A Reactionary Dialogue with Gypsy George about his latest record, Caollaidhe

“Wanna be my lover?” and “Cracked Candy” are the two tracks which open the latest album by Gypsy George, Coallaidhe.  These songs present two different sides of the protagonist within the record. The first song, “Wanna be my lover?” is composed of power chords that seem to have crawled out of the grunge era. The second, “Cracked Candy,” feels cleaner and calmer, enabling listeners to pick up on key changes and the components produced by each instrument. The lyrics within the first song expresses a singer who seems to focus on the lingering anxiety of a relationship that travels the middle road between friends and lovers. In “Cracked Candy,” our main character turns outwards instead of inwards, accepting that his love interest has left the picture and now, he must take this break-up.

Album cover of Caollaidhe by Gypsy George

The motivation behind Coallaidhe (released in 2017) seemed straight forward. In an email interview, Gypsy confirmed “My girlfriend broke up with me… The problem with making a ‘break-up’ record is falling into the trap of whininess, self-loathing, narcissism… I think because I approached the record from a reactionary perspective, I avoided these types of sentiments. In other words, I was exploring all aspects of what was going on around me – looking from the outside in. The abruptness of how it happened left me no other choice but to cope and move on. Some people go to therapy or talk to friends; I turn to music. All my life, it’s how I deal with problems… On another note: great observation on the opening tunes!”

Gypsy did not just eviscerate heartbreak on the new record; he also expressed emotions from other events in his life. The singer-songwriter admits that “June 2016 morphed into one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching periods of my life.” He continues:

“My best friend, Jamey ‘Brother’ Hamm, [whom] I have known almost my entire life in NYC, moved back to Alabama with his family. He is like a brother to me. A week before he moved, we did a huge blow-out show at Littlefield (Gowanus) featuring all the bands he played with. A few weeks after that, my girlfriend abruptly broke up with me without warning, purpose or reason. A few days after that, I got a call that my mother’s cancer came back.

“My schedule was frantic at the time: I was constantly traveling for 10deka – my Greek Olive Oil company I have with my family; started work on our production for South Brooklyn Shakespeare, and had a full load producing and recording in the studio. In short, it was pure chaos.”

My last interview article with Gypsy was titled “Embrace the Chaos, wherever you may wind up.” What is chaos? For many of us, it is an abrupt change, the kind that seems to turn our lives upside down. The following question comes to my mind – how do we learn to embrace such change, and how can music be an outlet to these events? I hope to find out within my interview article with Gypsy George. I welcome him back to Music Historian.

Gypsy continued to reflect back the hectic year, “Rather than continue down a dark spiral that would ruin me, I decided to use the studio as my personal therapist. For the following 3 to 4 months, I would plant myself in the studio whenever possible. This led to me routinely recording until the sun came up, napping for a couple of hours, and continuing on my way with everything else.

“I was the only person involved on this record – performing, engineering, mixing, mastering… All the tracks were recorded live, in one take. I would lay down the main vocals while playing either guitar or piano. I would do five performances in one session without taking a break. I would [then] select the best version and continue to arrange the song.

Gypsy Recording Session by Gypsy George “I wanted the soul-crushing rawness I was feeling to come through the music. Although there were [many] elements that inspired the songs, it began to focus on one thing: my break up. It was a rough recording process. Often times, I would unleash so much emotion that the sessions [resulted] in tears. It’s the most naked I have ever been as an artist. I exorcized a lot during the making of Caollaidhe.”

As I continued listening to this record, the third song “The Myth” and the fourth, “Lay Lady Lay” furthers the diversity of the musician’s compositional style. The lyrical structure in “The Myth” seems far more fragmented, presenting a message that is not immediately cohesive. Then, Gypsy risks introducing an intricate and long guitar solo in the first minute and a half of this 4 minute and 10-second song. Getting to “Lay Lady Lay,” a far more structured song with the repeating verse “Lay lady lay/ lay across my big brass bed.”

Adding an exciting fact to “Lay Lady Lay,” the lyrics were originally written by Bob Dylan. Turning my attention back to the musical components, descending chromatics in the keyboard and the staccato harmonic rhythm in the guitar appears. I interpreted the inclusion of this component as risky.

“From the moment I learned to play music, I was a risk taker,” expressed Gypsy. “Convention seemed boring and uninspired. In some ways, it is easier to write songs to ‘form.’ I find that doing a verse/chorus/bridge, AB rhyme scheme… to be too predictable. That does not mean I do not respect form and structure in songwriting… Rather, it’s refreshing and freeing to play with form, blow it up, and build something new. Also, I have never been a ‘genre’ artist (meaning I don’t hold to one category/style of music). I play all styles, am influenced by all types, and write in all forms. I try not to repeat musical styles and themes.

“It is interesting you pointed out the musical juxtaposition between “The Myth” and “Lay Lady Lay.” I did not write it on purpose. Perhaps it was a subconscious thing (much like the two songs that open the record). However, that is what ‘art’ is supposed to be: a reactionary dialogue?”

Looking back at the answers Gypsy provided me, I had not realized that he was at a bar in Cape May reviewing my questions. Coincidentally, songs 5 and 6 are named after two east coast locations, “Catskills” and “Cape May.” “Catskills” includes a melody which is backed up my harmonies which eventually resolve. Meanwhile, “Cape May” has melodies which resolve on a dissonant chord. Although this resolution does not happen in the end, by the time this song finishes, the harmonies do not resolve on the tonic. Also, that dissonant chord never reappears. I wondered whether the composition in “Cape May” is inspired by situations or events which never resolve. Gypsy George at Overlook Mountain by Gypsy George

“I never thought of those songs in that light… but I do now. I travel a lot. With all my adventures, I carry people who inspire me along for the journey. Sometimes they are with me physically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes emotionally. “Catskills” I wrote while I was with my girlfriend. It’s based on a day we spent upstate (in the Catskills) where we stumbled upon this amazing hike northwest of Woodstock. It is an area known as Overlook Mountain. That song, basically, recounted our entire day together. If you read the lyrics, you will get the day’s story traveling up the mountain and back down.

“Cape May is a place that I have developed a great fondness and connection. Throughout my life, I have always connected with places that have a combination of nature, history, small-town vibe. Places like Cape May is unique because [it] appears in an area of the U.S. where you would least expect… Cape May was written – at least the foundation – while I was laying down on the sand at 3am looking at a full moon. There was no one else around… As I was staring up at that moon, I wondered whether my ex was staring at that same moon. Then, as you do late at night, I started to contemplate life. The next day, I had the song written.

“Cape May was a place I wanted to take my ex. I never got the chance. The line ‘the necklace I bought that day’ is referencing a handmade necklace I bought for her while I was in Cape May.”

Although “Catskills” was written during a hike Gypsy took in an area called Overlook Mountain, there is another song called “Overlook Mountain.” This song features a mandolin, and Gypsy reveals that he had the mandolin with him playing it all the way to the top and back down. “It was a lovely, beautiful moment,” he said. “After we broke up, I returned to that trail – alone – with my mandolin. As I ascended, I kept running into couples who would stop, listen, smile, thank me, and then move on.

“Externally, I [felt] grateful to provide a soundtrack to these couples’ romantic outing. Internally, I was a puddle. When I got up to the top, I had written the piece that wound up on the album. Also, the album cover is a photo of an abandoned building one finds on that same trail.”

It is refreshing to see that as Gypsy found the courage to go back to Overlook Mountain. The intrinsic inspiration to write a tune on the mandolin while re-traveling this trail resulted in a song that brought a smile to the faces of passersby. I then wondered what Gypsy hoped listeners would take away for Caollaidhe. He explains:

“It’s such a personal album, I don’t know how it could relate outside myself… I hope the listener is not afraid to let go and immerse in the work’s intensity. This is not an album to put on at a party. It is an album of introspection, deep dark tunnels, rabbit holes, experience, love, heartbreak… This is me at my most honest.

“I just hope people take the time to really listen. Put on a pair of headphones, pour a drink, sit back and take it in. It’s meant to be a journey – an auditory movie. Don’t skip and play. It’s not worth it.”

The 2017 album has been available for download on Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Amazon MP3, and Soundcloud. Based on my conversation with Gypsy, this album was an internal journey through the grieving of a lost relationship. Another album which the artist recorded prior to Caollaidhe, called The Loneliest Man in New York, started as a break-up album, but then it transformed into a more extensive collaboration – a band of six musicians, including Jamey ‘Brother’ Hamm (Trutescu, 2015, retrieved from https://musichistorian.net).

Caollaidhe started as a break-up album –and perhaps an outlet for other dark emotions brought on by anxiety – only taken on by one artist and instrumentalist. Gypsy’s latest album seemed to stay on the same path from start to finish. On Caollaidhe, Gypsy George was a one-man band. He adds, “It was too personal to bring anyone else in the process. Plus, I was a maniac. Who would want to deal with that?”

Between the release of Caollaidhe and now, Gypsy has taken up many new endeavors. This year, he will remix and remaster his entire back catalog for a release throughout 2019. Gypsy is also working on a new album, which currently has no title; producing a few new records for other artists; and finalizing a poetry book entitled Inamorata: a collection of subsequent poems written over road trips, diners and cups of coffee and a novella, burning of the fragile fire all to publish this year. The musician will also start a podcast culling from all of Gypsy’s interest; it is tentatively called Stories from the open road: a one-stop destination for controlled chaos.

Late in 2018, Gypsy lost his mother to cancer. While taking on a variety of creative projects may seem impulsive and excessive, they can also be exits for a crest of emotions. When done right, like Coallaidhe, the finished products that come from these products can be enjoyed equally by the consumer and the creator.

Works Cited

Trutescu, P. (2015, June 15). Embrace the Chaos, wherever you may wind up: Gypsy George discusses biculturalism, entrepreneurship and how music has brought him to Brooklyn [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://musichistorian.net/2015/06/15/embrace-the-chaos-wherever-you-may-wind-up-gypsy-george-discusses-biculturalism-entrepreneurship-and-how-music-has-brought-him-to-brooklyn/

*All photos were taken by Gypsy George, and were published with his permission

Connecting the Dots (Part 2): Leah Speckhard talks Female Empowerment and Coming-of-Age on her second EP, Sleepwalker

Leah Speckhard, Press Photo Although Leah changed her mind about her university major, she always made sure to remember music and make that a part of her life. The singer-songwriter reflected on the transition between recording of her first album Pour Your Heart Out Like Water, and her newest one, Sleepwalker.

“I recorded my first album in Greece. When I signed with the label, Legend Records, they had me record a full album, which they put out with full press coverage. But the follow up coincided with the downturn, and  the album came out during the whole economic crash.

“The record label was very supportive of the album and me as an artist, but everybody was tightening their pockets. I saw that it wouldn’t be easy for a new artist to break through in this environment.”

While Leah felt satisfied with the completion of her first record, she also admitted that it did not build up into what she expected. In addition, the young artist realized the market for Greek music showed a greater affinity for club music, which did not suit her lyrics-driven songs. Leah asserts, “I felt it did not make sense to keep pushing in Greece, so I decided to come to New York to see if I could make it happen here.”

Leah describes her first experience as a recording artist as invaluable. When she made her first EP, Leah listened to a lot of folk music, and she was relatively inexperienced at recording. She says:

“In Greece, the label was very supportive of me, but I did not understand how the whole process of making an album would play out.. I am a fairly assertive person in general, but in the studio, in that element, I did not feel that assertive. I had a hard time articulating what I wanted the arrangements to sound like.

“In the second record, I felt more involved in the process – which I think is just part of the indie experience versus the label experience. I worked with a producer in Brooklyn and within a different environment. You just naturally have more control over things.

“Many artists I talked to have a similar experience with their first album. You don’t know how to assert yourself and sometimes, you feel that you shouldn’t, because the label is paying for everything and they bring in people with a lot more experience to work on the music, too. The record was also the label’s investment, and I wanted to be respectful of that.”

“On Sleepwalker, I was more sure of what I wanted, and I’d evolved as an artist. I also worked with someone younger, so the collaboration felt easier and more intimate. I knew I was working with someone who believed in me and who brought a lot to the table – we co-wrote most of the songs, and he listened to me about what I wanted production-wise and we really vibed as far as finding a direction that reflected who I am as a person and the dance influence that I liked.”

A great lesson Leah learned was to be assertive on the second album. She would agree that learning assertiveness without acting rude, and finding that fine line, is also a process of growing up creatively, personally and professionally.

“When I was younger,” Leah recalled, “I wanted to be easygoing. I did not want to come across as difficult, but now I realize, you must be to a certain extent if you want your creative vision to come to life. You don’t have to be rude, but you have to be straightforward if something is not the way you want it, and that can be very awkward and uncomfortable. While I love to hear suggestions from other co-writers or producers, as an artist I have to be the ultimate decision-maker and ask myself “Is this what I want my sound to be or not?””

As an indie artist, Leah funded this album herself. Some people might think that an artist paying for their album defeats the purpose of making money with music. Leah says that having her music pay for itself would be a dream. At the moment though, she tries to separate money from music.

“I know some people to think about the connection between them [money and music] when they make music their full-time job. I realized that apart from the money piece of it, I want music to be a big part of my life. I try not to focus specifically on the money because it is really more about the emotions and the feelings for me.

“I try to organize my goals more around questions like  “Do I want to play for bigger audiences, make a music video, or get the music out?” To put it out, you want to have the audience.

“There are so many emerging artists now. To charge people right off the bat for your songs seems foolish – very few people will want to pay $10 or $15 for your album when they can get everything for free on Spotify. I know as a consumer, I am the same way. I’d rather pay to go see a concert, so as an artist, I try to keep that in mind. I think people have grown unaccustomed to paying for recorded music. It’s more about the audience now. I feel like my investment will pay itself off someday with a bigger audience, which is more important to me.”

Listening to Leah talk about her music and her experiences, I realize that growing up for twenty-something’s is not reflected so much how frequently they change their minds until they make a decision most people find logical. Maturing comes from the valuable lessons twenty-something-year-olds learn within their development and apply that to make better choices in the future. I then wondered whether Leah had a song on her album that reflected a coming-of-age theme. She talked about another song on Sleepwalker called “Time Machine.” Leah Speckhard Album Cover

“I was delving into relationship issues with my songs – examining all of the heartbreaks, trying to figure out what was happening, and getting into all of this philosophical questioning about what really mattered to me. In looking at my emotions more closely, I realized that a lot of my fears circled around  getting older, and I put that into my song “Time Machine”.

“I started having this strong urge to be young again and have all of this time again to do things over. Aside from the social pressure to have a “real job” and career, there is also pressure to be young from wanting to be part of an industry that emphasizes youth and beauty. I started feeling like I needed to make choices, and fast. With so many options, though I was blessed to have them, I felt overwhelmed. In “Time Machine,” I thought, “I just want to go back in time and be young and not have to make any of these decisions.”

Leah is not afraid to expose her feelings in her songs – though they may come across as hyperbolic sometimes, she thinks hat many people can relate to strong feelings like this popping up from time to time. If you are wondering whether to listen to Leah’s music, this is definitely one reason; but it is not the only reason. In today’s popular music, there is a disconnection about the definition of female empowerment. Major performing artists talk about being female within their pop tunes without emphasizing empowerment.

Leah addresses female empowerment by expressing the injustice, the dissatisfaction with it, and then taking responsibility for entering that disappointing situation in the first place all within her music. “Loser”, a bonus song on her website www.LeahSpeckhard.com, is the track that beautifully introduces this concept. As for the rest of the songs, listeners will have to attend the launch of Sleepwalker on February 23 at 8:30 pm at The Bowery Electric, which she will do in partnership with Tinderbox Arts PR.