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Interview with Elizabeth Walling of Gazelle Twin...

Gazelle Twin

In an exclusive interview, Elizabeth Walling talks to Metamatic about her career to date, her very unique stage presence and Gazelle Twin's debut album The Entire City. Also discussed is the remix of A Falling Star which sees her reworking a track by John Foxx And The Maths...
Metamatic : What is the origin / etymology of the name Gazelle Twin?

Elizabeth : It came about in the simplest of ways - just an anagram of my name (bar a few extra letters), but it ended up having another, far more resonant meaning for me. I had always been fond of the ancient Jewish text 'Solomon's song' or 'Song of Songs'. It's a beautiful bit of prose, which, in my opinion is not exclusively religious nor secular, it seems to be a very fluid, all-encompassing comment on nature, and the human body as part of a wider family of earthly beings. I discovered a translation of it where 'the twin fauns of a gazelle' are used as a metaphor for a woman's breasts. It's a delicate and cryptic image, which I'm very drawn to.The intention was always to have a name under which the identity and direction of the project could be free to change and hopefully surpass fashion and trends, but I'm not sure how easy that is, especially now that there are so many bands using 'twin' in their name! When I started in 2009 I was only aware of the Cocteau Twins and Aphex Twin... but it doesn't mean much course, all in all, it's all about the integrity of the output rather than the name.

Metamatic : Who inspires
Elizabeth Walling?

Elizabeth : There are countless artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians whose work inspires me, but I'm particularly fond of surrealism and science fiction in art (particularly sculpture), literature and film. I've always been drawn to the darker side of nature, the grey areas, the unknown, the inner world as much as the outer world. Apart from that, much of my inspiration comes from everyday life and my dreams (daydreams and nightdreams) as well as various worldly and other-worldly topics I am interested in; nature, science, technology and civilisation as a sort of umbrella for all of those.

Metamatic : Is there one particular art form from which you derive the most inspiration for your work?

Elizabeth : My imagination and methodology is very erratic, everything influences it, nothing in particular takes precedent, but film often haunts me deeply because it is so immersive. Installation art is similarly powerful because of the physical experience it can offer, especially the work of Mike Nelson and Gregor Schneider. Having a sort of outer body experience in the formal, white-washed setting of an art gallery can be life-changing.

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Metamatic : What are your thoughts on 'contemporary' British electronic and pop music?

Are there any artists whom you particularly admire?

Elizabeth : I wish mainstream pop (i.e. the major labels with huge marketing strategies) would celebrate true originality and promote more artists with a strong intellectual or political message to offer. Once upon a time pop music was able to include all these of things and still create superstars and sell records, even as recently as the 90's. Something has died. Maybe TV killed it. Maybe X-Factor, I don't know...

Everything I willingly listen to comes from independent labels, the large ones like 4AD, Warp, Domino and XL, and the smaller ones like Leaf, Invada. They offer hope to a miserable, disillusioned person like me. I'm no good at keeping up to speed with new releases, I try to avoid hype. I'm really still catching up on the last thirty years of electronic music, discovering the back catalogues of artists like Bruce Gilbert, Burial, Boards of Canada, Autechre, Scanner, and of course, John Foxx. Oh, and educating myself in Hip Hop. I only really listened to classical and choral music until my mid-twenties (I mentioned before about my erraticism).

Metamatic : Please tell us about the tracks which appear within The Entire City?

The Entire City

Elizabeth : I wanted the title track to be an instrumental piece, rather like a classical 'overture' or the opening credits of a film which sets a scene and conjures a landscape and framework in the listeners mind.
Men Like Gods was inspired by video footage I happened upon through YouTube - it featured the rituals of a festival in Sardinia with Pagan origins. I had the bones of the song, and then went to the village to actually experience the festival first hand, and to get footage from it for a video. After that, I managed to complete the song and lyrics. It's my interpretation of the festival and the meanings behind this tradition; where the villagers 'become' their demons and their fears by imitating them physically and purging them through repetition. It's an endlessly fascinating thing. I could have written a whole album just on that one thing.

I Am Shell I Am Bone was inspired by a beautiful documentary about endangered Manta Rays, coupled with my interest in the evolution of humans, and how we derive from the ocean. Again, it's a big topic which incorporates religion and metaphysical ideas. The song is very anti-creationist (particularly those creationists who run special schools which teach erroneous history and science in order to lie to kids about the true origins of their species, and protect their religion). It's mind numbingly odd that people would do this despite the hard facts!

Changelings is a far more personal song, so it's hard to describe what is behind it thematically. Again, there are vague religious overtones and prophetic language, but as with much of the record and lyrics, I'm really still living with the ideas, and lyrics, and understanding what it all really means. One day, I might feel quite differently about it all.

I began writing about each of the other songs in detail, but then I realised less is more, so here's a sentence for each. I'm still very much working out the context and meaning behind the album.

Far From Home and Fight-Or-Flight are interludes which break up the main songs and set a new scene much like how The Entire City and View Of A Mountain introduce and conclude the album.

Concrete Mother and Obelisk both thematically relate to cycles in history and the use of monuments in civilisation, ancient and new.

Bell Tower is a moment of private, solitary reflection.

Nest is a kind of lament about the eventual death of the sun. But it's really a hopeful song in essence. It's supposed to be comforting.

Metamatic : The compact disc version of
The Entire City features an extra track. What's its title, and why did you decide to hide it - as opposed to it being 'named and announced' along with the other twelve?

Elizabeth : The track is called Abandon. I think of this song as Beauty and the Beast. A lullaby to an alien creature. I re-visited it when deciding the album order and decided to make it a sort of 'ghost' track emerging from the silence. It will link to the new album in some way too.

Metamatic : Could you describe the instrumentation / equipment used on The Entire City, only there's no information (perhaps intentionally) in among the album's artwork?

Elizabeth : There was no deliberate omission of the instrumentation on the album, I just chose not to include it since everything was done by me. I recorded the whole album at home, on Ableton Live. Initially I had hopes to record real horns, and choirs, etc., but in the end, I had to do everything myself using electronics and my voice. I had never home-recorded or self-produced anything before this album, so I have learned a lot for next time.

Metamatic : How did you 'find' the painting
Athne by Suzanne Moxhay?


Elizabeth : I discovered Suzy's incredible work via the Royal Academy of Art a few years ago.

I was instantly drawn to her method of using found photography, photo / digital collage to create surrealist landscapes which seem to have a really strong narrative of their own.
I kept note of her work and then I saw her new 'Feralis' collection on display which included 'Athne'. I couldn't believe how closely it seemed to resemble the imagery I had in mind for the album. It is a great honour to be able to use her work as my album art.

Metamatic : Incidentally, or coincidentally, one of John's tracks (Europe After The Rain) also shares its title with a painting by Max Ernst.

I didn't know that about John's track - I keep discovering lots of parallels in our work which is very pleasing.

Metamatic : I'm particularly intrigued about the way you described 'found' video footage inspiring a song (
Men Like Gods) which prompted you to create further visuals which in turn enabled you to finish the song. Do you foresee yourself creating more material in this manner in the future?

Elizabeth : Absolutely. Like I said, I'm erratic, so I construct things in a different way each time. I like to go with instinct. Image is often so central to my ideas. I keep an image-only blog especially for this reason. It's useful in making thematic connections or visual rhymes which I really enjoy doing.

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Metamatic : Your on-stage presence is certainly very striking. Where does the imagery come from? And how are the costumes realised?

Elizabeth : Thanks, I'm glad you think so. I think for people who aren't familiar with my work, it is easy to dismiss the costume element simply as a means of standing out and therefore irrelevant to the music and performance. For me, it's the polar opposite. I use costume to resist making a connection with the audience as 'myself'. This is important to me as the project will always change. I also really want to create a different-from-the-norm performance experience for all involved (band and audience).

The costume designs usually exist inside my head. When it comes to realising them, I often enlist the help of my friend Gita Mistry, a very talented milliner. I'm terrible with fabric, I can't sew to save my life. The designs have evolved a lot since the beginning of the project. I recently decided to simplify and abstract everything, playing about with anomalous shapes and silhouettes instead of capes and robes.

Metamatic : Are the costumes 'event specific'? Moreover, do you find that the costumes inhibit you, or is the reverse true?

Elizabeth : I have never felt more liberated on stage than when I am wearing a costume which covers my face and body. It's a strange paradox for me. The first time I tried wearing costume onstage I felt myself disappear inwards and allowed something else to 'take over'. It felt right. This is really what I had hoped to achieve from the beginning. It has never been about creating spectacle or having a 'quirk' to get noticed. Using costume is ancient, and for me, is a way to imbue the visual themes and allow myself to change freely. It also allows me to avoid the pitfalls of being a female performer - and there are a lot of them.

I try to keep my costumes variable and create new ones as and when I feel it's necessary, but they are not event specific. My production budget is somewhere around £0, but if I were able to create unique shows, as per each venue I performed at, including costumes, then that would be my absolute dream. Sadly, it's not practical at this point in time. I do try to create a new costume for each video I make, however, and this is usually based on or around the theme of that song in some way.

Metamatic : Do the band create their own costumes?

Elizabeth : No, the band line-up is always changing so the costumes are all made in advance, they're all unisex too.

Metamatic : You recently supported John Foxx And The Maths at The XOYO in London. What tracks did you perform at that show?

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The tracks which were played that night were View Of A Mountain, Obelisk, Concrete Mother, When I Was Otherwise, I Am Shell I Am Bone, Nest, Changelings and Men Like Gods.

Metamatic : Who were the musicians who joined you on stage at The XOYO?

Elizabeth : At the moment I'm working with a really great pair of musicians who are both extremely dexterous. They both have their own electronic solo projects; Speak Galactic (Owen Thomas - who plays synth and electronics in Gazelle Twin) and Alphabet's Heaven (Jonny Wildey, who plays all the beats on a single sampler, which continues to baffle me as it seems otherwise impossible!).

Metamatic : When did you first meet John Foxx?

Elizabeth : I met him in person (very briefly) just before The XOYO show at sound check. I went to shake his hand, but instead he gave me a very big, strong hug and showered me with compliments on the remix I made. I was a bit awe struck to be honest.

Metamatic : How did your remix of
A Falling Star come about?

Elizabeth : It came about through a mixture of connections, firstly John's manager had been in touch with mine with very kind feedback on The Entire City. He and John had caught wind of the album and liked it enough to get in touch about a possible collaboration, so it all stemmed from there really.

Metamatic : How did you approach remixing that track?

Elizabeth : It was my first (and, at time of writing, only) remix, so naturally I was nervous about making a good job of it. The song was a perfect starting point; beautifully arranged, simple, yet emotional melodic and lyrical lines. John and co-writer / producer Benge, were really open to me re-recording some parts and really going to town on it, so I just tried to treat it like I would one of my own songs. I also tried to bring out my favourite elements of the track, one of which was John's vocal which has such resonance even with just a simple beat accompaniment. The lyrics are also very moving. It was a pleasure to work on.

Metamatic : How familiar were you with John's work (if at all) ahead of the show at The XOYO?

Elizabeth : Embarrassingly unfamiliar actually. As an avid 80's electronic music enthusiast, I was aware of John's work and of course, the early days of Ultravox, but I had never really engaged with his solo albums until the message from his manager came through. Then I began leafing through his amazing back catalogue. I should have known better, as we share some very close influences / aesthetics, particularly the work of J.G Ballard.

Metamatic : What was / is your favourite
John Foxx track / album / single?

Elizabeth : I really, really love Never Let Me Go. I could listen to it on repeat a hundred times. It's one of those songs that is perfect, but doesn't last long enough, and its so beautifully restrained in its production, which is something I always admire in electronic music, it can really make all the difference.

Metamatic : Please tell us about
Anti-Ghost Moon Ray Records?

Elizabeth : Anti-Ghost Moon Ray (AGMR) was originally a blog / collective which a group of friends and I setup in 2010 as a means of combining our various music projects (Bernholz, The Enormous Shadow, Duke Raoul and Gazelle Twin) into one place. As our own individual projects developed we decided it would be great to turn it into a label and eventually release our own music, funds willing.

We had each had various experiences of other people producing or releasing our music and we just thought we could probably do it ourselves. It seems to be working out, slowly but surely. We're going to be releasing two more albums next year, and an EP.

Metamatic : What are your other forthcoming projects / plans?

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Elizabeth : I really have my work cut out this year. I'm releasing The Entire City remix package in the next few months (to include a remix by John and Benge, which I cannot wait to hear).

I'm working on my second album right now, release date tbc. It involves a lot of research and very late-night writing which all takes time, but I will be releasing a new Single / EP on digital and vinyl sometime in early summer via a US-based label called Sugarcane Recordings.

I have some exciting collaborations lined up; a potentially epic cinematic / music project with Scanner, and a hugely exciting animatronic / film project with filmmaker, John Nolan. With all this film related business I'm hoping to actually write some scores this year too - it's always been in my veins and I want to get closer...

Metamatic : Aside from work already underway, is there anyone you would particularly like to work with?

Elizabeth : For me, success isn't money or popularity, it's opportunities to collaborate with amazing artists and minds. There are countless people with whom collaboration would be a dream. To name a few: David Lynch, Les Mysteres De Voix Bulgares, Kate Bush, Geoff Barrow (though I doubt he would like what I do) and Richard Russell, whose production on Gil Scott-Heron's final album 'I'm New Here' was a revelation for me having never produced anything prior to my album before.

Metamatic : Finally, what can Elizabeth Walling say about herself that she can't in your online biography?

Elizabeth : Despite the cold, cryptic guise of Gazelle Twin, when I'm out of costume, I am 'myself'. For example, I prefer to be frank and open in interviews rather than evasive, or attempting to create a kind of 'mythological' aura - I don't think this is helpful as I'm not interested in transforming 'Elizabeth Walling' into a legend or persona - I'm more like the puppeteer of the project. That's not to say that everything contained within Gazelle Twin doesn't derive from me as a person, I just made a very specific decision to distance myself from what I had created and how I delivered it to the public arena. I've seen too many female artists try to become their persona through-and-through and I don't think it works out of context, or helps with longevity. It's why I have always admired people like Polly Harvey and Kate Bush so much, despite their performances and personas on records they are lovely, friendly people and don't pretend to be otherwise.
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