Photography and Design by Alex Poulos

What’s it like to be one of the region’s rising stars? Woroni sat down with Conagh, James, Alec and Joel of The Gypsy Scholars; to get their thoughts on life on tour, filming music videos and how those elaborate songs come together.

Georgia Grimaudo: You’ve just come off the release of the video for Looking Glass, which is also your first music video. What was the filming process like?

Conagh: Hot and sweaty.

James: Really hot and really sweaty. It was good, Archie Chew flew in from Melbourne to Sydney and he’d written a storyboard for it. It was a really good experience for us.

Joel: Yeah, we’d been planning it for a couple of weeks and Archie was keeping us in the loop with constant storyboarding.

Alec: Well, it was a 35 degree day shooting with lots of kids, in the bush, and we had to lug around a big car battery generator so we could even hear what we were doing. But somehow, we managed to have a ripper of a time. We got some ice blocks, we hung out, we drank Powerade… it was good. And Archie was probably the most patient guy to do it with us. It just ended up being a super fun day – even though Joel and Conagh nearly fucked it up for us – in the end it was a good learning experience. And the end result, for something that was done for us for free, and also was the first time we’ve done anything like that, is something we can all be pretty proud of.

I understand you’ve got a new single dropping really soon. Any details you want to share about it?

Alec: We only figured out what we were doing like two days ago.

Joel: We had a big meeting the other day about what we were actually recording. We’re just sorting out final recording times and getting those locked in with Lou Montgomery, who records with the likes of Peking Duk and Safia. Can we say what song we’re recording?

Conagh: Keeping that on the DL. We won’t even tell Lou.

James: All I will say is that it’s very different. It’s going to drop in April and we’re going to do an East Coast tour with it, spread it out a little further.

Conagh: So with the others, we released it onto an audience we’re quite comfortable with. Our shows are mostly Canberra, and we’ve sold out Sydney – we’re just sell-outs – but we’re going to do a broader tour and hope to continue growing an audience.

Alec: Between our two singles, you’ll be able to capture the breadth of our range. When we do our live shows, it’s just a mix of things. But between this new one and Looking Glass, you’ll be able to understand our full range quite easily.

James: I think what’s unique about our music is that each sound is constructed differently to each story that we tell. We choose different instrumentation depending on what’s best for the story.

You performed at the Lost Paradise festival over the summer. What does it mean to you as a band to book gigs like that? How does it compare to gigs such as your recent headliner at Parlour?

Joel: Oh, it was huge. We’d just come off of a year of doing as many gigs as we could, and it came up very last minute. It felt like a reward for plugging away all year. It was such a cool experience and we were treated like proper musicians. It really felt good.

Alec: And slightly undeserved. We were freaking out! We had people driving around our instruments and got loads of free stuff. Spoons especially was freaking out!

James: Probably the best thing about that opportunity was being able to hang out with other musicians – we spent a lot of time with some really established bands and DJs, including, y’know, Jamie xx, Sons of the East, and Young Franco, and being able to bounce off their music was something that was really beneficial.
Conagh: It was good to dip our toes in something that we’ll hopefully move towards. It’s really different playing at a festival. In some ways it’s less intimate, but people are still there for the tunes and it’s still a good time. It was really good for our live set.

James: And no one really knew who we were! We were sort of off to the side, and we didn’t know what to expect. But halfway through our set, it just went off. Shit load of likes on Facebook. There were people on tables, it went nuts!

What’s the writing process like for you guys?

Conagh: Well, with my songs, I generally write it away from the group, [come up with] something that I quite like [and bring it back], but the arrangement happens as a group. You bring a pretty solid set of bones and then the rest of the band puts everything else on it. I don’t think any of us are pretentious enough to stick to our guns when it comes to songs.

James: We all do a bit of writing, and then bring it into the group and bounce ideas off each other. When you bring a song in, it’s at about 30-40% done, and then as soon as you add in all the instruments it changes completely. It grows into something so much more complex.

Joel: I think the best thing is that everyone gets to have a say and everyone listens to each other. Any idea, no matter how ridiculous it sounds in the beginning – it gets tried. We all decide if it works.

How does being a band affect your student identity? Does booking gigs through student organisations like Woroni affect it?

James: I think it’s definitely to our benefit. We’ve kind of jumped into this scene where we can get 50-100 people to rock up to anything; even if we were shit, they’d still come along.

Joel: For the record, we’re not.

James: I think we’re really lucky in we’re getting gigs – having the support of Woroni behind us is really beneficial, because they’ve offered us a number of good gigs. It’s just great for exposure. Next year it’d be great to play at the big one…

Alec: Just being at ANU is great, because the community is so good. There’s a lot of opportunity, there’s so many students, and being at uni whilst starting the band we’ve just immediately been able to be part of a community that’s strong, with an arts focus and there’s always a lot going on. We’ve been a bit blessed starting off in Canberra because there are so many opportunities, within the ANU and also in the wider area. For bands, and even for me, a graduate, just being able to come and play 4 gigs in O Week – you appreciate how much creative stuff is going on. The focus on live entertainment has really helped us establish a fanbase. Being able to play to 300 people at ANU Bar on an afternoon and have everyone be receptive has really helped us mature as a band.

Finally, if you were all stranded together on a desert island, who would be sacrificed first?

Joel: Not Alec. We need Alec.

James: I’ll take one for the team. You guys can go on.

Joel: You nearly broke up the band with that one! Everyone looked at Conagh.

Conagh: But everyone thought Spoons! No, because of how tight we are and how well we work together as a team, there’s no reason for any one of us to die.

Alec: We’d all die together!

James: Just on that note, I honestly think if one of us [couldn’t] play, it’d be the end of the band. There’s nothing we could do. It just wouldn’t be the same.

You can catch The Gypsy Scholars at Phoenix on the 26th of Feb at 8pm for the last time before they kick off on their tour with Sydney band Gostwyck in March. They’ll also be going on an East Coast tour – catch them in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, and Bathurst during April.