It’s seven months since the release of Gypsy & The Cat’s second record, The Late Blue, and Xavier Bacash is in the mood for reflection. “I’m happy with how it turned out,” says the DJ-turned-vocalist about album number two. “But I’m not happy with the reception of it.”
Ah yes, it’s those second album blues – and Bacash seems to have swallowed an unhealthy dose. 2010’s Gilgamesh spawned ‘Time to Wander’, ‘Jona Vark’ and ‘The Piper’s Song’, singles that garnered the band considerable attention and airplay. The Late Blue has not hit the same note.
“Tame Impala are probably the only [current] band I can think of whose second record has pushed them further forward… I felt like it was the right time for this record, but it hasn’t done as well as we would have liked.”
As interview subjects go, Bacash is honest – more honest than most. He’s unassuming and considered, and he speaks about The Late Blue less with anger than with disappointment. After the bounding success of Gilgamesh, this one has hurt Bacash – and the feeling is contagious. Hell, in the band’s eyes at least, it’s downright better than their first.
“Musically, technically, everything about it,” Bacash reckons. “If this was our first record, maybe it would’ve been a bit different.”
“We always knew that this was going to be a transition record, and that people who had listened to the first one were going to be a little freaked out. And through the commercial radio play we’ve received from a few of the [Gilgamesh] songs, there’s probably a whole stack of fans we could afford to lose, that weren’t fans that come to the shows. A lot of indie bands – like Tame Impala and Bon Iver and whatever – have those fans that have invested in driving those careers forward, and making sure they keep buying their records and they’re interested in what they do.
“It just shows you how fickle commercial exposure can be to a new band. On one side it’s been really disappointing, but on the other side we’re still getting heaps of fans on Facebook and a whole new [set of] fans. I guess instead of doubling our fan base we’ve swapped out a lot of fans that probably aren’t positive for us moving forward.”
It’s back on the road, then, to do just that. Bacash, collaborator Lionel Towers and their band have spent the recent months playing showcase gigs Stateside, but with the Australian winter comes a new run of dates across the country on the ‘It’s A Fine Line’ Tour. The Late Blue, at least, has injected some newfound life into Gypsy & The Cat’s live show. Its sonic palate draws much more from organic melodies and acoustic drums than before, and the effect transfers to the stage.
“I guess there’s a bit more freedom, there’s less on the backing track and you can have more of a dynamic – light and shade within the song, and better variation from the record to live,” says Bacash. “When things are very electronic, like on the first record, it was pretty difficult trying to translate without feeling like we were putting everything on backing tracks and just pressing ‘play’… I guess on this record we were conscious, writing the record, of playing it live.”
Not that the duo approaches its live shows with relish, exactly – Bacash usually feels more comfortable in the surroundings of his family farm in rural Victoria, where he set up a recording studio some 18 months ago to cut The Late Blue. “We’re pretty private, Lionel and myself, we don’t really like – we didn’t go to the ARIAs, we’re not interested in that competitive side of music. So it’s kind of weird playing shows because I feel like there’s this huge expectation. We had such a successful first record, so there’s always pressure when you announce a tour to sell it out, and the media expect all this stuff from you…people are just waiting for you to fuck up, really. So it’s nice to be in the bubble up at the farm.”
Still, one inspiring asset the band picked up on its American excursion was visual artist Yr Friend Matthew, AKA Matthew Caron, who shot the video for ‘It’s A Fine Line’ in Los Angeles (witness Bacash dancing like his hero Ian Brown in the clip: “He probably has more of a swagger than I have. I met him – he was the nicest, most down-to-earth dude I reckon I’ve met in music”). Caron is also working on the visuals for Gypsy & The Cat’s live show, continuing the band’s habit of jumping into bed with talented artists.
“I guess we’re just lucky enough to get the right people who are very, very good at what they do involved in what we do,” says Bacash. “We like to be thematic with things, and this new artwork and the film clip especially is kind of a link to our next record, which we’ve been working on, so it’s all very deliberate. We never just solicit ideas from random artists – we go after people we really like.”
It’s all part of the band’s dedication – a stubborn one, perhaps – to the old-fashioned album experience. “We sell more records than we sell singles, so we feel like we’re an album band more than a singles band. And from the experience of having singles on commercial radio, it’s felt like, yeah – we want to have really strong songs and songs that need to go on radio, because especially as an indie band you have to have songs on radio to keep propelling your career forward, but we weren’t desperate to do that. We’re more focused on having an album package that makes sense and is interesting as a whole.”
It’s hard to find fault in Bacash and Towers’ commitment to independence and freedom in their art. It’s the reason The Late Blue is out on their own label, Alsatian, rather than on a major label deal like Gilgamesh was. Bacash confesses that’s probably a key reason for The Late Blue’s underexposure.
“It definitely made a difference, because you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars being chucked at things,” he says. “The major record labels spend so much money yelling at people about how good something is than actually [on] the quality of the product they’re yelling about. It’s hard to compete. So it’s really important to us that we find the right fans, which it felt like with this record we’re doing – sure, we’re not making millions of dollars like some other bands, but it’ll all be worth the wait soon.”
If the payoff is to come with Gypsy & The Cat’s next release, expect it to arrive early in 2014. “We’ve been writing and we’re probably halfway through it, in terms of instrumentals,” says Bacash. “We’ve learnt a lot off the last record and the record before that, so it’s been a really easy process actually, writing [our third] record. Hopefully it will do pretty well – I’m pretty confident that there are some songs that might do alright, but you never know (laughs).”
BY CHRIS MARTIN