Music

Having released their debut EP in 2015, Danish four-piece Gäy has since been M.I.A.. Living in Copenhagen at the time, frontman Asger Overgaard moved back to his remote hometown soon after, Grenaa, short on funds having ditched school and been kicked out of his accommodation.

Isolated and still, Grenaa stands alone: bordered by deep forests and roads that act as sprawling escape routes. While the seclusion frustratingly diminishes the band’s opportunities to play live, this withdrawal has not resulted in stagnation.

Experimenting with obscure chords, techniques, song structures, and hallucinogens, Overgaard’s isolation has proved a catalyst for deep-thought, while a lack of studio funds mean songs stew, ferment, and evolve. Alongside lyrics written in states of over-thinking and under-sleeping, Overgaard has unlocked a sound that has long seethed beneath the surface: a transmission of chaotic energy in an otherwise static town.

Alex James Taylor: So you’re originally from Grenaa in Denmark, can you tell me a bit about growing up there? Am I pronouncing it right?
Asger Overgaard: Yes, it’s Grenaa, the umlaut gives it an ‘o’ sound at the end. It’s a quiet, small town by the harbour. As a child it wasn’t so quiet, I mean, I had a lot of friends and we went out a lot as there wasn’t the internet back then, so we’d be outside playing. But it is a small town with not many people. But I think it’s gotten worse with time.

Alex: In what way?
Asger: When I was small I remember lots of life in the town and now it’s more like, you know, you go out and there’s not a soul. It’s mostly forest all around.

Alex: Do you explore the forest?
Asger: Yeah, I walk there all the time. You can get lost in them if you don’t know your way around, but I go a lot so I don’t really get lost. I’ve done acid out there a couple of times at night which left me feeling pretty lost, but in a good sense. The trees are mainly deciduous trees and conifers, but if you ever find yourself in an acid state those concepts don’t mean much; a tree can be any tree, if not anything that’s lurking in the subconscious waiting to manifest. There are also a lot of small villages in this area and most of them have forests nearby or surrounding them, some of which are much bigger than the one in Grenaa. My friends and I went to some of them this year and collected a lot of edible mushrooms and sold the ones we didn’t consume ourselves to local restaurants, so we had free food for a while and also earned pretty good money.

Alex: How come you moved back to Grenaa from Copenhagen?
Asger: No money for rent. The school I went to started getting boring, so I just stopped going to school. Then I got kicked out of the caravan where we lived, like a little trailer. The whole band lives in Grenaa at the moment.

Alex: What’s it like there in terms of music, are there many venues or bands?
Asger: No, no. There are no venues at all, so when we play we usually go to Aarhus and Copenhagen. There is one venue in Grenaa but it’s like big, top Danish musicians playing there. There’s not really anything new happening. Although there is one place where the people from this gymnasium try to make concerts and festivals but it’s not really working if you ask me.

Alex: So how did you get into music if there’s none around?
Asger: To begin with? I don’t know, I guess it’s always interested me as a person. But the band, we started playing in 2011 or something, I can’t remember, to be honest, I have a bad memory [laughs]. But music has kind of always been with me and it’s the same with the others in the band.

Alex: Did you all meet at school?
Asger: Well we had another bassist once, my father was his teacher in school or something, and I became friends with this guy and he introduced me to our drummer and guitarist. We actually started playing blues, we had a blues band and slowly we just wanted to make a different kind of music. I think we stopped playing for a year or something and we were holding a birthday party for my friend and our drummer Thor had never played drums before. I started playing one of my songs, you know, there was an audience, it was in this garden and we’d set up a stage, and he just played very great. Very simple, like a child or something. So I asked him if he wanted to play my songs and he said sure.

AJT: So you played London back in 2014 and you released an EP around then, but you’ve been pretty silent since.
AO: Well, we’ve played a couple of concerts and we’ve practiced a lot actually, but you know, this town where we live, it’s kind of far away from Copenhagen, about four hours. I guess we could maybe go there more and play but it’s difficult to organise this. We play like one concert each half year, or something like that, so it’s not that much.

AJT: Sure, so you must have lots of time to write and perfect songs?
AO: That’s true. Although I normally get my inspiration at like seven in the morning when I haven’t slept yet and it kind of fucks up my rhythm.

AJT: Yeah, they say that you tend to get your best ideas in that state of semi-consciousness as that’s when your mind drifts and you forget about all the benign things.
AO: Yeah, I believe that. That’s when I often get my ideas.

AJT: Do you have lots of new tracks that you’ve worked on then?
AO: Well we actually have like… the stuff we play now, it’s practically only new songs. I mean, maybe we’ll play one or two of the old ones, but the set actually changes every time we play because we have new songs all the time. We definitely want to record some songs, but we need to find a better studio. We’ve been recording on and off, I have about ten recordings on my computer or something that never really got finished, but I want them to have proper sound, so I don’t want to waste time and energy on a half-hearted try.

AJT: And has your style changed since your EP?
AO: Yeah, I guess. I mean, I still enjoy writing that kind of simple song structure, I still do that every once in a while, but we have also started experimenting more with different chords and structures. Especially lately, we have a lot of far-out songs, I guess you could say. But we never really get them recorded, the only ones we have on the internet now are songs we’ve recorded with one microphone and then we make layer upon layer. We’ve always wanted to go into a real studio to do it properly, but, you know, we never really seem to get the money collected to do that. We had a couple of chances to do it for free but we kind of blew it [laughs].

AJT: In what way? 
AO: You know, we just had a couple of offerings to go to different studios to record but we had no money to travel, and we didn’t have a bassist at that time either. So we just kind of missed it. I don’t know, maybe the offer still stands.

 

“They put handcuffs on both of us and he just kept fighting against them, so they took him in the car and put him in jail for one night, and then a lot of bad things happened so he had to stay for forty days.’

AJT: You spoke about experimenting with new sounds and techniques, did anything in particular influence that?
AO: Well I guess everything that we do kind of dictates what we make in our music. But yeah, I’ve been reading Carl Yung and this Red Book that he made. I’ve been reading that a lot lately and it’s kind of a psychedelic book, I guess you would say. It’s very scary to read [laughs]. His ideas always seemed interesting to me but also very abstract and difficult to grasp. I’ve always had vivid dreams and as a child, I was haunted by extremely vivid nightmares and I guess this has sparked my interest in dreams, the paranormal and the construct of reality in general. The Red Book mostly consists of conversations between various characters, each representing fragments of Jung’s whole being. It’s hard to understand whether these conversations happen in dreams, visions or under the influence of mescaline, but my guess would be that it’s a mixed bag. I think that this book is mainly notes and experiences that became the groundwork for his later well-known individuation process, and it’s clear that he himself during the writing of the book suffered a lot of the same symptoms that he later tried to help many of his patients with, often seeming like on the brink of madness but always coming out on the other side with a sense of meaning and purpose. His theory of the collective unconscious and his concept of synchronicity is really fascinating to me. The idea that our lives to a certain extent are being determined by things we rarely seem to be able to grasp or understand, like little puppets of divine or hellish intention. I’ve also always been fascinated with Danish philosopher, Kirkegaard – at one point he wrote 50 pages of explaining why Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the most brilliant piece of genius ever created in the realm of music. I enjoy reading but I have to kick myself to do it. ALEX Yeah, I’m the same. I used to read a lot but lately, my attention span has diminished – I suppose it’s a common issue amongst our generation. ASGER It’s a shame. We’re used to the iPhone and computers to always take our attention and take our focus away from what’s actually happening around us.

AJT: Absolutely. Yung has a theory about how people have this persona that is the image we want to present in public – like a mask – and then we have our shadow, which is the hidden side where we store all our anxieties and thoughts we don’t want people to see. I suppose that’s something that relates to musicians in terms of presenting a side of themselves through their music and figuring out which elements to keep to themselves.
AO: Yeah, I think that is a common thing with musicians, channelling aspects of themselves through the music. I suppose I feel that too. I’m a perfectionist with lyrics, especially because I made the chords to begin with, so I usually make the music first and then I write the lyrics. I make a conscious decision to sit and work on the lyrics, but sometimes they won’t come, so I have to wait for them to emerge by accident. I often write ideas down on my phone and suddenly they fit perfectly into other sentences I’ve written down. I have lots of sentences, words, and phrases on my phone, some make sense, others not so much.

AJT: And what about musical influences?
AO: I listen to a lot of country at the moment, like Lefty Frizzell, for example. There’s one song in particular that I just can’t get out of my head, and I hear it constantly, The Reverend Mr. Black by The Kingston Trio. That and Claude King’s Wolverton Mountain, both are just terrific. I’m also a doo-wop archaeologist; I think I have over 3,000 doowop songs on my computer and I get these obsessive periods where I do nothing but dig up doo-wop. The Companions, The Temptations, Four Tops, they are all great. I also love most things Phil Spector touched pre-1980’s, the depth in his productions and also the songs he wrote are heavenly. I wish we still had producers like him around. Maybe I should send him a copy of this article along with a MacBook to his prison cell and pay him some dough to help us out with some proper recordings.

AJT: Definitely, Spector’s work has such a unique sound, you know a song is his from the moment the first note rings out. We’ve previously featured several other Danish bands, like Iceage and Pardans, as well as Posh Isolation record label, and there seems to be a common sense of intense camaraderie within each band or project. I wanted to know if you see this too, from an insider’s perspective?
AO: Yeah, I see what you mean. I don’t know what it is, it must be Danish soul or something [laughs], like Northern Soul. I see what you mean about a common link between the three of us, but it’s not really a conscious thing, from my part anyway. I’m just writing songs in the way that I’ve always done and then I bring it to the others and see if it works, and if not, we try to make it work. But if you look at the structure and subjects of our songs compared to, let’s say, Pardans, the songs don’t have that much in common; but the presentation of the songs maybe has some similarities. I must admit feeling sick to my stomach from being compared to Iceage in the past and personally one of the reasons I moved from Copenhagen – other than lack of money – was because I wanted to be more creatively free to do whatever I wanted, and not having to worry about what everyone else was making and if what I was making sounded too much like it. I kind of felt strangled in expectations, because we suddenly came from Grenaa and sold out big venues and people told us we would be the ‘next big thing’, you know.

AJT: Sure, I get that.
AO: So at some point we needed to retreat from all the fashion and bullshit that seems to go with music, just to feel that love for creating again. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice guys from what I know, same goes for Pardans whom we played with a couple of times, but I never saw us as being particularly related musically to any of them. Maybe our early stuff, which is the only stuff that’s out, has similarities to early Iceage, I don’t know. But I did notice when I came to Copenhagen how the music that I thought I was alone in loving, actually was loved by a lot of the people making music, including the ones you mentioned. So one element in the common link between us must be that we all have a love for forgotten music from the past, maybe that’s one explanation.

“I have lots of sentences, words, and phrases on my phone, some make sense, others not so much.”

AJT: It’s funny you say that. I did wonder whether – because Denmark doesn’t quite have the musical history of say, the UK – young bands feel a greater sense of freedom as there’s more space to carve and define a new sound?
AO: Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right. I’ve never thought about it that way before. Although we do have a couple of older Danish punk bands, like Sort Sol who are a 70s band from Copenhagen, and there is also a new wave band from Aarhus called Kliché, they are really great. But I don’t know, I think a lot of this Copenhagen-based punk, I think they used to listen to Sort Sol when they were younger and they spring from the same environment. Also, some of their children have kind of grown up to also become musicians. But no, it’s right, we don’t have a Beatles or anything like that.

AJT: But having moved back to Grenaa it must be tough. I suppose you have to constantly save money to travel in order to play. 
AO: Exactly, it’s difficult. We’ve talked about moving for a long time, to Copenhagen… Well, I can’t decide. I think our drummer wants to go to Copenhagen, but possibly we’re getting a new drummer soon. I think we all want to go to different places. I’d like to go to another country. I’m 25 so I’m the oldest of us all, I think Thor, the drummer, is 23, Jonas is 22 and our bassist is 21.

AJT: What’s happened with your bassist, you mentioned that he’s in prison at the moment?
AO: It’s nothing serious, it’s just a stupid situation where me and him were drunk and the police kind of assaulted my friend. They put handcuffs on both of us and he just kept fighting against them, so they took him in the car and put him in jail for one night, and then a lot of bad things happened so he had to stay for forty days.

This feature was originally published in The HERO Winter Annual 2019.
Follow Gäy here.