The NY and Canada based duo ginla or (Jon and Joe respectively) released their eponymous ginla EP on Terrible Records earlier this year. The EP, which could be described as a palette of strict artistic textures, colours and parameters mixed upon an easel; seems to be characterised in sound by the band's choices of instrumentation; i.e. an organic drum set, warm and full analogue sounding synths, vocal layering with harmonies, and high, light, airy psychedelic guitar leads. The total composition of their songs impossible to lump into a genre; their musical identity is purely how they identify by association. With an affinity to certain sounds, rather than sticking to any rules of any particular genre their EP has crafted something incredibly unique. It's something you definitely would not be able to hear anywhere else, and so EARMILK was very eager to have a skype call with them both – to hear about the process of writing such a wonderfully interesting and self-assured release.
"For us I think specifically that’s what this project is about. We set out to create something that sounds like nothing that people have heard before. Not that the EP is the “be all, end all” I think that was a great foundation for us to spring off. The stuff we’re working on now is really heading in the direction we intended to head out into. That was definitely the goal." -Joe
It’s our outlet to do whatever we want to do without fitting into a box. – Jon
They have been making music work as ginla despite their geographical distance, and remain close friends. After attending college together in Boston, they met after they both separately began playing for now mutual friend Nick Hakim. Previous musical ventures before ginla involved Joe and Jon playing in a folk/rock band, as well as an R&B project. Joe grew up really into free jazz and Jon grew up playing Indian classical music on tabla. They both have very eclectic tastes, I was curious how the writing process work for them being in two different countries.
There was a lot of prep and a lot of writing in the EP we did on our own. We then spent a tonne of time together both writing and workshopping ideas that we’d started. We spent quite a bit of time in the mixing process. There were a few weeks where we’d go to our engineer’s house and sit with him all day and tweak mixes. There were quite a few different stages for working on the EP. It’s like being in a long distance relationship in some ways – except there’s visas involved!" – Jon
The duo recently played a gig alongside Nick Hakim and have also previously toured with Braids. Using their live show as an experimental outlet to try out different ways of playing the new material (as a four-piece, using different drummers, and this time round Jon played drums and Joe performed on sampler/guitar). They've been shifting the focus now to both thinking about how they want to play live as well as how they want it to come across. Ginla seem to strike the perfect balance between unusual, individual music and catchy pop accessibility.
"I think that’s a big thing that we’re working on keeping. We do value accessibility in a pop sense a lot, but also keeping the big picture cohesive and growing organically in creativity. That’s a balance that's really tricky. It’s really helped us write different music that’s been really good, but it’s also got in the way of some ideas. It’s hard to find that balance." – Joe
"I actually wrote a song last year, which is really “poppy” and I’m not sure I now want to put it on the [upcoming] record. Not that I don’t want to stop it coming out, but I think context matters a lot. I think it shapes people’s minds and how they think of you, so being selective is good. We’re definitely going to play Rusty the work when we’re all in NY together and see what mixing ideas he has for it." – Jon
Music from the ginla EP was also featured on a Spotify playlist from Snow Patrol and involved collaborations with incredible mix engineer Rusty Santos (Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Ariel Pink) and famous Tate endorsed conceptual artist John Baldessari. Both collaborations arose not by any prior connections, but just after reaching out through email.
"It’s funny because networking and social climbing can be such an intense overwhelming thing as a musician in New York, but none of the things that have happened to us has happened because of who we have knew, or hanging around with a certain crowd, it’s all been because of point blank emails that were sent."
"We’ve been a fan of Rusty's for a while e.g his work on Animal Collective. Joe just reached out to him and asked he was free one day, as we were finishing the EP still. Rusty said he was down and would love to mix it. It wasn’t until the end of that process that we all became pretty good friends. It was just going to be him mixing it, but he became a lot more involved than I think either of us had planned on. Joe is actually going to NY to look after his cats!" – Jon
When talking about the John Baldessari collaboration and EP inspiration the band mentioned that they were influenced a lot by what’s going on around them. Thinking about the unique ways that our generation communicate; the time that we’re living in and how it’s so individual to our generation and what’s happening in the world.
"I think it started when we were trying to find artwork that we might be able to use for the cover for the EP and even during the recording process we were both really influenced by Baldessari’s work. We had pictures of his around my room. After Joe's email we then we regrouped and wrote a letter withe the CD, which explained a bit better how much his work resonated with us. We also asked if there was anything he had at the time lying around, or anything that you’re willing to give we would totally appreciate." – Jon
"I just went for it. I essentially sent him an email that basically said we need your artwork it’s the only thing that fits our music. His assistant got back and said "John wants to hear the record", so we sent him a CD (which was unmixed and everything at the time)." – Joe
Apophenia is known as the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data.
"I wrote the lyrics to Apophenia like a stream of consciousness. I was going through a hard time, feeling unsure of myself, yearning for certain connections, wanting certain things to happen that weren’t happening. There was a romantic thing involved with that. Your brain is working so much and you can connect so many different things and make so many narratives in your head, partially what I think about with that song is that your desires can shape the story that you’re writing in your head, but because of all of the patterns and dots you’ve connected in your head you sometimes do things that you know aren’t going to work out or the most healthy for yourself or others." – Jon
"Abstractly we were creating this vibe and it started to gain definition. It became this reflection of being able to disconnect in everything you can get wrapped in. step back and look at this big picture and the picture that I’ve painted. We know each other very well, so things that happen to us situationally in our lives are inspiration, but we do want the listener to draw whatever conclusions they would like to from it." – Joe
The band have been putting everything on hold right until they finish the full length album they're working on pushing the tempo on that. 11 or 12 tangible, complete songs at the moment, and a whole bunch of demos on top. We're excited to hear what they have in store.
"The album will be different to the EP, but will sound like us. We’re honing on the elements that were in the EP that were maybe abstracted a little bit partially because we were still experimenting so much. It ended up becoming a very abstracted picture that we painted. The album will be a lot less busy, more minimalist, more vulnerable vocals. A typical trajectory for an artist to be blunt, but conceptually still similar with pop melodies taken out of context. It’s a lot more immediate" – Joe