(image: Kristen-Wrzesniewski)

GEMS is the shadow pop brainchild of Lindsay Pitts and Clifford John Usher — two Virginia bred musicians– who met while simultaneously attending the University of Virginia. After years of playing together, their vision coalesced under the moniker GEMS in 2012. You probably remember them as one of the mysterious internet bands whose music was gracing nearly every atmospheric playlist from Silverlake to Berlin and beyond during 2013 with their stellar four song EP Medusa. The duo just released their first full-length album Kill The One You Love (Carpark Records) and are currently touring the country to support the record. The new release unravels R&B sensibilities that were a mere thread in earlier recordings. Pitt’s vocals are as evocative as memory serves and Usher’s production showcases a level of restraint that is astounding in the current pop landscape — as a unit choosing understated to overwrought. Which is equally evident in the stark, often black and white visuals that the band employs alongside their music. I caught up with them while they were barreling towards Denver to discuss the new album and the evolution of the band.

AF: Cliff I see you have a 703 number. So do I. Where are you from exactly?

Cliff: We’re both from the Washington DC area. I grew up in Vienna, Virginia and Lindsay is from Woodbridge. We just moved to Los Angeles four months ago.

AF: How did the two of you meet and start playing together?

Cliff: We both went to University of Virginia. Right around graduation we met. We played music together for years, but we started GEMS at the end of 2012. We knew we wanted to do a band thing the two of us and so we started to lay down tracks as GEMS then.

AF: What’s your favorite fact about one another?

Lindsay: Well I have kind of an obvious fact, but I love it. Cliff is really, really tall. He’s 6’7”. You can’t tell in pictures, but he’s a giant.

Cliff: Lindsay used to play the drums. When I first met her she was taking drum lessons from some old dude who lived in the woods and she would bake him muffins in exchange for lessons.

AF: In listening to the new album your sound seems to be more restrained than on Medusa — how do you see your musical evolution?

Cliff: I feel like for the new album we put a lot of emphasis on trying to carve out our own sound. It’s always an ongoing process, but I feel the new album is more our own thing for better or for worse. I like it. I feel like there’s this thing in music where it’s a lot easier to be successful if you sound like something else that’s already successful and it’s something that’s always frustrated me because I want to make our shit sound like us, you know? I constantly have this thing where I hear some new band that I’m like this is obviously just ripping off this other thing that is already popular. And every single time without a doubt that band gets huge. I’m not knocking things that sound like other things. I just mean it’s a weird phenomena. I guess people just like what they’re familiar with. So I don’t know, maybe people won’t like it as much. But I feel like we’re doing our thing more.

Lindsay: Sure that’s how it works.

AF: Was there a most exciting moment in production on the album?

Cliff: Not really. It was something we were working on for a long time.

Lindsay: Yeah, I felt like it was a bonding. We also reworked so many of the songs. One of the songs on there I think we re-recorded four times over a couple years. We just kept thinking it wasn’t right yet. Eventually we were like ok. We could have reworked it forever. You’re always reaching for something that’s just a little bit ahead of you.

Cliff: This is the only downside of working ourselves. We do all the recording stuff and songwriting ourselves. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop. But I like where we ended up.

AF: Can you describe your songwriting process?

Cliff: We always have a bunch of stuff that we’re working on. Since we’ve been doing GEMS I’ve taken on more the producer role, but we still go back and forth a lot. Lindsay with often start with a song idea where she’s real focused on the emotion and what she’s trying to convey. A lot of times it’s more like about the chords, or the feeling in the chords, or even a non-verbal melody. And I’ll make the beats. We always talk about honing in or sharpening in to the core emotion of each song. A lot of times when we start the lyrics are just gibberish, it’s more about the vibe and the emotion that’s coming through. And then as we rework it we hone in on some kind of thread lyrically.

AF: As a unit you have a pretty chic aesthetic, can you tell me a bit about how visuals factor into the project?

Cliff: Yeah it’s not really a conscious thing so much as it’s all an extension of us in our own weird little world. Actually I think it might also be a product of growing up in the suburbs of DC and living around DC. DC is a pretty cool city, but there’s not really like a lot of cool stuff around. The city is cool especially for the architecture and stuff. But the suburbs of DC, like Fairfax and Tysons Corner, it’s not like you’re growing up in New York or LA and you’re surrounded by cool shit. I felt like we felt like we had to create our own world as an escape from all that.

AF: Are there other projects you’re into?

Cliff: I’ve been really digging the new Autre Ne Veut album. We’ve been listening to that on the road here on tour with them. It’s been fun. I feel like we haven’t listened to any new music in a while. We listen to the radio a bunch, because the aux input on our van is broken, so our options are CDs or the radio– and we can’t even burn CDs now because our laptops don’t have a CD burner. We try to see live music a lot. Like Holly Herndon, we saw her at FORM Arcosanti, this festival that another band we toured with called Hundred Waters put on– that was pretty mind blowing. And recently we went to FYF in LA. FKA Twigs, Mac DeMarco and D’Angelo were some standout acts.

Lindsay: Yeah D’Angelo. He has such control over all of these other musicians. He addresses this group of musicians and they all read each other’s minds everything is so fluid. Great performance.

AF: I know you’re on tour right now, is there anything else exciting on the horizon alongside the release of the album?

Lindsay: We have an apartment in Highland Park right now, that I really like. And I’m excited for when after this tour we go back and to record and make music again. Keep working on new stuff really. Because we’ve been working so hard on this album, getting it out and getting ready for tour, and I’m really excited to sit back down and start writing again.

You can find more on GEMS on their website.
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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Nicole Dollanganger


You might not know her name yet, but that’s soon to change. Nicole Dollanganger is the 24-year-old Canuck who set Grimes’ musical heart ablaze and is the very first signee to Boucher’s brand spankin’ new label Eerie Organization. As a matter of fact she’s the very reason behind the label’s creation. Boucher told Billboard in late August she created Eerie because she felt it was “a crime against humanity for this music not to be heard.” Big praise coming from one of the biggest successes in the indie music world in the past decade. Knowing what we do about Grimes’ sound, the relationship seems nearly inevitable. Dollanganger’s polished, airy, and macabre sound is a glove on Boucher’s practiced hand, and she’ll be joining the mercurial popstress on stage opening for Lana Del Rey on select dates during her Endless Summer tour. Thanks to Eerie Organization you too can hear that very music which was just released in the form of a full length Dollenganger is calling Natural Born Losers.

Beyond the music Dollanganger is an enigmatic young creative who’s firmly planted in the digital realm, with an internet presence that’s all but been perfected showcasing her own drawings, morbid stills and low-fi photos. And yet she still cites her family and hometown as having influenced her art greatly. Right now she’s focused on imbuing her work with visuals to enhance the experience of consuming her sound.

I recently caught up with her to chat a bit about her influences, the relationship she has with Eerie and some of her other passions.


AF: So I see you’re from Stouffville, Ontario. Where exactly is that and what’s it known for?

ND: Stouffville is about an hour from the city of Toronto, right in the downtown area. It’s not too far. It would be known for being a bit of a farming community. We have a strawberry festival; I guess that’s the other thing.

AF: When you’re writing music do you think about how you want it be consumed or is an exercise solely in creation and catharsis?

ND: It’s definitely more of an exercise in creation. Initially my thoughts are with making it and only after it’s done do I sort of wonder about releasing it and all of that.

AF: I know your parents are both doll collectors and that that imagery has factored into your art and music. What’s your relationship to the dolls now and what do they signify for you?

ND: Dolls are a big deal to me. I love all different kinds, but especially the ones that I began collecting through my mom. I love the history behind them, dolls especially from the 20’s to 50’s were so delicate, a lot of them were made out of chalk. For them to have survived to this time means that someone loved them and cared about them enough to see that they are here now. I always feel like they come with a deep loving history. The first item ever that I was given was a doll and I still have it. I have a lot of sentimental history with that doll. I always find it kind of weird when people say they’re scared of dolls because I just think there’s like nothing less scary than an object that was made for a kid to take care of, you know?

AF: What’s your relation and fascination with the macabre?

ND: My dad always says it’s the way I’ve always been. Even as a child it was always the horror cartoons I wanted to watch. I guess I was always inclined. I’ve been interested in exploring things that scare me forever, because it makes it less scary to face head on and to try and understand it rather than to put my back to it.

AF: How does your internet persona translate to you in real life?

ND: Sometimes well and sometimes not. I do think that there is a lost in translation nature to it, especially if you’re speaking to someone or getting a question online. At least with me I’m a bit paranoid so I often misinterpret tone or I think someone is meaning something some way and they probably don’t. I’ve kind of struggled with that. But in other respects it’s really fun to be able to explore things without feeling like you have to. It’s a really creative world where you can surround yourself with the things that interest you and you can kind of create something new by putting them all together, and that really helps to storyboard and to create concepts based on art you like.

AF: Where did you draw inspiration for this album?

ND: With this record I was drawing it off a lot from the town that I grew up in, I also spent a lot of my childhood in Florida and that was a huge influence. I didn’t have the best high school experience and I’ve struggled with that. I’ve also felt that a lot of the people that I’m closest to also struggled, and we all came into ourselves post high school. I was kind of rolling of that past and present and the different selves. It’s also where the name itself comes from, like loser is one of the easiest things that someone can call another person as an insult, and I want to almost reclaim it as a positive thing. It was almost like an homage to a lot of really amazing, fascinating people that I know who were the losers of high school. Essentially it’s a sentimental album a lot about the past.

AF: Your music has a very specific visual aesthetic approach – beyond the obvious sonic one – can you touch on how you approach those visuals and what inspires them.

ND: I usually see things, like a song, kind of visually as I’m writing the lyrics. And I read them over or I listen to a freestyled recording and I usually get strong visuals, or even just strong colors and sometimes they’re not the right colors. I know that sounds kinda wonky, but I’ll listen to a song and if I was seeing pink in my head and it’s feeling more like an orange I know that I’ve got to change something. It’s almost more of a visual thing that dictates the direction the song goes. When working with other people I’ve found that it’s easiest to describe what I’m going for with visuals rather than sound because I’m not a trained musician so I really struggle sometimes to vocalize what I’m after.

AF: I know you also create comic books, can you talk about that a bit?

ND: I’ve always liked to draw, but I’m not the best, so for me I avoid realistic drawings. I recently just put out like a comic/zine and I pretty much tried to form a narrative around images that I really just wanted to draw and I created this story around a few specific images that I saw. It was really fun because it was the first time I’ve finished a visual art, hand drawn thing, ever. Normally I get halfway through a sketchbook and give up. This the first thing that I can say I finally completed and that felt really good.

AF: I’m sure you’ve been asked a bunch, but how does it feel to be the first artist signed to Grimes’ Eerie Organization?

ND: Amazing. So wonderful. Claire and James (Brooks – formerly of Elite Gymnastics) are living angels. It’s been a surreal dream ever since it happened. I mean it’s two people that I really admire and respect and that I’m a huge fan of their creative work, so to have them be supportive of mine is incredible in and of itself. But then you’ve also got two people who are really smart, they really know the industry and they’re very interested in helping other musicians that they believe in.

AF: With the album out next month what comes next for you?

ND: The tour’s gonna happen. And then I would love to explore being more able to create videos and visuals to go with the songs. I’ve always felt like the idea’s never been fully baked to an extent so the idea of being able to create things that are 100% what I initially saw is a really exciting prospect. I’m also just so excited to write again.

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