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

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