Sweet Talk: GL on “You Read My Mind”

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GL’s latest record, You Read My Mind, speaks to the groover in all of us. The 10-track album, which was released on 25 September via Pool Records, delivers elements of funk, RnB and electronic production to conjure a balance between ‘emo feels’ and dark-room boogies.

The masterminds behind GL’s slick production, Ella Thomson and Graeme Pogson, chat to Sunday Sweets about their latest body of work, creative spontaneity and their favourite sad songs.

 

SS: ‘You Read My Mind’ is the title-track of your new album, and it’s also the first song on the record. It feels like an apt way to begin as it foreshadows the sound of the rest of the album. Was this song pivotal in finalizing the sound of the record?

Graeme: I think it was. Yeah, for sure. It’s definitely a lot different to anything we’ve done before, and it was a nice way to ease into it and give a glimpse of what to expect throughout. So yeah, definitely pivotal.

Ella: Lyrically, the song sets the scene. It’s about sticking together through uncertainty and nourishing relationships. Just making some stability with things that you can’t control, which seemed to be apt at the time we released the album. I guess there’s always that element of uncertainty in life, especially doing something creative, or not being on a salary, all those things. I’m always flying by the seat of my pants.

SS: On the surface level, the sounds in this track are irresistibly groovy, but the lyrics almost feel like a hug to the listener. With lyrics like: It’s okay to cry / we’re only human and When everything’s changing / I’ll be your constant. It’s so reassuring to hear these words. What music or artists help you get through dark times or bad days? Do you guys have a go-to sad song?

Ella: When I was growing up, maybe I was an emo, but not an emo rock teen, more like an emo soul teen, or emo R&B, where I listened to lots of tragic, beautiful soul music like Donny Hathaway. ‘For All We know’—that’s probably my favourite sad song.

Graeme: I used to listen to lots of Leroy Hutson. He’s got lots of good, sad songs. And, I love ‘Silly, wasn’t I’, which is a track that’s been re-done a few times. That one’s good, because the moral of the story is, it’s my fault in the end. “I was silly, you did me wrong, but I should’ve known better.” And I think that’s a good one. But I remember Ella gave me one ages ago. It’s an Etta James song. I remember we were on tour. I’d never heard it before. And then that became the go-to super sad track.

SS: Speaking of go-to songs, ‘Pistachio’ is my shower song. It’s the track that picks me up and gets me excited about being home all day. It’s so vibrant and upbeat when you listen to it. Aside from ‘Night habit’, which was released last year, this is one of the first singles that you guys released earlier this year in anticipation for the release of the album. But I’ve read somewhere that this song was one of the final additions to the album—is that correct?

Ella: Yeah, it was. I think we were missing some different groove on the album, and it’s not until you put [the songs] together in a sequence that you see what might be missing. We were feeling like something upbeat and fun might be missing. And then, on one night, we started just jamming. I think I rewrote the lyrics to this song a million times, trying to get to what I was trying to say, but the track itself came together really quickly. I think I was intimidated by the greatness of the instrumental, and then I had to match with the lyrics, but we got there in the end.

Graeme: Yeah, I think we did. We definitely over-thought that one for a while, but it was really spontaneously good—especially the intro—the “ah” stuff that Ella was doing. That all just came out and then it’s like, “All right now, which bits do we like better?” We definitely got there in the end.

SS: Why did you select it as one of the first singles for the album?

Ella: Well, that’s a bit controversial.

Graeme: Yeah it is, isn’t it? It’s like, what do you call it? It was a democratic vote, wasn’t it? We got lots of opinions.

Ella: I think it was just a majority rules. I’ve played the record to a few friends and they were like, “Yeah, that one. That one’s cool. That’s got a good feel to it.”

Graeme: It’s good to listen to that [feedback] sometimes, because we were both so inside that one and we lost perspective. And it’s important to get it from the perspective of someone that’s hearing it for the first time and going, “That one stands out to me.” And, you’ve got to respect that opinion, because I might know every little bar and bit of that song inside out, but someone else doesn’t hear it like that. So, it is important, if you’re stuck, it is good to ask those things.

SS: So true. You’ve also said that instruments like the triangle, the castanets and blocks have featured heavily in your recordings. And it almost sounds like it does have a presence in this song and throughout the album, which I love. But what instruments, or gear, in your studio helped you craft this track?

Graeme: Pistachio, that’s a cow bell. I think we just pointed some mics at the drums and played some percussion and tried to make it feel good. A lot of the instruments that inspire the feel, or the vibe that ends up being the song, are percussion bits. We have two different percussionists from Melbourne playing on the record at different points. There are certain things I can do. I can play a little bit of triangle and tambourine and stuff, but there are certain things that you need to get people to do. And those moments really shine. I guess for me, percussion became a real centrepiece for a lot of this record.

Ella: I would say the triangle is a Pogson–production tag. Graeme loves the triangle and you can hear it on lots of songs that he’s produced.

SS: The vocal tracking and harmonies for ‘All in My Head’ gave me Solange vibes. This song, much like other songs on the album, involves lyricism that is very poetic and resonant. It’s powerfully written and powerfully sung. Ella, how do you toy with prose to reach a form of expression that feels right? Do you know what to say before you sing it? Or, do you experiment with words until something clicks?

Ella: Yeah, usually I’ll mumble things and then sometimes the words just come out and I’ll shape something from that. But this one really came quite naturally. It was just a stream of consciousness, but it’s definitely about expectations and these pictures that we create in our heads of things that are totally unrealistic and unfair on ourselves. I think there’s a lot of expectations that are—maybe it’s capitalism, I don’t know—sometimes you’ve got to take a step back. It can be really shallow and feels like a ventriloquist or someone else is talking for us, and yeah, just to take it easy and get back to what you’re trying to do and be good at it. And just chill.

SS: ‘Oyster’ is another track that has so many elements of instrumentation involved. There’s funky distortion, warped vocal harmonies and I think another cowbell at some point. I’ve read that improvisation and spontaneity is a big part of your writing process, which I think really comes through with the energy of the album—and particularly with this song. It sounds like you guys were just jamming in a room and just happened to press record at the same time. Every component is so in-sync in the song. What’s the mixdown process like for a song that does have so many elements?

Graeme: I guess that one was simple. Like you said, it was pretty improvised. That was the first time we’d invited our new band members to actually jam with us, write something, or record something. We were really just expecting to make a demo, but we caught onto something. And then, because I’d set up so quick, I think there were only three mics on the drums. [One of the band members] was sitting right next to me with a really loud cowbell, so it was getting into everything. There wasn’t much separation and that’s sometimes a good thing, because you’re just like, “Well, this is what it sounds like,” and it sounds good, so you go with it. I think at some point, Ella decided to double the melody—It was going to be all instrumental, no lyrics. It’s sometimes difficult to make things sound spontaneous.

SS: How has your writing process changed over the years? In 2016 you released your debut album, Touch, and you’ve said that it does feel like this album is a different sound. What’s changed?

Ella: We’ve taken a step towards more of a live band arrangement—more percussive. Live percussion instruments, less drum machine, more live instrumentation. And maybe, it’s a bit more seventies, not as eighties funk. All those influences are still there, but we tried to make it a little bit broader. As an early songwriter, you’re always singing about love and heartache and all those emo feels. And that’s great, but I just wanted to think of it more like prose—that it could be anything. Just because you’re singing a song, it doesn’t have to be a love song. You can sing about anything that you want. And that felt quite freeing to try that with GL.

Graeme: Another thing is that Ella’s bringing a lot of ideas to the table. And so, I guess we’re both producing the tracks a lot more together now than maybe we were in the past. There’d always be contributions, but a lot of songs on this album were actually Ella’s demos and then we took it from there. And that’s always great to advance your sound, because I have limitations with what I can do. A lot of stuff ends up sounding the same, or at least I think it does. So, these things are really a breath of fresh air, when Ella can just go, “Hey, how about this thing?” And so that really sparked a lot of ideas.

Ella: I think, yeah, it’s given me more confidence in my production too. Because we all have limitations of what we can get to, and it’s great to have that collaboration, and you learn from a project and get stronger.

 SS: This album is so groovy and so fun to listen to, especially at a time right now. It’s just nice to turn on and just forget about other stuff. Thanks for hanging out with Sunday Sweets!

Ella: A big thanks to SYN listeners, who are listening to us and supporting us. I think Touch was a feature album too. So, thanks for supporting us through the years!