Features Interviews

Some Gift: An Interview with Enablers

The band talks us through their excellent new LP, ‘Some Gift’.

At the end of the bar in my local pub, I’m quietly enjoying a pint before the start of the new Premier League season, but football is last thing on my mind. Watching the local custom mingle and float around the room, the only words on my mind are from Phone Blows Up: the diesel-powered opening song from Enablers’ new record, Some Gift. With immediate force, Pete Simonelli shouts, “Decadence is staying drunk well in your forties.

Perhaps this clientele doesn’t consist of individuals that would be “hurling batteries, or rocks” like the protagonist in Went Right. But none the less, this rich composition of life-damaged lonely hearts, chancers, average joes and ‘narcotics facilitators’ is exactly the milieu which has inspired Simonelli, Kevin Thomson, Joe Goldring and Sam Ospovat to make the kind of art they do.

Exclusive dealers in high-watermarks and resistant to mediocrity, Enablers’ rebellious march through the fires in a bid to tackle the world’s ills continues on Some Gift.

Led by Simonelli’s mind-bending poetry that evokes surrealistic imagery, once again his oral snippets lead the way. With the illuminated segments of Stink of Purity and Suburban Death March, Simonelli conjures up the kind of images that stick to the shadows. Then there’s Monkey to Man – arguably the band’s most sinister song yet – a feral spasm, exploring the depths of the human psyche and how it can turn on a dime.

Meanwhile, Thomson and Goldring deliver another stirring performance on guitars. Following Thomson’s new band Years, who released their debut record Rats earlier this year (produced by Goldring), the pair stamp their authority with blinding interplay, from the groaning blues on Beam to the medieval melody of Willard to KurtzSome Gift’s centrepiece.  

Then there’s Ospovat whose militant percussive blasts form the bedrock. Primal (Monkey to Man) and elastic (The Scythe), his work behind the kit morphs the kind of unique shapes that make Enablers what they are: true originals, underlining the spit and sawdust of life in completely unmoored ways; a belching hellfire that defines reality; a band like no other that walks this earth.

In the lead-up to the release of Some Gift and the band’s U.K. tour, which begins on Thursday in Margate, we caught up with Simonelli, Thomson and Goldring.

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Sun 13: With the constraints of the pandemic and you guys living in different parts of the country, how difficult was it to get together and record Some Gift as quickly as you did?

Pete Simonelli: “Not too difficult, especially once the airlines got off the ground again. You just have to carve out time in the calendar and commit to dates. This time, Joe and Kevin came to the east coast in the fall of ’21 for a week. We played at Sam’s space and made a lot of headway there with the new tunes.

“Then at the top of this year Sam and I flew out west and rehearsed at Kevin’s space in Oakland: another week’s worth of rehearsals and more headway there (and a great show in an old Mission haunt). By the time we were at the studio – Spillway in upstate NY – in April, we were basically in control of the songs. Some of the material still needed fine-tuning but the studio makes for better concentration. You fuck around less because you literally can’t afford to fuck around. I think being in the woods also helped. Spillway’s a lovely place to record. We’d never recorded in an environment like that before. I’m sure it helped.”

Joe Goldring: “Our first group writing session was in New York, January 2020. We started arranging three or four of these songs. We were supposed to get together again in April ’20 for a US and UK tour. Needless to say that didn’t happen. So our next full band rehearsal wasn’t until Sept ’21.

“Fortunately myself and Kevin could get together occasionally and write at his rehearsal space in Oakland. So we managed to maintain some gentle momentum. I don’t really feel like it was quick, but more kind of truncated at the end. We had given ourselves a deadline to complete this LP … a tour. So it just had to get done.”

Kevin Thomson: “Some Gift was actually a long time in the making. Because we are far apart we rely on setting aside a week here or there, separated by months, to write together. So, in reality this record took a week to record but it developed over the course of two years. That said, we went into Spillway Sound with some tunes in a very embryonic state, or completely unrealised.”

S13: The album is coming out on Wrong Speed Records label. How did the collaboration with them come about?

PS: “Chris [Summerlin] is a long-time friend, ally, and fellow traveller (and I suppose Joe [Thompson] too, in an indirect way). I think that had more to do with it than anything else.”

JG: “They were enthusiastic from the get go when Kevin asked them if they would be interested… I was massively relieved. There’s great music on that label and they’re lovely people.”

KT: “The collaboration with Wrong Speed came about because we didn’t know what to do with this LP once it was done. I am a fan of Hey Colossus and we are friends with Chris, so with the blessing of the band I sent a message to Chris asking if he and Joe would consider this LP. Thankfully the answer was yes.” 

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S13: Dave Hand has arguably produced his best piece of artwork yet. You’ve worked with him a lot over the years. Was it a case of giving him free reign with this idea?

PS: “I’d agree. The album cover’s fantastic. Add Surrealist to Dave’s bag of tricks. Honestly, it’s very easy because we’ve always trusted him. He asks for initial thoughts, ideas and/or images. We supply some of that and he just takes it all from there. It’s just a (usually short) waiting game after that; we’re really keen on seeing what he’s dreamed up. I have no idea how he came up with the WWI Royal Navy “dazzle ships”, for instance (though there is a lurking sea/water theme throughout the record; maybe I just forgot). But little signposts and references to the songs are in the whole design. Listen to the record enough and those references will pop out without losing any of the mystery built into the artwork.”

KT: “David is one of the very best at what he does. I don’t think we’ve ever ‘art directed’ him.” 

JG: “Our first LP was white, the second black. David gave the band a visual identity starting with Tundra. I trust him completely. He will ask us for vague conceptual ideas. But how he realises them are all him. And always interesting. Giving him free reign is never in question. This cover is stunning.”

S13: Some Gift really captures the turbulence of these times. Particular songs like Suburban Death March and Willard to Kurtz. Was this a key source of inspiration during the writing/recording of these songs?

PS: “From a textual standpoint, those songs are essentially two different components of the same portrait of nationwide and global failure. One’s got a bit of journalistic remove (SDM), but that’s only meant to increase a ‘cinematic’ tension of the situation: the action’s seen from above. The other one is more random, like an all-over-the-shop journal entry trying to identify a bigger – and perhaps more personal – meaning in failure. But any meaning that may exist in the irrationality of chaos is fleeting. It’s also hard to forget, so maybe there is some silver lining there.”

Joe G: “’Death March was the last piece of music I wrote for the record. Right when I was first able to travel and see my family after two years. There’s a section that’s supposed to be somewhat euphoric, but bookended by tension. Pete seemed pick up on that and found the right poem for it. Globally and personally everything has felt so fucked. I guess it’s unavoidable that it seeps into the writing.”

KT: “Yes, ‘turbulence’ is and was a factor for me in the writing of the music. I am continually appalled with my own country’s dysfunction and the crises facing the planet at large.” 

S13: There’s always tension in your songs. I imagine when recording, you need that in order to produce the best possible results. Would that be accurate to say?

PS: “Any tension is probably just rooted in getting the tune laid out the best way we know how, tyrannically or otherwise.”

JG: “I suppose it’s cathartic to extricate the tension and direct it into the music. But once again it’s not conscious. We try to make a recording or writing sessions a good hang… eat and drink well, and do the best work we can. Any unpleasant tension is dealt with and swiftly dispatched.”

KT: “I cannot help but feel some tension when recording, especially making takes of tunes for which I have yet to write a dedicated part for (which was perhaps more than usual this time). I don’t think we go out of our way to foster the tension, it is simply there.”

S13: Phone Blows Up sounds like an anthem for the outlier. The protagonist sounds like someone who’s always kicked against ‘conventional’ living their whole life. It’s a quintessential Enablers song and the perfect opener. Can you tell us about this one?

JG: “In fact it seemed like such an obvious opener that I fought to put it last on the record. Fortunately I was convinced otherwise. Pete hits the nail on the head again with this one.”

PS: “I’ve been working on a series called The Correspondent. Phone‘ is one in that series (Squint from the last record is also one from this series; SDM, on this record, is another one). He’s a character/conceit and serves as a filter for my own travels and observations over the years. (I wanted to be a foreign correspondent once = pipe dream.)

“I like Phone‘ because it encapsulates a lot of things in a life like that, moving from country to place, catastrophe to occasion, elections, coups, revolutions, downtime, repeat – from all points on the global map. Phone‘ clearly occurs at a ‘downtime’ moment, but it also occurs during a catastrophic election. So the job is always there, it’s a constant state of awareness, but you don’t really play a part in eventualities. You just chronicle their courses. He’s jaded, a bit nihilistic, but but but…. poems can be journalistic in that sense. I met some ‘FC’s’ on a trip to Kosovo a long time ago; stories about their jobs and lives play a part in the whole thing.”

S13: I feel that a song like Beam really encapsulates the beauty and brutality of art. Few bands in this world can really harness this the way Enablers do. What can you tell us about this song?

KT: “I wrote the musical skeleton for Beam and all I can impart is that I was going about my usual business of playing every day. This practice involves playing freely and seeing what sticks. The simple blues of Beam stuck, the groove just felt right and I wanted to take that laid back groove and give it a minute or so to be more strident as a contrast so hence the eighth note drive of the middle… not so much a big explosive drama but a slipping in and out of a contrast which is something I think humans deal with every single moment of every day. I am sure our lyricist has something to say here as well as Sam and Joe who helped mould the tune as it took shape in rehearsals and in the studio.”

PS: “I suppose it’s just Art as a metaphor for a relationship. I consider it a love (or getting-there) poem. A lot of creativity is necessary for two people to share their lives. Interesting you find brutality in this one.”  

Enablers - Some Gift

S13: Monkey to Man is up there with the most sinister songs you’ve ever written, in my opinion. A song that seems truly born out of lockdown. What was the thought process behind it?

PS: “Years ago, I went to a reading on a hot summer night and noticed a very frustrated guy holding court. The piano player had been double-booked and was very unhappy about it. He was far more entertaining than the poets and writers that night, so I just clocked him through the reading and wrote a few lines, sometimes cribbing actual quotes (ex: ‘What, no one knows it’s summer?’). After much quieter grousing and moving around the room quite a bit, still grousing, he did get to play eventually, and he was good. It settled him down. But it took a lot out of him to get there. I bought him a glass of wine.” 

KT: “The music for Monkey to Man was written with a lot of anger and frustration. Number one I was pissed off with a neighbouring band in my studio complex who play ‘heavy tropes’ at max volume. I wanted to punish them. I was also feeling the effects of lockdown, Trump’s presidency, gaslighting, etc. So, a brutalist riff came about. I wanted the little amps that I use to sound like they were literally about to melt. I wanted the electricity to be palpable. To partner that riff, a straight up punk chord progression gets followed by some sort of menacing clown. I think Pete did a masterful job of channelling this.”

S13: We touched on this during our last chat, however I’d say Some Gift may just be your most surrealistic album yet. In particular songs like The Stink of Purity and The Scythe – they take the listener different places each time. How important is it for the band to make their audience work and provoke thought?

PS: “It’s nice to hear that. But no one ever stops and takes that into any serious consideration. That’d be embarrassing. I’d bet that the work and provocation are just products of four kooks putting their heads together and trying to find some common ground between a poem and a piece of music. It could also be the result of things we’re all individually listening to or reading at a given time and tossing them into the stew.”

JG: “Pete’s writing mostly dictates the arrangements and steers them away from regular verse chorus song structure. The most important thing to me is that the mood is honest… and bigger than the potential ‘pretentious wanker’ sum of the parts.

“I think Sam’s addition of real time electronic manipulation of his drums on this record have upped the game in sonic depth and mood. So if it ends up being thought-provoking, great… but it’s really just the noise we make when we get together.”

KT: “I enjoy entertaining the notion that our music provoked thought, but I frankly don’t spend much time with this.”

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S13: Willard to Kurtz could be regarded as the centrepiece. Almost like it was the first song written for the album and the key reference point. That’s total guesswork of course, but can you tell us the workings of this song?

PS: “I can’t even remember if it had been part of a group of tunes we’d started working on in early 2019. The poem’s largely the result of staring out a window and dropping all the fluff and conceit. It was a pretty liberating way to work. Maybe it was an illustration of the time, but I think this one’s the most ‘Lockdown’ poem of the lot. Honestly, I was a tad more deliberate than I’ve let on, but I was really trying to accommodate feeling over thought through words. Willard to Kurtz is still kind of cryptic to me, more symbol than word. It was recorded in the same way. On top of that, the title comes from one of my favourite movie quotes (‘I see…’ etc.). So the approach the band took matched the content. There wasn’t much of a method.”

JG: “It was actually the first song I wrote for this record. Good guess. But not the first we completed. A very different version almost made it onto the previous record, so it was banging around for a while.

“But this is the definitive version, for sure. Totally different poem and arrangement; I love the poem. It all seemed to swirl together perfectly. I like that it’s both improvised and arranged, and the synth as its preface made sense to me.” 

S13: Your audience in the U.K. and Europe has always been cult-like. It’s always fascinated me with bands that seemingly have a bigger audience outside of their home country. Is this something the band thinks about?

PS: “All I can say is that we didn’t want to tour here for a long time. Neurot wasn’t thrilled with that; don’t blame them. But we went over there, worked our asses off, and liked it. Still do. Now we have North American booking. Go figure. Back to work.”

JG: “Myself and Kevin spent the late ’80s and ’90s driving all over the states playing in various bands. I had done some European touring with Swans mid ’90s, so I found out about the contrasts in how bands were treated. When we got signed to Neurot it was top of our list to tour in Europe and give the U.S. a bit of a break. On those first tours we made lasting friendships with like minded folks. Played with great bands in beautiful places. We felt appreciated and supported pretty much right off the bat, [and] we’ve maintained most of those relationships. It was easy going between Europe and the U.K.. Unfortunately that’s changing, [and] we’re about to find out how difficult that’s become. Thanks, Brexit.

“We’ve never written America off. We played our first show in two years in San Francisco (the band’s birth place) last January and it was a wonder night. We’ve had amazing support in the U.K. and Europe, but good people are everywhere, even when their governments suck.”

KT: “Being away from home base means your audience has none of the pre-conceptions about individual members of the band the way a home-town audience does. In effect, the visiting band can be judged at ‘face musical value’ instead of, “Oh, that guy is a real jerk”, or “I only liked his other bands”, or whatever might be in people’s heads.”  

S13: Finally, to tour the U.K. and Europe in conjunction with the release of Some Gift must feel gratifying given what’s happened over the last couple of years. I’m not sure whether fate is the right word, but it certainly seems fitting. How excited are you guys to get back over here?

PS: “Terribly. I can’t wait. It’s been far too long, especially in the U.K. See you soon.”

JG: “I can’t wait. Very grateful to have the opportunity again.”

KT: “I’m curiously feeling very excited and yet somewhat outside of the whole experience. Very odd place for me and I am enjoying it.”

Some Gift is out via Wrong Speed Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

11 replies on “Some Gift: An Interview with Enablers”

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