Ganser is this rare group of individuals who sees farther than the rest of their tribe. Their gaze is like that of a spotlight upon the rolling surf. Guiding some sailors to land and others to their doom. While it’s clear that there is an impassioned and emotive core to the people within the band, their perspective on the world is decidedly withholding in its judgment. Presenting the world as it is through the telescopic lens of their blazing third eye, we are confronted with a scene that does not require interpretation or moral verdict to be found wanting. In fact, its wanting nature is the essence of its being. Its perpetual state of unattainment serving as a raison d’etre
Ganser’s latest album Just Look At That Sky widens the scope of their observation to a full panoramic, allowing us to see ourselves filterless, and without pretense, in all our ignoble glory. Opening track “Lucky” begins with a needling guitar line that digs further and further under your skin until it’s boring into raw bone, at which point a swilling Thurston Moore-esque scratch chord takes the helm, tugged ever forward by a subterranean bass and the mocking intonations of Nadia’s acerbic vocals. Other highlights include the elastic, torture-rack “Projector,” which stretches Gang of Four progressions to a sangam of rupture and schism over the sardonic purr of an unertide groove. “Emergency Equipment and Exits” provides some relief space with its washes of spacey psychedelia that weave between jangling charms comprised of heat-warped Slowdive riffs and pearled pieces of Mercury Rev. The entire album is a raft of emotions and fragile insights that eventually splinters against the cliffed walls of “Bags of Life,” a brash and uncompromising number that depicts the end of the world as it transpires before a people mired in intransigence, powerless to divert the inevitable
In the wake of Just Look At That Sky‘s release I was able to catch up with Ganser and asked them to lend some additional context and interpretation to what I’m hearing on their album. You can read their thoughtful responses below:
AG: Alicia Gaines – Vocals / Synth
NG: Nadia Garofalo – Vocals / Bass
BC: Brian Cundiff – Drums
Where does the title of your new record Just Look At That Sky come from?
NG: It’s a line in the lyrics of “Lucky,” but to me it’s also a phrase that brings with it a visual and a feeling that could be different depending on how and when it’s said. A sense of awe marveling at a big blue expanse or a maniacal call to an ominous cloud wall, whatever comes to mind really.
AG: We didn’t really talk about it much after Nadia suggested that particular line from “Lucky,” it just felt intuitively right. Sometimes, I find myself overwhelmed as of late and catch myself staring off into clouds in the backyard. It makes me laugh, it’s served as a mindfulness mantra.
It looks like you’ve stepped up your game a little visually for this release. The contrasts, choice of color and framing of the album art are all pretty stunning. Can you give us a little insight into the inspiration and conception of these visuals?
AG: I usually present some options to the band, but once we found the right photography, the concept really fell into place. On its face, no pun intended, simplicity seemed like the right way to go given most people see album artwork these days, tiny on phone screens. On a deeper level, there’s a lot about weather and selfhood in this album, being the center of your universe, your own sun. It’s something I hope gets communicated in our album art.
The new logo looks like it could work for anything from a tech start-up to an automotive manufacturer. What went into the choice to adopt a logo that looks like it was designed by an advertising agency?
AG: I do work in design, so it’s a constant consideration. In both co-directing and designing, I have a real soft spot for album art of the late 90’s, I guess that applies to music videos of the time as well.
“Lucky”: I know you have at least one song on this album that deals directly with an apocalyptic event, but this song and its video also seem evocative of the end of the world. It is giving me serious Robert Eggers’ Lighthouse vibes. What is the story behind it?
AG: Drinking was an obvious subject matter from Nadia’s words, so from there it was about finding a way to create an interesting portrait of excess. I watched a lot of media, I was actually particularly drawn to the film Withnail and I. I loved the idea of doing it backwards: starting blind drunk and winding up sober at the end. It’s strange taking that concept to actors, but we found two very good people to trust with the physical task. I don’t think I personally had quite understood what we were asking them to do until it was two guys, one particularly tall, taking stage swings at each other in a small apartment.
BC: “Lucky” resulted from deliberately setting out to write an aggressive tune that was a bit more musically adventurous than some of what we’ve done in that vein. The driving rhythm that keeps plodding over changing time signatures serves to distract the listener from being stuck in a lava whirlpool swirling down the middle of a volcano.
“Self Service”: I’m curious about this title. It doesn’t appear anywhere in the lyrics but the lyrics definitely seem to relate back to it. How should we approach interpreting the title in the context of the song?
AG: There’s an aspect of this album that’s like a long road trip with oneself, whoever the combined “self” that Nadia and I are singing from the perspective of. I jot down words I like, and think I kept track of that one while we were filling up on gas while on tour.
NG: For me, this song starts at the finish line for a race that has long ended and goes from there, never quite catching up with whatever it is that has gotten away. “Self Service” means it’s up to you to get what you need (fuel, self-improvement whatever), to move on to the next destination.
“Projector”: The concept for this video really works for the song and it kind of drives home how strange educational series for adults can be sometimes. How many TED talks did Nadia have to watch to prepare for her role in this video, and did she feel like she learned anything after watching them?
NG: Haha! I did revisit the Elizabeth Holmes doc and watched a few TED talks to prepare for this one! I mostly learned that speaking with blind confidence about nearly anything may eventually get folks to buy tickets to see it (or get you committed). I also picked up a few mindfulness techniques.
“Emergency Equipment and Exits”: The establishment shots you have of Chicago in this video are gorgeous! The flooded forest that Alicia is filmed walking in is really interesting as well. Where were these nature scenes filmed?
NG: We shot those scenes in a forest preserve just north of Chicago. Fortunately, it had been raining a lot that week, so some areas were flooded, which made for some really nice moments when shooting there. Our DP Matt Brown is also just great at what he does so with every shot of the city and nature he really captured the composition we were looking for.
“Told You So”: Many of the songs on this album feel pretty tight and economical, but this one seems to meander quite a bit. Am I correct in feeling like this song has a more roving and restless nature?
BC: This was one of the first songs we worked on when writing for the new record, and was actually the first to be mapped out completely. Nearly all of the parts were written and assembled in the space of a few hours, then we sat on it for a few months, came back and added a little transition/outro and finalized the arrangement. We weren’t under any pressure to produce when this idea came about, nor did we know in which direction we were headed, so maybe that’s reflected in the more relaxed vibe.
“Shadowcasting”: This sounds like a nightmarish version of a Stereolab track. Can you shed some light on the opening line, “The more you look at it / The worse it gets”?
AG: I probably should have credited my grandmother in the liner notes. This must have been the early 1930’s, her family was leaving Alaska by boat. She mentioned having some candy, but not understanding as a child that this thing she wanted only made her seasick by just looking at it. She said “the more I looked at it, the worse it got” and that just stuck with me. The song generally is about avoiding pain and those that cause it, removing yourself from a situation instead of changing what cannot be changed. That all begins with really looking at something you thought was okay, and realizing with an increasing certainty that it is actually is not okay. I think everyone is doing a lot of that right now.
“Bad Form”: I get a very strong Sonic Youth vibe off of this track. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more personally interrogated by the visuals of a music video than I did while watching the video for this song.
NG: Thanks, that was a fun one to put together. We worked with photographer Kirsten Miccoli on the loose concept, and on the day of the shoot we had a lot to play with in terms of people, props and lighting.
BC: This one definitely fills our quota for videos with faces projected onto faces.
“[NO YES]”: Who is Sean Gundersen?
CL: Sean is a great friend of mine I met at my first bar job. Something about his temperament and demeanor fits really well with Ganser stuff I feel and he’s just kind of down for anything. We’ve done tons of little fun projects together where he would narrate over sounds and melodies just because I like how his voice sounds. He also has been a stage actor most of his life so getting him involved in a music video was a no brainer.
NG: Sean is great, he’s also in the “Lucky” music video (opposite the also very talented Tom DeFrancisco). He nailed both performances and we were very thankful to have such a talented local actor agree to work with us. Also, he took a breakaway bottle to the back of the head like a champ!
“Bags For Life”: Your Bandcamp describes this track as “imag[ing] how online discourse might tackle a front-row seat for the end of the world.” There is a palpable sense of futility to it. Do you feel that social media heightens our feelings of disappointment and powerlessness in relationship to the world?
NG: Oh definitely! It sets us up to constantly be taking in information about the world outside of us but never really pausing to process. I think that can become very overwhelming. The scroll is infinite, so a lot of people find it hard to pull away especially these days when it’s particularly intense.
Words by Mick R.