Wednesday, May 16 is right around the corner, and that means Gordon Raphael & The Half Full Flashes are about to have their first live performance in Cologne! Known for producing The Strokes early EP and albums, Gordon Raphael is a fabulous producer for artists and bands such as Regina Spektor, Hinds, Damon Albarn, and many more. He is an all around talented guy that has decided to take the reins on a record of his own, Sleep On The Radio. The Half Full Flashes are backing him up whilst on his European tour– members including Kevin Kuhn (Die Nerven) on drums, Eleni Zafiriadou & Daniel Benjamin (both SEA + AIR) on guitar, keys and bass and Christian Heerdt (aka Käse. Der Ritter) on guitar and keys. I was lucky enough to have a quick email chat with Gordon about his debut album and about the tour he is currently on with The Half Full Flashes!
The album has a nostalgic sound from all of the different influences that are noticeable: from the David Bowie glam rock era, Mick Ronson guitar sounds, and prog rock and weird found sounds of Frank Zappa. Certain favorite records of his are Relayer by Yes, Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis, Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix, The Doors first three albums and Diamond Dogs by David Bowie (which he has heard literally thousands of times).
“I have been a completely over the top, obsessive music fan for almost my entire life. I basically start the day listening to records, work as a producer recording bands and mixing – and then come home at the end of the day to watch music documentaries and listen to more records until I fall asleep. This pattern is done on as long as I can remember.”
Sav: What is it about these sounds that you really like? What attracts you to them?
Gordon: My collection of albums becomes the basis for my experience of what sounds provider and intriguing when it comes to my own compositional styles. I certainly cannot play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, or Mick Ronson – I’m actually a very primitive guitar player highly untrained! When it comes to keyboards and synthesizers – I kind of know what I’m doing thanks to piano lessons when I was eight years old, and playing piano in bands since I was 13.
Most of my songs are a battle between wisely executed keyboard parts, strange synthesizer sounds and very primitive guitar playing. Over that I layer my strangest stories, phrases and hypnotic language, for lyrics.
Sav: So how do you try to capture these sounds whilst still putting your own imprint on your tracks?
Gordon: Most of the time I’m not thinking about anything when I sit down to write a song. I often times start by inventing a brand new strange sound on one of my analog synthesizers and processing it with a lot of affects until it sounds like a little environment or universal it’s own. Then that sound motivates me to come up with the storyline, some melodies baselines and rhythms.
Another method that works very well for me is playing loud distorted guitars, just letting my hands wander around until they find something that sounds like a cool riff -and then building that into a song.
Several times I have taken one of my poems, dreams or stories and then purposely set out to put it to music, but that is only in certain rare cases!
Sav: I read somewhere that this album is a collection of songs you have been working on over the years. Were they all written in different places? NYC? What was the inspiration to finally put out an album of your own?
Gordon: My new album, Sleep On The Radio, is truly a collection of songs written throughout my entire career. Some songs originated in Seattle, some in New York, London and Berlin. Even a couple songs from long ago when I had a studio on the Greek island Corfu.
The versions of the songs on my new album were almost entirely recorded in Buenos Aires Argentina, featuring two different bands that I had there playing my own music for gigs and shows.
Over the past 10 years I’ve been working a lot in that city, producing bands and getting to know the culture and people there. For a while now you’re up and USA seem to have lost their love affair with electric guitar music, but Argentina still is flying the flag! They have actual political reasons for loving rock music, that goes back to the role that certain artists played during the time of their horrible fascist dictators.
Both of the bands that I had there actually sounded so great that I knew I needed to document how cool it was that Hans recording in three extraordinary, giant studios. Most of the recording for the album was done over the course of four days – but I spent a good two years working on the vocals and mixing in Bristol, Milan and Berlin.
Sav: I see that you are bringing along The Half Full Flashes on your European tour! Super excited to see how you all play together live. What made you choose these guys/where did you meet? How has it been playing with them so far? Are you enjoying playing your album’s tracks with them?
Gordon: Even though I’ve lived in Berlin for 13 years, I’ve definitely felt like a musical outside the entire time. Very few bands there have hired me to be a producer – and I’ve only played three concerts of my own music during the time that I’ve lived there. Daniel Benjamin and Eleni from Sea + Air have been good friends of mine since I met them while they were recording their band, Jumbo Jet, early in 2005.The idea to start a band to play my music, and even the specific songs that were chosen for the tour (some very different from what’s on the new album) was completely done by Daniel. He told me that he listened to 200 songs of mine that he found online, and put together a set list of the songs he found most interesting. Several of them I had actually never played live before and they were very difficult for me to figure out exactly how to play keyboards and sing at the same time!
Daniel also reached out to Kevin Kuhn, who is both hilariously funny and a fantastic drummer for the project. I brought in my friend Christian Heerdt because I’ve known and worked with him several times in Berlin – and he’s a musical genius.
Be sure to grab a ticket to see Gordon Raphael & The Half Full Flashes next Wednesday, May 16 in Cologne! Popanz has put together this special night at Bumann & Sohn, so you won’t want to miss it. We will be giving out 2×2 tickets for this special night. So comment below if you want a chance to win! We will email the winners by Tuesday May 15. If you aren’t based in Cologne, they will be hitting many other cities in Germany, so take a peek below to see if they will be near you. See you there!