Interview, etc.: Joe Gideon & The Shark

End of the Road Festival’s latest Christmas Shindig was announced last week. The line-up includes Joe Gideon & The Shark, who I was lucky enough to interview before one of their early performances. They’re a sister-brother duo – she a  former rhythmic gymnast who competed at Barcelona ’92, he a former judge of the Miss Bolivia contest. Her drumming and his occasionally twisted storytelling seem to draw on their respective experiences.

There aren’t many half-decent live videos of them online, but here’s one. The interview – first published on The Yorker – follows.

Londoners Gideon and Viva have been making a name for themselves of late. When their former band Bikini Atoll split in 2006, keyboardist (and former Olympic gymnast) Viva picked up the drumsticks and became The Shark, providing a powerful multi-instrumental backing for her older brother’s vocals. Their gritty blues-rock ensemble is a “whole different beast” to what came before.

“When Bikini Atoll split up,” she recalls, “I had to convince Gideon we were going to be [a band of] two people, and, instead of having the whole band, I was going to do it all!” Two years have passed since then, and their enthralling live performances have gained them some notable fans. First coming to our attention in support of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds last November, we met them at Leeds Academy ahead of their support slot for Seasick Steve.

“Last time we played in Leeds it was at the Brudenell Social Club to about four people,” Gideon notes with some relish, “the stage here is, alone, bigger than the venues we normally play in.” In the five dates of this tour, thousands will hear them play: “it’s been a novel experience playing to such great crowds and getting to surprise them, and hopefully they like us.”

The biggest surprise on offer to these gig goers has been mostly focused on Viva’s tightly played drums, digital piano and vocal loops. On ‘Hide and Seek’, her piano part and rhythmic vocals are set up to repeatedly play while she switches to the drum kit, and the effect is brilliant. Each song tells a story, some more fictional than others, and Gideon’s delivery onstage is pointed and confident.

Such intensity is confined to the stage alone, as they are extremely warm in person. It becomes clear that such explicit, matter-of-fact stories arise from a contrasting, private nature: “I tried writing cryptic songs in the past, but whenever anyone asked me what they were about I got really embarrassed”, Gideon admits, “I had to write direct songs so I wouldn’t have to explain.”

Their debut album, Harum Scarum, was recorded in two weeks late last year, and will be released in March on Bronzerat Records. Listening to it promises to be a different sort of experience from watching their live sets.

Whereas Viva’s commanding stage presence is the main thrill of watching Joe Gideon & The Shark play, the act relies on the collective dynamism of both. Although the impressive loops remain on the album, not physically seeing their construction will allow greater prominence to Gideon’s storytelling.

His style is well-defined, and he acknowledges the influence of writers and musicians including Kurt Vonnegut, the Velvet Underground and Bill Callahan: “I’ve been dead into [Callahan] for an awful long time; it’s a challenge trying not to sound like him, he’s been such an inspiration.”

Joe Gideon & The Shark are experiencing the first glimmers of acclaim, but there’s a long road ahead of them now; named by Time Out as “one of the best live acts we’ve seen all year”, and by others as the underground act to watch out for in 2009, it seems the siblings have a lot to look forward to this year.

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