Interview: Gong

I had this idea in 2012 that at the stroke of midnight, someone got on the roof of their house and just started playing the Om Riff, and like a beacon, all these guitar players and horn players and drummers would just go out on the streets, or set up an amp, until the whole earth is vibrating and set off, and everywhere you go outside you’d just hear the Om Riff and start joining in until the whole fucking planet is shaking.

Following the passing of founder member Daevid Allen in 2015, many pundits consigned Gong to the history books. That was never Allen’s intention, and following a blistering new album Rejoice! I’m Dead! with an extensive tour, the current line-up of Kavus Torabi (vocals/guitar), Fabio Golfetti (guitar/vocals), Dave Sturt (bass/vocals), Ian East (sax/flute) and Cheb Nettles (drums/vocals) look set to pilot the flying teapot towards 2032.

(((O))): This line-up has made a point from the start of stating that it’s a pleasure being Gong. How’s it fitting?

Kavus: Rather well, I think! We’ve had the new album that’s really changed everything for us, with the way we’ve been perceived. Whilst we could play the old songs very well, it took us to make an album ourselves for people to really be convinced that this was a real deal. Certainly for us we’re far more into it, playing a set of half new stuff. We’ve toured this last year and were being a little apprehensive about whether we were trying too much new stuff, but every night has gone down so brilliantly, even with people who were cynical to begin with have been won over by it. We’ve got a really nice mix now – it feels very much like being Gong.

(((O))): The Gong extended family are very protective of the band and have seen a lot of changes over the years. It seems there’s lot of love coming from all those associated with Gong.

Kavus: Of course! Everyone who’s allowing us to carry on and do this – it’s wonderful. It’s not like other bands, Gong. It’s a very different sort of vibe. The only thing that I could compare it to was doing Cardiacs, there’s a very loving feeling from the crowd. It’s amazing.

(((O))): Kavus, your career so far seems to involve getting invited to join your favourite bands.

Kavus: Not Iron Maiden, yet. That’s to come. Knifeworld are also laying fallow at the moment, as it’s so full on with Gong. Since we put this new record out, it looks like we’re going to spend a lot of the year gigging. We’re doing Europe, we’ve got Japan, hopefully the US next year.

Dave: We’re playing a festival in a place called New Caledonia, which is an island North of New Zealand and equidistant off the coast of Western Australia, in the middle of the Pacific. It’s got a population of 200,000 people and it’s French speaking!

Kavus: Then next year Gong and Knifeworld are going on this cruise (Cruise To The Edge), which will be hilarious. And in between Gong I’ll be trying to write a new Knifeworld record, which we’ll hopefully record next year. That’s the work – trying to balance one then the other.

(((O))): I See You saw a more political side to Daevid’s song-writing, which you’ve taken forward on the new record. Was this a conscious decision?

Dave: Indeed. I wrote ‘Model Village’. Kavus wrote most of the lyrics.

Kavus: Funnily enough I think my lyrics on this record are quite apolitical.

Dave: With Gong, Daevid has been political before, in his lyrics – think Floating Anarchy.

Kavus: A lot of his poetry is very political.

Dave: Daevid left us a with a legacy that anything, musically, or lyrically, can work, in Gong. He prepared the ground for us to do anything.

(((O))): Is there any temptation to write songs about Pot Head Pixies and Zero The Hero?

Kavus: No. No temptation at all. That was so much Daevid’s thing, I think it would feel really bogus doing that. That was Daevid’s trip and whilst that was central to Gong, he’d already moved away from that. It would feel weird and superficial – people would see through that and I wouldn’t be able to sing the lyrics with any conviction. We can only write our own thing, but with a strong mind to what is considered Gong.

(((O))): It’s a similar situation to that which Mike Howlett found himself in with Shamal.

Kavus: We very much had to make the album that the five of us wanted to make, that sounded like the five of us playing together. There were a couple of things that we vetoed because we thought “whilst it’s really good, it’s not quite Gong”. Largely speaking it was anything goes, and the way the five of us play together just seems to end up sounding like Gong.

(((O))): One track from the back catalogue that you’ve really made your own is ‘Master Builder’ or ‘The Glorious Om Riff’, which sounds like it’s got a rocket up its arse.

Dave: Steve Hillage agrees with you, he says it’s the best version of the Om Riff he’s heard.

Kavus: He’s come and played that with us – he joined us for half the set in Oslo. Om Riff is like having sex. It’s like every time is the best time, it’s pure and every time it’s overwhelming.

(((O))): Kavus, you once wrote a blog, a long time before joining the band, about this being the best riff of all time.

Kavus: This was a great idea I had for 2012, for Baktun. There was talk that there was going to be some great convergence. The Mayan calendar was going to come to an end. So I had this idea in 2012 that at the stroke of midnight, someone got on the roof of their house and just started playing the Om Riff, and like a beacon, all these guitar players and horn players and drummers would just go out on the streets, or set up an amp, until the whole earth is vibrating and set off, and everywhere you go outside you’d just hear the Om Riff and start joining in until the whole fucking planet is shaking. I gave the notes and instructions on how to play the riff, which is really easy. But of course, I couldn’t be arsed to see it through. I set up a Facebook group – the idea was good.

(((O))): Tell us about what you’ve got going on with your solo projects?

Kavus: I’m working on a solo album but I’m in no rush to finish it. I have four songs recorded already, two of them mixed, but no pressure, so it might take another three or four years. I’m mainly concentrating on Gong this year, and Knifeworld writing.

(((O))): Dave, Dreams and Absurdities was a great album. Are there any plans to follow it up?

Dave: Yeah, I had a fantastic reception to that album, and yeah, maybe next year I’ll be thinking about it. I’m already putting ideas together.

(((O))): Ian, tell us a little bit about Inner Paths, your solo album.

Ian: I played all the instruments on it and it’s been very well received. I’d love to sell some more copies of it!

Fabio: I’m also busy in Brazil with Violeta de Outono. We’ve been going for 30 years and we have a lot of albums, and a family and relationship with our fans that’s similar to that with Gong.

Gong are on tour around Europe in September and October 2017. They’ll be joined by Steve Hillage for their set at Equinox Festival, 23 September, 2017.

Photograph: Ashley Jones

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