GUNSLINGER: A first hand look at a band on the rise
By Jack Meltzer
Would it be possible for Los Angeles’ exploding electronic music scene to survive without yet another electronic pop-band, or another cookie-cutter Dub Step DJ? The rhetorical question does well with the obvious answer…Yes.
The dilemma then, however, becomes: How can an act, or talent make any headway in this business, in this scene, in this city that is not only swelling, but bursting at the seams with redundancy and monotony?
Hollywood thrives on the old adage, “The same, but new.” It seems that electro band Gunslinger from West Hollywood fits this phrase, but also has an added advantage in the fact that the three piece band performs electronic dance music with not only a computer, but with a real drummer, and a lead-singer who also plays screeching guitar.
The band, which is Chris Anthem, (guitar and singer), and Vidal (Keyboards, Mix, and Computer.) is putting the finishing touches on their second album which they hope will push them further into the limelight.
“We’re looking for a label basically, and we’re waiting on the right label. If not, we’ll put out this record ourselves, and definitely release it before summer,” said Anthem. “I’m sure we’re going to find someone to release it.”
The band, in its newest incarnation has only been playing live for nine months, and has rapidly gained momentum. Riding high off their winter North American tour with Infected Mushroom which ended at a nearly sold-out show at the Avalon in Hollywood on Christmas Eve, the band is eager for more.
“Infected tours three days a week,” said Anthem. “We’re ready for it. We have to do it. We want to get our shit out there. We’ve all been working hard. You have to hope that the payoff is going to happen at the end.”
The payoff could be happening sooner than expected as a rep from Interscope was reported to be at that Christmas Eve show at the Avalon, and showing interest in the band’s upcoming release.
Gunslinger could possibly be ready to make life changes, but at what cost? If hypothetically picked up by a major label as Interscope, could this cost a change in their sound, which it seems that so many electro bands go, into the abyss of pop-dance, as in the likes of Passion Pit, the Bravery, Phoenix, and so many others that have fallen into hell with Hello Goodbye controlling the elevator going down.
“The thing I don’t like about dance music is how disposable it is,” Anthem said. “A song comes out, and it’s over in a few months. I kind of attributed that to the lack of story, and a voice. That’s ok. I like dance music for that reason. Sometimes you don’t want to hear singing in a story. That’s why I got into it. It was about the music, the vibe and the people.”
In this genre, and in this time and age, is it necessary to even be affiliated with a major label? And, what can a label do for this band, that is already making headway with minimal help from any record labels except, a small Canadian based record label, Last Gang Records, who put out Gunslinger’s first attempt, “Early Volumes 1,” that was released more than a year ago.
It is more than a relief to hear and both see someone actually play an instrument in this city, and especially in this genre instead of seeing someone by themselves pushing Play/Stop all night.
Gunslinger’s music is all self produced by Anthem and Vidal, who have been producing music together for nearly two years. All of the music that Gunslinger produces comes from their West Hollywood bungalow where they eat, sleep, and arrange their album. Egg crates, and sound-proof styrofoam line the walls of their studio, which is also dubbed as Vidal’s bedroom. Computers, speaker equipment, and an analog synthesizer, witch produced many analog sounds on the record ornament the room.
“It’s definitely a collaborative effort. I’m mainly a songwriter,” Anthem said. “I started off as a songwriter first, mainly, and then I got into DJ and production.”
Anthem has been relentlessly trying to break into the music business and score with a major record label since the late 1990s, then using a rock band as his catalyst to break though. Frustration increasingly grew inside Anthem and he earned for something more, something with substance.
“When I came for college, 15 years ago, L.A. was the place to be. I went to UCLA, and it seemed like this was where the entertainment industry and music was,” Anthem said. “I did do the rock band scene, and you know the L.A. music scene is so lame,” said Anthem. “It’s such a business and there are no kids involved. Everyone just stands there with their arms folded, and nobody gets into it.”
Theoretically, something has got to give after you put many hours of hard labor in, moving gear show after show, sharing a hotel room with the two other guys, and tirelessly tweaking songs until they are just right. Luck always playing a huge part in the business, and who gets a deal sometimes just depends on who was in the right place at the right time. But, when is it the right time to hang up the headphones, pawn the turn tables and Moog Synthesizers, and call it quits? When does it seem like the right time to give up one’s dreams of making it in this business?
“It’s been an uphill battle to break-through. We aren’t making that much money, three plane tickets, and a hotel room,” Anthem said. “We need to get to a point where we can start earning some real money.”
Gunslinger hopes to reinvent themselves and step out of the trance-house shadows of bands like Infected Mushroom and Pendulum Live who have a similar feel to Gunslinger in the fact they incorporate live instruments.
“I feel like what we’re doing is more alternative,” said Anthem. “Distorted sounds with melodies. It’s more alternative rock, with dance production. I come from a rock background, where as a lot of synth bands, and electro bands come from a more 80s/Pop background.”
Anthem describes the sound of the new album as up-tempo with a lot of movement, but with the structure of a rock song with the vocal arrangements, or as he dubs it, “trance with vocals.”
“I really like classic rock, and Nirvana and Muse and that stuff. So, I really feel you can tell that within the songwriting, and with the sounds that we use,” said Anthem.
There are songs on the new album that are more structured like rock songs, and then there are those more hard-hitting songs on the album which seem to be derivative of Electro-house, where the bass stays consistently at 130.
“Our music is a little more moody the Infected Mushroom” Anthem said. “Infected, they have that sound, that hard driving sound. As a DJ when I came up with this record, its really hard to DJ this music because of the singing, its like a rock song. So, for people who have never heard it before, its kind of hard to DJ. But, if you’re playing it live, people respect it more.”
Anthem described the songwriting process on the new album as he will usually write the songs first, then record the lyrics and the melody over a guitar or bass, then the process of adding drums, and the never-ending surge of tweaking different sounds and tones begins. Most of the tunes on the new album are structured more like a rock song with full verse, and chorus.
“The new record is different, there aren’t a lot of people making music like this right now,” said Anthem. “I love the first record, but this record to put in Nirvana terms, is going to be like our Nevermind.”
The new album is a unique hybrid of music, fused with different electro genres including breakbeat, house, trance and rock. Different tracks feature acoustic guitar melodies, with eerie sounds of echoed vocals, as well as tracks with a more break-beat feel, with a catchy chorus a la Joy Division, Dépêche Mode, and New Order.
Anthem sights one of the reasons for the mediocre success of their first record is the small label pushing the album, and the fact that the first record had too much structure and singing, mixed with the dance beats that people weren’t used to it, instead of the normal loop over a dance beat.
Things seem to be working themselves out for Gunslinger as the band was a hired gun to do the official remix of the Blues Travelers 1994 monster hit, “Run-Around,” that will be featured on a double disc album due out in March.
“Let me tell you, that’s not an easy song to remix,” said Anthem. “Nobody’s going to DJ a Blues Travelers song, so we decided to make the song with a kind of dub feel, something the fans would like. For us, we got to remix a number one song.”
The Travelers album, a double disc containing the bands greatest hits and another one to feature B sides, remixes, and rarities. Gunslinger, is one of those remixes.
“You can absolutely be independent, you can sell you shit on iTunes without anybody,” said Anthem. “The thing is, you have to get out and play in front of people, and the agents have a lot of power. All the promoters want the big act, and then use that as leverage to get acts they want to play, like acts they want to bring up.”
Gunslinger has experienced this even recently when the band played in Albany, New York, with Infected Mushroom, where Anthem said nobody knew the band.
“They dug it, and the promoters were happy, but they had never heard of us,” said Anthem. “They don’t really know us, but we’re trying to get up there where they know us.”