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Interview: Gum

Photography by Robbie Atkin-Robertson

After releasing an album a year for three years under his moniker GUM, Jay Watson of Spinning Top Records (I don't have to tell you who), has refined his sound to put on a show packed with more bangers than a Butcher. A man who is no stranger to playing sell out shows around the world, blessed The Foundry on Friday night bringing with him a dazzling set that had the whole room electrified. Accompanied by Scarlett Stevens (San Cisco), Ali Flintoff (Boat Show) and Jennifer Aslett (Boat Show), GUM bought flavours of his three releases tied together with a cheeky grin and spectacular energy. I was lucky enough to steal some of Jay's time before sound check where we talked new releases, empathy and goatees.


'Flash In the Pan' is such an eclectic release; you bounce effortlessly from the dazzling feel of Deep Razz to the more empathetic morose tones in Ophelia. What was the writing process like for you at this time, just a mixed bag of emotions?

I just kind of write songs for usually about two years, but I try and do an album a year. Often there are songs from years ago, there's one on the album called 'Honey Don't Cry' that I've had since ages ago, like Beards, Wives & Denim era POND. Then there's other stuff that I came up with a month before the album was mastered, like 'Don’t Let Time Get You Down'. I like records where everything is like similar sounding that has a strong theme, but I can't do that because I'm too ADD. I love people like Todd Rundgren and Beck and Ariel Pink and people who put five genres in a song, that sort of thing. I also get a bit self-conscious if its all ballads, like, are my ballads even good? Is everyone going to think I'm going disco now? I think a lot of people get confused and its always getting compared to Tame and POND and the Tame records are made painstakingly over three years by Kevin. Whereas I do mine over a couple of years but basically do it in like a month or two.

It seems like not that long ago that Glamorous Damage came out and a year prior to that we had DeLorean Highway. To release an album a year for three years with everything you're involved in is so impressive. Do you find much time to yourself amongst everything else?

Not really. I kind of set deadlines for myself to finish albums within you know, six months of the last one coming out. So it can come out six months after that.

So it's very methodical for you?

If it means the albums a bit less perfect, a bit dare I say 'weaker', I like to just clear my brain of ideas I've had. I could wait two years and have thirty songs to choose from and have a really strong ten song album, but I kind of like the audio diary. Like, 'diarrhea' you get six months of what you're going through and its the snap shot. So sometimes it makes for weaker albums on an objective or critical level. But my idea is in ten years there'll be ten records and even if people think there are only two bangers per album. That means my live set will be straight bangers.

You are a multi instrumental and multi band musician, what was your first love in respect to these things. What instrument and band really kicked things off for you?

I can play all the basic Rock 'n' Roll instruments, I can't play a violin and I'm not really very good at any of them technically. I did drum lessons for years; I went to Uni for drums, classical percussion for five months at The Con. I played piano when I was a kid, I had lessons and I didn't really like it because no kids like the lessons. But keyboards and stuff, I can't play Bach or anything. I just play pad chords and guitar, I self teach and play it all wrong, I can't shred. I don't think I'm particularly great at any instruments but I think I'm good at what matters for the music I want to make. I'm getting a bit better at singing but it's really hard for me, every single night I've gotta be like "SHARPER, FLATER AHH" and squeeze it out. It's easy when you're recording, you can do another take if its shit.

Is having that tight independent label in Spinning Top important to you?

Yeah, I never get pressured into doing anything and POND had that fear with Tame, because Tame got really successful and hectic and now POND's is quite successful. Yeah POND has 'The Weather' dropping soon, are you playing drums on this one?

I think that whole record's really good and I'm playing bass and keyboards now. But now I need something that's really low stakes and it'd be great if I one day got to tour more of this and take it more seriously. But then I'd probably need something new, like make house music in my room or something. Still, to sell out The Foundry is great for Brisbane ...

Yeah which is great because I don't get too much radio time, I get a little community radio time. Yeah 4ZZZ play it a bit here in Brisbane and they gave a shimmering review I believe...

Yeah that was a great review, they like the GUM, that was really good, had some cool stuff in it. Makes me quite proud that I can play a venue to like 300 something people and its full without much radio play. I like the idea of my music being a bit pop and hooky, but also a bit cooked at times. That's the fun of it for all the bands and me really, even with Tame. Like how gnarly can we make something, as well as how perfect can we. I saw you pop up in Kirin J Callinan's Instagram story and he in some of your content. Have you guys cooked much up in the past or is there something brewing?

Yeah, he's actually on the new POND album and he's always up to do anything with anyone. His logic is that he can bring something to anyone's thing. People don't realise he's a really hot player, he's got immaculate rhythm and he shreds, he's a very good muso. So yeah he's on two of the new POND songs. Your first release from 'Flash in the Pan', 'Gemini' slanders the whole star sign mumbo jumbo and I myself am a Gemini and have for some reason copped it over the years. How do you feel about superstition and the accompanied presumptions?

I don't believe in star signs, but I'm probably a textbook Gemini I guess, like very up and down. But yeah nah, my dad's a scientist, so my family deals in cold hard evidence. I'm not very spiritual, only in my own made up religions in my head, like music is spiritual, but anything that has guidelines, nah. That doesn't seem spiritual, too many laws, but there are some I like. Buddhism is pretty wholesome; I'd say I'm agnostic. Speaking of film clips the LSD like dreamscape of the Deep Rhazz film clip features you in a Gumby suit. Will this suit make an appearance in any of your live sets?

My friend whipped that up in a week, I kind of wish I had more time. I just filmed myself on my iPhone and sent it to him. I wish I could've acted a bit more but yeah I don’t think it mattered much because it was a cool looking thing. I've played a POND gig in the suit at The Corner once and it was fucked. The eyes are where my mouth is and that's why in the video I point the microphone at the suits eyes a bunch. I was drinking beers and shots through the suits eye, it looked pretty good.

In a lot of interviews I'd read with many Spinning Top artists, the isolation of Perth is always a major talking point. Did this ever really affect you and are you still a resident?

I've lived in Melbourne for a couple of years and London for two years and now I'm back in Perth. It doesn't affect you in any way, there are affects of it but it doesn't really affect you. Like how often are you walking to Sydney? Brisbane could be the same distance from Sydney as Perth but the cost of the flights the only difference. Especially with the Internet. But there are positives and negatives, like less bands come through and the cost. But it might be more of a paradise then some other cities. I wouldn't have moved back there if I didn't love it.

Ben from Verge Collection told me about how playing the same scene and bars can be taxing in a city like Perth.

Yeah but we had our 8 years of people not liking our bands, I'm sure plenty still don't like them. I still have the fear of sucking, but I don't have the fear of people not liking me for reasons other than sucking. It doesn't take much for people not to like people who make art or even if someone has a shirt on that they think is daggy. Or if someone has a goatee, I'm a bit suss on people with goatees. Unfortunately I just have a level of prejudice for goatees and I'm trying to phase it out. But I'm trying to, instead of seeing goatees and thinking "I don't know about this bloke," I've started thinking "I'm sure he's a sound guy, despite the fact that he has a goatee".

That's a positive change I guess ...

Yeah I guess when you're young you're more cynical, between like 16-25 it doesn't take much for you to think everything sucks. But that's a necessary part to refine your tastes, but then as you get older it becomes not even worth talking out loud if something sucks. I can't remember the last time I slagged off a band; "Like hey man that bands shit" it's been a long time. What's the point? They're having a go. I can't hate on anyone making some form of art, it's immature. Unless it’s racist or sexist or something.

How often do you find time to get drunk and listen to Dennis Wilson? I hear he's the man?

Well that's my most honest lyric. When I was a bit sad, which only really happens to me when I've had half a bottle of whiskey, I would go from really stoked to really like "fuck the world". Then you know, it's early in the morning, you've been up all night and no one wants to talk anymore so yeah, you listen to Dennis Wilson. Often I write lyrics that are trying to be something else, whereas that lyric is pure honesty, there's no poetry or metaphor.

The term 'flash in the pan' meaning something with a brief and unrepeatable success is an intriguing idea that we see all too often. Does this term relate to anyone in particular for you or is it maybe a self proclaimed label?

I had this weird instrumental demo called that, I just like the words.

Yeah like Flash in Japan!

I was gonna call the whole album that, but there's a Japanese band who have a song called that and its about Hiroshima and I thought I'd steer clear of that.

Well one album a year for three years, I'm sure you'll be back here very soon?

Yeah, well I guess it's not my favourite title. I guess it reflects that I wasn't working on it like it was my big opus; I just thought I'd make a record and put it out. There's a few lyrics on the album about the world heating up. It's not really political; the new POND album is more political. As far as I'm concerned it's just science, I'm not a huge on conspiracies.

What with your dad being a scientist?

Well he's an Agricultural scientist; he's a shrub Doctor.

There's the next title for the next album?

Shrub Doctor yeah! Nah that sounds more like a Shiny Joe Ryan album

Who’s your favourite AFL team in WA and why is it Freo?

Yeah, well I grew up in Sydney for a bit then we moved to WA and my dad decided we'd go for who was, at the time, the shittest. Yeah we've been floating around the bottom ever since and yeah you know... I like Freo a lot, gotta love an underdog. Freo were always the curly haired broken faced Yahoos, which we were into. It's not fun going for the pretty team who's killing it.

Thanks for chatting and all the best for tonight and the rest of the tour!

Cheers !


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