photo courtesy of Erik Gundel
In Erik Gundel’s latest EP, You Brought Joy, life appears to find greater resonance in the light emitted by a very special person, a moment of utopia in an otherwise ritualistic day.
“Unfortunately, that is a fictional song,” says Gundel, whose name may sound familiar as he was a member of Brooklyn rock act, Motel Motel. “I built it around samples of a random old soul song I found with the same title. The lyrics kind of follow the beginning and the end of a relationship, which usually both happen pretty suddenly (at least the beginning does). I was kind of going for a Dionne Warwick vibe.”
After the recent closure of Motel Motel’s successful stint in the indie world, Gundel has embarked on his solo project, a long time in the making. To date, he’s put out several EPs independently, however has yet to complete a full-length album. Therefore, his goal over the course of the coming year is to do just that. Between touring and a self-described all-hands-on-deck approach to production, Gundel indicates the process strung out longer than anticipated. At a glimpse, his music retains many aspects of Motel Motel’s folk rock sound, but takes it one step further into deeper paths of theory and thought. If the songs he’s released so far are any implication of what’s to come, good music is in the works.
“I like film a lot, I was considering going into scoring someday,” says Gundel of his personal inspirations. “Certain images from my favorite movies can come into my head when I’m writing music or lyrics. I wouldn’t say my lyrics are literate enough to claim books as a major inspiration, but I’m sure they eek their way in there, the more poetic prose writers. Listening to other music is the most direct inspiration for sure. Certain artists make me want to record or play something immediately after I finish listening, just about every time.”
Among those who made his hit list: Talk Talk, Scott Walker, Joanna Newsom, The Books, and James Blackshaw. Gundel’s work comprises numerous layers and shapes, drifting though genres effortlessly yet never being defined by one alone. To the simple-minded, it’s indie rock; to the more intuitive, there are elements of dubstep, metal, pop, rock, bluegrass, and even symphonic. His career happened somewhat haphazardly. As he describes it, he stumbled to Brooklyn from upstate New York, post-collegiate years, and, with nothing holding him back, he figured why not?
Shortly thereafter, he formed Motel Motel with four other guys and the band enjoyed a fruitful five-year reign before dismantling earlier this year.
“We were an extremely democratic band to a fault,” comments Gundel, who says the breakup resulted from a number of factors. “While I am proud of what we did and what I contributed, I would not say it is a full representation of the music I want to make by myself. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to accomplish.”
Gundel’s honesty is not only sincere, but unusual. His perspective on working in the music business is actually that he doesn’t, or rather, he doesn’t see it that way. He’s upfront about the fact he isn’t making much money from it, which would denote a more legitimate enterprise. He also suggests that while he would love to be recognized for his work and make a living from it, he’s not necessarily keen to the concept of promotion, which would ultimately ensue.
“If you stick around in the music game, you’re going to get the thrill of a lucky break, maybe with a great opening slot or getting on a major blog (which are things I would be excited about at this point),” he explains. “Then in the next instant, you need it to lead to something else, something bigger, or you feel the sting of disappointment. Once you go up and down like that a bunch of times, you get annoyed by the idea of success as something of an end point. There are always more successful and less successful people than you, some deserving and others not. I am encouraged by the fact that the people I have known who have had a lot of integrity and actually been talented have become successful by most standards, simply by doing what they are good at.”
His former band Motel Motel could perhaps be included in this latter group. Of course, there’s always the theory that one door closing prompts another to open, and, with an artist as wise and talented as Gundel, this wouldn’t be surprising. He’s the near perfect assembly of wit, skill and creativity, and his base of fans stretches much further than his borough in New York. It seems we will have to wait patiently for the coming-of-age rocker to hone his identity, but meanwhile can satiate our appetites with the sampling he periodically puts out for grabs.
Otherwise, he can be stalked at a Flaming Lips’ gig, which he credits as the best show he’s seen.
“I don’t think I’ve been that purely happy since I was a little dude,” Gundel observes, remembering the popular act’s show back in Burlington, Vermont, in 2006. “They had a bunch of fans dancing on stage, a set on the left dressed as aliens, a set on the right dressed as Santa Claus. Then, they came out and started shooting all the confetti, getting those balloons floating around, breaking into “Race for the Prize”… It pretty much made my heart explode, and I am a stiff fellow. Apparently, they have been doing that opening for the last ten years, and if it’s that good, why wouldn’t you? It pretty much maintained that level the whole time as well. As my friend described it, we were in the most fun room in the world for two hours.”
For Gundel, music can be a euphoric experience. Here’s hoping such appreciation offers a glimmer a what’s to come in his ‘career.’