ALBUM REVIEW AND INTERVIEW: GILMORE TRAIL – IMPERMANENCE

Gilmore Trail are an instrumental rock band from Sheffield, England, consisting of Bob Brown on drums, David Ivall & Danny Mills on guitars and Joe Richards on bass. Formed by Danny Mills and original drummer Sam Ainger, the band is named after a trail in Alaska – a route recommended for best experiencing views of the Aurora Borealis. The band have a brand new album out called Impermanence. Before delving into a review, I was keen to get to know Gilmore Trail and discover their musical tastes, along with the band’s history. I began by asking each member of Gilmore Trail about their early inspirations for music. 

Danny: I first picked up a guitar thirteen years ago, following a serious knee injury that I sustained on holiday in Barcelona. The long healing process meant I suddenly had a lot of free time – I knew this was the perfect opportunity to finally start learning guitar. I fell in love with it instantly and practised every day for about six months, taking inspiration primarily from a guitarist called Buckethead. He plays everything from delicate ballads to crazy, masterful shredding. He showed me just how emotional music could be, and how sometimes less can be more in a composition. My driving force for writing music continues to be the creation of these emotional vibes, whilst exploring some newer musical avenues and expanding my own boundaries.

Joe:  My entrance point into the world of music was my cub scout leader Dave lending me a carrier case full of around a hundred metal CDs when I was eleven. I spent a year getting to know them all down to the finest detail, and I believe that time period instilled my ongoing obsessive music listening habits. It wasn’t until I was around fifteen that I bought my first guitar, from Rockbottom Music at the end of my work experience there. A staff member showed me how to play some dissonant chords, and I was hooked! I became immediately drawn to ugly, unpredictable and generally chaotic music, so bands like Oxbow and The Fall became personal favourites. However, it was in discovering the magical music of Tim Smith’s Cardiacs and the insane, bludgeoning sounds of Meshuggah that I developed a need to really understand what I was listening to in order to write my own music. The most defining piece of music in my life is the closing minute of ‘Frame by Frame’ by King Crimson: the guitar lines drop out of phase then resync after a number of cycles. This not only blew my mind but opened a doorway to Steve Reich, Indonesian gamelan and bands like Sonar and The Necks. In my late teens and early twenties I discovered a love of jazz, particularly the free, expressionistic playing of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and it was around this time that I also discovered a love of bass. I’m naturally drawn to rhythm and harmony, although I do play melodically for Gilmore Trail, owing to a love of such players as James Jamerson and Geddy Lee.

Bob: My earliest musical memories include listening to my parents’ music on the way to school, David Bowie, UB40, Rod Stewart, that kind of thing. I received my first drum kit aged eleven (a white ‘Thunder’ kit). My dad asked me “why do you want to play drums? All drummers are animals, and they die young!” and I never looked back from there! It’s impossible not to include the late greats amongst my influences – Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Ginger Baker, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Mitch Mitchell… but I’m also a fan of more modern drummers such as Jojo Mayer, Dan Mayo, Benny Greb and Thomas Lang. These guys were all breakthrough drummers in one way or another, pushing new boundaries in sound, style and technique, and they certainly inspire my own development. Impermanence marks the first time I’ve had a hand in writing since joining Gilmore Trail, so I took my lead from the sound that the guys already had, whilst attempting to put my own mark on it.

Dave: My earliest musical exposure was digging through my mum’s original Beatles singles – the darker tunes and some of the B-sides really stood out to me, like ‘Help’, ‘A Taste of Honey’, and ‘There is a Place’, whilst ‘Eleanor Rigby’ frightened me but kept drawing me back. My first real obsession began with seeing They Might Be Giants on Top of The Pops at the tender age of nine. I was head over heels, and I’m quite proud of my past self for picking out a cult phenomenon so young! I took piano lessons from age eleven and received a Squier guitar for my fifteenth birthday. My first band Pariah played typically mid-nineties grunge and pop-punk covers, and I also dabbled with song-writing. I then played in various bands including an extreme metal band with my friend Sam, which culminated in our joining Gilmore Trail in 2011. I’ve tended to be influenced by bands as a unit rather than individual guitarists – although there are some exceptions! The beautiful, uplifting guitar solos of Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith and Faith No More’s Jim Martin stood out to me, guiding me down the path of satisfying, emotionally charged melody. My tastes have diversified over the years, although my love for They Might Be Giants remains strong! An intense fling with Tool and ongoing love of progressive rock (particularly the early Genesis albums) led me towards more avant-garde rock such as the challenging, wonderful music of Toby Driver. I’ve also broadened my horizons to jazz and avant-folk – Richard Dawson’s music resonates with me on an incredibly deep level, and I’ve been obsessed with the peculiar, unsettling neofolk of Current 93 for most of my adult life. 

Curious about the earliest creative sparks behind Gilmore Trail, I enquired how the band began, from the initial release of their debut EP in 2011 up to the present day. I was also keen to learn how they felt that their music had developed over this time period.

GT: The band was formed by Danny and our original drummer Sam with a goal to play and write honest, expressive music – the instrumental nature of it has led to us being labelled a post-rock band. Over the years, however, the intricacy and song construction traits of progressive rock began to creep in, with boundaries then expanding further still, thanks to such influences as jazz, krautrock and minimalism. Whilst our musical vision has certainly broadened since our first EP, the core of our music remains the same: to try to make honest, memorable and rewarding music for anyone to enjoy, whether from a purely emotive or a musically theoretical point of view. Over the eleven years since our formation, we’ve released three albums which have had some lovely feedback, have gigged and toured across the UK, have received BBC Radio 6 coverage, made multiple Tramlines Festival appearances and have even had the honour of playing three weddings. Our singular career highlight has got to be performing at ArcTanGent Festival (2017); that opportunity really turned things around for us a band – consciously or otherwise, it further embedded a need for a professional attitude (without compromising the elements of the band which make it such a passion for us) and it helped us to trust that hard work can pay off, even for DIY artists.

And so to the new release – the latest album, Imperanance – which was released last month. I asked about the initial inspiration behind this album; how long it took to create and how Gilmore Trail felt that it differed from their previous album, The Floating World back in 2017.

GT: The theme of the album initially came from a change of line-up; our drummer Sam Ainger departed, and we were left wondering how to continue. The record ultimately centred on change and the impermanent nature of all things; we drew inspiration from natural sources such as the life of uncertainty led by ‘the lonely whale’, or the wildlife mutations and radio silence of a mysterious zone of the Mexican desert. We also drew inspiration from such personal circumstances as relationships, familial dementia, and the finite state of our own existence. The album pushes the boundaries of our previous records, featuring guest performers and a wider stylistic palette, whilst simultaneously maintaining an instrumental approach to convey our musical tales more expressively. Prior to ‘Impermanence’, our music has never featured the likes of saxophone, singing bowls, blast beats, original field recordings, menacing drones, improvised sections, unpredictable key changes, or de-tuned metal riffs. It’s more than just an album to us – it’s the summation of our lives over the last six years, of our highs, lows, changes and constants. It’s the first time in which we’ve purposefully written thematically, examining the subject matter on a deeper level than the basic conceptual imagery. We’re incredibly proud of it.

And the future for Gilmore Trail?

GT: After such a long, enforced break from live shows, we really can’t wait to get back out there. We’ve got a UK tour planned for July 2022, and our next gig is an all-dayer organised by Portals, which is taking place at The Victoria Inn (Dalston, London) on 20th February 2022. Once we’ve completed our July tour, we’ll continue writing our fourth album, which we started in late 2021, whilst also playing further shows in support of ‘Impermanence’.

So, now we know a lot more about this Sheffield band. Let’s have a closer look at the new album, Impermanence.

The opening track, ‘Ruins’ reminds me of classic Pink Floyd in its gradual formation. Skilful guitar passages emerge from the outset, building up against a growing percussive drumbeat. 

‘Distant Reflection’ employs subtle chimes to begin. As it grows, the mental imagery reflects that of a Buddhist temple, high in the mountains. Accomplished guitar and bass proceed to take this to another level.

‘Convalescence’ starts slowly with a haunting string pad, soon backed by gentle guitars and a slow bassline which ultimately build towards a powerful, melodic lead.

‘Echoes of Solitude’ constitutes an atmospheric intro, combining various synth sounds that remind one of ocean life, deep beneath the surface. Gradually, the peace is broken by the introduction of guitars and a great percussive beat, before the sense of solitude is restored. The final section includes a sensual sax solo as we feel literally surrounded by an extended sense of peaceful euphoria, finally joined by a powerful guitar solo and soaring music. This emotional rollercoaster ride of a track would make an incredibly powerful theme for a movie.                    

‘The Zone of Silence’ begins with a guitar riff which sets itself up as a major pattern throughout the entire track. This is backed by an atmospheric pad alongside growing percussive elements, ending in a flourish of high energy rock.

With ‘Nocturne’, we begin with thunder and rain. Gradually, a guitar riff breaks through the storm, soon joined by another to form a strong musical foundation upon which to build. A key bassline and strings add to the guitars, once again creating a wonderful ambient texture to the listeners’ ears. 

The album concludes with its title track. ‘Impermanence’. Once again, we begin simply with some skilful guitar picking, backed by silky synth pads. Once more, we could be high on a mountain within some Buddhist temple; contemplating everything within this life and beyond. The pace with this final track is gentle and washes over the listener as the energetic drums and gorgeous bass kick in to add a strong rhythm. Gradually, a melody emerges as the musical pace increases, as more strings and a vocal pad join in. As with all the other tracks, the tempo varies and adjusts, keeping us on our toes as to what’s coming next.

Listening to Impermanence I was quickly reminded of myself listening to various masters of their musical craft around the late 70’s, including the awesome Asia, where the tempo can change quickly and adeptly, going from a subtle sound of chimes one moment, to energetic guitar solos the next; all conducted with ease and flair. This was precisely the calibre of music where – circa 1979 – I mimed expertly on my tennis racquet, while performing Pete Entwistle high jumps off the bed with expressive arm-windmill flourishes. 

Back to 2022 and I firmly believe that Gilmore Trail have created a perfect album for simply zoning out and savouring a healthy passion for the musical form; indeed the perfect soundtrack for reclining in a favourite armchair while gazing out at a thunderstorm/sunrise/sunset, allowing the mind to drift and recharge. Words are simply not required here as the music expresses everything required. It’s abundantly clear that Gilmore Trail possess both musical talent in a higher form, as well as the balance to bring everything together in a seamless, professional fashion. The production on this album is absolutely perfect with every instrument expressing itself in a masterful manner, both technically and creatively. 


Find out more on Gilmore Trail’s official website

Article by Kev Milsom
Photograph by Chris Saunders

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