Interview ::: Gemma Ray

Gemma Ray Alessandra Leimer 2 hi-res colour

TSOFDs: Listening to the title track Psychogeology right now in my headphones I’m immediately transported out of my cold apartment in a crowded metropolis and whisked away to an altogether more expansive landscape be it, sadly in my case, only a musical one. I’m grateful nevertheless. Please tell us what inspired this song.

GR: Psychogeology is about the relationship between landscape and the mind, how your emotions and environment can feed off and mirror each other – this song in particular is largely inspired by a long tour around the USA and also New Zealand. I wrote a lot of this record either on the road or in the short bursts of being back in the solitude of my studio in Berlin between tours – taking stock of remembered images and processing everything. It’s about overcoming and how ultimately we are all overcome.

TSOFDs: Perfect description – completely aligns with what I’m listening to right now. You’re described as Essex-raised but you’ve obviously seen a fair bit of the world. There’s a restlessness to your music but I’m curious to know if there’s a place you call home that you feel very much anchored to – somewhere you see yourself always living or returning to?

GR: I feel more anchored to the process of making music and to loved ones more than to a particular place, but Berlin has felt very much like home to me for a long time. It’s been a steady source of inspiration, a comfortingly solid yet transient place to rest and refuel my creativity, to dream up and refine new ideas before heading off again. It gives me a sense of personal space and security that I can’t imagine not returning to it at various stages in my life.

TSOFDs: Following on from the last question I wonder whether there’s music you grew up listening to that influenced you that you always return to or whether you’re on a constant quest to find something new? It’s so easy these days, where so much music is pretty much freely available, to hop from one artist to the next and never settle for that long.

GR: I find the way you described finding new music very overwhelming actually, and don’t really consume music that way. I prefer to spend my time making music more than listening to it – I rarely have the head space to listen to music at home, but I do tend to go back to certain film soundtracks and jazz records plus a handful of pop albums like Pet Sounds, or Astral Weeks. When new music does pop up in my life I think I am even more enamoured by the unexpectedness of it, and I love being blown away out of the blue.

TSOFDs: That sounds like the best way to be honest. The way the music is layered on your imminent album release is both exquisite and precise. When it comes to playing the material live, have you put together a band that will play the songs just as they are on record, including all the harmonies and instrumentation, or do you set about presenting the songs in a different way, perhaps stripping them down?

GR: I often really enjoy subverting my records live, taking away the bigger production and getting to the sinew and bone. Though often born of necessity (reinterpreting big productions live can be tricky, financially). I have always loved embracing a more raw and minimal version of the songs and get to understand them even more that way.  Buutttt, for this record I decided to go for reproducing all the backing harmonies and full-band sound as it’s such a key part of the emotion in these songs.  Andrew Zammit is playing drums and Acetone Organ simultaneously, Gris-De-Lin is playing keys and singing, Judith Rummel plays bass and acoustic guitar and backing vocals and Claudio Jolowicz has been joining us for some shows on saxophones and flute. It’s been a real treat to do this, and the three part harmonies are really cool to sing live.

TSOFDs: I’m jealous of the people who’ve witnessed these album tracks live. Where has been your favorite country to gig and why?

GR: One of my favourite trips so far is perhaps one which took me to Australia, New Zealand and Bali – I love soaking up all the wildlife and epic landscapes and it’s always really amazing to play your own music in a place like Bali where the culture is so different, and to see how those local influences sneak back into the tapestry of my future work further down the line. Writing in strange hotel rooms with lizards and huge spiders is always going to evoke a new weird chord structure or something at least!

TSOFDs: The album, despite evoking a sense of journey, somehow comes across to me as you knowing exactly what you wanted to do when it came to laying down the tracks. Did you have it all mapped out before recording or did the same sense of exploration conveyed by the songs go into the overall process itself? It feels to me like the expedition happened before and recording was a means of accurately conveying or pinpointing where you have already been either physically, emotionally, or both.

GR: I spent a year or more in my studio working on numerous versions of the songs, breaking them up and re-assembling them, bullying myself about the lyrics and arrangements, before committing them to tape. At every stage of production I was staying true to the key message, mood, emotion and sense of place that I wanted the songs to portray right up until the final stage of mastering. I was zooming in on every tiny tweak that was either enhancing or diluting the emotion of the songs, however fine the tipping point. There was still a lot of experimentation in the overdubs phase, time to reflect and space for other musicians but I felt very clear about the record I wanted to make and feel like it says what I needed it to say.

TSOFDs: The effort more than paid off – there’s so much depth and substance to this album. Given the shrinking sales brought about by the Internet age do you think the album is an endangered species? Personally I think it’s safe because true artists will always be motivated by something other than money or popularity – they do it because they love it and there’s something inside them that needs to come out.

GR: I’m not sure – I considered the idea of making a series of singles, as many of my songs seem to want to sit in pairs, but when it comes to the crunch I can’t resist encapsulating a period of time within the confines of a full length LP. I wouldn’t be scared to veer away from that traditional format if it made sense to me but it hasn’t so far – I think singles are great but for me I still want an LP to take to the grave!

TSOFDs: Yes I hope music fans will always want the more immersive experience an LP offers. You’ve worked with Sparks, Alan Vega and on the Can Project. Please tell us where readers can find this music to check out and more about the projects themselves.

GR: I made a collaborative 7″ with Sparks which was released as part of my record ‘Island Fire’. Sparks were amazing to work with, I essentially covered Sparks, and then they covered me covering Sparks – and then I sang over the top! I’d love to work with them again…I’m such a huge fan of their recent record and live show too. Regarding Alan Vega, I asked him to be a guest vocalist on a girl-group style track on my record ‘Milk For Your Motors’, which was produced as a kind of homage to Suicide. I was very honoured that he agreed and have some incredible outtakes of his impassioned voice filling the streets of Manhattan – he recorded on the sidewalk, because the stairs of my friends’ basement studio (NY HED) were too tricky for him… somebody commented that it was the last true punk rock performance in New York! The Can Project was a special evening where Irmin Schmidt conducted new and old works with the Filmorchester Babelsberg, and I was involved in reworking and performing Can songs with the Berlin band Automat and my longtime collaborator and partner Andrew Zammit. I sang and played guitar alongside other guest vocalists – that was a special evening and heard some cool stories from Irmin Schmidt about the recording of one of my chosen tracks ‘Deadlock’.

TSOFDs: What amazing experiences. We have to get the China question in as we’re based here – any plans to tour the album in this part of the world?

GR: Yes! I would love to play in China!!

TSOFDs: Excellent. Fingers firmly crossed it happens sooner rather than later. Making an album and touring can be an exhausting process but have your thoughts turned to what you will do next? Are there more albums to look forward to – any more projects you can tell us about?

GR: I prefer to finish projects before I talk about them, but I do have a very niche covers record in the works and also am currently preparing for an audio installation which will be premiered in Berlin’s Volksbuhne as part of a special show I am doing there with my band in May. I would like to take this to other countries too… but in general, I will be just keeping on making more noise….

TSOFDs: That’s great to hear. Thanks so much Gemma for giving us your time and being so generous with your answers.


Psychogeology is out now on Bronze Rat Records.

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