GRAMSCI, ON THE RECORD (2023): Paul McLaney on the vinyl reissue of the first three Gramsci albums

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GRAMSCI, ON THE RECORD (2023): Paul McLaney on the vinyl reissue of the first three Gramsci albums

After establishing himself as a gifted singer-songwriter under his own name in the late Eighties and Nineties, Paul McLaney launched his band Gramsci as another vehicle for expression.

The band released three albums – Permanence in 2000, Object (2002) and Like Stray Voltage (2005) then there was a lengthy hiatus as McLaney moved on to other projects, notably, travel, his Impending Adorations series, collaborations and work in the music industry.

Gramsci re-emerged in recent years with Inheritance (2020), The Hinterlands (2022) and In Formation 1; A Shift in Prospects (2022, an album of ambient music used in director Richard Bell's short film T/HERE which used Hinterlands material). McLaney has revised the artwork for In Formation to reflect its relationship with The Hinterlands.

McLaney is also half of An Arrow Made of Air (with Oscar West) whose self-titled album has just been released.

But for our purposes we focus here on the first-time vinyl reissue of the remastered Permanence, Object and Like Stray Voltage, three albums much acclaimed at the time and which are re-presented in beautiful, generic cover art with lyric sheets.

We asked McLaney some questions about these albums . . .

First, for those who don't know of Antonio Gramsci, can you tell us in a couple of sentences who he was and why you chose his name for the band?

Antonio Gramsci was an Italian political philosopher writing in the first part of the 20th century.

gramsciHe is credited with coining the word hegemony and wrote extensively about counter hegemonic strategy; the idea that if you want to replace the existing power structure it is more effective to infiltrate it and effect change from within rather than try to destroy and replace it.

There’s an allegory to commercially releasing music in there somewhere as well as the delicious irony of someone typing ‘Gramsci’ into Google looking for music and finding him and his prison notebooks. 

One thing which has always been a part of whatever you do – Gramsci, Impending Adorations and the new album as An Arrow Made of Air – is the artwork you choose. These three albums all have historic photos from the early days of science and exploration. Why these images and what's the attraction of them for you?

‘An Arrow Made of Air’ is the first album featuring artwork [pictured] I have completely composed myself which is new and exciting for me.

arrowWith the Gramsci/Impending Adoration covers I suppose I’m fascinated by images that represent the absolute pinnacle of technological facility at the time but now present as ancient.

Everything is in the past but music is new if you’ve never heard it before. And I love the thought that in order to hear a melody you must be conscious of the note that is happening right now, remember the note that preceded it and have an anticipation for the note that will follow it. It stretches time.

I suppose that’s the fascination: time. I’m blessed with a good memory and my past feels like it all happened very recently – there is no sense of distance to it emotionally. 

I note that none of these releases have dates on them, of their original release or this reissue. Deliberate?

I don’t think so but my subconscious does a lot of deliberate things. 

I won't speculate on the first album Permanence. Care to have your say on it now as you look back at it, and where it stood for you at the time?

Permanence_2022_Remaster__DigitalI have an interesting relationship to the first two albums as I can hear myself still exploring my voice and maybe being seduced by the pyrotechnics I found it was capable of. Jeff Buckley has a lot to answer for!

I was 24 so it’s half my life ago. I’m still learning how to sing really.

I do like the naive wonder of the production on ‘Permanence’. It was the early days of digital audio; fruity loops etc and because it was digital we were freed from the constraints of 8 track etc (which is what ‘The Prayer Engine’ had been recorded on).

So doing something like ‘Easy’ which has something like 40 tracks of vocals was just incredible. The album received comparisons to David Gray’s ‘White Ladder’ on its release because I suppose it lived in that same realm of singer- songwriter with acoustic and computer.

Object, the second album, has aspects of love and relationships and about putting the past behind, but there are also elements of doubt. Fair?

That album was written in the aftermath of a break up - a long term relationship. And in the uncertain beginnings of a new one.

Object_2022__DigitalIt’s a bit more studio focussed because I was sort of obsessed with new sounds at that point and hiding out for days in the studio tinkering. Like scientists in a lab experimenting with sound, structure and form.

I remember listening to lots of John Martyn and Boards of Canada at that time. 

The last Gramsci album of the first phase Like Stray Voltage has themes of love – discovery of love, gratitude and hope – and the quote by the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was about the value of friendship. Did this come from a particular time when these ideas were surrounding and informing you?

I’d just come back from living in the UK having recorded ‘The Shadows of Birds…” at Abbey Rd.

Like_Stray_Voltage_2022__DigitalI suppose the point of difference in the creation of this album is that I was single for the first time in 12 years and I suppose you have more time for individual friendships in that regard because you’re not investing the majority of your time and focus into one human.

The quote sums it up really. Looking back at the thank yous on these albums brings back a lot of fond memories shared with people I am still fortunate enough to call friends

Multi-instrumentalist/producer David Holmes – who produced the likes of Jakob and is in the experimental rock band Kerretta – was your musical traveling companion on these three albums (and nominated for a Tui for Like Stray Voltage). You have been a great collaborator right throughout your career, what was the strength of that relationship with David?

David definitely comes from a heavier rock background and there’s about 7-8 years in age difference which is enough to be generationally different in our thinking.

He is an amazing musician in his own right but didn’t really join the band as a player until Like Stray Voltage which is why that record is so sonically different, moving as it does to the more traditional format of a rock band.

That was really motivated by the desire to be able to present a live show with a bit more muscle.

Dave and I are dear friends and always will be. That coming together as band mates was really the end of that chapter as Dave wanted to keep going further in that direction and I had already gone as far away from my centre in that regard. I was getting quieter and was getting louder.

He formed Kerretta and I made the EDIN album

Taking into account albums under your own name before Gramsci which were mostly acoustic, you seem to have steadily embraced studio technology, albeit cautiously. Discuss!

Screen_Shot_2020_06_24_at_10.42.00_AMWell if you’re recording music on computers it’s not that much if a leap to start making it on them too. That’s how The Impending Adorations stuff came about. Music beyond instruments in a way.

As long as you are accessing emotion and creating empathy I’m not really fussy about how it’s done.

My career is sort of all over the place because I just follow the muse. Like this new album ‘An Arrow Made of Air’ - I had no intention of writing a Celtic sounding record. But I did and so love it.

Next week I’m in the studio making the next Gramsci album which this time is a collaboration with Devin Abrams (Pacific Heights) and that album similarly fell out if the sky. I think it’s the best thing I've ever done. 

Finally, for those who have not been aware of Gramsci – which is an ongoing project with different players than on these early albums – care to give them a quick product description of what these three albums can offer?

And “no” is an unacceptable answer!

Gramsci is the space where I mix everything I do without boundary. I’ve done lots of albums that plough a certain terrain. They explore one thing doggedly. Gramsci is the planet itself to poorly extend the metaphor.

206146_L_HISince the age of 12 I've been absolutely obsessed with music. I lived in the worlds of music that other artists have created; continents of sound, universes.

When I listen to something like Minstrel in the Gallery [Jethro Tull] or Kid A [Radiohead] or Pink Moon [Nick Drake] etc I can instantly connect with my emotional state as a 16/18/25 year old. So many albums do that for me.

I love artists who have a large body of work that once you discover them become these vast landscapes to explore - you might hear something from their mid-career which is great because then you have two directions in the timeline to explore and I find those artistic trajectories fascinating.

Like if you come to Bowie on Scary Monsters - the albums either side of that are SO different. What you hear is an artist relationship to their craft evolving; shifting, hopefully improving and with the ultimate goal being their own place in the firmament.

In_Formation_2022__Digital_v2High hopes! 

I’ve always wanted to achieve a body of work - that to me is the point.

When I released Permanence in 2000 I had the idea of it being the start of such, and the idea was that the first word of each album would spell the title of that… ‘Permanence’, ‘Object’, ‘Like Stray Voltage’, ‘Inheritance’, ‘The Hinterlands’, ‘In Formation’ and lastly the new album we are currently making ‘Know Return'.


There is a considerable amount about all aspects of Paul McLaney's career at Elsewhere including album and live reviews, interviews and McLaney contributing articles about his music and working methods. Start here.

JB_logoThe Gramsci albums are available at bandcamp here (digitally and on vinyl) and there is an extremely cheap deal on eight releases as digital downloads.

The three recent vinyl reissues are available through JB Hi-Fi stores in New Zealand here.

Paul McLaney's website for Gramsci is here

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