“Young Blood” is the first listen from Gymnast’s forthcoming untitled EP, a collection of songs shaped by the concept of liminality, the transition from one state of affairs to another—where no one is in control. The single uses its driving take on pop to explore the experience of coming of age, the other songs will explore others. “Young Blood” is angular, expressive and not without a few surprises (wait for the bridge). Their EP is out this fall. I had a chance to chat with the group about this release and more.
Troy Keon: I’d like to pick up mid-conversation to what we were talking about last month at Porto Rico Coffee’s backyard. Listening to “Young Blood” and a few other songs from Wild Fleet (2014 LP), I felt a sleeveless sort of punk energy pouring from your music—mostly from the composition but also the lyrics—and I hastily boxed up Gymnast as this kind of irreverent pop duo out of Manchester with an edge in their narrative. Punk was an instrumental backdrop to my own coming of age, which may have encouraged this link, but it turns out this is too flat a dimension to how you guys write (or should we say narrate?) your songs. Set me straight.
Cathy Wilcock and Chris Lyon of Gymnast: Ha, yeah we don’t get this at all, it must be in the eye of the beholder. Our music is really really far away from punk! Our songs are much slower, more conventionally melodic and more instrumentally layered than the fast-paced and stripped-back style. Punks everywhere would probably be mightily offended by your suggestion. I think I just heard John Lydon smashing a window in protest. Lyrically there is something defiant in some of our lyrics, but it’s always in the context of self-doubt and self-critique. Punk to us often seems to be the opposite: confident in its anger and resistance. Punk abhors authority whereas we have a much more ambivalent relationship with it. We challenge it but can’t muster the assuredness to reject it outright. When we were chatting at Porto Rico Coffee you mentioned ‘Culprits’ having a kind of irreverent attitude. You’re right but the verses are undermined by the angst in the chorus. This is a pattern used in many of our songs – including our new single – different parts of the song are lyrically in conflict with each other.
TK: Explain the narrative behind “Young Blood,” or screw that, let’s have some fun … describe to me the person that’s writing this song. Ex: who is it, what’s her background? Who is this person instructing? Is she talking to herself?
Gymanst: The song is about coming of age. The central character in the song is a split subject – one half of them is still rooted in the past while the other is stepping out into their future identity. This is why liminal states are so interesting – there is a moment of ex stasis where the subject stands outside of themselves. Their old identity has been cast away and their new one has not yet been conferred on them so they are ‘outside of themselves’ momentarily. The verses are the past voice talking to the future subject. The choruses are the new subject replying back.
TK: Does this ‘coming of age’ theme stick around throughout the rest of the EP?
Gymanst: Not exactly. Coming of age was the impetus behind “Young Blood” as an example of a liminal moment. The rest of the EP plays with other examples. Our EP will be a collection of case studies, different experiences and expressions of liminality.
TK: George Carlin has a quote “When you’re born into this world you’re given a ticket to the freakshow.” The 2016 election is a great example of this. With so much “material” readily available, how do you decide on what stories are worth telling?
Gymanst: This is exactly why we had to settle on a concept for the EP. It helped us to lend structure to what we wanted to explore. We could then categorize ideas as either irrelevant/relevant to this concept. With the party primaries going on it was exciting to be around Brooklyn when Bernie Sanders was in town, but trying to get your head around the Donald through the medium of song would probably bring anyone to tears.
TK: The energy of “Young Blood,” feels like a story in and of itself. Chris I remember you said the time signature for this one is 7/8. Things feel rushed and tense at first, like a world closing in on someone, before Cathy’s vocals offer strength and instruction. Then the pace moves into something less tense and more authentic with the four on the floor dancey closing. Is this the kind of energy we should expect from your next EP?
Gymanst: Yeah in some parts. We’re fond of Wild Fleet (debut album) but it’s a bit of a careful record. More than the energy, though, probably the main way that “Young Blood” will reflect the new EP is in the sonic palette it uses, which is much more overtly electronic and dancey. Our roots are as songwriters but we’re gradually letting ourselves sink into that more weirdly synthetic electronica sound world.