Cyclic Defrost’s Bob Baker Fish chats with Greg Wadley and Julian Williams of the Hi God People.
BBF: I’ve got a Hi-God Record. But it’s not you. It has a bunch of kids sitting happily, almost transcendently around a teacher as they recite gospel songs. How does this relate to you?
Greg: They’re an American cult from the sixties. We saw their record in an op shop and borrowed the name. There may be some subconscious similarity, though HGP aren’t religious in the normal sense. Now that we’ve spent ten years making their name famous, they seem to have released a new record. Our respective gods will have to sort this out.
Julian: We will do this by sacrificing a pile of Mills and Boon books while line dancing through a giant beanbag designed by a blind man in Daylesford.
BBF: Given that Hi God People shows are so visual, is it difficult to translate what you do to a purely audio situation? Do you believe that this highlights another aspect of the band? Or forces you to do something differently?
Greg: Our live show doesn’t translate easily to a record. We try to make the most of each medium. Our live troupe is drawn from a large group of performers, artists and musicians from other bands who gather to pull these shows out of a hat. They wear costumes and you usually can’t tell who they are. Each time it’s a slightly different group – whoever is available and has an idea they need to express that month. I like to think that this process brings out the zeitgeist of a community – it’s the power of large groups. For audio recordings it’s usually just the core members and our approach is different. Having a visual side of the band makes it easy to do music videos. Jason Heller recently shot one for a song from our split with the Dead C. You can see it on YouTube. We have an idea for a feature-length movie.
Julian: We believe we’re in epic morality plays in bad costumes and this influences the music in a positive vein.
BBF: How did you approach the piece on the 12 inch? To what degree is it improvised?
Greg: It’s a two part process that we’ve been honing. We go to a studio, press record, and improvise until the tape fills up. The music is unplanned and uses whatever instruments are at hand. Later we edit the bits we like and add vocal overdubs. I suspect Julian does those in a trance at home. For this release we recorded at radio 3CR. We filled a room with instruments and everyone walked round from instrument to instrument seeing what would happen. It’s surprising what people come up with in that situation. We can plan but the gems come from the unexpected bits in between.
Julian: We’ve planned a more structured approach in the past and it sort of pushed us into a corner. When we freed up again the music bubbled up like a sweet fizzy drink.
BBF: I just checked, live at the Palace, the show with Sonic Youth. That was madness, with those little polystyrene balls everywhere. What are your memories of that show? How did it seem to you that the audience reacted? What did Thurston think?
Greg: With the lights and noise and costumes it’s chaotic and you don’t know what the heck’s going on. We rely on everyone having the chutzpah to improvise through the confusion. This show was not our usual audience – there were a lot of kids who you don’t see at normal gigs. They seemed to have a good time. Thurston videoed us. Our performers were good and they partied with Sonic Youth’s people later, so maybe they got some feedback.
Julian: I just remember the look of the young audience at the front, and their bemused but happy faces. it was like they’d been given a lost episode of the X Files and a years supply of Sara Lee cheese-cake.
BBF: How did this split come about?
Greg: The Newcastle label Spanish Magic suggested an HGP record. We heard they were interested in Zond too so we suggested a split. We know Zond well and some of them have performed with HGP. It’s taken a while to release – we are all dysfunctional in our own way. This is Zond’s first release. Their side was also recorded at 3CR.
BBF: How long does it take to plan out your live shows? It seems to be very thematic, a lot more than ‘lets get dressed up in a bunch of weird stuff and freak people out.’ To what degree is narrative important?
Greg: Occasionally we just bang one out as a band, but the big visual productions are worked out at meetings. All the performers are involved in writing, so that the final product is a distillation of a lot of people’s thinking. There are themes and narratives each time. You could think of these as being set in the “Hi God People Universe”, a parallel dimension held together by bluetac. Usually the narratives are discernable, but not always – our last Toff show was meant to be a freaky Perfect Match but it got too freaky to tell. The narratives are not clear-cut like a play – perhaps more like the narrative of a videogame.
Julian: This is a good un, because i would like the shows to have more structure. I come from a theatre background and it always seems to me like we could take longer. i think we should approach certain shows like a theatre piece that you’d spend at least 4 weeks rehearsing. The concepts wouldn’t change but maybe we could get more depth and texture.
BBF: What should we expect at the Toff?
Julian: A large supply of voices fed through a gravel mixer, then individually inspected by a naval captain with a torch.
The new Hi God People/Zond split 12 inch is out on Spanish Magic.