Thursday, 24 May 2012

Gang Colours and rainy day reveries: an interview at the Vortex

First published in Loud And Quiet

Southampton-based producer and singer Will Ozanne assembles moments of hazy nostalgia from the building blocks of quintessentially British sounds, and he calls the end result Gang Colours. Debut album The Keychain Collection is a reverie in blue, blending the rainy day garage of The Streets with the electronic soul of Mount Kimbie and a catalogue of half-remembered instants collected on his trusty dictaphone.

Celebrating its launch on Gilles Peterson's eclectic Brownswood label, Will is playing the bijou Vortex jazz bar in Dalston, supported by fellow electronic experimentalist Gwilym Gold. Lounging on a sofa in the office-cum-dressing room next to the tiny gig space, he's as excited about having a bash on the grand piano in situ as he is about performing a secret cover song, which later turns out to be a number by another Southampton singer (we won't spoil it here, but no prizes for guessing).

Although he usually works alone, Will enlists producer friend Ryan on synth-triggering and knob-twiddling for the live performance. “He has his sampler connected up to the computer, so he's almost like the composer and I'm just playing around. It's a nice dynamic. I think for the next show we've got here we're going to have a drummer as well,” he says, explaining tonight's sell-out has prompted a second Vortex date on 5th April.

After picking up the basic programming tool Hip Hop eJay when he was barely a teenager (“I got mad into Tupac really early, lots of naughty words”), Will moved on to much-loved old school workhorse Fruity Loops when a tech-head cousin downloaded it for him. “I don't think I would have done it if he hadn't done it for me! I've still got a lot of love for Fruity Loops, but when I went to uni it was kind of a course requirement to use Macs.” His digital music degree became the ideal testing ground for his emerging musical aesthetic, an ephemeral blend of piano, vocals and beats inspired by garage and dubstep.

With his debut EP In Your Gut Like A Knife, Will inevitably found himself filed alongside other beats-and-blues artists like James Blake, Nicolas Jaar and Ifan Dafydd (who also provided a remix for the 'Fancy Restaurant' single). “Some people might think that I'd heard them and wanted to imitate them, but it's completely the opposite,” he says. “It's been a very gradual progression, and having an electronic influence with piano and vocals is something that I've always wanted to do, so I guess it's come naturally. But it's nice that there are artists like James Blake and Mount Kimbie around, because it makes my music kind of acceptable, I guess. So being compared to them is more of a compliment than anything.”

Unlike his peers and rivals though, Will's record as Gang Colours is a thing of homespun fuzziness, full of warm crackle and hiss hinting at its bedroom origins, as well as those lovingly collected dictaphone snippets. But isn't it a bit creepy, sneaking round and recording people's conversations? “Creepy? Yeah,” he laughs. “I don't know if it's ever been weird, but now if I get out my dictaphone everyone's like, 'Ooh, is this gonna be on the album?' But back when I first had it, I just kinda had it in my pocket. If I thought a moment was getting a bit weird and out of hand, when everyone's pissed out of their face, that's the moment when no one really cares, and it looks like a mobile phone in my hand so I'm sneakily doing a bit of recording and you get some good sounds. If not, it's a bit of nostalgia for the next day as well.” The collecting comes about by chance rather than design, he adds. “It's all about those sounds, you know, like when you're annoyed that you didn't have your camera at that moment. Like, okay, I like the way that bird is sounding against that car, so you record it and see what happens.”

It was rapper Ghostpoet who spotted Gang Colours and took his demos to Gilles Peterson, who promptly signed him up to Brownswood. “I never would have expected to be on that label,” says Will, noting its global roster of artists from across the jazz, soul and hip hop spectrum. “But it kind of felt natural that it was Gilles, someone who embraces such a wide variety of music. You've just got to listen to his show to see where he's at – one minute he's playing some world music, and the next he'll be playing Gang Colours.” Has he had much contact with the former Radio 1 (and soon to be 6Music) DJ? “Gilles has got his fingers in so many pies, I guess his schedule's pretty hectic. But you know, the last few times I've been in the Brownswood offices he's been there, making a cup of tea – he manages to find time for everyone really.”

Despite not being a jazz buff himself (“I like the jazz that everyone knows about, like Miles Davis and stuff, but I'm just not that invested in it”), he seems to have struck a chord with other aficionados – Jamie Cullum recently played a track on his Radio 2 show. “Yeah, it's mental, I never thought I'd get on Radio 2! And especially on a straight-up jazz show where he only plays 10 tracks, and one of them's mine. It might just be my approach to playing piano,” he says, adding that he isn't trained in jazz. “I just did up to Grade 3 and then did my own thing, and explored the keyboard through practice. I guess it comes out a bit jazzy sometimes.”

Gang Colours will be at Green Man Festival in Wales this summer, but before then there's a smattering of dates across the country and a session for Huw Stephens at the BBC's Maida Vale studios. “It's pretty constant at the moment,” he says. “But it's a good ride.”

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