NMR Interview: Gypsy Chicken
One of my favourite albums from the last 12 months has been the Gypsy Chicken release ’13 Billion Years’. An anti-folk band known for their offbeat, quirky style, and their use of every instrument and household implement they can lay their hands on, we’ve been speaking to Solvei and Joanna (also known as Asia) about pretty much everything we could think of….
NMR: OK, so firstly it's an obvious question, but how did you guys meet? A Polish / American duo in Norway, it's a lovely combination and that little bit different?
Joanna: ''That's a bit funny. In February two years ago I and my boyfriend at the time made Tinder accounts to see what’s new haha. And he matched with Solvei, we invited her over for music (!). And then jammed a couple of times.''
Solvei: ''Ahahaha I can never not tell the full story exactly as it is. We both came to Tromsø chasing boys. She met Daniel, from Tromsø, on chat roulette and moved here 6 years ago. I took a semester abroad in Tromsø in 2015 and fell in love with an Andrew from Russia. Him and I were going to meet back up here in 2017 to start a life together. He backed out of it and never came, but I came anyway and I matched Asia’s then-boyfriend, Daniel, on tinder. Daniel invited me over to their place to jam. After two jams, I asked Asia if she wanted to compete in Bukta Battle with me. There was an age limit to the competition; she was under, Daniel was over. She said no. The competition was in 6 days. But then she sent a message the day after changing her mind and we threw together three songs.
In my mind, we had no chance of winning ahaha. That wasn’t the point. I’m kind of philosophically opposed to turning music into a competitive thing. I just tend to say yes to whatever interesting opportunities show up, and it’s fun to be on stage. I imagined we would play, not get past the first round, and go on with our lives. But, somehow… we won! That still seems impossible to me… I don’t think I had even looked at what the prize was. 10 000 NOK, 2 days of professional studio recording, and a spot in the concert line-up at Bukta festival. I guess the band just got thrown into existence with this.''
NMR: And the name Gypsy Chicken, who’s responsible for that? For a while I wondered if it might be a play on words / letters involving a Psychic Ken, but it’s nothing to do with that right?
Joanna: ''Solvei, that's for you haha''
Solvei: ''Ohhhhh I have never noticed that you get the word psychic out of Gypsy Chicken! Whoa!''
Well, some months after I moved to Tromsø, I got a message from a local booking agent who had seen me play at the Tuesday Bastard jams. He told me about Bukta Battle and suggested I compete. I had just come to town and didn’t have a band… I asked if I was allowed to compete as a solo artist? They said that was fine. All the same, I made it a mission to try and at least put together a duo. However, EVERYBODY SAID NO, and eventually I had to submit a name to the competition. I still hadn’t given up hope of finding somebody, so I needed something that sounded like a band, but could feasibly represent a solo project, worst case. I came up with three options and told the dude making the posters to make the decision. He picked Gyspy Chicken. And happily, in the very last moment, I dragged Asia into the whole thing.
The creation of this band has depended on a long chain of very coincidental events out of our own control… everything happened in such an improbable but exactly necessary way, and now it feels it couldn’t be any other way. The band name is no exception. The words appeared in my head on a whim, got sent off alongside other suggestions to a faceless email stranger; this unknown person made a decision… and now it feels like we are all the time discovering what the name means instead of having created it ourselves. In general, we like that the name sounds ridiculous on the surface, but contains darkness and controversy on closer inspection.''
''The creation of this band has depended on a long chain of very coincidental events out of our own control… everything happened in such an improbable but exactly necessary way'' (Solvie)
NMR: This is great, because I cant help but think that with the Tinder thing, and the race to put a band together for the competition, there’s a comedy Feature Film just waiting to be made about this. When the film happens, which it will obviously, who would you like to play each of you in the film?
Joanna: ''Haha. comedy movie. Sounds like my life indeed. I have a terrible memory to names and faces so I don't really know many actors. Anyone with a cute polish accent and bowed legs will do for me haha.''
Solvei: ''hehehe a lot of self inflicted disaster comedy runs through my life. maybe that's why I write the way I do. I would want somebody that nobody's ever heard of. I think often a star-studded cast distracts from the story. And there's so much talent out there.''
NMR: Watching you perform it seems like you guys were born to be in a band together. So if you can try to think back to that happy day when you first met, what did each of you think when you met the other?
Joanna: ''I actually first have heard Solvei’s solo songs on Youtube and I loved them. After I met her, I remember talking about how amazing it is to hear someone so close singing so well. I was also not lured by her happy-go-lucky attitude and was a bit wary. I guess I am usually wary of confident people haha''
Solvei: ''It feels like we were born to be in a band together haha. I have a terrible memory for details, but as I remember, I had talked a bit to Daniel on tinder and understood that I was going to be meeting some creative, interesting, and philosophical people. Upon meeting them, everything immediately felt very natural. We jumped into deep and dark conversation and found an easy musical current to follow when we picked up instruments. I felt at home with them and free to be my most unfiltered version of myself. People like this are hard to come by. These early band days were heavily influenced by the special atmosphere created by the three of us. Asia and Daniel are still good friends and he plays bass on some of the album.''
NMR: So how do you start to write a Gypsy Chicken song? Is it just a chord or do you have a definite topic you want to write about? Or does it all happen by accident?
Joanna: ''It varies a lot. Sometimes I have lyrics and the melody, and we arrange things together and build on that, sometimes it is the opposite, sometimes Solvei gets inspired by the melody line I wrote and starts writing lyrics on the spot, we often jam, record on the phone and build the song from there.''
Solvei: ''I would say by accident haha. The process is always different. Sometimes we start with lyrics, sometimes with chords, sometimes with a definite topic. Sometimes Asia writes lyrics and I put melody to it (Spinn, Lucy, Edda & Eve). Sometimes Asia shows me something mostly finished and I add a twist (Clockwork Universe, Diabetic Broken Heart). Sometimes I bring something mostly finished and Asia fills in the spaces (Roulette). Sometimes the whole process is an inseparable co-creation, an unidentifiable mush of back and forth idea bouncing (Kamikaze Paper Planes, Telephone Wire, Dinosaur Mayhem, Go’dag Goodbye Adieu).
I suppose something that makes it specifically Gypsy Chicken is the content of the lyrics. This is probably what we discuss and edit and critique and discard the most. The way we approach the music is kind of opposite… anything goes. No idea is too simple or too crazy. And the point is the fun of it, of making whatever we want to, with whatever imperfect tools we have.''
NMR: You mention lyrics. What’s your favourite lyric line that the other one has written?
Solviei: ''Oh this is a great question. …I think the opening lines from Clockwork Universe are pretty great. “I don’t believe you own your choices. You cannot pick what you prefer.” I guess I like them because I’m not sure I agree with them. Asia is deterministic. I believe a lot more in choice, so the words spark a resistance in me. This is the song she started singing with. Before it I sang everything, even if she wrote the lyrics. But when she showed me this one, I both loved it and refused to sing those words hahaha. I'm in full control…''
Joanna: ''....from the album it would have to be Dinosaur Mayhem: “So I’m not gonna match my socks today // Some purple and blue, maybe a dinosaur too // I’m trying something new and we’ll see where it takes me” From the unreleased songs: “On a fickle hearted fault line // Where does the fault lie? ” But really she writes so much, it is too hard to choose.
NMR: I love the line about the 'fickle hearted fault line'. What was clear from your online streamed concert, and your answers today, is just how much fun you guys have when playing your music. Is it always like this, and if so how do you get anything done?
Joanna: ''Yeah, we are very silly and giggly when we write, but we also take this project very seriously. I think we have found a sweet spot where we can enjoy the whole process and that is precisely what helps us to stay motivated and creative.''
Solvei: ''Well, we have a very very very hard time practicing what already exists haha. So in that sense we don’t get much done. We laugh a lot, talk about the world, cook each other food, and follow rabbit trails of new ideas. I try to jam with every musician I meet, and I’ve never met someone with whom it feels so easy and natural to create.''
''I think we have found a sweet spot where we can enjoy the whole process and that is precisely what helps us to stay motivated and creative.'' (Joanna)
NMR: Also I’m guessing the recording process must have been hugely enjoyable. Can you each tell me your favourite memory / moment from the studio?
Solvei: ''Oh it was an amazing experience=) Dinosaur Mayhem has one of my favourite memories. We had been recording all sorts of silly things: paper, scissors, bottles falling, etc, and at the end of the day we were listening to the thing… and everybody agreed it needed tuba. So I posted on a Facebook page, Musikere i Tromsø, and asked if there were any Tuba players available in the next few days to pop by the recording studio. A young guy named Georg answered. And recorded the Tuba you hear=))) We were so grateful and happy that he was willing to play, and he replied something along the lines of “as a tuba player, you see posts all the time asking for drummers or bass, maybe guitar… but when is there ever a post that specifically needs tuba? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Joanna: ''Studio is hard work. I get much more nervous recording in the studio than playing live. But you are right, there were a lot of fun moments. I think my favourite part was recording Dinosaur Mayhem, where we were coming up with sounds to sneak into the recording and consequently made Martin play the scissors, throw stuff on the ground, rip the paper and rhythmically click with the pen.''
NMR: I love the story about Georg. Actually one of the things I like about your album (13 Billion years) is the array of unusual instruments and sounds that you use. How many can you name in 20 seconds.... starting now...?
Solvei: ''hmm… organ, ukulele, bass, washboard, saxophone, tuba, violin, all of Martin strange percussion instruments, scissors, claps, paper, kazoo, party horn…''
Joanna: ''kazoo, party horn, saxophone, out of tune organs and violin, tuba, soprano ukulele, baritone ukulele, tenor double string ukulele, guitar, bass, and all that drums Martin used, did I miss anything?''
NMR: I think you missed scissors, although Solvei could be making it up…….I think she just wins 13 -12. I love finding out what people are listening to, so what’s your favourite album at the moment, or albums from the last 12 months?
Joanna: ''I recently rediscovered Tori Amos “Boys for Pele” the album I listened to a lot as a teenager. Also one of my favorite bands CocoRosie released the album this year “Put the Shine on”. But in general I am not a big album person. I listen to a lot of things and like to have variety and jump from some weird folk, through Tool to some polish indie.''
Solvei: ''I love this question, because I put so much value on albums as a complete piece of art. I mostly listen to entire albums, almost never pick and choose songs. These are the three I’ve been listening to on loop lately.
Fetch The Bolt Cutters - Fiona Apple
Miss Universe - Nilüfer Yanya
Electric River - Dirtwire''
NMR: I spotted Moddi on one of your playlists, did you know that it’s all his fault that Nordic Music Review started? And if you bump into him, can you remind him he owes us money for a parking ticket...?
Solvei: ''What! Haha cool. I met him in the artist tent at Bukta Festival the year we played, but I had no idea who he was. He introduces himself as Pål. He was super nice and gave me a ride home. Someone told me he was the headliner some time later. Maybe that random act of kindness can clear his debt ;)''
Joanna: ''Oh I love Moddi, but I am yet to meet him personally.''
NMR: Yeah....Moddi is just such a nice guy, and maybe it’s not entirely quite 100% true that he owes us money for a parking ticket, it’s actually a little closer to 0% than that – certainly now after such a lovely gesture. But anyway aside from Moddi, given you love jamming with every musician you meet, who would you most like to jam with?
Joanna: ''hmm. I think you can learn from anyone, that is the beauty of music and really any art form. But I would love to see the CocoRosie's creative approach (did I mention they are my favorite band). And also Patrick Wolf, hoping he would let me try all of his instruments.''
Solvei: ''I've discovered that what musicians mean by jamming varies wildly. I like long explorations of something simple. Someone starts with a base element, the next one fills the spaces, and the builds and changes based on what people add and take away. It requires some mixture of patience, stability, adaptability and creativity. People who are able to jam like this, Asia for example, are my favorite. And I guess I have it in my head that Alice Phoebe Lou jams in this way. If so, I would choose her. If not, maybe I prefer to stay in my illusion that she does haha.''
NMR: I know it sounds difficult to believe from these questions, but I’ve been doing some ‘research’ into the band, and I spotted the existence of Gypsy Chicken t-shirts a while back. Do these priceless items still exist? And can we buy them?''
Solvei: ''There are some left with our tour buddies in the US, the Mooncats. But I have no idea what sizes haha. Lots of large I think. We will make more… eventually…''
Joanna: ''Ah, we were thinking about getting a proper merch, as soon as it happen we will let you know.''
NMR: Oh the Mooncats, I think I saw a great little video of you (I think, I can't find it now...) with them on a hill performing a song, that must have been a pretty fun tour?
Joanna: ''The tour was really amazing. I was at a really low point before that and it gave me a new energy and optimism. It was so much fun to play music every day, hang out with friends and jam all nights. Mooncats are privately as charming as their music. I used to hang out with them all the time after the shows, and it turned out I can outsocialise (that is probably not the word) Solvei, who may seem as a more outgoing type on the surface.''
Solvei: ''It was definitely a very successful tour and I'm very proud of it! And the Mooncats are champs. I never want to tour the US without them. But I don't drink much, I don't like socializing in big groups or in noisy places, I like healthy homemade food, I like going to bed early, and I hate the actual process of traveling. Ahahaha so I'm not built for touring and I felt pretty alone and out of place. Also, I feel a lot of pressure to make time for all my American friends and family that I only see once a year. So I feel pulled in too many directions. I'm excited to eventually tour Poland. Hehe, I won't feel obligated to see anyone!''
NMR: You mention Poland, and know you were supposed to go there in the summer to play, I assume this has been put on hold due to the virus? What other future plans do you have for gigs and recording?
Solvei: ''We were going to tour Norway in May, Poland in the summer, and the US in the fall. Haha, it’s all cancelled. But that’s ok. We have time to actually earn money instead. Both of us work as substitutes in daycares (kindergartens? 1-5 year olds anyhow. good source of inspiration).
We just had a very cool gig playing at a masters graduation ceremony for the Faculty of Biosciences, Fisheries, and Economics. Because of corona the ceremony was digital, and they asked us to make 4 videos to place throughout the program. Because it was well-paid, we were able to do the project with Martin, our drummer, and Ellery, our sound guy! These videos are dropping have dropped Youtube this week. Regarding recording, we’re hoping we can pump out our next two albums soon. It’s mostly a matter of money.
Joanna: ''Yeah, no big travel plans for now. We may play locally when the situation gets better, and we have those Youtube videos that Solvei mentioned. At the end of the year I hope we can work on the second album. The songs are written so it is just the matter of time.''
Thank you so much for your time today, it's been great fun. We look forward to more videos and a double album or something…. oh and try come to the UK for some gigs too, its really tough to get them but we know you’ll find a way!
You can find Gypsy Chicken on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. You can also find the above mentioned Mooncats here on Spotify - I've just been listening to them and they're a lovely band with great lyrics, and I promise I'm not just saying that in the hope they'll send me a Gypsy Chicken t-shirt....