George Gelis is the singer and guitarist of the West Lafayette band Al Cazal. Last month, I sat down to talk with him about the new album, his dynamic with his co-writer Gabriel, and his relationship with his music as both a technician and creative mind.
L: Welcome back to Interviews and In-Studios, I’m your host Luke Adams. Today we have a very special guest, George Gelis. George is very active in the Purdue music scene as frontman of the band Al Cazal and the techno project Neotekt. How are we doing today, George?
G: Good, thank you for having me.
L: Great to have you. As many of you know from my personal life, George is actually my housemate for the summer. I just had to have him in, especially because he seems to have a lot of interesting things brewing in the future. But just to start off and get the questions brewing for our audience, I wanna sort of get a feel for the work that you’re doing. How exactly did Al Cazal come to be?
G: Before we continue, I wanna say, yeah, thank you for having me. This is a very cool space. Purdue does not have something like this. It’s really cool to see like, just a radio show place built into the basement of one of your dorms. Purdue has one, but it’s nothing like this.
L: We’re glad to flex.
G: Oh yeah, quite the flex.
G: Al Cazal… We have a band, it’s more of a collective, I like to think of it, because we’re just a group of individual musicians who come together. Every person really brings their own thing. We have two different songwriters and our bassist is doing his own project which we’re definitely going to start incorporating into our shows because it’s also exactly what we’re doing. It’s more of a collective and Al Cazal — who’s our other frontman so to speak — I literally met him on Instagram. I mean, there was a small community of Purdue musicians, there’s maybe like 5 musicians at Purdue, it’s a very small community. I genuinely enjoyed his work. He wasn’t a producer by any means, he was just doing things in Garageband and I was just getting into music production. I really liked his music and I hit him up and said “Yo, we should do something.” He came over to our jazz band room. It was just me and him in one of the quiet practice rooms with a couple of microphones just recording a demo. We never really did anything with that demo, because he eventually re-recorded and it became one of his songs: “Give Me A Job,” I believe. Yeah, I told him “Yo, let’s try something,” and he said “Sure,” you know. He ended up coming over and we really had a good musical connection. We both enjoyed the same music, and we both had similar goals in mind. It just really came together super well.
L: Far out. You said a minute ago that everyone in this collective has their own contribution. What do you think your contribution is within the Al Cazal sphere?
G: That’s a good question. We have four members, kind of five. We have a fifth guitarist; he comes in and out. Our main group consists of Gabriel — who is Al Cazal — and then there’s me, then there’s Anthony, our bass player, and then our Drummer. Gabriel, he writes all of the Al Cazal songs. Everything that’s on Spotify, they’re his creations. I helped produce them. When he gives them to me, they don’t really sound like they do in the studio version. The melody’s all there, but it’s all very muddy and my job is to produce it up, make it radio-ready. Then we have our bass player Anthony, who’s a fantastic bass player, a great jazz musician. He does his own thing which is like, lo-fi hip hop. Well, that’s what he was doing, and now he’s switched over to noise, shoegaze, rock and he’s doing that. My contribution is really the whole Ironed Curtain side; our full title is Al Cazal and the Ironed Curtain. Our group was Anthony, Ben and me. We were The Ironed Curtain. That group, we have our own sort of songs. I mostly wrote them, but they really came together with the group. So, I guess my contribution would be as another songwriting force within the collective. Gabriel has his own, but he prefers to work alone. That’s just how he’s always been. Yeah, I guess I’m just another songwriting, and we have another album brewing. This fall, we’re going to be hunkering down and recording our part, because we’ve been working on them for a while and we finally think we’re at the point to record, you know.
L: Speaking of that, for the viewers, a lot of their information is on their Insta, and I saw all these jams — both the ones that have been posted and the ones you’ve shown me privately. When you say that everyone’s contributions come together into the full Al Cazal mix, is that kind of the environment where these ideas are generated?
G: What type of ideas? What do you mean by ideas?
L: How do the Al Cazal songs come into the picture? Are they whittled down in these jam sessions, or are they…?
G: That’s a good question. All of the Al Cazal songs are entirely written by Gabriel, but we still as a group do a lot of jamming. We record all of it. My phone is just filled with hour-long rehearsals. Why we do that, it came from an interview with a famous producer. It was… I don’t remember his name off the top of my head, but he did the Phoenix records. He’s like some French dude, Pierre, Jean-Pierre, something like that. He only recently passed away, but there was an interview, and Phoenix, when they created their album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – That one, fantastic album. A lot of those songs, they came into the studio without any of them written and their entire process for creating the album was “Okay, let’s do a 45-minute jam session, record it, listen back and see what parts do we like out of there,” and it’ll maybe be like, 10 seconds of the whole hour that you really like. But that idea — which was just spontaneous, in the moment — it can be the basis for an entirely new song. We have a bunch of them that we just improv, you know, and they’re slowly being worked on. I think Rick James talked about doing the same thing, just recording huge jams and taking little sections. Something like that.
L: Yeah, that sounds familiar from a lot of artists that I think about, but that is tremendous.
G: There have just been moments where — especially when you’re playing as a group — you maybe don’t realize you’re doing something special, but then you listen back and you’re like “Holy crap, that sounds great.” We have a couple of jams that came out of very emotional states, but just like listening back, they’d become the start of an entirely new idea. Maybe an interlude or something.
L: It ends up somewhere?
G: Yeah, and a lot of them don’t. A lot of them, we’ll maybe just post them on an Instagram story and let them disappear.
L: You mentioned a few minutes ago and I kind of jumped away from it, but you mentioned that you have an album brewing, and you also mentioned on Insta about an unnamed acoustic album. What can we expect on these fronts?
G: There is an Al Cazal album that is very close to being finished. We’ve been working on it since last fall. Two of the songs that have been released under the name Al Cazal recently, “Bellaquin” and “Save Face,” are both singles off that album. There are a bunch of other really fantastic songs. I did not write them, I produced them, but I genuinely love everything about them. They’re really fantastic songs. We’ve been working on them for a year. They’re sort of acoustic, but they really retain the rock element. There’s a lot of influences in them, but I personally am just finishing up. It’s just been a really busy summer, so I haven’t been able to invest my full time into mixing these final tunes. We have two left that we have to finish producing. One of them is very close to being done, it has a chill beach vibe, like Jack Johnson-type vibes. Then there’s some heavier stuff reminiscent of ’80s post-punk in there. It’s all over the place, but I’m very excited to see it finally get released.
L: That’s terrific, and I’m especially excited because I’ve been listening to “Bellaquin” a lot lately.
G: Gorgeous song.
L: It’s a really great single and it also strikes at one of the more interesting things I find about the band, which is that a lot of it, especially the “Para el Bien de Mi Pueblo” EP, is spoken in Spanish. What motivated that decision?
G: Gabriel is from Puerto Rico. He is bilingual at least, so he speaks Spanish and English. I think that in Puerto Rican there are some words — I don’t want to call it a dialect — that there are some words that some Latin countries don’t use. It’s some sort of Spanish, and I do not know a single word that’s being said on the album. Okay, maybe like a couple in there. I don’t really understand exactly what he’s singing about, but whatever he’s singing about, it’s great. That EP, three songs, which was “Ojos en la Mira,” “Lujuria” and then “Con Vida,” that was last summer. Considering how young Gabriel is, that’s a very promising EP for future stuff. “Ojos” is a great rock song, it’s very reminiscent of Radiohead almost. “Con Vida” is a great psychedelic pop tune. “Lujuria” is super relaxing, with gorgeous harmonies in there. Very promising stuff.
L: All the stuff I’ve heard from you guys has been fantastic.
G: This album, I think it’ll be around six, eight songs. We’ve already released two of them, but there are a couple more. Like I said, I started this last year. Part of what I do is mastering, which is like getting the mixes ready for radio release. I’ve gotten much better on that, so it might even be delayed a couple more weeks just so I can remaster some stuff that I’m unhappy with. So much time has gone into it that we might as well spend some more time getting it perfect. Definitely within the year. Before the end of ’21, it will be released. One hundred percent.
L: On another note, I’m very interested in the heavy dissonance between the jam-intensive, raw work with Al Cazal and then your techno work under Neotekt. Do you take a different ethos into both projects, or is there a similar mindset that you take into both projects?
G: That’s a good question. Electronic music production is an entirely different beast. You approach it differently. It’s much more of an almost mathematical approach. Or not mathematical, but everything is sequenced and you have to know what midi channel to turn on or turn off. Most of the electronic music I do is recorded with hardware synthesizers with so many buttons and knobs. There’s a lot of technicality to it, which personally I really like. I mean, electrical engineering is what I’m studying, so it goes really hand in hand with that and just the creativity of all these hardware instruments. I can create any sound I want on these synthesizers, it sounds great. It is a different approach and it comes from… I don’t know what I’m talking about. *Laughs*
L: I get it, I get it. You seem to have a much greater emphasis on the technicality of it.
G: Absolutely, that’s a good way to put it. It’s a lot about layering, flow… It’s more of a practice in production, which I take into my work. For example, producing Al Cazal: A lot of those techniques in the mix are taken from electronic music production.
L: Would you say that that sort of view influences it to some degree, or vice versa? The skills that you learn through mastering one kind [of music] influence your palette on another hand?
G: Absolutely. In the end, it’s really all just music. Rhythm, harmony, melody, it’s all really the same. Electronic music, just doing that, the Neotekt project just allows me to approach it from a very different method. A different part of me, I guess.
L: Do you see yourself, as a musician, primarily as a technician, or do you see technique as a way to produce art?
G: That’s a fantastic question. That’s something… I ask myself that question quite a bit. The music industry is very difficult and being a technician like that, it’s a very solid and stable way to be a part of this industry. As a producer, you will always have a steady supply of money because bands just keep on coming and coming. You can help produce and make them. I really like the technical side, but at the same time, I was never a very literary person. I wasn’t good in English class. Writing my own songs and lyrics, I do it to push myself that way. Maybe it’s not technical, but it kind of keeps yourself well-rounded.
L: Well, that’s all for today, thank you all for tuning in. This is Luke Adams with Interviews & In-Studios, signing off. Thank you, George.
G: Yeah, thank you for having me.
L: See you later.