- Kirsten Miccoli
- Ganser, clockwise from upper left: Brian Cundiff, Alicia Gaines, Charlie Landsman, and Nadia Garofalo
At one point in our e-mail back-and-forth, Ganser bassist and vocalist Alicia Gaines says, "I miss green-room conversations." We've been talking not just by e-mail but also over Zoom and via Twitter DMs. In any other year this might feel an excessive number of channels to use with just one person, but the pandemic has made communicating like this feel normal.
We're supposed to be talking about Ganser's new remix EP, Look at the Sun, which features collaborations with a transatlantic roster of heavyweights: Sadie Dupuis (Sad13, Speedy Ortiz), Bartees Strange, Algiers, Glok (aka Andy Bell of Ride), and Girl Band drummer Adam Faulkner. The EP builds on their critically lauded full-length Just Look at That Sky, which came out in July—and which Paste magazine named one of the top 50 records of last year, describing it as containing "the wide-eyed glare and off-the-wall energy of someone who's close to the final straw and searching for the best way to cope."
But because the topic has been inescapable for more than a year now, we're also talking about how Ganser weren't supposed to be here, stuck at home. None of us were.
For Ganser, COVID-19 has meant cancelling plans to tour in support of Just Look at That Sky. They'd prepped all the steps that the music industry requires of bands with new albums (including a string of dates with Algiers, who have since contributed a bombastically transformative remix of "Told You So" to Look at the Sun), and they were ready to finally play songs from Just Look at That Sky to their ever-growing fan base. Instead they found themselves looking for ways to cope with the loss of the road.
Online life became a surprising source of opportunity and comfort for Ganser, and they started making more use of social media. "It was really only when lockdown started happening," says Gaines. "We started meeting new people through Twitter that we started [thinking] would be really fun to work with."
Social-media spaces are vast wastelands filled with everyone you know and everyone you're desperate to avoid—but you can also find the comrades you haven't met yet. "It wound up being a really lovely outlet for us to meet people in new contexts and in different genres that we wouldn't have normally come across," Gaines says.
That's exactly how two of the collaborations on Look at the Sun came together. When shutdowns arrived across the country in March 2020, Sadie Dupuis (who's based in Philadelphia) and Bartees Strange (based in Washington, D.C.) hadn't yet met anyone in Ganser. They encountered the band online during the pandemic, and that allowed connections to grow.
Strange, who remixed "Emergency Equipment and Exits," was drawn to the project in part because he loves to work with other Black artists, especially when he's a fan. "There just needs to be more of us putting out more things that challenge what the scene looks like and who's sitting in that scene," he says.
Services like Twitter are designed as platforms for conversation, and when musicians use such spaces that way, they can develop relationships and collaborations naturally—relying not on record-label machinations but rather on deeper personal bonds. "Working with [Ganser] was sweet, because I felt like I got to kind of know who they are as people," Strange says. "It made me love their music even more and respect what they're trying to do with their music."
Dupuis remixed "Bad Form," transforming it from the stems up, and she had her first interaction with Ganser on Twitter: they both responded to the same post by Shopping guitarist Rachel Aggs, who was looking for new music recommendations. "Within one minute of the tweet, both Ganser and I had been like: new Backxwash album," Dupuis says. When she looked up Ganser, she wasn't surprised to find they were part of a scene she already adored. "They're a Chicago band, so of course they're going to be amazing."
When musicians build new relationships with artists who are already connected to their peers in the industry, they're re-creating the kind of bond that's forged in DIY communities. "You want to welcome them into your world and offer them the same kind of support that their community is giving them," Dupuis says.
When Ganser initially released Just Look at That Sky, they hadn't been able to perform it live yet, so an EP of remixed songs from the album wasn't on their minds. But it became a welcome gift all the same. "I think that working on the EP was a bit of a coping mechanism for us," Gaines says. "We're a band that has two very different sides. We equally enjoy playing live and being studio tinkerers. And so this is scratching that side while we can't scratch the other."
In July 2020, Gaines wrote for Louder about touring as a Black woman in a band with two women and several queer members. She talks about having to work twice as hard to get half as far, about needing to prove her competence to threatened white men, and about how much more stressful police stops in remote areas are for her. Through social media, that article created connections too. "There was a whole bunch of people that responded to the article saying, 'Oh my God, I recognize this,'" says Gaines.
The conversation around Gaines's story didn't directly lead to the collaborations on Look at the Sun, but they're both part of the same thing: Ganser's efforts to be visible to and supportive of other marginalized artists, in part by reflecting their lived realities back to them. "We're all having this experience, but we're so rare and so separated from each other that it feels like we're the only ones having it," says Gaines.
"I think that for artists of marginalized identities, you can have the same PR money as everybody else and it won't go as far as everybody else," Gaines says. "But if you start getting into conversations with other artists on Twitter, you're gonna find some similarities, especially with all of us going through this." Nothing about the way the music industry has worked this year has been by the book, but as Gaines says, that's had a silver lining. "You don't need the traditional avenues necessarily—they can play catch-up." v
Update: Ganser will play a three-night series of in-person concerts at the Empty Bottle on July 8, 9, and 10. Capacity will be limited and pubic-health guidelines will be followed. Tickets go on sale Friday, May 7.