Interview: Gypsy and The Cat

Anna Tsekouras
marie claire

It was only six months ago, when Xavier Bacash, 22 and Lionel Towers, 24 were a couple of low-profile DJs doing gigs in Melbourne nightclubs Seven and Boutique. These days they call London home and work with internationally acclaimed music producers. They've played the main stage at Splendour in the Grass and Parklife and have supported The Strokes and Foals on their Australian tours. Not bad for two guys who up until recently made music in a Melbourne garage.


How do you process the fact that this has all happened so quickly?
To be honest I haven't sat back and thought about it too deeply because it's just been go, go, go. Maybe one day I'll sit back and think "wow". I'm elated and ecstatic about it, but it hasn't really kicked in.

Did you always know that you would reach a certain level of fame?
No, not at all! I never thought about it. We wrote the album purely for our own enjoyment. Not to get a record deal or to become pop stars. We were initially just going to put our music up on a website and if people wanted to buy it they could.

What inspired the title of your album, Gilgamesh?
It comes from a song on the album with the same name. It's a metaphor for someone putting a wall up. Gilgamesh was a demigod who built a wall around a Babylonian city to protect his people.

You've torn down your own walls, musically speaking. You got your big break by posting your music on MySpace and automatically "adding" friends after they heard your music. A very clever marketing idea! Was this part of your strategy?
I thought MySpace was a bit of a dead end to be honest – a place that no-one paid any attention to. We did it just to see if we would get people to like it. A week after we posted it online, one of the major labels contacted us and all the interest started from there. The blogs also started jumping and word got around.

So you posted it online and hoped for the best?
We knew that people would like it, like a certain group of people and that it was just a matter of finding them. We never thought it would be this big. We've never written for a set group, but we knew different people from different pockets would be interested from indie types to retro fans to mainstream kids to adults.

You've come a long way since making music in a Melbourne garage. What's it like living in London and working with some big name producers such as Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) and Rich Costey (Franz Ferdinand, Glasvegas)?
It's been incredible. A lot it was done via correspondence as they were in the US and we were in London. We also worked with Cenzo Townsend on "Jona Vark", who worked with Florence and the Machine and U2. He's a big name in Britain. We were able to go into the studio for that mix and that hands-on experience was great. It was much more difficult going online and streaming via iChat, which was how we worked with the American producers.

What was the biggest challenge doing it that way?
Just not being in the same room! You have to try and explain things using words, and the whole process is a lot slower. If we were in the room we could have just fiddled with some knobs and things and it would have been a whole lot easier.

Do you think you artists have to go overseas for people to finally sit up and pay attention to you?
No, I think it's almost the opposite! I think you have to be home to get local kudos. I think it works both ways, but there is a huge amount of people that believe you should build up your Australian audience first before you go overseas. I guess there are arguments supporting both sides.

Have you played any live gigs in the UK?
Yes, we did our very first live show in the UK. And that was in a venue called The Camp on Old Street, London. It was great for a first show. We had lots of industry people coming down.

What was the audience reception like?
It was good. I mean no-one knows any of the songs, even in the UK. I think, there was only a handful of people who knew "Time To Wander". Our music isn't really jump up and down "mosh" music, it's that sort of music where people sort of stand there and watch. At the end of each song everyone seemed to cheer and get quite into it so that was good.

You've played at festivals, including Splendour in the Grass and Parklife. Do you prefer doing gigs at festivals or solo shows?
I haven't actually made my mind up about that! The crowd at Parklife in Brisbane was one of the best responses we've ever had from a crowd. People were singing along to "Time To Wander" and "Jona Vark" and cheering at the end of each song. Maybe it's because people are starting to get to know us.


I hear that your musical influences vary from Fleetwood Mac to Bach. Who are you most inspired by?
I am the culprit behind putting Bach in all of our influence lists!

You're classically trained?
Yeah, I grew up playing a classical piano. If it wasn't for Bach our music wouldn't be where it is today. He sort of pioneered so many aspects of music. I could go into the technical jargon, but it would probably be above people's heads.

Is that the ultimate way to chill out and regroup?
I haven't been in a while, but I used to go to some chamber music concerts and things like that with other classical music admirers. But I'm not just into classical music. Even great jazz is just as soothing for me.

Speaking of jazz, Jamie Cullum once said it's not about how much talent you do or don't have, music is about having something to say. What are you trying to say with this album?
We just wanted to take listeners on an emotional journey. Every song on the record is quite different. You can tell that it's the same band, but every track could arguably be from a different band. So I guess there are different messages that come from the mood of each song.

You've recently joined forces with Lily Allen’s backing band?
Yes, we've got them at the moment and they've been amazing. Initially, we just hired Johnny the drummer as our music director for the live show, but we didn't have a drummer and so we asked him if he could find a drummer for us. Since Lily has cut down on her gigs at the moment – he put his hand up.

Has that ramped up your spotlight?
Not really. People like to name drop it, but it doesn't really do anything.

Would you agree to perform at Melbourne venues, like Seven and Boutique, if they asked you back?
(Laughs). It's funny you say that. One of the promoters from Seven asked if we would do a DJ set there. We may well again in the future, but not right at the moment.

Where do you go in Melbourne to listen to good live music?
In the end, that was the problem! We couldn't really find anywhere that we sort of really liked. I guess there were some places that played good French disco that we listened to a lot. Or we'd just go to where the bands were playing, like the Prince of Wales in Richmond.

Any favourite local acts?
Tame Impala and definitely Midnight Juggernauts are one of our favourite bands, not just locally, but they're one of our favourite bands in general. I like Cut Copy, and Strange Talk, the friends that we shared our studio place with, are writing some great stuff.

BEST OF...

Best song on my iPod:
"Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin.

Best song to win over a girl:
"Heya" by Outkast.

Best way to spend a weekend:
Hanging out and drinking with friends.

Best lesson I learnt the hard way:
(Laughs). Not to wear white pants to a muddy music festival, like Parklife.

Best item in my wardrobe:
Vintage Nike sneakers that I got from ebay.

Best place to get a drink in Melbourne:
Match in Melbourne Central.

Best review:
We were compared to the Bee Gees, which is a huge compliment as they're a big influence on us.

Gypsy & The Cat's latest album Giglamesh (Sony) is out on November 12.

For a review of the album, watch out for the December issue of marie claire - on sale November 3.