Grievous Bodily Calm's Cascading Sounds: "Let’s take a songwriter's approach to an album rather than an instrumentalist's point of view"

Grievous Bodily Calm's Cascading Sounds: "Let’s take a songwriter's approach to an album rather than an instrumentalist's point of view"

Having released their most complete EP to date, ‘Cascades’, we catch up with West Aussie instrumental faves GBC ahead of their national tour

Boundary pushing can be a played out adjective when it comes to describing music, however when it comes to the sounds created by Boorloo/Perth instrumental five-piece Grievous Bodily Calm it couldn’t be more appropriate while also not even beginning to tell the story. Made up of some incredibly high level formally trained jazz musos, the band’s music initially got lumped into that category, and while there’s a jazz influence, their music is so much more than that.

Broadly described as ‘beat music’ in their early days, GBC take cues from hip hop, soul, r&b to IDM, ambient & electronic compositions to even heavier sounds metal & psych rock, as heard on their three EPs so far - 2017’s Thought Tapes Live, 2019’s Repel, and 2021’s Arc.

Continuing their “EP every two years” pace, GBC are back with their fourth and most comprehensive yet diverse release to date, in the form of seven track EP Cascades. Telling a narrative without the need for vocals, the tracks on Cascades are all connected sonically and metaphorically through the use of water as a representational device.

Opening with the triumphant sounds of Yawp, a jazzy, breakbeat infused cut of lush and layered sounds that propel across nearly four minutes before giving way to the most dance music influenced cut on the record, the electro-inspired sounds of Cloutbusting. Title track and previous single Cascades slows things right down below 100 bpm, feeling like the band’s take on a sultry r&b slow jam before building to an explosive climax. High Fly keeps this explosive energy rolling before another effective vibe switch into the beatless sounds of BrotherBear that features only guitar and trumpet. The other single from the record, Spirals is a perfect penultimate track on the album, bringing the energy back up and taking things back in an IDM inspired direction. EP closer Perennial Stream wraps things up perfectly with a somewhat melancholic yet victorious manner before fading into silence, allowing for a much needed moment of reflection to appreciate what you’ve just heard.

Cascades comes off the back of a huge 12 months that have seen the band play the Sydney Opera House and BIGSOUND, a sold out Perth Festival show alongside 30/70, and several monthly residencies at iconic Perth venue The Bird, with the band about to head off on a full national tour and a slot at SXSW in Sydney. To celebrate the release of Cascades, we jumped on a call with the full band - Alex Reid (Drums, Percussion), Josiah Padmanabham (Keys, Guitars), Zac Grafton (Bass, Synth Bass), Matthew McGlynn (Trumpet) and most recent member Thomas Manson (Keys).

So I guess, first question I want to start with - Cascades, another EP… are you guys too lazy to put out a full length album?

Alex: Yes...

*laughs*

So serious question then, you know it’s 2023, you guys are putting it out on wax which is sick, how do you guys view release formats? Like the EP as a format, is that something you guys found best conveys the music you want to put out there?

Alex: I think mainly the EP is a good format - we can make those concise statements. I guess we went into it with a plan for an EP but the narrative of the music kind of revealed itself as we were going, although we definitely knew what tunes we were doing by the time we got to the studio.

Josiah: Like you’re saying, the songs got picked according to the idea, and if it doesn’t fit, it gets axed. That’s just the way it is, so it’s not necessarily an attachment to the format.

Alex: Yeah, the body of music that we had together just so happened to be an EP’s length rather than a full album.

So does that mean there were other finished tracks that didn’t fit, that you didn’t want to just add like three more tracks to make an album “just because”?

Alex: Yeah, we have so, so many more songs, and demos, and ideas and things to flesh out. It was mainly just picking the ones that worked together out of the batch and then creating this EP that kind of runs all the way through as one thing. It’s about having tunes that complement each other and work as a body of music, and it just happened to be seven tracks rather than twelve.

Oh man I can only imagine what some of the offcuts, for lack of a better word, sounded like because yes it runs together but it’s still such a diverse collection of tunes. Like you’ve got Cloutbusting as track two, and that’s almost like something you could play at a rave or something, like electro vibes… then you’ve got jazzier stuff, more ambient stuff - stuff with barely you on there, Alex! So how did the tracks on Cascades come to be, was there like a main writing session?

Alex: Yeah, I think the main body of music, or the main tunes came from a session we did out in the hills in early 2020. So Zac, Matt, Josiah & I went up to an AirBnB and just spent the weekend demoing some things, just creating tiny demos that each of us had brought in.

Josiah: There’s actually takes that are still from that room, yeah. The keyboard solo at the end of the record and like heaps of individual tracks that are on there.

Alex: To give you a through line from start to finish, I think the album has songs from the four of us - this was prior to Tom joining the band.

Josiah: The Cloutbusting thing, Tom added a whole bunch to that.

Alex: So the actual start was demos from each of us, we took it to a writing session out in the hills and then from there Tom joined the band, we started playing this stuff live, you know, really working through them live and jamming them and writing more as well. Then once we were happy with the structures, maybe like 80% there, then we went to the studio and did the rest there.

Yeah nice one, because I was curious about the timeline of when Tom joined, and curious about Josiah playing guitar and stuff like that, and how that might have changed up any dynamics?

Josiah: We hadn’t started recording when Tom joined, we’d done that Hills thing.

Alex: And then a couple of months later we got Tom on board.

And Tom, you’d already played on a GBC record before this so what was it like to join?

Tom: Yeah I’d done keys for like 10 seconds on a track…

So from 10 seconds on a record to joining what was that like?

Tom: Yeah, look, it was intimidating. I think it’s that the band was established and had an established sound… It was helpful that it was a restructure as opposed to sort of replacing something that already existed, and that meant that we could kind of re-morph the band as a whole, as opposed to trying to slot in like Tetris.

And I guess that’s pretty rare in the grand scheme of things? Usually it would be like “bassist is gone, get a new bassist… guitarist is gone, get a new guitarist”, so that’s sick! What does it feel like having joined and contributed to the record? And it’s funny, because you say you were intimidated by them initially for being an established band which I get, but they’re also some of the nicest, least intimidating dudes around *laughs* - that’s a compliment!

Tom: Yeah I think pretty quickly, given how often we rehearse and the open nature of the music, and also the people, meant that it was quite easy to develop a new sound. I guess that’s the kind of thing with any band, just playing shows you start to get to know each other and how each other plays, that kind of thing. That definitely had an influence on our approach to recording in the sense that I felt like I was given a place to have input. That was especially present in mixing and just the overall shape of the record.

So sick! And speaking of playing live together, you guys have had some huge shows over the last 12 months - played the Opera House, had a Perth Festival show, BISOUND and stuff, and you’ve got another huge tour coming up. I’m curious about the new record and how it’s feeling live - are you guys switching things up when you play live? I’ll never forget the first time I heard Matt play Outkast’s SpottieOttie horn line live!

Alex: Yeah, I think so. Everyone being fans of music and not just their instruments means that when we’re in the studio and we’re writing, it’s like “nah, let’s take a songwriter's approach to an album rather than an instrumentalist's point of view”. So if a track doesn’t need drums, we don’t put drums, or if it needs acoustic bass over electric bass - whatever it might be. What I think that allows for us to do is then when we play it live and we maybe need a little more energy from a certain tune, we can add that component to it, and it gives listeners a different experience from the record. It’s a different thing.

Classic “it’s the notes you’re not playing”... So on a different note, something I’ve been curious about is whether or not you’ve faced any challenges being an instrumental band in trying to kind of cross over a bit - have you ever dealt with rejection or like “we WOULD book you if you had a vocalist” sort of scenarios?

Alex: It’s actually not that bad, we haven’t. I think there’s the ever present “when will you do something with a vocalist” or whatever, but for an instrumental band, the shows we’ve been able to do and the people who appreciate our music - I think it’s a testament to the melodic songwriter approach we have to our music, rather than being like “here’s a tune - let’s solo all over it”, which is a more traditional approach to writing instrumental music - you write a melody and chord changes, then as a band you come together and improvise with that tune. We made sure we don’t do that, if that makes sense? I think then what that translates to is accessibility for people, because it’s like listening to - not a pop record, it’s probably more challenging than that, but yeah.

Zac: I think like you said, with the variety in it, in the live set we don’t have the range of instruments or tones you’d have in the studio, but even in the live set there’s a lot of variety between the songs. I think that’s something that engages an audience that’s maybe used to a singer, so you don’t have the engagement of lyrics or a singular person telling their story, but we do have other things. I think the fact that there isn’t really a straightforward genre that we sit in, it really helps. If we were playing instrumental jazz, we would be thrown into that world, so I think the variety really helps.

Yeah, for sure. Something else that struck me, along with the diverse sounds and ebbs and flows in energy is that none of the songs overstay their welcome, you know, there’s a lot of “pop-length” tracks on there. Whereas, going back to what Alex was saying, if this was a traditional jazz instrumental band and everyone soloed on everything, you’d be looking at seven plus minute compositions - is that a conscious decision, how do you decide to write a two and a half minute track versus twice that long?

Alex: I think on the record, it’s like distilling the idea of the song down to its essence. Like “how do we present this in the simplest, best way we possibly can?” and then when we take it to the stage, we might add those elements - more improvisation, more interaction. We don’t really ever write a record and be like “ah, how is this going to split A/B on vinyl?”.

Yeah but that is a practical decision when releasing vinyl which I want to ask about - how important is it to have this on vinyl?

Alex: I feel like doing the vinyl thing kind of goes hand in hand with our instrumental music, the artwork and the tracklisting. Giving it a visual aesthetic is super important and I’ve always liked the idea of having records that people can collect, because that’s what we do - everyone buys records here. It’s the only way that people can see music physically - until we bring back CDs man, we’re going to bring back CD *laughs*

I’ve got a few untouched racks sitting there you can have… So finally, you guys are about to jet off again on a huge tour around Australia. Having been over east a few times recently, how does it feel this time around heading out for your own shows, with a new record under your belt?

Alex: It feels good, it’s gonna be sick, man, we’re excited. It’s our first headline tour. I think some of the shows we did, like the Opera House last year and Bigsound in Brisbane and stuff, they kind of haven’t been connected directly to us, so having shows where we can go and meet people and play to people that like our music and are interested in our music is really exciting. It’ll be great to be back in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, but it will be great to play Adelaide for the first time. We’re really looking forward to playing an interesting venue, Phoenix Central Park in Sydney where we’re doing a couple of sets. It’s a really bespoke kind of room with grand pianos and everything, so we’re looking forward to getting to do something a bit different for that show.

Josiah: Yeah, this will be our first sustained like gig to travel, gig to travel. I like hanging out with the dudes, going out to get ice cream, just trying to pick a place to eat. I like seeing new people listening to the music and coming up after like “oh, I really, really liked that” and just connecting with you. Yeah, that’s why we do it, that’s why we ever fucking leave in the first place.

Alex: I think that by doing our own tour, you get to play with opening support bands, get to meet people - it’s going to be more connected, and just having a good time with people. I feel like what we’ve done so far has kind of just been us, and we play festivals and that kind of thing where you’re always sort of isolated to yourselves because you don't know anyone, and there’s no direct way to connect.

For sure, sounds sick! So before I let you guys go - Matt, I’m gonna put you on the spot here because you’re the only one who hasn’t said anything, I know it’s been a general chat… anything you want to add about the record, the tour, who’s annoying in the band, who you're not looking forward to spending time with? *laughs*

Matt: Alex is pretty fucking annoying…

*laughs*

Matt: Na, I always sit next to him on the plane and we’re rooming together. I’m interested to see - because on the album, there’s some real dissonant stuff, some challenging listening. There’s parts where it’s just me and Josiah and it’s just pretty harmonically out there.

*laughs*

They’re my favourite parts of the record, dude!

Matt: I just think it’s gonna challenge some listeners, which will be cool.

Amazing, and then you’ll also get to see how people react to it live around the country! Awesome, thanks so much for chatting guys, congrats again on the EP!

GBC CASCADES ARTWORK

GBC Tour Dates

Aug 15 - Phoenix Central Park, Sydney

Aug 16 - The Vanguard, Sydney

Aug 17 - Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane

Aug 18 - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne

Aug 19 - The Lab, Adelaide

Aug 25 - The Rechabite, Perth

Sep 23 - Wave Rock Weekender

Oct 18 - Oct 21 - SXSW Sydney

Follow Grievous Bodily Calm: Instagram / Facebook

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