Local Current Blog

Gospel Gossip reflect on working with Neil Weir and persevering through personal upheaval

Credit: Publicity photo

When Gospel Gossip first emerged with their distinctive brand of noise-pop back in 2007, the appeal was so readily apparent that they were chosen as one of the top finalists in City Pages’ annual best-new-band poll Picked to Click and established themselves as a can’t-miss live act. But things have been a bit quiet on the Gospel Gossip front in recent years, as frontwoman Sarah Nienaber has turned her attention to performing in Is/Is, while drummer Ollie Moltaji has started playing in the more recently Picked-to-Click band Pony Trash.

The band has gone through some personal changes as well, with Nienaber and Moltaji ending their romantic relationship and relocating to Minneapolis from their original homebase of Northfield, adding distance between themselves and bassist Justin Plank. It’s a change they say has helped them reimagine the way they come together to make music, and it helps to explain how they have regrouped to record one of their strongest efforts yet.

Gospel Gossip will re-emerge this week with a new 7″, Atlantic Blue, and play their first headlining show in recent memory at the Turf Club. I recently had Nienaber and Moltaji in the studios to tape an interview for the Local Show; below, find the full transcript of our chat.

Local Current: You just wrapped up a little tour of the East Coast. How did that go?

Ollie Moltaji: We have friends in Boston that put on this festival called Deep Heaven Now, it’s been going on since the ‘90s. We figured it’d be a great opportunity to play a mini-tour to promote our 7”, because we knew we’d get them right on time for that stretch of shows.

Sarah Nienaber: Yeah, so we played Deep Heaven Now in Boston, which we’ve played a few times before, and it’s always been really good. And then Brooklyn and Cleveland and Chicago. It was just a short thing, it took about a week. I think we’ve found in all of the years that we’ve been doing this, we started out and we’d be inclined to go on long, three-week tours. But I think we’ve learned that it’s a lot better to find cities where you know you can do well and just do short stints.

Ollie: It’s a lot easier financially, and emotionally.

So you’re not always going through Iowa City and playing for 10 people.

Sarah: Right. I mean, I think it makes sense if you’re a band with a PR agent and a booking agent and with label support to do tours like that. But for a band like us, it just makes a lot more sense to find your markets in specific cities and concentrate there.

There’s been a bit of a break in Gospel Gossip action, with your last EP out in 2009. What have you been up to since then?

Ollie: As of late we’ve been quite busy. I guess I would say, interpersonally, we went through some stuff where, right after the Drift EP, it made it harder to write music.

Sarah: I mean, I feel like we can be candid and say that Ollie and I dated for the first three years that the band existed. And then, pretty much immediately upon release of the Drift EP, which was December three years ago, we broke up. So it took a year of basically re-learning how to play music together.  

Ollie: And then at the same time Sarah and I moved to Minneapolis after college, and [bassist] Justin [Plank] stayed in Northfield. So it was kind of this two-one punch where we all became estranged. And in a lot of respects, it made it difficult to keep writing music. At first, it was difficult to play shows, but we learned our way around that, and the band is what held everyone together. Then we started writing music again, and I started incorporating a lot of guitar parts and ideas into practices. And often, because Justin was living in Northfield, practices would just be me and Sarah.

Sarah: Yeah, practices evolved from the full band — where Ollie was playing drums and I played guitar and Justin would play bass — practices evolved into Ollie and I sitting down with guitars and just playing at each other and exchanging parts. So we basically re-learned how to be who we were, and kind of became a different band.

Ollie: Songwriting just flowed better and more effortlessly. Whereas I would say — I really liked the Drift EP and I wanted to continue on from that statement, whereas previous records, it was kind of like Sarah had some songwriting ideas and we all kind of went at it as a band. And even if it seemed like the song wasn’t quite working, we’d still try to get it to work somehow.

Sarah: It was like typical young band stuff, where you have 10 songs and they’re all just their own little worlds, and figuring out a way to throw them all together, like, oh yeah there’s an album. I feel like lots of young bands do that. We know better than to do that now. We know how to censor ourselves now.

Ollie: I also think where we were at with the Drift EP informed what we were going to do when we kept going, if we were going to keep going. That’s kind of what we hope for with the 7” and with the full-length, that it set a standard for us to try to reach over, and try to at least maintain where we were going with that. So, there were a lot of songs that we threw away. And if something wasn’t working we actually didn’t really develop it. So the process was way different.

Is that difficult, to part with your ideas and admit that they’re maybe not up to your standards?

Sarah: I think it just takes time and experience. It takes making the mistake of writing a flawed song and putting it on an album and then having to deal with it two years later. You learn that it’s not worth dealing with later. It’s better to accept the fact that it’s not your best, immediately.

Ollie: It seems like a common thing, when you’re a local band and you’re putting together an album, where you have this batch of songs you’re playing out, because Minneapolis and St. Paul is a great place to play out live. They’re very welcoming, and support that. And it’s kind of like a classic thing to go into the studio, put all those songs onto a record, and then that’s the record. You’re not parting with songs that maybe don’t make sense recorded, or it was hard to track in the studio. And I would say we didn’t really go in with the full-length or this 7” thinking, well, we don’t want to do that, but when we were going through the process we decided, well, some of this isn’t working. We even re-did some songs, where it was way too fast.

Sarah: We re-did four songs, I think, where we recorded them, thought we were done, mixed them, they were completely finished, and then we’d record a new song, put the two songs together, and realize we have to re-record the first one. We have to re-record song A because song B exists. It’s weird, as the songs just started coming together, recording over the past two years, I almost felt like the collection of songs together because an autonomous thing. Like, the thing itself became something outside of us that we were trying to connect with and trying to get along with. And I felt like sometimes we weren’t even making decisions; the songs were making decisions for themselves. It’s weird how that happens.

Tell me about your new Atlantic Blue 7”.

Sarah: It’s super limited to 200 on clear vinyl. All of the sleeves are hand-printed by a local artist named Casey Deming, and he’s really good.

Ollie: I like how from far away they look like they’re, like a printer printed it, like a laser printer. That’s part of the charm of his work, is how nuanced and specific he is with his printing techniques.

Where are you at in the process of finishing the full-length?

Ollie: Hopefully we’ve finished tracking.

Sarah: We’ve said this every couple weeks over the past six months. We’re like, we’re done. And then we’re like, actually, no we’re not done. 

Ollie: We must have tracked at least five sessions, but they’ve been small spurts.

Sarah: It’d be three days at a time. Many, many times.

Tell me about working with producer Neil Weir, and co-releasing this 7” on both your longtime label Guilt Ridden Pop and his new Old Blackberry Way imprint.

Ollie: It’s technically the second release on Old Blackberry Way, but it’s preceding the Pony Trash one, just because of the way we pressed each vinyl. I really like the idea of working with Old Blackberry Way. From an engineering point, and going into the studio, it’s been this growing relationship with Neil, where he knows how we’re changing with the songwriting and how we play and what we want to do with the recording, and he implements that because he also knows how to engineer and track us.

Sarah: With the exception of the first full-length — he mixed that — but with everything else that we’ve done since then he’s engineered and mixed everything. Every song we’ve thrown away, and every song we’ve kept, he’s been there with us, learning how to do this band while we’ve been learning how to do this band.

Ollie: And this is the second batch of songs where we’ve tracked and mixed at Old Blackberry Way. Dreamland, we did that at Pachyderm, partially because we wanted to try to take a step forward and try a big studio out, and also because it was close to where we were living in Northfield, and Neil also got his start engineering there. And that was fine. It definitely cost a bit of money, and seemed ok enough. But the Drift thing happened when it was slow at Neil’s studio and we had these new songs, and he was just like, well do you want to just come in, because we don’t have anything going on and it’ll be easy. And we did that, and it was kind of touch and go, but everything just gelled, sounded great. Mixing was easy. And it informed how we were going to move on with the next effort.

Sarah: The Drift EP is definitely a snapshot of Gospel Gossip at its best, in that state. What Gospel Gossip as then is different than what Gospel Gossip is now, just because of us as people as our relationships, and I think the Drift EP is the height of what we were able to accomplish in that form. Working with Neil has been awesome, and I’m really glad that we’ve worked with him consistently over the years. It’s having that sort of static, constant element in recording the music, where it’s always with Neil and at Neil’s studio. It’s made us learn how to be in the studio, in a way that we haven’t learned if there was someone else taking charge of what we were doing.

Ollie: He’s also grown a lot, too. When we first went in, he was still trying to figure out what our sound is, what to do. It was a lot of experimenting and trying different things. Now we cut that fat out, and we know how to get drum sounds right, right away. And because of that, we can experiment even more.

Gospel Gossip play a 7″-release show this Saturday, November 3, at the Turf Club with support from Magic Castles, Leisure Birds, and Teenage Moods. A limited run of Atlantic Blue vinyl will be available at the show.