- This article first appeared in Drop-Magazine, in 2014
Dreams have long been a focal point of social and scientific intrigue. They are places of whim that warp and twist time, providing a platform for us each to be quietly and temporarily insane in our beds every night of the year. So vivid are dreams hallucinatory capabilities we can sometimes wake having flown, fought, yelled, seen, heard, touched run and swam in environments that appear so completely real, it comes as a surprise to wake up in the bed we lay down in some hours earlier.
Unfortunately though, dreams do not always serve as the tranquil escapes from the chaos of our conscious lives we would like them to be. Too often they are havens of shadowy and perverted fantasies which appear from the recesses of our cognizant selves, seizing their moment at night to frolic in the bright light of our undivided attention. As Freud says, if you dreamt it, you thought it — and as such, dreams are inescapably candid reflections of self.
Dreams are liberating and frightening; introspective, seductive, scary, without pretenses or intrusions and where anything can and does go. Given the revealing nature of these sometimes twisted delusions, it’s lucky for most that dreams are private affairs. But imagine for a moment dreams were shared amongst dreamers. What would it look like? What would it feel like? What would it sound like?
One contender in the ‘sounds like’ category is the delicate and textural sounds of Giselle.
In a stroke of good fortune, we don’t need to fall asleep to enjoy the barely lucid sounds of Giselle, but yet, the feeling lingers that her sound only tips a toe into our world, preferring to exist on the peripheries of expectation, just beyond the sight of our minds eye.
Her music blooms and flourishes in depth and intrigue all the whilst maintaining a restrained innocence in the intricacy and deliverance of her vocal range. Juxtaposed with deep and unexpected melodic elements that swell with dark undertones, the resultant body of work is a harmonious sound in which the lyrics hug the ebb and flow of the melody, as if they are natural extensions of the musical structure that support them.
Giselle is a multi-instrumentalist mathematics major, who after a break from music is once again back in the studio. Her quirky and whimsical brand of a dream pop has captured attention in the past, most notably as the song writer and voice on Flight Facilities song ‘Crave You’.
Ahead of the expected release of Giselle’s debut album in early 2015,we caught up to talk about her unexpected propulsion to fame as a college student, what it means to be a traveling musician, cryogenic caterpillars and the intersection of science and music.
Thanks for taking the time.
No problem, thanks for inviting me!
So, tell me. You are from Sydney, but now living in London?
Yeah, and tt was the last place I said I would ever live! I was like, that place is such a rip-off! No way I’m ever going to live there, but no, it’s been really good for music and meeting my guitarist, Luke Saunders, so I’m glad I came. I put an ad in the paper, Luke responded, and now he helps me with the live performances.
I have just watched the songs on YouTube you recorded live at Dalston Studio’s. The pairing seems to be working pretty well?
It’s really cool. The best bit about the live aspect is that it really helps develop the songs. My ‘Carry the thought’ track used to be quite complicated. The lyrics are from this Australian Poet who my mum met when she was out in the country somewhere, and they are so strong they were competing with the music a bit. But through playing it live I have been able to figure out what are most important bits of the song and boil it down, which has given it more integrity. It’s not trying to be anything it isn’t. It is just a very simple idea, but it seems naïve and really honest, which I like.
Is that true of all the music that you are making at the moment?
I wouldn’t say so, no. That is the most minimal song of mine for sure. It is quite hard to get a song that minimal. It is essentially the sediment. It needs time for it all to settle and get into place, because when you first write a song, it is at its most chaotic. Songs are like sculpture. You start with a block of wood and you have to chip it away.
Nice analogy! In writing, it reminds me of the Mark Twain quote, ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” — It takes time to create something minimal and succinct, doesn’t it?
So why London? How have you ended up there?
Well, I started off in Berlin last year. I was half way through my science degree at University and I was sitting in a mathematics lecture. I was talking to the guy next to me about being a musician and he said ‘If you are a musician, why are you sitting here?!’ and that question was the beginning of me beginning to ask myself that question. Why the hell am I avoiding music? Why am I staying with the safe option of school then university and the normal path of things?
So, within a month I had suspended my course in Sydney and have finally decided to do music full time. It was quite a hard decision, but actually, I always knew I wanted to do music. It was just a confidence decision I guess.
So you were studying science and then dropped it to pursue music. Do you think there is an intersection between science and music?
I think science and music are both magical.
When we were kids the world seemed like a magical place and I was so in love with fantasy and storytelling and the extraordinary, and both science and music have those elements to them. The magic. There are so many magical things about the world, but the way humans have constructed their lives means we have moved away from recognizing the extraordinary. As an adult, there is quite a lot of drudgery. There is a lot of shit you have to get through, but I still feel the same way about music as I did as a child, even though a lot of other stuff has changed. I still don’t fully understand music, so it has retained the magic for me and is something that is really precious. But as a scientist, music is such a strange thing; I can manipulate sound waves that travel to your ears and make you feel something. It is bizarre. But that is one of the coolest things about it. Nobody really know how to define it, or what it is, or how it came about, it is just this really cool thing that is kind of otherworldly.
And that is why I get really pissed off when people write un-authentic music. They are taking advantage of this magical thing, and then it is shit again. It is making music into advertising and putting it into the drudgery and the boring part of life.
So in summing that up, I think music reminds people of the magical parts of life and how it works in weird ways. Which science does as well.
Can you tell me about your music/song writing process?
I used to get most of my inspiration from writing music. From the textures of instruments. The character of an instrument would inspire a song and that was really useful.
What do you mean the character of an instrument?
It is like a voice. For instance, the Cello has such a deep, rich voice. Because of this, it is hard to not write a song with deep rich, expressive lyrics. I mean, try write a pop song on a Cello, it is not really going to work out, is it?! (laughs)
But it’s interesting how texture can inspire tonality and tonality can inspire melody. And different notes can sound better on some instruments because of the harmonics. But I had to adjust my approach to song writing because when I moved overseas, I had to leave all my instruments behind, which was a bit sad. When I moved to Berlin (before moving to London) I stayed in different peoples apartments when they went on holidays, so I was travelling around and had to travel light. I had just acquired a Koto in Sydney, which is a really cool Japanese harp, and was just starting to fall in love with it, but it is huge so I couldn’t take it with me. It’s like a surfboard. So to cover for the loss of my instruments, I now use a lot of software. I have got my nerd on and got really good at using Ableton. And now, I spend a lot of time trying to putting character back into the artificial sound, just trying to keep that human element to my music. But with software, you can layer two or three instruments to make an entirely new Tambar, for instance.
I have spoken some people who find it intimidating that the computer has so many options; It can be daunting having a blank page on Ableton. But a physical instrument gives you so many restrictions.
How do you make it work?
If you have an idea of what you want to achieve when you start it is ok. So I have been going on YouTube a lot and trying to find a piece of music that has been recorded on a crappy handy cam in Mali or Morocco or in Asia somewhere. It is best when the distortion of the video creates this atmosphere and the people performing don’t know the camera is there, because those pieces have a nice feel to them. Sometimes they will have a strange melody and I will become obsessive and listen to it over and over again. And sometimes that is where a song can begin.
So how is the debut album coming?
It’s going really well I think — I am quite introverted, so moving overseas has given me a lot of time to myself and you don’t have to feel guilty about that. You can be in your own space and you don’t recognize anyone on the street. You feel so small in a big city. It is kind of surreal. But good.
Do you have a release date?
I want to release it in February or March. But I am still figuring out how to do it, whether with a label or do it independently. I have normally done my past releases independently which has been ok, but I am really bad at self-promoting, so I would need someone to do that on my behalf I think. But I hate when people start talking about how you are going to brand yourself, which a label would do. It’s kind of ridiculous. On top of spilling your whole heart and story into the music, you have to be something else as well. I am definitely not pop star material, so we will see how that goes. But as long as I am making honest music I think that is all that matters, because a lot of music today is trying to sell you something. I know you are trying to sell me a love song, I know you are trying to sell me that you are happy and just want to dance, but I don’t buy it.
It’s important to be authentic.
So that is a look into where you are going, but a lot of people reading this will recognize you first and foremost from the Flight Facilities single, Crave You (released in 2010). You have departed a long way from that track, but really, it was a shot in the arm for your fame. We are now almost 5 years down the track from that release, so reflecting on it now, how do you feel about it?
I feel like it was completely unexpected. It has helped me a lot and given me a lot of confidence; I would probably still be studying science if it hadn’t happened. It proved to me that I can write music that really affects people.
It’s actually pretty incredible. The longevity of the song — It still gets radio play, it still gets new iterations and remixes and they still tour with it. However you’re not really involved in it are you? They have somebody else singing it?
Yeah, they got Kylie to sing it.
Kylie Minogue?! Woah. Did they?! (laughs)
Yes! (Laughs). I know, I know. It’s really strange. They were actually thinking of replacing me with her when we recorded it, but decided against it. She (Kylie Minogue) now sings an a capella version of it though! But it’s quite embarrassing really. I wrote those lyrics while I was at University and I put them at the back of a drawer. I just thought they were so cocky, I would never put them into one of my songs. It wasn’t me. But when flight facilities contacted me to write a topline for those chords, I was kind of like, ‘Ok, Flight Facilities. They haven’t released anything yet. Nobody knows them. I’m not going to put MY lyrics into it, so I can probably get away with using the ‘Why can’t you want me like the other boys do? They stare at me while I stare at you lyrics. Nobody will hear it!’. (Laughs). And now of course it is HUGE! Maybe because I wrote the lyrics thinking nobody will ever hear them, it has that element of honesty that people connected with. It was a dark secret.
In the Flight Facilities song, you wrote and performed. But is purely writing music (and not performing) something you would consider?
I love writing so it would be awesome to just write all the time. But I quite like performing. I suppose the worst part of performing is you are not creating anything new unless you are fully improvising. You are trying to recollect a memory of what you made, which is not as exciting as creating something new. I went to a show the other day and I was talking about George from Seekae, and he was saying that people approach him after his shows and speak to him as if they have just had a long deep conversation together. Because when you watch a show, you feel like you are connecting with the person up there, even if the person up there may have no idea you are even there! It is powerful performing and really, the role of the performer is to make the audience feel they are part of the performance.
There are still performers that are introverted and they go up on stage and they will be this character they need to be. Almost schizophrenic. Then they will go away and recharge.
What are you doing in your spare time?
I have so much spare time. I cook a lot. I like food. I have been watching lots of film which has been really good. A lot of Jim Jarmusch films. I find them really honest and otherworldly. They are really awesome, he is a big music fan. He has Tom Waite’s come on his films and he tries to involve the music community in his film. His characters are really human and flawed and nice.
Something that I like doing — what sort of animal would you be?
Well, I would want to live in a really nice eco-system. So it would have a really nice view all the time. I’m not sure though….
I wouldn’t want to be this animal, but it is interesting. There is this cryogenic caterpillar and it lives somewhere so cold that it doesn’t have time in one season to become a butterfly. So it eats as much as it can, then it goes under a rock and freezes. Then when spring comes around it thaws again and it does this cycle for a few summers before it has enough energy to becomes a butterfly — I think that is pretty cool. And I mean, who doesn’t like cryogenics?
(Laughs) I love cryogenics! Thanks for your time Giselle.