Gengahr graced the stage at Thekla on Saturday night, for a great sold out gig. With just the right amount of trying and not trying too hard, you can tell they’ve been around for a couple of years in the maturity of their songs, subtle uses of their instruments and authenticity beyond what you’d expect of the general indie band. I spoke to lead singer Felix Bushe on the way to their next venue, who though clearly busy, offered a very honest perspective on the making of their second album ‘Where Wilderness Grows’.
Strolling on stage to Blue Boy’s ‘Remember Me’, they kicked off the set with ‘Is This How You love?’ and what can most simply be described as good guitar noises. This was a theme for the whole performance - hiding behind a mop of hair, lead guitarist John Victor was casually unleashing some serious riffs. Genghar’s stage presence was a nice blend of youthful enthusiasm and experience; striking a balance between musical professionals who impress with their talent and a band who captivate with their - actually unique - style. Lead singer Felix Bushe and bassist Hugh Schulte demand your attention as they look intensely into the audience (it was at this point I realised Schulte has the same piercing stare as Rufus Sewell in ‘A Knight’s Tale’).
Gengahr know how to build and save energy in their songs. The crowd, unfortunately, did not. Insistent on jumping about, a small minority would pick the most un-moshable songs, and go ahead anyway. It was just annoying, and couldn’t help but tarnish the experience of trying to enjoy a song with a slight tempo change in the chorus whilst also trying to stay standing upright.
The songs sounded fairly similar, though I don’t know how much that matters when they’re so good. The band recently released an acoustic E.P. alongside the new album, it would have been cool to hear a couple more of those songs stripped back to give the set a bit more depth. For the most part though, high pitched vocals stood out against heavy guitar sounds and the odd cymbal crescendo. ‘Before Sunrise’ was an especially happy, cute song, which I’m not sure comes across as well on record. Support Low Island deserve some mention too; they left a lasting impression with their interesting mix of genres and I’d definitely recommend giving them a listen.
A few days and dodgy phone connection later, I spoke to Gengahr frontman Felix about their new album and music making process.
So you’re nearly coming to the end of your tour now, how’s it been?
It’s been great! Yeah really nice, we’ve had a great time.
Your second album Where Wilderness Grows came out in March. It’s quite mysterious lyrically and sonically, what would you say were the main themes on it?
I’d say if anything it’s probably more matter of fact and frank than the first album. It’s less clouded in metaphors and probably less strange, by our standards anyway. I think there’s got to be an element of mystery around it; it encourages the music to be a little more intriguing for our listeners. Ultimately what we do is not really straightforward pop music so I think it would be perhaps too... cheesy if everything was too obvious. We try and strike up a balance. We’re big fans of pop music but what we make... it’s definitely not [that]. Being authentic to us, we have to try and make the sounds and the lyrical content slightly stranger in order to fit with that.
It’s very authentic - you’re clearly doing your own thing, and that’s nice to listen to.
Well that’s the ambition. If there are people who want to listen to us then we’re doing something right I guess.
Why did you decide to also release an E.P. with acoustic versions of some of the songs off that album?
We get asked to do acoustic sessions all the time and they’re normally pretty crap, they’re done by people who don’t really know what they’re doing particularly, or it just ends up being quite half-arsed and doesn’t sound very good. And then it ends up going online and we just get a bit embarrassed by that. So we kind of thought we’d avoid that and take it into our hands and do our own acoustic versions for people to hear, if that was what they wanted. Yeah it was quite fun, it was an opportunity to kind of show off the song-writing a little bit as well and strip away some of the effects. And expose the art of the songs a bit you know?
Yeah it makes sense, I guess it’s like a different part to your band.
Yeah I think so. Hopefully it’s quite a calm and endearing E.P..
You’ve said that making this album was quite a long process. How did you know when it was finished?
I think we ran out of money - that was when we had to stop! Recording albums isn’t cheap and we spent a lot of time in the studio overdoing it, the first half, and then we had to pull the plug because it wasn’t feeling right and felt like a massive waste of time, and it seemed healthier to just start again. But for a band on an indie label you’ve got to be fairly savvy with your cash – no one’s throwing money around. We hooked up with a guy called Neil Coober, and he happened to be a big fan of the band which really helps in these sorts of scenarios. He managed to breathe fresh life into the album, which was important when we felt a little stagnated in the studio up till then. He helped us feel really enthusiastic about the songs again. It all kind of worked out in the end but it was a strange route to go down, it wasn’t very straightforward.
Hugh [the bassist] does all the artwork for the band. Do you know what inspires him for that?
I mean he sort of paints what he wants really. We had a working title and that was what he came up with. I think he incorporated it into the title and some of the tracks as well.
Who are you listening to the on the tour bus?
A lot of stuff. We have our separate tastes really, like we all have our headphones on now doing our own thing. I’ve been listening to a lot of bigger beats, some Little Kicks. A whole bunch of stuff.
Is there a country or venue you’d especially like to play in the future?
Pretty weird places are always the most fun, somewhere off the beaten track. Cuba would be pretty mad, maybe Korea. Places that are less obvious are always I think more exciting for bands to do, because it’s a bit more of an adventure.
Sounds like you’re putting the indie back into indie band.
Words and photography by Ella Faye Howcroft