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The Cud Interview- The Slippery Gypseas
Evan Kanarakis

Formed in 2011, the Slippery Gypseas are a self-described ‘free range’ band drawing on broad influences in blues, harmony-based rock, folk, country, reggae and soul (with some horns thrown in for good measure). Based in Bondi, the iconic beach suburb of Sydney, the band have been quietly growing quite a following, and won the Sydney Country Music Festival songwriter’s competition in September.

Recently singer Luke Gerber sat down with The Cud's Evan Kanarakis to talk about the band’s debut EP and all things Slippery Gypseas.

THE CUD: Tell us a little about the history and makeup of the Slippery Gypseas.

LUKE GERBER: Well there are 3 official Gypseas: myself, Zach and Amy. Zach calls me ‘Tom’. We call Amy ‘ZZ’. And Zach’s unofficial name is ‘Blackrat’.
I’ve been playing in bands with ZZ since the late 90’s. When I first met her she played jazz on the most majestic old Gibson that she later sold to fund a tour of Japan as a hard rock drummer. She now sings her own tunes and plays bass with us, having spent all her money on dirty rock ‘n’ roll and having no more fancy instruments to pawn. Her voice reminds me of Joan Jett meets Bonnie Rait, that real great gravel, and I am really glad she finally started singing, because for many years I just knew her mostly as a drummer. I didn’t expect this great voice and these honest songs to come belting out of her. And she can really play the guitar- that’s why we call her ZZ.

I met Zach when I was living in my campervan. I had spent some time up North and for a variety of reasons found myself living the dream, camping on headlands, penniless, but absolutely free. I came back to Sydney with feathers in my hair and a need to perform these new songs I had written. I met Zach through an old saxophonist friend of mine, Brendo. Brendo is one of those blokes who seem to know and play with everyone, and I have met a host of cool cats through him. He’s very much the Head of the Bondi People’s Republic. He said we should go to his mate’s place because he was playing on Bondi FM that night and he needed some horns (Brendo loves saying that). So I met Zach that night, and played four tunes with him down at the station live with a double bass. Real crossover rock/blues stuff with Australian lyrics. I loved it off the bat. I ended up staying at his place to get out of the van occasionally and we talked about getting a band together. I think our first gig was actually as The Blackrats and Bushrangers. We were high on rum, and excited to be playing some rough country. Then I introduced ZZ and the rest, as they say is history.

Our personalities connect as friends, writers, players, music lovers and party makers. We all like to have a good time, and really love playing music that people have a good time to. Music to drive to, to get drunk to, to chat to, to dance to, you know?

We are all songwriters and decided to create a group that would make all of our music come to life collectively. We realised there was a similarity in all our material, but different styles as well, and this might make a unique sound, where the person who writes the tune, sings the lead, and the rest of us provide instrumentation and harmonies. Multiple writers create a far more fascinating landscape than a skewed perspective and we have three times the material! At this stage we can play four hours of our own material, and often do.

Lots of people said it wouldn’t work. We said screw that. It sounds interesting. So far, so good. We have a breadth of material it would be hard to achieve with one writer, and because we’re all driving the group we all feel quite close in the process. Even in our sets we go song for song, but try to blend the songs so the set list stays rocking.

I sing, play piano, trombone and occasionally guitar. Zach plays rhythm and lead guitar. Amy plays bass and occasionally guitar. For a time there we were playing small café gigs with three guitars. We have now decided to really focus on the main sound that we want mainstage. Basically it’s easier not to swap instruments all the time, though that can be great fun. 

We have a fabulous drummer behind us now, Mr Oscar Henfrey.  A talented young man we managed to snap up whilst he was still in school.  He has brought a flair and energy into our sound and the perfect old school grooves our tunes were looking for.  With a love of New Orleans, jazz and rock feels, Oscar is the perfect glue for the Gypseas and he fits right in.

THE CUD: That’s quite a unique name…

L.G: We like travelling and playing music, can’t go past the Gypsy elements there. In doing so we slip through the landscape in a caravan…

Zach was the original Slippery Gypsy and suggested the name: we all liked it. A little bit of a catchy tongue twister not dissimilar to our sets.

We tweaked the spelling to give the Gypseas a more maritime feel because we all live next to the beach and the sea is a big part of our lives… so we are nautical Gypseas in a way. Not your average Gypsy… Slippery.

THE CUD: The band cites a broad range of musical roots. With so many influences, did it take you long as a band to find the particular sound and style which best suited you all?

L.G: Yeah, it has taken us quite a while to fully cement the sound we wanted live. You often forget how many gigs you’ve played… but up until now we had swapped instrumentation to suit the room. And I was playing a lot more guitar. With a piano it sounds very thick and can go into some very funky territory. And at the moment we seem to be playing a lot of rollicking honky tonk grooves, pretending to be down South somewhere.

As far as styles go, we are happy to play the range, thus the term ‘free range.’ We are definitely rolling country oriented, and love to take it down New Orleans way with some funky drumming… but we also play more traditional blues numbers, some folkier songs, a bit of reggae and some down right dirty riffs. We are also not afraid to delve into the pop song and we layer three-part harmonies across each style, and play only one cover, ever.

THE CUD: Talk about your debut EP. As someone who had worked and performed in the music scene for many years prior, how did that experience inform how you hoped the band could stand out with this debut?

L.G: We won an Emerging Artist’s grant for some free recording time down at the Studio at Bondi Pavillion. Top class place to record! We recorded with Nick Mainsbridge, a total industry veteran, who had produced INXS and worked with The Waifs in the early stages of their career.

We wanted to record six songs but wanted them to sound perfect. We wanted to be able to get most things down in one take, with few overdubs, because we wanted to keep it as live as we like to play. But in saying that, fully fleshing out the songs took us maybe two weeks of daily rehearsals. We had limited time, and its not as if you want to waste energy when you are recording. It’s about capturing the fire, the magic moments.

We are really happy with the results. We worked with a great drummer, The Muel, who is a steadfast as his name suggests. I worked with him when I was playing in a band called The Common Wealth. He nailed all the tunes!

Basically, I think it takes a lot of recording experience before you record something you are truly happy with. Something that you can play on your stereo and NOT cringe at. There’s usually something, one thing, that really annoys you after a while. We were determined to make a recording that never had this effect: and I can safely say, I have listened to it many times, and I don’t think I need to change a thing.

The songs are all very strong. I wrote Convict about 15 years ago, and I had never recorded a version I was happy with. I was stoked with how it turned out, and hope it has timeless appeal. Up from the South is a blaster, and really encapsulates the darker country vibe I like to play with. I wrote it while living in my van camping at Clovelly. I used to watch these massive storms roll in from the South…

[At this point Zach and Amy also stopped by to share some thoughts on the new EP]

Zach: I wrote Thief shortly after I had my ‘89 Fender Strat stolen from my unit in Bondi. It made me realise that having your close possessions stolen is no fun. I wasn’t the most well-behaved kid, and used to get myself in a fair bit of trouble. The song is about redemption basically. Thief is a song about how man has the capacity to change.

Gritsta is the story of someone who loves to party but still keeps their day-to-day life together. Set to a fat reggae beat, it features special guest Officer Pickle MC, with his own take on being a Gritsta.

Amy: I wrote Easy sitting on a sunny balcony living in Erskineville. I wanted to capture that feeling of enjoying a perfect summer’s day. Whatever You Like is a slow blues boogie about grappling with the demands of everyday life.

THE CUD: The band’s latest single is called Isabella’s Waltz. What can you tell us about this tune, as well as the shooting of the video?

L.G: This tune is very close to my heart. It’s an old country waltz love song with a twist based loosely around a personal experience… Isabella was the name of my guitar that I’d carried around for nearly twenty years…. The recording is the last song she ever played on… so in a way it’s her waltz. It is a song about love and loss and loving again.

We actually didn’t record it for the EP. An old friend, Daniel Stevenson, produces reality TV, and wanted to try his hand at something more creative. He heard the Gypseas play and really liked the song, liked the flow of it... We discussed a storyline and loosely followed the events the song was based upon. He had to find three dancers/actors who were happy to be in it… and we shot it in two locations: a beautiful old church hall in Manly, and a studio in Artarmon.

The clip was a labour of love. It took eight months to complete. It’s quite filmic and hopefully conveys a bit of the timeless nature of what the Gypseas are trying to do.

We’re all really happy with how it looks and are lucky to have worked with such a great guy. We particularly like the twist in the middle, and have heard many different interpretations of what it all means…

THE CUD: The band recently won the Sydney Country Music Festival songwriters competition. Tell us a little about that.

L.G: That was a great experience for us… It was a real last minute affair. We did the comp on the Wednesday night, won, and they gave us a slot on the Green Stage at the 2nd Sydney Country Music Festival, three days later- election day. It was a great day out at Bella Vista Farm. We played a roaring set and obviously pleased someone, and about an hour later we were being told to get ready to play a song up on mainstage before Troy Cassar Daly. Our drummer friend Muel was playing with us that day and he was already on his way home when we heard we won.  He raced back and slipped on stage just as Zach was sparking up the introduction… priceless! We had an automatic three thousand strong crowd cheering us on.  We could definitely get used to that… and want to play to bigger crowds, with a better sound. Get out of the smaller rooms and onto festivals around the country. It was a great leg up for us and we have already been booked for another festival in Parramatta Park in November. Ironically I have always thought this place would be the best place to sing Convict because this is where a lot of history went down… and the song is about North Parramatta, and what it would have been like to be in chains there…

THE CUD: Does anything especially stand out for you that changed in the Aussie music scene since you first started performing?

L.G: Licensing laws. New venues are popping up all around Sydney at the moment which is really refreshing. Some really great rooms are being set up to create a vibe, places like 505 in Surry Hills, and Lazy Bones in Marrickville, where you don’t have to play over the din of pokie machines and the audience are hip and happy. When I first started playing around Sydney this definitely wasn’t the case. In fact one agency booked gigs for all the venues in town. There were some great rooms but to get a gig you had to go past these guys and they would decide the night. You had to work a lot of successful shows to get a Friday… that kind of thing.

THE CUD: What’s next for the band in terms of music? Any touring or recording plans?

L.G: Of course we enjoy putting on a show for devoted fans who sing and dance along with us, but performing to fresh ears is always a highlight as well.  We’d really like to play larger, outdoor shows as summer is rapidly approaching (and looking to be a scorcher!). We would like to tour up north as well as down to Melbourne and perform in as many venues as we possible can.  We’re really enjoying playing live right now and continually perfecting our show. A recording will follow after we’ve played the summer season.

THE CUD: Feel free to rant away- what really irks you about the music industry today and, in particular, what is being promoted in the mainstream?

L.G: There is so much negative talk about the Music industry and what it entails.  We believe this industry is massive and ever changing and that there’s room for quality music and musicians among all the flash marketing, hype and quick fads. We love doing what we do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. As far as the mainstream is concerned, this is just music that has become popular… maybe we’ll be mainstream one day?

THE CUD: Finally, as in all Cud interviews, seeing as our magazine is called ‘The Cud’- what issue has you charged up and talking most about today?

L.G: We’ve been discussing the implications of the new fingerprint technology on phones and for venue entry.  How much information will they have on all of us?  We feel it’s getting a bit out of hand- Big Brother out of control!

Isabella's Waltz- The Slippery Gypseas

The Slippery Gypseas are Luke Gerber, Zach Abbott, Amy Freeman and Oscar Henfrey. Forthcoming shows include The Bucket Lounge October 3 (Bondi, NSW), Heritage Day at Parramatta Park on November 2 (Parramatta, NSW), and at the Great North Trading Post on November 8 (Hunter Valley, NSW). A tour into northwest Western Australia incorporating country and Aboriginal communities is planned for April 2014.
For all Slippery Gypseas news, gig information, music, photos and more, visit www.reverbnation/slipperygypseas and www.facebook.com/gypseas