Meet GunFu, The New Atmospheric Project From Perth Musical Chameleon, Benjamin Witt

Meet GunFu, The New Atmospheric Project From Perth Musical Chameleon, Benjamin Witt

Featuring Witt alongside some of the city’s finest players, GunFu craft atmospheric jazzy soundscapes - check out debut single ‘Observers’ ahead of release

Image credit: Supplied

It’s always exciting news when there’s new music from Perth/Boorloo musical veteran, Benjamin Witt. For the last few decades, Witt has been a stalwart of the local scene, a masterful guitarist and extremely talented songwriter whose music has spanned a range of styles and genres. From his early band The Chemist to releasing music under his own name, or being a session muso for the likes of Empire of the Sun and Pond to his current solo project, Romeo Walker, Witt has a knack for crafting music as interesting and engaging as it is memorable and catchy, balancing skill with accessibility to great effect.

Now Witt has readied his latest music endeavour - the awesomely named GunFu. Having assembled some of the town's finest players, with Ben Vanderwal on drums, Marc Earley on bass guitar, Jayden Blockley on saxophone and Harry Mitchell on keys, Witt holds things down on electric guitar. With styles influenced by jazz, West African, Cuban and experimental elements, the band masterfully interprets Witt’s compositions of harmonious tapestries of sound.

The first taste of GunFu comes in the form of Observers, out February 16 but premiering on Pilerats today. An incredibly smooth cut, Observers is a mellow, exploratory, instrumental earworm, showcasing each player's skill, featuring some show-stealing sax lines from Blockley on both Tenor and Soprano sax. Observers comes alongside a music video from the band’s forthcoming album recording session, taking us behind the scenes into how such gorgeous music is tracked in a live studio setting.

With an album set for release later in the year and an upcoming live show at The Ellington on March 12, we checked in with Witt to get the lowdown on all things GunFu as we premiere Observers:

Congrats on the new project! What led you to form this new group of heavy hitters?

Thanks man.

I've made several song based records and all the sounds and parts are inevitably obliged to be in service of the vocal, so I felt the urge to have an instrumental project where I didn't have to implement that form of restraint. I wanted to improvise with great players and explore musical ideas that aren't necessarily conducive to song form. I had recently started doing some work with Ben Vanderwal & Harry Mitchell, so I developed the audacity to ask such amazing players to lend their talents to GunFu. Marc and I have been really good friends since we were teenagers and Jayden was recommended by Ben. I'm super lucky to have this calibre of players interpret the work and provide their musical fingerprints.

How would you describe the sound and feel of the GunFu? Any particular influences/inspirations?

It's jazz in that there's a lot of improvisation, uses some extended harmony & is kind of a playground for the instrumentalists to play expressively. There isn't much swing however and there is a lot of influence outside of the jazz idiom with west African and cuban influences for example. Musical inspirations include The Lounge Lizards. Medeski, Martin & Wood. Charles Mingus. Blake Mills & Pino Palladino, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Group Doueh, Fela Kuti, Cuban All Stars, Arsenio Rodriguez, John Zorn, Marc Ribot, etc.

What’s the songwriting process been like so far?

This upcoming record was all written originally for a collaborative art exhibition by Stephen Brameld (my cousin) and Jay Staples. Each piece was named after a different painting and intended to be complementary to the works. I would usually start with a musical idea I wanted to explore and dream from there. I charted all the music out on Musescore (a notation software). We then got together at Ben's place, put the charts in front of us and let instinct do the rest. We don't really talk about what we're going to do other than a couple of sonic suggestions or musical concepts to explore. The compositions are like pages of an untouched colouring book & the process is kind of analogous to putting a Cicada Killer Wasp and a Giant Hornet together in a glass box just to see what would happen.

How’s the new material and band feeling live? What’s the vibe with live shows coming up?

The shows have been super fun. Given the improvisational element, the songs are never played exactly the same. Jayden has moved to Melbourne so we have Sean Little playing with us at the Ellington on the 12th of March, so it'll be cool to hear how he approaches it. It's kind of an ever growing organism I guess.

What’s the story with the first single, Observers?

It started with the guitar line, which was inspired by John Lurie's sax playing. He has a way of varying subdivisions and developing his lines that feels like whilst the pulse is constant, the time is elastic and being stretched with beat one becoming a little ambiguous. I wrote a bunch of varying rhythms in 6/4 (nerd talk for saying "count to six!") and applied the notes after the fact, going for a Malian kind of feel. The accompanying parts are quasi-repetitive motifs with contrasting rhythms, some play a triplet feel, some constant 16th notes and the bass line uses longer notes. The B section moves into Gb Phrygian, which is nerd talk for saying we play a more sinister mood. The improvisational section, where Jayden absolutely crushes it, is based on exploring an Ethiopian scale that I picked up listening to Mulatu Astatke. The comping patterns are improvised but loosely developed in a repetitious & slowly accumulative Steve Reich inspired way. The outro section is the A section reimagined and reharmonized with Marc playing chords on the bass, I was loving Palladino's playing when imagining this section. The song moves in and out of 6/4 and 5/4 because with so much rigidity and predictability in contemporary music, I like to feel a little unlocked from the grid. Sorry, it's all music nerd talk. I should have said it came to me in a dream or I did shrooms and saw a magical elf play it for me on her ukelele.

How’d the music video come together?

Knowing that we were going to record it primarily live, I liked the idea that if people dug the recording they could watch the actual performance of the recording they've been listening to. I invited my other cousin Cooper Gordon to come down to set up a couple of cameras and shoot the session. He's a pro and worked at triple J on the Like a Version performances, so he knew how to do what needed to be done without being a distraction. I went to Kalbarri to surf for a week but there was no swell, so I mixed the record and edited all the footage because I didn't have much else to do other than enjoy a delicious, ice cold, thirst quenching corona at the pub.

What can we expect from the rest of the record?

There's a kind of highlife number, a cuban surf rock number, a creepy 'out to lunch' burner & a west African rhythm meets a Chinese Erhu inspired melody that turns into a 3 part cannon in the outro.

What are your favourite Gun Fu films or scenes?

John Woo's 'Hard Boiled' teahouse shootout. 'The Matrix' bullet dodge. Technically, probably not gun fu but 'A Colt Is My Passport' is a rad Yakuza film with noir and French new wave influence. I hate guns and violence, I can't even watch MMA. I just really like crime & martial arts films.

Any solo stuff on the cards for 2024?

Yep! I've got a bunch of Romeo Walker stuff ready to share after this GunFu stuff is out. It's kind of straight shootin' stuff.

How can people best support your music?

Listen, share, come to shows & follow us on the gram so we can ask the bookers for hella fat cheques.

What have you been listening to lately?

Last week or so .... Glass Beams, Astrid Sonne, Don Cherry.....oh and "Turn up on the Weekend" by Big Wet.

GunFu's new single Observers is out February 16

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