If you’re coming from England then it’s quite a thing if your first taste of the states is SXSW. Hot. Hectic. Hurried. Loud. A blur … plus, Austin can just feel like a different planet unto itself.
Gengahr is a London-based quartet specializing in a groovy/summery psych-pop, washed-out n’ wavy like a resplendent waterslide. They’ve only been to the good ol’ U.S. of A. for that psychotic spree of sweaty days and sonic revelry last March, but hopefully they’ll be on their way back soon following their current headlining tour of Europe to support their breakout debut, A Dream Outside.
“We had such a great time (at SXSW),” said singer/guitarist Felix Bushe. “Everyone is cool as fuck there, but they’re super friendly too.” Good on ya, Austin! “But, also, we’ve had so much fun at all the Euro festivals so far, it’s been amazing. We’ve been blown away by the number of people who seem to know our music.”
Bushe has seen the surrealism of their swift rise manifested in instances both big and small, from greeting the vast, roaring crowds at Euro-based festivals like Reading in England or the Best Kept Secret Festival in the Netherlends, to more intimate experiences like the opportunity to tour with The Maccabees.
“That was the most surreal thing. I remember going to see (The Maccabees) play in a small pub in North London when I was 17 and thinking how much I would love to do what they do.”
Now its eight years later, and Gengahr are shooting stars across the pond, be it on Europe’s stages or at the top posts of countless blogs and zines (including NME and The Guardian).
Because here’s the thing: what Tame Impala are for Australia or Unknown Mortal Orchestra are for New Zealand and maybe even what Ariel Pink was for our own west coast renaissance of ultra-vivid, sublime psych-rock … that’s what Gengahr can be for London. Not that this is a competition. Nevertheless, we think Gengahr’s jams, tiding from soft, sunset lullabies to driving, caustic-toned indie rock grinds, are the best of what’s next … Again though, not a competition.
“I think we always have a strong desire to improve and that’s what keeps our focus and our attention,” said Bushe, talking about blocking out (or at least keeping in perspective) all the attention heaped their way from star-making outlets such as BBC’s Radio 6. “Everything else just sort of blurs into the background. There is always so much we can work on, so, that’s generally what I spend my time thinking about.”
Lead guitarist John Victor, bassist Hugh Schulte and drummer Danny Ward comprise the group, with Bushe up front on vocals. Schulte, Ward and Bushe have been playing together since their days in primary school.
“It’s been almost 15 years…” Bushe reflects. “We started playing in bands long before we learned how to play. We used to thrash around in the practice rooms at school during lunchtime. Usually this was to avoid being beaten up in the playground, but all the same, it was good fun. Our first ever shows would have been in school assemblies playing our own horrible compositions to a hostile crowd that would have been much happier listening to Kano.”
But kids grow up. They met Victor a few years back and bonded quickly. It might have been tough for him at first, breaking into the trio’s bond, but Bushe says he wound up fitting in fairly seamlessly. “I think it’s definitely more beneficial” playing with lifelong friends, Bushe said. “We’ve known each other for so long now that we’re as close to family as possible, really. We know how to treat each other and that’s very important when you spend so much time together.”
So all this pressure, this attention, these high expectations, haven’t broken them yet or led them to kill each other; always a plus when it comes to a band’s breakout year. But if they have been playing together for so long in various incarnations, what was it about Gengahr (which started properly in October 2013) that made this seem like the right time and the right sound?
“A lot of it was probably the timing,” Bushe says. “I was pretty frustrated with everything at the time and it just sort of felt like if we didn’t do it now we would never do it. The moment when everybody knew we had something different and good was probably the first time we played “She’s A Witch” in our rehearsal room. Everything just seemed to fall into place without any real effort at all after that.”
This is a good spot to tell you that they’d intended to name themselves after a Pokémon species, but altered the spelling a tad to avoid copyright infringement. That speaks to their easygoing nature. That said, they were still quite serious when they went into the studio to craft A Dream Outside.
“What was really important in the writing and the rehearsing was that sense of space, giving everyone their own freedom to breathe and be heard,” said Bushe. “When we’re in the studio recording tracks, that mentality remains and keeps things fairly straight forward. And, I think although we had a pretty clear idea of how we wanted to produce the record, most of the sound comes from individual personalities.”
And those personalities are able to flourish through other creative outlets as each member draws upon different backgrounds in art; Bushe studied design and architecture, Shelte studied fine art painting, and Victor had done music production as a degree. This means they can not only design their own art and posters but also create their own videos, as they did with their latest single, “Haunter.” That’s “the best thing about being in a band,” said Bushe. “There’s variety in what you get to do. There’s never a dull day!”
And there’s not a dull song on A Dream Outside. They span mellow, shuffling funk to a snappier post-punk riff out, surfy psychedelia to sun-baked slow jams. “Mostly I’m just drawn to good songs,” Bushe says when asked of his contemporary influences. “The newer bands I’ve been listening to is stuff like Deerhunter, Swearin’ Kurt Vile, Ariel Pink. I’m not actually that genre-specific. One of my favorite new songs at the moment is Jason Derulo’s “Want To Want Me.””
And so they’re off to headline a European tour. Hopefully they’ll be back in the states before next year’s SXSW, or at least other places besides Austin. “My plans for now,” Bushe says, “are fairly pragmatic, to be honest. I just want to keep producing music and art that we are proud of. And in doing so, hopefully we can make others happy too.”