Heading to my interview with GEMS I could feel my notebook burning a hole in my bag. It was full of questions, everything you’d expect, and its predictability was haunting me. When I arrived in Chelsea and walked up to Pastis it was drizzling and grey. Medusa gently swayed from my headphones into my brain, filling my thoughts with the dichotomy of lightness and weightiness. Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being sticks out as a literary companion to the Medusa EP, which for me is an exploration of the weight of experiences which gives romance to daily life, and meaning to the human experience. I crumpled up my interview guide and begged the question – can we just have a conversation?
Bowlegs: There are all these references to weightiness in your music, like ‘sinking stones’ and ‘it’s a brief world’. The way that life passes you by quickly and moments are always slipping away from you imbues passion into what you experience. It’s a philosophy (or a natural process) that separates people who live their life in a heavy way and a light way. Do you feel your music is heavy?
Cliff: Not to be morbid, but I’ve thought a lot about how death gives life perspective. I think it’s definitely a theme in our music. When we both first met we really connected musically, and talking about music, and how music does certain things for you – and the things we got out of music. One of the things that sticks out for both of us is music’s ability to transport you, to make you feel like you’re in another place and time, but also gives you the view above the normal daily grind, giving you perspective. Do you remember that Steve Jobs speech that was all over the Internet? One of the things he said was “you have to look at yourself in the mirror every day and say, ‘if this were my last day on earth is this how I would spend it?” And if you’re answer is no too many days in a row then you need to change something about your life. For me following music was that moment. I hit a point in college where I knew I had to do something differently.
Bowlegs: Well it’s so easy to not do what you want to do, especially something that’s difficult to find success in. Speaking of how you started pursuing music, I know that you both had different projects before you got together. Was there a moment when you both knew that this was what you wanted to pursue or did it just start happening?
Lindsay: When we met each other, I joined his college band briefly but it was at the end of college and that disbanded pretty quickly. Then it was just the two of us and I asked myself, “well, do we keep doing music or what do we do?” It just seemed like the most obvious thing. I don’t think we thought about it that much.
Bowlegs: What were you studying at the time?
Lindsay: I studied music actually and Special Ed.
Cliff: She got her masters in special Ed. and I graduated with a degree in Spanish, but I also studied psychology.
Bowlegs: Another concept I’m intrigued by with you guys, and a lot of other emerging artists in the musical climate today, is reception. You put a song out, it’s suddenly rotating the internet, and it’s on blogs. People who record a track in their bedroom can suddenly find fame. Do you guys feel like you’re making it? How are you feeling now – what’s a day in your life?
Lindsay: I feel like every day it goes up and down. It’s easy to get caught up. I try not to get too emotional about it – highs and lows, because sometimes we’ll get a really good write up and then sometimes nothing happens and I feel bad.
Cliff: It’s the difference between people coming out to a show, so it’s important. But Lindsay doesn’t really read the reviews.
Lindsay: Unless Cliff is like “you should read this one”.
Cliff: It’s helpful to be aware and be like “oh this is how people are seeing our music”.
Bowlegs: There’s such a small divide now between the artist and self–proclaimed critics.
Cliff: I thought your write-ups were really thoughtful about us. I really appreciate that. I feel like a lot of blogs are just recycling and regurgitating.
Bowlegs: It’s all so fast and no one is really paying that much attention. Artists come and go so quickly, so it’s what I’m interested in asking you. How do you feel you stand in that world? It’s interesting that you don’t pay too much attention. Where do you see yourself in a year?
Lindsay: I want to tour Europe, that’s a goal
Cliff: Definitely a lot of touring. We’ve done touring with other bands and we’ve realized that touring is a lot better when there’s a lot of people at your shows. Playing bigger venues with nicer sound systems. That’s a big thing with us, because when most people go to a show they don’t think, “oh that band was great the sound was just terrible”, they think “that band sucks”. So we want the best experience for people if they come see us, we want to have really good sound; we want to play shows that we would want to go to. That’s been a big thing with GEMS- let’s just play shows that if we were in the audience we’d want to be there. It’s been really encouraging that there’s been a good response, it’s made the world of difference because now we are playing shows where there’s a bunch of people. We want to keep touring and playing more, we just have to wait until the timing is right, so we can do it and it can be a good experience for people.
Bowlegs: It’s really important with your sound to have a good and clear system. There are so many nuances. That disconnect between that dreamy sound and the heavy bass is so invigorating and it can be lost so easily. Do you guys have new music in the works, or a full length planned?
Lindsay: We have a lot of new music in the works. We have this problem where we don’t finish songs- we have like a bazillion unfinished songs. It’s been really liberating to just put a song on Soundcloud. Because we finish a song and it’s like we feel right about doing this right now. And then we do it.
Cliff: All the songs we put up for GEMS are songs we finished like the day before or right away. It’s been very immediate. I think it’s important because otherwise we work on something for too long.
Bowlegs: Yeah, you get too critical.
Lindsay: I do it every time.
Bowlegs: With creativity you just have to let it go
Cliff: Yeah and Soundcloud has been so great for that. Just to be able to put something up and to get a response. You spend so much of your time as an artist working in a vacuum, and until this past year, I think we had been working on stuff together, writing songs together for a long time, and nobody besides friends were hearing them – and we were like ‘what the hell are we doing?”
Bowlegs: Of course – is this any good, does anybody care?
Cliff: That’s not why we do it, but it is nice to see that.
Lindsay: It is though! It is about connecting to people, I want people to enjoy it, and have it mean something to them.
Cliff: Before GEMS we were definitely experimenting with different ways of writing songs together. We played some shows, not even as GEMS but trying different material out, trying different set ups out, playing with a drummer, playing with different things, and one thing we figured out fast was that we’d written songs, kind of like story songs, about fictional characters, and especially when we played live it just did not feel right.
Bowlegs: It didn’t translate to your audience?
Lindsay: I just didn’t like doing it! It just didn’t feel authentic.
Cliff: Lindsay was like, “I’m not gonna do it, I don’t want to play those songs” and I said, “we have to dig deeper. WHY don’t you want to?” And we got to the bottom of it. She didn’t feel authentic singing. So we decided that with GEMS it all had to be very real. It had to be personal, from our lives. The other thing I figured out from the Internet is that anytime you have an idea, or are thinking anything, there’s like thousands of other people just like you having the same thought and it’s crazy! The good thing about that is that if you can react to that, and create based on that then people are going to connect to it, because you can just kind of assume that people are going through that at the same time.
Bowlegs: It comes down to how people articulate it, and how we can connect to that. How did you guys get to the sound that you have now?
Cliff: It’s a long journey I guess. And it feels like we’re still like constantly evolving. I don’t think we ever feel like we’ve arrived. I mean, we’re trying to get better every day, and with every song that we write. This year has been a big breakthrough for me, in that I’m learning how to record and produce, and I think it has been for Lindsay as a singer too. It’s been a big thing – Lindsay finding her identity as a front woman. And I never thought I would be making beats and doing production. We didn’t have any money so we had to figure it out.
Bowlegs: Sometimes circumstance creates genius.
Cliff: I definitely think limitations are important for creativity,
Lindsay: I guess that was a part of how we came up with our sound – it was like we only had so much stuff. I feel like when you write a song it’s like “you could do anything!” The key is trying to rein it in and like let’s use these kind of keyboard patches, and this kind of guitar playing.
Bowlegs: It’s funny that you say you don’t feel like you have arrived. I feel like that is something that is interesting about artists- when they don’t think they’ve arrived- they are always building and constructing – and meanwhile, to your audience, it’s a completely different experience.
Cliff: I feel like in our own heads we’re always like projecting into the future. I think in your head you always have to project where you want to be and what you want to be trying to achieve, the frustrating thing about that is that in your head you’re always out there, and in reality your back here. It’s that disconnect – that distance can be hard to deal with sometimes. And it can make it difficult to enjoy what’s happening and your own creations.
Bowlegs: Well, are you guys having a good time right now?
Cliff: Yeah! I had a lot of fun playing last night. Yeah definitely for the longest time it was just the two of us, and now we have like a booking agent and a manager and that’s really awesome. This is our baby, and ultimately we’re the ones responsible for it, but it’s really nice to have professionals and awesome people who are on board and really supportive in helping us handle that stuff- that’s been one of the best things that’s come from people passing songs along online.
Bowlegs: Are you guys still living in DC?
Cliff: Yeah, we kind of bounce around. All of our stuff is kind of at our parents’ houses back in Virginia. We’re definitely planning on hitting the road a lot this year so I don’t think we’re going to have a permanent address.
Lindsay: For the longest time I was like “we have to live somewhere! We have to have a place to our own!” But I kind of got used to it now, I like not having a lot of stuff.
Bowlegs: Yeah it’s liberating in a way. I get a sense from your music too, that you are searching- the process of creating music is liberating for you, or it’s a process of the weight in your own lives- Would you agree with that?
Cliff: I know where you’re going with that- there’s thing within bouncing around a lot- staying with friends and relatives and often in not ideal spaces and situations, and you feel pretty creatively draining to be in some weird basement in the suburbs somewhere. But I remember having a moment where the two of us definitely have a musical chemistry and a chemistry of creating stuff together. I think that wherever we are we can make space that’s our own. Whether it’s in music or photographs. I mean all of our press photos up until now-we just did a photo shoot with someone and that’s the first time we’ve taken them with someone else – but until then we did them ourselves. We’re just trying to create a fantasy, and trying to create something that keeps the magic alive.
Bowlegs: Well you are creating an image in a lot of ways, it’s a romantic escape and the images fit really well with your sound. What did it feel like having like a professional photo shoot?
Lindsay: Actually it was this guy that had contacted us, Danny Lane. He was awesome, really great vibes. Sometimes it’s weird when you get in touch with someone on the internet and when we were driving there I was just thinking, “I hope this isn’t too weird…”
Cliff: But he had e-mailed us with his stuff and we were like ‘oh this is good’ and it aligned with our vibe and he was awesome, chemistry was good, pictures turned out great.
-Interview by Rick Marcello-
-Photo by Danny Lane-
-Originally published on Bowlegs Music Review.