“Gypsy Death and You is a Philadelphian two-piece comprised of Emily Cahill and Alex Wilson. The band was formed after its two members met in a music course during their freshman year of college. Sharing similar influences, the duo composes and records their own brand of dreamy-yet-edgy indie rock.”
The above quote comes from the response I received when I asked Emily for a short bio to accompany the song details for “Sound of the Sun”, Gypsy Death and You‘s contribution to Vibrato 2010. The duo, having already submitted a brilliant track to the compilation, will now submit to being interviewed by me. I swear it was completely voluntary on their part.
NWs: Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to you both, not only for letting me use your wonderful song, but for doing this interview as well.
EC: You’re welcome! I always love talking to people who enjoy our music.
AW: Thank you!
NWs: I am going to start, as I usually do, with a question about the origin of the band’s name. During the interview you gave to DJ Julie and DJ “Ivy” in the premier issue of Faucet Magazine*, you were asked who decided on the name. Your reply stated that, like The Kills, you got the name from a line in The Velvet Underground song “Run Run Run”, but that is only half an answer. When you were trying to decide on a name, did you both suddenly turn to one another and simultaneously blurt out, “Gypsy Death and You”, or did one of you suggest it, and the other one liked it?
AW: We’d decided to start a group, and Emily had told me she’d wanted to call a band ‘Gypsy Death and You’ for some time, so we just sort of went with that. I don’t think we even really tried to think of any other names.
EC: One of my close friends in high school had mentioned it as a “sweet band name”. It was just a quick moment in passing, but it stuck with me. I actually can’t think of any other names we considered… I think that’s kind of strange.
AW: I still haven’t listened to that Kills song, either.
NWs: You met in a History of the Record Industry course while attending Drexel University in Philadelphia. What grade did each of you receive for that course? Are you still in school?
EC: I got an A minus! Wow! I actually had to look that up on my transcript. I remember writing a paper on The Velvet Underground and being super bummed when I found out what a tough grader our professor was.
AW: I can’t remember, I think it was a decent grade – I wrote a really long final essay on SST. We’re both juniors in the music industry program here. Emily is in the business concentration and I’m in tech.
EC: We should be graduating next year, although I actually may have two more years to go because I’m also working on earning an accelerated MBA. I’m an obsessive academic overachiever.
NWs: I’m guessing that the “academic” in that last sentence was an unnecessary qualifier.
EC: You may be right…
NWs: In that same interview, you were asked if you had ever played live, and you answered that, up to then, you had not. How does a band that no one has seen play live, come to the attention of two radio DJs?
AW: I haven’t the slightest.
EC: Both of them attend Drexel, and I had met them briefly before. How did they become interested in our music? I have no idea.
NWs: When and where did you finally go on stage for the first time? How did it go? Who headlined?
EC: It was actually at the Faucet Magazine release party. We were the only band playing and it was an all-acoustic set.
AW: It was at 11:00AM on a Sunday and we played a cover of “Catwalk” by Beat Happening.
EC: It actually sounded pretty decent for an acoustic set, although I can say that our music definitely isn’t supposed to be acoustic… I also think that 11AM is an ungodly hour for rock bands to be functioning. But in all seriousness, it was great to play there and for them to have us.
AW: We’ve played quite a few shows since then, though.
NWs: You played in Brooklyn last week; have you played further away from home than that? Have you given any thought to touring?
EC: We’ve played further down south than up north actually.
AW: Harrisonburg, VA was the farthest, and it was the first time I’d ever seen mountains – really a very pretty place.
EC: Alex spent the whole drive down taking pictures of the highway on my camera. As for touring, we are in the very initial stages of planning a small East Coast tour for next year. We’ll share more details with everyone when we have more finalized plans.
NWs: Is it true that the two of you are responsible for playing every instrument we hear on E.P. No. 1?
AW: Unless a stranger was really clever about it, yes.
EC: I guess someone could have snuck onto Alex’s computer and recorded in the middle of the night.
AW: Most all of it was recorded in our living room.
EC: Some additional parts were recorded in our kitchen and my bedroom. Everything you hear on our EP was played by one of us.
NWs: I take it that you are both multi-instrumentalists, so, what is the division of labor like when it comes time to record? What I’m getting at is, does Emily play all the guitar parts while Alex does the percussion, for instance? What instruments do each of you play? How much overlap is there?
AW: More often than not, I’ll have thrown together a rough version of the song for us to practice with – usually with a rhythm section, two guitars, and maybe vocals. After we’ve gotten it together a bit, Emily and I will record our proper guitar parts to the demo drums and bass, which get fixed up or re-recorded later on. Vocals typically come last.
EC: As mentioned, when we begin recording an album version of a song, Alex will demo out scratch drums and bass. We both end up doing tons and tons of guitar tracks so that they are tripled, quadrupled, etc. Anyone who has listened to our EP knows that we trade off singing vocals depending on the song. I guess one could say there’s quite a bit of overlap. The final versions of our songs normally sound totally different than our demo versions because we end up playing completely different parts than we originally intended.
AW: Emily is a different sort of guitar player than I am, which makes things sound different as well. The drums and bass from the recording typically get re-recorded again after the song is finished, for us to use during shows.
NWs: How does a GD&Y song come into being? Who writes the lyrics?
AW: For a lot of the songs, I’ll show Emily a demo I’ve made, and we’ll sort of dissect it and work on it together. After we start playing it during practices or at shows, it tends to shape itself into something more final. Other times I’ll have a full instrumental song that Emily writes the lyrics to, or she’ll have written lyrics and chords that I sort of arrange into a Gypsy Death tune.
EC: Once again, it depends on the song. The singer is not necessarily the lyricist. As Alex said, one of us will have an idea and then the song will tend to shape itself as we practice it. Our parts get added or flip-flopped.
NWs: Do you consider yourselves Shoegazers?
EC: I guess so. I don’t really know how to classify ourselves otherwise. We listen to a lot of other types of music though. I think we’re influenced by many different types of music. Shoegaze is just one of our many loves.
AW: I’d like to think we are – I always have a hard time deciding what we play. People have told us that we’re shoegaze, noise-rock, dream-pop, and all manner of things. We do look at our feet an awful lot, though.
NWs: Well, I obviously thought you were, or I wouldn’t have asked for one of your songs.
EC: That’s good. Otherwise, it would be pretty strange to be doing this interview!
NWs: What is your impression of the Shoegaze scene in Philadelphia and the surrounding area? Any other up-and-coming bands you’d like to bring to my attention?
AW: I’m not entirely sure that there is one, so to speak. If there is, I hope we find out about it soon.
EC: Is there a shoegaze scene anywhere? Maybe we’re dealing in the wrong genre. The music scene in Philadelphia is really great though. There are lots of sick non-shoegaze bands who we love.
AW: Dangerous Ponies, George and Jonathan, and Cheap Dinosaurs are all really good Philly groups.
EC: The Brooklyn gig we just played was an all-shoegaze show. It was with Telenovelas, Sunshower Orphans, and Beige; all great bands from NYC. Other awesome groups we’ve played with on the road are Fort Wilson Riot from Minneapolis, MN and Malatese from Harrisonburg, VA. Neither are shoegaze, but they are making some sweet music.
NWs: I’d like to ask you about your influences, but I’ve noticed that in almost every interview with a musician I’ve read, the artist dissembles and refuses to give a straight answer to that question. Should I expect the same from you?
AW: I have a tendency to dissemble and refuse to give straight answers.
EC: We’ve both been influenced by The Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, The Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, The Raveonettes, The Pixies, Elvis Costello, The Black Keys, and many more I’m sure. These were mutual interests that initially attracted us together as bandmates. We’re also Classic Rock nerds. Our apartment is filled with vinyl.
AW: I keep a lot of groups in mind when working on our material – Slowdive, Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Neu!, Ringo Deathstarr, Ride, Dinosaur Jr., Rocketship, The Stone Roses, The Vaselines, et cetera. I’m really at a loss to say how much of this actually comes through in the music, though.
EC: I used to play classical guitar in addition to guitar in a Jazz group, but I don’t think either are too evident in our music. I’m sure that has influenced me somehow though. Growing up I heard a lot of old Blues, 60s Rock, and Motown because of my parents. I really like the 60s girl group sound, and I think that influence will be apparent in one of the tracks on our upcoming album that we’re working on. I hope people are ready to hear me sing harmonies with myself! This doesn’t even begin to touch on our influences though. There’s too much!
NWs: Way to dissemble, Alex. The short answer appears to be “no, we don’t mind talking about our influences.”
AW: No, we don’t mind talking about our influences.
NWs: You mentioned “an apartment filled with vinyl”. What makes you want to collect music in a format that is a) more expensive to buy, and b) more difficult to care for?
AW: Most of the vinyl I have picked up was either really cheap or free. It has an aesthetic that I really enjoy, and it encourages the idea of listening to an album versus a single. There’s a bit of tonal difference as well, and I like the big cover art. Occasionally I’ll pay extra for one of my favorite records on vinyl, just as a sort of collector’s item.
EC: In addition, when you go to the record store, you can find all types of really weird vinyl for $1 or so. Some of our apartment favorites: Teach Your Bird How To Talk, which is an hour of a woman repeating “Hello, Polly want a cracker?” and How to Strip for your Husband, which is just a collection of Big Band songs that someone thought 1960s housewives would find sexy. It sounds like something that could be on The Lawrence Welk Show; it’s not sexy at all.
AW: Also, The Occult Explosion and The Wozard of Iz.
NWs: Upcoming Album. When? What is the best way to keep up to date on developments with GD&Y and not miss things like tours and record releases?
AW: Soon. To here knows when.
EC: We’re hoping to have it out early in 2011. It will be our first full-length. The best way to keep up with our band would be to join our fan page on Facebook or follow our Twitter (@gypsydeathmusic). We update them regularly when we get new gigs, release new material, participate in interviews, and do other things that are note-worthy. It’s the best way to get the heads up from us. We post everything on our Muxtape and MySpace too, but as far as I know there is no way to receive notifications directly from those sites, so one would just have to check back often for updates.
NWs: You guys have been great. I very much appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you both enjoy the happiest of holidays and then a new year filled with good grades and great shows. Thank you.
EC: You’re welcome!
AW: Best of luck to you, as well.
*Faucet Magazine Issue 1: Click on the cover – featuring Emily and Alex in disguise – and navigate to page 36 to read the interview (the entire magazine appears in a pop-up window).
My Rating: ✭✭✭✭
iPod Songs: “Crocus”, “Sound of the Sun” ♡, and
“Something I Can’t Have”
Take away the last song, which is a cover of a JaMC song, and you are left with four songs representing four different styles and a multitude of influences – all performed by two people obviously enjoying themselves. I am very much looking forward to the release of their first full-length, and hope they will let me use one of its songs on a future compilation.