Photo by Wes O'Conner
Gypsum an LA post rock band consisting of vocalists and guitarists Anna Arboles, Sapphire Jewell and drummer Jessy Reed. Gypsum was formed after a weekly jam session in 2014 while Anna, Sapphire and Jessy were students at university. Finally releasing their debut album, following their singles "Give It", "Follow Me" and " Lungs". I got to chat with Anna and Sapphire about all things Gypsum, their debut album, and so much more!
Hey! Thanks so much for answering my questions, how are you all doing?
Anna: I’m doing pretty well. Just thinking about what I might eat for breakfast after this.
Sapphire: Also doing well!
What made you want to start a band? How did it come into fruition?
Sapphire: We’d held a weekly “no expectations” jam where we could just play freely and not worry about judgement or how good we were. Eventually we started to write some pretty cool music and talked about forming a real band. Everyone was down and Gypsum was born!
How did you come up with your band name Gypsum?
Anna: One day we all went to the Natural History Museum in LA and walked around their rock exhibit there. We just went around saying all the cool rock names until we found one that worked for us haha.
How did you go about finding your sound? Has it always been the same since coming together as a band all those years ago?
Sapphire: We all bring different influences. We have some common influences that lay the groundwork for our sound but then we each listen to a bunch of other stuff and that adds the special sauce. We never sought out a particular sound, it’s just what arose out of us as we wrote.
You guys will be releasing your debut album on Oct 12, can you tell us more about the creative and writing process?
Sapphire: These songs have existed for many years now. It just never felt like the right time to record them all until now. Each song was crafted in a different way, whether it be one member bringing in a song idea, something fully formed, or all of us spontaneously writing together while improvising in a rehearsal.
What bands/artists inspired you guys during this process the most?
Sapphire: I don’t think we tend to reference that many artists when we’re writing or recording. We had some mixing playlists for specific tones we wanted to capture but I wouldn’t say they were songwriting inspirations, rather pure tonal inspirations.
Anna: Yeah, there are no specific artists to point to. Mostly vibes of certain songs or specific textures. Sapphire said it best. Just pure tonal inspirations.
Do you follow a type of formula when creating/writing songs?
Anna: Nope! It’s different every time. But what makes everything *Gypsum* is the collaborative aspect. There’s a lot of trust in our songwriting process, to bring something in not finished, with the intention of handing it off to someone else to finish.
When writing do you guys write lyrics first, or do you start with the music first?
Anna: I would say usually music. Or more like an idea or a riff. I feel like our songs are built off of riffs and sections more than anything. And we try to glue it together with some sort of lyrical narrative.
When writing songs, are you more inspired by day to day life, or interpersonal relationships?
Anna: Honestly a lot of science related topics. "Lungs" has a lot to do with anatomy. And "Grafting" has a lot to do with the anatomy of plants. But we take inspiration from a lot of places. It’s different every time. There’s not really a particular narrative theme to our songs. Some songs have more of a personal aspect. But, I will say that if anything, Gypsum has allowed me to write songs I wouldn’t be able to write otherwise. There’s a certain freedom in giving yourself to the melting pot of a band and it’s allowed me to explore topics and songwriting avenues I would not have approached otherwise.
You guys recently put out your next single “Give It”, can you tell us more about the story behind it?
Sapphire: I came in with the main rhythm guitar and riff that we ended up jamming over and altering slightly until we were satisfied with how it felt. I also had the lyrics during the break where I sing “why don’t you just give it a chance”? I didn’t really know why I had that idea but it sort of slotted in nicely between the chorus and verses so it stuck. Anna then took the song and wrote some incredible lyrics that created a more fully formed narrative and expanded on the phrase I’d written.
Was the writing and creative process different with “Follow Me” than with “Give It”?
Sapphire: Yes, for "Follow Me", I wrote almost the entire song on my guitar from start to finish and then brought it to the band. As we worked on it together I was also writing the lyrics. Although I started the kernel of both "Give It" and "Follow Me" on my guitar, Anna finished the lyrics to "Give It", while I took the lead on "Follow Me". We also expanded the bridge a lot more in "Follow Me" as a band whereas there isn’t really a traditional bridge in "Give It".
Has being from Los Angeles inspired you guys as not only a band, but as songwriters?
Anna: LA seems to be a hot topic for a lot of people, but I’m not really sure what to say about it. I grew up here, so it’s just kind of the place I’ve always lived. I feel pretty neutral about it. I think it would have to take someone who does not live here to speak to that, or for us to move to another city to be able to answer this more accurately. Feels hard to have a real perspective since it’s so close to me. But! It’s not lost upon me the amount of opportunity there is here for music, and access to things like musical equipment and recording and peers. That is cool.
Sapphire: I moved to Los Angeles from a suburb of Seattle and to me it was a bit of a culture shock. It took a lot of getting used to because it’s just a huge city and I wasn’t used to how harsh that can sometimes be. I think living in a city like LA has forced me to mature a lot as a person and therefore probably write better music.
Has there been any change in your writing since the earlier songs?
Sapphire: It’s always changing. As Anna stated above every song comes about in a different way. The process is always changing and I don’t expect that we’ll ever settle into a singular songwriting process.
I’ve been listening to “Follow Me” non stop! I know it’s a percussion driven tune are most songs on the album going to be like this? What can people expect?
Anna: Jessy is a really fantastic drummer and did a really incredible job with all the drum parts on the record. So if you like percussion then you will probably like this record. I know she’s always trying to keep it interesting and not play the same thing twice. When we were demoing "Satisfied" I was sitting in the room recording Jessy’s drums and I just kinda sat there with my jaw on the floor. I had never heard the drum part solo’d on that song and I just thought it was the coolest thing. But that was a common experience making the recording - hearing everyone’s parts in full detail for the first time haha.
When writing lyrics do you have a certain audience you want to reach?
Sapphire: I don’t think we’re really thinking about others’ reactions or trying to anticipate what a listener might want to hear. We just like to write what feels right at the moment and trust that it’ll belong in the world somehow.
Out of all the songs you’ve all have written, which one was the hardest to write?
Anna: I can’t necessarily point to one in particular, but because we try to push our technique and breach new concepts in our music, it often takes a fair amount of practice to get it to gel. Like "Kaleidoscope" takes a lot of practice. The main riff is in 11/8 so it can be a challenge to learn and count and sing. And "Gull Lake" for as chill as it sounds has some kick patter/bass note partnership and dense harmonies that were difficult to sort out in the songwriting stage. The goal is to make it look easy haha.
We love discovering new bands/artists. Who are you listening to right now that we should check out?!
"Margaret" is a lot slower than the rest of the tracks on the album, can you touch on this track a little more? How did the process come together?
Anna: This is one that was mostly me. I brought in everyone’s guitar parts and the drum part and lyrics and general concept. And we added the bass and bridge in rehearsals. I was really digging guitar parts that were dyads. Something really simple. Just 2 notes at a time. Which is where my main part came in. And I probably looped that and laid the next part on top of it that Sapphire plays. And then just stuck a Logic computer drummer in there. I think the song is pretty simple harmonically. I like a lot of modal stuff. So the guitar interplay is kinda playing a C major chord over a Dm chord. I opted for vibe over musical athleticism. I think the part of this song I’m most proud of though is the extra production that went into it. Most of the songs on this record we just kind of play down, but this one has added sounds. All the sound FXs you hear and the vocal delay are stuff we did analog and recorded back into the session. After tracking I went in an chopped it all up and edited. So that’s how you get the vocal delay and all the reversed sound effects during the bridge and the outro.
"Snow White" is such a clever track, I love the lyrics and how actual bits of the story were included. Where did the inspiration come from?
Anna: I’ve probably seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarves 500 times (you’ll have to call my mom for the real number), so it feels like familiar imagery. I can’t remember this song’s exact genesis, other than I was on a bus to the Hollywood Bowl and I started futsing with the lyrics in my head to distract myself. I feel like there are several angles you can take with this song in terms of gender, the Snow White motif, etc, but ultimately this song is about perception and pining. Something that is just out of reach. The journey of this song is sort of to lead you through the fog through different rooms, different scenes. It clears up in the last verse in the bedroom, but ultimately you fall into the well anyway. There’s not really a hidden meaning to this song. It’s pure narrative. Or is there…..?
"Disappear" is the longest song on the album, and the ending. What made you want to end with this track in particular?
Anna: It’s pretty emo, so.
Sapphire: It felt like a triumphant way to conclude a record that’s been in the works for so many years. We wanted it to shine.
Words by Melody
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