NYRMS Archive: Interview: The Gills talk explosive sound, new album and writing with meaning

(Originally published on Examiner.com on December 12, 2015)

The Gills have been bringing their energetic garage-rock sound to audiences for nearly 10 years. Though the band’s members have overcome a lot, their music has been a source of catharsis and enjoyment for both the band and their fans.

Made up of singer/guitarist Jesse Wheeler, drummer Matt Prince, bassist Andy Prince and keyboardist/guitarist Justin Locke, The Gills got their start in Pensacola, Florida in 2006. Itching to get out of their “hometown comfort zone,” the band moved to Nashville, where they have been recording ever since.

Since forming, the band has released one full-length album, 2009’s “Forget What You See…,” as well as an EP, 2012’s “Motor Running,” and are currently putting the finishing touches on their latest, self-titled album. Currently on presale with a release date set for spring 2016, the album is described on the band’s website as “explode[ing] with all the pressure of a shaken-bottle of soda whose cap has finally flown off,” and features the band’s newest singles, the high-energy, bluesy “Rubberband” and the melodic indie-rocker “Lemonade.”

The Gills bring fresh, raw, emotional energy to the hard, fast garage band/indie-rock genre. From their first releases, their new music has a more upbeat flair. “Rubberband” and “Lemonade” show much more comfort and fun in their sound, showing true growth over their years making music together. However, this sound was not completely intentional. “It just kind of came out,” Mr. Wheeler told New York Rock Music Scene Examiner in an interview with the band before their CMJ set on October 17. “It’s a lot of stress for a minute and we just wrote songs and hammered them out together, just the way we were feeling. Not like, shaping it on purpose that way.” Mr. Locke continues, “[We] just wanted to put all our distortion pedals on and play as hard as we could but still be melodic.”

The band’s songwriting process usually starts with Mr. Wheeler and his guitar. “Usually I’ll write songs on an acoustic guitar, like a rough idea of the chords, the lyrics that might or might not be kept,” says Mr. Wheeler, “then [I’ll] bring that to these guys to finish.”

Diagnosed with leukemia at a young age, Mr. Wheeler began writing music to deal with his situation. Years later, he still uses his battle to inspire some of his songwriting. “It just kind of put me in more of a meaningful kind of mindset,” says Mr. Wheeler about the effect his battle has on his songwriting. “I want everything that I write to have a meaning and talk to people. Hopefully they can relate.” In the end, Mr. Wheeler hopes that his music will help others going through struggles in their lives. “Everybody goes through different stuff, but it put me in a mindset of trying to help people.”

Not all of the band’s songs are so serious, though. On the subject of the band’s song “Rubberband,” the first single off the new album, Mr. Wheeler says the song is “just about being crazy and having a good time, wild nights in Nashville or wherever we might be.” He continues, “I wrote it last spring and finished in in summer and recorded it.” The video for the song is just as nonsensical, featuring the guys in a songwriting session gone wrong. Creatively directed by Andy Prince, the video shows Mr. Wheeler accidentally getting hit in the head with a guitar and going into some sort of creative fit, while at the same time hallucinating various psychedelic images of the band playing and mugging for the camera. “I think Andy secretly wanted to hit me in the head really bad,” jokes Mr. Wheeler. “So, he kind of just laid out, like “this is what we should do,” and it just happened.”

The Gills have shown that it is possible to come from a less than desirable situation to create inspiring and fun music. If the first two singles are any indication, the band’s self-titled album will be some of their best work yet. The band has finally found their groove and are ready to show it to the world.

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