Psapp : Interview
The Goose & The Camel
Psapp are bonkers. And bangers. And clangers and
whackers and pluckers. Psapp want to make music out of any sound that catches
their ear. They are behind the theme to "Grey's Anatomy," as well as 2004's
"Tiger, My Friend."
Psapp are fidgeters. They poke and throw bits of paper at each other. They make
odd jokes and laugh freely at them.
Psapp are Galia Durant (vocals) and Carim Clasmann (audio trickery). Their new
record, "The Only Thing I Ever Wanted," was just released on Domino.
Tiny Mix Tapes caught up with Psapp on the eve of their North American live
start at the beginning, how did you two start working together?
Carim Clasmann: Well it's really easy, I just sort of raped her on a commuter
train and that's how it all started.
Galia Durant: We called it Rapetronica right there and then.
CC: But, no, that actually wasn't true. Which is a bit of a shame. I wish I'd
done it though.
GD: No, we actually met through a mutual friend who was originally in Psapp as
well whose name was Tim Wheelen, and we were all writing together, but it never
sort of came to anything until it became just me and Carim and we got out both
our stupid toy collections and silly noises.
CC: Yeah, it was quite odd...
GD: It was quite straight to start with.
CC: I'm not sure why but we wanted to keep on doing stuff but it didn't really
GD: It didn't, no. It took a while but then it kind of did and we got really
happy with it, and we started working together more and more, until now.
CC: Also when we started off we were with people who tried to pull it in a
different direction, different sort of grooves involved, and everyone wanted
GD: We didn't want anything straight really, but the more people that were
involved the straighter it became, and when it was just us two we were able to
sort of focus in on those quite absurd little ideas that we had, but the
priority was and still is just writing songs and creating a proper song.
So when do you think it sort of clicked, like you said? Was there a moment where
you said, "There, that's it. That's the sound we're going for."?
GD: It was over like two or three songs, I suppose. 'Cause we'd done quite a few
things but some of them were kind of more breaks oriented, quite indie-ish, and
then we kind of got to the point where we were using more and more odd sounds,
and over maybe four songs we came to the point where we both suddenly thought,
'Yeah, this is what we want to be doing, this is the right sound.'
CC: And it probably also took us a while to figure out the other one also had
the same liking for odd bits and pieces, and you're sort of thinking 'Oh I've
been wanting to do this for so long, so you go OK...'
GD: You wouldn't even bother asking most people because there'd just be no point
and they'd just be like, "Fuck off, I don't want no Hoover solo" and if it were
me or Carim we'd probably say maybe two
So can you describe your songwriting process.
CC: It's quite important that we do it at the same time, together, so we always
do it in the studio, and mess about. It's like an evolution process: you start
off somewhere and it's got to lead you somewhere else, and until you get to that
point nothing really happens. So we try different sounds, or someone's got an
GD: It's always really different though. Occasionally it starts in a really
straight way, with basic keyboard parts or guitar, but more often than not we'll
be messing about and say "I've got an idea. Why don't we make a recording of
this noise outside, this ice cream van," and then loop it over and over and over
and then that will build up and we'll add more noises, like someone hitting a
table or a rug, and some rubber bands and bells...
CC: But it never ends up where it starts off.
GD: Yeah, we might take out the original sound. So things kind of evolve in a
manner. And some take a while and other songs get written incredibly quickly and
the layers get put on really quickly and suddenly there's a song. In fact the
words came quite late in the album. I think they took about two hours to write.
And at the point pretty much everything was already there in place. I mean
obviously it needed mixing and everything was happening simultaneously and it
was a right old mess.
CC: But it's not just sort of one intense spell of focusing on something and get
all you've got in your head into it.
GD: It's lovely and you just get carried away and nothing else matter apart from
creating this song.
CD: And then later you look back and see what sort of horrible monster I've
So do you walk around with a tape recorder and look for sounds?
GD: Sometimes, yeah. We sort of have days out sometimes where we make
recordings. We were DJing in
a couple months ago and we took a mini-disc out and recorded these kids that
were doing a march around the streets of Luxembourg, and it sounded amazing, the
sound was so crisp among these old wooden houses. We found this huge iron tank
too, full of rubbish, and we just like hit it with sticks and our feet, and that
was an amazing noise. And rubbing rocks together. And it's really nice to know
that you made all those sounds when you're layering something up, rather than,
'Oh I need a kick drum, I'll just use that from my sample set that I bought from
the shop.' And it's nice to go sort of, 'Oh, that sound reminds me of when I was
out having a walk or when I saw this or when I felt this sort of atmosphere or
emotion.' And it just makes it more palatable to us, which I think is important
A lot of the stuff I read about you bring up your quirky, lighthearted sound,
but I think your songs can be quite winsome as well. Do you ever feel
pigeonholed as a sort of "fun" band?
GD: No, because I lot of people who really listen to our music realize that a
lot of the subject matter of the songs is very sad. I mean they're songs about
death and loss and leaving and being heartbroken, but they're all kind of
intertwined. I mean like, I guess we try to reflect our lives really, which is
that things are simultaneously joyful and thrilling and exciting and completely
heartbreaking, and it doesn't happen separately so it shouldn't be like that in
a song: "Oh this is a song to reflect my one emotion," that's bollocks, because
you don't have just one emotion at a time, or I don't anyway. I feel loads of
things all in a jumble together, and our songs I think are the same really.
CC: Yeah, I suppose in the beginning you're going to get the odd journalist or
someone who gets it sort of wrong, who goes "Oh there's a little squeak in this
song, it's all silly and for kids," and I suppose that's just what you get at
GD: But there's that too. We love fun and messing about and using silly noises
and surprising ourselves, and that's part of the enjoyment of writing music
together. But it wouldn't mean as much if it didn't reflect other things as
well, including those sad, dark moments as well.
So how was making this record different from the last one?
CC: It hasn't got "Squeaky Rocket" on it.
GD: It's got a different cat on it doing vocals.
CC: That's true. That's very important actually. But apart from that, most
recordings we've done in our house. Last time we did actually run around a lot
outside, in King's Cross especially, so we could get the atmosphere of where it
was done. But this time it's got a sort of at-home sound to us, where we sort of
used all the different rooms in the house to record in, so we had cables running
up to the kitchen, playing rhythms on the kitchen table. And also partly because
we knew we had to move, so it was a bit of an homage to the house we had lived
in for years. And we're still there [laughs], but not much longer, next door
construction work has started.
On this album you've got some songs with unmanipulated acoustic instruments.
Why'd you choose to not like, cut them and chop them up?
GD: Well, it wasn't a conscious idea last time, we didn't say, 'Oh we're going
to manipulate these sounds and cut them up." I think that as a band you'll
evolve and change, but actually there's lots of weird manipulated sounds in
there. They may be a little less obvious this time, but I think as long as we
write a good song, that's the priority for us.
CC: I think that when you're in the process of doing it you listen back to it
and you've either got the feeling that I want to manipulate it and sort of give
it a different rhythm or you like the simplicity. For instance, "Make Up" on the
new record, it just sort of worked the way it was. There were very little extra
bits in there, which are not very obvious and there was not the desire to play
around with that, whereas sometimes you have something sort of straight, where
in your head you already hear like, 'When I do this or that it will improve it."
Was it difficult to adapt your songs to be played live?
GD: Yes. [laughs] The end. Yeah, it's been really hard. Because obviously
there's only two of us when we write so it changes the dynamic hugely, because
we've got a six-piece band so each of those parts that we were playing together
had to be separated and kind of given to each different person. And we don't use
obvious noises, like an obvious bass sound, so something that we might have
recorded on a rubber band and then pitched down two octaves has to be translated
into a bass part or a guitar part. So it was quite demanding and hard, and it
does sound different.
CC: It's still the songs, but they've been rearranged because it just didn't
work as a six-piece. I mean it would've worked if you'd have twenty cats playing
You can't bring twenty cats on tour?
GD: Maybe if we do well on this record we can be more demanding.
CC: Just imagine if you had a big flying-case and you open it up and all the
cats come out!
GD: Looking really annoyed. They wouldn't perform either, you know what cats are
CC: You'd have to drug them with catnip.
GD: That is a good idea.
Do you consider different instruments to have different personalities?
GD: Yeah. Definitely. There's some French horn that Alfred and Ben came and
played for a couple tracks on the new album, and that' sort of somber, kind of
slightly Salvation Army sort of atmosphere, quite a serious sound. And then
there's some obviously non-serious sounds like the high, wooden sounds, they're
sound we made out of a new chest of drawers Carim helped me build. I got a
flat-pack chest of drawers and while Carim was building it he was like hitting
it and it made really nice sounds so we recorded it.
CC: We recorded every bit of wood of this shelf, like a hundred, and only two
bits actually sounded good.
GD: Yeah, the rest were crap. But anyway, that kind of formed the basis of the
high, so the idea in your head is this sort of cheap chest of drawers that now
makes lovely kind of hard wooden marimba-y type of sounds, and that's got sort
of a joyful, jolly, silly personality.
CC: But we still haven't decided if the piano is male or female. I think it's
male because it's called Zimmerman.
GD: I might just deface it, like Zimmerwoman.
Is there like a spectrum of super-wacky to super-serious?
GD: I think it doesn't work like that. The process of writing is never
consciously like, 'Oh it needs to be sadder, it needs to be this or that,' I
mean that's just not how we like to write music.
CC: I mean some songs just turn out to be wacky I suppose. We had one song that
we liked to play whenever we had A&R people from major labels over and we wanted
to scare them off, we'd play them this one song that did have this very long
Hoover solo and Galia's dad talking about stag beetles and it was really wrong,
but it was really fun to do because it scares everyone off. You've got phases
where you're like 'Yeah!' and sometimes you're like 'Mmmmm.... I'm not sure' so
sometimes songs are more on that tip or the other.
GD: They're all heartfelt though I think, all of them, even if not in a sad way.
How did the Grey's Anatomy thing come up?
G: It's quite a boring answer actually. He's the reason, over there, our
manager. Do you want to answer it?
Manager: The creator of the show heard it and loved. And the producer of the
show heard it, and they emailed each other at the same time to say, 'This is
it!' And they just love it.
Are there any other TV themes that you like?
GD: I quite like the music for Six Feet Under, that's quite nice.
CC: Actually we don't have a telly right now so we don't know any TV music.
GD: No, that's a good point actually. That's the only thing I can think of that
I've seen. I haven't watched the telly in a very long time.
Did you have any reservations about become the identity of this TV show, so to
speak, that people would instantly associate you with that?
GD: In a way, but then we figured that that song doesn't appear on any of our
albums or releases.
CC: I think it really depends on what it is, I think for most things, from my
point of view, to release something into the public domain and somebody's radio
station uses or TV program uses it, I 'm not going to sue them unless it really
GD: No. I guess there's not really any bad associations, I don't know, but maybe
if we had a TV we'd care more strongly about things like that. I mean in a way
it doesn't affect us because we don't watch it and it doesn't affect our lives,
so we weren't really that bothered.
Have you entertained the thought of doing Psapp remixes?
GD: We do do some remixes yeah. Not that many. We did a Shawn Lee one. But we
haven't been asked to do that many yet, but we're on the lookout because it's
really fun, you get to use a whole new collection of noises.
Did you have any sort of revelatory musical moments when you were growing up
that made you decide to make music?
GD: Loads. I remember hearing Vaughan Williams, "The Lark Ascending," when I was
about nine, I was reading this kid's book in my room, and my sister was going
out with this guy who was really into classical music. I nicked a tape off her
and the rest was like just more opera and then this came on and it just amazed
me and I remember that quite vividly. I mean there's so many times.... I was
really quite excited the first time I heard Jim O'Rourke as well, that just sort
of thrilled me.
CC: The Sex Pistols' "Never Mind the Bollocks"
GD: There's different types of revelation, it really depends on the type of
you could be any animal, what would you be?
GD: I wouldn't be a cat because actually I think that would take away the magic
if I were actually one, so maybe I'd.... [pauses] I'd quite like to be a goose,
because they've got really strong wings, apparently they can break a man's arm.
It'd be quite nice to have that power. You could waddle about in that sort of
undignified way. I think I would be a goose even if I didn't have a choice about
CC: I'd quite like being a camel really. You get a nice climate, somewhere in
the desert that's nice and hot.
GD: We probably wouldn't have met if we were a goose and a camel then, because I
probably wouldn't have left Europe, so it's just as well we're not, I suppose.