The London duo share a full stream of their latest psychedelic offering and answer some questions
Percussionist Tom Fug and keyboardist and vocalist Jussi Brightmore present their third album as the band Gum Takes Tooth. Arrow is a meditation on the current social and political climate, brought to life through the duo's signature rhythmic noise workouts. Fug and Brightmore answered some questions on the album over email:
Arrow is dynamic in its energy and tempo. How far does this emulate your live shows?
Jussi: States of vacuum, compression, release are all very much part of our live sets as much as the album. Intensity in music obviously isn’t just about volume or density, and we play with that.
Tom: We take care to build our live sets in a way that ebbs and flows regards tempo, energy and velocity. It depends on the setting though. Sometimes, when we’re playing a late night “party” slot, we might avoid the more quiet numbers - but it’s also important for us to not just turn the dial up to 11 and keep it there for an entire show.
Jussi: Sometimes that ‘party’ slot might be the time that we feel that the atmosphere would even be more hyper-sensitised by inserting a temporary period of cutting cold low pressure, working that tension/release. Uncertainty can be a good thing.
Do you experiment with this more when recording?
Jussi: The listening spaces of recorded and live music are totally different so we like to approach each medium on its own terms. On the whole, we aim to create immersive recorded music. At least on this album we created each track as an independent sound journey, a unique space, that links to form a complete whole in the album format.
Tom: An example of what comes out of this loose studio approach can be heard on “House Built on Fire” which differs quite a lot from the live version. We found that a more mellow approach to the first half of the song worked well in recording. However, we still found that, in a live setting, the more energetic approach worked best.
What do you enjoy and find challenging in the studio environment?
Jussi: Personally I relish the opportunity to use the studio to really get deep into crafting spaces and mental situations that are hopefully quite unique and can define their own context. When recording the album, we really loved working with Wayne Adams at Bear Bites Horse Studio in Hackney as he both facilitated realising our vision but often also expanding it. He was a great contributor and collaborator in the creative process.
Tom: It can be a challenge to capture the energy of a live performance in the studio. Taking a different approach and adding textures, working in more detail with sound design and being able to experiment with equipment that we don’t have access to on stage is really fulfilling. Freeing yourself from the restrictions of a live performance allows us to be more creative with experimentation in the studio.
The album is an expression of thoughts on themes such as gentrification, uncertainty, self-empowerment. Aside from the lyrics, can you talk a bit about how these subjects and feelings might have manifested themselves in the music?
Jussi: On Arrow, the shorter instrumental tracks are like corridors linking the larger environments of the longer tracks, environments of varying pressure. Psychological spaces which reflect the environments we move through in our daily lives, environments we rarely dare enter and environments that might be totally new. Most of the time it’s a conflict of all these at once. I think experience is very rarely pure, singularly defined, and if it is, it’s fleeting. There are almost always a near infinite number of tensions at play. Music can refine these and offer a focused articulation of experience, of emotions, but we like making music that reflects these contradictions.
Our previous album was generally more cosmic, more aimed at dissolution. The kinds of themes you mention in your question indeed were looming large, in my world at least, as this album slowly solidified. Some tracks began with hands in the air but they moved towards head in hands. Our music pretty much invariably starts with totally improvised jams and we each heavily input into each other's sound making. Even if we agree on embarking with a defined goal, even just a vibe, we pretty much always quickly find ourselves somewhere unexpected.
I was working a lot in Aldgate East in London, an area with as long and complex a history as anywhere in the city. Every day I would walk out onto the street and another shiny new tower block seemed to have grown out of a demolition that had seemed to happen overnight. While I’ve not verified this, I’ve heard that many of these new buildings, while standing on the rubble of centuries old commercial buildings, are designed to be structurally obsolescent in 35 years. Many in the inner city have few live-in tenants or occupiers, the slate wiped clean and remaining so. The windows striping the entire width of one tower block flat were painted in floor to ceiling high letters reading “investment mistake”. One unhappy customer.
It’s a story that’s familiar to cities all over the world. Feverish urban construction and estate agent strategies to reduce municipal debt seeing profits ebb away from the environments they are built on - both geographically and socially - threatening to leave cultural ghost towns as naturally forming communities and their crucial grass roots cultural spaces are pushed out. Add this to the national and international events and ongoing situations that need no explicit reference… I don’t even need to go there. I think we all feel it.
Can you explain the symbolism of the Arrow?
Jussi: An arrow flies in an arc. It never circles back or repeats. While there’s a warm security in being able to reflect on the past, picking over its artefacts; analysing, fetishising and demonising them and their provenance in equal measure, the personal and societal events that have marked the time this album has taken to create have formed a brutally sharp point to a present even more nervous than any I can remember. The arrow seems a fitting image to represent that.
The arrow symbolises an incitement to conflict by the enemy, the weapon offered as a gift. It’s a motivation to action, a goading challenge, but a trick that lures violence which ultimately leads to greater depletion, inaction and servitude via the portioning of false victories by the aforementioned technocracy. The enemy placates the subject with false victories. The nadir of the neoliberal story portions out in answer to our supplication, inciting lusts driven by ever more sharply targeted marketing strategies. The track “The Arrow” ends with a call to arms to take the weapon and use it your own way against the giver. Choose an arrow that the bow rejects; use that which the enemy gives back at itself. Use the technology, behaviours, communications that the enemy has created back in its face. That’s the sentiment.
This all refers to my own experiences at least, and largely inner experiences at that. I’m expressing purely personal confusion and exasperation. Much of the inward pressure the themes exert is due to my being largely guilty of not realising the necessary social action to really put my money where my lyrical mouth is. I’m really chiding myself here.
What are your hopes for the future?
Jussi: During the time this album took to germinate my partner and I had our first child. While my personal fears around the insidious effect of a global technocracy – that I’m as much a part of as anyone – were certainly exacerbated by thinking of what kind of world situation our daughter might inhabit through her life (probably a pretty common sentiment for many parents for the last hundred years), I just hope that we all find effective enough ways of pushing back that work for us, for all of us.
Tom: Make more music, play more shows, meet new people and see new places along the way. We are constantly working on expanding our sonic palette, and our creative processes.
Arrow is released by Rocket on 25 January. It's available to preorder now.