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It's a hard task, getting a band to identify its own sound. Perhaps because they want to avoid too much self-awareness, or perhaps because they honestly don't care, the members of Gospel Gossip seem put off when asked which genre their music nestles into.
After a long pause, drummer Ollie Moltaji gives it a shot. "It's half popular music and half noise.... It's hard to explain. Usually I don't think about it."
"It's like an A side and a B side of a single, at once," offers singer and guitarist Sarah Nienaber. There is uncertainty in her voice. "That's how I feel right now, anyway."
Bassist Justin Plank has the most straightforward answer: "We do what we want."
A lot of words have been thrown around by critics when describing Gospel Gossip, but the most frequently used adjective is one the band seems perplexed by: "shoegaze." A genre made popular during the late '80s and early '90s by bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain, the term "shoegaze" calls to mind layers of fuzzy guitars and amorphous melodies played by shy lead singers. While Gospel Gossip embody many of those qualities, "shoegaze" is best used as a starting point, rather than a conclusion, when exploring the band's sound.
"Our first article in Minneapolis was in the Star Tribune, and I think they used that word," says Nienaber. "And then everyone used it afterward. I don't know if that's because that's actually what we are, although I think that's what it says on our MySpace."
"Occasionally I stare at my feet, that's about it," scoffs Plank. "I probably stare at my feet more than Sarah or Ollie. That's about as shoegaze as I'd say we are. I don't associate it with a band or movement. I have no association to the word."
"The shoegaze movement is long gone," Nienaber remarks. "So how can you say that's what you are when you're not a part of a group of people that are creating that music?"
The band—which until recently included Unicorn Basement keyboardist Deanna Steege and occasionally invites Dan Ries of Dragons Power Up! to join in on guitar—revolves around the three core members, who met two years ago at Carleton College.
"I worked with Sarah at Carleton," explains Plank, who tended bar at the college's music venue, the Cave. "Had no idea that she wrote songs. When Ollie said, 'I want to play with Sarah,' I said, 'What are you talking about? Sarah the girl I work with?'"
The trio started jamming, using a batch of bare-bones songs composed by Nienaber as a springboard. The band says their sound came naturally, playing off the influences and backgrounds of each member—Nienaber's love of the Cure and New Order, Plank and Moltaji's experience playing in punk bands, Moltaji's tenure as a marching band drummer.
"When we came into the music together, we were never like, 'We want to sound like this band,'" says Moltaji. "We just started playing."
"Songs build out of jamming in the garage, just playing for fun," says Nienaber. "One person will start playing one thing, and another person will start playing another thing, and something will happen. There's a moment when something sounds good, and a song comes out of that moment."
"We just keep building on and on, kind of like a collage in an art class," says Moltaji.
As the band continues to develop its sound in the studio (they say they are planning a follow-up to last year's breakout album, Sing into My Mouth), their live shows have earned them a reputation as fierce and engaging performers. Moltaji is an unwavering drummer who taught himself to play the kick drum left-footed after breaking his right leg last winter; Plank holds down the low end with fat, plucked bass notes while standing coolly at the side of the stage, often with feet spread wide apart in a classic rock-star pose; and Nienaber is a force to be reckoned with, known for collapsing to the ground during guitar solos and laying back to let the music wash over her.
Having just returned from their first national tour, Gospel Gossip have already received a healthy amount of attention in the Twin Cities. They're staying focused on making new music and playing a steady stream of live shows.
"I can feel things brewing, I guess," says Plank. "The clubs seem a little fuller. We get good looks from people."
"It's been good," says Nienaber. "But it doesn't feel like anything is different in Minneapolis. More people are at the shows, but it still feels pretty much the same."