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The Creepy Crawlies: Interview with Musician Robert Gently
The best kind of music is free music. At least that’s what musician Robert Gently lives by. Gently’s music strays far from Top 40 hits with its cryptic lyrics and spooky sounds, enticing listeners to peek into a realm of reoccurring nightmares.
Recently, Gently released his first album Creepy. Creepy is a combination of lo-fi, electronic, outsider music that bottles the essence of what it means to be a social outcast. Encounters listeners will have on this journey are skeleton pirates, threats of suicide, and a rabbit that has a really, really bad day. All of his songs (including the entire Creepy album) are available on his Bandcamp site free to the public for consumption.
Gently scarcely reveals his true identity, and prefers to bury himself in the darkness. But today, he emerges from the shadows just long enough to conduct the following interview…
So obviously your album is called Creepy because it’s…creepy (in the best way). What creepy people, places, or objects influenced your work?
When I was young and coming up in grade school, I was always known for being the “weird kid” and I guess, in some way, I internalized that. It’s called Creepy because I'm creepy, or I've at least been told I'm creepy. So I guess the only source of creepiness was myself. It’s kind of that sort of album. Like, most of the songs are in some way about me and almost all of them are in first person. So, yeah, I am the ultimate source of creepiness.
How long did it take to complete the album?
A year, almost exactly. Most of the time honestly was just me doing, scrapping, and redoing vocal tracks over and over and procrastinating on having to bother with the vocal tracks. I originally wanted to release it on Christmas, and I think that by then I'd had finished producing all of the instrumentals.
What instruments (including other’s souls) were used in the making of Creepy?
Haha, there weren't any musical souls, sadly. Predominantly I used my guitars (acoustic and electric), this little budget keyboard that my mother had bought and then never learned to play, and my acoustic bass, which I think is on most of the songs. I didn't record any of the drum samples on my own; I'd scavenged most of those over the years through various means. I did all of the instrumental tracks on LMMS, which has its own little built-in synthesizers. Of those, I mainly used the triple oscillator, which is the best synth of all time, in my opinion. “Sinner” is all oscillators and drum samples. There's a harmonica that I used, like, once.
There were a few things I'd used that were more absurd / fun to make. In “How to Stare Forward” and “Bluebird of Freedom” I used this little sample of one of my friend’s talking. He was saying “mail” and I just cut it, elongated it, sped it up, slowed it down, and did some other things to make that weird, lizard-sounding noise that you hear in them. I also used samples of my own voice in those tracks, but they're more recognizable. The percussion in “Bluebird of Freedom” stems from a bunch of random things; I think there's a retractable handle on a tape recorder and one of those noisemaker children’s' toys in it. I don't remember what all it is, though. Let's see. . . It’s barely even audible, but at the end of “Sun Was Evil”, there's the sound of a train whistle blowing in the distance that's pitch-shifted way down, and before that's isolated there's this sound of one of my old friends sliding a drum stick up and down a guitar, which makes that weird, stretchy-sounding noise. In the instrumental following “The Conception of Judas”, there's an overdriven sample of a wind chime that I messed around with a lot. So that's my idea of fun, basically.
When did you start making music?
I got a guitar at age 14, which was also when I started writing lyrics (they were all terrible). I made absolutely no attempt to actually learn guitar, though, until I was 16. I was listening to The Mountain Goats then, and I was really in love with them. Most of their discog is just basic chords, so I started learning those. I'd always liked creating things when I was a kid; I used to draw maps for levels in imaginary videogames, because I played videogames basically 24/7, and I thought it would be cool if I made my own. So it was kind of a natural adaptation, I guess, when I started getting into music that I'd want to start writing it as well.
I have to admit, I had to look up the definition of outsider music. Would you agree with Wikipedia’s description of outsider music (bizarre, strange, abrasive, a great disregard for structural conventions, etc.) in regards to your style of music?
Haha, yes and no, I guess. Honestly, I really just kind of had to go ahead and pick a genre to identify the project as, and “electronic” is just a really broad idea. Most of what I compose is homophonic and written in standard western scales, so as far as the chord progressions and melodies, well, the fact that they're there at all is pretty structurally conventional. But I guess I'd (at least like to) consider the things I say in lyrics, how I choose to say them, the textures of sounds that I use, and things that I do for dramatic effect as far as sound and vocal delivery go as being outsider-esque? Also, two of my biggest influences in recent years (Xiu Xiu and Swans, respectively) are categorized as outsider music, so it seemed like a boot that might fit. I guess I take it as a means of categorizing the perspective more so than the music, or, at least, the musical aspect of the music; just the raw notes and how they interact with each other, which is usually pretty conventional for me.
Do you have formal training in music, or are you self-taught?
Self-taught. Like I said, when I first got a guitar, I was an obnoxious little shit and didn't take learning the thing seriously. So I'd had lessons, but I didn't learn anything from them, entirely by my own devices. But everything I know about writing music I learned independently. Like I said, I started with just playing basic chords. Then I began studying the circle of fifths; I'd write out scales on a little drawn piano, filling in the notes, and started studying how they interacted with each other, what combinations or equations resulted in what sounds and feelings.
You’re supposed to love all of your children the same, but I have to ask: Which tracks were your favorite to write and record?
I think, lyrically, my favorite to make was “Spanky”. It was kind of this weird little idea that had festered in my brain over the course of upwards of a year; I remember I waited some several months to come up with a single line. Outside of that, I think I probably like “The Conception of Judas” and “Sun Was Evil” the most for what they were conceptually and how they worked dramatically. For years, dynamic effect wasn't something I ever did in music, just chord progressions and words. “Sun Was Evil” was the last song I'd written for the album, and I think it’s more in the direction that I want to go as far as that aspect is concerned. It might seem like a misnomer to call a song with the same three chords for the first four minutes something that has “dramatic effect,” but the way the tone shifts and the piano solo gets more “angry” as the song goes on. That's the kind of thing I want to move more toward. It’s also the first time I got an additional vocalist to accompany me, and I think [my friend] Erika's vocals on it really added something that I think it needed, so I'm grateful for that.
When I personally listened to the album, I got a sense that some of the songs were a wicked twist on nursery rhymes and stemmed from some literary influences. Would you agree?
Haha, I personally wasn't going for nursery rhymes, but I guess I could see that in “Skeleton King” and “Sun Was Evil”. I don't think there's much in the way of literary influences to my music, but I guess everything that I've ever heard or read has in some way shaped the way that I think of or use language, so maybe.
Creepy is available for free on your Bandcamp site. Why aren’t you doing that “beg people for money” thing?
Well, for one, I come from a generation that essentially never paid for music, so I felt that it might be a little hypocritical to ask people to pay for my music when I've already pirated some several hundred hours of it from others. It’s also just honestly a lot more important to me that my music is accessible and that people enjoy it, you know? No one really wants to pay for music when they have no idea what it'll sound like, especially when it’s by an amateur, unpublished artist like myself, so if I'd have put a minimum price on it, that would've barred it from the ears of a lot more people. I also have these stupid, unpopular philosophies about work, and that people get paid for work because work, in order to actually be qualified as work, has to be something that is in some way unpleasant and would be a waste of the worker's time if they didn't get money for it. Since I would make music whether I was paid to or not, I don't consider it work, and don't expect to get paid. Of course, obviously, donations are always totally appreciated and anyone who would choose to pay for the album is probably a wonderful human being whom I owe some deep level of gratitude to, but I'd really rather that people download it, listen to it, and take the time to hear it and think about it than have to reduce it to a business endeavor.
What are some upcoming projects of yours?
I've already, since finishing the vocal tracks took so long and I wasn't producing any more music for Creepy at that point, begun working on the lyrics and instrumentals for my next project, which I'm preemptively naming Savage, because one-word titles are really nice. I want to have it done sometime in 2017. Considering that I initially wanted to release Creepy on Christmas, I think putting the release two years in the future seems reasonable. Also, I'll, at some point, have to go to graduate school, which will probably be a huge time-vacuum, so it might take me a minute. But I hope to make it more ambitious. My compositional style hasn't changed much, but I want to expand out in a couple of ways. Some of the instrumentals in Creepy, in retrospect, really could've used more time and fleshing out. “Vantage Point” was one of the first songs I wrote for the record, and I think it shows. There are also some parts that just rely on the same chords for too long without really doing anything dynamic. “Silence and Celibacy” is the same five chords ad infinitium for six minutes. In retrospect, it didn't need so many repeat choruses, but, you know, hindsight. Not that there won't be songs that only use a handful chords; I'm not trying to be freaking Mozart or something. But I don't want to rely on anything too much, you know? But, as far as sound textures go, these really cool people called the Philharmonia Orchestra released a huge catalogue of samples from their instruments, and it’s all stuff for classical instruments, and they were so cool, that they made the samples open source. So far, I've been using those a lot. So expect violins. Also, arpeggios. I keep writing guitar arpeggios. I don't know what's even wrong with me, but that's going to be a thing. I'm also currently investing in a better quality microphone, since doing the vocal tracks proved to be such a huge pain in the ass, so I'll be getting higher quality samples out of my own instruments.
Conceptually, I want to move away from being so introspective. There'll still be some “Wah wah, look at me, I'm sad” tracks on it, but I think the focus is going to turn more external. I want to call it Savage because I want to have a focus on the primal nature of human beings, and how we deal with living as beings that have the capacity for compassion and reason, but are still fundamentally animals with primal drives, because I guess that's a thing that I think about a lot. But, yeah, my ideal is to make it somewhere between two to five times cooler than Creepy, but it probably won't be as creepy, sadly.
Do you ever perform live? If not, do you plan to?
No, sadly. I know that live performances are supposed to come with the role of being a worthwhile musician, but I honestly haven't. One, I have been mostly focused in the last year on finishing Creepy and having that as a solid product that I can point to and say, “Hey, look at this, this is me, this is what I do, and this is what I am as an artist at this point.” Two, as Creepy implies in its title and subject matter, I am honestly a pretty introverted person, and crowds of humans terrify me. Three, I don't actually know what I would do. Performing the songs would be awesome, but I wouldn't want to just play the instrumental off of my laptop and sing, you know? I'd want to be actively doing something. I could convert a lot of them to just playing the chords on guitar, but then they'd be missing a lot of what makes them what they are. I'd also want a full band, but I don't want to force other people to join me in playing my songs, because that seems really self-indulgent and weird. So I would love to, but it’s just not something where it’s been the right time, nor have the right prospects been lined-up.
#Real #Robert Gently #Creepy #Interview #OutsiderMusic
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