My entire family is from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Ever since I was an embryonic squirt, I spent each of my summers enjoying the beauty of this great state at Higgins Beach in Scarborough. Because of my roots, it’s been an individual goal of mine as an aspiring writer in the music industry to locate, digest, and then pick the minds of a special band from Maine.
Meet Gater, the maker of my personal imaginative endeavors. Earlier this year, Chris Gironda of Space Bacon learned I was from Maine, then strongly recommended I check out this EP, Neoterik, by Gater. Chris and some of my other friends saw Gater perform at least year’s Disc Jam, and each and every personal recount was a different version of minds being blown by music that could not be described in words or minimized by a title or genre. Mystified, I followed the SoundCloud link Chris sent me, cracked open a cold one, threw on my Beats, and turned on “Everything We Do” by Gater. I’ll let the music do the rest of the talking, but in the simplest of all terms, Gater’s music got my brain firing on all cylinders, and I was immediately hooked.
Ahead of this weekend’s Wild Woods Music & Arts Festival in Croydon, New Hampshire, I had the special opportunity to catch up with Bryan Kessler (keys / producer), Robbie Cooper (keys), and Steve Martin (guitar) of Gater. We’re in for a treat this weekend, as this will be just the second performance Gater has executed with their new band member and drummer, Evan Lintz. In the conversation, we cover everything from the blossoming Maine music scene to the origins of the band, from their unique creation process to new music in the oven. If you haven’t already gotten your Wild Woods passes, don’t be a fool, cop them right now, right here. Find Gater on Facebook right here, enjoy this interview, and make sure to follow this link to find the playlist we put together for this year’s festival! Looking forward to seeing everyone at Wild Woods tomorrow!
SF: Hey guys, thanks for taking some time to talk with us here at Sound Fix.
Bryan Kessler: No problem! Happy we could all get together for this.
SF: So to start thing off, let me know what you’re up to this week. Any special plans ahead of Wild Woods?
BK: We are playing a show on Wednesday, the 27th in Boston w/ the G-Nome Project, who was actually just at Camp Bisco as well and will be performing at Wild Woods. So we’ll be down at the Wonder Bar. Should be a good time!
SF: Nice. I caught some of G-Nome’s concert at Bisco and those guys killed it. Sounds like Boston’s in store for a great show.
Steve Martin: For sure man, they’re good guys. We’ve played a number of festivals with them, and we’re good friends with a lot of their friends as well!
SF: So where did it all start for Gater? Where did you guys meet, and how did you decide to start making music together?
BK: Well, Gater started off with me DJing funky electronic music (**see below**), but then I developed a desire to actually play some of the music live and create more funk-based stuff, still with all of the electronic elements, but with more of a jam aspect to it.
SF: Cool, so when did you guys meet up specifically? Was there a specific year that marked the inception of Gater?
SM: Three years ago, Bryan approached me and asked if I wanted to take the Gater project into a direction with more live instrumentation. He knew I played a few instruments, so we started writing a few songs. After that, we realized we needed to find an amazing keys player.
BK: We’re actually still looking for one **laughs**
Robbie Cooper: I had joined the band a little while after that, because I had played the keys before with another band, and we knew each other for a little while. So I came over to jam with Gater one time and it felt good right away.
SF: Who’s the fourth member of the band who you mentioned lives in Baltimore?
SF: So you three live in Maine, correct?
RC: Yeah the three of us live in Maine.
SF: Cool – my family lives in Maine. Love the area. Where in Maine do you guys live?
BK: All in Portland!
SF: Did you grow up there as well?
BK: I actually grew up in Massachusetts.
SM: Robbie and I grew up in Maine. Bryan’s a masshole. **laughs**
SF: So how did you guys meet?
SM: I think we had originally met through a mutual friend of ours, Chris Chamberlain, and the relationship kind of developed from there. I met Robbie through Gorilla Finger, a different band we both play in.
SF: So I’m really curious to hear about the Maine music scene. How would you characterize the music culture? Any bands or musicians you’d recommend?
RC: That’s actually a tough question, because for such a small city, there’s a lot happening here. There are bar bands that only friends and groups know of, to some big events that happen all over. There’s been a wave of really good reggae music here in Portland over at the Pier as well. That’s been fun for me because I’m big into reggae.
SM: There’ a big music scene here, it’s the biggest small music scene I’ve ever seen. Portland’s such a small town, but it’s also growing so rapidly. There’s a big tribute band market here that draws big numbers.
RC: It’s an easy place for people to stop on tours if they’re hitting a major city nearby. We’re lucky we get a lot music moving around.
SF: I noticed there are a bunch of new venues opening as well, mainly the Thompson’s Point outdoor venue (**see below**). That is new, correct?
RC: It’s about two years old. They started doing about four shows last year, to about ten shows this year. It keeps growing and growing. It’s a 6,000 person outdoor theatre that kicks ass.
SM: The Main State Pier, just off the portland pier, is also bumping. They set up this one-day stage that jets out into the water right on Commercial street in Portland. That’s a great venue, lots of reggae.
SF: I saw Thievery Corporation concert at the Maine State Pier a few years ago.
BK: I love that band, and I know the show you’re talking about! The development of the Maine State Pier in the last few years, Thompson’s Point in the last few years, and the State Theatre over the last decade which has blown up like crazy. Then the State Theatre bought Port City Music Hall and The Asylum. The quality of the venues is certainly going up, the number of them is going up, and that in itself is bringing bigger touring bands here to Portland, which is just amazing for the whole music scene in general.
SF: Absolutely, and speaking of the Port City Music Hall, I noticed you’re opening up for Dopapod at that venue on Thursday, August 25th?
BK: Yep, we’re opening up for Dopapod that night, and they’re one of the bigger bands on the festival circuit right now. We’re kind of this up-and-coming band that’s tapped into that festival circuit profile, so that’s one of the reasons they reached out to us for that show.
SF: I first heard about you guys through some dudes who play in the Brooklyn jam band, Space Bacon, and some other friends who loved your performance last summer at Disc Jam. We covered that festival this summer and had an absolute ball. Tony Scavone is the man with a plan. Tell us about that performance and festival experience.
SM: That was great, and that was the show with this crazy looming storm and tornado warning. Sirens were going off warning of impending severe weather. Everything else was great there.
BK: Tony gave us a great time slot. He gave us the Thursday late-night slot, and it was great for us because there was a good handful of people there who knew us, but there were a lot of festival attendees who didn’t know us at that point. So that was certainly a stepping stone in terms of gaining a bigger following from the New York area, and it seems like we acquired some new fans that night.
SF: So moving over to your music, you put out your EP, Neoterik, last year. I put out some feelers to our readership for questions to ask you guys, and one question was about the creation process behind that EP, and maybe more generally your rituals and approach to making music together.
RC: We all bring different elements to the table. As Bryan said, he started Gater out as a DJ, and he still brings that electronic element to the band. Steve, he rips it on the guitar and covers basslines, and I bring the keys in. So someone will have a chord idea, and then we try to jam on it for a minute, and once we feel we’ve locked into something that’s working, we’ll record it, and then rerecord, and then rerecord it. Then Bryan will take it home and start manipulating the track, adding ideas here and there. After that he’ll bring it back to us and we’ll react to those changes. And then after we’ve done that a couple times, it comes down to sitting around and talking about it the song.
BK: It’s basically all based around grooves, and then we develop around those grooves.
SF: **laughs** I’m sorry, I think I misheard you their. Did you say it’s all based around “booze?”
BK: **laughs** We like to get black out drunk and try to record, just kidding. **laughs**
SF: Great, glad we could get the record straight there.
SM: **laughs** Then there are different sessions where we’re definitely doing a lot more jamming and playing different instruments to catch something in the moment. We actually all play multiple instruments, which makes things interesting. Sometimes Bryan will play bass, and I’ll be on drums, then Robbie’s on snyth, etc. We’ll sometimes switch around and feel out grooves.
RC: I would say the big thing too, is that it’s a big relief that we have a drummer now who’s working really well with us. We definitely play weirder music, which is a tough thing for a drummer to jump onto. But for the creative end, it’s so tough to do electronic drums, because you want to have that freedom to be able to change ideas as you’re coming up with them. So when we come up with ideas a lot of the time, Steve will be playing drums and we jam and just create something, and then turn that jam into an electronically influenced song.
SF: Hey, also, the reason I asked for Evan’s name is because it’s not on your Facebook page. Just wanted to throw that out there.
RC: Really? **laughs**
BK: That might’ve actually been subconscious too because he’s really only played one show with us and he’s only recorded one album with us, so we’re kind of, you know, making him work for it. **laughs**
RC: **laughs** All jokes aside, he’s incredible on the drums. We drool every time he plays.
SF: For someone who’s never heard Gater’s music before, how would you describe your sound?
RC: I hate that question! It’s so hard. I’d have to say “electronic funk.”
BK: I’ve heard people say “ratchet jazz.” I’ve heard “jazz funk.”
SM: “Crunch funk!” Tough to say, sometimes we do tough technical stuff like time signature switches. Sometimes it’s all just crunchy funky jazz. We use a lot of deep heavy crunchy synth bass riffs with Bryan’s Moog, so I’d say our instruments, tones, and sounds define our music versus any style of music we play. Evan is a very technical drummer, and he can play everything from jazz to progressive metal. Robbie has a heavy jazz background and you can really hear that in his riffs. I play more funky rock music, and Bryan does very tasteful funky synth music. So it really culminates into a unique song. When we fist started playing together, I was nervous we couldn’t create music that sounded unique, but ever since we’ve started playing together, our sound has truly become something unheard.
RC: Let’s call it “gatering.”
SM: Just so you’re aware, not many people actually know this, but Gater stands for “Grinning At The Endless Riddle.”
SF: I like that! Who thought of that acronym?
RC: It was really a product of our collective consciousness, but we had the name “Gater” before thinking up an acronym.
SF: So tell us about your label, Gravitas Recordings. How did you partner with that label?
BK: I’m actually roommates with Tyler Coombs, who’s the producer, Of the Trees, who will also be performing this weekend at Wild Woods. He’s on Gravitas as well, and linked up with the guys from Gravitas through him, and through John Hicks who was our manager at the time. I put out a feeler, seeing if it would work out to have a live band join the label, because there were no live bands on Gravitas before we joined.
SM: Yep, we were the first ever band on Gravitas.
RC: We went to this event in Austin, Texas to test drive the label to see if Gater could be a fit. We were the only band, and we performed at Gravitas’s show at SXSW. It was all electronic music at that time, so we were trying to play behind a DJ booth, which was interesting to say the least.
SF: Shifting over to Wild Woods here, is this your first time heading to Page Farm, whether it be as a listener or a performer?
BK: No, I think we’ve all collectively played at Page Farm before.
SM: There’s been a number of festivals there. A couple years ago there was this festival there called the Big Gig, and Gorilla Fingers, the reggae band Robbie amd I played in, performed at that festival.
SF: Cool, so what’s the festival ground like?
RC: Huge green fields with a big, wide-opened central space. It’s a big farm, so there’s a pond in the middle of everything. It’s just a beautiful big wide-opened farm, and there’s a wooden hand built main stage. A lot of everything is handmade from wood.
SF: So everyone camps in the woods, then kind of filters into this big opened space for the music?
SM: There’s a lot of opened space for camping, then there are these tree lines that separate a lot of the fields. Also, it sounds like, from what I’ve heard, that the setup for this particular festival this weekend is going to be amazing.
SF: So what does Gater have in store for the festival? Anything that you’re planning, anything you can share that will give us a preview of what to expect from from your band at Wild Woods 2016?
BK: We just plan on bringing our absolute A-game for this set with our drummer. We’re playing a bunch of new music that we’re working on for a new album.
SM: We can confidently say that if you come out for our Wild Woods set this weekend, you will be seeing some of the music we’re working on for a new EP that has not been released yet. So that’s kind of a treat for some people.
SF: So this will be just the second performance with Evan on drums?
SM: Yeah, second ever performance with a live drummer!
SF: And what was the first performance with Evan?
SM: The first one was at Empire with Govinda.
SF: Dope, and Govinda’s playing as well this weekend. Seems like all your friends will be in the wild woods this weekend! Empire is the other venue in Maine that we didn’t really talk about, correct?
BK: Yep, it’s a little bit smaller than Port City Music Hall, but it’s right in the same arts district. It’s a great venue.
SF: So will you guys be there the entire weekend, or do you have to take off at some point?
BK: I think most of us will be there for it for 2-3 days. We’re playing Sunday at 4:15.
RC: I’m making it in for Friday!
SM: We generally like to go to the music festivals we’re playing at to attend as well to hear new music and see different groups. Plus there’s a good chance at these events to talk about our band, pass out CDs, and meet cool people.
SF: I feel the same way in terms of coverage for Sound Fix. So if you’re going to be there the entire weekend, are there any particular bands or musicians you’re looking forward to seeing?
SM: Ott! I’ve been seeing Ott for a long time. He’s one of my favorite producers, and we all love TAUK.
SF: Yeah man, TAUK killed it at Disc Jam. We actually interviewed them for the equivalent of this interview series for that festival. Charlie’s a great guy. Just a couple more questions here. We touched upon this earlier, but you mentioned your new EP. Tell us everything and anything you can about new music in the works from Gater. How would you compare this new body of work to Neoterik?
SM: Well, one of the first differences I can tell you between our first EP and this new one is that this one is more intense. We’re actually practically finished with the new EP as well, and are just in the mixing and mastering stages at this point.
RC: This one certainly introduces a few new rhythmic things like new time signatures, polyrhythms, and then Evan added some really interesting ideas about grooves into the songs. So I think some of the intensity comes from us being more rhythmically interesting, but there’s more – again it’s hard to describe – different types of sound and styles of music coming at you in this new EP.
SF: Nice, do you have a name for it yet?
SM: No we don’t, not yet. Got a short list going.
RC: But that’s been our problem the whole time. We’re not trying to use words to define our music. We don’t have lyrics, we’re just making music. So when it comes to making up words, it’s one of the most difficult things.
BK: Kind of like EOTO, who makes up most of their music and songs on the spot, we actually pick our names out of the books that sit in Steve’s bookshelves in his basement. **laughs** So we’ll whip through a couple books, and we’ll point at a word in one of the books, and that’s how we’ve named our songs so far.
SM: One of our old songs that’s not on this album is called “Signifying Nothing.” It’s the last phrase in a Shakespeare soliloquy.
SF: Do you have a release date, and maybe an idea of how many tracks will be on it?
BK: I think this one will probably be about nine tracks, and we don’t have a solid release date yet. We’re mixing at this point, trying to perfect it before release.
RC: We’ve made about 27 tracks in total since our last EP. We’ve had a ton of music, and we just picked the ones that seemed to be more developed.
SM: We record everything at my house. We have a studio that we’ve built at my house with all our equipment and recording gear. Our friend Keith does sound engineering at all the big places we spoke about like the Maine State Pier, Empire, Port City, State Theatre, and he helped us record all the drums.
SF: Awesome, so for the ends of my interviews I like to just leave with an open forum. If there’s anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t cover in this conversation, fire away!
BK: Well, we have five shows in the next coming month. Our next one is in Boston with the G-Nome project on July 27th at the Wonder Bar. We’re excited to get our music out there and see new faces attend our shows!
SF: Awesome, thanks so much for the time, Bryan, Robbie & Steve. Follow Gater on Facebook, (follow us on Facebook) and make sure to catch their performance at Wild Woods on Sunday at 4:15 on the Icosahendrix Stage!