Conor Murphy and Keith Ferguson have been childhood friends since they were ten, and together they make the electronic music duo Gumshoe. Both from Wicklow town, Gumshoe say the landscape they grew up in always found its way into their music, on a subconscious level at least. When it came to putting together their first EP ‘When the Sun Kisses the Moon’ they decided to make the relationship explicit for the first time.
“We went for a walk to clear our head, to step away from making the music, what we were walking into was… Pure tranquillity. That influenced the sound and we wanted to relay those influences,” says Keith.
Listening to Gumshoe’s tracks there is undeniably a cinematic quality to their music, which they attribute to the vast green fields and vibrant colours of Wicklow’s scenery.
Gumshoe have always found that the Irish landscape lends itself to musical storytelling and their track ‘Forgotten Weapons’ features a sample of a female singer Conor once heard on the remote Aran Islands.
“She is one of millions of stories told, of people who grow up in this landscape and have really introspective and unique artistic integrity,” Conor tells me. Their appreciation of Irish music is sincere and in its original conception, the EP was intended to solely feature Irish music. Although they ultimately moved away from this direction, the pull was always there.
“I need to fight every day not to sample Irish music,” jokes Conor. He laughs while saying this but I think he might be serious.
To an outsider it could seem counterintuitive, turning to the synthetic and inert physicality of machinery to transpose a force so abstract and uncontained as man’s feeling of awe and mystery in nature.
Indeed for Gumshoe this proved challenging initially.
“It can be daunting, especially when you have this big creative rush and all of a sudden you’re looking at this mechanical, boring interface. The science is so blatant in it,” describes Conor, his face concentrated as he considers the process carefully. Learning to use technology to their advantage took time, but once Gumshoe became comfortable with their equipment, the very order that had been prohibitive became a guide, helping them to channel and format their ideas.
While conceptualising their EP, Gumshoe felt the need to communicate directly with the listener in order to convey the Wicklow landscape more deliberately.
The decision to introduce an inter-dimensional twist lead to a collaboration with a mutual friend of theirs, artist Andrew Hopkins, whose artwork will be featured as part of Gumshoe’s upcoming EP. All three agree that the assimilation of Andrew’s artwork with Gumshoe’s tracks was entirely natural, a seamless process based on trust, respect, and mutual appreciation of style.
“For me there was no real end product, it was more just buzzing off the two lads and the music and enjoying doing it,” explains Andrew. “What they wanted to do with the pieces at the end was kind of up to them.”
They would converge in Andrew’s art studio, Gumshoe working on their tracks Andrew drawing sketches, feeding off the fusion of artistic energy.
Looking back at their earlier musical influences, Conor and Keith shared a similar taste in music when they were kids. Old-school hip-hop and rap in particular drew them in.
“We liked the attitude of rap music itself,” says Conor by way of explanation. “How it stood out.”
Growing up as part of the generation that witnessed the rise of rap, they became intrigued by the influence of technology on the genre. With music software becoming increasingly accessible, Keith and Conor found themselves absorbed by the technicality that underpinned each track. While most of their friends were forming bands, they ventured towards music production and started making their own beats courtesy of FruityLoops software.
“It was the thing for a few minutes,” smiles Conor. These meetings became a regular occurrence and so Gumshoe was born.
In terms of technical ability Gumshoe has come a long way in the ten years since their first foray into producing, but they confess they were deluded by their own creations when they first started out.
“If you can master a melody you’re under the assumption you’ve got it. We had delusions of this mad soundscape,” continues Conor. By their own admission they describe this period as a cringey, but necessary process in their development as producers, and the repetitive motion of trying and failing allowed them to grasp the fundamentals. Ten years on it has provided that with the technical freedom for the pursuit of more creative ambitions. The potent combination of naivety and an erroneous belief about their own talent shielded Gumshoe from becoming overwhelmed, which in their eyes is the driving factor that kept them going over the years. Keith also attests this to the simplicity of the FruityLoops software, which afforded them the space to learn the basics.
“Drums, bass, synth, piano… That’s all you thought you needed.”
Faced with today’s convoluted systems, it might not have been so easy.
Gumshoe fell in and out of their fraternisation with music production over the years, but seeing a friend of theirs pave the way by releasing EPs and playing the festival circuit motivated them to push the restart button. Knowing that they had established a certain skill level to build upon was crucial to their comeback.
“The fact that we had done it before and the fact that it was bad… We had that as learning curve as opposed to starting off now… It would have been daunting to start from scratch,” says Keith.
Although they laugh about the beats they made in their formative producing years, half-joking they should let them resurface, both Conor and Keith acknowledge that process as being a crucial period, during which their ears became programmed to listen to music as producers.
“You can pull back the curtain if you want to,” says Conor, describing how he began to conceive of music as working on two different levels. With this new ability, Gumshoe gained a newfound respect and appreciation for music of all genres and even during cooling off periods they found themselves inspired by form and composition. Their return to music production, it seems, was always inevitable.
When it comes to defining their own sound Gumshoe say it’s a job they usually leave to other people, but over the years they have found that their distinction lies in obscurity. Inspired heavily by sample-based hip-hop, Gumshoe tracks are usually built around borrowed music, which they toy with until it resembles something entirely different.
“The whole art structured around how you can manipulate a classic song. We had that fused in us,” explains Conor. The starting point of the creative process for Gumshoe usually begins in the depths of YouTube, where they go digging for the most off-the-wall flavours of music and fishing for sample-able. tracks. Keith describes their ventures on YouTube as the digital version of Madlib’s and J Dilla’s trips to far-flung parts of the world, who would fill a room with records they had bought, skimming through each track on the hunt for a melody or beat that spoke to them.
With such a mosaic of musical inspiration I wonder is it hard for Gumshoe to formulate a sound which they can trademark as their own. Both Conor and Keith admit this is a challenge at times, and one that they were particularly aware of when putting together their first EP. Orchestrating a sound is very much contrary to Gumshoe’s freewheeling approach to music production, so instead they submit themselves to the process of production, letting coherence follow naturally.
This state of submission to the transcendent revelations of music, or what Conor refers to as “spare mental vibes”, was met with resistance at the beginning. However once they learnt to relinquish control of the creative process, they saw their tracks transform organically and take a shape of their own.
Turning to the future, Keith and Conor still see Gumshoe as a work in progress. Now that they have fans genuinely invested in their music, they feel a responsibility to continue producing and to work on their technique. Contemplating all they have learnt, Conor ruminates what it means to grow as an artist.
“Once you start understanding your own process, that’s always building. You put all that practise in, that’s when it spikes. On your next venture you’re going off on that peak. I genuinely think there will never be a day we won’t be able to learn something.”