the AU interview: Rob Nassif of Gyroscope (Perth)


Perth rock boys GYROSCOPE have been a staple on the Australian music scene for a good part of the past decade. Their latest album Cohesion is ripping up the ARIA charts, and Gyroscope will be rocking the legendary Pyramid Rock festival this New Year for the third time.

I had the pleasure of chatting to drummer Rob Nassif about the latest album, their secrets to band solidarity, and never having drum lessons.

So Rob, this will be Gyroscope’s second time at Pyramid Rock I believe?

Our third actually! We played it in 2006, we did it in 2008, and now we’ll be doing it in 2010!

Awesome! So what’s it like playing these huge festivals, as opposed to smaller more intimate venues?

They’re both good, you know big festivals can be great,  you’re obviously playing to really big crowds half the time, and people there are completely enthused to have a good time, so that’s half the battle won. You know you just have to get up on stage and play a good show. Small shows can be really great too.

Would you say you prefer one more than the other?
Nah I wouldn’t, they’re both equally good, I mean playing to a thousand people at a Gyroscope show where all one thousand people are singing back the words is really special, but then playing to 15 thousand people who are all jumping up in time when you’re playing is really great too. So they’re both really cool.

Is it sometimes tough playing these outdoor festivals? I mean, from memory back at Pyramid Rock 2008 you guys actually got rained off stage…

(laughs) Yeah, it’s the only time we’ve ever been rained off the stage! Pyramid holds that very fine record. So that was tough, because you know, it was raining and they obviously have a cover over the stage, but because the wind was so strong, it was blowing directly into us, and the wind was blowing the cymbals at such an angle that when I went to hit the cymbals each time, they were already facing down because the wind was pushing them down!

Yeah I remember, I was front row getting soaked!

Yeah it made it a really tough gig! But at the same time I had a smile on my face because I thought, you know what? It’s different. And I liked the fact that it was a really different sort of gig to be doing, in the sense that we were playing in the rain basically which I’d never done before. So in a strange way, even though it was a bit of a shame, we lost about 15 minutes of our set time as you know, but it was kind of interesting (laughs)

So are you planning on camping out at Pyramid Rock this year and seeing all the other bands?

I think so! I think I might actually this year. I hadn’t made up my mind just yet but I’m thinking of camping! I did it in 2006 where I got there the day before we played on the 30th, and then I stayed there on the 31st as well, so I think I might do it! I might just come over to Pyramid this year and just hang out. Camping. 

You should, it’s a sweet experience! So are there any bands on the bill you’re particularly excited to check out?

I’m excited to see N.E.R.D hey!

Yeah me too!

That’s gonna be cool man, Pharell’s a genius. And Temper Trap, that’s gonna be awesome. So yeah, think they’re my top two.

So now I wanted to chat about your latest album, Cohesion. What’s it been like touring with Cohesion as opposed to Breed Obsession, which was perhaps more of a commercial album?

Yeah, well I guess the thing with Breed Obsession is it was just a hard album to play live. All those songs were hard, man. I mean with 'Snakeskin' we had to get the samples organised, you’ve got the piano intro, 'Australia' had a string section, '1981' had the drum machine. Even songs like 'These Days', still right now when we play, are hard to play, just hard songs. And so I think when we were writing Cohesion, we were trying to write an album that was a lot easier to play live, and just more fun to play live! So the Cohesion tour, as a result, was a real pleasure because songs like 'Baby I’m Gettin’ Better' and 'I Still Taste Blood', 'Some of the Places I Know', all songs that really translated well live and were much easier to play live than Breed Obsession. And the crowd reaction at the shows were awesome, we played some of the biggest shows we’ve ever played, so it was great.

So was it more of a conscious decision then, when recording Cohesion, to make it more live-oriented?

Yeah, it was just more of a conscious decision as well just to make a rock album. You know with Breed Obsession there’s a few acoustic songs, and kicked back songs. So the thing with Cohesion was just that we wanted to make a record that was a bit more rockin’, a bit more together, a bit less disjointed, so yeah. We still wrote a lot of acoustic pop songs that didn’t make the record, but I think when we had the 30 songs to choose from we wanted to make more of a rock record.

Did you take musical influence from anyone in particular making Cohesion?

Well I cant speak for the other guys, but myself directly not really. I mean I went and got drum lessons for the first time in my life… That was pretty cool. So if I got any influence I should say my drum teacher Greg Brenton (laughs), he gave me possibly a little bit of influence there. But otherwise not really, you know I listen to so many different styles of music that I’m sure it all feeds in there somewhere. But nothing directly.

You’d really never had drum lessons before?

(Laughs) No. Well I lie, I’d had like one or two in maybe 1997 when I started playing the drums, and I skipped it for those next 12 years until 2009... I just thought it was time to freshen things up a bit and learn a few new tricks.

So do you guys all take the same sort of musical influences, or do you all listen to different stuff?

Yes and no, I think by and large we all listen to similar music which is why we formed a band and we write the sort of songs and albums we do. Then at the same time, there’s stuff that Zok listens to that I’m not really into, and vice versa. But I think we’re all pretty much on the same page. We all like energetic music, that translates well live, and more like melodies and tunes that you can sing along to.

So what’s the writing process like for Gyroscope?

Well it can be long, it can just be gruelling. It can be anything really. A song like 'What Do I Know About Pain', Zok brought that in completely done, start to finish. Then Dan put the lyrics on top, then Brad and I put our drums and bass in, so it didn’t really change that much. Whereas a song like I Still Taste Blood, that was a song that Brad and I practised, jammed on, created an idea for. We then presented that to the band and then the whole band jammed and wrote the song together. So it can be very different from song to song, but I think the main thing is that someone in the band brings in an idea that you can then sink your teeth into and create something.

You had legendary rock producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters) working on this album, how did that affect the overall sound?

Well Gil’s a fantastic producer, he makes really big sounding rock albums, and Cohesion is a big rock record. So he had a great influence, he came up with some really great ideas, I mean a song like 'Baby I’m Getting Better' would never have been on the album if it wasn’t for Gil. We originally weren’t gonna record it because the original version of that song is like an acoustic country tune. And we really liked the tune, we always thought it had great melodies and a great chorus, but we always felt it was a country tune and we were trying to write a rock record, and Gil’s whole thing was he could hear the melodies were there and it was a great song, he just encouraged us to take it somewhere new. He encouraged us to rock it up, and the rocked up version is what you hear on the album!

Gyroscope have been together for around 13 years I believe…What would you say is your secret to staying together, when so many bands seem to struggle?

Well I think having a level of ambition, I guess, has been healthy within the band. I mean, having ambition is one thing, a lot of people want to be in bands. But I think what’s kept us going and kept us moving forward is we’ve been really lucky to accomplish some of the goals we’ve set out to achieve. We’ve always done it together, and it can be as simple as playing our  first show. That was a goal when we were all teenagers, to play a gig one day. We did that, and then it was like ‘let’s write a heavy metal song’. It’s all the little things that eventually become like ‘let’s tour over East for the first time’, ‘’let’s do our own tour one day’, ‘let’s aim for a number one album’.  I think as you go across your career you manage to keep chipping away and accomplishing goals- it keeps you striving. It keeps you moving forward. I think that’s been really healthy. And of course the fact we’ve always maintained a friendship, we’re all friends and we all get along well. We’re not one of those disjointed bands where the singer doesn’t talk to the drummer or whatever (laughs). I mean we obviously have our moments, we do get upset with each other. But by and large, I love the guys, they’re my brothers, and the feeling’s all mutual hopefully (laughs). I think that’s the key man, having fun, enjoying it, and being friends.

Looking back to when you were all teenagers, would you ever have expected Gyroscope to get this far?

Oh no way! When we started, my first jam ever, with Zoran… He called me up, it was October 1996, so what’s that, 14 years ago? And he said ‘Hey man, I met you at a party a few weeks ago, I remember you told me you had a drum kit, do you wanna have a jam?’ I said ‘Yeah cool man, but I can’t really play drums.’ I had a drum kit but I couldn’t play drums. Zok was like ‘That’s cool, I’ll show you how to play’. The guy comes over, shows me how to play my first drum beats, we write a song in that first jam session, and at the end we say ‘alright, let’s start a band. What should we call ourselves? We’ll call ourselves Gyroscope’. And now here I am talking on the phone to you. You can never anticipate it, you know? I feel so grateful that we’ve had such a good career and I’m so grateful of all the things I’ve got to experience just because of music. It’s a really good feeling, I definitely don’t take it for granted.

If you weren’t playing music, what do you think you’d be doing?

Well I’ve got a degree in advertising and marketing actually. I’ve got a commerce degree, so maybe I would have gone into that. But at the same time this is much more fun.

I think you picked the better option there…

Yeah I agree (laughs). I probably would have had more money the other way but who cares, this is great!

So what advice would you give young Aussie rock  bands trying to get where you guys are?

I would just say work hard, jam hard, practise as much as you can, always be writing. That’s the first thing. But then the second thing, and this is just as important as all of the practise, is just to have fun! Just enjoy it. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with ambition and I touched on it before, you know you should have goals and every band has goals. But at the same time, the goals are one thing, but you’ve gotta enjoy it. You know music is fun, you’ve gotta enjoy it, it makes you feel alive, and it makes you feel great when you write a great song or have a good drum fill. I think young bands need to remember that it’s not all about climbing the ladder of success, or how big your band is. It’s about enjoying it as well. Have fun, laugh, you know.

Well you guys have had an Aria number 1, successful albums and whatnot… But what would you say has been the personal highlight of your career with Gyroscope?

Yeah the number 1 album was pretty huge, just because I think it was so unexpected. I mean Are You Involved was number 20, it had been 2 and a half years between records, and obviously Snakeskin had done really really well for us, but still you never think you’ll have a number one album. That was pretty huge man. But then I think other highlights - like when we recorded our album Are You Involved in LA… I remember thinking, if I never do anything else with this band and we break up tomorrow, all the hard work and years of touring has been worth it because it was such a cool experience. I think recording the third album in London was another one, and recording Cohesion in Wales… We’ve had a good run.

Definitely! Alright well cheers for the chat Rob, it’s been awesome.

Yeah no worries! All the best dude and I’ll see you at Pyramid Rock!