“What a time to be alive,” bassist and vocalist Alicia Gaines sings, smothering you in anxiety. Fronting the Chicago-based post-punk outfit Ganser — rounded out by Nadia Garofalo (vocals, keyboard), Brian Cundiff (drums) and Charlie Landsman (guitar) — Gaines pierces a cloud of scratchy guitars and static on the band’s timely new single “Satsuma,” premiering today.
At its core, the song is “a sauntering accusation, art-punk sarcasm and inaugural détournement,” the band tells Billboard. “Alicia laments from a vantage point beyond where distress has turned to knowing detachment.”
“Satsuma” unravels and splinters, a looming centerpiece off the band’s debut album, Odd Talk, out April 20 on No Trend Records, but contains a commanding and withdrawn presence. “The keening anxiety present on other tracks…turns into reservation here, coming out the other side as a swaggering warning against expectations and showing your hand in a time of uncertainty. It is a song to feel big when you feel small.”
Digging further into the song’s message, Gaines doesn’t mince words. “Being alive, you can’t help but be affected by your environment, even if unintentionally. The chorus of ‘Satsuma’ refers to words spoken by a dangerous idiot referring to the inauguration crowd in 2017,” she states of the song, which not only carries a profound weight of doomed universality but scarred intimacy.
“We have a digital, shared pool of words, our own poetry, found phrases without homes that we utilize for song writing. Charlie planted that quote (without quotations) there, and I picked it up for its hypnotic quality (“Million and a half, million and a half people” as a looping mantra),” she continues. “It was only later that I realized what the context of the words were. It brings a more biting edge to the rest of the lyrics, and again found new life as we began to perform it live. You’re looking out into a crowd of people, singing those words, making eye contact with individuals and a whole at the same time. Finding emotional and humanistic connection from a lie, it’s a wonderful thing.”
Check out “Satsuma” below.
How did making this album give you the exact language you needed to describe what you were feeling?
Gaines: I think there was a response in that, as a pretty measured group, the times when we lost control gave us freedom in ways we couldn’t have predicted.
Cundiff: It isn’t so much about finding the exact language, or communicating a manifesto, as it is playing with the means in which a message is delivered.
How do your musical and production choices serve the language?
Landsman: Happy accidents, audio kept from the original demos and obscure sources helped us lay a path to our absurdist sensibility in songwriting. When you work partially in a [William S.] Burroughs cut up style, you find that sometimes the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Sometimes, one plus one equals three.
Cundiff: Being very intentional with choices like utilizing room noise and tracking instrumentation as a group live help to create an environment in which the album and listener live. It helps the work sound more natural, which is something we’ve been working towards.
When songwriting, do you spend quite a bit of time tightening up the words you use, perhaps swapping out certain terms as you see fit?
Garofalo: I think we do that in our everyday lives. Language is inherently a flawed tool for communicating thought. We’ve written previously about anxiety and what lives in your head. With this album, we looked to have a dialogue about how those thoughts ooze out of your mouth to hopefully convey meaning to others. Our process involves an obsession with words and meaning, and sometimes means a complete disregard for both.
What are some of the album’s emotional pieces and how do they work together and against one another?
Landsman: We’ve walked dark themes to humorous ends. It’s hard to be hopeless if you’re still laughing, and I think we’re looking to reach others that can laugh with us. Sometimes the contrast between the tone of the lyrics and the tone of the music is what’s interesting. Communication, miscommunication, frustration, intimacy and its perils, and the fear of falling off the planet are themes throughout the album.
What is your overall personal journey throughout this process?
Garofalo: With this debut, beyond our normal songwriting process, we’ve found a way to make a more cohesive body of work. From conceptualizing and executing album art, music videos, all of this in conjunction with the music, it helps to further color the picture the music was already making. As a band, we’ve grown into ourselves.
From where does the unrelenting anxiety, employed throughout the album, come?
Gaines: It comes from ignoring that scratch in your throat. That phone call you don’t want to pick up. Existential dread. Wanting to make a good first impression. Did you leave the stove on? The fear of dying alone. Dysmorphia. Needing to file your taxes. Not wanting to offend. Wondering if you are ever going to have any sense of purpose. It comes from being a human.