For a group that landed its first gig a little over a year ago, Gills and Wings have taken some big steps. They've released a five-song EP, headlined the National and had a song picked up for “The Real World Brooklyn.” By the end of winter, they plan on delivering a multimedia package containing both audio and video versions of new songs. It makes perfect sense, given the cinematic nature of the quintet's keyboard-based indie rock and Solitude, an independent film scored by guitarist Alex McCallum and drummer Andrew Hackett.
Up next for the band, with bassist Matt Hulcher and Miami natives Danny Reyes and Santiago de la Fuente on keys and vocals, is a show with Siberian band Mumiy Troll. “They're huge in Russia,” McCallum says. “Thousands upon thousands of fans. All of their lyrics are in Russian.” De la Fuente concurs, “My friend's Russian professor is hyping up the show. He knows how popular they are.” Style caught up with Gills and Wings, to find out about that one song, “Circus,” that made its way to MTV.
Style: Tell us about that one song…
Danny Reyes: At the time we first started writing, a lot of the songs were narrative or story-based. “Circus” is just an “up” song. It's actually one of the few “up” songs that we have. I don't want to say upbeat, because there are somber songs that are still fast.
Santiago De la Fuente: I'd say it has a quirky, more optimistic sound.
Matt Hulcher: It's bouncy, a rhythmic song. There's a little bass solo on the end, which is cool. That never happens as a bassist.
De la Fuente: His proudest moment
Reyes: And it's a little bit more abstract lyrically and has more to do with conjuring up colorful images that go along with the mood of the song.
Alex McCallum: “Circus” was one of the first songs we did where we didn't think there was extra fat. We felt like everything had a purpose. It set a bar.
De la Fuente: It was a stepping stone for us arrangement-wise. When we first started playing together, just like with any band, you just all play at the same time. That was a song where we saw it as a bigger picture and saw where things would come in where. More colorful and more textures.
McCallum: It also seems to be a song that people are attracted to first, but it's not the song we expected people to be attracted to. It was the one chosen for the Real World and that was our first moment of going “Oh, they picked that song. I expected other songs to work for better television, too, because they have more specific, emotional lyrics.
I think that song was actually part of a suite of songs that had a story running through all of them. “Circus” was the introduction, saying you'll hear about this and you're going to hear about that. It references things in a bunch of other songs, some of which we still play and some of which we don't. It became its own song through that process.
Reyes: For example, there's a part where it says “welcome to the circus that's in your brain. Take the yellow bus, take the psycho-train.” There was a song we had called “Psycho” that had a train in it. “Circus” also talks about traveling through time, which references one of our songs that we still have in our set list.
McCallum: It's like a magical mystery tour. We did go through a period where we asked, “since we're not doing all the songs, do we change the lyrics?” But they're so ingrained as part of the song, we left them.
Hulcher: Basically, it's a patchwork mess of all the styles of the band and all of our different lyrics. You know, when we were recording the song, Andy laid down a lot of the drum tracks without any of the music. It was just what was in his head from memory of the songs, which blows my mind. I was sitting in the room listening to it. He was playing all the different styles I've heard him play, all in one song. When we were coming up with a lot of the parts together, it was the first time since I had joined the band where I was going off and omfortable enough with these guys to explore. Everybody was exploring.
Reyes: A lot of people will say we have a sinister sound, but that's one song where I don't think people would be able to say that's sinister at all or dark in any way.
McCallum: “Circus” is our lexapro.
Hulcher: Our prozac moment.
Style: What's next for Gills and Wings?
McCallum: We've been writing, there's always a lot of writing. I'm always getting yelled at by my wife, “When are you just going to play?!” We keep coming up with new ones and there's tons of new ones in the bank that we're still working on.
Now we've started a project with Nathan Burns, who worked on our EPK. He's shooting a bunch of moody, evocative footage for five of our new songs. The footage is going to be projected onto a site wall and we're going to be set up around it, to feel the mood while we're playing. And we might have some sort of moving spotlight. Then, the whole performance is going to be recorded and filmed.
Reyes: It'll be similar to when you see people playing incidental music to score a movie, like an orchestra. We'll be standing around facing a projected image.
De la Fuente: For the images, some songs are going to be more literal and some songs are going to be more ambient.
Hulcher: Nathan's doing all of that right now, listening to the songs and finding good images.
Reyes: He's really creative and he understands what we're going for.
McCallum: When we worked with him in the past, we were real happy with the results and realized we share the same vision. So we trust him on this. We'll do a multimedia release, where both the video and audio will be available as one EP. It allows fans to see us playing live, while hearing new stuff. And we think it's something different. Nathan's already filming the background footage and we've already got the place to play and we've got the songs. We just need to pick a day where we have the money to pay for the projector. Those projectors are over a thousand dollars to rent for the day.
De la Fuente: It's about having material for Youtube and having more things available for the listeners.
Style: What is your most outrageous moment as a band?
Hulcher: Oh, the pigs!
McCallum: It was terrible.
Hulcher: We were at White Star Sound recording the demo. We gave Andy some time to do some drumming, so we left the studio and took a walk. We went down this old country road, on the way out to Charlottesville. Well, there was this creek and there was a bag floating down the creek. For some odd reason, we thought there'd be money in it or something. We had this fantasy like “we're going to make it right now. This could be incredible!” So, we were freaking out trying to get this bag out of the creek. There was this flood dam, this gate where the bag was caught up on in the middle of the creek.
McCallum: It was like an hour episode trying to get to this bag.
Hulcher: We're reaching out with sticks, I'm holding on to Danny and he's going out there. We finally get this bag and as he's pulling it in, it rips open and all of these little baby pigs, these perfectly proportioned, cute little baby pigs floated out. It went from being the most exciting, fantastic moment to “Oh my god, oh the humanity!”
McCallum: Matt was screaming “It's pigs!”
Hulcher: Then, I was wearing a polo shirt. You know, with the little polo guy. I don't know where our mindset was by that point, but I look down and I was like “Ahhhhhh!” I thought it was a poisonous spider on me!
Reyes: He screamed like a little girl.
Hulcher: Pigs and spiders. I guess we were creating scenarios, choosing our own adventures. We needed it, though. We had been cooped up in the studio for 3 days. That recharged us for the rest of the session, for sure.
Style: What are your first musical memories?
De la Fuente: I started playing the recorder in the 1st grade in Uruguay. When I arrived to the United States and went into my second grade class, I didn't speak a word of English. But, I could play the recorder in harmonics and nobody else could even play the recorder. I got an applause my second day at school. That was pretty cool.
Reyes: Singing at church for Christmas pageants when I was 4 years old. I remember singing too fast, which I still do.
Hulcher: My parents tried to get me to play the violin. I vividly remember playing “Hot Cross Buns,” just destroying people's ears, including my own. That was the first instrument I played. I'm surprised I still play anything.
McCallum: I started playing music because I have an older brother that I looked up to. He said he wanted to play piano, so I wanted to play piano. Then I got the piano lessons and he didn't. I ended up really loving it. I also used to get a lot of music from him. I loved Bob Marley when I was in elementary school. I wanted to get Peter Tosh's Legalize It and my parents were like “We are not buying you an album with marijuana all over it.” I was in second grade and I was so upset because I didn't understand why.
Style: You've accomplished a lot in one year. What would be the band's most recent achievement?
Hulcher: Santi bought a brand new piano. That's the old one there (pointing). The keys are locked down. He'd slide up the keys and his fingers would be gnarly after he'd do it.
Reyes: He developed a technique of lifting the keys after playing them because they'd get stuck down.
De la Fuente: I played like 5 shows with the keys like that. It was horrible. I still do it now, even though the keys are actually functioning.
McCallum: The technique is impressive. One day you'll be teaching that technique to students.
Gills and Wings will play November 17th at the Canal Club with Mumiy Troll and The Onset. Doors are at 7:30pm. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door.