Interview: Gideon & The Shark

Event update: Unfortunately, Joe Gideon and The Shark have cancelled their Friday gig for personal reasons (details here ) but… we still get to party to The Shhh, The Clandestines and Skimmed. Ticket prices have been revised and those who already bought their tickets can contact Hairyamp to refund the difference.

In the meantime, the guys are still working on getting the band to Malta, maybe for the October Nil By Mouth sessions.

Poetry to a beat, musical autobiographies, raw and bluesy originality… all terms that have been used to describe the brother and sister duo. I caught up with them ahead of this Friday’s gig at V-Gen – for the chance to win 2 free tickets to the gig, check out my Blog Giveaway here.

The first thing that strikes me about Joe Gideon & The Shark – even before hearing any of their music – is definitely the name. Gideon, which refers to the male half of the sibling duo – Joe Gideon is “normalish” enough, although bringing to mind strange combos featuring biblical characters and FBI profiling agents (the latter, courtesy of TV series Criminal Minds to which I’m addicted).

But…The Shark? There has to be a great story behind this name, I just know it. Research reveals The Shark to be Viva, Gideon’s sister. Further research reveals Viva to be a rather attractive, feisty young woman with nothing of the shark about her. Hmm. I “youtube” their music and after listening to some tracks from their Harum Scarum debut LP, I reach the conclusion that the nick must have come about thanks to Viva’s drumming skills. She really does a killer set. But just in case, I ask if there’s a more amusing story. Nope. The name was the first to come out of a paper hat, Gideon tells me rather cheekily.

The first track I hear from this band is Civilisation; from the very intro – “My father told me that the world was flat, And I was happy in my sweet pancake world” – I’m hooked. I’m hooked to the story, to the touch of blues coupled with a grittier sound, to The Shark’s intense drum delivery. Track after track reveals enchanting, witty stories of a magical childhood with a twist and a very definite dark side (just check out the lyrics to Hide & Seek if you don’t believe that). By the second song I find that I’ve become quite fond of Gideon’s drawl (he comes across as more American than British) and of The Shark’s incessant energy. I remove all thoughts of The White Stripes – I couldn’t help but recall that other famous brother/sister duo as soon as I realised that Gideon and Viva are siblings – from my mind. In terms of music, these two couldn’t be further apart from Jack and Meg White. So, how did the Gideon & The Shark Story start. By chance, as it happens:

“We got invited to support a band on tour, but there was only space for the two of us on the bus. We were in a four-piece band at the time, so we decided we’d give it a shot as a duo since Viva had just learnt to play the drums. We enjoyed it immensely and, really, after this there was no turning back,” Gideon tells me.

So this wasn’t like some childhood dream come true, something that the siblings had planned from the start? Not really, it appears! Although Gideon says that music always played a massive part in their lives when growing up, neither ever actually dreamt they’d be playing professionally – let alone together.

“Somewhere in my twenties I hit an early mid-life crisis, where I felt I was falling away from all things. I’d been desperate to be a novelist up until this point, but suddenly realised I was crap. During this time I had accidentally learnt to play the guitar on a rudimentary level and when I set my words to music it was like an epiphany. Of course, the words were still crap but they sounded better when sung. Viva had been quite a successful dancer at this point, but she had a knee injury that wouldn’t go away. So I guess that we both needed music to help us out of the fix we were in,” Gideon explains with no guile whatsoever.

The two didn’t take too long to find their feet – and a rather unique style involving performances that were almost like story-telling set to music. The lyrics give a feel of being somewhat auto-biographical. So how accurate a portrayal of a childhood gone by are the lyrics?

“I’m not sure how unique it is, but I love writing poetry as if it isn’t poetry. And yes, writing about real experiences. Also, if I set about trying to write poetry it would just come out sounding pretentious. I learnt this the hard way. Then I discovered that if you tell things ‘straight’, the result is more interesting than you’d think.”

The tracks run the gamut of childhood and more mature emotions; from childlike wonder to lost love, drunken escapades and more. It is safe to say that Gideon is really the protagonist in most of these stories.  What about a childhood experience that isn’t yet featured in a track?

“Well, when I was thirteen I did an IQ test in my school. I did so badly they made me retake it, saying that I had scored lower than a monkey. They weren’t too pleased with me, thinking that I hadn’t taken it seriously. But I had,” Gideon says with a straight face.

One of the band’s attractions is that as a two-piece band the music sounds very “full” – is this a matter of happenstance or is the music written in a particular way to achieve this?  Gideon tells me that they use “various devices” to help create what he terms an avalanche of music.

“Though I have to add that at times we love the simplicity of just guitar and bass and drums. Being just the two of us means that we’re not always having to find roles for the other musicians in a five-piece band, for example,” he explains.

However, he adds that there is also an element of what he calls “dogme” about the band’s live set-up. He is referring to a filming technique associated with directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, where the use of elaborate special effects or technology is avoided. Gideon explains further:

“There’s this imposed rule upon us that there’s only two of us and we must operate within this confine.”

Although their music is too different from the usual for me to spot any influences/similarities, I ask the dreaded question anyway and Gideon answers it with good grace. He tells me that he has been “honing in” on 20th century producer Joe Meek’s concept album, I Hear A New World, along with the interview with him that’s included on the CD.

“It makes for a compelling listen, particularly when you get acquainted with his life-story.”

Joe Gideon Q&A

All siblings quarrel (or so it is said) . What happens when there’s a Gideon & The Shark quarrel? Does it happen often and who typically wins out?

Not all questions should be answered.

Are there any musicians you’d like to collaborate with and why?

I’m fairly sure I’m a loner in this racket. But if it came up, Gogol Bordello.

How do you describe your music?

Alien blues.

If Gideon & The Shark had an ethos, this would be…?

I have to say we don’t share an ethos. That word is far too grandiose for us.

How did The Shark part come about?

The name was pulled out of an odd-shaped hat.

What do your family think about your music and the lyrics?

Mum was very proud when I wrote about cousin Johan. To the extent that she played the song to that part of our family, which I was rather unsure about. The song is called Johan Was A Painter & Arsonist.

What are you expecting from the Malta gig? And what’s after that?

We don’t know what to expect. That’s the beauty of it.

This interview was published on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).



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