A few years ago I was desperately trying to find a band to play at a gig I was organising. Remembering that Burgers of Beef had helped us out in the past I contacted their lead singer, Chad. He told me the Burgers were unavailable but suggested his newer musical project, The Gizzards. Without knowing what I’d got myself into I booked them in. It turned out to be Chad alone on stage wearing a red cape, with a guitar, a rig with a couple of keyboards, and a Nintendo DS piping out bizzarre, lo-fi indie-electronica. I was confronted at first, then intrigued, and ultimately; greatly entertained.
After that I grabbed a copy of his self-produced album, I’m Just a Man With a Tool in My Hand, and discovered that behind the quirk and abrasiveness (as endearing as that could be) there was some great songwriting. I eventually became a big enough fan of the album that I made two (suitably lo-fi) Gizzards videos in my spare time.
Now a second Gizzards album, Man Probes the Universe, is ready for launch. I thought I’d ask the man in the cape a few questions, which he kindly answered in between parental, professional, and musical duties …
Thanks for joining me, Chad.
You are welcome Andrew. Thank you for taking an interest in The Gizzards.
First up I want to clarify something; Your act is called The Gizzards, and more than once you’ve used the lyric, “We are the Gizzards”. Yet when you perform, it appears to be just you on stage. Am I missing something?
Well observed sir, here’s the scoop – when I first dreamed up The Gizzards I had this idea that I was going to do all the writing and recording myself but tell everybody it was a real band with real members. I had this whole elaborate scheme cooked up where I was going to use these photos I had found someplace of these really camp looking cowboys and say that these guys were the band. I was going to give them all names and personalities and conduct interviews with them. This is the reason I was singing in a stupid American accent in some of the tracks on I’m Just a Man with a Tool in My Hand. At some point I just got over the idea, but the line “We are The Gizzards” has remained. I really like the idea of the royal “we”. The truth is whenever I say “we are The Gizzards” during a live gig it usually gets a laugh and I’m not above milking material till it’s a dry desiccated husk of a joke. Since I said it just the other day and it got a healthy laugh at a show, I envision I’ll be spinning that line for years to come.
It’s taken you five years for you to produce a follow up album to I’m Just A Man with a Tool in My Hand. What have you been up to in that time?
This album has been sneakily written and recorded in the gaps between playing and recording in a couple of other bands, working full time and living real life. I have been quite particular with the recording of this one and it has taken me much longer to write and record than the tracks on the previous album. It is still by no means a “hifi” recording, but it did take me much longer to do. I really got into circuit bending during the last five years, which is a total time-sink. Also, my wife had our first baby recently, and even though they are very small, they take up large amounts of time. I have built a couple of arcade MAME machines in the last five years as well. They are great fun and total time wasters.
What musical influences helped shape The Gizzards sound?
I am really excited by lots of bedroom recording guys who post their stuff on the internet. Much of it is lofi and barely listenable but there is a purity and joy there that I just love. Quite often I prefer demos of songs to the finished recording, but so do lots of people I suppose. Also I am into chip tune artists like Animal Style, Cheap Dinosaurs, Anamanaguchi, and Tug Boat. Along with these influences I am obsessed with 90’s Brisbane bands like Custard, Biro, Small Fantasy and The Melniks. I also obsessively listen to Ween, The Flaming Lips, The Fauves, Gentle Ben And His Sensitive Side, Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Grandaddy, Islands, The Unicorns, Mike Oldfield, Sneeze, Dragonforce, Rhapsody and Heavenly. Along with these more conventional influences I listen to lots of circuit bent music and sounds. Getting into bending has really pushed a strange electronic edge into The Gizzards. The astute listener will spot elements of all of the above in The Gizzards, along with a little Jonathan Richman.
You mentioned “circuit bending”, which is featured heavily on the new album. For the uninitiated, can you explain what that means?
Circuit bending is the coolest. It involves electronically modifying a sound producing circuit to make it make different sounds to what was originally intended. I tend to bend battery operated children’s toys and keyboards. The results can be astounding – I have a children’s keytar that I have bent and it is capable of the most amazing sweeps, glitches and tweaks. I have had people compare the sounds it makes to a moog, but it is only a $2 keytar, true story. Bending can be very time consuming and addictive. Quite often I find myself bending so much I have to consciously take a break from it to make time for recording otherwise I would run the risk of just fiddling around with toys and noise makers the rest of my life and never actually recording anything. Bending is a fantastic way to create totally unique electronic noises, which is a rarity in today’s musical climate. If the listener hears an unusual sound on this record that excites, repulses or even seduces them, chances are it’s a circuit bent noise.
The new album is a bit more listener friendly than the last release but there’s one track in particular, Cornholin’, that’s pretty insane. How did that song come about?
I went to a lot more trouble to try to tame some of the abrasive sounds on this album and mix it with more clarity. On some of the tracks I may have succeeded. Cornholin’ is a terrible tasteless song. It was recorded with pretty much the same disregard for sonic clarity as I’m Just A Man With A Tool In My Hand using distorted casio drum beats, casio digital guitar, a circuit bent casio MT45 and loads of big muff. I wrote the song soon after I got married and recorded the first demo during a quiet moment on a 4-track on our honeymoon. Lyrically it is mainly about prison sex. I honestly don’t know what possesses me to write and record such things, then put them on an album. I only know that this is something I MUST do. Thankfully the tasteless lyrics have been largely obscured by my attempted hair metal vocals. It is a definite album highlight for me.
On the other extreme, there’s also a rather sweet song about your pet dog passing away, which has the lyric “I hope doggy angels guide you on your way”. Is there room to believe in things such as doggy angels, and still be a man of science?
I believe in science, but I also think it’s important to leave room for magic. I guess I have been thinking about stuff like this more since we had a baby. For example as I have gotten older I have come to view Christmas with adult cynicism as the commercialization of it all really makes me sick with this constant pressure to consume. So I’ve done my best to reject the whole Christmas thing as much as possible. I still enjoy buying or making thoughtful gifts for friends and spending time with my family, but I don’t get carried away with the crazy commercial stuff. Despite my cantankerous demeanor I remember the magic of Christmas when I was little, it was a fantastic and special time. I want to give similar memories to my son. As for doggie angels, I’m not so sure that the scientific part of me believes in such things. However the grief that I felt when our family pet died was somehow soothed by the comforting thought that he was being shown on his way by friendly angels. I still miss him, he was a good friend.
You gained some notoriety when your appearance on West TV’s Friday Night Live program became popular with bloggers and Youtube users. What about that performance do you think captured people’s attention?
The amount of views that video got was a real surprise to me. I think that my guitar made out of a Nintendo got people looking at it first. I posted it on getlofi.com which is one of my favourite bending blogs as the guy who runs getlofi actually built the guitar for me. From getlofi it got passed around and reposted all over the place. I noticed on quite a few of the blogs that the posters were fixated on the NES guitar. Aside from the guitar the video is a great slice of community TV gold in my opinion- you’ve got a pair of amateur but enthusiastic show hosts trying to act “cool” and get a grasp on the concept of circuit bending, me in a cape doing the usual ridiculous Gizzards performance and then a bunch of the shows guests being asked by the producers to come out and dance awkwardly while I did my last song. I love community TV for all its’ stilted awkwardness and this clip captures it pretty well I think. Aside from the sideshow freak amusement aspect of the clip I have been gratified by feedback I’ve received from all over the world. People have been very kindly complimenting me on my songs. For all of my love of circuit banding, it is still just silly noises that really mean nothing unless they’re stuck in a good song in a meaningful manner.
What can people expect from The Gizzards live show? Will these new songs mark the arrival of any other on-stage surprises?
At my launch party I plan to introduce a few new tricks. These may include standing in front of a fan so that my cape billows out in a grand way, lofi pyrotechnics and some metaphorical orb clutching. I will also give the usual Gizzards performance which involves wanton cape wearing, epic metal poses, blistering moonwalking, and sublime gurning.
Followers of the Perth music scene over the last 10 years may have seen you out front of Burgers of Beef. Am I right in saying Burgers will also be releasing an album soon?
Oh man, the Burgers album is coming along with all the speed, urgency and inevitability of a glacier. If I thought it was hard trying to get myself into my studio to record, imagine how hard it is to organize 3 other people all as busy as me as well as an extremely busy sound engineer to the point where we are all in the same room together. We are real close right now perhaps at about 80% completion. I am very pleased with the way it’s all sounding though and can’t wait to make a real fuss about it when we finally finish it. The new songs we have been doing at gigs seem to be going down really well with people. I hope to put a lot more time into finishing that album once I release this Gizzards record.
Well, getting back to The Gizzards – now that the album is finished, what’s next?
Now that this album is finished I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth. I did absolutely no promotion for my first one but I’m going to give this one every chance to be heard and see how it goes. Once the dust settles I will probably bend some more toys then get to writing and recording the final part in the doctor and the robot trilogy. I am excited to find out how it all ends!
The Man Probes the Universe album launch is happening on FRIDAY DECEMBER 9 at the VELVET LOUNGE. For more details see the band’s Facebook page.