The joys of funk and new experiences: An interview with GL
If there’s anything GL can teach you, it’s that trying new things is completely worth the risk. Ella Thompson and Graeme Pogson started their musical journey as part of The Bamboos but decided to venture into brand new musical territory when starting GL.
You never really know what’s ahead of you in life and sometimes what you discover becomes something you quickly become invested in. Here, we chat with Graeme and Ella about what new experiences have shaped them and their current circumstances.
GL sound amazing live (the first time I heard your tracks was at a live show!) and you have a really good stage presence. Do you try to figure out an atmosphere you want to project out onto an audience when you perform or is it more of an organic performance for you?
Graeme: It depends on how much power we really have over that. If it’s our own show we try to do as much as we can and involve people, lighting is very important and visuals are cool. We’ve been working with dancers, we’ll actually being doing a show with dancers on Saturday (November 5). But sometimes you can’t because we do a lot of support gigs and it’s a little bit harder to get the exact mood as a support band, but that’s all good too. We try to do the best we can to make it less like just a thing on a stage.
Ella: Having a great audience really does help. We’ve played all sorts of shows, sometimes no one cares and other times they’re with you all the way. I try and give it my best either way, you never know maybe one person in the audience has travelled a really long way or made a huge effort to be there so you want to connect with those people.
You’ve supported some really awesome acts over the last two years, like Client Liaison. What do you tend to take away from experiences like that, do you tend to take away some live elements or even just musical elements of the performance?
Graeme: In some ways. I have so much respect and love what they do with their whole dedication to the visual experience, it’s absolutely second to none. The lengths they go to with those water coolers and the ferns, the outfits and the moves, they get what entertainment has been on a huge scale. At the same time, their music really suits it and their personalities really suit it. For me, personally, I need to feel comfortable on stage. I’m used to just being the drummer and sitting up the back of the stage. I love all of those bands who are really big but, you’ve also got to be honest on stage and Ella might twist my arm one day to do some dancing, but I doubt it [laughs].
Ella: It’s great to support acts who put a lot of effort into their show, whether that be presentation, or musically. It makes me excited to see how we can build our act when we have more resources. I find it interesting getting to know people through music, it’s a pretty great way to see the world.
GL tend to perform live quite a bit, do you tend to feel quite burnt out after so many shows or do the live performances kind of energise you both?
Graeme: I think that we’re both fed by that because we have always played. We’ve always been in bands and have been musicians for a long time and it’s always there, we’ve always done a lot of shows and different things over the years. We’ve been really lucky because when we first started GL, in that first year, we did a huge amount of shows and it made me realise all of the different settings we could be put in and all of these different experiences that you have to adapt to. But the thing is, there’s only two of us and we’re, in a way, a DJ with a bit of keyboards and vocals, Ella’s got a lot of work to do because it has the potential to get repetitive. We really do try to change it up all the time, like I’m playing more drums all the time and to mix it up we can add in a new section or swap songs in and out because otherwise, we won’t enjoy it. You have to feed off the crowd as well and if the crowd’s great then it’ll be a great time no matter what.
Ella: We both love playing live, it’s an important part of who we are. Everyone gets tired and everything becomes hard work at some point but I can’t really complain. I think we are so lucky to do what we do.
You have evolved quite a bit musically since starting GL and also came into the electronic music scene quite quickly as well, which is probably due to all the live shows you’ve played. Have you seen the electronic scene evolve around you or notice anything different from when you initially started GL?
Graeme: I was very new to it when I popped in and Ella and I have always dabbled in it, but we were in no means part of the scene. So it was a really big eye-opener when we came in because it was almost like, WOW this is such a huge thing! I’m still learning about it so I don’t know if I could comment on whether or not I’ve seen it evolve, other than the fact that I feel like, just over the last couple of years, there’s more of a tendency to go from purely producer/ DJ vocalists to some sort of live instrumentation, whether or not that’s guitars and drums like TotalGiovanni or ClientLiaison. Even like as a hybrid like I’m doing with GL or like HarveySutherland, who’s added violin to his set up. All I can say is that a lot more people are doing it, which is understandable because as we were saying earlier, people want to keep it fresh.
Ella: I guess we’ve come from more of the live band world but I’ve always been really interested in mixing those elements and making something that doesn’t exclusively exist in any sort of scene or world. I’m grateful that people accept us as a band, an electronic act and just two people making tunes. Growing up I didn’t find the club scene too enticing, it seemed mainstream and quite male heavy. Now I think the move back to DIY has helped things get real a little.
Graeme: Living here, especially Melbourne, it’s very nurturing for a musician. The same goes for Sydney and all that but, we’re living in a country where you can be proud to be an entertainer.
Touch is a great album, had you both written an album together in any previous bands?
Ella: Thank you! Yes, we’ve both made albums with other projects but every process is different. I don’t think we’ve ever made anything like this before.
Graeme: Yeah, not as intensely. We’ve worked together on albums before, but I’d play drums one day and Ella had been writing with other band we were in. It was good to work side by side from start to finish and it was long and fun. It was a big learning experience and once we got the vinyl, just in the nick of time for our album tour, it was a nice feeling of completion. It’s something really special to me and I guess that’s why we do them is because it’s so tangible and real. You can actually give it to people rather than just a link in space [laughs].
So with you not being a part of the writing process before, writing with Ella must have been a big learning experience for you.
Graeme: Oh absolutely! Before GL I’d been messing around with some PC’s and things like that, just making music with no real intention of doing anything because I was something as a drummer. So once there was something on top of it, it was like well these can actually be songs and it was really eye-opening. So I was stepping out from behind and I had not necessarily, in my career, been involved in the songwriting side of things. It’s opened my eyes onto a whole new world of possibilities, as to where new pathways to where it can go.
GL obviously have a variety of musical influences from different genres, but you describe your sound as “synth-funk”. A lot of other electronic artists seem to be delving intofunk like you guys are as well, do you think the genre is having a resurgence of sorts?
Ella: Everyone has funk in their past and future.
Graeme: I feel that it’s never really too far away from the mainstream. It’s so relatable, no matter what form it’s in or what style of funk it is, because, like any other genre, it’s there. Whether it’s electronic funk, or live, or sixties, or seventies, eighties, ninties, it’s all there even through sampling in hip hop. ‘Get Lucky’ [by Daft Punk] was song of the year four years ago, and it’s basically a Chic track, so it’s always there. It’s always been my, well only interest in life. I’ve played a lot of different styles of music but I’m just obsessed with funk music. So although yes, we’re not totally funk or modern funk, which I also really love, when I’m initially producing a track, it will always come from a funk influence for me. Ella has always had a bit of soul and funk influence in her singing, but our sound is definitely influenced by that very strongly, but also by different routes of pop and general synth music.
So do you both have some favourite funk artists?
Graeme: So many. Right from the start you have GeorgeClinton, Parliament, Funkadelic and that in itself is an almost endless journey of stuff to listen to. I wouldn’t necessarily say you could hear that in our music all that much, and other than that, I guess one of the main people that has influenced my GL production is a guy called KevinMcCord. He was part of a group called OneWay and he was the one that produced many great things, but I love his aesthetic. Really, there’s so many. Pretty much anything GeorgeClinton touched or was involved with, he’s still so relevant too. You’ve got him featuring on KendrickLamar‘s music and KendrickLamar is on his own track in 2016! He’s got some cred.
Ella: I am interested in how storytelling has been stylised through the ages, how sound and movement bring people together, the human voice as a powerful mobiliser. My favourite artist is ArethaFranklin I hope we see another artist with such longevity and genius in our generation.
GL will be performing at DEADLAM festival in Brisbane this weekend.