From his first single release in 2013, Japanese Wallpaper (aka Gab Strum) has been trying to find the confidence within himself to be the artist he wants to be. It’s taken him longer than he had planned, but his debut album Glow (out October 18) is a body of work that perfectly embodies the vulnerable and innovative sides of his artistry that he’s always wanted to explore.
Over time he’s learnt to not overthink things which in the past has affected his growth. “I tend to make things I’m not proud of and things that don’t resonate with me when I do think about impact, audience and anything that isn’t about following my curiosity and my instincts” Strum explains to Music Feeds about removing himself from the industry and focusing on being a creative throughout this album process.
“Grappling with the public facing nature of my job has been something that has been quite hard for me over the last few years. It’s taken me a little while to figure out how I feel about it and how I want to relate that to the body of work and everything that surrounds that like social media and touring” he continues to explain about being conscious.
At the end of the self titled EP cycle in 2016, he had zoned in on a particular sound and style that he believed represented what the Japanese Wallpaper project meant to him. Instead he ended up realising that he had just gotten comfortable with knowing all the ins and outs of the style and the creative process no longer was a challenge for him which didn’t feel right.
“To make music that means something to me I need to be on the search for something new and something that emotionally resonates in a certain way. I just wasn’t really feeling that with the broad style of music I was creating and had come to be known for at that time” he cites before questioning “does the world really need another indie-chill Soundcloud producer? Because I didn’t really wanna be that guy”.
Within the search for who he wanted to be as an artist, Strum started working with other artists like Approachable Members Of Your Local Community, Eilish Gilligan, Allday, Mallrat and Megan Washington, who he particularly cites as someone who really impacted his writing style at his core foundations.
“I learnt so much about songwriting and music through Washington’s debut record, I Believe You Liar. That was a very pivotal time for me as I was learning what good, smart songwriting is and how to do things the best way, which is how Meg does it”. Working with her so closely has been a bit of a full circle moment for Strum and through the art of collaboration he’s ended up finding his feet creatively.
Glow is a diverse collection of tracks that really crafts the sound and feeling that he wants the Japanese Wallpaper project to represent. With vulnerability layered with different sonic ideas, he grows these ideas to bring them into fruition with confidence.
“So much of the sound of this album is about layering and having tiny little sounds interacting with each other to create something a bit bolder and bigger. I’ve become really specific with how I articulate it all because when you’re trying to fit so many things into three and a half minutes of music everything has to be efficient and concise. And Ben Allen from Atlanta helped me realise the potential of the record and stopped me from stressing about the little things”.
‘Tell Me What You Mean By That’ is a bold song full of unique confidence that becomes an immediate highlight, but Strum admits wasn’t originally meant to be on the record. “It was written after the whole album was mixed, mastered and done. I sent the demo to someone from my label and just said it was an idea I was possibly working on for the next record and everyone was in shock as they were like ‘no, this has to be on this record’. So within the next week I was in the studio finishing it and adding it to Glow. And it became the only song on the record that I produced completely on my own, which is maybe why it has a different energy and social palette”.
In contrast to the playful nature of ‘Tell Me What You Mean By That’, there are moments like ‘Wearing You Out’ which are more mellow and reflective with their deliveries.
“I was really sad when I wrote ‘Wearing You Out’” he nervously laughs in reflection. “It was about someone I was really close to but I started to second guess everything and second guess myself”. With the production then highlighting that sentiment, he also cites the title track ‘Glow’ as one of his most vulnerable moments as a writer.
“I had to get over my fear of writing honestly and get comfortable with just saying how I felt and what I thought. It was something really hard for me, especially coming from a background of making beats and letting other people handle all the emotional stuff. It really took me a while to get to that point. But my favourite bands are the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and Frightened Rabbit who wear their heart on their sleeves lyrically in terms of the songwriting. So I feel like I’m always learning from that kinda of approach.”
“I’ve always thought the song ‘Tongue Tied’ could fit somewhere on The OC soundtrack. When I was making that song, that sonic palette was something I was thinking of a lot. That soundtrack is so influential to me, the music I write and how I create. If there’s ever a revival of The OC, I hope the director knows to call me” he laughs.
Another approach that he really wants to embrace with this album cycle is playing the songs with a band and sonically capturing how instrumentation and electronic production can work together and live in the same world.
In retrospect, Strum’s only hope for this album is that the listeners embrace it and that it becomes a part of their lives in a different way.
“The records that stand out to me the most and the records that mean the most to me now are the ones where I’ve listened and just needed them at that point in my life. I would love if this record found that place in other people’s lives and brains.”
Glow is out Friday, 18th October. Japanese Wallpaper is touring the album next month, and you can find all those details here.