INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
1883 OCTOBER 25, 2016 - by Will Hawkins
THE GIFT FEATURING BRIAN ENO
Forming back in 1994, Portuguese band The Gift never fail when it comes to providing us with fantastic, new and innovative material. With their new single Love Without Violins featuring the legendary Brian Eno and the award-winning producer Flood, we talk to the band about their new material and future plans.
From running their own label to creating their new music video, The Gift have achieved a lot in the last few months, let alone in the last twenty years.
Their new material is non-genre specific and introduces us to a fantastic innovative new sound. We got the chance to chat to band member Nuno Gonçalves about their shows and recent experience of creating the new album, working with the fantastic Brian Eno, read on to find out more.
So let's start off with the new single Love Without Violins, what can you tell me about it?
Well, it was one of our greatest experiences as we worked with Brian Eno in the studio. It is a song that doesn't have a classic structure, it's not verse, chorus, verse, chorus; it's kind of a long intro and also a long outro with the voices of Sonia and Brian Eno.
The voices are quite similar but have their own textures, my work over there was to just try to experiment with the sound of it and try to build the instrumental parts so that the voices could fit on the building up structure. It's also a song about un-classic love, which I think is a good message.
There's a lot of different synthesizer sounds in the mix, how did you discover those sounds?
Since the Gift started in 1994, I've been a lover of analogue synths and I'm always looking for the perfect sound and the perfect shape. I basically thought that it'd be interesting starting with a very low, deep but also present sound and then build up the synths with the voices.
When working with Brian, not just on this song, there were a few situations that were interesting because we used a lot of samples from normal situations of our day-to-day lives.
One day he asked us to go to a forest to find sounds for the studio, so a lot of the percussion that you hear is based on sounds that we got from woods, rocks, small pebbles etc. It's great that there is a big contrast between the natural sounds on the recording and the electronic sounds. The mixture creates a unique experience in terms of soundtrack I think.
What is the meaning behind the lyrics, does it relate to contrast between nature and electronica?
The lyrics are about a relationship that has a dominator, so it's basically just love without violins.
It's definitely not a shared love; it's one-sided love with the person on the other side using it to be, richer for example. It's kind of like The Pet Shop Boys' "I love you, you pay my rent" of nowadays, we didn't even think about that when we were recording though, last week I heard that song and I thought, well, this is similar to Love Without Violins.
It's definitely not a love song but somehow it also is because it is about unfair love, which is still love in ways.
How did you begin creating the song?
The first step was building the first sound, the bass and the unison crescendo of the bass, very minimal. Then Sonia started with the melody and the almost demoniac voices on top of layers in front of layers.
On the second part with Brian, we lost a lot of days picking up the right harmonies, so basically Brian tried to put chords on a big board that we had in the studio. I remember that we spend almost one morning chopping around from chord to chord; it was a very unique moment because we were playing chords without any sense, but suddenly we found that a few of those nonsensical chords made sense for us!
Does Sonia have a particular lyric writing process?
Well I live in Madrid and Sonia lives in Lisbon so we exchanged a lot of emails, so during the creative process we are always exchanging emails and ideas.
I must say that during the twenty years we've been in a band, when Sonia wants to create something, she knows exactly what she wants and it's always accurate so it's lovely to work with her.
When creating music, we rarely lose time on Sonia's process; she is very good at doing that kind of stuff.
Let's talk about the new music video; what is the idea behind it?
The idea behind the video was more aesthetical than a story, though it tells a story at the end. We basically fell in love with this artist, a Portuguese artist who creates statues with leather. I think it's also a strange relationship to have a statue of a beautiful woman and classic rough leather, a really strange relationship, which went along perfectly with the song.
The director is somebody who we've worked with since 1999, so it's somebody who knows the aesthetic of The Gift exactly. The styling of Sonia was also very well done I think.
In the last section, we basically recreate how the artist creates these great statues that are seen in the beginning. So yeah, it's more aesthetic than for telling a story, but I think that for this song we needed something more visually strong than a story.
I mean, definitely. [laughs]
I personally met Brian in 2010, I think it was in Brazil and we were both seeing some expositions and met there. We started to build a friendship and suddenly we were spending holidays in Vigo, Spain.
Brian wanted to show up to a concert of The Gift and he instantly fell in love with the band, we also fell in love with Brian so it was only a matter of time. We've spent the last two and a half years just experimenting.
It's not just the production that was done by Brian; he also shared the composition with me, and the lyrics with Sonia. After that we brought in Flood for the mixing, suddenly we were working with two of our biggest influences over the last few years, Flood and Eno together and enjoying working with us. It's definitely one of the greatest experiences we've had.
Then we had the process of recording the record, Brian Eno is probably one of the brightest minds that I have ever seen or spoken to in my life so waking up and having him by the bands side is just amazing. We are so happy to release the single and I think that the album will be just great!
Did he introduce alternative methods of creating and writing music?
Definitely! Taking us out of our comfort zone was the first step.
I remember that once we were recording a new song and Brian was in Bali with Damon Albarn and Alt J doing research, a week later we were in a studio in Spain working and he decided to put some African rhythms and guitars into the sound of The Gift.
I think that twenty years ago, if somebody told me that we were using riffs of African guitars in our songs I'd think they were out of their mind!
Sometimes, it's good to go to a place that you've never been before so that you can open your mind a bit, it's a great way to create things because you're outside of your comfort zone, but you take the things that are outside of it and become in power of your comfort zone entirely with an open mind. We trust Brian and he trusts us, so it was a perfect match.
The new single was released on your own label La Folie Records, what can you tell me about the label?
Well, it was back in the '90s in Portugal and we were completely out of the market because we were singing in English, we were also following an abnormal aesthetic so it was difficult to find record deals.
At that point we decided to open our own label so that we could have the freedom to experiment however we wanted. We could experiment with the sounds that we wanted and we have the freedom to create our own shows and our own photo shoots. It gave us control of everything and I think it was a perfect example of DIY back in 1994.
I think that La Folie records is the perfect label for The Gift because it's managed by The Gift; we can do whatever we want without having to agree to timings or numbers! We can do whatever we feel is artistically good for our project. I think we need that freedom, especially in 2016.
Do you ever find that it gets overwhelming?
Definitely yes, sometimes you don't have much time for your family or your friends but it's just the way that we started to work. We weren't forced to work this way, promoting ourselves in Portugal during the '90s was crazy! But now we have a lot more structure, we now have more time for our families in good will and it helps our artistic tastes, it's great!
Right now it's a lot easier than it was back then because nobody knew of us. I'm really happy with the team of PR that we have exposing us in a lot of territory so I think we are getting there.
You mentioned that the single is part of an upcoming album, what can you tell me about the project so far?
The album is more or less done, we only need to finish one or two more mixes. We're so excited because this record will be completely different to any of our other ones. It's good to have a 20-year-old band and to still be excited by a new record.
The excitement behind this new record is because the sound that we are creating right now is really fresh and really unique for us. After twenty years it can be difficult to get motivated by things but I think that working with Brian and Flood was definitely a way to keep that excitement that we had in the first years. In some ways, we feel like this is a new beginning.
For me, the excitement that I'm having with the new record and in promoting the new record is almost like the excitement that we had twenty years ago when we recorded our first song so it's great. I think it'll be great!
Your sound has changed tremendously since the beginning of your career as a band; did you plan for this to happen?
We are not a band that uses formulas and I think that it's good to inspire ourselves with new things, new technology, new keyboards and new approaches to the concepts of a song.
This time we were fortunate to have Brian Eno and Flood, which made things more interesting because we could experiment more and we had more heads thinking with us so it's definitely a step ahead on our sound.
What were the key influences behind Love Without Violins and the new material?
Honestly, I don't think that there is any group or artist that could influence this sound, it was something that was really intuitive. The majority of songs that we heard when we were working with Brian were soul classics from the '40s, '50s and '60s, which has never been a direct influence.
We were not thinking about influences, we were thinking about shaping the songs that we were creating and trying to create a sound that was aesthetically constant and I think that the record is that. It's a good trip around the new sound that we've created and we're very happy with it.
It doesn't fit with ordinary structures; I mentioned at the beginning that we tried to avoid normal structures in classic pop, that was one of our main goals and I think that you can hear that in Love Without Violins. I like the idea of changing normal ideas and a lot of the album is about that I think.
When can we expect to see the new album?
In April it will be released, I think that until the end of the year it is just getting things mixed and mastered. This Friday we are going to New York to shoot another video clip, that'll probably be released in January, so it's getting there!
I think it's good to build a release because although we are very popular here in Portugal, Spain and Brazil, I think it's good to build up our name and sound so that we can arrive in April with good press and media feedback.
Then we can release the record and have a world tour to show our selves on stage, the stage is definitely our natural habitat.
Yeah, and you've played some huge shows and supported some big names, what is your favourite show you've played to date?
I think our experience with The Flaming Lips back in 2004/05 was probably the best experience for the band because Wayne is such a character and he was so lovely with the band.
Do you have any big upcoming live shows?
We have a few shows here in Portugal because we are closing a big tour of the twenty-year anniversary of the band, then in January we will play Eurosonic Festival in Holland. We will also play SXSW, the last time we played there was in 2000, so sixteen years since we've played there and it'll be a great experience to play it again.
I think that until the release of the album we will definitely play in some other territories!