Berlin via UK's Gemma Ray Releases Gemma Ray & The Death Bell Gang Today
Berlin-based British artist Gemma Ray has been calmly clocking up a cool reputation as an independent maverick on the international underground since her debut in 2008. A self-styled singer/musician/songwriter/producer, she inhabits a panoramic musical planet where pop-noir, sideways blues, gothic folk, 60s girl-group dramarama and cinematic soundscapes make up the weather.
MOJO magazine declared Gemma to be “one inspired music machine”, NME described her as “untouchable”, and Paste magazine pronounced her to be “blazing her own silvertone trail”. Jimmy Page after seeing Gemma Ray live, was moved to go on record and say that Gemma is “not to be missed!”. Her last album, Psychogeology, was released in 2019, and its intricate arrangements and textures – including choral and string arrangements – was the result of a year’s labour determinedly hewn from rare periods of time available between tours.
Recorded in part at Ray’s own studio in Berlin’s old mint by the River Spree, but mainly with Ingo Krauss at Candy Bomber, buried deep within the Nazi-constructed buildings of the city’s former airport, Tempelhof. These historic edifices witnessed Ray emerge from beneath the shadows of her influences to claim her own unique musical territory, her voice still soaring, despite its naturally lugubrious tenor, and bathed in the ageless glamor of her tremolo guitar, one that, strikingly, she sometimes plays with a gleaming steel knife.
Since then, Ray's pandemic years coincided with becoming a new mother (twice), breaking her arm, and, not least, the loss of her father. Despite this she found the time to finish this new album “Gemma Ray & The Death Bell Gang”, her ninth, as well as produce other visiting artists. An unplanned and unexpected detour from her usual oeuvre, it is an electronic and sample-based record that is both a sonic departure and a difference in process. Evolving without her previous tools and parameters, the record sprang from a visit to the studio of her neighbor, again in Tempelhof Flughafen , sound designer Ralf Goldkind (whose credits include Fantastichen Vier and Trost). “ I just went in for a cup of tea, as my studio is now in the same building”, says Gemma. Conversations merged into Gemma collecting sounds and sending them to Ralf, and vice versa. “Not field recordings, but vocal recordings on the phone and recordings of recordings”. They ended up with warped, bent and digitally battered guitars, contorted jams, destroyed signals, and a canvas for new songs to emerge.
With this stockpile of patterns and sounds courtesy of Ralf’s interpretive designs, Gemma dug forth beauty, and the beautifully nasty and wrote from there. The only rule was “no happy shit” and in fact that motto was painted onto the wall during the sessions to serve as a reminder.
That is not to say however that this is a somber album, instead a hard-edged experiment in cinematic electronica, with her trademark stirring voice and harmonies front and center. Amongst the funereal (Procession), the sinister (All These Things) and the heavy (I Am Not Who I Am), are the automaton-pop (The Point That Tears) the yearning (single Come Oblivion), and the tender (Howling), all epic despite their underlying simplicity and groove, and with a dada-esque playfulness underpinning it all.
“It could have gone on and on, but we stopped when we stopped it. I don't think this record could have happened at any other point than when it did”. The album also includes guest musicians Kristof Hahn (Swans) on lap steel and Andy Zammit on drums and syncussion. The album is preceded by the release of Procession with an accompanying visualiser by artist Lucy Dyson (whose animation credits include Paul McCartney and Beyonce), as well as a visualizer for Howling. Gemma Ray & The Death Bell Gang will be released on Friday Jan 20th on Bronzerat Records, on all digital platforms and on special limited vinyl editions inc. splatter and recycled eco-mix, that includes an exclusive poster pullout by painter Deryk Thomas.
Ray is rarely less than busy, and has repeatedly found herself collaborating with other admiring artists. She’s worked alongside, among others, Sparks (who in fact produced Ray covering their own songs), Suicide’s Alan Vega (their collaboration turned out to be one of his final recordings), Howe Gelb (Giant Sand), Thomas Wydler (The Bad Seeds), and arranger Fiona Brice. She has also been invited to perform and record several times with Potsdam, Germany’s legendary Filmorchester Babelsberg, the last occasion being alongside Peaches, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Jochen Arbeit and other special guests as part of The Can Projekt, a celebration of ground-breaking ‘krautrock ‘ pioneers Can that took place at Berlin’s famed Volksbühne Theatre.