Operating in various guises since 2006, Gnod‘s latest album, ‘Hexen Valley’, is inspired by the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge. It sees them channelling psych, electronics, noise, drone and even a bit of Lou Reed, to rousing effect

“The huge amount of musical output that’s come out of this project over the past 16 years is pretty mind-boggling,” reflects vocalist and guitarist Paddy Shine. “When you think about the number of GNOD albums, collaborations, the solo stuff and all of the things that we’ve put out on our little label, Tesla Tapes, I can totally understand why some people might be like, ‘Oh, I can’t be arsed trying to get into any of this’.”

The GNOD back catalogue is complex and rather daunting, spread across official releases, pseudonyms, odd name variations and splinter projects. Making sense of their body of work is a mammoth task. Add to this their stylistic propensity to take their sound wherever they feel like going, and it’s equally hard to succinctly explain where GNOD actually fit, leaving you to conclude they belong anywhere, everywhere and nowhere simultaneously.

Their latest album, ‘Hexen Valley’, is a tight, psych rock masterpiece inspired by the unique atmosphere and people of Hebden Bridge, yet it comes amid various other releases from the group’s members that veer between folk and industrial electronics. 

Welcome to the land of GNOD. Buckle up and enjoy the trip.

Paddy Shine formed GNOD with bassist Chris Haslam in Salford in 2006. The band’s initial premise was simple.

“The idea was to get together and play heavy, loud music in a non-musical way,” says Shine. “We were a collection of people who met up and jammed. We thought about writing songs but then went, ‘Let’s not bother with that. Let’s just get on stage and improvise’.”

Their formative years were spent as residents at Salford’s iconic Islington Mill. Originally built in the 1820s for cotton spinning, this six-storey Grade II listed structure began a new life as a multidisciplinary arts space in the late 1990s. It was a place where music and art were relatively unconstrained, where projects and collaborations could develop at their own pace.

“It meant you really got to explore all kinds of stuff, musically or with sound,” enthuses Shine. “Or even just have really interesting conversations around dinner tables, about life and nothing to do with music. 

“We became so steeped in the art and music scene at Islington Mill because we were there for so long. That gave us a different outlook on how things could be done. We do our own thing, which seems to work for us.”

Early on, GNOD were labelled as a collective. Although both Shine and Haslam groan audibly at the tag, you can see why it stuck. They’d roll out with 15 members, giving rise to the notion of a restless, ever-changing troupe, prompting comparisons with bands like The Fall or Swans.

“We’re outsiders, really,” says Shine. “We’re not a conventional group and we don’t fit neatly into the arts thing, either. Because of the way we’ve always operated, we’re hard to pin down, which was kind of intentional at the beginning.”

Like Swans’ domineering leader Michael Gira, both Shine and Haslam earned a reputation for being tough taskmasters.

“I used to take cymbals off drummers,” laughs Haslam. “We’d have a drummer turn up, and I’d be like, ‘Just set up your toms, kick drum and snares, and we’ll give you the cymbals back in three months once you get used to playing actual drums’. I unplugged a guy’s amp once. He deserved it. He was playing really loud.”

“He just wasn’t listening,” adds Shine. “And when you’re not listening, that’s when you’re not contributing. Often, there’s not a lot going on in our music and it’s quite simple, but there’s a certain discipline to that kind of simplicity. I can get frustrated if somebody isn’t fully committed to that. I’ve been known to be a bit of a twat, but I’ve learned to communicate a bit better now.”

Although each GNOD release – and each incarnation – is different from the last, their process of developing ideas and recording is refreshingly unchanged from when they first shunned conventional songwriting in favour of improvisation. These are not messy sprawls, however. There is a honed precision to the music GNOD produce, irrespective of how it begins. 

“I’m pretty good at seeing things in a structured way,” offers Shine. “It’s always a group effort with whoever’s in the room. When you’ve been playing together long enough, there are these flashes of inspiration. Stuff will develop on the spot in jam sessions. Chris and I might guide the sound, because we’ve been a big part of that for so long but, more recently, people we’ve been playing with have started to show up with ideas, and we’ll work on them together. There’s no set plan. It’s still just a bunch of people getting together in a room and having a jam.”

That approach, plus their time interacting with other artists at Islington Mill, means GNOD find it easy to draw in willing collaborators. Over the years, they’ve recorded or performed with Faust, White Hills, BNSU (Utku Tavil and Kazeihto Seiki), percussionist João Pais Filipe, This Heat’s Charles Hayward and countless others.

Haslam points to their 2021 album ‘La Mort Du Sens’ as an example of how their approach has evolved while still staying true to the guiding principle of spontaneity.

“We wrote these two tracks for the album – ‘Pink Champagne Blues’ and ‘Regimental’,” he says. “The rest of it came out in the studio from improvising, taking a few ideas other people had brought in and making something out of them. It’s the recording process that forces things into tracks, but a lot of what we record is just what’s going on at the time.”

True to that notion, it’s hard to believe the buzzing, noisy, vital, heavyweight guitar energy of ‘Pink Champagne Blues’ was conceived in a different way to the wiry shuffle and pulse of ‘The Whip And The Tongue’, another track on ‘La Mort Du Sens’.

Talking with Shine and Haslam together during downtime after a UK and European tour, you get the impression that they might see the world in exactly the same way. Shine disagrees.

“I think that we’re on completely different wavelengths,” he says. “But we cross over, and that’s what makes it work. Tension can push things forward. As long as you can communicate clearly, then even if everything blows up, it’s what happens afterwards that’s important.

“Being in a group with someone for 16 years and living in each other’s pockets for that amount of time is a really great lesson in self-enquiry and communication. You learn a lot about yourself and how people react in different situations. Who needs a hug? Who needs a kick up the arse? Who needs a spliff? It’s a great way to understand what triggers you and how to navigate yourself – having your friends there to remind you that you might be taking life a bit too fucking seriously.”

Electronic sounds have been audible in GNOD’s music from the very start of their recorded output. Every so often, as on 2015’s ‘Infinity Machines’, they dominate the intricate sonic foreground. Elsewhere, as with 2017’s insistent ‘Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine’, they are important reference points, weaving their way around Haslam’s inventive bass riffs.

“We’re ravers, man!” enthuses Shine. “We used to go out raving a lot, and we still do if there is ever an opportunity. We love electronic music and we enjoy exploring electronic equipment.”

Shine and Haslam also occasionally record electronic music under the aliases Dwellings and Druss respectively, often independently but sometimes together.

“I love electronic stuff,” says Haslam with a grin, while Shine nods along. “I think the difference between us is that I buy electronic gear and tend to keep hold of it for a long time, while Paddy buys gear, sells it and buys the next thing. I could never do that. He’s good at picking things up, getting something out of it, sampling, then getting rid of it.”

Shine talks about his love of electronic artists emerging from Africa on labels like Nyege Nyege Tapes. Some of them avoid elaborate hardware in favour of broken laptops and Fruity Loops, “where it’s all vibe, vibe, vibe and they’re not bothered about how fucking amazing it sounds”.

The pair released their first dual record, ‘GNOD Presents… Dwellings & Druss’, in 2013 through Trensmat, which found them exploring a mutated form of industrial techno, not unlike something issued by Planet Mu. For Shine, the record embodies how their approach to electronic music differs.

“Chris will spend ages meticulously figuring out how to use a machine and getting really deep into it,” he says. “I’m like, ‘That’s fucking boring, that’. My tracks on the ‘Dwellings & Druss’ album are sketchy-as-fuck techno – ‘That sounds good, press record now!’ – whereas Chris would take ages putting his things together.”

Just as in GNOD, with the constantly evolving range, their distinct take on electronics underlines the solitary rule underpinning everything they do.

“There are no rules,” says Shine. “That said, I do gigs with The Transcendence Orchestra. The other members are Surgeon and Daniel Bean, and they’re both synth and techno wizards. I’m like, ‘Any minute these guys are going to find out that I’m a fraud!’.”

GNOD’s new album, ‘Hexen Valley’, was recorded in Hebden Bridge.

“I moved from Islington Mill in the summer of 2020,” explains Haslam. “I fancied a change, really. I got a spot in a housing co-op and I’ve been living here ever since. It’s this 200-year-old, Grade II listed former tavern with a massive garden backing out onto the woods.”

A West Yorkshire market town might seem like an odd place for GNOD to have decamped to when compared with industrial Salford. Shine, who divides his time between Ireland and Hebden Bridge, thinks there are more similarities than might be evident from a glance at its quaint, unspoiled topography.

“Before the industrial production thing kicked off in Manchester, it was happening in towns like this,” he says. “Some of the first co-operatives in the country started here. It’s got a history of doing its own thing and working outside the system.”

One of GNOD’s two drummers, Jesse Webb, moved into the same co-op as Haslam shortly after he arrived.

“There was also another guy living here at the time,” recalls Haslam. “A guitarist called Richard Chamberlain, who played with Bridget Hayden in a band called Schisms. So I got him involved as well.”

In the summer of 2021, with Shine on one of his visits from Ireland, the Hebden Bridge variant of GNOD – Haslam, Shine, Webb and Chamberlain – rented a rehearsal space-cum-studio and began jamming for the first time since the pandemic.

“We had the whole summer to write and play, but the songs appeared in one night,” remembers Shine. “And we were like, ‘Right, we need to just fucking strike while the iron’s hot and record them’. I love it when shit like that happens and you get into a flow state. All of a sudden – boom! – you’ve got what you think is an album.”

The group added a blistering cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Waves Of Fear’, injecting a tremulous note of creeping dread at the very end of what is, ultimately, one of GNOD’s straightest offerings. But one listen to Shine’s lyrics on ‘Hexen Valley’ reveals something much more complex.

“Hebden Bridge has definitely got some weird shit going on,” muses Shine. “There was a lot to draw on, which was good because I felt inspired to actually write lyrics rather than fucking shouting my head off about nonsense. There were a lot of themes to explore, lots of really interesting characters you might never talk to who you’d see walking around the place. There’s also some dark stuff here. You could throw your shoe out of the window and you’d probably hit about 10 witches.”

‘Hexen Valley’ marks the centre point of a typically active year for GNOD, with various spin-offs and side projects. Shine has recorded a folk-drone long-player with Cork musician Phil Masterson under the alias Moundabout. Haslam has hooked up with Dälek producer Mike Mare as Holy Scum to yield the brutal, Boyd Rice-style electronics of ‘Strange Desires’. And the band’s Marlene Ribeiro has an album of left-field pop tracks, ‘Toquei No Sol’, cued up for later this year.

The new record might be one of the group’s most accessible projects to date, but seen in the context of their many and various activities, GNOD are no less enigmatic, indecipherable, refreshingly unpredictable and essential today than at any point in their 16-year existence. 

“With us being the two original members, we can take GNOD wherever we want,” concludes Paddy Shine.

“We’re up for pushing it as far as we can,” says Chris Haslam, nodding in agreement. “We always like shaking it up. We like doing different things.”

‘Hexen Valley’ is out on Rocket Recordings

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