Interview & Review: Gengahr @ Rough Trade

Last Tuesday (4th February 2020), Rough Trade Nottingham played host to London indie rock/pop quartet Gengahr for an in-store performance and signing in support of their recently released third LP Sanctuary. This record saw them take their sound to new highs, combining the best elements from their previous two albums and evolving them to create something that sounds refreshingly new whilst also maintaining their distinct style – something that I was very excited to see live.

They kicked off their set, which mostly consisted of new material, with the single Never a Low. The droning bass and keyboard on this track in combination with the incorporation of a sampler and the classic falsetto vocals of frontman Felix Bushe really encapsulates their evolution as a band from the guitar driven A Dream Outside and Where Wildness Grows in their earlier career to a more varied and developed sound.

Atlas Please– a personal favourite – was next up and didn’t disappoint. The piano hook before the chorus sounded really good live and really energised the weekday evening crowd. The next tune was Icarus which boasts one of the dreamier openings on the record, and live the slightly more upbeat choruses in contrast to the verses sounded grand.

"The fusion of their very distinct sound with one of the most prolific modern rappers was something to behold."

Songs from their previous records were few and far between with it being a show in support of their new record. Unsurprisingly though, what they lacked in quantity was more than made up for in quality as the band then moved on to Before Sunrise, the opener from 2018’s Where Wildness Grows. Next was the undeniable classic She’s a Witch from their debut A Dream Outside. These tracks, in contrast with their new track Everything & More which followed, really demonstrated their evolution as artists and their breadth of their talent.

Ensuring the audience were kept on their toes, Gengahr gave the biggest curveball of the night in the form of a cover of LOVE by Kendrick Lamar. The fusion of their very distinct sound with one of the most prolific modern rappers was something to behold. They closed out their set – which felt like it had only just started – with the irresistibly funky Heavenly Maybe which was recently featured Radio 1’s main playlist. This number was really well received and was the perfect closer to the short set that one could only wish was a bit longer.

After the show, The Mic was fortunate to be able to sit down with frontman Felix Bushe for a short chat about the new record, their writing process, the upcoming live shows and their plans for the rest of the year.

"We don’t want to turn into Coldplay."

Our chat began with Felix laughing ‘We don’t want to turn into Coldplay’ after talking about how they’re enjoying playing the new material live. He confessed that he is reluctantly playing more keyboard than he would have liked due to the majority of the new tracks being written on the piano. ‘It was kind of an inevitability that I would have to play more as we don’t really want to put loads of stuff on backing tracks…it’s just important that we find the right balance, it’s important that it still feels heavy enough live.’ With the tendency for their live shows to be a bit raucous sometimes – something he later reminisced on when he mentioned a ‘Very, very sweaty sold out show at The Bodega back when we were touring our first record’ – one can see how this is important.

‘I’m really enjoying playing Never a Low live – it’s really fun for me to sing. We’ve also been rehearsing for our tour that starts next week (first date is Thursday 13th February @ Band on the Wall in Manchester) and it’s been good to see the new tracks all coming together nicely – I’m excited to see how songs like You’re No Fun and Anime turn out and are received – I think people are going to get down to them at the shows.’

Bushe went on to mention that most of the writing for the new record was on the piano, naturally taking the conversation onto how the writing process works. ‘We try not to keep a set way of working so that we can produce different end products and avoid becoming too formulaic.’ Furthering this he says ‘It’s quite varied really – sometimes the guys will send their ideas and I’ll work on them at home on my own, other times its vice versa where I’ll develop some ideas then bring them into the studio and they will add their own bits.’

"The best way to grow as a musician and producer is to learn from others."

One of the best things about Gengahr is that there aren’t many artists that sound quite like them, something that Felix mentions when asked about some of the influences behind the new record. ‘I was listening to a lot of sir Was, a Swedish artist, who I think sounded really cool around the time the record was written, so for songs like Never A Low which were written on the piano, I was trying to think how to make this sound cool as I think it’s something he does really well.’ In terms of the record itself thematically he says ‘It’s very much an insight into my own state of mind at the time of writing and we just hope that as the title suggests it offers a sanctuary from everything going on and it’s something we hope resonates with people the more they listen.’

On this new record they worked with Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club with whom they had toured last November in support of the 10-year anniversary of their debut I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose. ‘Having Jack as a producer on this record was really nice – he’s such an easy going, laid back kind of guy. We had a lot of fun making the record with him.’ He mentions that it was quite an informative experience as well as ‘their (His and Jack’s) way of working was quite different, and it was nice to see how other people work so you can kind of take elements of what they’re doing and apply it to your own work – it’s the best way to grow as a musician and producer – to learn from others.’

Image courtesy of Jade Vowles

Whilst Felix admitted that touring and making sure that more people hear the new record were going to be chief priorities with them potentially planning more UK tour dates later on in the year, he also said they would like to make time to potentially do some writing. ‘We’re very independent now – we recently changed our deal structure so that we have a lot more control over the stuff we make. Our relationship with the label is not a very conventional one – we are very much in control of what we produce. I’m currently very happy with the way things are going.’

With their upcoming tour taking them to all corners of the UK, Europe and beyond it is set to be a very busy year for the band. Having already announced they’re playing the relatively local 110 Above Festival this August, it won’t be surprising to see them on stage at many other festivals around the world this summer. Who knows what’s next for Gengahr?