Interview: GoGo Penguin
GoGo Penguin are a 3 man group of Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums). Their avant-garde music draws from jazz, electronica, classical disciplines and more, resulting in a remarkably refreshing, unique sound. Their latest album, 'A Humdrum Star' is their fourth studio release is a pensive introspection into our place in the wider, infinite universe, inspired in part by words from Carl Sagan's original Cosmos series.
For better or for worse, the role as a bridging artist to open doors into Jazz music has seemingly been assigned to GoGo Penguin. How do you guys feel about that and does it weigh into your writing process?
An interviewer in Belgium recently said a similar thing to us. It was the first time we’d heard it, to be honest. I’m not sure it’s entirely true, but, of course it’s nice to think that we’re opening up doorways for listeners to discover different types of music. There’s a wealth of incredible music that exists outside of the mainstream, both past and present, so if we play some kind of a part in that discovery process for people then that’s great. As for the writing process, it has no effect on us. We’ve always said we make the kind of music that we want to make first and foremost. Of course we want other people to like it, but we’re not governed by people’s expectations.
I read somewhere that you took a lot of inspiration from Joseph Campbell in writing v2.0 and the record itself was laden with motifs from his work. Is it something similar with astral scholars in ‘A Humdrum Star’?
With all of our albums so far there are always many underlying ideas and individual inspirations, not just the one overwhelming concept. Each track in particular will have its own story. All three of us write, so while there are general themes that we discuss and share, each of us will bring our own personalities and ideas to the initial sketches for tracks. Around the time that we were making the latest record we had been discussing some of Carl Sagan’s work and philosophy, and felt that his writing about our place in the universe, particularly the view of the earth as the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and the sun as the ‘Humdrum Star’, related to many of the ideas within the album. We were fascinated by the idea of dual perspectives, how the same situation can be seen as unique and varied when viewed from different standpoints. The idea of ‘A Humdrum Star’ reflected this perfectly: from one perspective the sun can be just one tiny light among billions in the sky; from another it is immensely powerful and essential to giving life to the planet we all live on.
Which artists have you guys been enjoying on tour?
It’s always changing because we’re always looking for new things to listen to.
Nathan Fake, Plaid, Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2, Lorn, Jon Hopkins, Nils Frahm, Bonobo, Yosi Horikawa, and Aphex Twin, to name but a few.
Who are some good artists coming out of Manchester we should know about?
They’re different to what we’re doing but our friends Honeyfeet, Paddy Steer, and Skeltr. He’s not from Manchester but there’s a British singer-songwriter called Daudi Matsiko who’s supported us a lot in the UK. We really love what he’s doing. Also, our former label Gondwana Records’ catalogue is worth checking out.
You have a pretty well documented influence from electronic music, was there always thought dedicated as to how your music would perform in a live space?
We come from a background of regularly performing live, so, in a way, we’ve actually had to think and learn more about how to make records. It’s a slightly different approach. We make the music together in a room, or at least someone brings an idea and we develop it together, so we have to be able to physically play it from the outset. That’s from a performance perspective, but our live sound in terms of production is also crucial which is why we’ve had Joe Reiser, our live sound engineer, on board since v2.0. He’s recorded and co-produced our last three albums from v2.0 onwards. He’s the fourth member of GoGo Penguin, and we’ve worked a lot on improving every aspect of our live shows together over the past few years.