Gypsum

The interior artwork for Gypsum’s self-titled debut features a pinhole solargraph taken by drummer Jessy Reed. Long exposures, explains Reed, are “a nod to the way in which the band has moved slowly over time to create this complete work.” Rounded out by guitarists and vocalists Sapphire Jewell and Anna Arboles, and featuring all three members on backing vocals, Gypsum is a synergistic exercise in collectivist arrangement, dissolving artistic ego into cooperativity. Jewell and Arboles’ voices blend with atomic affinity, rich alto leads encircled by hazily imploring harmony stacks. Reed, whose interest in Brazillian polyrhythms and Latin percussion inflect her performance, navigates twisting song structures with otherworldly fills. The guitarists’ lifelong love of riot grrl and grunge inform the dynamic builds of their intricate fretwork; as a group, Gypsum cites genre-hopping jazz and punk acts like Hiatus Kaiyote, DIIV and Foals as influences. If it sounds like a science experiment, its three members view it that way, too. Gypsum got its name after a band field trip to the L.A. Natural History Museum. A rock that takes both functional and vibrational forms—desert rose crystal, drywall—aligned with the possibilities of the project, which takes its members outside of insular writing and into an ecstatic commitment to the songs and one another.

Gypsum formed as a weekly jam session in 2014 while Jewell, Arboles and Reed were music students in need of an outlet outside the confines of their respective curriculums. “It was a safe place for us to drop the ego that was ever-present in music school,” remembers Jewell. Reed notes, “It would feel like two minutes and we would look at the clock and it had been fifteen.” At first, the band elaborated around song motifs brought by Jewell—like on “Give It,” with mesmerizing hi-hat work and chasmic, stop-and-start waves of Sleater-Kinney-esque guitar interplay. But that process gave way to holism. “Lungs” showcases the band at its most collaborative, on which outer space riffs and—as Arboles calls it—“hairy-scary feedback” cacophonously coalesce over sophisticated snare patterns. Arboles brought songs in, too, like “Snow White,” where reverberating gasps paint eerie strokes around stutter-climb guitar transitions. Jewell sums it up deftly: “Many bands figure out a system that works for them, but for us it’s different every time. I like that no matter where one of our songs originates it ends up feeling like a Gypsum song.” 

After concocting a small oeuvre, the group cut their teeth gigging at house parties alongside classmates MUNA and national favorites like Chastity Belt. At local venues including L.A.’s beloved Echo, Gypsum supported luminaries LP and Lauren Ruth Ward as well as cherished contemporaries Goon and Potty Mouth. And during a festival slot at Echo Park Rising, they even fielded label offers. Despite their live cohesion, they weren’t yet ready to commit their songs to tape, as other music work was keeping the trio busy: Arboles became an in-demand front-of-house engineer, mixing artists like Empress Of and Soccer Mommy; Jewell co-founded post-punk outfit Cuffed Up, in which she plays guitar and sings, and joined Illuminati Hotties on guitar; Reed, meanwhile, was hard at work drumming in other projects (including for Gypsum’s previous bassist and co-writer, the solo artist Rosie Tucker) and in music licensing, where she met Toddrick Spalding and learned of his record label Sonic Ritual. “He immediately loved our band,” says Reed, and with his encouragement, Gypsum finally plotted its debut.

Gypsum was tracked over fourteen days at Station House Studios with engineer Mark Rains (Tanya Tucker, Alice Bag), chosen for its relaxed energy so the band could focus on self-producing. Reed used a hodgepodge of kits ranging from the 1930s to present, swapping out toms regularly and changing snare tunings to accommodate her “sounds and vision” for each track. Jewell, who knowingly laughs “I don’t like dry tones,” assembled an arsenal of subtle delay and reverb pedals to drench her angular riffs, adding saturated dimensions to post-rock that might otherwise skew aggressive. Knotty intersections between Arboles’ and Jewell’s guitars, sometimes layered to the double-digits, are the result of each consulting on the others’ tone, exemplary of Gypsum’s egalitarianism. Arboles and Jewell meticulously edited the resulting ProTools sessions before mixer Gavin Paddock (From Indian Lakes, Bob’s Burgers) applied finishing touches. And Arboles, who took over bass duties for this record, also experimented with a vintage Echoplex tape delay, creating wall-of-sound feedback loops on “Grafting” to shake up its organic timbres, and producing strange vocal swirls and rewound cymbal psychedelia on “Margaret,” a spoken-word groove inspired by a Joan Didion essay.

Not all sonic experimentation stuck—Korg synths and Roland pads were scrapped—but the trust required to turn these corners together, even if they’re dead ends, is part of Gypsum’s extraordinariness. “Gull Lake,” with cross-rhythmic drumming, probing bass, and spy guitar-indebted leads, epitomizes this exploratory M.O. Written at a cabin in the Eastern Sierras, Jewell came in with a riff and progression Arboles described as “harmonically complicated, making the writing difficult.” Reed chimes in, “The bass and drums needed a sectional—where to match the kick, where to do something weird.” Arboles quickly commends Reed: “Jessy should have a bass credit. Trying to get rhythm to gel together was a mountain to climb.” Reed eagerly throws the praise back, marveling that Arboles walked outside, looked at the lake, and came back with poetry about ice that resembled “nerve cells, dendrites and axons.”

On the cusp of their first record, seven years after forming, the group members’ admiration for one another has not waned. “We’re super democractic and collaborative. We had to take time to grow and adjust, to develop the maturity to get through this record-making process,” Arboles reflects. Reed adds, “We always valued each person’s collective and individual thing. But in Gypsum, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” And for Jewell, who found the recording process to be a sentimental joy: “I really just wanted this record to be a snapshot of our lives.” Though their compositions require consideration, woodshedding and compromise to mastermind, Gypsum’s members are unanimously galvanized by their collaborative magic. Arboles puts it best: “We all live in service of these songs. It’s not about any one of us. It’s about the music, and we care deeply.”

Tour dates

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