Aug 2013 07

The experimental visionaries behind Gnome & Spybey take ReGen on a mystical journey through truck stops and roadhouses, landing in a realm that defies convention and where there are no accidents.

An InterView with Tony D’Oporto and Mark Spybey of Gnome & Spybey

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

When two artists with such an expansive and eccentric range of tastes and musical output get together, the results are almost certain to be of a notably strange and wonderful nature. Such has been the case with Tony D’Oporto and Mark Spybey, whose Gnome & Spybey collaborative has yielded three albums of richly ambient, experimentally rhythmic, and darkly lyrical soundscapes that melds the best elements of their collective talents. D’Oporto, having spent the better part of two decades exploring the more EDM flavors of trance, down-tempo ambient, and house, brings his excellence in structure and groove. Spybey, who is renowned for his works with Dead Voices on Air, Zoviet France, Download, and many other partnerships, provides a contrasting sense of unorthodox composition and an intense vocabulary of both sound and wordplay. Together, the duo released the companion pieces At Willie’s Place and Beyond Willie’s Place, offering up a lush soundtrack of dreamy ambience that transports the listener into the ghostly landscapes that inspired them, coming across as a musical equivalent of a De Chirico surrealist painting. Having released the appropriately titled album Three earlier this year, Gnome & Spybey has fine tuned its craft to create a mechanically brilliant ambient tour de force. Tony D’Oporto and Mark Spybey speak with ReGen on their collaborative process, guiding us through the Texas roadhouses that inspired the earlier albums and into the composed dynamic that dictates their musical vision.


Gnome & Spybey has released three albums, with a fourth one on the way. Tell us about the working dynamic between the two of you – how you approach the construction of your music together.
In what ways does it compare to your other projects; both collaborative and solo?

D’Oporto: My main project and DJing are more geared towards the EDM scene. I play a lot of ‘raves’ and underground dance parties. Gnome & Spybey for me is a chance for me to get really creative and do some fun sound design outside the more structured sounds of Gnomes of Kush.
I would also like to just add that Gnome & Spybey is an art project between two friends more than it is a ‘band.’
The whole thing started one Christmas Eve when Mark and I were a bit bored and chatting online and decided to do a tune – that tune being ‘In the Color of the Red Bull.’ We both felt that this was a very nice song and soon after, At Willie’s Place appeared. We never have any schedule or master plan; it all just kind of happens in a very natural way. I personally feel this is the best approach to music I have ever taken.

Spybey: Tony’s prolific and he does what he does with minimum fuss. I like that way of working. It fits with how I work. We make music together, apart, together, and it feels right. I rarely engage in a collaboration with a conceptual end product in mind. I have to feel a strong affinity to the music and with Three, I loved what Tony sent. So I just added, carefully. We did agree this time around that neither of us would add any rhythm; for me, that’s not unusual. I think that was the only given if you like. Not sure that I compare projects. I just have to feel engaged.

As Mark says, the only given for Three was not to add any rhythm. While you’ve stated that Gnome & Spybey is your outlet for more creative sounds and sound design, what sort of a personal challenge was it for you given your EDM background to not infuse any rhythms?
As Mark’s work has been heavy on sound design and collage using found sounds and such, how do you find that the two approaches differ and complement each other?

D’Oporto: The two questions go hand in hand. When I send the songs for Mark to work on, they are usually always very conventional ambient music. Mark will essentially take this and deconstruct it in to something a bit more experimental. As I am a fan of more conventional music than Mark, the biggest personal challenge for me is letting go of that.

Spybey: Just one quick point – I spend most of my time editing. I find infinite mileage in small sounds.

How do your ideas initially form and eventually manifest into their final versions?

D’Oporto: Usually, I will spend time writing frameworks and half finished songs then send them over to Mark, and he finishes them off with his unique ability to make noises and effects. I think only a few times has it gone the other way around.

Spybey: Tony leads. The structures sometimes change a lot; sometimes they don’t change very much at all. I’m usually not interested nor am I excited by doing something that someone else wants or requests. I feel confined by some structures. So with Tony, there is always a great deal of flexibility and it works. I was reading the poetry of Garcia Lorca when we were doing Three, so I incorporated some of that into the recordings, simply because the book was lying about a foot away from my computer. But (and this is where serendipity comes into it), Tony was living in Mexico at the time and that Spanish quality seemed apparent to me in what we were creating. Even the artwork seems to be in keeping with that theme; all accidental of course… I think… possibly…

The first two albums refer to ‘Willie’s Place,’ while the third album is appropriately titled Three. Since there are no lyrics, what can you tell us about these titles and how they relate to any overarching themes or concepts present in the music? Or is there a concept at all?
Who is Willie and what is Willie’s Place anyway?

D’Oporto: Willie’s Pace is a truck stop/roadhouse owned by Willie Nelson in Texas. Mark and I went there while touring together. Being fans of Willie’s, we both loved the place. After that, we decided that At Willie’s Place would be a great title for our album.

Spybey: There are some lyrics by the way – ‘Gold to Water’ from the first album has lyrics and on Three, there are several songs with words, fragments of poetry. The words on Three are important.

Mark mentioned the poetry of Garcia Lorca and that the words on Three are very important. For those who are unfamiliar, tell us about what it was about Lorca’s poetry that appealed to you with regards to the album and what Tony was contributing. As well, given that your lyrics are often on the fine line between poetic and abstract, what are your thoughts on the audience interpretation of your words?

Spybey: I was reading Lorca at the time, listening to the music and talking to Tony who was in Mexico, and infused by the Spanish language. I like Spanish poetry. I don’t hunt for influences; I just happened to be reading Lorca who I like a lot. So for me, the use of Lorca’s words in this, albeit abstracted by the fact that they are de-contextualized, is simply because they resonated with me. Lorca was assassinated by Franco’s right wing mobs, so I also identify from a political standpoint too. I like words or poetry or lyrics that resonate on a number of levels – the most powerful language is that which does not seek to bludgeon or to inform but to provoke thought or reflection. I admire storytellers, but I’m not interested in getting a message over in my music, except this one and I think the ‘songs’ on Three do this. The most powerful gift we can give as performers is to allow the audience the space and time to create their own narratives. To create meaning that is personal and unique to the individual listener.

Both of you are very experienced with experimental forms of music, usually revolving around electronics. How essential is it for either of you to keep up with the latest advancements in music and production technology? And in what ways do these advancements find their way into your music in Gnome & Spybey?

D’Oporto: I think I speak for both Mark and I by saying we do not keep up with any of that at all. The point is to just make nice music. The rest means very little. We do not need fancy expensive toys to do it. Mark and I have actually both remarked to each other while on tour and hearing other band people always talking about new synths, etc., how much neither of us really cared.

Spybey: I said a long time ago that music stores are like foreign countries to me. It seems to me that the more gear people have, the more restricted the music sounds. I don’t keep up to date with music technology, unless someone plonks something in front of me and says, ‘Play with this.’ If I can manage a sound that pleases me in three seconds, I feel I have as much technical mastery as I need. I have to unlearn most things I become proficient at. I have friends who keep me right and I have learnt from others about how to get the most from what I have, but I enter into this from the position of someone who is essentially a non-musician. I do spend a lot of time editing and refining what I do. I would like to say that I am a fan of imperfection but I am not interested in making things that sound unpleasant to my ears; poorly recorded, poorly edited, poor sound quality. Unappealing. I do like accidents and I do like breaking rules and conventions. But I don’t think our music sounds accidental and it’s certainly not deliberately unconventional. I think it sounds composed. I like composed music. Gnome & Spybey is composed music.

You mentioned that Gnome & Spybey is composed music, and it certainly sounds so as the shifts in mood and dynamics does not feel hackneyed or accidental. However, not just in the realm of remixes, but perhaps in live performances, do you find there to be avenues to take these compositions into more, shall we say, accidental territory? In other words, what is the potential for Gnome & Spybey to incorporate a more spontaneous or improvisational approach in the music, either on future compositions or in live performances?
On that note, are you planning to take Gnome & Spybey live? If so, what would such a show entail as far as presentation and performance?

D’Oporto: Mark and I have done several live shows in the States and Canada already. The spontaneous or improvisational approach comes out in these shows. Here is a video from a show that truly shows this…



Spybey: I’m thinking Gnome & Spybey Arkestra – live horns and a poet sitting in a wicker chair wearing a floppy hat, sunglasses, and a battered white linen suit reading scattered abstract words… and a bongo player; maybe a few existentialists in the background having an argument about something. All live events are an accident because I never really know what I am going to do. When Tony and I played live, we would say, ‘Let’s do this or that,’ and whilst we were playing, say to each other, ‘I have a better idea – let’s not do that and let’s do this instead.’ If anything, I could see us playing in somewhere like a desert for several hours whilst the sun rises as opposed to a sweaty rock club with all those irritating wittering people drinking beer and talking to their friends and then coming up to you later and saying, ‘Hey man, that was awesome.’ Like they were listening or something…

You have a new album in the works – in what ways will it continue along the paths forged by Three?

D’Oporto: Three Point One is really just more studio sessions for Three. Hence the title! It’s being recorded in close proximity to Three. These songs are/were recorded in close proximity to Three, as was Beyond Willie’s Place to At Willie’s Place, giving the album a similar sound and therefore released as an association to, instead of a totally different album.

Spybey: It wasn’t recorded at the same time; we’re just following the ‘Willie’s Place’ formula and immediately recording another album before the dust has settled. You know, when you don’t follow the ever so boring and tired formula beloved of bands that think they are ’70s icons of album, tour, three years of doing nothing, album, tour, three years of doing nothing, anything can happen. I have a word of wisdom for those kind of bands – The world has changed and, let’s face it, it felt tired in the ’70s… now, it feels positively redundant.

What is next for Gnome & Spybey?

D’Oporto: We are going platinum, man! Gnome & Spybey – MONSTERS OF AMBIENT TOUR!!!

Spybey: Triple live concept album? A world tour, with each one of us having our own Learjet, the road crew travelling in three huge monster trucks carrying our laptops in, with Gnome on the roof of one, and on the second, and finally, Spybey on the third. Or we go industrial and call our next album Gnome unt Spybey – TacTikal EfFectual mEkanik DeMoniser… the latter suggestion is a joke.


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