Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Gaptooth Tarot Interview!

Gaptooth is a kick-ass electro-pop one-woman-band based in London, UK. Her gorgeous, catchy-as-hell music never fails to get the crowd moving, and her lyrics contain some of the smartest political commentary that I’ve come across in years. Here’s what happened when I interviewed her with the Tarot of the Cat People deck (Karen Kuykenall/US Games).

Tarot Cat : Firstly, I absolutely love your new record, the Pillow Fort EP! Its classic Gaptooth - cheeky pop synths, a touch of punk, and lyrics that are as playful as they are political. Underneath the humour there is a lot of cynicism, perhaps even a touch of apathy at times? Thinking about this, I drew a card - the Page of Wands. This is an interesting card to reflect on cynicism; a young-looking figure holds up a lantern and has a fat, adoring cat as a companion. It seems to be a hopeful, positive card; we might see this Page as someone who is enthusiastically learning new things, with an open minded approach to their creativity. Do you feel its important to have a positive, playful approach when dealing with cynicism? What other things might this Page be saying about your music? 

Gaptooth : Thanks for your nice words about my music! Ive always liked songwriting that was a bit cynical but with an underlying sense of hope. Songwriters like Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields) and John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) who bring a heavy dose of cynicism and dark humour, but give you a sense that deep down they do believe in life and love and romance, in the broadest sense of the word. Ultimately, if you dont believe in something theres no point, is there? Theres a line I wrote in Plans and Friends and Records that says misanthropy is boring. Sometimes I just write life lessons into my lyrics to remind myself when I forget them.

Apathy is something I try to avoid, but sometimes its important to make a distinction between apathy and self-care. One song on the EP, I Built a Fort, is about frustration with the current state of the world war, climate change, austerity, oppression and so on and a desire to hide away from it all. The song is tongue-in-cheek, and I think its important not to walk away from injustices and pretend theyre not happening, but its also important to look after yourself sometimes. In my day job I work on issues around gender and violence, and in my spare time Im very involved in feminist activism which can take up a lot of evenings and weekends, so sometimes its really important to take a step back from that and think about self-care.

This card made me think of that because the character has a cat by their side, which looks like their faithful companion. My music and my cats are a really important part of my self-care strategies. Ive always had felines around the place and they look after me as much as I look after them.

Tarot Cat : Youre a strong advocate of feminism, both in your music and in your wider working life too. Thinking about your approach to human rights, I drew the Knight of Swords. This is a really powerful, no-bullshit card. A warrior-type figure sits on a huge panther. No cuddly kitty this time around! The figure holds up a purple sword (interesting colour for a mighty weapon!) and seems to be extremely alert and confident. Theres an element of defence in the way the sword is being held - it seems more like a strong reaction to attack, rather than an instigation of attack. What does this reflect in your approach to feminism, both in your music and other areas in your life?

Gaptooth : I love this card! My favourite colour is purple, and Ive always thought that if I was a super hero I would ride a big cat.

I guess like a lot of women, I came to feminism in part through personal experiences of sexism, through feeling like I was under attack in different ways. I think most women I know have had some fairly horrible experiences in Good Guys I sing the line all my female friends have stories of assault, which I dont think is even an exaggeration. Songs like Stay Away From Me and Tigerstrikes are about trying to reclaim your personal power in the face of situations of abuse. This card sums that up pretty well You mistook me for a pussycat / so watch out for when the tiger strikes.

Im really involved in activism against government cuts to services for survivors of domestic violence. It very much feels like many of the things feminists have worked hard to achieve in recent decades are under attack from this government. Its frustrating and exhausting, but organising politically with other women and has been a really empowering experience. Sometimes getting out on the street and shouting can make you feel a whole lot better about the world.

Tarot Cat : In the past you have expressed a real distain for the UK music scene (which Im totally with you on for around one thousand reasons). I drew a card to reflect on your gripes with the way things are, and it was the Nine of Wands. A feminine figure stands before a prison-looking structure. Theres an army of hungry-looking cats behind the bars, scratching at her feet for attention. Again its the suit of Wands, hinting at creative projects. She looks wary, and seems to be protecting this strange kitty prison, perhaps expecting an intruder. How is this image relating to your attitude to the UK music scene?

Gaptooth : Theres a lot about the way the music industry is going that I find frustrating. I first became involved in it around 2002 when I started working for (the now defunct) Truck Records, recording bands, putting on gigs and working at Truck Festival. Since then it feels like it has become harder and harder for artists. Streaming services make it harder to recover the costs of recording, and many promoters are much more interested in how many followers you have on social media than on the quality of your music.

The fact that it has become easier for people to record and release music for themselves is great for so many reasons, but the sheer number of people doing it means that increasingly you need a big budget behind you in order to compete for exposure. So I suppose I sometimes feel a bit like one of those hungry kitties scratching for attention, without much luck.

Ive read a few articles online recently suggesting that bands who dont tour all the time and put out an album every year wont make it (whatever that means) because theyre being lazy. But the harder it gets to earn a living from music, the more artists face a choice between either fitting music around a full time job (as most do), which puts limits on how much you can do, or living in a state of extreme financial precariousness.

Tarot Cat : Do you have any musical plans right now? OH, its The Magician! Number one in the Major Arcana (the suit said to reflect major stages in life), the very beginning. This Magician is a tough-looking one, wearing a huge cloak and commanding three suits of cups, wands and pentacles with the final suit - a sword. In other words, The Magician seems to be bringing a very balanced approach to the situation, not focusing on one area, but rather balancing many approaches to look at the situation as a whole, with power, skill and determination. What is this Magician reflecting?

Gaptooth : Musically, I’m working on my second album and hoping to start gigging more around the country, having not really played live much in the last couple of years. I am also anticipating quite a big life change as I’m going back to uni in September to start a PhD. I’m hoping (possibly naively) that this will allow me to balance my work and my music better, as my lifestyle will be slightly more flexible. Working quite long hours in a job that has required me to travel a lot has made it quite difficult to focus on music at times. So I hope this will allow me to gig a bit more and get this album finished more quickly than the last one.

Tarot Cat : Finally, a question about the cards, but without the cards! Youre a fan of tarot yourself, arent you? What draws you to tarot, and how do you use it?

Gaptooth : My mum was a new age therapist, so I grew up with a lot of things that other people might think of as a bit kooky or weird. I have a Celtic tarot deck, which I chose because I liked the pictures (though I am super jealous of your deck, Tarot Cat!). I have a particular group of friends who I dont see that often but when I do, we usually do each others tarot. For some people its a spiritual thing, for others its more just a way of talking through things that are going on in your life and getting a different perspective on them.

Tarot Cat : Thanks so much to you Gaptooth! Youre a true pop inspiration in a world of bland, dumbed down music, and The Tarot Cat purrs lovingly at your smart, fabulous, feminist feet. Please dont stop doing what youre doing, and many purrs for giving me some your super-valuable time.

The Pillow Fort EP is out now and available on Bandcamp. It's incredible, trust me. You can also follow Gaptooth on Facebook and check out the amazing new DIY video for Stay Away from Me below, featuring some very confused Bristolians (keep an eye out for the charming, stalking dog!)

This interview is the first in a series of tarot interviews with incredible, out-there underground musicians. You can sign up to the blog by entering your email in the subscription bar (top right) - there’s some amazing interviews coming up I promise thee!

The Tarot Cat is an underground, DIY, tarot-reading musician based in Scotland. I adore providing tarot reading for musicians and creatives - or just about anyone who wants to look at something in a creative and interesting light! You can find out more about my approach to tarot and book readings on my main website. More tarot-music joy coming soon! Miaow for now! Love Ste xx 

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