Gospel Gossip rise above the buzz
They might not say it themselves, but it's remarkable that Gospel Gossip are still a band. It's been more than three years since the release of their last record — an eternity, as far as bands go — and at times, their friendships hung in the balance. So as the release of Gospel Gossip approaches, the trio is making a fresh start.
"It was probably about a year ago when I really just wanted the album done. I just really wanted it to be done," says singer/guitarist Sarah Nienaber. She sits, legs crossed, on the floor of the band's practice space, full of amps, cords, and other equipment. "I had a moment where it was like, 'If it doesn't happen now, it's not going to happen.'"
"At the time," adds drummer Ollie Moltaji, "I was frustrated because I didn't feel like it was ready." He stands nearby, leaning over the top of an amplifier. The room's walls are covered with tapestries and flyers. "I needed more songs, and wanted to get rid of other songs. I think it was kind of a stressful time."
Stressful is an understatement. They formed six years ago while attending Carleton College, and often made the 45-mile drive to the Cities from Northfield two to three times a week, getting back home at three or four in the morning. Eventually, Nienaber and Moltaji — who were dating at the time — lived together in Minneapolis, but their aggressive touring and constant time together took its toll.
"For me, that was probably the worst," recalls bassist Justin Plank. He sits with his legs outstretched, his silver-gray hair swept back, drinking a bottle of Guinness. Plank points to a specific trip out East, after Nienaber and Moltaji had broken up, when things hit their lowest ebb. "We were at a stoplight in Pennsylvania, and I just got out of the van. I said, 'Don't worry about me, I'm fine. See you guys later,'" he says, waving his hand in the air.
Another personal event put an even bigger strain on them when Moltaji's father, a big fan and supporter of the band, unexpectedly died of a heart attack. "It really affected all of us and took a while to pick up the pieces," Moltaji says. His voice is quiet, almost a mumble. "[But] it also inspired us to keep it up and get this record out because that's what he would've wanted."
Each member also stayed busy with other acts — among them, Is/Is and Pony Trash — which helped build an appreciation for what they have in Gospel Gossip. "This band has always been the most special to me, and most interesting, and also kind of the most effortless," says Nienaber, rocking slowly back and forth. "I don't think I'll ever have as good of moments as the best moments I've had in this band, in any other one. And I'm fine with that."
Through it all, work on this album continued, and they were back in the studio within weeks of the Drift EP's release in late 2009. It proved a trying process to get the songs right. Several wound up cut from the final album, while others were rerecorded. Today's Gospel Gossip is far more comfortable in the studio, and more mature in their approach to songwriting. "Back in the day, we tried to make every song work; no matter what, we couldn't let go of it," admits Moltaji. Earlier records, especially their first full-length, now feel like the work of another band to them — unlistenable, even.
Their most cohesive work by far, the resulting Gospel Gossip is a beautiful, mellow album that starts with the warm hum of feedback and ends with an instrumental that seems to float on endlessly. Without as many peaks as earlier recordings, it stays relatively placid, rarely rocking very hard. But Nienaber's voice — smoky, crackling with desperation — has never blended so well with the group's squalling textures as it does on songs like "Dreamawake" or "Atlantic Blue."
"What's nice for us," says Plank, "is that it's always been a step up. It's never a step down or a step backwards." He ratchets his hand upward, then holds it, as though to burn the image in. "The way I see it, even if it takes three years to make that step up, at least we're taking a step up."
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