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October 2020
Feature

The Gloria Record: "We didn't understand that starting over with a new project really did mean starting over"

The Gloria Record's Chris Simpson reflects on his past two-decades-plus in music.
Published: 1:58 pm, July 08, 2020Words: Rob Mair. Photos: Daniel Cavazos.
The Gloria Record: "We didn't understand that starting over with a new project really did mean starting over"

"It's always been a goal of mine, creatively, to think in a timeless way, and not just think about writing in the moment," says Chris Simpson, while discussing the 20th anniversary and reissue of The Gloria Record's 'A Lull In Traffic'.

Having made his name in Mineral, The Gloria Record was Simpson's next vehicle – a much more atmospheric indie-rock project than the one with which he made his name. Now, with a significant milestone to celebrate, Simpson is reflecting on just why the record continues to be a fan favourite from his extensive back-catalogue.

Yet The Gloria Record didn't get off to the best of starts when they formed at the tail-end of the Twentieth Century, with Simpson disappointed by the fans' response to the group's first material. Before disbanding, Mineral had signed a deal with the major label Interscope, and Simpson expected to simply carry over the success of one act to another.

"I remember, initially, being despondent – as I have been ever since in all my creative endeavours," he says with a certain self-effacing humour. "Whatever magic Mineral had, it resonated with people. The amount of people Mineral connected with… with The Gloria Record, it was just a small percentage of that.

"I think, at the time we were very young, and things had gone very well for us in Mineral. There was a part of us that assumed we must be great, and everything would continue to go well for us; like 'OK, we'll go and start another band' – it's no big deal, right? I think there was a lack of maturity in the sense that we didn't understand that starting over with a new project really did mean starting over."

Yet The Gloria Record – despite Simpson's initial disappointment at the response – has remained steadfastly popular with a solid core of fans – and will now get the chance to find a new audience thanks to a much-anticipated – and long overdue – reissue of their high-watermark EP 'A Lull In Traffic'.

Considering the group's initial lifespan coincided with the emo boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, their atmospheric take on indie-rock had much more in common with the genre's more nuanced bands than it did with the pop-rock stylings of The Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World (with whom Mineral had previously released a split single).

"We were not interested in making polished pop music"
Chris Simpson

Indeed, it would have been easy for Simpson to have chased after some easy emo dollars – even more so thanks to the major label connection which was already in the bag, and leverage created by the Mineral name.

Instead, The Gloria Record leaned into six-minute-long, almost post-rock influenced soundscapes, which owed as much to British shoegaze and indie of the time than it did to the emo forebears in Rites of Spring or Sunny Day Real Estate or the propulsive pop-punk of Saves The Day or Lifetime.

"I think we were conscious of not wanting to sound like that," says Simpson, when asked why they decided to move in this direction. "I think, when we came out of Mineral, Jeremy [Gomez, bassist, and The Gloria Record co-founder] and I really wanted to distance ourselves from that. That's not to say we intentionally wrote material that was different, but in the marketing of it, we really wanted to try and make something that stood on its own legs.

"And, ultimately, we were not interested in making polished pop music," he continues. "I don't think Mineral would have done well in that atmosphere had they still been around, either. The Gloria Record feels like an extension of Mineral, just that the palette is a little different. We were still interested, I think, in making records – whether they be EPs or full-lengths – that function more like symphonies, where there's an arc to them, and where one piece flows into the next, as opposed to 'Let's write 10 pop songs and stick them on a record'. We thought on a grander scale."

With the benefit of hindsight, it's a move that also paid dividends musically. By eschewing the trends of 20 years ago, 'A Lull In Traffic' sounds like it could have been released much more recently. There's a timelessness to it that ensures it doesn't fit into the emo major label killing fields of the time, and a grandness that places it alongside contemporary indie-rock acts like We Were Promised Jetpacks or mewithoutYou, where space for exploration and experimentation is built into the sound.

Lyrically too, it's not preoccupied with romance and broken hearts – a staple of the time – but about character flaws and desires and faith – things which were much more fundamental to Simpson's personality and songwriting of the time, and more complex and expressive topics to explore. This, too, means it sits apart from many of the bands of the time.

"When I was a young lad just starting out, I realised that I'd be writing all these songs about girls I was interested in. But then, things would go bad, and I wouldn't want to hear that song anymore, much less play it.

"So I remember in my early Mineral days thinking I don't wanna write about that stuff, I wanna write about much more deeply personal things – things that are fundamental to my identity, and which won't go away tomorrow," he says.

The Gloria Record: "We didn't understand that starting over with a new project really did mean starting over"
"I wanna write about things that are fundamental to my identity"
Chris Simpson

It's a philosophy that Simpson has stuck with throughout his career. Today, he is also gearing up for the release of a new Mountain Time record, 'Music For Looking Animals' – a solo album and a rebadged approach to his Zookeeper project – and finding himself talking about twenty-year-old records while simultaneously promoting new work is fast becoming a theme of Simpson's promotion cycle.

The last Zookeeper record, 2014's 'Pink Chalk', coincided with Mineral's return and a global tour to celebrate the group's history – and the coincidence of history repeating itself is not lost on Simpson:

"I hate finishing records," he laughs. "In the one sense, there's a positive feeling, like triumph, and I love that aspect of it – but I also have to figure out what to do with it. Like, am I now under an obligation to attempt to go out and make people care about this, or push it out further into the world? I find that stuff exhausting.

"But, as I was finishing 'Pink Chalk', the whole Mineral 20-year anniversary thing came up, and I was like 'Great! This is the perfect thing for me to shift focus to, so I'll do that, and I won't worry about this record'.

"I really thought putting it out during that would be a good idea... It was a fine idea," he laughs, "but I didn't really get any traction for it."

This time around, with the focus on The Gloria Record, it's all a little more low-key, meaning there's plenty of space to talk about Mountain Time without The Gloria Record consuming the air. Having initially planned to release a low-key folk album, 'Music For Looking Animals' has now grown into another atmospheric piece of work, embellished by lush strings, horns and background singers. Simpson will joke that it is his attempt to explore the "Leonard Cohen palette" – but it also serves as a suitable companion to The Gloria Record reissue thanks to its many textures and moods.

Also enabling the low-key approach to promoting The Gloria Record is the fact that the band's members are now spread throughout the United States. With families and 'real' jobs, the logistics of a world tour is much harder for The Gloria Record than it was for Mineral – even though Simpson has enormous love and affinity for everyone involved. Instead, it's an excellent opportunity for Simpson to revisit past successes without the pressure of it turning into another Mineral.

Having helmed two revered bands from the golden age of emo/indie-rock, it's to Simpson's credit that both have endured the intervening two decades without falling foul of the criticisms levelled at other acts of the period – particularly in the lyrical content or attitudes. Instead, The Gloria Record is an act that Simpson says is "greater than the sum of its parts", and where nothing in its constitution is "cookie-cutter".

In the eyes of many, Mineral still reigns mighty, but by bucking trends and forging their own path at a time when there was such focussed attention on their corner of the scene, The Gloria Record's legacy should be just as storied. 

Taken from the July issue of Upset. The Gloria Record's 20th-anniversary reissue of 'A Lull In Traffic' is out 10th July.

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