Gum takes time to chew on things

Af­ter lengthy break, OKC rock band to re­lease new al­bum

The Oklahoman - - WEEKEND LIFE - BY BECKY CAR­MAN For The Oklahoman

Ok­la­homa City rock band Gum knows how to make the most of empty space.

It’s found in the airy, stri­ated in­stru­men­ta­tion on its new record, “When the Wa­ter Hits the Moon.” And when ev­ery­thing drops out, leav­ing ex­pan­sive sonic room for a tiny pi­ano twin­kle or a chug­ging gui­tar, it’s those mo­ments of tem­po­rary empti­ness that make the songs’ re­turns that much more im­pact­ful.

We haven’t heard much from Gum lately. The band, which played its first show in Jan­uary 2009, main­tained a near ra­dio si­lence for the past year, per­form­ing only twice and vaguely teas­ing the pro­duc­tion of the fol­low-up to its 2014 self­ti­tled full-length al­bum: a men­tion of a record­ing ses­sion here, a photo em­bla­zoned with a large “2018” there.

Some­thing was hap­pen­ing in that empty space, to be sure. So why the holdup?

The open­ing track to “When the Wa­ter Hits the Moon,” ti­tled

“Does It Feel Like You,” an­swers that ques­tion out of the gate, re­assert­ing the band’s phi­los­o­phy that it’s OK to leave a lit­tle room: “You can take all the time you like,” sing vo­cal­ists John Baber and Joe Bello. “You gotta set­tle in.”

“We started the al­bum in late 2015 and had a cou­ple of false start songs,” Baber said. “They got us go­ing, but we re­al­ized we were head­ing a dif­fer­ent way and took a few months off.”

From there, Gum took its time self-record­ing work­ing demos and fin­ish­ing some of the track­ing at Bell Labs in Nor­man. The pro­duc­tion time on the record spanned about two years, with the re­main­der of the wait spent sav­ing money for the record’s re­lease.

Baber sings and plays keys, Bello sings and plays gui­tar, and on the record, both are cred­ited with the bulk of the band’s song­writ­ing. The rest of the lineup, though, rounded out by Levi Bello, Sam Bray and Tay­lor Dra­goo, en­joys creative free­dom on their re­spec­tive in­stru­ments. Most of Gum’s mem­bers have known one an­other since mid­dle school, and the band’s nearly decade-long run leaves ev­ery­one com­fort­able with bring­ing their own ideas to the ta­ble.

That long-term trust is also what makes Baber and Bello’s col­lab­o­ra­tive song­writ­ing work.

“I’ll bring him stuff, and it might be a cer­tain amount done, and I might have hit a wall,” Baber said. “When I show him, he can zero in on some­thing that un­locks the rest, some­thing that might al­ready be there. I re­mem­ber one song I was stuck on for like a year, and he said, ‘Take that chord out.’ And then it was done.”

Mu­si­cally, the pair is a study in con­trasts, de­spite shar­ing many of the same influences. Bello said he’s the more di­rect of the two lyri­cally and fa­vors lush, dark in­stru­men­ta­tion. Baber, on the other hand, likes leav­ing room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion and prefers brighter, twin­klier sounds. The al­bum’s lead sin­gle, “Tired Eyes,” ex­em­pli­fies those pref­er­ences: The song’s in­stru­men­tal break is marked by a deep, bassy syn­the­sizer line punc­tu­ated by harp­si­chord.

Where the two fall back in sync is the lead vo­cal duty. Most of Gum’s songs have Baber and Bello both singing lead, of­ten the same melody. Lis­ten­ers can find more ev­i­dence of the pair’s song­writ­ing sim­patico in the al­bum’s lyrics.

“I don’t want to get too spe­cific, but the last record and this record are su­per re­flec­tive of where we all are in our lives,” Bello said. “Whether we mean them to be or not, we kind of can’t help it. There are things you feel like you’re sup­posed to do when you get to a cer­tain age.”

The two are in their early 30s, and ac­cord­ingly, their songs tackle mar­riage and re­la­tion­ships, artis­tic goals, tired­ness and the chal­leng­ing land­scape of adult­hood. Some­times, be­ing in a band can seem like a young man’s game, friv­o­lous, worth grow­ing out of. A lack of mo­men­tum has made many artists ques­tion their in­ten­tions and ef­fort.

In Gum’s case, it seems the op­po­site: They’ve grown the band into a steady, po­ten­tially in­fi­nite en­deavor among the highs and lows, a venue for creative ac­com­plish­ments, some­thing that can wait out the busy­ness and, fit­tingly, fill in the empty spa­ces.

“When I’m not play­ing mu­sic, it kind of bums me out. There’s a big part of me that needs that,” Bello said.

“There’s a cer­tain amount of mu­sic that I want to have made, and cer­tain kinds that I want to have made,” Baber said. “I don’t know how long that’ll take nec­es­sar­ily.”

In the space be­tween fin­ish­ing this al­bum and plan­ning the re­lease, they’ve be­gun track­ing an­other record, to be re­leased at some neb­u­lous point in the fu­ture. But right now, they’re work­ing on get­ting back on­stage for the re­lease of “When the Wa­ter Hits the Moon.” For a while, at least.

“When we play, we want it to mean some­thing,” Bello said. “You play a lot when a record comes out, but then what are you play­ing for? When you’ve been a band for this long, you lose the need to feel like you have to play all the time, or at least there’s an em­pha­sis when you do play to make it spe­cial or im­por­tant. I think we’re more in­ter­ested in mak­ing records.”

“I would say so,” Baber said. “Shows are fun, but it seems like our time would be bet­ter spent ze­roed in on work­ing on the next rea­son to play shows.”

[PHOTO BY BRYAN EL­LI­SON]

Ok­la­homa City rock band Gum is re­leas­ing its new al­bum “When the Wa­ter Hits the Moon.”

[PHOTO BY BRYAN EL­LI­SON]

Ok­la­homa City rock band Gum is re­leas­ing its new al­bum “When the Wa­ter Hits the Moon.”

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