GoGo Penguin

GoGo Penguin

GoGo Penguin’s self-titled fourth album together—and third on the iconic Blue Note label—is reflective of their evolution as a band. “We’ve never sat down as a band and said this is the kind of music that we’re trying to make, but this album was the closest we've gotten to achieving a kind of idea that we set out for,” pianist Chris Illingworth tells Apple Music. “We had a lot more time last year to be able to rehearse and experiment than we have had in the past, and everyone’s voice was heard.” The difference in pace means that the mercurial sound of the Manchester jazz trio—Rob Turner plays drums and Nick Blacka plays bass—shifts into something more playful, marked by a greater sense of experimentation through found sounds and innovative techniques, deconstructing their own musical training to unearth new approaches. “It's difficult to kind of find that space to always be new in the way that you think,” Illingworth says. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve been thinking about what we could add to our instruments that’s out of the box, and play electronic ideas acoustically.” Thematically, it's abstract enough to leave enough space for listeners to interpret what they want and need from the sound. And yet, it’s still an honest offering that conveys the emotions attending the band’s own personal experiences whilst pertinent worldly observations shape and color the tracks. Read more about Illingworth’s thoughts on each track here. 1_# “We wanted to incorporate the atmosphere of where we were and the sounds in and around the studio. We found an old pedal organ and pressed the pedals to make it sound like creaky breathing. There’s the sound of kids playing at a school near to the studio, pool balls being thrown around a pool table, a car being driven over some gravel, magnetic fields, and so much more. It was really fun trying to find sounds that weren’t just piano, drums, and bass, and we tried to give the sounds shape to echo the contours of the piano, gradually building to make you feel like this is the start of a journey.” Atomised “The drumbeat that Rob had written was actually inspired by UK garage. When we combined the two, I started to make the piano parts a bit more classical, like Debussy, and then we just waited until Nick started playing this dubby bassline in the middle of it all, and that pulled things together. It was a case of experimenting and thinking about where we wanted to go, finding other ideas that were floating around, which all kind of coalesced to become the one track. ‘Atomised’ felt like a good fit [to describe the process].” Signal in the Noise “I've always wanted to kind of know what's true, to be a realist. I was reading a book called The Signal and the Noise [by political forecaster Nate Silver], which looks at how all the information is there if you look in the right way and if you can avoid allowing your biases to get in the way of judgment. Everywhere in the world, misinformation is being spread—people call it fake news, or propaganda. It's just a shame that often it's very difficult to see behind all of this noise that people create to try and hide the truth. The way that people can treat each other with such disrespect and be so harmful to each other—often that's happening because of this combination of fear and misinformation. If people were a little more open-minded and looked for the truth, and were worried less about what the truth might mean for themselves, it might be better in general. It's getting into that realm of being incredibly optimistic and trying to look for a utopia!” Open “Originally, this was a sketch by Rob that was very electronic: The drums were really grainy, compressed, distorted, and very aggressive. In experimenting with synths to flesh out the body of the piece, the beat became a lot softer, and that came from asking ourselves how we could play this electronic sound acoustically. We were asking ourselves, ‘How can we get out of that place of sticking with the same sort of structures? How can we look at something that feels like it starts somewhere, but then ends somewhere totally different?’ Because, like in life, we're going through all these experiences. You get to the end and there might be these echoes of something from the beginning, but ultimately, you've gone somewhere new.” F Maj Pixie “It's not actually an F major, but we won’t tell anyone that—it's rooted in F. It reminded us originally of the Pixies, and that style of rock. We tried to combine some of what Rob and I do into these glitches that sound almost like they're a single percussive instrument. And then I’m playing this loop at the core of it and seeing how far we could develop an idea that revolves around this constant thing in the middle—like a trance-like drone, keeping that going, and then having all these [elements] work around that.” Kora “When I sit at the piano, it's easy to just go to the same kind of melodic ideas or just the same physical way of moving around the piano, so I thought: look elsewhere. I love the kora as an instrument. It's beautiful, especially albums by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. The [kora] patterns don’t translate very easily into the piano; they’re quite electronic in the way they feel—it's quite percussive, rather than being melodic in a normal piano sense. It fit well with this punchy electronic beat that Rob had written. Then there are these longer melodic lines that I’d worked on weaving into the bassline that Nick plays, to emulate that fluid feeling of when you hear a kora play. So it was exploring how to play something percussively, but still letting it feel lyrical and vocal.” Totem “This started off as a peaceful track, then we opted to make it as aggressive as it could possibly go. It’s really fun to play—we were all right at our limit of what we were physically capable of playing. Nick was reading Grayson Perry’s work, which looked at the idea of people finding groups, finding their identity and solidarity in the way they might think about ideas and find comfort in agreeing with each other. ‘Totem’ is about the objects that become a part of that. We're fascinated by the idea of how something can be both positive and negative at the same time. You can have groups that can bring people together, but [others that] can also cause isolation and a sense of ‘us and them’; you see how divided it can make people. And then there are just harmful beliefs. If groups come together purely in the hate, disrespect, or mistreatment of others, that's where the problems lie. It's not a political song—just something we're considering without realizing the implication it might have in these times.” Embers "We were trying to find a way that we could create something that felt big and large in the way that it sounds—but without just playing loudly. With this we wanted to create something that felt almost lazy, like sitting back and relaxing and letting it wash over you rather than something that was more direct. We wanted to make sure that the album was balanced in its progression. It's like life with its ups and downs—it was nice to have a track like this where we could create that space.” To the Nth “This track is a lot more like what we've done in the past, but again, it was us really trying to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. The structure is a bit more traditional: There’s an A section, which leads into a bridge, a piano solo, before revisiting the A section near the end. There were fragments that each of us brought, but we really just had fun by jamming ideas together.” Don’t Go “Nick came up with the melody, and as soon as he played it, I thought it was perfect. He takes up the vocal melody here, almost as though the bass is trying to speak and tell a story at the end of the album. The piano at the end is almost like an echo, playing something that isn’t the same, but almost repeating ideas as if in agreement with him. Here we had things like drawing pins stuck in the piano hammers and gaffer tape stuck on the piano strings to create the sound. Rob was playing effects by laying underneath the piano and doing drum rolls softly on the soundboard to create a kind of thunder. We recorded on binaural mics, and at the end of the session, Brendan Williams, our producer, lifted the [mic] head away, walked out of the room, and closed the door. We wanted to make it feel like you were there with us.”

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