June 14th, 2007 | Interviews

sarah tillman

Gang Gang Dance are from New York City and their record God’s Money (on the excellent Social Registry label) sounds like Silver Apples remixed by Keith Hudson. Singer/percussionist Lizzi Bougatsos speaks from a hotel room in some scrubby desert state.

Is it true that a member of your band was struck and killed by lightning?
It is—Nathan. He was an incredibly mystic person and went on top of a roof to watch a storm. If anyone would have been chosen to go that way, it would have been him.
What sort of rituals do you have before a show?
There’s kind of a taboo connected to that word—I think that music is ritualistic and is personal and based on experience and it comes out when people come see us live. But we don’t really perform any cultish rituals. It’s dangerous to attach those terms to bands. When you categorize these words or project those things into the world, it starts a negative reaction in people. There’s a little bit of a taboo going on with the word ‘mysticism’ and what it really means. We’re not necessarily that kind of band. We’re ever-changing and we don’t fall into categories musically. When we get labeled as ‘freak-folk’ or ‘neo-primitive’—
What’s that? Like a caveman with a microwave?
I don’t know! But it doesn’t really describe what we do. The different levels of spirituality and mysticism and the way it’s associated with music doesn’t really relate to us. We’re kind of more Sun City Girls about it. They do what they wanna do and I think we’re the same way. We might make more ‘pop’ music but I don’t really see it that way anymore. I think we make music for 2070!
Is New York too tense an environment to try and explore these kinds of things?
It’s been a struggle. When we make music in New York, it’s always a reaction. When we first came to New York as a band, there were all these people trying to make bands, and bands in the typical way—I don’t wanna drop names—
Like ‘angular’ bands?
Joy Division bands. Some kind of band that would sound like Joy Division. We started just experimenting with sounds on stage and a lot of improvisations, and that was a reaction. This free-form improv thing, and then in like 2004, people were doing that and it just became really boring. We didn’t say, ‘Let’s make a pop record!’ But the music we make is constantly a reaction, so once everyone started making ‘experimental’ or ‘improvisational’ music, we started to compose. That’s kind of how we approach making music in New York. It’s not conscious but it’s hugely a reaction. Who the fuck knew the Strokes were from New York? I’ve never seen any of them anywhere. That’s the only way we can make music—we can’t talk about it. It’s otherworldly—it freaks us out! It’s stuff we don’t understand because it’s a release.
Is Alice Coltrane a spiritual inspiration?
I love Alice Coltrane! In the beginning, it felt like Fela Kuti, stuff like that, and those of us from D.C. have this punk rock aesthetic—it’s pretty DIY. And the whole free jazz thing. For me, I was raised on Hot 97 and the progressive alternative station.
Like Temple Of The Dog?
Sinead and Eric B and Rakim. Siouxsie. I got all that at a really early age.
And Greek music?
That was always playing in my house. My father was a soccer player. He played pro for a long time and got dicked over by the Europeans, so he started a handbag factory on Madison Avenue in the seventies.
What would be the hardest thing for Gang Gang Dance to pull off musically?
Probably play on the moon.
I read in an interview that the Rolling Stones made Brian sick to his stomach. What do you think he meant?
I think he meant the marketing part makes him sick. A lot of bands play the game, but not many people keep their creativity. There’s no one way to express yourself. You don’t have to lose who you are. I think that’s what he meant.
Why would your friends think you could secretly be a witch?
I don’t know! I’m a naturalist. I’ve read my share of pagan’s rights books. But it’s not really my thing! I’m not really a witch—I’m a humanist!
What’s the strangest thing you saw outside the van?
We saw a dead guy. We were approaching a festival in Baltimore and we were pulling in and there was all this traffic and we realized that a man had passed out face down in his car and died. We also saw Robin Williams broken down on the side of the highway and we stopped to help him and he was really nice.
Was he drunk?
No, he seemed a little high though. And he kind of talked like a dolphin. That was weird, seeing him. He was really cool though. I kept thinking about Mork.
Did you tell him anything about yourself?
No, but I did tell Harvey Keitel I was an artist once!
Was he broken down, too?
I saw him at a fashion show—he was in the bar and he was like, ‘WHUDDA YOU DO?’ and I was like, ‘I’m an artist!’ And he smiled.
If you could rescue any other famous person, who would it be?
I’d have to ask the dudes. What’s the guy from Happy Days? I don’t know—I think it would just have to happen.
Squiggy? Cyndi Lauper?
Maybe Squiggy.
If Squiggy was in trouble, you’d just keep driving?
Actually, we would probably help Squiggy.
If Gang Gang Dance had one message for its audience, what would that message be?
Be light.

Interview help by Nikki Darling