The Glitter Will Never Dull: An Interview with
The Gunga Din
Seattle is quiet and gray, and I feel like I’m getting closer to home. Not where I’m from, but where I’d like to be. New York. So I feel a bit surreal as I head into the darkness and leopard print that is Graceland on a Friday (Good Friday, strangely enough). Under the bridge and over the gutters, and I slide into a booth with Siobhan Duffy, singer for New York band the Gunga Din. I’m not alone, ‘cause I think alone would make me nervous… it’s always intimidating to talk to bands that make me feel…
So with a tape recorder in front of me and a photographer (thank you Niki!) beside me, I attempt to talk, fighting off the feeling of an oncoming rock n’ roll crush (crash).
Okay, first off, I was wondering why you moved from Tractor Beam to Jet Set.
Well, Tractor Beam Records is basically a one-man operation, Dan. He has a real job, he was managing another band, but he was the first one to say “yes” to us… and Jet Set were the second ones to say “yes.”
Did you approach Jet Set or did they come to you?
I think Bill [Bronson, vocals and (heart wrenching) guitar] approached them with the first record, but they said they weren’t signing anyone at the time. Still, they would come to shows, and they already knew about us, so they decided to be nice and put out the second one for us.
I noticed that Richard Kern shot the cover art for your first album (Introducing the Gunga Din). Is he a friend of yours? It seems like a good New York connection there…
He’s a friend of Bill’s, actually, and I guess Bill talked to him and he basically did us a favor. I still think he takes better pictures of people with their clothes off, but it is a cool New York thing.
Do you have a big New York following?
Yeah, we do… from the very first show we had a show. People liked us.
Sounds like you’ve opened for some pretty amazing bands, like Nick Cave…
That was a year later, but everything did happen very quickly. We were together for two months, had a show, then two months after that we were on tour opening up for Jonathan Fire*Eater. We played a few times every months after that… just kept going. It seems to move fast.
So where are you in the tour at this point? Beginning, middle… end?
Right now? [sighs, shakes her head, camera snaps] It feels like it’s going on five years.
Where to after here? Are you heading back east?
[big grin] We’re heading to Iowa City.
I don’t know about that… I’ve driven through Iowa and it doesn’t seem like there’s much there… actually, I don’t really think about it much anymore. After the first couple of days you just give up looking at the itinerary and are just like, “Where are we? Where are we going?” I don’t even know what date it is.
Do you amuse yourselves with music on tour? Get sick of homemade tapes that get played too many times?
We all listen to different things. Chris [Pravdica, keeping the lines of thunder rolling smooth under his bass] usually has stacks of Motown, I have a lot of different things. One tape that’s made it through the past two tours is the Public Enemy record. We just heard that again. We all listen to so many different kinds of music. Indian soundtracks are a must, but we’ve never really listened to the Swans or the Bad Seeds… any of those bands.
I wanted to ask about the drumming duties… Jim [Sclavunos, keeping the heart beat] was doing just percussion on the first album and you were drumming, now he’s moved on to full-time drums and you’ve moved front and center…
I decided it was time to stand up and sing. There was also difficulty in getting the sound mixed right with the vocals and the drums, and also I couldn’t play too dynamically. Had to just keep it steady on the drums, and couldn’t do too much. It was funny… while recording it was really hard to not sing and drum. Then we got Jim in, which was really convenient for us because he knew all the songs, since he produced our record.
So… who produced the second [Glitterati]?
We did. It was just us and an engineer.
It sounds different than the first one, it seems more… not over-produced, but smoother, cleaner. The first one sounded much more raw.
[total surprise] Rock? You think the first one had a rock edge?
Raw… like… like meat… [west coast battles east in a one word accent collision, confusion, laughter, we continue.]
Ahh, raw. Yeah, well part of that is because we only had eight days to do it in, so we didn’t really have time to smooth over any rough edges, and also the engineer on the first record wouldn’t let us go near the board. The second album, we had a different engineer, and he really helped produce it too. It was a better studio, more hands on for us, and we could get a bigger… I think it’s a bigger… sound. We also had a whole two weeks to record and mix and master. So that’s a couple of extra days.
So how are the other bands on the tour? You’re playing with Joel Phelps here…
We don’t really have much of a say at this point, but that’s okay… as long as it’s not dark and gloomy gothic stuff.
Had enough of that?
I don’t know… on this tour we’re finding… I mean sometimes… I think we sound like a Southern rock band. We’ve played with a lot of indie rock bands, but I don’t think we’re indie rock. A lot of people say something like cool cabaret, or that loungy thing, and that juxtaposed with Southern rock… there you have it. Actually, Southern rock, it’s only one song that makes me think of that, but…
So… Southern Lounge?
Yeah, [laugh] Southern lounge. Some deep dark place in the backwoods of a Louisiana swamp.
[photographer: You played with Bright Eyes didn’t you? How was that?]
We did… in St. Louis. I really liked them, and I think there were more people there for them than for us. St. Louis just wasn’t into us, I guess. They’re also one of those young cute boy bands… [wicked grin]… if you like that kind of thing…
So what are your plans for the future?
Just write better songs and keep on playing. We live pretty much day to day; we’re all your usual starving struggling musicians. We’re young yet, though… we love music and we’re just going to keep doing it. I still feel like we’re really new, I’m still trying to get to know these guys… we’re just a bunch of [long pause…] perverts, really… I’m finding out on this tour.
The interview ends, the show is about to begin. It doesn’t matter how good it was talking to Siobhan, when the band takes the stage, I am speechless and in awe. Maria Zastrow shines, dancing snakelike and seductive over the organ, the guitar winds around my throat as the bass holds my arms back and the drums take the place of my pulse. Siobhan floats from heaven to hell and back again, carrying us away on waves of that low-down Southern lounge, whiskey-soaked cabaret shadows, dancing like light, searching the shadows.