Changes helped shape No Gold's tropical trip
It’s not for lack of trying that No Gold took years to issue its first full-length. Despite once penning a song called “SWEDEN”, which touted the virtues of smoking weed every day and every night, the tropical-minded indie trio’s story is riddled more with a series of unfortunate events than with roach clip–toting marathons on the couch. First, there was the time the group’s practice space burned down with all of its instruments inside. Its next jam spot, the now-legendary Emergency Room, fared no better once the city shut down the East Van warehouse for not having a proper licence to hold all-night events. Things started to look up for the outfit once it holed up in bassist Liam Butler’s dad’s garage in early 2009 to build a recording studio, but just as soon as No Gold was finally set to hit the record button the band had to vacate the premises.
“Just as we started the recording process the property got sold,” Butler says with a laugh while kicking back with his bandmates in his Chinatown apartment. “Apparently the studio that we had made was the clincher for the sale. The guy who bought it was an amateur musician; he was like, ”˜Oh man, that’s so awesome! There’s a soundproof studio in the back.’ ”
Sitting around the kitchen table with cracked tall boys of Old Milwaukee in hand, the trio—which also includes guitarist Jack Jutson and percussionist-soundsmith Ian Wyatt—seems to have taken its numerous setbacks in stride. Luckily, though, that final displacement landed the group in its current jam spot, the China Cloud art gallery, in which it wrote and recorded its stunning new album, No Gold. The other reason for the members’ state of euphoria probably has to do with the massive Mexican pizza Butler’s girlfriend is preparing just steps away. “Holy shit, look at that pizza,” Jutson marvels of the mouth-watering monstrosity of ground beef, grated cheese, and guacamole.
While No Gold cut its teeth crafting ragtag calypso tracks, as demonstrated on its similarly self-titled 2009 7-inch EP, the band has entered a new, chilled-out phase with its latest. Island rhythms still pervade breezy cuts like “Mood Hut” and “Resolver”, but where the band once relied heavily on four-on-the-floor mantras full of skittering guitar lines and speedy shakers, No Gold is a spacious affair of airy synths and out-there sonic soundscapes. Butler credits Wyatt’s addition to the act as the impetus for major change.
Wyatt, who prior to No Gold was known primarily for deejaying Vancouver clubs and parties, came into the fold over a year ago to play synths and samples. The group, which then featured drummer Haley Pearse, was just beginning to explore its sound beyond the bass-guitar-drums set up.
“When Ian came in and started jamming with us we were just leaning in that direction of using different textures, synthesizers, and sampling,” Butler admits. “That kind of pushed it over the edge because Ian had so much experience.”
Shortly after Wyatt joined, though, Pearse made his exit from No Gold, leaving percussion duties up to his successor. “He was just not as interested and kind of went his own way,” Wyatt explains of the switch. “It was pretty amicable.”
Despite the change-up, No Gold didn’t completely abandon its old sound. “Weird Week”, one of the outfit’s oldest songs, finds Butler motor-mouthing the wild events of a summer spent smoking weed and eating tzatziki with friends, all set to a bouncy bass line and bustling Caribbean rhythms. “That feels like the last three years of the band boiled into one song,” he says of the tune’s structure.
Elsewhere, the combo plays it more low-key. Coolly propelled by a boom-bap beat, ethereal triangle chimes, and Jutson’s sensually plucked guitar, the eight-minute sex-funk number “Council Jam” seems more appropriate for the bedroom than No Gold’s usual island-approved approach. Sonic washes of ocean waves and exotic bird calls bring you back to the beach on album closer “Puluti”, however, as layered ukuleles and tender vocal harmonies fuel every romantic notion you’ve had about being stranded in a tropical paradise.
Even though it’s closer to Burrard Inlet than the Cayman Islands, the above-ground China Cloud gallery has become No Gold’s secluded resort after years of the band trudging it out in dank basements and garages. The sun shining in through the space’s giant windows has mellowed the trio.
“You come in the morning, you have some coffee or tea, do stretches and relax,” Butler says of the group’s haven. “This album is very much about having windows and natural light.”
Despite innumerable setbacks, from lost jam spots to delayed recording sessions to band shakeups, No Gold is finally where it wants to be. Oddly, it was all that stress that brought out the act’s most relaxed, and finest, work yet.
“I’m really glad that this is the album that’s coming out for No Gold,” Jutson exclaims.
“I don’t think I would have been excited about the album if we had made it a year and a half ago,” Butler continues. “That album seems like it would be a lot less interesting than what’s just about to come out. Ultimately, I’m glad that all of our instruments burned down. I’m glad our studio got sold.”
No Gold plays the Waldorf on February 19.