Having been beautifully re-tooled by previous SR mixer, Blue Daisy, the mysterious ‘silverpop’ duo of Golau Glau have since collaborated with Ghost Box affiliates, The Advisory Circle and remixed artists from all across the spectrum of sound – though the two extremes of Frankie & The Heartstrings and Worriedaboutsatan spring to mind. Fond of anonymity we don’t know their names, we’ve no clue what they look like or if tabloid journalists will one day pull out all the stops to learn their Christian name, but we do know their music, described by the Guardian as “a mix of electronica and psychedelia, which recalls the ghostly indie of Broadcast and Stereolab.” And to employ a widely spread cliché, their sonic and visual experiments really do speak for themselves.
Piecing together material from shards of field recordings, synthetic explorations, electronic dabbling and radiophonics, they’re rightly hard to pin down, hence the self proclaimed ‘silverpop’ tag being floated with abandon. They flow from haunted, bewildering dream pop, in and out of densely layered sound collages to more beat led electronic productions, always sounding at ease with each new avenue.
As part of the Sonic Router re-launch, we managed to coax them out of the shadows not only talk about their texture heavy sound, inspirations and the processes they go through in its construction but also to premiere an exclusive EP. Somato is a seven track release that catches them in their most ‘electronic’ voice to date. Playing with found sounds, recordings of imposing medical equipment and their burgeoning hazy library archives it’s all shaped with layer upon layer of glinting haze.
Sonic Router: We know that you’re a duo and that you have possible connections to Wales but not much more outside of your music is known. Why do you adopt a secretive air of mystery around your music?
Golau Glau: Initially because a) we are painfully shy and b) we wanted Golau Glau to be solely about what we created and not the distractions of who we are. Now it feels ever more important. It’s not about being secretive or magical or gearing up for a big reveal, at all. It is just a way to be truly free. It works for us. It is not meant to be the story in itself. We want to get on with what we do and nothing more.
We’ve heard you describe your music as ‘silverpop,’ which admittedly, has a nice ring to it. What does it mean?
It’s partly what you said, a way of describing something that is hard to pin down. It is more a feeling, an impression or aesthetic than a set of stylistic hallmarks. The more we say, the more mundane a description becomes. It’s supposed to be ineffable; otherwise we would call it an existing name. We feel it covers the breadth of our sound.
So what’s the concept behind Somato? Its way more beat driven than what we’ve heard from you before…
It’s based on the body, and medical issues, really. We have health problems, so we thought it was a pretty interesting area to explore, but it started with ‘Neuro,’ which is about the brain. It has an MRI scan on there and when we started messing around with that and working with that sound, which is kind of harsh and intermittent, we thought it might work best if we based the track entirely around loops. We don’t normally do that, beyond beats, apart from when we remix electronic-ish stuff, which we’ll talk about later.
It made sense if we were going to do that, that we should also make it more beat-driven and impose other limitations on the track, and when it worked we applied it as a template to a whole related series. So they’re all loop-based, they’re all 130bpm, they all use the same palette of drum sounds and they all use field recordings related to their subject. Most of them recorded by us, including the cardio machines, but some sourced from various other places.
What’s your studio like and how do you approach making music and laying a track down?
Ha, this is where it all gets macho and gear-oriented, right? Well, there’s an elderly iMac, there’s a DAW, there’s some MIDI keyboards and an MPD16, there’s a bunch of acoustic instruments and a couple of hardware synths and a lot of software stuff. Where we start depends on the story of the track. It might be beats, it might be lyrics, it might be melody, it might be some pads, it might be piano chords or a recorder loop or it might be a whole base layer of effected field recordings and everything might come out from the harmonics and rhythms that naturally arise from those. Sometimes it’s all improvised, sometimes none of it is.
You use field recordings in quite a bit of your music. Do you wander the area, mic in hand, grabbing what you can to feed into tracks you’re working on, to ignite ideas and inspire sounds?
We do a lot of that, yes. We’re trying to scrape up cash for a set of binaural mics, as we love how you can translate the sounds you actually heard at the time, the way you heard them, to the headphone-wearing listener. We’ve borrowed them a couple of times, and used binaural recordings others have made too. The world is full of its own music.
You’ve taken inspiration from some different areas of life in general before…
We didn’t want to do the singer-songwriter thing, we don’t write for the dancefloor per se either, so we saw our music as a way of dealing with all this information and knowledge we seek and are bombarded with about real life things that interest us. Our song ‘Virtual Boy’ isn’t about the console, for example, or it is, only in a roundabout way. It’s about the arcade Michael Jackson had at Neverland, and what happened there. There are tunes about historical topics, things we’ve read academic journals on, all sorts.
Golau Glau is a Welsh term, right?
The name is part common Welsh and part archaic Welsh. We feel it would be dishonest to claim to be a Welsh band, though we are often described as such. We do get back to Wales when we can – even though none of us were born there or lived there for any length of time, we all have spent a good deal of time and had formative experiences there and feel a very strong connection to Wales. Mountains, water, the rhythms and sounds of Welsh language poetry, the people…they all have their effect.
There have been some real nice collaborations and remixes from you guys, we’ve seen you swap stems with Blue Daisy who we’ve had mix for us before. How did that come about? I was always surprised it never found its way out…
That was initially mooted pretty early, actually, Mr Beatnick (who’s supported us from near the start) tweeted a link to ‘A Better Drinker’ and Blue Daisy went nuts for it, properly excited. He asked if he could do a remix, we sent the stems and eventually he managed to find time to do it. We’re surprised it never came out either, it even got some radio play, but our relationship with the industry seems to be something of an odd one. It would have felt wrong to just bang it up on a download service ourselves, with no context, so there we go. It may make its way onto wax one day. We wrote a song and recorded vocals and other sounds over a track as a possible collaboration for his album, but we don’t know when/if anything will happen with that.
You’ve also worked with the music of another of our favourites, the electronic leaning post-rock squad Worriedaboutsatan, what do you dig most about twisting up their tracks?
There’s something very dark but also very emotional and true at the heart of their work, and there may be no vocals most of the time, but there is not an absence of humanity in there. We chose to repopulate ‘Pissing About’ with the characters we thought we could hear moving about in there, and show what we thought they were doing. There is a bloke having a piss in a dark alley, singing to himself; there is a woman whipping someone; there is a sense of fragmentation and disquiet and the night. We hope. We chopped up the stems we were given and made our own loops, refusing to go back to listen again to the original until it was finished and sent away. We don’t always approach remixes like that, but when the sounds that make up the original are more abstract in isolation, it makes sense to work that way.
A really interesting hook up you made was with The Advisory Circle from Ghost Box, you fit in with that vibe really well it must have been a real treat to get a re-work from them…
Jon/The Advisory Circle is a long-time friend of ours; from before Golau Glau were even a collective. That’s probably the one GG collab you will ever hear where we were in the same room as our collaborator at the time of the creation of the piece. Obviously, we adore his music and share some interests and a love of old fashioned glamour. With the powers of our analogue and digital equipment combined … Don’t tap him up for clues, though, he’ll be hiding behind his reels of tape, making worried feline sounds and pretending it’s his black cat.
What are you working on at the moment? I heard rumour that an album is in the pipeline…
In as much as we have any control over the process, we’d really like to get a proper album out and have it not be a self-release or a tiny, insignificant bit of data on the internet that is available worldwide but ignored by most. We want it to be a coherent record and not just a filleted bunch of tracks. We are writing and shaping constantly to try and get to that point.
We’re also working on several more projects. There’s a Summer EP with a comic and illustrations mooted with a small label, which has a full concept and some of the tracks written already. Right at the end of the year, we are hopefully releasing a 7″ too. We’re working on a soundtrack to a forthcoming non-fiction book by a writer we admire, which will be something of an album in itself when it is done – each chapter is a track. A label we love is looking at doing some new mixdowns of our tunes, to bring out the best in them, which is cool as anyone who follows us on Twitter will know that mixing always causes us angst. There’s a possible collaboration with a non-music artist, where we take a theme and all of us interpret it in our own ways, plus we’re maybe writing a kind of folk play and some sonic art stuff and some more instrumentals, both dance-based and more experimental. There are other things too; which may get around the fact that we won’t play live or DJ. We like to be busy.
Part of what we decided to do with Golau Glau was to listen to the voices in our heads. Not that we’re insane, but if an idea comes up, we should at least try to pursue it rather than knock it back before it begins. There’s no conscious sense of trying to be cool, trying to fit in with what other people are doing, appease the gatekeepers or to do what is expected of us. Just to act on everything where possible – do it, ask them, tell them, send it off, have a go at something we’ve never tried. We have a clear sense of our own aesthetic, but anything beyond that tends to confuse us as much as anything.
DOWNLOAD: Golau Glau – Somato (Via Bandcamp)
Words: James Balf and Oli Marlow
Catch Golau Glau on Space Invader Radio on the fourth Wednesday of every month between 6-8pm.