The Beauty of Imperfections with GUM

The Beauty of Imperfections with GUM

“Having everything perfectly recorded and mixed isn't necessarily that interesting to listen to...”

When he’s not touring the world with both Tame Impala and Pond, Jay Watson makes his own unique brand of psychedelic, experimental pop music under the moniker GUM. With five, full-length solo records to his name over just a seven year period, we’ve been waiting for some new GUM goodness since 2020’s Out in the World. 

While not “new music” per se, we have recently been blessed with some new flavoured GUM, with his long-since sold out on vinyl first two albums, 2014’s Delorean Highway and 2015’s Glamorous Damage being remastered by Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker and repressed on vinyl, meaning they are not only available at a normal price again, but also sound closer to how Watson wanted them to.

Fresh off a run of North American dates with Tame, a UK and European tour with Pond (and playing the legendary Primavera Sound festival with both bands), we jumped on the line with Watson to find out all about the reissues and all things GUM in general.

How are you going, what’s happening?

I’m good thanks, I’m in Townsville visiting my parents. 

Oh sick, and you’ve just been on the road a bit recently I believe?

Yeah, we were in Europe, doing Primavera with both bands, and then Pond did some stuff in the UK. Then I came home and now my girlfriend and two kids have come to Townsville.

What was more hectic?

Actually… we’ve never flown with them, they were pretty good, especially the first flight. Yeah, the second flight, they sort of started to crack it, but, you know, it’s a long way from Perth. Two shows in a day, the second Primavera was a bit hectic, so maybe I’ll say that actually, I’ll give the kids the win.

And you know, you’ve got a couple of air miles on them…

Yeah, totally. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of points, and it was a still a lot more points than I had to get us all to Tonwsville and back, that’s for sure.

Interesting, yeah, I’d have no idea to be honest… so, let’s chat Gum, and I want to ask what exactly was the impetus to reissue and remaster your first two solo records cos I’m just imagining it’s like 3am, Tuesday, and you just wake up like “I need to reissue Delorean Highway and Glamorous Damage!”?

It was two things colliding that made it make sense. One was that I needed to just press more records because we only did 500 of each back in the day, and it sort of got to that point where they they sold long ago, and then you could get copies of them for a couple of hundred bucks on Discogs and stuff, which is too much I think, you know, like I'm proud of them from when I was and what I could do when I was younger and stuff, but I don't think they're worth paying that much by, you know, from collectors and stuff. So I wanted them to be available again for 30 bucks for anyone that wants them on vinyl, you know what I mean? Yeah, it's not supposed to be this expensive lost record.

What was that like, the first time you saw one of your records being listed for hundreds of dollars?

Well, it started with Tame and Pond and stuff, so it’s just sort of anything in the orbit of the bands that’s hard to find, that it goes up in value, which is kind of cool. But also yeah, I don’t want people who are really big fans, who love vinyl, to have to shell that out. So there was that, and also I was never really happy with the way they sounded - not the way they were mastered by the mastering engineers initially, both of them, because they had a great mastering engineer, just the way that I sent the mixes in was just so… munted *laughs* 

Like for example Glamorous Damage, a couple of the songs on that were mp3, you know, because I lost my laptop or something and just had to use the mp3 as I had it. So I managed to go back and find all the original, not the sessions to remix them, but just the original WAVs of both records, kind of like unruined. Then Kevin and I made them sound good and mastered them. You know what I mean? So it’s kind of like renovating something.  

Yeah wow, my jaw dropped when you said you sent off mp3s for mastering, part of me loves that, it’s like punk or something.

Yeah two songs off Glamorous Damage were mp3s, and then DeLorean Highway was mastered three times, but it wasn’t mastered three times like three separate times, like the same bit of audio. Like, I bounced it off, got it mastered by someone else, didn’t like it, got it mastered again by someone else and then myself or something and then mastered it again by a pro mastering engineer, but the same wad of audio.

So obviously the dynamic range on that was…

Nothing. It was just a brick, it was just a distorting brick of digital shit. So basically like, I just wanted to show, you know, give them a bit of respect. If I was going to press them again, I didn't want to press that audio like that, you know,  but yeah, I definitely was more cavalier and we were more cavalier back then. Yeah, we would just say, “who cares? It sounds like music, who cares?”, whereas now I’m obsessed with recording quality and all this stuff.

Yeah for sure, which then leads me to ask - if you did have the sessions for these old albums, would you almost be tempted to just like, remix the whole thing while you were at it?

If I had the sessions, like I lost them a long time ago, I'm really bad at filing. That's the cool thing, though, that would be the good thing about back in the day when it was tape is you had to like actually lose a giant reel to lose a record, whereas now it's just like, I think I used to save stuff to the desktop, and then cleaned up the desktop one day and then deleted the album, the sessions, you know, in the bin. Like it wouldn't be saved to any other part of the harddrive except the desktop, which is the worst possible place to save something.

And then if you open your software and it’s just like “file missing”...

Nothing. Yeah, yeah. But also, it’s sort of kind of unethical also kind of pretentious to remix something that's not even like a classic record. Like that was the other thing that we had, I had to be strong with with this was like, it's not supposed to be where it's like the 2020 remaster of Dark Side of the Moon or Thriller or something, you know, it's like, it's like a small album that I put out, locally. So we, for example, we took down the old versions ogf Spotify and put up the new, I didn't want multiple copies of it. In one sense, it's like it was less about the remaster as far as everyone else is concerned, and more just about making more copies of it, if that makes sense.

Yeah, it definitely makes sense! And then I just wonder, like, will there now be a sub-market for the original 500 pressings?

Well, that is sor t of cheekily appealing to me, the idea that people covet this kind of harsher master, and there’s not many copies of it - if you want it, you have to rip it from the record and it’s like the bright or harsh master or something, you know, like we were saying before the digitally clipped master or something.

And then the digitally clipped master that’s been ripped from a record, uploaded to youtube, downloaded again... like where does the cycle end *laughter”

Yeah, exactly. It is interesting how stuff that you couldn’t possibly think people will find interesting or cool becomes fetishized with time, like, all the samplers from the 90s that were like 8-bit or whatever, 6-bit, you know, and that was the best they could do and sort of are objectively poor quality. But now people are like “oh, that sounds so cool!”, you know like, hip-hop records made on those samplers. And they cost heaps of money on eBay to buy and it might be like that with iPhones or something, you know, like, “oh man, you’ve gotta hear the compression on the iPhone 4. It’s the best model and like three thousand dollars on”. 

I will not be surprised!

Yeah, honestly, I reckon some of the laptops, some of the sort of 2010, 2000s MacBooks will probably be sought after. I don’t know, it’s hard to predict. It’s not really my place to say that something sounds objectively worse because, you know, in the future what will be considered good or not.

So amongst all of this, I’m wondering - before the decision to remaster and reissue, how often would you generally be finding yourself revisiting this early material of yours?

I've sort of like played things on Spotify, or iTunes or Apple music or whatever. Just comparing them - I'm always comparing, like old stuff I've done whether it's Pond or mixes to new stuff, and seeing, you know, like, seeing whether it's better or whether I'm actually sort of getting better at mixing, sort of taking away some of the magic of old mixes, you know. Because that’s the thing, like lots of the stuff I liked by artists is often their early stuff, and they probably think it's much more amateur. But that's what's exciting about it. So I like to go back to not lose sight of what makes a recording interesting, you know, like having everything perfectly recorded and mixed isn't necessarily that interesting to listen to.

Yeah, all I’m hearing now is Regurgitator, you know, “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff”...

Yeah, exactly. I mean, it depends, though. My favorite Radiohead album - I did an interview before, I was saying it is the most recent one. I never got into them as a kid. And then I got into them in the last few years. And I That's my favorite one, is the last one - I can't say that about many artists. 

Interesting… and on a massive sidenote, I just interviewed someone and somehow Radiohead came up and I told the story of my mum being given OK Computer for her birthday, giving it away cos she didn’t really like it compared to The Bends and Pablo Honey… and then buying it again a few weeks later.

It’s funny how all that - because how old are you?

I’m 33. 

Yeah so I’m 32 and I remember telling friends of mine who were older that my parents had Chili Peppers and Nirvana and stuff like that, and them thinking that was so wild, you know?

Yeah man! Let’s not get too sidetracked cos now I was gonna start talking about Bleach and stuff *laughs* So yeah, I guess let’s look forward instead - new Gum stuff on the horizon at all?

I've basically been sitting on an album that I just can't finish, because of, like, having two young kids, you know. But I've also been using it to like really work on it and work on the songwriting and the production and the lyrics and stuff more than I used to,  I used to just sort of do the first idea that came into my head that fit the song, and that was it, and record it as quickly as possible. And this time, I've sort of just been like, you know, had a baby strapped to me, walking around the house, thinking about what I'm going to do when I get the chance. And it's actually been really good for making it better. But it's getting to the point where if I don't finish it soon, I'll start making it worse. You know what I mean? And so as soon as I get time to finish it and send it off to get mastered, it'll, it'll come out, I guess. Yeah, hopefully.

How’s your file and session management these days?

It’s better. I follow the rule of it has to exist in two places to exist at all digitally, which is apparently a thing. Like, if it's just on your computer, just assume that it's not real. It has to be on a hard drive on your computer or two hard drives. But yeah, it's better. I mean, man, I'm still shocking. My cyberworld is like someone's messiest bedroom.

Yeah I’m sitting here looking at like 100 Google Chrome tabs in front of me right now… So cheekily, when you say you can’t quite finish the new album, what’s left to do before mastering?

A couple of bits of overdubs and then just mixing it, but I mix it in my home studio, which is nice, but it's not like acoustically treated or anything properly. And on headphones. So I've got to go and sit it in someone's pro studio and just sit in, like for a day or two and just finish it. But I just haven't had a day or two to do that in months, you know, but that's cool.

Yeah, as I say to anyone I speak to with kids - as someone without children, I literally cannot imagine!

Well, I can't blame them completely. It's a cross between that and just touring, you know, like, every month on, month off forever… But I used to come home and just just throw myself into it, you know?

And speaking of, you’ve got more shows on the horizon?

Yeah, so Pond’s playing with Liam Gallagher at Splendour next week which will be really fun. And then Tame goes to Europe early next month.

More air miles!

Yeah, a bit more air miles, more points, more trips to Townsville. 

And hopefully get that record finished!

Yep, yep - I hope so!

Yeah awesome - thanks, Jay, so cool to chat!

Thanks Will, appreciate it.

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