Guranfoe, a band we love from Norwich (UK), combines the intricacies of prog with the red hot, crackling, raw, electric live sound of bands like White Denim, and the improvisational skill, shapeshifting sets and easy availability of past live shows of the best jam bands.  Led by the brilliant twin lead guitar playing of James Burns and Ollie Snell, they’re rounded out by the airtight rhythm section of Robin Breeze on bass and Joe Burns on drums.  On 28 Oct, they release their second studio album Gumbo Gumbo, and it’s a corker.  Here’s Mark Feingold’s interview with guitarist James Burns.

Please forgive the dumb question, but are Joe and James brothers? If so, does it work out well within the band?

Astute. How did you guess? No but seriously, yes, it’s normally quite easy. We see each other regularly, talk music, grew up listening to very similar things in the house and all of that played into what we eventually started playing together and as a larger group. You’re forgiven.

How did you form?

I think Joe and Ollie started playing together at our highschools rock workshop. It was a kind of after school club for young musical types ran by our drama teacher, Hugh Lynch, who was probably the most informative catalyst for lots of us at that age, always setting up bands and putting on gigs. After that Ollie would come over to our house and we’d jam some White Denim and other bits. We wrote a really dodgy version of “Django” very soon after that. I was 14 or 15 and we recorded it on a little tascam in Joe’s bedroom. It was decent (ish), but worlds away from the version you’ll hear on “Gumbo Gumbo”, that one’s a banger. And Robin joined on bass at some point...

How did you develop your unique style?

I think we’re an unconventional and perhaps bizarre mix of prog rock and jam band and our live shows can be rather unpredictable because of that. It comes from loving the mad compositions of bands like Zappa and Gentle Giant, whilst also wanting to trail off live during an improv and find something we haven’t played before, like Phish and the Dead, mainly Phish, no one does it better than Trey.

Who are some of your influences?

George Harrison, Jack White and Frank Zappa growing up. White Denim, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard for the band. That’s the initial few that come to me but it's a hard one as they constantly change depending on what I'm working on, inside the band and out.

Timing and synchronization are such an important part of your music. How much do you work on it?

Not as much as we should. It can always be tighter. Always. Luckily, a lot of it gets ingrained through the repetition inherent to the writing process, so the music never feels too unfamiliar after a longer break. But yes, we always try to incorporate some

unusual times and rhythms in the music, it just feels better when you can write like that and still make it groove, I guess that’s the prog.

How long did it take James and Ollie to work up your level of guitar mastery, timing and interplay?

We’ve both been playing for roughly 10-15 years, 10+ of that together, which is why we can comfortably improvise together for far too long; that goes for the whole group too. On the guitar side of things, to be totally honest, Ollie is a far more accomplished and well rounded guitarist. He can sit in with any group, any genre, and play something moving. It’s ridiculous really. I have to pick my moments much more specifically as to not totally fuck it live, although, if the right moment is picked it’s pretty nice.

What’s changed between ‘Sum of Erda’ and ‘Gumbo Gumbo’?

Our live show hits a lot harder, we sell more live show recordings and records, I think we’re more ambitious. Same as it ever was, just a little bit more now. The projects in the pipeline are pretty mammoth in comparison to what we’ve done previously. It should be an exciting end to the year and 2023 if all goes well.

The live sets I’ve heard so far led me to believe you had no keyboard player – unique for a prog sound – but on ‘Gumbo Gumbo,’ - bam!, everyone plays keyboards. The album is flush with pianos, synths and Mellotrons. Is this the shape of things to come for Guranfoe? Sum of Erda had some keyboards, so is it mainly a studio album thing?

It’s funny you ask that actually. We’ve been hanging out and jamming with Ryan Stevenson, or “Zopp”, a lot recently, and his keys playing has been lifting the live sound to a place I've been wanting it to get to for years. There’s a depth there we can’t achieve solely with guitar and he gets what we’re trying to do with the music very instinctually, even deep into the jams. He’s actually going to be joining us on all dates for the “Gumbo Gumbo” release tour at the end of October. Wow. Keys from Zopp on the next tour, maybe some sax flying in and out too.

On the live set ‘2022-04-14, Hope & Anchor, London, England,’ with just bass, drums, and the two guitars it had a very solid rock sound to my ears. But on ‘Gumbo Gumbo,’ some of the same tracks, fleshed out with synths, flutes and Mellotrons, sound like prog. Did you plan it that way?

I think we just naturally sound more rocky when it’s the four of us, that’s the instrumentation. We’ve got a whole bunch of shows on the bandcamp where guests sit in on flute, sax, keys, etc, and then it feels more in line with the prog qualities of the studio albums. Having a mass of instruments and layers in the studio means the live sound is always going to be slightly different from the records, but I love that.

We’ve never repeated a setlist, we improvise extensively, guest musicians sit in - it's always going to be something different seeing us live, every time, I hope.

Interview: Mark Feingold © Terrascope Online October 2022

Editor: Phil McMullen