“I jumped headlong into synth land, [and] got hopelessly addicted in the process.”
Much like the name suggests, GUNSHIP isn’t here with the polite request for your attention.
Not that the Britain-based Dan Haigh, Alex Westaway, and Alex Gingell are some kind of brutes, of course. It’s in their well-crafted songs, their collaborations, their remix partners, and their stunning visual art that they have solidified with a forceful finesse the next step in rock-oriented synthwave.
Most recently, the band has released the popular claymation video for “Tech Noir,” a fantastic song from their self-titled debut that director Lee Hardcastle brings to life with 80s icons like Robocop, Jason Voorhees, and Pinhead from Hellraiser. If you don’t recall it’s the song with John Carpenter (yes, that John Carpenter), and follows other videos of theirs that use technology such as the Grand Theft Auto graphics engine. Like I said, when they do it, they do it big.
“One of the things that we set out to do was really let the art and visuals drive the project as a whole,” Gingell said in Vehlinggo’s recent interview with the band.
“It has been so gratifying to see the way that people have really responded to the Signal Noise art, the 16-Bit Box Set, the animations that we built — it took us two months to make the skeleton arcade cabinet animation in the teaser alone — and to the effort we and our collaborators put into each and every one of the music videos,” Gingell continued.
In doing all of this, the trio has upped the ante for synthwave artists, creating a landscape where powerful, catchy songs with vocals are the standard and not the exception.
A New Path
Haigh and Westaway are also in the rock group Fightstar, which could explain both GUNSHIP’s song structure and why the band has chosen a synthwave path sans a foundation in French house. Or, perhaps, we can just let Haigh explain it.
For starters, “the GUNSHIP record came about when Fightstar took a break,” he said.
At the time, Haigh saw director Jason Eisner’s Hobo with a Shotgun, based on a trailer from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse trailers contest. More importantly, though, is what he heard: Power Glove’s “Hunters.”
“I already had a latent interest in electronic music and synths — pre-Fightstar I wrote some ill-advised odes to Neal Stephenson’s [sci-fi/cyberpunk novel] Snowcrash,” Haigh said. “[Westaway] and I were already tinkering with some electronic music, too, but discovering the emerging synthwave scene was an enormous catalyst and ultimately helped us forge our own take on synth-driven electronic music.”
They had to like diving into the deep end, though. After all, they were coming from a rock background, which meant they had to learn it all from scratch, according to Haigh.
“I jumped headlong into synth land, got hopelessly addicted in the process, and we started the learning curve together,” Haigh said.
The 80s aren’t the only route for synth-lovers, of course. It’s just as easy to hear Power Glove and spin that into any number of genres. However, for Haigh, it was the synthesizers of the 80s that excel at rendering sound that can project the imagery and atmosphere he and his bandmates desired.
“I guess music is a kind of language,” he said. “You can effectively communicate emotion with it and that is a huge part of the attraction for me. However, you can also communicate atmosphere, a sense of place, and project imagery somehow, and it’s this component that has really started to interest me the most recently.”
“I think it’s simply because a synth’s sonic palette is so wide,” he continued.
He said he saw the creativity of the era’s music and cinema as the product of genuine auteurs, and “imagination ruled supreme.”
“This era was the foundation of my tastes, and so I guess it’s natural to want to tap into the source,” Haigh said. “So… add all that stuff together, and the fact that the associated visual style kicks ass, and I hope that’s something of an explanation.”
The result, the towering self-titled debut, is perhaps the first time since ROOM8’s unreleased 80s-inspired synth-pop masterpiece Transduction that I’ve felt that a project was offering a challenge to other artists and to listeners: Do more and expect more, respectively. GUNSHIP songs such as “Tech Noir,” “Pink Mist, and “Black Sun on the Horizon” are crystal-clear evidence of an adept trio of souls — plus guests — sending that message, even if they’re not explicitly doing it.
Along the way, GUNSHIP has been grateful for the support they’ve received from fans. They shined a light on the synthwave scene as a key target for their gratitude.
“The synthwave scene is something special — genuinely special,” Haigh said. “There is this awesome feeling of support between all the bands [and] producers that I simply haven’t encountered elsewhere. Everyone simply wants to help each other.”
When they were making the album, the band asked some members of the scene for remixes of some of the album’s 10 songs. Three remixes ended up on the record: The Miami Nights 1984 remix of “Revel in Your Time,” Carpenter Brut’s kick-ass take on “Tech Noir,” and Makeup and Vanity Set’s remix of “Black Sun on the Horizon (feat. Martin Grech).”
“… We simply reached out to some of our favorite dudes and asked if they dug the tracks enough to collaborate,” Haigh said. “[The remixers] are amazingly talented artists who I’m proud to share a record with. The level of creativity and talent in the scene is incredible. There is something about synthwave that attracts creatives… It’s a great time!”
Night Rides and Heart Vibes
During the recording process, artists usually have certain routines, mantras, or other practices they use to ensure they’re on the right path. Some will dim the lights and put some candles on for a vibe-check, but Haigh goes way beyond that.
“I used to load up the current version of a work-in-progress track onto my iPhone, jump on my motorbike, and drive around London in the middle of the night,” he said. “If the track transported me to a cinematic place while riding, I knew we were going in the right direction.”
There were gut-checks, too.
“The only way you can judge your own work is by if you feel it or not — if it hits you,” Westaway said. “If you feel it, then the chances are that someone else out there will have the same response.”
To me, Hardcastle has helped them reach the apex of that intense, cinematic feeling in the stop-motion “Tech Noir” music video.
He did it literally by using so many different 80s film characters, of course, but he also managed to create a grandeur in the tight spaces of the claymation medium. Carpenter’s narration certainly helps, too.
“I had no idea how the hell I was gonna do it and [I was] worrying that it would look terrible,” Hardcastle told Vehlinggo. “But I went ahead and bought a big bag of sand and poured it on a table and set up a sheet for the sky. I was like, ‘This ain’t too bad,’ and as I started animating and shooting I became more confident and had a lot of fun with it.”
Hardcastle pulled it off in about a month. He said, overall, he’s proud of how it turned out.
“I wasn’t really trying to achieve anything in particular, but [was] trying to achieve a vibe and a feel more than anything — within the constraints I was faced with,” he said. “What was important was that we had a story. As long as we had the story nailed, then everything else can fall into place, and it did. It worked. I think it’s a crazy fun video.”
With the album and some great videos behind them, Gingell said he, Haigh, and Westaway would love to take GUNSHIP mobile, and would bring guests — assuming they’re up for it.
This isn’t an easy task, though. Their sounds are big and often complex.
“It will be a lot of work on our part to figure out how to play everything live,” Gingell said, “because we will want to physically play as many of the parts as possible: an awesome challenge that we look forward to conquering.”
Aside from tour plans, the band has its eye on future recording sessions, collaborations, and any other opportunities that come their way, according to Westaway.
“We will start work on more tracks imminently,” he said. “It’s a really nice feeling for us now — we have created a small following that will listen to stuff we put out, which we didn’t have a month ago when we put out the record. Hopefully, we can keep building it.”
Overall, Gingell said, the response to the band and its work has been “fantastic,” and “more than we had dared hope for.”
There’s no doubt the level of effort they put into everything resonates deeply in the 80s retro community and beyond.
“We really tried to do something special in each and every avenue and we care deeply that people are getting value out of them,” Gingell said. “We have some rad ideas gestating for clothing and some upcoming vinyl and cassette releases that I think people are going to love. It has really bolstered our passion for continuing to deliver the best we can.”