Listen to this track by four-cornered West Coast indie-rock pop artisans Gay Nineties. It’s “Letterman”, their single that served as a taster for their first “album-EP” Liberal Guilt, released online January 27, and in shops on February 3.
The band was born in 2010 when guitarist Parker Bossley, formerly of Hot Hot Heat, formed a musical bond with bassist Daniel Knowlington and drummer Malcolm Holt. They’ve since added a fourth member in keyboardist Bruce Ledingham IV, thereby expanding their sonic palette from the indie power-trio they were into a supple unit with an easy hand with texture and nuance. With that shift of course, they’re still able to joyfully pummel audiences with their enthusiastic brand of angular pop-rock in an alternative vein, and clearly made for radio.
I got a chance to chat with Parker Bossley who answers for Gay Nineties via email about this song, about the new record, and about the role which that aforementioned pillar of success, rock radio, has in their lives.
The Delete Bin: This song “Letterman” was a forerunner, a harbinger to the new record Liberal Guilt, which was released this month. How was this song representative of what was to come?
Gay Nineties: I think that ‘Letterman’ was an eye opener for us. The song came together in this very easy and natural way and it ended up being our first song on the radio and all that. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s representative of the full spectrum of sound and influence that’s found on Liberal Guilt though.
DB: The “ack-ack-ack” in the song seems to evoke the work of one Billy Joel (“Movin’ Out” from The Stranger to be precise). Coincidence, or clever, hip reference with a knowing wink?
Gay Nineties: Haha, it was actually inspired by ‘The Modern Age’ by The Strokes when Julian stutters, but yeah it landed on the ‘back’, so it inadvertently became a Billy Joel tribute!
DB: On another point on the album, Paul McCartney is quoted, too (“Let ‘Em In”). It sounds like an affectionate moment for classic radio singles of the ’70s, not an ironic one. How does this sense of affection for that which came before, pop musically speaking, impact the songwriting process? Other than the “ack ack ack” of course!
Gay Nineties: Paul McCartney has been a large influence on all of us in Gay Nineties. He’s hands down one of the greatest bass players of all time— melodically he is just ridiculous. Beatles and Wings as well. Personally, I’m more inspired by the songwriting that was happening in the 70s than the production. Thankfully Malcolm and Bruce are full on production/tone guys so they cover for me in that department.. There was a very cool sense of melody and harmony happening back then. Ned Doheny, Steely Dan, and Nilsson come to mind. (We’re) never trying to recreate things, just to be inspired by them when writing our own music.
DB: This tune is a classic radio song. What’s your relationship to radio, and with the ease (or not!) of getting songs on it? Is it still important to a band at your level in this age of fragmented media?
Gay Nineties: For us, radio has been a great way to have people hear our music across the country and we’re lucky to have been accepted the way we have. I know that some of the full on ‘Rock’ stations still have a hard time with us… With Indie/Alternative stations becoming more prominent there’s a lot more new music getting onto the mainstream air waves. Satellite radio is incredible as well! I feel like fragmented media allows every band SOME opportunity to get noticed. It seems to level the playing field out a bit which I like. It can be frustrating at times though when it seems that there’s a million options to choose from.
DB: The sounds heard on the album has been described as being an amalgam of your influences, from ’60s psych, to ’90s alternative, to ’70s glam-rock, to early ’80s yacht rock and points in between. That’s a lot of musical ground to cover, yet I can’t really hear the seams. How did the songs and their arrangements change between writing and the recording and mixing stage?
Gay Nineties: The arrangements didn’t change drastically from our rehearsal space to the studio. We spend a lot of time sculpting our music before we go in. Definitely parts will change or be added as layers when it’s sonically captured but really not much changed on this collection of songs. Having Steve Bays, Ryan Dahle, and Adam Veenendaal mix the songs definitely gave the tones an extra shock of life though! The mixing stage (after the songwriting phase) is probably my personal favourite in recording as your ears really get rewarded. As for our influences, we all take pieces from the past but the goal is always to reinvent them in our own style. No seams!
DB: The band is known for its dynamism as a live act. How does this impact the way you approach the recording process? Do you think of them as being separate disciplines, or is there a mind for how each one will affect the other?
Gay Nineties: Dynamism! I like that… In the past it’s not really something we ever thought of …Which can make for some tricky situations live that don’t always land or are just no fun to play. Looking at the writing/recording/performing as one single process can be beneficial to a bands happiness on the road for sure. I’d say these days we’re 50/50. Open minded to getting as weird as possible on the one side, and knowing when to reel it in so that a song gets the life that it deserves on the stage.
DB: One of the things I like about the new record as a whole is the “Intro” and “Outro” tracks that bookend it. It makes the whole thing feel self-contained, and not just a bunch of songs. Was this the intention, and how does that work within the whole a la carte nature of the way a lot of people consume music these days?
Gay Nineties: There’s been a lot of late night tour drives with Bruce cranking Pink Floyd and everyone getting lost together in it. Absolutely every one of my favourite albums feels like a self contained living breathing creature. We do live in a ‘single’ driven industry at the time, but why not give the people singles that ALSO happen to be part of an actual collection of songs? As McConaughey said, ‘Time is just a flat circle”… point being, the ‘album’ will have it’s time in the sun again! Might as well just do what you love..
DB: The band has ties with Hot Hot Heat, and with Steve Bays in particular, who mixed the “Letterman” single. How would you describe what he’s able to bring to the way you guys sound?
Gay Nineties: Steve is one of the best mixers that I’ve ever worked with. He has the uncanny ability to take what we give him and make it sound even better than we thought it could sound. As strange as it seems, that’s really really hard to find. Steve is consistently able to make everything sound better. It’s crazy. He also is a fan of boxed wine which is always a plus!
DB: You’re Vancouver-based, and I’m always impressed by how tightly knit the scene seems to be here. What bands and writers are currently impressing you on the local scenes?
Gay Nineties: There’s so many to say! We’re big fans of The Zolas, Eric Campbell and The Dirt, No Sinner, Smash Boom Pow, Bend Sinister, Fake Shark, YoungBlood and all the rest! Ahhh the Nepotism!!! We love Vancouver!
For more information about Gay Nineties and their new record, check out gayninetiesmusic.com.