Interview with GEMS (Clifford John Usher and Lindsay Pitts)
We first caught wind of Washington D.C.’s indie pop band GEMS in late 2012 and have featured them 5 other times. I think that means we like them. The two piece band, consisting of Clifford John Usher and Lindsay Pitts, make dreamy pop music for which there is always an appetite.
The band make their way to Toronto this Saturday, February 8, and we caught up over email with both Clifford and Lindsay to find out how the started, how the DC music scene is, and what they would want on their Wikipedia page.
PeteHatesMusic (PHM): We’ll start off gentle. How did the GEMS members meet?
Clifford John Usher (C): We met at the end of college. We both hated school, especially the preppy, southern university we both attended.
PHM: How long have the two of you been making music, both together and apart?
C: Music has always been a part of our lives in different ways. I played just about every instrument in elementary school band until I fell in love with Nirvana and the guitar.
Lindsay Pitts (L): I sang in choirs all through high school and in college I took drum lessons from an old man who lived in a cabin in the woods. Also my mom was a big music fan (metal / classic rock) and use to take me to shows all the time when I was a kid.
PHM: How would you describe your musical journey so far, from putting some songs online to playing SXSW, CMJ, and everything in between?
PHM: If I ever get so lucky to have a Wikipedia page, I would love for it to say “Pete once ate his body weight in gummi bears”, which is sadly untrue (at least thus far). What is one made up fact that you would like to have on your future Wikipedia page?
C: GEMS – the first band to write and record an album entirely on the moon.
PHM: You’ve slowly released some songs to the Internet, played some shows, and just released your EP in November 2013. Was the gap from the fall 2012 release to the late 2013 release because you were deciding upon the songs, or EP vs. LP, or was a fall release always the plan?
C: We’ve really just been releasing songs as we make them; there was no plan. I guess usually a band holes up in a studio and records an album and then slowly leaks songs over the course of the next year after they’re all done. We didn’t do that. The first song from the EP we wrote was Pegasus, and that was back in February 2013 and we put it up right away.
PHM: How does the songwriting process with the two of you work?
C: It’s different every time! But usually I try to start by making a beat, then Lindsay will play some chords she likes and we’ll both come up with words and melodies. Sometimes Lindsay will sing a bunch of gibberish – I think it’s easier to be emotive that way, to really get in touch with the feeling of the sounds – and then I will try to decipher words from that. I usually add guitar last, it’s kind of the icing on the cake. In the end the lyrics take the longest to work out because they are so important to us.
L: It has to be real or I won’t sing it.
PHM: I’ve been to your hometown of Washington DC only once in the past few years, and didn’t get a chance to check out the music scene. How would you describe it?
C: Fragmented, but with a lot of potential. Everyone’s kind of doing their own different thing. Unfortunately, people often have to move to another city to really make things happen. Kelela is from DC but moved to LA. Lo-Fang (Matt Hemerlein) is a friend of ours who moved to LA a couple years ago and now has an album coming out on 4AD and is touring with Lorde. Some other DC acts to check out: Kali Uchis, Misun (just moved to LA), Uno Hype, Ploy, More Humans, Hume, Pree, Young Rapids, Paperhaus, U.S. Royalty
PHM: One final question, somewhat related to the last question. If you ran PeteHatesMusic for a day (which is no joy – trust me), what new songs or bands would you post for our readers.
C: Most recently I’ve been digging on this Kali Uchis mixtape, ‘Drunken Babble.’ She’s from the DC area and I just heard about her and I’m loving it.
L: I’ve had this song ‘Every Night’ by Josef Salvat on repeat for the past couple of weeks. Mostly I listen to older stuff, though. I’ve been on a heavy Peter Gabriel kick these days.
GEMS swing by the Drake Hotel on Saturday night. Shovel your driveway, put on some long underwater, and enjoy the melodies and sounds of GEMS.