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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gaels - Winter Days review + interview

Artist: Gaels
Album: Winter Days
Year: 2008
Label: N/A (self released)
Genre: Ambient / Down- tempo / Shoegaze
Website: http://www.myspace.com/gaelsmusic

Track Listing:

1. Drifting
2. In Bloom
3. A Farewell to Hero's
4. Worlds Fell Crumbling
5. Iconoclast
6. Stupid Girl
7 Cod Lane
8 From the Cliffs we Looked out onto the Valley
9 Stumble
10 Vigils

I found out about Gaels from the Ghosts in the Clocktower Split with him that came out back in 2007. I really liked the songs he did on there, so when I saw he had a full length out- and it was free to download- I immediately gobbled it up. After hearing it a WOTE review was definitely in order. To satisfy my own curiosity, as well as to share more background info with WOTE readers, I decided to pursue an interview as well.

Winter Days is a 35 minute, 10 track collection of epic names, great guitar work, and the welcome addition of a few electronic elements. The names are great... like a fine, fermented beverage they linger in the consciousness long after first being read- your own mind continuing long after the eyes have stopped- to find meaning, ask questions, and reflect. Winter Days is a story that Gaels starts and leaves for you to finish.

Packaging: 5/10 - There's a nice cover art picture for the album, but as it's an online free download release, there's not really much packaging to review.

Composition: 7/ 10

This is mostly a guitar album ; electric guitar is the primary instrument on it. However it's not pop rock either. There's a bit of synth work that goes beyond this, and astute production gives it its own sound. For a guitar album it's really well done. My only let down is that I was hoping for more electronics on the album, which is an expectation I got from hearing the tracks on the Ghosts in the Clocktower split. Also it might have been cool to mix up more acoustic with electric guitar. Still, the electric guitar parts are very well arranged, and everything else makes for good songs, so this will get a 7.

Production: 7.5 / 10

Electric guitars can be finicky things to record well. But Gaels seems to have this down pat. Mixing is well balanced, and the white noise of inexperience and/or laziness is refreshingly absent. Drums sound great too; as always it can be a bit of a shock to hear that some drums you really liked were written in fruity loops, but this album is just one more example of why you should never underestimate that program or its users.

The only reason this didn't get an 8 or higher is that I felt the few existing vocal parts (such as those on Stupid Girl) were mixed down too low. Instead of being able to understand them and come a bit closer to understanding whatever esoteric meaning is hidden behind an epic song title, you just get a bit teased.

Artistic Merit: 7.5/10

For people in guitar bands to experiment with electronics and multi - layered composition is always interesting. For people who listen to a lot of electronic music to get take a break from pre-programmed and 100 % precise everything and listen for a change to the skill of live, human, performance, is further interesting. Combine both of these with some good photography, some very strange, unexplained song titles that spark your imagination, and balance all of this perfectly between what needs to be pretty and gentle, and what needs to be distorted and harsh, and you have got before you the makings of a great piece of art work.

Flow: 8/10

The album is short, but it's flow is so smooth that it loops well. Each time it plays again is a pleasure of being able to experiance something wonderful. Winter Days is a gentle passage down a river, or an outside spin 'round a carousel. It's not a roller coaster that shakes every bone and leaves you dizzy and wary of another go. Song placement and compatibility of intros/ outros is very smooth. The transition from Drifting to In Bloom is great, as is the pause right before Iconoclast. All in all flow is very well done. Much of the inter-song transitions feel like what was just a break in between different parts of a much longer song. Yet the different "songs" do have their own identity.

Overall: 8/10

Not much left to say. Pick it up today!

An Interview with Fred of Gaels

CW: What is Gaels? When and why did you start it?

Fred: I started Gaels back in November 2006 with the sole purpose of exploring new music and new sounds, experimenting with different recording and effects technology, and also to occasionally dabble in different forms of visual art.

CW: How old are you? Where do you live?

Fred: I am 24 years old and I live in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States.

CW: What is your life like (work/school/family)?

Fred: My life is extremely chaotic, to say the least. At the moment I’m involved in three different bands besides Gaels and I work a full time job. On top of that I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend and my family and I’m an insatiable reader. It’s a wonder I ever get any sleep.

CW: How long have you been writing music?

Fred: I have been writing and recording music for 11 years.

CW: What was your first instrument?

Fred: Well, technically my first instrument was the trumpet, which I played for a grand total of three weeks in the 4th grade. My first real instrument, the one I actually learned to play and wrote my first songs on, was an electric guitar I borrowed from a family friend when I was 13. I had never even touched a guitar before then. I spent my first night with that guitar sitting in my room with every knob on an amp my friend loaned me turned to the maximum level. It was an amazing feeling, a feeling that definitely changed the direction of my entire life.

CW:You also play in a grindcore band, The Leviathan's Mandible. How did you go from that to releasing a split EP with Ghosts in the Clocktower- an ambient electronic side project of Dan Barrett- better known for his powernoise act, Worms of the Earth?

Fred: I was recording for both bands around that time, believe it or not, and there was never a conscious switch in my mind from one project to the other. I love exploring my instruments and seeing what kinds of sounds I can create, and I love being exposed to fresh interpretations of what music can sound like. I’m a huge Merzbow fan and though most wouldn’t consider harsh noise to be music I think artists like Merzbow personify what it is to be a musician. Music doesn’t have to be confined to the “pop” songwriting formula or sound pretty in the conventional sense; it can also be obnoxiously loud, abrasive and even downright uncomfortable to listen to. As long as it moves both the artist and the listener nothing else really matters. The Ghosts in the Clocktower split was a natural progression for Gaels since it challenged me to write songs that were different from anything I had done previously.

CW:What is good about Richmond's music scene?

Fred: The Richmond music scene is a smörgåsbord of different bands and genres. You are basically guaranteed that no matter what kind of music you like there is a band or a promoter booking shows somewhere in town that caters to your tastes.

CW: What does Richmond's music scene need to work on?

Fred: It’s clannishness. As diverse as the scene is in Richmond the people who make up the individual scenes tend to stick together and don’t welcome people into their group who don’t dress like them, act like them, think like them, etc. This doesn’t describe everyone obviously, but it is a problem and I think to a degree the vitality of the entire music suffers as a result.

CW:Why is "Winter Days" the title of your latest album?

Fred: Well, most of the songs on the album were written over the course of last winter so a title like “Winter Days” just made sense to me. I’m also toying with the idea of tying this album into a larger, multi-album story and this album will be the first chapter in that story.

CW:Is there a target audience for "Winter Days"? What kind of people have been able to hear this and what kinds of responses have you got?

Fred: I don’t really have a target audience, I just wrote these songs because I felt they needed to be written. All of the feedback I’ve gotten so far has been very positive. Most of the individuals I corresponded with are regular people like me who enjoy being exposed to new music.

CW: You're releasing this for free online. What's behind that decision?

Fred: At first I did try to sell “Winter Days”. I went through some online stores and tried to sell the album for a small fee but no one downloaded it. After some thought I decided that as a completely unknown artist it was extremely arrogant of me to ask people for money so they could listen to my music. I figured if I am really making music for the sake of making music I should just share what I’ve created with anyone who is interested without any strings attached, instead of trying to bring money in to complicate things.

CW: All the song titles in Winter Days have epic names. The general lack of lyrics or voice samples seem to allow the listener to fill his or her own meaning in to the music, with a starting point you've set them up with. Do any of the song titles have a specific meaning, or tell a specific story that you'd like to share?

Fred: You pretty much hit the nail on the head in that second sentence. Without the presence of any real vocal work on the album I felt I had to be very careful when it came down to titling the songs. On one hand I wanted to title and arrange the songs in a way that would accurately project the emotions and moods I want the listener to feel; on the other I also needed to write and arrange the songs to allow for a fluid opening for the potential story I’m still mulling over. It’s a conundrum but I think I was able to pull it off. We’ll see, I guess.

CW: The song "A Farewell to Heros" is upbeat, while most farewells in life usually are not. Do you look to the future with optimism?

Fred: Not really. I have a very bleak outlook on the future, but when it comes to death and loss I’ve always believed it’s best to celebrate the lives of the ones you’ve lost. That’s how they do it in New Orleans and that’s something I think everyone should do.

CW: The level of production quality in your guitar work is amazing, especially for a CD that is released for free over the internet. How did you record these guitar parts? Any particularly amps or mics you'd like to let our readers in on (or is that a trade secret)?

Fred: I record all guitars, bass and synthesizers through a Line 6 Gearbox TonePort UX1 into Cool Edit Pro 2.0 and import the programmed drum tracks from Fruity Loops 4.0. No big secret, no special gear, just an average DIY setup.

CW: A follow up question: There is almost zero pick noise on these recordings. Is that eq, great guitar pickups, or skill?

Fred: It’s a combination of skill, good pickups and countless hours of work with my recording software. I pretty much have pick noise removal down to a science but I can’t always eliminate it all; if you listen very carefully during “Vigils” you can occasionally hear the faint, annoying sound of picking.

CW: You've written a powerful, moving, and dramatic song called "Worlds Fell Crumbling" in the 7th year of an unpopular and seemingly interminable war. At the time of this song's writing, the world economy had began its turn towards recession, and millions were already feeling the burden of gas prices, subprime mortgages, and family members caught in long, overseas deployments. Is this song consciously political?

Fred: In my mind Gaels has always been an apolitical entity. I respect any artist who uses their talent to speak out on whatever issue is important to them, however I have always envisioned Gaels as an escape from the anxiety and depression that comes with daily life. The way things are in America right now politics are literally dominating EVERYTHING and people are starting to feel overwhelmed. There’s a time and a place to deal with politics and Gaels is not it. I’d rather people listen to find some peace in these intensely personal songs I’ve written than have everything lost in someone else’s agenda, but of course if someone wants to interpret my songs as political that’s fine by me. It’s definitely a catch 22. As much as I want politics to never be associated with this project I also want people to come to their own conclusions about what these songs mean.

CW: Why do you write music?

Fred: Simply put, I play music to make myself happy.

CW:There is a very strong integration of synth work and guitar on this album. For example, is the bass line of Cod Lane a Bass guitar or a synthesizer?

Fred: I’ve been borrowing a synthesizer from a friend for a while and over the course of writing and recording “Winter Days” I grew fond of integrating it into songs I’d already written that I felt were lacking in some way. Soon after that I started writing guitar and synth parts together when I wrote new songs, with bass (if there was any) and programmed drumbeats taking a back seat in the writing process. Cod_ Lane actually doesn’t have any synth work at all, the only programmed elements are the drums and everything else came from either a guitar, bass or are drones I created with my guitar.

CW: There seem to be multiple guitar parts to most of these songs. In general, how many guitar parts per song are there?

Fred: There are definitely multiple guitars on each song. Having several layers of different guitars in a song might seem pointless to some but I enjoy creating different arrangements of harmonizing guitars and messing around with the sounds they produce. For example, between 3:56 and 4:35 in Iconoclast all of the sounds you hear, sans the programmed beats, come from my experimenting with a combination of layered guitars and utilizing heavy effects with my gearbox and Cool Edit Pro. As for how many layers I have in each song, none have less than three different guitar parts and most usually have around five or six. It really all depends on what kind of mood I am in, or rather how interested I am in experimenting at the moment.

CW: What would a live Gaels show look like? Will we be seeing one?

Fred: I’ve considered and long since dismissed the idea of a live show. To pull it off I would need between three and five guitar players, a bassist, a drummer, a separate percussionist and at least two people working synthesizers, samplers and occasionally playing other instruments. I could always relegate most of the music to tape and just use three or four people but I don’t think that set-up wouldn’t do the project justice. Anything less than that full line-up and the songs just would not sound right. Also it would just be too much trouble trying to find all of these people, get them all on the same page (musically), get them together at the same time for practice. With three other bands on my plate I just don’t have the time to do all of that.

CW: What was the best live show you've ever played live?

Fred: I’ve played a lot of awesome shows but one in particular holds a special place in me. Last summer TLM kicked off it’s first tour in Virginia Beach (it was also our first show in that area) and when it came time for us to play the place just went nuts. Kids were simultaneously slam dancing, circle pitting and 2 stepping throughout our entire set and we rocked out the hardest we ever had, up to that point. When we finished it looked like a bomb had gone off in that audience; we had never received a reception like that from anybody before and it was a wondrously exhilarating experience.

CW: Leviathan's Mandible seems to have a pretty active live schedule. Lately, the rise in gas prices have played havoc with the ability of independent musicians to continue with DIY, self-booked tours. Have you felt the impact of this?

Fred: Absolutely. When TLM was on tour we always had to be conscious of how high gas prices were in whatever area we were in and how much money we had to spend on it. It’s not fun to re-adjust your budget at 2 in the morning because gas at Station A is .50 cents higher than at Station B but that is just one of the things you have to do if you are a serious touring band. When our vehicle died in the middle of nowhere, Georgia a week into the tour (and we found out it was only good for the scrap yard) all we could rent to get home was a giant Penske truck and that thing epitomized what it is to be a gas-guzzler. I think 2/3 of the band was broke by the time we made it back to Richmond, hahaha.

CW: Is this an insurmountable problem or is there still a future for indy touring??

Fred: So long as bands continue to fund their tours out of their own pockets and people go out and show support DIY touring will never go away. As short-lived as the TLM tour was we enjoyed an enormous amount of kindness and good will from the different people we encountered, and to be quite honest we probably would not have made it home if no one had come out to the shows, bought merch and donated money. If you love the music you make and if you want to share it with whoever is willing to listen nothing will stop you from going out and doing it, not even high gas prices and a sluggish economy.

CW:Thanks so much for the interview!

Fred: Thank YOU! I really enjoyed answering these questions. =)


-by Christian Wright

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