Chosen One: Gang Colours
Interview with Will Ozanne, Gang Colours.
“It’s all about trying to get a good balance, in every aspect of your life, and that certainly goes for music making too. Hope is something we all need…”
Words: Mark Carry, Design: Craig Carry
On Will Ozanne’s sophomore release (and follow-up to 2012’s ‘The Keychain Collection’) as Gang Colours for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label he emphasises a psychedelic-pop side in favour of his previous Bass inclinations. The masterful production, intricate arrangements and stirring lyrics remain beautifully intact. ‘Invisible In Your City’ reveals a more melancholy undercurrent, from the magical pop of the title track to the piano-based heartfelt lament of ‘Home’ and pristine, multi-layered opus of ‘Led By Example’. The Botley resident continues to blossom as both a song-writer and producer.
Following last year’s album release, several wonderful remixes have surfaced to the light, from San Francisco’s Dave Aju and London’s Kelpe respective reworks of ‘Why Didn’t You Call?’ — a duet with Lulu James — representing one of the album’s finest moments.
Beginning with 2011’s debut EP ‘In Your Gut Like A Knife’, Ozanne has ceaselessly mixed a beguiling blend of organic and electronic elements, resulting in a highly emotive and rich canvas of sound.
‘Invisible In Your City’ is available now on Brownswood Recordings.
Interview with Will Ozanne, Gang Colours.
Congratulations Will on the latest record, ‘Invisible In Your City’, which is a truly sublime album that even surpasses the masterful debut full-length, ‘The Keychain Collection’. First of all, how did the recording sessions and overall creative process differ (if so) between ‘Invisible In Your City’ and its predecessor?
Will Ozanne: Thank you! The process for the 2nd album was pretty similar to the first in terms of what equipment was available for me to produce with (Piano, Laptop, etc). Except this time I wanted to be more ambitious in an effort to expand on the sound that I had created with the first album. I don’t like to churn out the same kind of sound all the time, it would drive me nuts — so it’s all about slow and steady progression for me. I wanted to write more songs that people could connect with on a greater emotional level than when listening to just beats and catchphrases — which seemed to be the impetus for the first album. Having recording sessions with gospel choirs and saxophone players and other singers helped to widen the palette for the 2nd LP aswell.
What is most striking about the new record is the song-writing prowess on display throughout. As ever, there is a gorgeous blend of the organic and synthetic but what resonates most powerfully for me is your achingly beautiful harmonies and piano melodies. I would love to gain an insight into the construction of the songs please? For example, do tracks such as ‘Home’ begin with a piano line or vocal idea and work from there? I imagine the production stage is a challenging process in which you want to capture the emotional intensity of the song?
WO: I always look to challenge myself and one of the ways I did that this time around was to put more emphasis on songwriting and the many different ways that can be approached whilst still remaining true to my self and my sound. Although its been incredibly difficult it’s a journey I’m glad I took on, because developing my songwriting over the last few years has allowed me to explore myself a lot more and continues to be a worthwhile and therapeutic process regardless if any of the songs written get released or not.
I’ve always loved harmony since listening to The Beach Boys from a young age, it’s always a moment in a song that my mind, body and soul seems to resonate with powerfully, that careful blending of a group of human vocals is magical. Though I haven’t got a barbershop crew to turn to so I have to layer it all myself.
The track ‘Home’ started with the piano part and kind of went from there I think. I change my working process from song to song really just to see what works for me, but I think that’s how it went for that one. I’ve found that if you have a good and powerful riff of any kind it’s good to hold onto that and just build around it otherwise somewhere down the line I’ll just find myself desperately trying to claw back that initial emotional intensity from the captured riff if I decided to ditch it half way through the making of the track.
The album-title is wonderful that serves the perfect embodiment of ‘Invisible In Your City’ which portrays a vivid sense of longing and melancholy yet remains a source of solace and hope in equal amounts. Can you talk me through the themes of the record please, Will?
WO: Well I guess you’ve kind of summed it up in that question! It’s all about trying to get a good balance, in every aspect of your life, and that certainly goes for music making too. Hope is something we all need so I’m glad it evokes that for you. Generally the themes in the record are eclectic, I like the challenge of putting lots of different kinds of mood yet finding consistency in all of them. My mind can often be over run with ideas and it’s hard to pursue all of them probably out of fear that they are in fact bad ideas, so my musical output is often a subtle reflection of that conflict I always have with my mind. This album, like the previous one, is really just a snapshot of my creative process so far with tales of fiction and non-fiction of my life woven into its tapestry.
My current favourite is the heartfelt lament ‘Home’ which is built upon a mesmerising piano pattern. The pristine instrumentation on display here reflects the rich sonic canvas of ‘Invisible In Your City’. Can you recount your memory of writing this song and witnessing it blossom into its final entity?
WO: If I’m honest, it was a long time ago that I wrote that, way before the album came out and that’s a long time now! But I do remember it being one of the early moments in the album writing process where I was happy with the songwriting and how the beat and the lyrics came together impact-fully probably for the first time in my creative journey so far. It became the benchmark for what the rest of the album should feel like. Like I mentioned earlier I think it started with a piano riff, and then the vocal line “when you’re stuck in the middle its hard” and I just built around that. I knew I wanted to make something that felt minimal but powerful so I just did my best to go for that really.
Lulu James is a guest on ‘Why Didn’t You Call’ — a divine duet beneath luminous beats and shape-shifting worlds of sound. It must have been special to have a guest collaborator present on the record? Also, I love Kelpe’s remix of this track. It must be a lovely feeling to hear your own peers interpret your own work (which has been happening ever since the debut EP ‘In Your Gut Like A Knife’)?
WO: Yes I had wanted to do a duet for a while and had previously met Lulu after a show I did in Brighton a few years back. Then when I was writing the song, she was actually the first person that came to mind and she did a brilliant job too, she is such a professional and it really brought the track to a whole other level. It was something I’d always wanted to do so it was great take the chance to do it and enjoy the outcome. Hearing remix’s done of my tracks is a really nice experience especially from people I admire. I look back at the people who have remixed me and almost can’t believe it sometimes — I feel very lucky.
In terms of song-writing, what records do you feel have served a significant influence on Gang Colours’ sonic palette?
WO: Well, there are many artists that I draw influence from. I’m constantly trying to learn, study and analyze songs and lyrics these days. I’ll have sessions where I sit down and listen to an album with the lyrics in front of me and study the structure, the delivery and all the other things that can possibly be drawn from the music.
Artists that I have done that with I guess would be Joni Mitchell, Hot Chip, Jamie T, Paul Simon, Mike Skinner, Dizzee Rascal… the list really is endless, but most of the time I will listen to albums that moved me as a youngster and then analyzing why it moved me through listening again with hopefully a more finely tuned ear and much less ignorant mind. When I was younger I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics, so I’m kind of catching up now, and its like listening to it with new ears — its a great and worthwhile experience.
I love the presence of David Bowie’s ‘Always Crashing In The Same Car’ as the album-closer. The song itself fits so nicely on the record, and you really make it your own. Can you please discuss the choice of this song and indeed your fascination with David Bowie? Is there a certain period in Bowie’s career that you are most intrigued by?
WO: Thank you. I do love a bit of Bowie, my mum was (and is) a big fan so it’s always been present in the family playlist I guess. But the funny thing is ‘Always Crashing…’ came about after being asked by a magazine to cover it as they were going to put it on a CD giveaway thing and I got so excited by the idea when I heard it I went and recorded a version immediately and the main piano bit and vocal line were both done in one take over about 30 mins. Then I did the backing vocals and other details later on. I love the track because for me it signifies the uncompromisingly avant guard artist that Bowie is despite all the pressure that he must have had on him to do things that became extremely popular for him previously. It was a great realization for me to just keep doing my own thing so it had to be put on the album not just as it closes the album nicely but for its significance in my progression as an artist.
What is your live set-up on the current tour?
WO: Right now, its me a piano and a mic. Also I have a trigger machine that has a ll the backing tracks on it. Then I have the drummer extraordinaire also know as Gillan. He gives the show all the power that I always felt was lacking, also his experience in the music industry has been invaluable whilst touring the show. It’s just us two for the moment, but I’m always looking grow in the future.
Lastly, I would love for you to take me back to your earliest musical memories? Was the piano the first instrument you learned to play? I wonder what record(s) did you first hear that made a big impact on your life?
WO: Yes, piano was the first instrument I started having lessons in — which I started whilst at primary school then I fancied a bit of the guitar so started lessons with that at secondary school as well. It’s hard to look back accurately to those early moment that fueled my quest for music making. But my knee jerk answer to that starts with The Streets – ‘Has It Come to This’. But if I was to go a bit earlier I’d say that Michael Jackson had a big impact on me then 2Pac came along and did a number on me. I guess as you grow up your unknowingly seeking role-models which I found through artists like those and the impact of those early experience have an influence on the taste I put into my music today.
‘Invisible In Your City’ is available now on Brownswood Recordings.