Gym Deer, Other Creatures

“Power is not brute force or money. Power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It’s what your ancestors, your old people, gave you. Power is in the earth. It’s in your relationship to the earth.” -Winona LaDuke

When I was asked if I wanted to play some songs with Rob Lee I wasn’t sure what to expect. I only knew him as a saxophone player, so my mind went to thoughts of a jazz guy who could now strum an acoustic guitar. But when Rob sent me his home recordings (which would end up becoming ‘Other, Ways’) it wasn’t what I thought it would sound like. In fact it didn’t sound like much I’d heard before; pretty lo-fi bedroom experiments in Garageband using nothing but his voice and whatever he could hit as percussion. He didn’t even have a proper mic. The closest thing I could compare it to was Arthur Russell. Rob said he didn’t know who that was, and that he described it as Nick Drake plus Bobby McFerrin. And he was correct, in the strangest and best way possible.

We performed those songs live quite a bit, with myself using a few small clip on mics as percussion (trying to mimic Rob’s recordings), Mallory Glaser singing, and Rob playing bass on a micro-korg. Angelo Spagnolo played guitar and both Ross Gallagher and Matt Wohl played upright bass at various points. It was a great band. It was a weird band. A lot of people didn’t know what to make of it. And the best part about it is that Rob and Mallory are the least weird people you could hope to meet. This isn’t experimental music to them. This isn’t ‘out’. These are just songs that are personal and beautiful that they want to share in an honest way.

Rob had talked a lot about wanting to make a recording of the live band, just to have a document of what we had done. He had a few new songs as well. The opportunity finally came in April 2013 to book a day of recording, a week or two before Rob and Mallory planned on moving from New York City to Eugene, Oregon, where they were going to study and teach permaculture, go off the grid a bit. We did one day at Pat Dillet’s studio in midtown with our friend and engineer, Jon Altschuler. We focused mainly on the four new songs Rob had and then did a couple of passes of our live versions of some of the ‘Other, Ways’ songs. It was a pretty remarkable experience to take this music that had previously lived in a home recorded, lo-fi setting and take it to a completely Neve/SSL hi-fi world. It was also great because a lot of the new songs didn’t have arrangements yet, so there was a lot of freedom to try new things and not have them be compared to expectations of what they should sound like. We left there with some fairly finished tracks and a couple skeleton tracks too. The less finished ones I worked on at home with Rob, and ultimately the four new songs were mixed by Jon.

The new EP is called ‘Other Creatures’. It is just those four new songs, written and recorded before Rob and Mallory left for Eugene. You can tell in the lyrics that these are people ready to leave the mess that is New York, ready to live a little closer to the ground and interact more intimately with their world. The quote at the top sums up the spirit of these compositions completely. It’s a charged and exciting farewell, and hopefully this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Gym, Deer.

– Anthony