New Year, New(ish) Ganser

How Chicago’s Ganser enlisted musician friends to reimagine their songs released during 2020.

Approximately 5 hours into the movie “Funny People,” Adam Sandler’s stand-up comedian character is doing a set at a MySpace event. The basis of one of his bits is to make fun of people who make friends “on the computer.” 

The crowd goes fuckin’ wild. Seth Rogen’s ghostwriter character is delighted, and James Taylor says “Fuck Facebook!” (which has aged pretty well, actually). 

The part that hasn’t aged as well is the dismissal of how connected we get online.

Since that movie came out, society has warmed up to about ten swipe-based dating apps, people are being radicalized by even the most surface-level social media, and kids can now aspire to create pretty damn lucrative business around being a lifestyle influencer.

There’s also been some good stuff, though, like what Chicago post-punk/noise band Ganser has done during the pandemic as a means of breathing new life into the album they released last year. The band took a few songs from their 2020 release “Just Look at That Sky,” and reached out to friends both IRL and online, who had their own music come out during the pandemic, to tinker with some Ganser songs and add colors that might not have been used before.

Ganser released “Just Look at That Sky” on July 31, 2020, a time where we started thinking we were almost out of COVID and couldn’t see the massive wave in store just a few months later. Obviously, they didn’t get to tour after the release, and only got to really “debut” the album in a live sense on some livestreams, like Audiotree.

This was a common thing last year. Bands would put out the fruits of their labor at possibly the worst possible time, derailing momentum and making an already impossible job even harder. Thanks to that internet, though, having a big year musically didn’t necessarily rely on playing live. Plenty of bands have had big 2020’s thanks to how good the music was, and maybe a little bit of creativity.

The members of Ganser also used that time in the holding pattern to make friends with musicians in that similar situation and find ways to work together. The end result was “Look at the Sun,” a Remix EP featuring six songs from “Just Look at That Sky” reimagined by artists like Sadie DuPuis of Sad13/Speedy Ortiz, Bartees Strange, Girl Band and Algiers (with whom Ganser was slated to play some shows starting in April 2020).

“Look at The Sun” still feels and sounds like Ganser, obviously. But like it went through a filter in someone else’s brain, and ended up with the a glitchy Bartees Strange take on “Emergency Equipment & Exits” or the sunny and danceable GLOK remix of “Bags for Life.”

It’s new life for songs at a time where we’re all starting to feel like we have a new life, so to speak.

Things are finally starting to look up again in, like, you know, the world, not least the people whose livelihoods depend on performing live music. We’re all getting vaxed up (right??), festival posters are testing our small-text reading skills, and bands like Ganser are announcing shows again. In fact, they just announced a three-night July residency at the Empty Bottle in Chicago, which has already sold out.

Those Empty Bottle shows are kind of acting as an unofficial first birthday for “Just Look at That Sky,” and also are their first chance to play some songs off of it since it’s been officially released.

We’re coming out of this thing, god damn it. And now we’re starting to evaluate how we spent our time at home over the last year-plus? Did you finally read those books you wanted to read? Did you maybe bone up on your Spanish? Did you at least turn your doomscrolling into something productive maybe?

Ganser did. They took that time where they were supposed to be touring and not only wrote new music for their next release, but used these special relationships they made with likeminded artists to create something unique, something that the band thinks might not have been possible had they and their colleagues had been on the road.

I talked with the band’s Alicia Gaines, Brian Cundiff, Charlie Landsman and Nadia Garafolo about getting back to playing live, releasing an album during the pandemic, making friends with strangers online and then letting those strangers fuck around with their art.

Brendan: So first, can you tell me a little bit about this remix EP you're putting out with some help from other artists? What made you want to put this together?

Brian Cundiff: Many of the artists I’ve admired over the years, like The Cure and Ride, made a habit of supplementing their regular releases with remixes, and it seemed a natural path for us to reach out to some of our favorites to get their take on our songs. Couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. We ran into a snag with our album release plans in early 2020, so we had to find some workarounds to use in place of traditional album support. 

You said that these were folks you met online, for the most part. How did you form these creative friendships and get the ball rolling on this project together?

Alicia Gaines: A lot of it was Twitter, which kind of felt like the waiting room during the apocalypse. We’re all doomscrolling, someone else mentions they too like John Waters, and suddenly you have someone to talk about John Waters with while absolute insanity is happening day to day. We literally met Sadie Dupuis (Sad13) because her and I both recommended Backxwash to Rachel Aggs from Shopping at the same time. 

Social media was obviously, like, the only way you could contact some people for the past year, and the only way you could "meet" new people. Was there any hesitancy to trust someone that you didn't "know" with your art, the way you did with your songs on this remix project? Or did you feel more relaxed about it?

AG: These five, I think their sounds are so unique and so good, the thinking was having them work with our stems was wholly exciting. Like, just the thought of “What will a Girl Band remix sound like?” had me constantly checking my phone for that email.

Nadia Garafolo: Part of collaborating in this way is trusting other artists when we hand off our songs to them, it felt really weird but also liberating to relinquish control in this way. 

There were a few artists, including the ones you worked with, who were in that position where their album dropped at a time where they couldn't do the usual touring/marketing cycle for the album. Was the remix idea a way to sort of keep it in the public's attention while we waited for shows to come back, or was it more like just something to do for fun with some creative peers?

BC: Covered this a bit above, but the remix EP almost certainly would not have happened in a world where everything went on as usual. It’s doubtful everyone would have been available, for one thing. By slow-rolling the songs from the EP, we were able to keep some buzz circulating around us rather than sort of dropping into the shadows while waiting for live shows to come back.

AG: I think there’s a natural urge when you meet with fellow musicians to eventually collaborate, it just happened to take a sort of pen pal approach given the circumstances. 

On the topic of the live shows, they are finally back (in a safe way, not a MadBall or Kid Rock sense), and I saw that you guys are doing a residency in Chicago. How does that feel?

Charlie Landsman: We're very much looking forward to it. Playing live is an important part of how we want people to experience our music, so to be able to play for an audience again is exciting. Also, we have probably played at the Bottle more than any other place so it'll be nice to go back.

NG: It feels weird given the past year, but I’m happy to be able to go back, and especially to be playing three nights at the Empty Bottle. Couldn’t think of a better way to return to playing live.  

It feels a bit like, for most artists during this last year of music, they're the first group to really celebrate the one-year anniversary of an album release beyond a tweet acknowledging it. In most cases, they're finally able to play the music live in front of people for the first time. How does that feel to sort of "debut" the songs from "Just Look At That Sky" a year after it came out?

CL: I'm interested to see what the reaction will be because some of the songs have never been played for an actual audience. 

BC: A few of the songs were out in the wild for a while before everything got paused. “Lucky” debuted at some shows we played with Daughters back in late-2018. We’re already into writing the next record, and I’m just happy to keep expanding our pool of songs to be able to mix things up night to night while keeping the setlists strong.

Some bands sort of tweak things about their songs over time, maybe adjusting things for the live show, or even find new relationships with the content of the song after it comes out and they put some distance between writing it. Have you felt like that at all, since the songs have mostly lived in their album-version states since the release?

BC: We generally view it as a bit counterproductive to reinvent the wheel so to speak when a song has already been written and recorded. Our live audiences will hear a song that doesn’t stray too far from the recording. That said, as our sets are becoming longer due to better slots, we’re looking at taking some songs that are a bit more meandering, like “Comet” from “Odd Talk,” and re-working them into something a little more open-ended and improvisational.

AG: We’re glad the album is resonating with people in the pandemic. The themes in the album are, of course, coming from pre-pandemic us, feels almost like a different character. Things weren’t great! It’s very odd looking at the album and period it represents for us personally now that we’re in a time that’s ostensibly worse, but we’re operating from a place of newfound resilience.

Anything else about the album, the EP, residency or anything else Ganser-related that I haven't asked about?

NG: Just keep an eye out for some exciting announcements coming up this year. 

Today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is Superbloom.

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