Lo-Fi Pop Duo ginla Proves You Can Make Long Distance Work
Written by Haley Maiden
Photographed by Lila Barth
Where Greenpoint meets Williamsburg, flanked by the San Damiano Mission Church, McCarren Park and a bodega that sells bibimbap, I meet up with Jon and Joe of ginla on a muggy evening at the Lot Radio. They’re waiting patiently at a picnic table, taking in the sights and sounds of the radio station. We take a second to enjoy the soft disco filling the space around us before I start off the with the hard hitting questions. “What is the significance behind the name, ‘ginla’?” They look at each other, eyes twinkling and tell me, “it’s not that interesting of a story. We knew we wanted it to be a short word, five letters, we were both attracted to something that was ambiguous, so that the meaning of it hopefully becomes our band over time.”
I smile and tell them I think there’s value in creating a word without any set meanings or preconceived ideas.
They go on to explain how they met at Berkeley College of Music and were assigned to the same world music ensemble. ”It was a funny situation, neither of us really knew what we were doing. It was like a goofy school band.” Goofy or not, it sparked a connection, and the two have been playing together since. After collaborating on various projects with Adrianne Lenker (Big Thief) and Lorely Rodriguez (Empress Of), the duo made moves to venture out on their own and form something that was solely theirs. They first heard about their current label, Terrible Records through Lorely. Years later, they spontaneous sent a late night email to the label, and after a few months, heard back and started talking.
Joe mentions that although they work closely together, he lives in Toronto and Jon is based out of New York. I ask them how the creation process is altered when they’re working long distance. “We’ve been writing on our own, and then we reach a certain point where we start to send things back and forth over the Internet. Then eventually I’ll sublet my apartment and go stay with him for two months and we’ll finish everything.” They pause and think. “Logistically it can be tough, it’s always tricky finding a flexible side job or an apartment that you can leave and come back to. But we’ve both been lucky and are in positions where we can disappear for months at a time.”
I’m eager to delve into their new record Codex. I ask about the process and some of their favorite songs off it. They tell me that when you work on something for so long, you go through phases of having favorites. And that when you listen to something thousands of times you start to appreciate different songs at different points.
Jon adds, “for me, the song ‘Infinite’ was a personal achievement. I have a soft spot for that one because we really duked it out with that tune. We have a million different versions, it was a real struggle. Usually, when it’s that hard to finish a song we end up dumping it, so it felt good to come to something that we were both stoked on.”
I’ve noticed that the record begins and ends on an ambient note. It feels very fluid to me, so I inquire if there was any specific imagery or energy that they were hoping to evoke with the record. They pause for a second and tell me that they wanted the record to feel like a dream without consciously making that decision. “We also wanted it to feel mixtape-ish, to strike a balance between something that was pretty personal but also not too literal or sentimental. Music that is emotional but has some lightness to it as well.”
We go on to unpack their single “Cub”. They tell me that this song is one of the few songs that is about something very specific. However, they still made an attempt to write the lyrics in a way that are open and can be accessible for many listeners.
The duo have had a great variety of experiences in terms of the shows they’ve played together. I ask them to recount one of the weirdest performances they’ve been a part of. They laugh and reminisce fondly about the time they were giving music lessons to a circle of Park Slope kids.
“One of the parents approached us and told us he wrote songs and wanted us to be in his band. He said he would pay us for rehearsing with him. We learned all these songs and it was probably the weirdest show we played… It was really bizarre, very Bowie-esque mixed with Leonard Cohen, very heavy on the poetry.” They mentioned that there is video evidence of the performance somewhere on the Internet and I make a note to investigate at a later date.
Musically, Codex is a trip from start to finish. The album opens with a welcoming ambient title-track that serves both to soothe the senses and to immerse the listener. From its haze emerges the off-kilter, driving drums of “Infinite.” After that, we are cast into a world set somewhere between the introspection of the first and the intensity of the second, in the aptly named “Between.” The rest of the record continues at a similar pace—dynamic, yet steady—constantly shapeshifting while maintaining a structural cohesion that depicts clear artistic intent.
What struck me first about ginla’s music was its sincerity. In an often cynical and sarcastic world, that sort of vulnerability takes courage. In that sense, Codex is a breath of fresh air. Further, it is one of those rare musical works that manages to display tenderness without giving way to melodrama. The type of moody anthems which, were you to play it at work, would touch everyone in the office without causing anyone to cry into their computer.