If you know me, you’ll know that one of my favorite groups to emerge in the music world in the past few years has been Gunship, the dreamy synthwave band that stunned me with their music video for “Fly For Your Life“. Ever since I saw that video and set to loop for what was probably a few days, I’ve been doing my best to champion them to audiences the world over. They’re the kind of band that deserves every listen and should really be far more popular than they are.
I managed to catch up with the Gunship boys to discuss what’s been happening in the couple of years since they launched their self-titled debut album, which they’re currently selling on gorgeous black vinyl right here. We speak briefly about their rise in popularity, their appearance in the recent Rise of the Synthwave documentary (pick up the companion album here), and also we hear about the status of a new album!
Dread Central: It’s been almost two years since the release of your self-titled album. Since then, you guys have basically blown up and become one of the premier names in the synthwave resurgence. What has been your reaction to the success?
Dan Haigh: Jonathan, you flatter us. We’re not sure we deserve it, but thanks. Any perception of success that we may have only serves to make us work much much much harder. We are also extremely grateful to the scene, which is growing so fast and literally teeming with creativity. It is an exciting time for music, and with acts like Makeup And Vanity Set, Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, Lazerhawk and Miami Nights 1984 continuing to push the envelope, things are only going to get better.
I need to backtrack a little here to put any reaction we have into perspective. GUNSHIP is based around a straightforward desire to create music that we wanted to hear but couldn’t find. It was a deliberate move to completely decouple the two words in the popular phrase ‘music business’. To put it bluntly, we made shit we liked and absolutely refused to do the ‘smart business sense’ maneuvers that typically give records the best chance of being ‘accessible’ or ‘suitable for mass consumption’. It is possible to make, what I’d call, a ‘genuine’ record while ticking those boxes, but to actively pursue those things is a miss-step on the path to legit expression in my opinion.
Essentially, we thought a handful of people were going to ‘get’ this record, but to our absolute delight we’ve managed to find plenty more fantastic people with tastes similar to our own. Carpenter Brut popped me on his guestlist at a recent Camden gig in London – stalking around the audience was an affirming experience. All the conversations I overheard were about synthwave and the scene instead of the usual BS – it felt fresh and exciting…This is a new frontier which some genuine diversity and people clearly love it, these are exciting times.
DC: Do you think that there is a connection between the rising popularity of vinyl and the enormous interest in the synthwave movement?
DH: Great question. The vinyl renaissance is fantastic, somehow I feel it’s partially a reaction against a subconscious desire to reinstate the significance of music! If that sounds weird, let me elaborate. I think humans need music, and the digital revolution has effectively watered down music’s significance in the tangible world – you no longer hunt music, bring it back to your lair and sit in front of a turntable doing nothing else but listening.
Music is more accessible than ever before, to the point where it’s almost always an accompaniment to another activity. This is kind of bullshit. When you buy a vinyl record you really own it – you can smell it, touch it, pore over the liner notes, etc, etc. This engagement is more human, it connects with more human senses than streaming invisible information over wifi. This physical interaction and tangible ownership in turn allows the feeling to occur that these records and the music on them is something important. Music is important!
Synthwave is partially a movement about accessing values from an era past – so it makes sense that it would play a significant role in supercharging the vinyl renaissance.
DC: How does Fightstar, your other group, influence the music you create in Gunship?
Alex Westaway: We have written four albums with Fightstar, so like it or not a degree of method has been burned into one’s brain. So in that sense structures and dynamics may share a similar space. However, it’s important not to become a victim of formula and we embrace the challenge of existing in our own space.
DC: You are part of the documentary Rise of the Synths. I find that film fascinating because synthwave is, in its own way, a method of honoring the past. What does the history of synthwave mean to you?
DH: The history of synthwave is a total mind fuck. When I think about what we do in Gunship it’s something like: channel the feelings conjured by your memories of a past time which had an emotional significance to you, a time which was partially informed by values and events which were, for the most part, contained in the imagined non-reality of certain filmmaker’s movies, partially mixed with your own experience of actual events, then express those feelings using decades old technology connected by any means necessary to ultra modern technology while attempting to create something fresh and original.
It’s certainly weird when you start to think about it. What’s really cool, are the first people to start forging this musical direction and, without going into a wikipedia-esque list here, the history of synthwave means a huge amount because this is a genuinely original genre, inched forward and expanded by very talented individuals with great vision… from back in the MySpace days to Valerie collective to the explosion in the last 3 years. Thank you to those guys.
DC: For the documentary, you recorded an original track called “The Vale of Shadows”, which you say was inspired by “Stranger Things”. Tell me a bit about the song and how it’s a taste of what’s to come.
DH: “The Vale Of Shadows” is our tribute to Stranger Things and also 80’s fantasy horror in general. Stranger Things is a great example of another artform capturing some of the juice that pumps at the heart of Gunship. There’s a nuanced approach to the collision of innocence of youth, imagination, adventure, and danger which is projected in a way which is commonly found in films of the 80s that is usually absent in modern TV and film. That show on paper was probably a niche kinda deal, but look at how it because a huge international phenomena… I think it goes to show that people are craving this kind of heartfelt legitimacy and emotional response.
DC: Speaking of new material, what’s the status on a new Gunship album?
Alex Gingell: We are kicking ass and taking names, that is the ballpark status. We have around 8 original tracks that we’re excited about nearing completion with some others in the earlier stages – we want to get to at least 10 original tracks for the new album (“The Vale of Shadows” won’t be on album 2 as that is exclusive to the Rise of the Synths EP2). In addition to that we are working on a couple of classic covers that will also go on the album and we are going to include remixes for a few of the new tracks as we did on the first record. Should be a bumper package!
DH : Basically it’s going to be a flaming tanker load of weapons grade nitro delivered at 1 million PSI directly into your eyes while you pilot a retrofitted lamborghini-countach-come-race-drone upside down, one leather fingerless glove clutching a moist voodoo doll of Kelly Bundy the other dealing lead based death from overheating Gatling cannons, the barrels cherry red from overuse, all the while your brain drifting in pure reverie like the ferryman of hades, serene, calm and contemplating the deeper boundaries of the infinite human soul.