April 6, 2020

There’s nothing wrong with jeans and a T-shirt, and I don’t walk around in a Rick Wakeman cape all the time – but it can be a bit dull when nothing’s added to the visual” – Kenwyn House

Ramblin’ Man festival 2018 .. For the first time the ‘Prog in the Park’ stage is now inside a large circus tent as opposed to outside braving the elements. It’s also the un-rock ‘n roll time of early Sunday afternoon as the opening set from Austrian band Second Relation is now followed by a set from a band bedecked in an outrageous swirl of glitz, lights and colour. The female vocalist is wearing a bright, golden yellow chiffon cape and a yellow mini dress, and she’s floating around the stage like a pirouetting butterfly, pulling shapes and poses as she sings, entrancing the crowd with the hypnotic power of her voice, as she evokes ethereal images of Kate Bush and Alison Goldfrapp. Behind her is a glorious soundwave of music, a mix of psychedelia and rock, with guitar work being provided by someone wearing a headband and an open gold-coloured coat / gown who was previously a mainstay with the band Reef. They’re certainly a visual experience on a stage not normally noted for theatricality and colour and, as the applause after their short set indicates, a good musical one as well. Goldray are in the building.

Fast forward to 2020. After a period of inactivity, Goldray are now in the process of getting everything ready for the release of their as yet untitled second album, only the second in their ten year existence, though they did release a mini-album in 2014, and guitarist Kenwyn House and singer Leah Rasmussen now want to spread the word about what they’re doing, and they agreed to talk to VT about the new album and the philosophy underpinning their approach to Goldray.

“We’re in the process of adding the finishing touches to the new album,” guitarist Kenwyn House (KH) stated when asked how the new album’s coming along, “Getting it ready for the mixing, tiny tweaks really, but it’s essentially done”.  “It’s been a manic last four months, really,” agreed singer Leah Rasmussen (LR), “finalising everything, getting it all together and now it’s quite nice because we’ve been so long in the studio, recording and mixing, and we’re now pretty much done. We’re working with Pedro Ferreira, who runs Inroad Studios in Sweden, which is an amazing studio just outside Gothenburg. We just love him as a mix engineer. He did our first album, Rising, and we’re getting to know each other more as he knows what we love, and it’s a really good combination so, yeah, it’s all been quite intense,” she laughed. “Now, we’re into doing the video, the photographs and all this stuff”.

“Getting an album together is one of those things where you set yourself a deadline, and they’re all these things you’ve gotta do,” – KH again – “and it’s an incredibly busy time. We’re working on about four or five different fronts at the moment, getting everything ready for the new record”. “Especially when you’re doing it all yourself, as we are,” agreed LR. “We’re not doing it with a label, though we’ve had some label interest and we’ve been looking at this option, though at the moment we’re kind of focusing purposely on doing it ourselves, which is why we’re being kind of evasive as to release dates. It’s possible it might be released this side of the summer, or it could be early September. We’ve a team of people who’ve a better idea about this,” she laughs.

Does doing everything themselves mean they have no management, I wondered?  “The thing is,” LR said “we’ve pulled together a group of people to work on our campaign, like PR and so on, and we’ve got a great team together around us, and they’re people who really love the band and are as excited as we are. The whole process is really a joy”. “Yeah,” KH agreed. “I’m really excited to get this album out. I really want people to hear it. It’s something I’m very proud of, and it’s our best work to date.”

Given the gap between their first album and its soon-to-be follow-up, did they believe they’ve still kept the momentum they were building up going? “There has been a gap,” KH agreed, “but those people who remember what we do are still on board, and we’ve not lost any of these people along the way. But we’re just about to release our new album so we’ll find out .. come talk to me again in six months’ time when hopefully the new album’s out, but I’ve got this feeling things are working out for us”. “We would have liked to have released earlier,” LR offered up, “but, when you’re releasing on your own and there’s a lot of factors involved, it’s quite a challenge”. “And also,” KH again, “as well as doing everything ourselves, we’re not prepared to sacrifice quality. We’ll always spend money to achieve the highest possible outcome, because there’s no point in putting out anything less than your best.”

So, how different will the new album be to the previous one, Rising? “There is a progression,” KH stated with certainty. “It doesn’t sound like the same record, but it sounds like the same band three years on. It’s a logical progression and there’s a different sound to it. It has elements which go slightly heavier at times and other elements which go the opposite way, more accessible”. “It’s a bit more Kooky,” LR believes, “a bit arty and underground in places and really out there in other places. It’s hard to describe and it does go through the spectrum”. “It’s hard to describe, really,” KH laughed. “Frank Zappa once said, talking about music is like dancing about architecture”. The quote was originally attributed to Canadian comedian-musician Martin Mull in actual fact, but it’s often associated with Zappa, which seems to make sense given his often acerbic relationship with music journalists, so few would deny him ownership of it!

Going back to the first album, Goldray formed in 2010 but their first album wasn’t released until 2017. Why the lengthy delay in releasing the debut album?  “Well, we released an EP in 2014,” KH remarked, “but during a lot of this time, Reef got back together so I was tied up doing stuff with them, but even during this time, Leah and I were always writing. Sometimes, it just takes a while to build what you really are, and we took quite a long journey in this respect, mainly because I was busy doing other things, but also because we didn’t wanna rush anything. We always enjoyed our writing process together, which eventually led us to our first EP release in 2014, which was pretty much when I finally left Reef. Since then, things have picked up quite a bit”. “It also took us a while to find out what we were,” LR suggested. “We went through a few incarnations because we didn’t know what we wanted to be, and the whole psych thing hadn’t really started. It was all very underground and we didn’t even know there was a psych scene developing, and we discovered what we tended to write, which was quite tricky and proggy, maybe wasn’t likely to sell very well but, you know what, we needed to do what we felt. So then we’d rewrite things, and I actually did a complete rewrite on the song Rising. It’d been mastered and was ready to go on the album, but I suggested to Kenwyn I wanted to do a complete rewrite of Rising as I’d written something completely different”.

After his initial doubts about this, however, KH agreed with Leah’s suggestion. “And I’m so glad she did,” he beamed, “because it was so much better, it was amazing. The vocals on ‘Rising’ are awesome”. “Yeah,” LR said, happily, “it’s like your first run at something isn’t necessarily the best thing, and you live with it, but if something’s niggling you and it won’t stop, then you’ve gotta change it. It’s like the universe saying to you no, you haven’t quite got there yet. Nice try, but try again”, she laughed. “Also,” said KH, “we’re real perfectionists and we have to fight with this somewhere to let other people see what we’re doing, especially in those first few years. It took time”. “I also needed to find out what I wanted as a vocalist,” LR emphasised, “what style, how I felt, and on the new album, there’s hardly been any rewrites. We wrote these songs and they just came out so quickly, so easily. It’s like we’ve already arrived and we know what we are. There’s a confidence and much more joy, whereas on the first album it was all about is it this, is it that, figuring out what sounds right. But, on the new one Goldray’s fully formed, we know what we are and we just run with it, and it works, and it’s just getting easier. And it’s the same with our look,” she went on, “dressing ourselves in how we look, the way we wanna be, just the way we are.”

For the uninitiated, how would Goldray describe what they are and what they do to someone who knew nothing about them? “We’re a multi-dimensional musical chameleon,” laughed LR. “A Rubic’s cube of different flavours,” offered KH. “We’re influenced by a lot of stuff, really,” KH continued. “Leah’s background is in dance music as well as rock, and my influences stretch from Folk and Americana all the way to psychedelia and Prog, and onto rock and heavier stuff, as well as some electronic stuff. I know the music I’ve listened to in my past has affected me and percolated through, which has helped create what and who we are. Hmm, where would I put it ?” he mused. “It’s difficult because we’re not a psych band per se,” LR came in with, “we’re a rock band but we like to go wherever we want, really, and this is the beauty of not being with a record label, because you can create the album you want. It’s an important thing for us to be able to do what we want, and hopefully people will start to see this approach works.”

“The point about record labels is a good one,” KH came back with. “This is one of the reasons why we’ve been more careful. My experience with major labels suggests they’d kill what we want to do. The record label will get you to write a couple of singles, and copies of these singles for the rest of the album, and then they’d want the next album to sound like this one, and it’s all so uncreative. We’d definitely end up having an argument with any label who’d say this to us”. “We’re not anti-record label,” LR took up the thread, “they’re some great labels out there, but the level we’re on at the moment means we need to spread our wings”. “And keep our creative core,” KH went on. “The direction is it’s our journey, mine and Leah’s creativity, which is the reason why we’re doing this, to express our creativity”. “This is not just music we’re creating,” LR again, “we’re creating art in the whole visual sense as we think visual is extremely important, to be able to access all the senses and the consciousness of our fans. We don’t want to be reaching just the sonic side, we love giving a complete experience, a journey, and we’re really excited about building this because we have great vision for the show on a much larger scale. We wanna take this much further. Look at people like Prince and bands who’ve put more into the visual performance. We see ourselves more like this”.

“If you look at Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin,” KH suggested, “they didn’t just play good music, they also looked amazing, just like how they sounded. They created a visual experience for the fan. Pink Floyd looked great back in the day and their show was a massive sensory experience. It wasn’t just about the music; it was an opportunity to be creative in other ways. A lot of young bands today look really drab and boring”. “The great thing about the psych scene,” said LR, “is the guys involved are really dressing up now. It’s a freedom, especially for men, to dress like they did in the seventies. Bands like Temples have a great look, and the festival scene in general, at all the festivals, at Bestival and Glastonbury and others, guys are now dressing up in glitter and sequins. It’s a really exciting time and liberating to see guys dressed as Marc Bolan used to dress, because us women have been able to dress how we want since forever, really. The whole psych scene is a permission to experiment. We feel rock music is becoming very stale, and the macho fronting of bands is getting tiresome and people are getting bored with it. They want colour and femininity needs to be incorporated back into rock music, like it was in the seventies. Bolan and Bowie had a femininity about them, as did Hendrix and Plant. This is a very interesting time for rock music so, yeah, we’re feeling excited by it. The music industry is more open to experimenting. Things change because things get tired”.

This scribe pointed out he’d seen Genesis on their Foxtrot tour when Gabriel had left the stage and returned wearing a fox’s head and a red dress! “This is exactly what I’m talking about,” KH gushed excitedly. “Prog allows the musician and the composer to be more creative putting music together, harmonically and rhythmically, and psych gives us more of a visual freedom. The Gabriel era Genesis were amazing. Bands back in the ’60s and ’70s, like Pink Floyd, who’d once been considered ‘out there’ are now the mainstream.”

Colour and visual image appear to be at least as important to Goldray as does the music, I suggested. “I think it is,” KH agreed. “I consider, harmonically, different shades of chord progressions are almost like colour, and why would you leave this out on stage?” “Colour is incredibly powerful,” LR chimed in with. “It has a vibration all of its own and it affects the senses and the brain in the way you look at colour, so colours have a powerful healing effect on an individual and how you use them, so if you wear black with a colour it increases the power of that colour, and you definitely feel different. How you use colour is definitely important”. KH: “It has an effect on the way you feel, and this is what we’re dealing with. Music is nothing but a tool to make the listener and the person doing it feel something. It’s the language of emotion and feeling”. “So you add the visual to the sound and it adds up to so much more,” LR affirms. “Rock ‘n Roll is sexy and when you bring this element in, it adds to the fun”. “There’s nothing wrong with jeans and a T-shirt, and I don’t walk around in a Rick Wakeman cape all the time,” KH laughed, “but it can be a bit dull when nothing’s added to the visual”. “You go to Glastonbury,” says LR, “ and you see all these older guys dressing up and being creative with their appearance. A lot of the older, richer rock stars look so boring now,” she sighed, “it’s like they’ve given up”. “Anyone who tells anyone else how they should look because they disapprove, it’s like they’ve already shut down and are ready to die,” KH suggested.

Moving on from this, it was suggested to Leah, while her singing is often compared to Kate Bush, she also has quite a bluesy edge to her voice, as demonstrated by the opening to the song Soulchild, which you could almost imagine someone like Beth Hart singing. “Well, I was a fan of Kate’s when I was growing up, and I love Janis as well. In dance music they love that register, you know, the Aretha part, and I’ve worked from that. I’m one of these singers who likes to develop every part of their voice, rather than just one part. I like to be able to feel free, so whatever the song requires really, and Soulchild was asking for that power and register. I love going to that gutsy bluesy place so, thanks, that’s a great compliment ‘cos Beth’s an amazing singer”.

Speaking generally, I wondered whether Goldray thought there was any other band doing what they do or are they in a field of one? “I think we’re in a field of one,” KH seemed certain. “I don’t think there’s anyone quite doing what we’re doing, and that’s good. The prog genre allows you to be what you want to be. If you look at what’s considered to be prog, you could say Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel or Tool, and how dissimilar are they? Prog’s a big garden within which to play because there’s so much freedom in this genre. I don’t like all prog, I’m not a massive fan of bands like Dream Theater, but I love stuff like King Crimson; Fripp’s an amazing player and a major influence on my guitar playing, and also early Genesis and Floyd”. “There are a lot of really good bands at the moment,” LR chipped in with, “but we do feel we are quite different from many other bands. I’m not like the usual rock singer, I don’t identify with many of the other female singers out there, though there’re a lot of amazing ones”. “I like some heavy rock,” KH stated, “but there’s an awful lot of screamers out there, and there’s not much variety in that genre. I’m a bit bored with the screamy rock side of things”.

 Lastly, Kenwyn’s on record as saying playing in Goldray is his excuse to keep his freak flag flying. Is this still his modus operandi? “I’ll take any excuse to keep my freak flag flying,” KH laughed, “but Goldray’s where I can create what I want to create, and with my perfect writing partner as well. It’s been a great journey for me because I’m writing and performing in areas I’ve always wanted to go into, in keys and registers which are different, and it’s opened up a huge garden of creativity for me. It’s an excuse to be a creative layabout as much as to keep my freak flag flying. It takes up my life, put it that way”.

  With that, Leah and Kenwyn, plus drummer Jonny Brister and a yet to be revealed bassist, return to the process of getting their new album ready for release, with all its attendant pressures, and preparing to carry their freak flag onwards with ‘live’ gigs to come later in the year.