INTERVIEW: Japanese Wallpaper Finds Balance and Comfort In Studio and On-Stage

Australian artist Gab Strum of Japanese Wallpaper will be opening for Lily Allen in his native Australia for a handful of select shows starting February 4, 2019. He recently released his first new material in two and a half years with “Fooling Around”, a track that gives a hint of the direction this rising artist is headed with his first full-length due out in 2019. Born Gab Strum, he was 15 years old and on a tediously long family vacation when he started his journey into creating music. With nothing to do but listen to Tycho and The Postal Service, he opened his laptop and discovered Garageband. The rest as they say, is history. In our interview with Strum, he gets personal about his dream pop music, artist collaborations, touring, and the growing success of his album.

Your music has been gaining recognition as of late, are you starting to get noticed on the streets? 

In Melbourne where I’m from, if I’m at a gig sometimes… I’m usually camera shy. I don’t post photos of my face or anything. I’d like to think more people know the songs than what I look like. Not like mysterious, but I don’t like things all about me. I guess I chose the wrong job for that.

It’s nothing out of the ordinary. There are artists who are very creative, introspective, and look inwards when it comes to music. 

TotallyEven in a less psychological level, I think it’s a bit of a misconception. An artist who’s great at staring at a computer screen for ten hours a day with headphones and working on beats– that’s my practice, that’s what I do. I sit on my own, turn on all these instruments, plug them in and I record. I lay sounds and I do that whole thing. That’s my favorite thing to do and it’s a solitary experience. I think the expectation of someone who’s great at that also needs to be super extroverted than super charismatic. To me at least that never made much sense.

That explanation fits perfectly with how you got into music. A story of a teenage “bedroom producer”. Now with some experiences behind you with an EP, remixes with notable artists (Charli XCX and Wafia), and recognition. How do you handle that?  

It’s cool. Something I’ve noticed since doing this and being exposed is that everyone is human, you know? They’re in pursuit of the same thing. I’m less starstruck than I might’ve been once upon a time. Someone like Charli— I feel like she’s really at the forefront of pop music and innovation of that world. She makes records that I listen to the most and love. So getting some form of recognition from someone like that makes me feel like I’m on the right track.

Does it make you retreat? Or feel like ‘That’s wonderful. I want to work with someone like her, but I don’t want to be on stage with her’?

I feel like I’m my best in the studio rather than on stage. I’d rather make something in a room than be on-stage in front of 10,000 people. I love touring and playing shows especially that the music scene is online at the moment. The ability of being in front of actual people who heard the record and see them react is pretty special. I guess without those songs and hours of experimentation/arrangements, I wouldn’t be on stage in the first place.

It’s interesting you bring that up because the layers are so intricate, did you anticipate how you’re going to interpret it live on a nightly basis?

Now after doing this for a couple years, some of the live shows have kind of seeped in the record process. I guess it’s always on the back of my mind. Whereas, this wasn’t the case a few years ago. Never in a million years did I ever think I was gonna muster up the courage to get on stage. It did take me a couple years to not hate it and not feel anxious.

How was your first show?

The first show was eleven in the morning at a festival in regional Victoria. The more you go into building an electronic live show, which is a ten hour discussion in itself. Anyway, there are more different ways to get sound out of your computer than plug a cable in a headphone output. At that time, I didn’t know that and I learned that the hard way when I turned on my computer then Skype opened up automatically. Everyone heard and I don’t remember much other than that. I survived it.

Obviously you got over those fears— do you find that performing is a way to confront or at least deal with some of the anxiety?

I think so. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Doing it more has helped me with confidence and overcoming stage fright. I definitely feel better.

You’ve connected with a lot of people at your shows and it’s resonated. It’s been quite a while since we got new music. You just released “Fooling Around” as a teaser. How long was the process in terms of creating that piece of music?

I started playing with a full band in Australia two years ago. I feel like I added a whole other energy to it and that was a spark of a record. I wrote that song in a voice memo on the iPhone a year and half ago. Then I had to make all of those sounds fit into the Japanese Wallpaper world that I established. It took a lot of trial and error. I think by the time I finished the song there were like over 60 different versions of it. Just trying them out until I found something that felt right and good with the help of producer Ben Allen in Atlanta. He’s just someone who has worked on so many of my favorite records and a real important part of unlocking how this album would sound.

You touched on the fact that you’re in a band. I’m really curious because it’s not only Japanese Wallpaper, but your other band. You have two albums coming out. 

That band is called Kelso. That’s a band I’ve been playing with just for a year I guess. It’s a very different thing from Japanese Wallpaper. I don’t really do much producing and I don’t write any of the songs that’s all my friend Kelly. She plays for this amazing punk band called Camp Cope.

Is that another way for you to release or express yourself?

I suppose so. I feel like it’s more Kelly writing the songs and expressing herself than it is me. I mean my favorite thing in the world to do is play music with my friends. Any opportunity I get to do that is pretty amazing.

I feel like we get one aspect from Gab of Japanese Wallpaper and now Gab is doing this.

On top of that, I mean I’ve been producing a lot of records for different people. That’s kind of opened up into this whole other world of ideas and stuff for me. I feel like I have my projects where I do my thing that’s my avenue. At the moment, I’m also fascinated in collaborating and helping other people express their vision.

That’s awesome and I like seeing that. It exposes a different side of a personality. Is the album finished for Japanese Wallpaper?

Yes, it’s finished. It will be out next year [2019]. I’m actually half way through another one. I don’t think there be much of a wait like last time.

Is it more the style of Fooling Around?

Yes, I think “Fooling Around” is the most extreme example of differences in sound. I feel being so close to it and involved in making it; I don’t have the most objective perception of how different or similar they sound.

Did you get any new toys or sounds? What was the most surprising/interesting sound? 

Oh yes! All new toys and sounds. We had this really interesting sound in Atlanta when we were mixing the album. There was a certain song that the drums sounded a bit too clean. We were looking for ways to kinda make it feel a bit more gritty I suppose.  We found this old tape delay that Ben [Allen] had and we ran it. We managed to turn off the delay part. It was kinda like this gritty tape pre-amp and running drums through that. It opened a world of sound to me. The other thing, I bought this guitar pedal called “Memory Man”from the 90s. I setup this thing where I can run sound through my computer and guitar pedals .  That gave everything an interesting sound. It pushed Japanese Wallpaper into a hazy-dreamy land. Also, I bought my favorite synthesizer a Juno 106 that has made it onto every track.

We have a lot of new things to look forward to then. 

Yes, lots of new things. This record has lots of live drums. I recorded drums on the whole album that’s a whole new world for me as well.

This is your first proper full-length. Is there a name for the album?

That’s the interesting thing because it’s my first, but I feel like it’s my second album. There’s a name for the album, but I’m not allowed to say just yet. In a few months, yeah. While I feel like this is a solo record, I’m still collaborative.