen to the new album.
We’ve always tried to do this happy and sad feeling. Songs like ‘Bloom’, ‘Parallel Universe’ and ‘Sight of a Tear’ have a dark-optimism to them. That’s just the way we write songs. There’s lots of feelings and chords and if we can’t get a feeling out of a song then we trash it, and start a new one. There’s a lot of that we’re kind of bringing out on this new record and ‘Virtual Islands’ has lost that pop-rock thing we were doing in the first record. It’s very warm and I’ve had people say it kind of feels like a warm hug (laughs).
Just a few more quick questions to finish up;
Do you guys listen to the radio or pick your own music?
I listen to the radio. I flick around between different stations.
What was the last concert that you’ve been to?
I think it was Tame Impala at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
Where would we find you on a Saturday night or Sunday morning?
I get pretty drunk on a Saturday night and wake up early on a Sunday and go surfing.
Is that your best hangover cure?
Yep! (laughs). That and Danny’s Burgers in Fitzroy North. I always go there for a burger in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
When’s the next gig, after the album has been released?
It’ll be in September, I think.
Okay that’s it – thanks for your time!
No worries! I’ll see you at the show!
Gypsy & The Cat’s new album ‘Virtual Islands’ will hit the shelves on August 5, but you can pre-order it now via Alsatian Music.