Interview: Gawain and The Green Knight
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Gawain: I’d say my mom putting her guitar in my hands is what got me into music. She was a songwriter, with a day (night?) job of playing American cover songs in Greek bars. When I was little, she’d play me “Blackbird,” and I thought for the longest time it was her song and The Beatles just covered it. So, yeah. If I wasn’t in music, it’s not wild to say I’d probably be doing variants of my own day jobs (museum educator/teaching artist.) Would love to be an eager, capable-handed, eminently marriageable young blacksmith’s apprentice in 10th century France though.
Green Knight: It was the Legend of Zelda theme song, when I was eight. I didn’t have the words for it then, but it was one of the first songs I ever heard that sounded exactly like what it meant - the ever-ascending fanfare melody arching over perpetual tension between major and minor, the stately, soldierly beat - and all of this despite being rendered in dinky, 8-bit-polyphonic beeps - it sounded as epic as the game that followed it. I have maybe spent the rest of my life chasing that. As far as what I’d do - Psychology is the family business and I find I like it when folks tell me their sorrows at length - probably that, if I ever figured out how to be a good student.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Green Knight: We cook a bunch - it’s an ego-free form of creativity, which is nice when you’ve got a bunch of stress and desire wrapped up in music.
Gawain: If you make something bad, you get to eat it, and then no one knows it happened. It’s very Kronos.
Green Knight: He just ate his kids because they came out overbaked.
Gawain: You hate to see it.
How long has your band been around?
Gawain: Six years ago, The Green Knight was hosting this open mic at a cozily shitty dive bar in Brooklyn that is now a Benjamin Moore paint store- RIP. I came in to play some songs one night, just radiating discomfort- it must have been my third or so time playing a guitar in public. I knew from friends that if you were good, the host would offer you a showcase next time round. Guess who got the showcase? Not me! But four years later I asked him to be in my band and a year ago this April we asked each other to marry us (wow, that’s hard to pluralized) so, in the end, it’s all about the long game.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
Green Knight: We’re a Brooklyn Band among Brooklyn Bands - that might make us louder than we’d otherwise be, figuratively and literally - there are a ton of folks here making a bunch of distinct noise so the only thing you can do is what you do, as loudly and distinctly as you can. Also, there’s a critical mass of stories frothing up here every day - whipped up by old struggles, fresh arrivals, new doubts meaning there’s a bunch of intense foam to skim off.
Gawain: An awful latte.
Green Knight: A bubble bath of aches.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
Gawain: I love Arthurian literature, and I loved studying this poem with all its neato head-juggling and good queer kissing. It’s also so perfectly duo-facing, in terms of ready-made personas.
Green Knight: Personae.
Gawain: Fuck you.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Gawain: A bunch of beautiful intimate rooms here in New York have our hearts. The Footlight Bar in Ridgewood, Queens, Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Postcrypt Coffeehouse in the basement of a church on Columbia’s campus all spring to mind. We’d love to play in Greenwood Cemetery one day, if the ghosts will have us.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
Green Knight: Likely our buddies Cricket Blue, crazy good storytellers with astral voices who you should go listen to right now. And since we’re in the jolly realm of the hypothetical, a power band of Johanna Newsom, Beethoven, and Orpheus (when he’s sad.)
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
Gawain: it’s going to feel bad a lot of the time! Sharing music you create is like reaching up inside yourself for some vulnerable purple organ and then throwing it into the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour AND NOBODY LOOKS OR CARES! But then someone will come up after a show and share something they saw in your music that you didn’t even know you put in your music but it resonated inside of them them which means part of you resonated with part of them and- well, the metaphor got mixed up, but the main piece of advice is that (in my experience) it’s an awful and incredible thing to do to yourself again and again.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
Gawain and the Green Knight: Start sooner. Fail sooner. Meet sooner. Hazard more.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Gawain: “Nuns of Abruzzo” was written at a pretty melancholic, introspective point of time in my life- now I’m never sad and I never think deeply about myself anymore ha ha so that’s nice! But, yeah, I was grappling with a lot at the time- including an unexpected loss- that coalesced to make me even more keenly aware of my fleeting mortality than usual. Hence, the chorus: “I don’t want my body to be a tomb for all these words buried deep inside- if I die tonight (out out brief light), light a candle for the ghost of the things unsaid.”
But, you know. In a nun’s voice, like how a nun talks.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
Green Knight: Gawain writes each of the songs in terms of bones and muscle - the lyrics and the chords - and I handle the flesh and organs - arrangement, harmony, and countermelody. She’s perpetually brimming with these little microfictions and I’m really thrilled to get to catch them and massage them into their identities.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Gawain: I don’t know that I try to send messages via my music. I tend to think of my songs as little sighs from a certain character at a certain moment in their lives- and if a theme emerges from that, that’s exciting, I’m excited about that!
Green Knight: How about “I’m listening, ghost friend?”
Gawain: Yeah! That one!
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Green Knight: Our occasion finds a lot of our immediate future in question! We’re definitely still getting married. Other than that, as soon as bars open back up we will miss playing so much - look for us at Pete’s Candy Store or the Footlight Bar or your living room some sunnier day.