Gypsy and the Cat
Shirtless in the Thursday sun and with a beer in hand, Xavier Bacash is a picture of contentment. Alongside fellow Melburnian Lionel Towers he’s spent the past year on what those in the cliché industry would call a “whirlwind of success”, blasting out with a brand of undefinable electronic pop, recording and producing a debut album, signing to Sony, scoring a spot as Lily Allen's backing band, pricking the ears of NME, and winning props from Mark Ronson. But on the cusp of releasing their debut album, Gilgamesh, Bacash is quick to declare that the Gypsy and the Cat trip has been anything but ‘whirlwind’.
“People say we just came out of the studio and signed an international record deal,” he says, resignedly, “It’s not true; it’s not true at all, It just didn’t happen like that. I think if people really saw and knew what we’ve gone through in the last twelve months, they wouldn’t say it.” Having written, recorded and produced their LP, it took the duo around eight months to find a committed label and six months living in the UK to find a band. “We had this album, a great album, but no live presence or live show; we’d never played before. It’s only really in the last couple of months that we’re feeling the effects of that. People are paying attention.” Attention is an understatement. Bacash and Towers, who played their first gig in July of this year, managed to sell out shows on the back of a groundswell of excitement around infectious tunes like Jona Vark, Time To Wander and The Pipers Song.
The Gypsy and the Cat story began when the pair met only three years ago. Both French-Disco enthusiasts, they started out doing poor impressions of their heroes on the Melbourne club circuit until they realised the problem with trying to be Daft Punk, they sucked at it. Bacash was thrown to the forefront and handed a microphone around August 2008. As Gypsy and The Cat, the duo changed their tune, opting for a fresh breath of harmonic, swirling, alternative pop that’s frequently likened to an electronic Jeff Buckley, the fabulously daggy beats of Fleetwood Mac, or what would happen if Toto were capable of 2011 summer anthem grandeur.
But as it happens, Towers and Bacash aren’t too happy with the way the Gypsy and the Cat sound has been represented so far. “I think the journalist’s job is to simplify everything that they hear and craft it in an understandable way,” he says, “When it comes to sound, a lot of the time writers just make things up and generalise things - but referring to other bands which artists sound nothing like, I think that’s so out of line.” Bacash is referring to the plethora of Empire of the Sun references the two receive. That the bands share a manager and a he-and-he line-up hardly warrants a full-scale comparison to Luke Steele’s eclectic falsetto pop. “Cool, there’s two of us; so what?” says Bacash. Their influences, he tells me, are far more varied than just one contemporary Australian branch of synth. “Our album is like a Greatest Hits record of our favourite bands; the only thing actually consistent throughout all of the songs is my voice, and the sentiment of the songs. Yeah; to the guy who said, ‘These guys sound like Empire of the Sun’? What a douchebag.”
In the aftermath of the gruelling recording stint last year, Bacash promptly whisked himself off to India to chill out – a bit of a break from a rough time at home. “The last song, ‘Time to Wander’ we wrote because I was about to go away on this freaky journey; I didn’t even know if I was going to come home,” he says. “I was in such a weird depressed state - my girlfriend dumped me, and half the album is about that.” Turns out he chose the wrong part of India to chill out and cheer up... “Where I went was ridiculous. I went to Kashmir - it’s a warzone.” With an Irish mother and a Lebanese father, Bacash found a nice calling in the territorially-disputed north-western region… He palmed himself off as a journalist to gain access. “I kind of winged it, but when I got [to Kashmir] they wanted all this information about where you’re going to be, how long you’re there, contact details and all of that - you had to check in [to the Australian consulate] via email saying you’re ok,” he explains, before commenting on how sad it was to be in such a troubled region. “The people there are the nicest people I’ve ever met in my whole life.”
Pulling himself away from the dusty streets of Varanasi after six weeks Bacash copped a bit of a culture shock back in the throng of record preparations. But like many save-the-world travellers he was made to re-adjust quickly. “We went straight back to [organising the release of] the album in America - and I remember standing in Times Square almost having a breakdown because of this galactic circus. Everyone tries to glorify when they go somewhere like India; preaching about the Western world, and how the way we live is fucked. I grew out of that – but you do have to maintain some perspective.”
With a hectic summer lined up, Bacash says the two are hardly the party boys that their club background would suggest. He assures me that Gypsy and the Cat are essentially a pair of nannas, simply wanting to respect their audience and keep it grassroots. And keep it actual roots, too. “I just bought this stuff called Valerian, it’s like a natural sleeping tablet, a natural root, just to have it after the shows to chill out,” Bacash says, before assuring me that all legalities are in tow. “We’re not crazy guys. We go home. No hookers, no assholes. People think musicianship’s gone out the window in recording, but with the increased quality of production and lights and such [on stage], I feel like I’m letting people down if I don’t prepare myself mentally before each show.”
A moment of peace is hardly feasible for a band so sought after in the aftermath of their album release. Fresh from the Parklife circuit, the pair are back in their UK base at the moment, all set to hit up the coveted NME Weekender and London Freeze Festival before heading back home for the Hot BQQ and the Big Day Out. As an act steeped in a studio tradition the pair is still learning the tricks of the stage trade, striving to translate their hyped-up tracks live as best they can. Bacash describes their performance at Splendour in the Grass only two months ago as ‘early days’. The two had the die-happy opportunity to support The Strokes earlier this year – and it’s an experience Bacash admits made him empathetic towards notoriously hostile front man Julian Casablancas.
“Touring? It sucked,” he says. “People think you’re being rude but you’re just literally dead. You’re trying to be honest in what you’re saying, how you’re performing, talking about that performance and where it came from. But after the show you just want to have a drink and go to bed. People want to earbash you, which is fine and you’ve got to respect that, but sometimes it’s just like, ‘Oh god, bed!’”
Gypsy and the Cat play the Hot BBQ Festival at Portsea, Point Nepean on Saturday January 22 and the Big Day Out at the Flemington Showgrounds on Sunday January 30.