Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Grayson Gilmour: Sounds of Life

Between touring, scoring films and eavesdropping on his neighbours, Wellington musician Grayson Gilmour has managed to record his seventh album, writes Lydia Jenkin.
Grayson Gilmour.
Grayson Gilmour.

He's a prolific fellow, is 28-year-old Grayson Gilmour. Infinite Life is the Wellingtonian's seventh solo release, and comes on top of work as a film composer (he's recently scored local releases The Most Fun You Can Have Dying and Shopping), and as a member of industrial noise pop trio So So Modern. Somehow, in the past few years, he's also managed to fit in a stint at the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid (alongside artists such as Erykah Badu, RZA, Nile Rodgers and Peaches), and is part way through a Masters degree in composition.

"It's kind of funny, because when I look back on the fact that my last album came out in 2010, I feel lazy, but then I remember that I did some soundtracks and So So Modern were touring. I guess in the past I was used to putting out an album every one or two years, so having spent this much time on one was unusual," he explains down the line from his converted A-frame studio-attic on Mt Victoria.

The extra years gave him time to rework and refine songs, making them exactly what he wanted, and the period of reinvention also helped to fulfil bold ambitions and push his production skills.

"I really wanted to approach things in a different way. I put more of an emphasis on finding strange and beautiful sounds to put more in the front of the mix. I guess in the past I've felt like all these cool sounds were somewhat hidden, and because I'm fascinated with finding unique sounds, I really wanted to make this record more about that, and perhaps just taking those core elements and pushing them back so that these weird elements could float around the front more. So that was a point of difference to anything else I've done, but it wasn't purposefully me trying to be dense or inaccessible, it was just a natural desire to bring new sounds forward."

Infinite Life does have the larger, more expansive feeling indicated by the title. It's texturally rich, and pushes and pulls your ears through all sorts of aural experiences without losing sight of memorable melodies and forward momentum.

"I think the experience of making this album has undone a part of my brain - it seems like anything is possible now. Now when I pick up an instrument I constantly have to find ways to make it sound new and weird, to stay interested."

If that makes Gilmour sound like a bit of a mad scientist, well, yes, he does like to play and tweak, but that experimentation is then organised into coherent song selections - often via the old-fashioned medium of paper and pencil.

"I have this huge roll of old pattern-making paper, from a person who used to be a seamstress who lived in this house, so I have this huge infinite roll of paper, and I just brain map everything."

Of course, Gilmour has spent a good deal of the past four years travelling, and though writing full songs on the road might not happen frequently, he's always got his pocket field recorder with him to capture little ideas, or found sounds.

'There's a lot of odd samples and field recordings that are stitched into this album, hopefully in a creative, subtle way."

There's a Mexican exorcism, lonely Sputnik bleeps, a fortune teller, Italian musique concrete, excerpts from a self-hypnosis LP, and lighthouse sirens, but one of Gilmour's favourite contributions came from a neighbour.

'I live two houses away from a really interesting character in Wellington. I don't really know much about him at all, but he does sometimes stand in his backyard, and yell gibberish, and sometimes he might hang out naked as well.

"So I recorded him from my window one day, and I slipped it in at the end of the record because I felt like I lost a bit of my sanity working on the album, so it's fitting. It's somewhat melancholic yet wholehearted and real, and it's kind of beautiful in a way - there's birds chirping, there's a nice keyboard line underneath."

He'll be playing two shows in each of the main centres on his album release tour - one solo and one with an ensemble - which lets him showcase the songs in different ways. "When I do solo stuff I've got a bit more freedom to indulge - in sounds, and doing things in terms of dynamics and time that you can't do so much with a band. But I want to be able to present the songs with an ensemble too - this time it's me on keyboards, a cello player, and a drummer, who will also have textural backing things hooked up on Ableton, which he cues up with his kit. It can be a really big sound, but also gives us range."

With many intriguing layers to peel back in these new songs, seeing them performed live in both configurations will surely add another dimension of appreciation to Infinite Life.

Who: Grayson Gilmour
What: New album Infinite Life
Where and when: Performing at Golden Dawn, Ponsonby as a solo act on Friday night, and as a three-piece ensemble on Saturday.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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