Debut albums tend to follow a similar, natural timeline. Emerging after years of road miles and self-discovery, they’re the product of the kind of fine-tuning you can often only garner after soul-searching in the back room of a half-full toilet venue. Like the Pokémon they lift their name from (and have spent half their summer trying to catch on their phones), Gengahr emerged off the beaten track for ‘A Dream Outside’.
“When we did the first album, we didn’t tour anything, we hadn’t played live, so it was very much a studio album,” admits frontman Felix Bushe. Everything about Gengahr’s rise was back-to-front – they played the O2 Arena before a single headline show, built up a fanbase before they’d even stepped on a stage. It put a ticking time bomb on that debut, the need to get it out rising with every passing day. “The whole process on this album has been totally different to the first one,” Felix admits, a note of relief in his voice.
With the pressure gauge dropped, album two’s been given space to breathe. Holing up in their East London home last December, they spent six months writing “pretty relentlessly”. Not content with just forming the bare bones of a follow-up, they put their road experience to good use, ensuring that everything they could do with the four of them was nailed down before heading into a Shoreditch studio for two months of solid summertime recording. Then they picked it all apart. “We kept writing in the studio, in a way,” says bassist Hugh Schulte. “Messing around with loads of changes, experimenting with tracks. We had enough time to record a track, then re-record it differently. It was luxurious, in that respect!”
“The whole process on this album has been totally different to the first one.”
Luxurious, perhaps, but it was a purposeful step out of their comfort zone too. Top of the ‘shaking things up’ checklist was bringing in a pair of outside producers – Adam Jaffery and Nicholas Vernhes, whose production credits boast everyone from Dev Hynes, to The Wytches, to Animal Collective. “We tried to do it ourselves the first time, really, as much as we could, and this time we’ve opted to get some really strong support in,” Felix explains. “That was important to us to grow and improve as a band - to take other people’s opinions on board more. It’s nice having two people who’ve made a lot of records, who both have their own strengths when it comes to putting together an album and use them, rather than just arrogantly assume we know what’s best for everything.
“I think we did have a slight advantage,” he continues, “because we didn’t play before the first album. I think that gave us a creative advantage, because we were suddenly informed about what we wanted to do just by playing shows, rather than having to do any real musical soul searching. A lot of that work was done for us by standing on stage going, ‘Oh shit, it works like this now.’ Going back and writing again, everything was slightly different, so that made life easier.”
“We gave ourselves this weird rule, to not try and go too lo-fi with it.”
All the pawns in place, Gengahr then turned their shredder from their process to the music itself. ‘A Dream Outside’ provided the building blocks for their unmistakable, falsetto-buoyed sound; album two finds them taking a sledgehammer to the foundations. “We gave ourselves this weird rule, to not try and go too lo-fi with it,” explains drummer Danny Ward. “Keep hi-fi in your mind all the time.” Not that they’re gunning for shiny-shiny pop just yet – “Sometimes you have to rein it back to make it sound like you do,” he admits.
“You should feel slightly out of your depth, and you should feel like you perhaps aren’t entirely comfortable with what’s being done, because otherwise you’re not developing,” Felix states. “We tried to do what we did on the first album, but every idea we had, we tried to push it further in whatever direction that was supposed to develop. So the idea was to have an album that had much more depth to it, and the range was much further than what we managed to achieve on the first one. There’s some weird moments…”
“John’s pedalboard has grown quite a lot,” says Danny, while the guitarist in question sits upstairs laying down the final pieces of his lauded, mind-bending six-stringing, “so there’s quite a lot of synthy sounding sounds.”
“We didn’t have any keyboards or anything other than guitars, bass, drums on the first record, and there’s definitely a lot more stuff on this record,” Felix explains. “We’ve experimented a lot more. With the first record we put together, we made sure that everything we put in, we could play live. This time we’ve thrown that out the window and decided, ‘Sod it, we’ll put in whatever sounds good.’”
“I think arrangement-wise, we’ve had more fun with them, definitely,” agrees Hugh. And that signature vocal? It’s been “adapted”, Danny admits. “Some more soulful moments,” says Felix. “A lot more full voice,” Hugh reckons.
“You should feel slightly out of your depth, because otherwise you’re not developing.”
It all points towards a second record that’s given Gengahr the breathing space that their debut might have hinted at sonically, but was never afforded in the real world. “We’ve had a deadline twice, and we’ve pushed it back,” Felix laughs.
With all signs seem to pointing towards an early 2017 release, that incoming, extensive UK tour’s set to be the perfect launch-pad for Gengahr’s evolution. “Adding some new stuff to the set – that always adds a level of excitement to it,” admits the frontman.
“We’re listening back and making tweaks and just kind of finalising everything,” he smiles, their last week in the studio drawing to a close. “It’s the hard bit now. It’s the letting go!”
Gengahr will play DIY Presents weekender All Years Leaving (21st-22nd October) at Birmingham’s The Hare and Hounds. Tickets are on sale now. Visit diymag.com/presents for more information.
Photos: Mike Massaro