One of the first things Sven Gamsky, who performs under the appropriately wacky moniker Still Woozy, asked Billboard was if he had any boogers in his nose. It’s a normal thing that people need to talk about more, he insists. Sporting a white tank top, a houndstooth shacket and green Carhartt cargo pants, the indie pop star seemed a bit frazzled. Having been on tour to promote his first full-length album If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is since January, Gamsky has since been booked by major festivals such as Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Governors Ball.
“I feel pretty much out of it most of the time,” said Gamsky, who woke up only two hours before his Governors Ball set at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday (June 11). This year’s Gov Ball features an art installation that celebrates the incredible herb of spiritual elevation that is marijuana, and Gamsky’s fans clearly got the memo. It was hard to miss the earthy smell of weed in the crowd, and many showed up in vibrant tie-dye and glitter as if transported from the Summer of Love, ready to get down with the Bay Area native.
Despite his much unassuming off-stage persona, Gamsky quickly hyped up the crowd with his Marvin Gaye-sampling “Window.” He was in his element, dropping witty remarks and showing off sleek moves with bandmate legwurk, aka Tani, who assumed the stage in an extravagant pink tutu and gave a shout-out to lesbians in the crowd and the Brooklyn neighborhood Bushwick.
When his anxiety-inspired track “BS” brought thousands together in Citi Field’s parking lot — where fans jumped to his sticky grooves and scratchy hooks — it wasn’t hard to understand why Still Woozy’s music is so relatable. “How many of you have depression? How many of you have anxiety?” Gamsky shouted to the field. “I’ve never heard of either of those things.” His humor was arguably as good as his music. Closing with “Goodie Bag,” Gamsky did not leave the stage without reminding the audience to be kind and take care of each other – just last week in Richmond, VA, the singer paused his performance for a fan who passed out, his tour manager confirmed.
After his Gov Ball gig, Gamsky sat down with Billboard to chat about psychedelics, his next album and his upcoming wedding. The interview has been edited for clarity and context.
First Coachella, now Gov Ball. How does it feel to have such a big audience?
It feels crazy. It’s different when you’re playing your own shows. It’s more intimate, and everybody knows the songs. When you’re playing festivals, you’re casting a wider net. So sometimes that’s kind of weird to navigate, but I always try to make myself look stupid, so that everybody knows that I’m stupid, and then I can’t take myself seriously. They can’t take me seriously. So we’ll all have fun.
What was the first concert you saw?
The first show I ever saw was Coldplay when I was nine. It changed my life [laughs]. The balloons falling from the ceiling on “Yellow,” Chris Martin performing his ass off, the delayed guitar – all so epic.
What’s the last song that you listened to?
The last song I listened to was “Blues Run the Game” by Jackson C. Frank. This is a highly covered folk song from the ’60s but none of the covers beat the original. I love to put my headphones on and walk around new cities listening to this song on repeat.
If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
If I could see any artist I would probably see Robert Johnson or Hank Williams. Robert Johnson was a blues musician active in the ’20s and ’30s who helped build the pillars that contemporary music is based on. An amazing guitar player, his blues recordings have influenced everyone from Led Zeppelin to Bob Dylan. He was the first to talk about selling his soul to the devil. And I just love Hank so much. Maybe my favorite singing voice of all time. I would give a lot for a chance to go back and see him play in the ’40s at some intimate venue.
Your only new song this year, “Pool,” was missing from your Gov Ball setlist. Is that song any indication of what your next album will sound like?
I’ve been making a lot of acoustic music, but I don’t think I want to have the album be just acoustic. I think I still have a lot more experimenting to do. I really want to push the boundaries. I love acoustic music, but I don’t want to stop there. So I think it’s gonna be a lot of different sh-t that I don’t even understand yet.
Before you dropped If This Isn’t Nice, I Don’t Know What Is, you had released eight singles but none of them made the cut on the album. How do you decide what songs end up on the album?
Before, when I was just doing singles, I would just finish the track and put it out. It’s not like that anymore. Now I have to think more long-term, and I have to make a bunch of tracks before I start releasing. It gets tiring to just have singles all the time. I think that people want a bigger body of work, and I understand that. I really had to learn how to multitask in a way that I’ve never done before.
Does that mean you often have to think about what your audience wants to hear from you when making music? Or do you just focus on what you want to make?
I feel like it’s kind of a trap to do that. Because then you start like, if you don’t like it, then no one else is gonna like it. It’s like this little tightrope you got to balance.
Talking about feedback, do you ever read what people say about you online?
I try to not. I have seen some things here and there, but it just usually makes me feel bad. And if it’s really nice, I usually only hear the negative things. It’s a horrible part of myself, but it’s hard not to when you’re being consumed. There’s a lot of positive feedback, but then the negative feedback often sticks out – so much louder than everything else.
Your music is very psychedelia-inspired. Was your song-writing process ever influenced by your own psychedelic experiences?
Oh totally. So much. You want to talk about drugs?
I don’t do psychedelics anymore. Because I feel like I’ve done pretty much every drug that I wanted to try already. But I still would get stoned, and it’s expiring. Getting high at an early age, that definitely influenced me and the music I like to listen to, mainly because when you’re stoned, first of all, music is incredible to listen to. But also the textures all around you … it’s so immersive. And I’ve always wanted my music to feel immersive. Like in Avatar, they created this whole lush world. It’s just a crazy alien world. That is immersive. I want every song to feel as immersive as Pandora.
Going off of that, your music does remind me of the fantasy world from Adventure Time. It’s kinda goofy and trippy, but also very deep.
Totally. I love Adventure Time! Sometimes it’ll take a right turn and you’re like, how the hell did I get here? My dog is named BMO. She’s a little Chihuahua. She’s four pounds. Very small.
You’re getting married later this year to your fiancée, who also does all your singles’ artwork. How are you balancing being on tour and playing all these crazy festivals and getting ready for your wedding?
Honestly, my fiancée has been doing most of the work and God bless her. She deserves so much credit because she’s so good and organized, and I’m so disorganized, and we’ve balanced each other out really well. But it’s been hard to be away from her too.
Does she ever travel with you on tour?
She has once, but she doesn’t really like traveling. And I don’t really blame her, you know? It’s not as luxurious as it sounds, really, like going on a tour bus and stuff. You’re kind of just waiting in a parking lot or like in different cities, different places that you might never really go.
So you’re from the Bay Area and now you live in Oregon. How does your East Bay upbringing influence your creative process?
In the beginning, I reached out through the internet a lot. And then I found this weird underground scene – the bedroom pop scene – through the internet. And I was like, oh, that’s kind of sick. But I never really wanted to just do that. But I really connected mostly through the internet and not through being in the physical Bay Area. I feel like that’s how it goes now. L.A. is more where the scene is – in the Bay Area, it’s so tech-y. There’s not a huge music [scene].