Over the past few years, Gnod have steadily emerged as one of the most captivating underground acts in the UK. Vehemently averse to stagnation, their sonic experiments veer from Hawkwind-like space rock to homebrewed industrial techno, incorporating virtually everything in between. In 2015, they released the critically-acclaimed triple-LP Infinity Machines, a psych-jazz bad trip of Herculean proportions. Naturally, their new record mixes things up again.
Recorded in the wake of the UK’s general election of May 2015, in which the pro-austerity centre-right Conservative Party won a working majority, Mirror consists of three long tracks of effects-laden dystopian sludge-rock, and is slated for an April 1 release via Rocket Recordings. Often described as a "collective" due to the number of musicians who pass in and out of its ranks—41 to date—Gnod’s four main members are Paddy Shine, Chris Haslam, Marlene Ribeiro, and Alex Macarte.
Speaking via Skype from their base at the Islington Mill arts hub in Salford, Greater Manchester, Paddy and Chris chatted to Noisey about mixing things up, Michael Jackson, and the ultimate dream of running a café.
Noisey: Critically, Infinity Machines went down a storm, didn't it?
Paddy Shine: I'm surprised it went down as well as it did because it's quite a difficult album to take in. There's so much of it and the tracks are ten, fifteen minutes long. I just wish we could sell more of them, that's all. All ten people really liked it!
Did its reception take Gnod to another level?
Shine: Not at all, no. It got us more press in what people would deem serious publications, like The Wire, who in the past ignored us and thought we were some sort of Happy Mondays idiots or whatever. That's the only change. We're not rich or anything off the back of it. It's the same. Steady. We've got a momentum that hasn't left us and we keep on ploughing. It would be nice if an album could have an effect. Like, if an album went down well in the States and then somebody finally said, "Here's ten grand to come over to the States and play." That would be cool. Make that happen for us, man!
Infinity Machines sounded like quite a fun and free record, whereas this new one is much more anxious and brooding.
Chris Haslam: Infinity Machines was an album with a lot of hope to it. It's got this renewed belief in humanity or something. With Mirror, it's kind of the opposite because we were on tour when we were doing those songs and we heard the [UK general] election results and it was like, "Do these fucking people just enjoy punishment?" Then let's give them some pain. Let's start dealing some pain and see if it takes. So we're expecting this album to be Number 1. Then, by the summer time, the UK's going to look like a Hieronymus Bosch painting or something.
Shine: Yeah, Mirror's quite bleak. It came together when there was a lot of shit going on. There were the elections but there was a lot of other [personal] shit going down as well, besides that, that I won't go into. That helped to make the album what it was and we felt we had to go in and record it, really fast, and get it out there. Just a flash of anger, really. A quick look in the mirror of self-hatred.
Haslam: Projectile vomiting. A short, sharp burst of puke.
I wasn't having the best day when I first listened to Mirror and it's so intense I think it almost gave me a panic attack. Is that the effect you hope to have on listeners?
Shine: No! Jesus Christ! We don't want to make people have breakdowns. If that happens, I guess it's powerful but we don't want people to have bad times. We want quite the opposite. The music's just a reflection of how we were feeling. It's not supposed to freak people out.
Haslam: From your lowest point, you can only go up. So if it brings that on, maybe it's a good thing.
Shine: It is a bit of a gnarly beast but it's just another Gnod record. We fucking bang them out and they're all just little snapshots of what's happening with us and around us. I've seen a couple of reviews going, "How can they release a record like this after Infinity Machines, which was this really expansive thing, and now they're putting out this brutal monochrome thing?" It's not always going to be some jazz epic. It's reflecting the times.
What's the most mainstream music that you listen to?
Haslam: At the moment, Tears For Fears are doing it for me. I love Madonna. And Michael Jackson, God rest his soul.
Shine: We indulge in lots of guilty pleasures, definitely. I denied it for years. Chris used to play it and I'd say, "Turn it off, this is rubbish, man, stop playing this shit." Then something clicked and I realized, this is the hits, why am I denying my childhood? The happy times, you know?
Are you tempted to incorporate the Madonna influence into your own music?
Haslam: Yeah, she can come and play with us any time!
Shine: There are some Michael Jackson lyrics in Mirror's title track. You have to listen closely but it's in there.
Haslam: "The Mirror" is like our version of "Man In The Mirror". We're aiming for a Grammy. Have you ever seen that Grammy performance of Michael Jackson doing "Man In The Mirror"? If that didn't change the world, then music never will. How strong a message can you actually get on a mainstream stage? You know what I mean? That track. How strong does the message have to be?
I've seen Gnod perform about four or five times, and each time it's been a completely different sound.
Shine: It's this natural way that we've fallen into working. It also depends which members are around, who wants to play. It is nice to get a steady lineup together, but we do get bored pretty fast. We'll do a tour and then won't play those tracks ever again, because we've been playing them for 30 nights solid. Maybe some of the audience will walk out, which is great. Maybe some new people will dig it. When we were doing the electronic stuff, we'd just released the Chaudelande album and were getting offered loads of psych fest gigs, when the whole psych thing was kicking off a few years ago, because we were seen as psychedelic space rock. So we went and did this horrible, weird techno thing and had loads of people walk out and come up to us afterwards going, "What is this fucking shit? Where's your guitars?" Fuck off, mate. Who do you think we are? The Beatles or something?
Haslam: When you've got something that's working, you think, "We've taken it this far," and then break it down and rearrange parts keeps it fresh and interesting. For me, as a listener to a band, I'd like them to always be exploring rather than being stagnant too often.
Shine: It's a nice reflection of our tastes in music as well. We listen to everything. We're not metallers who just sit around listening to Iron Maiden all day or punks who sit around listening to Crass all day. I will listen to that. I'll listen to an Iron Maiden track and then a Crass a track and then some Madonna.
Haslam: And Gene Pitney.
Shine: Gene Pitney, yeah!
Haslam: "Something's gotten hold of my heart..."
Are you a democratic unit?
Shine: It's fairly democratic. There's a core four of us, and everybody has their own roles within that core. Because we've been doing it for so long, it's like this functioning family—or sometimes malfunctioning family, but it functions. Some people take care of sorting out the mixes or the rehearsals, recording them, getting them out to people. Somebody else will deal with the bookings. The navigator in the van, whatever. Let's call it a like a normal, working-class family. Like The Simpsons, sometimes we're wringing each other's necks and the next minute we're all sitting in front of the telly eating biscuits.
One of the interesting things about where we rehearse is it's an artist space, we've got studios, a gallery, and loads of residencies happening. We're surrounded and involved in things that aren't just about music. There's loads more going on. So seeing how people function like that socially, how things happen in a space, in a building, rubbed off in how we function as a band. We're like a microcosm of the bigger picture. It's not exactly a democracy and it's not exactly a communal hippy thing.
Haslam: We're all into what goes on here. Not all of it, obviously, but we're into the way Islington Mill works as a unit. We meet a lot of people in Europe. They sometimes come over and stay with us here. The fact that we're able to do that is amazing. We meet a lot of people from around the world, artists who come to the Mill. We like that community aspect to it and that influences us, in a way, as much as any other music does.
Shine: It's about people, really, getting a network of loads of good people together, people who know if they come to Manchester, England, they can get in touch with us and they've got a bunch of people they can come and see and stay with and they'll have `a roof over their heads. And they've got places all around Britain and Europe where it's the same thing and we can stay. That's really important, I think.
What's the worst thing about being based in Islington Mill?
Haslam: If we ever had to leave. I don't know what we'd do.
Shine: That's the worst thing. What's going to happen after this? I'm going to end up being, I don't know, a fucking monk somewhere. That's it, the fear of having to not be here anymore, which sounds really cheesy, but we are going to have to leave at some point soon because the thing with a space like this is, it needs to be constantly fresh and vital, with new people and new blood coming through all the time.
Haslam: Nothing lasts forever, does it? We've always spoken about maybe getting a place like this ourselves, a small venue or something, with a rehearsal room. It's possible. There are still some run-down areas in Manchester where you can maybe get an old space and transform it into whatever you want. It'd be good for us to have some sort of café or something. The Gnod Café.
What would you serve in The Gnod Café?
Haslam: Cream cheese and salmon bagels and stuff like that. With good dark beers on the menu. A lot of us enjoy cooking and have worked in catering, so it's highly possible. If it all goes to shit, that's what we're going to do, get a café.
J.R. Moores is now searching YouTube for Michael Jackson's 'Man In The Mirror' Grammys performance. He's on Twitter.