Another band we kept hearing about during last month’s South by Southwest festival was Chicago’s Gypsyblood. The bandformed in 2009 and just released their debut full-length, Cold in the Guestway, which spans a range of sounds—all raw, all rough, and all undeniably appealing. One of our favorite tracks from the album, “In Our Blood,” is this week’s Song of the Week. Gypsyblood’s Adam James took a few minutes recently to sit down and talk with us about their sound, why Chi-town’s awesome, and getting crapped on at shows.
Kindness of Ravens: So, alright, first thing’s first: Really awesome record. Original sound too—very raw and rough but still surprisingly melodic and catchy. Though there are seemingly some definite nods to a few bands I adored in my high school years, Jesus and Mary Chain prime among them. Were you two looking for a particular sound or is it just something that was born organically?
Adam James: It’s organic in terms of content for sure. We’ve never set out to sound like any particular kind of music. We just knew what we liked and went from there. We’ve played music together for so long that basically we don’t have any expectations anymore. Before we could drive, Kyle (Victor) would get dropped off at my house and we would write music together. Ever since we’ve learned each others strengths, weaknesses, and breaking points. We agree on whether something sounds good or whether it sounds like shit and then move on.
It’s funny to us because we had never really heard much of Jesus and Mary Chain until after we did the record and then those comparisons started coming up. But since being exposed to them, we’ve really embraced the comparisons. We were more influenced by bands like the Clean and the Fall going into it, where the catalogues were just all over the place with regards to the musical spectrum. We’ve personally always loved albums where all the songs uniquely lived together without sounding the same. So I guess you could say that that was the only thing we had hoped to accomplish.
KoR: A lofty enough goal. So is it just the two of you in the band?
AJ: It started out as the two of us recording, mixing, freezing, pissing each other off, and once the album was done we realized we needed more people to pull it off live. Luckily for us, Chris Alverez and Kyle’s Brother, Ryan, stepped up to be a part of everything as musicians, friends, and brothers. Initially we knew it would be easy to pre-record instruments and be confined to measure rather then impulse, but there is a spontaneity to live performance that we’ve always loved and identified with. We’ve grown up on punk rock and these are aspects that have always been important to us—not the look of music, which is what the media’s focused on most these days, but the aggression that comes with living in a society with one hand tied behind your back.
KoR: The recorded sound is really, really full for being pulled off by just two of you. I imagine the live show’s great. Being brand/designer types, we have to ask—the name. Does it have a story at all or is it just one of those things where two words sound cool together? Like REO and Speedwagon.
AJ: To us, Gypsyblood was a flag lying on the ground that time and circumstance had brought us to. It has always existed, being carried and dropped over and over again by those who are stimulated by something that can’t be bought or seen. It screams to wondering hearts throughout time in joy and celebration. We’ve all held it before, and after, as old souls, romantics, and vagabonds.
KoR: Damn. That’s deep. So bandnamemaker.com, right? What about Cold in the Guestway, the album title? That’s odd enough to warrant some inquiry.
AJ: I’ve always loved the idea of words that don’t exist in our current language and Guestway is something that certainly sounds welcoming. It’s an awkward contradiction of sorts. And I think that’s an essential part of what life has been about for our society—striving to exit our humanity when ultimately, that is all we are.
It’s the decision to get on an elevator when you know it’s going to plummet into the basement. You can see something isn’t right as the crowd stares and the beautiful woman donning pearls and bicycle red lipstick beckons you forward. So are you going to risk looking like a buffoon because of intuition or are you going to agree with social morays and step in? When reality has been proven to be the variable within society, we are here to tell you that your being is true and Cold in the Guestway.
KoR: That’s why I take the stairs, man. Okay, but, dudes, we have to say, your press shots—the mirror ones (above)—kinda spook us out. You look sort of appalachian-murder-spree-ish. But in a cool way, you know. Is that what you were going for?
AJ: Hahahaha! Now I understand why no one comes up to me after shows.
Like the music, we just throw ourselves into things. We hate photos and the cliché band pic thing, so we just go with the flow and alcohol in those situations. We know that the expectation for musicians these days is to be slick cute boy-toy types and we are just fine with looking like part of the cast from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Personally, I think beautiful people should stick to what they do best—fucking on the Internet. Not writing pop music.
KoR: Damn. What you got to say to THAT, pretty boys? Alright, enough etymology and porn talk—you guys just finished up some SXSW shows last month. How was that?
AJ: Overall it was a blast, as far as getting from point A to B to C to D to E to F and G for Gypsyblood. Next time around, a show a day to keep the doctor away.
KoR: Any crazy stories? Preferably ones that end in limb-loss, inter-dimensional travel, or panda bears?
AJ: Well we won’t say who in the band, but one of us got shit on…. Literally.
KoR: See, this is just the kind of thing that does NOT make me miss the touring lifestyle. My thanks. Had you been down there for the fest before?
AJ: No, This was our first time. Our guitar player, Chris Alverez, hit it up last year while working merch for good friends/tight musicians, Maps and Atlases. So he became our Indian Guide throughout our journey.
KoR: Those guys are great. Plus they’ve got a lovely site. Did you guys see any bands that you didn’t know before that got you jazzed, as they say?
AJ: Yes, I really dug the Mini Mansions set when they played with Queens of the Stone Age. We also played a few shows with Texas natives, Foe Destroyer and they put on a really great show as well.
KoR: Nice. You all are still based in Chicago, right? Are you both from there originally?
AJ: Yes, we are coming to you from our most beautiful, beloved Chic-a-go-go. For the most part, everyone is from here. Adam is a Catholic boy from Joliet though. We won’t hold it against him.
KoR: Favorite thing about the windy city?
AJ: It’s an old soul’s paradise! It is always welcoming with out being over- or underwhelming. Food. Drink. Music. Good times. Year-round.
KoR: Psssssh. We’ve got that stuff. Though we’re lacking in the Ferris Bueller parade realm. But okay, there’s something in your bio about how the band formed after Kyle stormed off stage and hitchhiked home from a show ANOTHER band you all were in together was playing. What’s that about? Should we expect similar on-stage antics at your Bowery show? I love a good on-stage band fight.
AJ: Anything worth a damn has been born out of that love/hate dynamic. It’s a contradiction where all great art and science has been born. For us, it all comes out in the music completely. When you wear your emotions on your sleeve, you don’t owe anyone anything. We weren’t doing ourselves any favors playing music together when it took us over a year to get in the same room and disregard the past. So it’s obvious that that comes out when we play. I suppose it’s more reminiscent of Alan Vega and Suicide. When you have to do something to feel whole as a person, it’s not always gonna be pretty.
KoR: I like that idea.
So that’s a definite ‘yes’ to on-stage fist-fight?
Find out when Gypsyblood opens for Delicate Steve and pals, Maps and Atlases tomorrow night at the Bowery Ballroom. Tickets are still available as of this post. And you can hear the rest of Gypsyblood’s record and order it on their site.