Three full-lengths in and North London four-piece Gengahr are no longer sweating the small stuff. “It’s always hard for artists to get over the hump of the second album,” lead vocalist and guitarist Felix Bushe considers. “It’s a liberating feeling getting to your third one.”
Back in 2015, the band released their debut, ‘A Dream Outside’, which slotted them into the realm of psych-pop, and with Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘Multi-Love’ also out that year, they were in good company.
Three years later, they returned with their second album, ‘Where Wildness Grows’, which showed more of an indie-rock edge, but not without the psych-pop polish they do so well, showcased effortlessly in tracks such as ‘Before Sunrise’.
Now, the band are fully in their stride, and the creative process looks a little different.
“We’d been touring a lot over the first two albums,” Felix explains, “and the way the third has been written reflects that. We didn’t spend as much time in the rehearsal room working on ideas collectively – it was a lot more isolated. I was working on ideas on my own and being sent ideas from other members of the band, so it took quite a long time for us to get it from that stage into learning how to play the songs and playing as a band before recording them.”
“We’ve always self-produced, and although we’ve worked with some very talented producers and engineers, we haven’t really ever worked with someone like Jack who’s also a musician himself – it’s almost like having an extra member of the band. The opinions aren’t just purely sonic, they can be a lot more about the arrangement and have an even more detailed analysis of the song.
“It was refreshing, and it did help with the dynamic as well. We spend so much time together that having a new person in the room makes everyone up their game a bit. We all really wanted to put in a shift and make sure that we were being as creatively involved in it as we could be.”
It’s no secret that there’s been a rise in DIY recordings over the last few years, with more artists than ever before making material sat at their laptops, plugins all within arms reach. Gengahr have dipped more of their toes into a DIY approach during the recording of ‘Sanctuary’, which shows they’re taking more creative control, choosing a system that works best for them.
“The process was very different to what we’ve done before. A lot of the stuff that was on the album came from the original demos that were either recorded at my own house, or [that of] whoever had recorded bits and sent those over. So much of the pre-production was done at Jack’s house after – we took them in and worked on some of the parts and the arrangements.”
Spending less time in the studio allowed them to be freer of time constraints, too. “You go in [to the studio] watching the clock, hoping you’re getting enough done each day because you know how much money it’s costing,” Jack reflects, “whereas if you’re just working from home or working from your own laptop, you can do things at a very relaxed pace; you can take your time.”
The new dynamic also has the added bonus of allowing each individual within the band to really shine through. “More than ever, our own songwriting personalities come out in the tracks quite a lot,” Felix agrees. And with personality comes the experiences that make us who we are, with themes of escapism trickling through the full-length, and more personal musings from Felix becoming an even bigger source of inspiration.
“A lot of the album is centred around the separation between me and my wife,” he explains. “We got married last December, but when her visa expired, she had to leave the country. Trying to sort that out and having a long-distance relationship for a year and a half was a big driving force emotionally for what the material was about.”
Despite its more sentimental themes, ‘Sanctuary’ still carries an upbeat Gengahr groove to it, tracks such as ‘Heavenly Maybe’ offering enough disco-flecked sounds and swag to pull shapes to at any indie club night. “Structurally, Jack enjoyed [‘Heavenly Maybe’] a lot,” says Felix. “That sort of song is right up his street, and [he] really latches onto the more dancey stuff.” It’s something that can be heard throughout Steadman’s solo album under the moniker Mr Jukes, or even the likes of ‘Carry Me’ in Bombay Bicycle Club’s ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’.
The lyricism in ‘Atlas Please’ also echos feelings of discontent and wanting to avoid uncertain pressures. “The demons on your back tonight have really taken hold / But if you set that trap again, nobody else to call / Believing things you can’t accept will never set you free / You’re holding up the stars again, weighing down,” Felix sings against a juxtaposed backdrop, with an indie-pop pep in its step.
We can find sanctuary in a whole host of things – whether that’s going for a run, or tuning in to your favourite TV show after a long day. In Gengahr’s case, it was putting pen to paper and bringing these new songs to life, which was also the outcome of pushing through some uncertain times together and coming out the other side stronger than before. Felix explains: “We’re always longing to find that sense of satisfaction and comfort, and not just in my own personal terms. The band went through some very turbulent times.”
The band had previously parted ways with their manager and stepped out into the unknown, unsure of where their next steps would take them. “We didn’t really know where [‘Sanctuary’] was going to end up, so there was quite a bit of doubt clouding around what we were doing, but we were confident that we had a good album’s worth of material, had a really good time making it with Jack, and [knew] we’d figure out a way to make it all happen.”
Although the band are feeling more content, they’re far from complacent. “We still don’t feel like we’re quite ‘there’. We’re kinda happy with where we’re at and excited about what’s coming. It’s healthy to remain ambitious and expand on what we’ve already achieved, but I don’t think we’re anywhere close to feeling as though we’re done. There’s so much more we want to achieve. We’re getting better as a band and continuing to learn and listen to those around us. The more time we get to do music, the happier we are.”
Taken from the February issue of Dork, out now. Gengahr’s album ‘Sanctuary’ is out 31st January.
Words: Charlotte Croft