The last time I sat down with Gypsies on the Autobahn it was March 2017, two days after the release of their debut album ‘Born Brief’. I met the foursome in the family home of brothers James and Dan Smith for an animated discussion about their first full-length. Just over two years on and the group are set to release their sophomore record, ‘Suspended’, and while lots has changed for James, Dan, Niall and Gary, their integrity and love for their craft remains. I chatted to lead singer and lead lyricist James, alone this time, for a raw and honest dive into how the band has approached album number two.
Smith doesn’t beat around the bush and talks openly about ‘Born Brief’, explaining that it didn’t reach the audience the Gypsies would have liked it to. In that sense, they don’t have that pressure to meet the expectations of the first record, but that doesn’t mean working on ‘Suspended’ was an easy feat. All four members had to dig deep and stay motivated.
“We had to come from a place of modesty,” James tells me. “We’re not writing solely for ourselves anymore and that changed things, even the lyrical composition of the record. On the first album it was all about me trying to talk to my brothers, talk to my family, talk to my friends and pass on this message of hope, but this time around I just tried to write for myself, I was just trying to lift myself. The same way I was trying to lift my brothers on the first record, I needed some kind of hope that I couldn’t find anywhere else except for when I was writing. The lyrics on this album, they may be a little bit harder to hear but the whole thing felt a little bit truer.”
It’s not an easy thing to do, to concede that something may not have worked out exactly as you would have wanted. To determine that a slightly new direction is needed, but this is exactly what the Dublin outfit did and they’re not afraid to admit it. Inspired by a motto passed on from their first manager Dan Ryan, James tells me that the group work off the idea that every song they write must be better than the last. If it’s not an improvement, they put the track aside to maybe revisit and rework in the future and this exactly how their forthcoming single ‘Make You Mine’ came to be.
It was written five or six years ago and didn’t make the cut for the first record, but the group saw something in it. James had a “eureka moment” when listening to St Vincent’s ‘New York’ on a drive to Cork with Dan last year and later this month the track will resurface as the lead single for the new album.
“I figured out where the production should go because originally, in my head, I had produced it kind of like a Coldplay song with a slow build all the way to the end, but when I heard this St Vincent song, I heard how the production should change and how our track would fit as a slightly cleaner, more mature and more thought out song.”
I’ve heard snippets from the new album, and it seems as though the direction the band went with ‘Make You Mine’ represents the record as a whole. ‘Born Brief’ was 25 years in the making, Smith tells me. There were tracks on that album that the group wrote as teenagers, school boys, but now as they reach their late twenties it’s time to leave that youthful nativity behind and push a bit deeper.
“We’re 28, 29, 30, that kind of age group and life beats you a little bit as you grow older,” Smith says. “The nativity that I had, in the expression of the lyrics, that kind of dissipated. This record feels truer and more raw with a little less of that Facebook sheen where you’re trying to portray this ‘everything is going to be grand’ thing. It feels like a more naked expression about how I’ve been feeling for the last three years and how all of us have been feeling considering our first record didn’t go as well as we’d hoped.”
I wondered if Gypsies struggled with motivation following ‘Born Brief’, but James tells me that was never an issue. In fact, the band never took a break and were back in the studio before their debut even came out, and next thing they knew they had five new tracks that they couldn’t let go of.
“Our motivation was there because we had the foundations and a new album to finish even before the first album came out,” James recalls. “I suppose you might be able to hear in the record the songs that were written in that period before the first album came out and the songs that were written afterwards. There’s a raw anger in some of the newer songs in comparison to the older ones. We always loved the music we were creating and that was enough motivation to stay in the room together and see this project out.”
The passion James and the band have is undeniable. Even when things got tough, to the point where other groups may have split, Gypsies persevered. For them, it’s all about the music. Even arguments get turned into art and James laughs as he remembers the inspiration behind album track ‘Rubicon’; a particularly “rough time” in the group’s relationship that has given birth to “probably one of our favourite songs on the record, if not our favourite”.
“It just has a really nice energy about it,” he smiles. “It’s a weird camaraderie that we have, a brotherly camaraderie.”
‘Rubicon’ is one such track that came from a new period of writing for James. Penning lyrics between recording sessions is not something he’s done before. On ‘Born Brief’ all 11 songs were ready to go when the group hit the studio, but things happened a little differently this time around. The band’s label had initially requested two four-track EPs, but when they heard what Gypsies had been working on they bumped up the plan to include a full record.
“We signed a contract to do two EPs, two sets of four,” James explains. “We went in with Ciaran Bradshaw (the engineer, producer and mixer on the new album) and did two songs. He was just so good to work with. He was easy going and would let you follow any sound you wanted. wanted. After that after that first session we wanted to work with him again. We got in, got the songs done and mixed. We brought them to the label, and they loved them.
“We wanted to put it out as a miniature album, something like what Kojaque [younger brother to James and Dan] did [on ‘Deli Daydreams’], but because we were so buzzed about it we went back to the label and said, ‘We have at least two more songs left, let’s make a full record’. So that’s what happened.”
It’s been an uphill journey for Gypsies on the Autobahn to reach this point, but we’ll hear the fruits of the band’s labour later this month. While the video for ‘Make You Mine’, directed by Kojaque and Adam O’Regan is out, the group will play the record live and in full for the first time in new venue Lost Lane on May 31 before ‘Suspended’ releases on June 28.
“We have a springboard ready that we’re hopefully going to shoot out of,” finishes James. “We’re waiting for that sigh of relief when the world can hear what we’ve been creating because we don’t know if it’s good [laughs], but we feel it’s good, we have faith in it. It feels kind of surreal, but yes, we think we have something really good!”
Gypsies on the Autobahn play Lost Lane on May 31. ‘Suspended’ is out on June 28.