I caught up with Gaggle leader, Deborah Coughlin, after their show at The New Empowering Church in Hackney. Here’s what we chatted about:
Katie: Did you enjoy the show?
Deborah: I did, yes. It was a good show. We enjoyed playing some new material as it’s the first time we’ve ever done it live.
K: So did it take a lot of preparing then?
D: Oh, my goodness. Yes. We were already worried and then Vice were filming us and they had some really bright lights on us and you know, it’s an interesting place. It’s a tropical, weird warehouse. The band sounded great but it’s not necessarily what we’d normally play in but we did love it.
K: When are you planning on releasing the album?
D: The album’s coming out in March hopefully.
K: So it’s all written and recorded?
D: It’s recorded and it just has to be mastered and it’s coming out on Trangressive in March and then at the same time there’s a feature film about Gaggle coming out too.
K: What the hell made you start Gaggle? Where did you get the idea from?
D: Well, I used to be in a band called 586 and we got like runner up single of the week or something in NME, we did an XFM session and we were on MTV so I’d already been on tour with lots of bands and I also ran a venue called The George Tavern and I thought that there was something a miss with how women were represented in music at the time. I think it’s changed a bit as there’s loads of female pop stars now and there’s lots of female musicians and music makers who are doing really well but back in 2008 which is when I came up with the idea of Gaggle, it seemed like the only women I saw in the indie clubs I went to were burlesque dancers or keyboard players which I don’t have a problem with because I play keyboards. I thought that I wanted to create music with Simon (Gaggle’s co-songwriter) as I like making music with Simon but I also want to make something really powerful. I thought that what we need is, instead of one incredibly out of the ordinary woman or loads of men, I want to make something with loads of women who are the sort of women that you hang out down the pub with, who don’t all want to be stars and have their own independent lives but women who want to support each other because just through sticking together as Gaggle which at times is hard, it makes it more powerful and people know that.
K: Do you think that the lyrics present this too?
D: I think they probably do.
K: You’ve had new members and members have left. Was that hard?
D: Sometimes it’s really sad. People have left and I’ve actually cried about them but the main thing about Gaggle is that it boosts people’s confidence.
K: How do you make the music? Electronically on your Macbook?
D: No, me and Simon play a lot of instruments so for the album, we went away to France for a week so we did a lot of it there and then we finished it off in Wales and stayed at another friend’s house there. You just find people who have got houses free in the middle of nowhere we go over there and make a racket. At the moment for the live shows, I play it off a laptop live because I think that what people want from Gaggle is an amazing backing track with amazing percussionists which we’ve got and then the girls really going for it.
K: So you don’t have a full band in order for them to be the main focus?
D: Yeah, it’s so easy to start looking at somebody strumming away on a guitar and it will be more live by the time it comes to the album tour.
K: How will you tour with there being so many of you?
D: Well, we’ve done it before as we did most of the UK festivals in 2010 but the bus is mental. When we did Germany which is a big country, as I’m the leader, I get asked a lot of questions: is this too hot? Is this too cold? Can the volume go louder? Can we watch Evil Bong 2 blah blah blah…and I began to go mental so I made a tent for myself and hid and screamed and ran off into a field in the middle of Frankfurt. We do have a brilliant time on tour. Don’t we have a brilliant time on tour Angela?
Angela Gaggle (the Gaggle who makes all of the costumes): Yeah. I never want to go home. I always cry about going home.
A: I never want to go home when we go away. It’s so upsetting when we have to go home. Most people really get excited to go home but I could stay on tour for ten years.
D: I’d love to see what you’d look like if you’d been on tour for ten years. Touring is fun and interesting because we have all of the different personalities. We have someone in Gaggle who’s a trained nurse so if someone has a bit of a funny turn, she’s always there.
K: So, where do you rehearse?
D: At the moment, we rehearse in The Vatican in Bethnall Green. I remember watching an N-Dubz documentary and then Tulisa and Dappy were rehearsing next door to our rehearsal room. So they have people like N-Dubz and they have people like us. It’s a very reasonable rate and we have a great time there; there’s a dog and there’s just a great atmosphere. Before that we used to rehearse in The George Tavern.
K: How did you get signed to Transgressive?
D: They turned up at The George one night and said “we don’t know if you guys can ever make us any money but what we do know is that we think that what you’re doing is really important and we just want to help people that are doing something new and different and see what happens. They really believe in Gaggle and they believe in me and that’s amazing.
K: Did you not know them before?
D: No, I really did not know them. They found us.
K: Via Myspace?
D: Yeah, we set up a Myspace, Twitter and a Facebook and then we got a lot of attention from the beginning. Our first gig was at Koko which I set up really as my friend John runs Brainlove Records and he was putting a night on at Club NME so we played that. NME really supported us, my friend James listened to us and just got it. The BBC have supported us loads too; we’ve had lots of support from Huw Stephens and stuff so we’ve had loads of men, bizarrely, who’ve taken an interest to us.
K: Tell me about the opera (Brilliant and the Dark).
D: Well there was a girl in Gaggle, called Daphne, who’s not in it anymore because her art career got too big and she had two friends called Ben and Eilleen and they went into this archive of a library and they found this forgotten opera about femininity from 1959 where they got 1000 female volunteers to perform it in The Royal Albert Hall which is a massive space and yet, it’s forgotten and people don’t know that this happened. So they have a project called Open Music Archive and they get people to do interesting music projects so they asked me if Gaggle would do it and if me and Simon would rework it. Originally they’d gone from medieval times through to the second world war so we used some of that but we didn’t use a lot of it because some of it didn’t interest me like the whole bit on Florence Nightingale but I kept the stuff I liked like the witch trials so I took that subject and then changed it into more modern day trials of honour killings as well as witch trials as I think there’s something similar about them as it’s about communities turning against people who are a lot of the time, women. We also did a bit on militarised rape and we were just trying to bring things up to date and I was really proud of this as we got those themes mentioned in NME and I was also really proud that The Guardian gave us an amazing review of when we took it to the Elgar room in The Royal Albert Hall. However, I created a mega Gaggle so instead of having twenty / twenty five girls, we made it forty. Even though it wasn’t my favourite gig sound wise as I’m really picky with sound, it was one of the most moving gigs I’ve ever done, especially because all of these other women came and rehearsed so hard to be part of that one gig and I made them wear horrible clothes and do horrible things to their hair so I was really, really proud of that.
K:Where are you planning on playing on the album tour?
D: We’ve decided that we want to do some special venues up and down the country. We’re not going to go everywhere because we’re aware that we’re a unique act but at the same time, the album is really poppy; there are songs which are poppy, songs which sound like songs from musicals and stuff which could be Kanye and then there’s stuff which is really dark – it has the Gaggle darkness. The album won’t sound like anything you’ve heard before. It’s unique. We’re going to try and find some beautiful places; churches, caves, mosques. Who knows. We might want to tour the film as well too.
K: What will the film be like?
D: The film is made by a company called TriCoast and there’s a guy there called Strath Hamilton who made a Wham film about their tour in China in the 80s and his daughter, Cassie Hamilton happens to be a feminist so I went over to LA in May and met possibly the only feminist production company in Hollywood and they said that they want to make a feature documentary but I said that because she’s an animator as well, we should have some animation and an intellectual side to it where we talk about the themes in Gaggle and why they’re important and Cassie’s just amazing; she totally gets it, she’s a Gaggle and she really cares about everything and she’s really inspiring. She interviewed all of the girls. There’s obviously some ‘drunk girls on tour’ stuff but there’s also people talking about their lives and why Gaggle has been important to them and also people who have been inspired by Gaggle. We went on Jools Holland with My Morning Jacket recently and they did an interview for the film as well because they are really inspired by Gaggle. They really appreciate the fact that you can have powerful women doing something and that women can be as powerful as men.
K: Are you more excited about the film coming out or the album?
D: That’s difficult because the film has the music and the girls talking about Gaggle and all of the people we know talking as well as the animation but the album is what I’ve spent the past two years doing and I hope that some people will really love it.
Words by Katie Wilkinson