Given the current state of the world, it comes as little surprise that 2019 has brought with it an abundance of great music that could be described as “politically charged.” Perhaps a bit more surprising? That so much of this music that wrestles with politics and the condition of modern society blends heady concepts with music that neatly soundtracks frenetic dance moves. Such is the case with Washington, DC’s Gauche, whose long-awaited debut album was released this month on Merge Records. I talked with Gauche’s Daniele Yandel about the band’s new album, A People’s History of Gauche, science fiction, and songs about conspiracy theories.
Not long ago, I was reading the science fiction anthology A People’s Future of the United States, the introduction of which talked about the impact of Howard Zinn’s book on one of the editors and how it had influenced the book as a whole. For you, what did alluding to it on the album title signify?
WOW, that sounds like an amazing anthology. I’ve been drawn to left and radical politics since I was a teenager, and Zinn’s A People’s History was a pretty seminal text for many of my friends in unlearning the lies and myth we were taught in American public schools, but strangely I never read it back then, just kinda absorbed the ideas via osmosis. It was one of those books that was always on my to-read list. Then I finally downloaded the audiobook, and it was right around the time we were trying to come up with an album title. Mary knew I was reading the book and jokingly put forth A People’s History of Gauche. Once she said it aloud a lot of people were like, “hey, that actually has a nice ring to it”.
I wasn’t into it at first, cause it sounded too jokey to me. Mary was trying to convince me, so she sent me the Wikipedia article for the phrase ‘people’s history’ or ‘history from below’ which denotes a story told from the “perspective of common people rather than leaders” with “an emphasis on disenfranchised, the oppressed, the poor, the nonconformists, and otherwise marginal groups,” and that really resonated. Gauche songs are very much about alienation and marginalization whether economic, racial, sexual, etc. They are very much stories from that perspective, much like the stories in Zinn’s book. It makes a lot of sense to me that he was drawn to that phrase, and that we were too. I think it speaks to a shared impulse to privilege a certain kind of perspective that is usually ignored.
A People’s History of Gauche features re-recorded versions of a few songs from your first EP. What prompted you to revisit them?
Funny story actually. So this album was recorded in the fall of 2016!! It took us two years to mix it, which is crazy. The original idea was that the Get Away with Gauche cassette, which came out in August of 2015, was a set of demos, and that the next year we’d put out the album with those songs and others. It just took a lot longer than we expected.
You released Get Away With Gauche on Sister Polygon; what prompted you to work with an outside label for this album?
That was a really hard choice for me, and to be honest, one I was kind of dragged into kicking and screaming. I run Sister Polygon Records with my bandmates in Priests. I like putting out my own music. I like maintaining that level of control over my work. When the offer from Merge came, I resisted, but it was clear to my bandmates that we just couldn’t say no to the resources Merge could offer us.
In hindsight, I’m glad they held their ground. It’s been such a dream to work with Merge, and we’ve been able to get so much done with their help, and it takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. I’ve been so over-extended this year as it is touring with Gauche and Priests and working for SPR. I can’t imagine if I was also doing the backend label work for Gauche too. This year has been really valuable for me in learning to let go, being ok with not being in control, in relying on others. Trying to be a working artist is funny that way, it often makes you face the shit you least want to deal with in a very sink or swim kinda way. Every time I notice my head is still above water, I’m genuinely surprised and grateful.
The song “Conspiracy Theories,” and your essay about the inspiration of it, both felt very impactful when they appeared earlier this year. What about that song made it work as a standalone work as opposed to a part of this new album?
Thank you Toby! You know, nothing really. I could totally see “Conspiracy Theories” on the album. The main thing is that the song was written after the album was recorded in the fall of 2016. Not surprisingly, we’ve written a lot of songs since we recorded the album, and one day Merge was like, if we paid for the studio time, would y’all record a song for our 7” subscriber series?, and we were like of course! So we went into the studio and recorded two songs, one of which was ”
“Conspiracy Theories.” We chose to release it first, because it was so topical. It felt more urgent than our other songs; we wanted to respond to specific current events before they faded from memory.
As someone who’s in two different bands that do a lot of touring, how do you balance the two? And do you find the experience of being on the road with each band fairly similar, or are they very distinctive?
I don’t know! It’s a lot of work to be in two active touring bands, and it requires a lot of understanding and compromise from both bands. I’m learning as I go. I definitely took on too much this year releasing two albums three months apart, all the while still putting out other people’s music via Sister Polygon Records. My work/ personal life balance is way skewed, but I’m looking forward to getting through this fall and taking some time off to spend with my partner and my family and to reassess /re-strategize a bit.
Touring is touring, and it’s always the same to some degree. I tend to take on similar roles in both bands; it’s just my personality I suppose. The dynamic on stage is pretty different though; there’s something a little looser about Gauche shows. For a long time Gauche didn’t have set song structures, so improvisation and spontaneity were a big part of the live show and that approach has kinda left its mark on our performance style even as the songs become more structured.
A number of the song titles on A People’s History allude to money: “Pay Day” and “Rent (v.)” both come to mind. Is there a challenge to writing a good song about economics?
No, if anything I would say that it’s a very easy theme to write about. Gauche is all about catharsis, expressing those things that are weighing us down as a way of working through them or getting over them, and what form of exploitation is more prevalent today than economic exploitation? And on top of its prevalence, other forms or marginalization often use economics as a way to disguise the sexism, racism, etc at play. So yeah, it just feels so ubiquitous that I feel like it would be hard not to write about economics.
That’s said, “Rent (v.)” is not about money! I put the v in the title to indicate that I’m using the word as a verb, as in to tear away from, a variant of rend. The lyrics quote from and inspired by the last line of a Yeats’ poem called “Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop.” The song is all about how fetishizing an object tears it out of its context in a way that does damage to understanding, which must be holistic. The irony of tearing Yeats’ words out of their historical context to make my point did not escape my notice. I like reversing the gendered power dynamic taking place within the poem, but more importantly I love statements that partially negate themselves, yet still hold some power to elucidate. When things are wrapped up and near and tidy with a bow on top, I am immediately suspicious. When a statement or object wears its flaws on the outside for all to see, it seems more honest to me.
What about the saxophone makes it an ideal instrument for punk rock?
I have no idea, but I love it! Sax is the one instrument in Gauche that I don’t know how to play. Maybe if I played it, I would understand its magic more, but to me it’s just a wonderful mystery.
Photo: Jen Dessinger