Cryptophasia, Only Much, Much Louder:
The Secret Language of abby gogo
Let’s get the record review part of it out of the way first, so you know where I stand.
Holy crap, this is a mindblowing album!
What, not enough detail for ya? Fine. The way “Louder Than Dreams” just blasts out of the gate like a barrage of bootleg laser cannons firing in every direction, it dizzies me and leaves a smoldering wasteland of my senses. And we’re only two minutes and 20 seconds in! I gotta hear it again immediately, but before I can collect myself enough to restart it, “The Lost Song” kicks in, and in a living instant I’m lost in its lovely, paisley reverie, a mood-shift for sure but an altogether perfect one, proceeding without a jolting speed-hump. “Torpedo” may hint at extended Spacemen 3 restraint, but it’s just a looming countdown to detonation, per its title. “Guitar #0” glides over glaciers as the rising sun breaks on the horizon, wind in your face. “Feelin’ Slow” just needs a blacklit room, a liquid light show and a circle of groovy, colorfully-clad love children dancing in the shadows to complete the picture. The good vibrations of “Come On” take us for a five-minute round trip on the emergency third rail. They melt “Glass” in our veins and then point us in the general direction of home with the massive majesty of “Sweet Sweet.” Was it good for you?
I’m talking about the self-titled debut LP from abby gogo. With roots in Tuscaloosa, the Atlanta band (yes, they tell me it’s supposed to be all lowercase) have been carving out their garage psychedelia for a total of six years now, and have never sounded better. They get the “shoegaze” catch-all pinned on them with imprudence, and while that sound is certainly present in their music, there’s more of a compact intensity driving these songs, so dark and spectral yet catchy and propulsive, even chiming at times. They share obvious traits with fellow current troupes like The Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre, but perhaps even more than those groups they confidently stride into the strong lineage of melodic neo-psychedelic outfits like The Rain Parade, The Jesus & Mary Chain, early Echo & the Bunnymen and Inspiral Carpets. Out late this month on Double Phantom, it’s a far more start-to-finish solid album than I honestly would have ever anticipated from this band, which somehow makes it smoke all the more. Or maybe that’s just my scorched inner-eyelids…
Now 25, identical twin brothers Jon and Bon Allinson formed the group when they were 19, fresh outta high school. They’d both already been playing guitars since they were nine or ten, and even back then were strongly influenced by what some call “space rock.” “We were really into Pink Floyd,” offers Jon, of their pre-teen interests. “That was the first step.”
Their curious band name is taken from a phrase the toddler twins used to say when they first began talking, to each other, in a unique language of their own invention.
“It’s real common in twin boys, when they’re younger, to come up with a language,” explains Jon. “You can look it up – there’s a name for it (cryptophasia), but every time our mom would show us a picture of a bear, we’d say ‘abby gogo.’ That was part of the language. Not that I remember, but my mom would always tell us that story, and I was like, ‘That’d be a cool name for a band.'”
“Apparently we said all kinds of crazy things,” says Bon. “So we have a bunch of potential band names!”
Working the small Tuscaloosa scene, centered around a rock club called Egan’s, abby gogo began with more of an arty, experimental approach, which Bon likens, for lack of a better comparison, to Sonic Youth. An early member, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Todd Norton, was writing half the songs at the time and his veered in that direction. “You know, we didn’t really know what we were doing. We just kind of started a band,” Bon explains. “It was all over the place at first. You try to make everybody happy, with a ‘you write your songs, I’ll write my songs’ kind of deal, but something’s got to pan out. We had to pick a direction and go with it.” Exit Norton.
There’ve been several bassists and drummers in and out of the lineup since then. Current bassist Chris Vaughan only officially joined early this year, but also hails from Tuscaloosa and has known the Allinson brothers since their time there. “I was impressed, totally,” Vaughan, 30, recalls of his first time seeing abby gogo. “That’s sorta what spawned the friendship – we sort of had the same musical influences. We were all into stuff like Loop, and I always thought it was cool to see people doing stuff like that around Tuscaloosa.”
After three years in that college town, the Allinson brothers felt like they needed a change of environment. Noting how active Atlanta’s rock scene was, it didn’t take them long to pick a new home. “We had been doing shows [in Tuscaloosa] with All the Saints and Sovus Radio, and one day [All the Saints’] Matt Lambert calls me and is like, ‘Move to Atlanta.,'” Jon remembers. Adds Bon: “This was right on the cusp of Deerhunter, Black Lips, all that, and we were listening to those bands, and were like, ‘Wow, this is only three hours away. There’s stuff happening,'” Still, it took them about a year after their 2007 arrival in Atlanta before they found a rhythm section and jumpstarted abby gogo again. “It was the worst year of my life,” mutters Bon. “It was so uninspiring. We weren’t doing our music that we wanted to do,” although a short-lived excursion with onetime abby gogo bassist Dan Wakefield called Ominous Castle helped fill the gap.
After “The Lost Song” made its debut last year, along with a cut called “Nothing All the Time,” on a split 7-inch single with Carnivores, abby gogo again worked with producer Cyrus Shahmir for their full-length album, recorded last winter at the now-shuttered New Street Studios. But the Allinson brothers describe it as a “dark period,” and “a pretty bad point in our lives.”
“We were all really broke at the time,” Bon describes. “We were living in a house and somehow managed to pay the rent each month,” but sacrificed gas heat for the winter, and dinner sometimes was a bag of crackers. “We had electric water heaters – we did have hot water. And electricity. And we had space heaters. Our drummer had just quit, so Chandler Rentz (Snowden) came in and played on the album. And he was a fucking lifesaver. Everything was just up in the air, like ‘Do we have a band now?’ We’d already rented the studio. It was just kind of a stressful period.” The lowest hole of that experience? Probably the night Bon ran out of gas en route to pick up Jon at his job at the Star Bar on the way to the studio. “Yeah, it was a shit night at the bar– I think I made like 20 dollars,” Jon recounts. “So as soon as I got 20 dollars in my hand, it went immediately back into the tank. Just to get us to the studio to make the record. And the whole time we were making the record I was just saying, ‘We gotta do this. It’s gonna look up. We’ve gotta get this record out.’ And so far, so good. We’ve gotten a great response.”
And they’ve got a solid band now, too. As mentioned, longtime fan and friend Vaughan moved to Atlanta and joined the lineup, playing his first show in June when they opened for Dead Meadow. And drummer Ian McDonald came on board in January.
Originally from South Carolina, 22-year-old McDonald arrived in Atlanta a year ago, “and right when I was moving here I was looking up local music, and I went out to see abby gogo at the Star Bar with this band I used to go see in Florida when I was living there for a year. And immediately I went and asked them to let me play drums for them! I had been living in Orlando for a year going to school, and there was nothing like it there.”
As a bonus, McDonald studied audio recording in Orlando, and now has a home studio, where he’s already recorded Mermaids’ new album Tropsicle, a forthcoming single from The Clap and an upcoming EP for Carnivores. And yes, with studio rental no longer an obstacle, abby gogo are in a noticeably more civilized position to dive into their second album at McDonald’s place, which they are already in the midst of making.
“It’s heavier,” emphasizes Jon. “Way more heavier. More complicated, more complex. We’ve taken out a lot of that jangle…”
But I like the jangle…
“It’s still there, but it’s just harder and heavier, if you can do so,” clarifies Vaughan, to which Bon adds, “it’s more poppy, than anything, I think.”
“It’s just as dynamic,” says McDonald, “just dynamic in a different way.”
Hmm. Color me intrigued. If it’s even half as impressive as their debut, it’ll be a monster. Anyway, they hope to get that second one, still nameless at this time, out in the spring, which could be somewhat optimistic but don’t underestimate the drive and dedication of this bunch. More emphasis on regional touring is also a priority, which is essential. They have a tremendous sound that crosses generational lines, pulling from multiple decades of psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll, and the more people that figure out how awesome they are at it, the more I’m convinced word’s gonna spread about abby gogo.
“We get a really good response from blogs in Europe,” Bon lets on. “I definitely think there’s a little pocket of this sound around, a little resurgence.”