Self-doubt, learning production and keeping the hippy life alive: we take five with Gilligan Smiles

Self-named proliferators of psychedelic pop waffle jams, Gilligan Smiles are the funky Melbourne monkeys next in line to blow your mind.

With their latest output Friends, Away, Aeroplanes out for the world to hear, we sat down with guitarist and lead singer James to take five.

gilligan smiles melbourne friends, away, aeroplane

Poignant, laid-back and independent, Gilligan Smiles have the uncanny ability to turn self-doubt into the ultimate motivator.

HAPPY: Where do you get your name? Please tell me you have a friend called Gilligan.

JAMES: Ha I wish! I think it came from something said off the cuff in the back of the car. We needed a band name and that was the best idea at the time. I think it’s alright. We could’ve named our band after an inanimate object, like Milk Crates or Ironing Board, but we’re not cool or punk enough for that.

HAPPY: For someone who is completely new to your music: what’s the best place and state for them to experience it for the first time?

JAMES: Probably just at a gig with a couple beers, or in the car driving somewhere mundane because we haven’t played a gig in months.

HAPPY: Psych music is becoming a fatter genre than ever. Who are some of the key players who influence your sound?

JAMES: It sure is! It’s pretty hard to avoid or deny the influence Kevin Parker has on psych these days. I think there’s a few who influence us, including KP. There’s the 60s and 70s bands, like Neu, where a song might stay on one idea with a somewhat krautrock vibe, and The Beatles, where some songs are kinda poppy and simple. The track Do As I Please has a pretty big Beatles influence in it. Then there’s the modern bands, like King Gizzard, The Flaming Lips and Ty Segall.

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HAPPY: How does one hold up the hippy ideal in our fast-paced modern world?

JAMES: I think the secret is to click ‘attend’ to as many cool Facebook events as possible. Stuff like plant warehouse sales and bushdoof markets. You don’t need to go, but having it show up in other people’s news feeds makes you look cool and edgy. You must also drink soy lattes, and only update your instagram profile with photos shot on film, with the caption ‘35mm’. You should probably go to Nepal or India at some point as well.

HAPPY: You say Friends, Away, Aeroplane was conceived in a period where “self-doubt took hold, threw us around and left us in a difference”. Can you tell me a little more about that time?

JAMES: Yeah, it refers to us just doubting everything we did. We recorded heaps of songs, deleted them, rerecorded things, hated it etc. We kept doubting if what we were doing was actually any good or if anyone would care. We got over that though, and just started doing things we liked, as cliche as that sounds. We still did question decisions though, up until about a week before it was released.

HAPPY: Do you find the more doubtful or negative periods of your lives have a greater influence on your creativity as a whole?

JAMES: Maybe not so much the negative periods, but the doubtful periods definitely do. I think anyone who’s ever created, or is creating something, goes through a period of self doubt at some point. There’s been a lot of times when I’ve written something, thought it was great, then listened to it the next day and thought it was the biggest piece of shit.

That can force you to be more creative I guess, to try and think outside the box and come up with something cool. I’ve recorded songs where halfway through, I doubt instantly whether it’s any good, and then because of that go and try really dumb recording techniques just to experiment. Sometimes some cool things come out of it. For instance, the title track, Friends, Away, Aeroplane, has this really blown out vibe, because I decided to record everything with the same dynamic mic, track everything once and then really limit everything.

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HAPPY: What made you choose to write, record, mix and master the record by yourself at home? What were the challenges of that process?

JAMES: It was part convenience, part financial. Everyone was travelling around throughout 2016, which is the main reason I played everything on the recordings, except for the flute. There were no demos done either.

I’m too much of a control freak to let anyone else mix it, and we didn’t have enough money to get it mastered, so I tried that too. I don’t really know how to master songs, but I think they turned out alright. Recording everything yourself is really fun, you get total creative freedom. I’d send what I’d done to the guys, they’d listen to it and tell me what they thought. There’s no real egos going on here, so it’s cool.

The biggest challenge was overcoming the tendency to be overly critical of your own work. It’s that self-doubt thing again, there’s always something you can change. I think I did about 20 different mixes for one track, before I deleted them all and started again. It would be nice to get someone else in next time to mix or master it, to save me losing sleep over it.

HAPPY: And what’s in the pipeline for Gilligan Smiles next?

JAMES: We plan to play as many gigs as possible this year. We’ve got a lot to make up for. Hopefully we’ll get to play interstate at some point too. We’re also going to save up to get the album pressed on vinyl, that’s probably our biggest goal.


Friends, Away, Aeroplane is out now.