One of my favourite stories from the brilliant ‘Songs That Saved Your Life – The Art of The Smiths 1982-87’ is a little aside about playing in hot conditions. At one point, The Smiths were playing shows to temperatures upwards of 100 degrees and people within their core team were getting sick left and right.
“Even Morrissey was wearing shorts by the end of it” is a quote that creates such hilarious imagery.
Whilst the UK could in no way be considered a hot country, cycling over to Fuel in Withington to interview Gulfer in early September, during an apparent heatwave, was enough to reduce me to a sweaty glob by the time I got round to meeting the Canadian quartet. Shaking bassist David Mitchell’s hand, I thought the heat had got to him too, but it would soon turn out that this clammy handshake was down to David being struck down by illness. Potentially down to the hot weather, but more likely the past few weeks living out of a van and the weekend spent at ArcTanGent Festival in the pissing rain.
“I really wanted to go there, but my illness prevented me from doing it.” Says David of the plans to visit Salford Lads Club, a Morrissey Mecca, being scrapped due to illness. “Which was really sad, ‘cus I’ve been looking forward to going there for a while. Big Morrissey fan, but next time I guess.”
“It’s definitely gonna be a next time thing.” Pipes up guitarist Joey Therriault. “There’s so much to see here, but unfortunately we got here, loaded in, we ate and then here we are being interviewed. Tour is awesome, but you get to see surprisingly little of the very city you go to.”
“This is also the end of tour, so we’re all just like… The end of tour plus being ill is a bad mix, I guess.” Shrugs David.
Their visit to the UK didn’t allow for too many tourist activities, though Canterbury was notable amongst the group for its architecture and assortment of Belgian beers (“It’s funny to drink Belgian beer when in Canterbury, but…” – Joey). Their first time on these shores, it’s fair to say Gulfer packed a lot into their UK debut, with David making sure to put the majority of shows together himself.
“We had basically no expectations, because we weren’t supporting anybody.” He says. “So It’s kind of hard to have any expectations one way or the other, but everything turned out really good. It just speaks to how well run shows are, in the mainland especially. People do a really thorough job of promoting and organising stuff. We got really well taken care of and I think promoters really went the extra mile to get people out to the shows. It’s just really encouraging and it’s great to know that when we do come back, it’ll be great. We’ve had two almost flawless experiences here, so it’s really encouraging. The UK’s been great for so many reasons – It’s really beautiful and we’ve all sort of grown up being really inspired by a lot of bands that have come out of here.”
The 20+ European dates couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, with ArcTanGent coming just three days into their run. The annual extravaganza that is ArcTanGent was another first for Gulfer, and the four-piece got well and truly stuck into everything the long weekend had to offer. Citing the likes of Three Trapped Tigers, American Football and Animals As Leaders as highlights (as well as good local food and MDMA), it was exciting enough just going to the festival, let alone playing it. Though it wasn’t without its downsides.
“I’d say the camping part was pretty intense.” Says drummer Julien Daoust. “Lots of rain, mud – very windy. But still, very enjoyable, it was a really fun experience. Really nerve wracking for playing a show that big at the beginning of the tour, but it went super well.”
“It was awesome. The line-up for ArcTanGent this year would be the kind of line-up that I would fly out to go to that festival, even if we weren’t playing it.” Beams Joey. “American Football and toe and TTNG. I won’t name the whole line-up, but it was really phenomenal. So to be able to play that was really a pleasure. We very rarely play shows that big, so when we do get a chance to it’s great. Everyone in the crowd was so receptive, it was just a really fun experience.”
Hailed by many as the band of the weekend and judging by the swollen tent, it seems a no-brainer in hindsight that Gulfer were an early addition to the ArcTanGent line-up. However, their inclusion wasn’t just an out of the blue phone call as David recalls.
“…More of a – how do we get ourselves on it? I think it was me trying for many months, less of them being like ‘Hey, we want you on our festival’. More of us being like – finally.”
Now in its fourth year, ArcTanGent has grown somewhat. Bringing in the punters doesn’t appear to be a problem for the festival these days; the issue seems to be in making it bigger and better year upon year. Thankfully, the organisers are no slouches when it comes to exceeding expectations, with this year alone featuring performances from the likes of the aforementioned American Football and toe, as well as the final performance from the returning Meet Me In St. Louis. With this being the case, getting the attention of the organisers could potentially be a bit of a slog. Thankfully for them, Gulfer had a helping hand.
“The label Big Scary Monsters approached us about working together and asked us if we had any plans to come over. We said we’d love to do ArcTanGent, so they were the ones that sort of set it up for us.” Continues David. “Because they have such – let’s say clout with the festival – they were able to make it happen really quickly and that’s why we got announced at the beginning. As soon as they got involved, we were on overnight basically. It was great though, to be included in the announce so early because, you know, more time to brag – like, extreme brag time. It would’ve been cool, bragging wise, to be announced towards the end, because the line-up just kept getting better and better. I feel like we had to keep re-posting the flyers, like – look at this, Godspeed’s playing!” He laughs.
“That’s what it’s all about I think – bragging. I think for what we do and the music we like, ArcTanGent for years has just been the sickest festival. I don’t know if anything even comes close to it. We wanna do it again for sure, I wanna go back. I wanna go back every year if possible!”
An MVP of the independent scene for years, as well as supporters of ArcTanGent from day one, Oxford based record label Big Scary Monsters have gone above and beyond in 2016, putting out highly acclaimed releases one after the other throughout the year. Picking up on Gulfer was a real choice acquisition on both sides, with the label giving the LP ‘What Gives’ its official vinyl release and opening the door for Gulfer throughout the UK. Even the mere mention of Big Scary Monsters at shows garners a great reaction from the crowd, a good indication that this will be a valuable partnership.
“At the end of the day, we’re still quite a small band and we only started working with them a few months ago. I think it takes time to develop.” Says David. “Nothing’s gonna explode overnight, so to speak, I think these things take time. I’m mostly looking forward to putting out brand new music with them, because we just reissued a record from last year. So I think on both of our ends, we’re maybe not pushing it as a brand new proper release. It’s sort of like – No one’s put this out on vinyl, so let’s do that because it’s a great opportunity. I think this tour will establish us in the UK, but once we have a new record out when we come back that’s when we’ll notice – hopefully – more of an impact.”
Whilst not even out of the country at the time of interview, there’s already talk of returning to the UK. The general consensus is to return as soon as possible, with the one-two-three punch of the UK, Europe and Japan on the horizon once the new record is finished.
“For us it’s as soon as possible ‘cus we love it here, it’s been so much fun.” Sums up Joey. “It’s just juggling all our schedules and the record. 18 months sounds like a long time, but it’s really like, we wanna be back.”
The call of home really struck a chord with the quartet however, as guitarist Vincent Ford says regarding the band nearing the end of tour.
“I’d say it’s 50/50. We all have families, we all have girlfriends that we wanna see. Obviously we’ll miss going to new places, meeting new people – especially the guys in Big Scary Monsters for example, who were very, very nice to us. But yeah, I’m looking forward to going back. I can’t wait to see my daughter and skate back home – buy a new skateboard, buy my daughter a skateboard. Get it back on the roll.”
“Tour’s definitely been so much fun.” Says Joey with a smile. “We’ve all been out for a month now, which is the longest that any of us have done individually – except for David, actually. It feels so good to be out for this long, but it’s nice to go home too. I need to go back to school, I’ve already missed a week on this tour…”
“It’s like a challenge too – We did it!” Says Vincent. “We made it till the end, we survived. Success!”
“I thought I wanted to stay out, then I got sick.” Sighs David. “Now I’m just like – teleport me home. The last few days of my life I’ve just been repeating this mantra. As long as I’m 60% for the London show, that’ll be ok. Yesterday I couldn’t function and then we played one of the best sets of tour… Maybe that’s why I’m so fucked up the next day, ‘cus I go in so hard on the set. It takes me like 18 hours to recover.” He laughs.
With a European return high on everybody’s lists, there’s now just the small task of putting together a new record. So how are Gulfer holding up?
“We have, for now, five new songs – Four of them that me and Joey were involved in, because we’re new in the band.” Confirms Julien.
“It’s five new songs that we’ve been playing live just about every night on this tour, and the reception for them has been really fun I think.” Adds Joey. “When we get back we have plans to write more, finish that up and take time to make the record feel like a good and cohesive album. Then get to recording and every little step along the way to release, hopefully this time next year.”
Inspiration wise, Vincent claimed in an interview once that the classic combination of Sylvia Plath and skateboarding were what had gone into his writing. As far as inspirations for their brand new material, people will be thankful to know that skating and poetry are still up there.
“I just got a collection of poems from Sylvia Plath on tour. There’s like 300 poems she wrote that I can’t understand half of it, ‘cus im French and she uses a good amount of vocabulary that I’m not used to.” Says Vincent with a laugh. “I’d say a lot of slacker-rock. Slacker-rock got into our lives and we’re really influenced by it. There’s a song called ‘Doglife’ that’s straight up what we’re trying to go for, in terms of that genre. Bands like Alex G and Horse Jumper Of Love, which is the best band ever. That’s pretty much it, man.”
“We also have Tony Hawk in the van – So I guess that’s pretty noteworthy.” Adds David. “It only started working today though.”
“That’s why we’re gonna write a bunch of new songs today. Tony Hawks’ gonna come in and we’re just gonna finish the record today.” Laughs Joey.
“Imagine if we had Tony Hawk for the whole tour…” Adds David as the other three crack up.
With Sylvia Plath and Tony Hawk on board, Gulfer are already thick into plans for the new release, with a number of videos all lined up. Vincent in a shopping cart outside a German hostel, being assaulted with traffic cones? Check. Local memes from back home in Quebec? Check. It’s all coming together for what will be, as far as Gulfer are concerned, their first proper LP.
“I guess I feel like we haven’t really made a real album yet,” Says David. “Because the one we just re-released on BSM was supposed to be nine songs, then two of them ended up getting put on that split we did on Topshelf. That was our first attempt at making a proper record, then that sort of got weirdly split up. So I think we’re gonna try and make ten songs, cohesive… Not something that’s fragmented and pieced together, so to speak. I’m really looking forward to having what I would consider our first real record and trying to push it as hard as we can… So we have some incubation going on – Album, music videos.”