Egon Gone goes it alone to find its way

Joel Oliphint
Egon Gone

Egon Gone started out as the solo project of singer/guitarist Albert Gray, but the local band has been playing as a four-piece for about five years. During the latter half of that tenure, the musicians recorded a new album, scrapped it and then restarted — three times.

“I don't even know how to describe what was necessarily missing or what was wrong with it as much as, just, ‘That's not it,’” said synthesizer/keyboard player James Baggs on a recent video call with bandmates Jennifer Slezak (bass), Dvvid Watson (drums/drum machine) and Gray.

“We actually played it for someone who is not in the band, and they're like, ‘It doesn't have that smoky atmosphere,’” Gray said. “And I think that's true.”

Part of the problem, the bandmates said, was that when various friends helped them with recording, they would look over the engineer’s shoulder, and even if the final version of a song didn’t feel quite right, they didn’t want to waste someone else’s time with endless tweaks. “You end up making compromises because you feel bad for taking up their time,” Watson said.

Eventually, the band decided to attempt to capture the Egon Gone sound on their own, decamping to Baggs’ basement for sessions that began about a year ago. In that setting, the bandmates could experiment guilt-free with only self-imposed time constraints. At one point, Gray and Baggs dedicated more than three hours to finding the right keyboard tone — an essential piece of Egon Gone’s wall of warm, synth-soaked sound. “There is one keyboard where I've used the same sound for five years. I dialed that sound in. You'll hear that underlying every single song,” Baggs said. “But then there's a second synthesizer where I was adjusting those sounds and tweaking it to get those right.”

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The more the four musicians dug into the self-recording process, the more confident they became. "I like to think of it as a ‘duh’ moment, where you're just like, 'Yeah, this is how it's supposed to sound,'” said Gray, who has collaborated with Watson on multiple recording projects in the last 15 years.

Earlier this month, Egon Gone released the results of those efforts, Sun Dogs, an excellent nine-track album of big, moody synth-rock that splits the difference between New Wave and shoegaze, at times recalling long-gone local act El Jesus de Magico.

Opening track “Appetite for Abduction” is more than an intro to the band; it’s also a window into the Egon Gone songwriting process, which, in the pre-COVID days, took place mostly during rehearsal jams, beginning with one of Watson’s drum machine loops and then a keyboard riff from Baggs. Once the foundation is laid, Slezak (a self-described “noodler”) and Gray begin experimenting. On “Appetite for Abduction,” the instruments enter in much the same way.

Gray, who sings behind a blanket of reverb and a layer of fuzz, doesn’t write lyrics beforehand, opting instead to come up with melodies through the free association of sounds, eventually emerging with what he described as “incidental poetry.”

The downside of taking forever to record an album? Egon Gone is ready to move on from these songs, the newest of which is two years old. But the bandmates are excited to begin the process anew, this time armed with more knowledge and new ideas. Sun Dogs, then, is less of a culmination and more of a launching pad. “Now we can finally go forward,” Watson said.

“There's a lot of curiosity with all four of us,” Slezak said. “It’s a growth mindset.”

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