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GERTRUDE: ON THE ROAD TRIP THAT IS LIFE – INTERVIEW BY LEE MCFADDEN

 
Gertrude release their fourth album “Love Axe Wish List” at the end of October on their own label, Urban Missfits. For the last sixteen years the line up of Zoe Gilmour, Ayesha Taylor, Iona Tanguay and Dawn Rose have been a bewitching and enticing live experience – their music emanating from its roots of agit-punk, accumulating multiple influences over the years such as jazz reggae and pop, and a collective desire to avoid complacency and predictability. Gertrude have won over hard-bitten punk audiences with apparent ease – quite an eye opener when clarinet and cello are regular features in their sound.

ZOE: I rarely feel we’ve completely nailed something. I always feel there’s a slight edge – a slight unpredictability every time we play live – for me that’s what keeps it interesting. I feel we are constantly learning and evolving. I never feel complacent, and I never feel entirely safe. That’s probably a good thing, because one of the four of us might come up with a wild card that night!

“Love Axe Wish List” is an assured, confident, concise slice of magnificence – drawing from and building on their previous works – “Up The Wrong Tree”, “Fetch The Parrot Blanket” and “Speak, Shape, Create Time”, and cementing the band’s identity to the point where they have virtually created their own genre. The album’s starting gun is appropriately fired with “Let’s Go” – Ayesha and Zoe sharing vocals on a frenzied motivation booster.

AYESHA: The chorus is very positive and uplifting. It’s about someone who’s pretty down now – getting frustrated with someone wasting their potential.

ZOE: I think I probably knew who Ayesha wrote the song about but wasn’t entirely sure. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be the friend of that person and write my part from that person’s point of view – if that doesn’t sound too convoluted. I quite like doing that.

“Nose Ring Piggy” is deceptively intoxicating. The sultry clarinet of Iona and the coasting blues-style vocals of Zoe instil a sense of familiarity so solidly that it takes a while before you realise the guitar is absent, and the rhythm is in the devilishly difficult 7/4 time signature. Ask any drummer – they may reach for a stiff drink on your enquiry.

DAWN: I’m really super structured – so I love the freedom of the way Gertrude think about things. Maybe in the process of trying to write down an idea we don’t start with a 7/4 beat. This one started with a bass line and I bullied Ayesha into adding another note on the end. Actually it was pretty instinctive. I get a really different groove with Iona playing the bass as I do with Ayesha – I’m playing with two really great bassists in the same band. Sometimes we forget to, but whenever we can we jam during rehearsals. Things will float around for quite a while – we may go back to an idea when we start recording, so we can work on them a bit more systematically. “Nose Ring Piggy” came from a jam.

ZOE: I actually came up with the chorus first – the “piggy” bit. I think I was just in a provocative mood. I was feeling a bit playful and trying to think of something that would be vaguely annoying to sing! I suppose it’s about watching two people go off and being romantic together and feeling left behind. You could say I’m slightly making up the meaning after having written the words, but it’s like when somebody chucks you and you see them going off with somebody else. That’s the story. It’s a bit like “I hope it doesn’t work out for them”. Having been with a very nice man for a very long time, if I ever felt like that it was so long ago I can’t really remember it now!

“Seven Years Old” echoes the Ayesha/Zoe vocal collaboration of the album’s opener – simultaneously cautious and defiant in its portrayal of a child coming to terms with the combined authority of parents, teachers and life in general.

AYESHA: It’s a very straightforward narrative. Someone feeling out of place at school. There’s a hint that maybe something’s happened before they left. Maybe you’re an adult looking in at the situation, wondering what’s going on under the surface.

ZOE: I had in my mind – not specifically a boy or a girl but just this seven year old kid. I can see them in that way – its very clear to me. Kind of troubled, but also tough – and also very vulnerable – a really important moment in their life – and there’s lots of shit going on and everybody’s on them, whether it be schoolteachers, authority, or parents, home, family – the strengths and the weaknesses in that child.

The album veers from the foreboding to the wistful, with “Nice Work (If You Can Get It)”, Iona Tanguay’s hypothetical notes of a few years ago ruminating on the perfect job have now taken on a personal significance due to her recent redundancy. The comedic couplets in this track are now fused with a sense of pathos.

IONA: It was meant to be a jaunty little number. In the current economic situation it now has a different meaning.

ZOE: “Nice work if you can get it – you’ll never get it”. Cameron looming – “Prophetic Doom!”.

“A Message From Dorothy From The Other Side” is a perfect example of how Gertrude encapsulate a multi-dimensional take on the human emotion – also touched upon later in the album’s final track. The breezy uplifting backing track and Zoe Gilmour’s delivery of optimism coincides with a profound sense of loss, and a desperate need to reconcile the chasm between life and death.

ZOE: This song is about the road trip that is life – the expanse, the limitless possibilities, and in the end – a puff of smoke like an illusionist’s performance, but also the joy of the journey.

After the lyrics were written, Dawn titled the song – relating to her own experience.

DAWN: Dorothy was my friend. She decided to take up drumming. She was a retired consultant dermatologist. Her husband bought her a drum kit.  I went round and taught her how to play drums and we became really close friends. She was a bit like the missing older female in my life. We didn’t think of ourselves as mother and daughter – more like crazy auntie and niece – and we’d go off and do murder mystery weekends. She even came to see us play at the Bull & Gate once in a pink leather jacket. A sixty something year old. She became very ill and she wanted to end her life before it ended her. I was pretty distraught about this. I felt that I’d failed my friend, and I think suicide’s a really difficult thing to deal with for many, many reasons. I have another friend who is a medium and I couldn’t rest with the loss of Dorothy. I went to see her with something Dorothy had given me and she said she could see her – sitting on a bench and she had a message for me. The message was “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff”. It was about five years ago.

“Probationary Citizen” is the clearest nod to the early Gertrude sound, which drew influences from the legendary Fugazi and Bristol’s Soeza – both of which Gertrude had the good fortune to share bills with. The lyrics are a playful snipe at Daily Mail readers, UKIP supporters and the like – derisorily mocking their indoctrinated paranoia.

AYESHA: It’s definitely to do with Britain as a closed shop mentality – which we are seeing more and more of.

DAWN: I love singing that song – “Huff and puff and I’ll blow your house in”. It’s mean, dirty and nasty.

AYESHA: It’s about the idea who belongs – who doesn’t belong – who gets to decide who belongs – who should belong – the very concept of a probationary citizen is a very scary place where you’re not one thing or the other.

“Perfect O” is the inspiration behind the album’s title. The song itself was known as “Love Axe Wish List” prior to recording. Iona’s explanation of what a “Love Axe Wish List” actually is seemed to confuse other members of the band.

IONA: It’s really an incongruous juxtaposition. When those words were written it was chain of consciousness writing. It was quite abstract. I started with the line – and a few years later I thought about making it into a Gertrude song. I was thinking about gender stereotypes and sexual exploitation, but not really knowing tons about the subject – just giving the vibe in an abstract way, not to tie things down.

DAWN: I thought it was about internet dating.

IONA: Not at all. It can be “writerly” – the audience makes up their own meaning. They’re open to interpretation.

ZOE: I thought it was about chopping someone’s head off with an axe.

IONA: My mum thought it was “Love Axe Fish Lips”.

AYESHA: A much better name to the album – let’s change it!

ZOE: That is genius!  “Love Axe Wish List” just seems to sum the album up – even though Iona doesn’t know what it means.....

A video was filmed for the track showcasing an idiosyncratic dance sequence.

ZOE: I think its fair enough to say Iona that dance is very much coming from you – and I’d like to make that clear!!!

IONA: It was from the film “Simple Man” with Hal Hartley. It was a really interesting film but they had this funny dance sequence – “Cool Thing”. It’s pretty much that dance with our own spin on it.....

ZOE: Your own spin on it – it’s been pretty much “Ionaised!”

LEE: Where did the idea of wearing the lips come from?

IONA: We had a little problem where we didn’t have all of the band present.

DAWN: I was doing my upgrades.

ZOE: We had to think of a creative way why everyone in the video was wearing masks and pretending to be in Gertrude.

IONA: I have to say it was Zali Krishna who said – “How about having some giant lips on your head?” – so it’s his fault.

DAWN: I think it’s the Gertrude version of “Gangland Style”.

“A Night In The Noughties”, Iona’s tale of a married ex-punk reflecting on her wilder youth is humorous and identifiable. “You’re wearing the shoes that your Grandmother wore” is a timely reminder that the anarcho-punk days are just memories to the song’s protagonist. The story concerned within the lyrics could well be true, as my enquiries as to the real identity behind the song’s character “Dave Sneddon” met with some polite, diplomatic non-confirmation!

Gertrude save the best till last with “Warm Rain”. A kind of sister song to “A Message From Dorothy.....”, exploring the pain of bereavement and the eternal desire to communicate again with lost, loved ones. Zoe Gilmour’s words are sensual to the point one imagines they can touch the experiences evoked in the track, and it’s placing at the end of “Love Axe Wish List” is an astute one – pausing for reflection is essential after the track fades out.

The band are issuing two hundred copies each on CD and vinyl as well as the obligatory downloads – which should still be available through their bandcamp site after all physical copies are sold.  Each of the vinyl and CD covers will be individually embossed and designed by the band.

Gertrude promote the album with two concerts – The Lexington in London on the afternoon of October 27th, and Blue Man in Brighton on November 2nd.

“Love Axe Wish List”  should broaden Gertrude’s fan base considerably, and so more discerning folk can take heed of their message on the album’s artwork –

“All fellow misfits – keep creating your own space inside and out”.

The album can be ordered here.....http://gertrude.bandcamp.com

Interview by Lee McFadden